Press enter after choosing selection
Grade
6

Waving Memories of Singapore

 

To all of you, who spent such great time with me and left so many unimaginable memories

 

I sit down as my mind tell me that I shall start writing the novella of our trip to Singapore. As I breath and click the “Word” button on my laptop screen, memories of this journey pounce over me. Two days ago, with the roaring-like sound of the airplane, our amazing trip ended. I feel a drift of grief flowing through me; I miss our trip so much, I miss the persons we travelled together so much.

 

I was super pleased when Rainbow decided to go and lead our group. I was very confident then, daydreaming about wining the First Price in the semifinal, and again in the final. I kept beaming when I was lost in my ridiculous fantasy, but now, when I recall them, they are broken like shattered shadows and burst everywhere.

Even though, this trip is still unbelievable fun, especially when you’re with your schoolmates and familiar teachers.

 

After we waved goodbye to our parents in excitement and nervousness, there was a long time during baggage checking and boarding. I didn’t find anyone in the fifteen persons to play or chat with. I only know two in all of them, but they all got their friends.

I felt very lonely.

And awkward.

And embarrassed.

I spent the first two days and a half with these emotions sticking me like shadows. I really wished that I could stick with my schoolmates or teachers like my roommate did, but I never could in those days. Even Rainbow, I felt awkward and distance then. I thought they might think I was aloof, but I wasn’t! I was truly furious with my personality. Why can’t I be like them? Why I have to be so shy and no-fun? Finally, I mingled with most of my groupmates.

 

In this journey, one thing changed my point of view completely. After all the seven days, I think not bringing a phone is the wisest decision of this trip. Without playing games on the internet or whatever you want to do on your phone, we got time to chat and play and get known with each other. I feel so stupid when I remember I was very angry that our teachers were preventing us from carrying an electronic thing before we went to Singapore.

 

My favorite day is Day 4, when we visited Sentosa. Whether or not it’s full of joy, awkwardness, excitement, or boring, it’s always the best day. I truly mingled with my groupmates that day, and I didn’t care much about anything.

S.E.A Aquarium is a mystery azure blue world with swirling sea creatures. We stayed there for an hour, before we went to Universal Studio Singapore, which is opposite the aquarium.

The fairground looked incredibly fun like Universal Studio Japan I went last summer. I enjoyed staying in a music-filled wonderland, with marvelous buildings and amusement establishment; I’m sure everyone in our group enjoyed that.

I was very glad and elated that I always sat beside Rainbow when we were on a roller coaster or something. The first project we had was TRANSFORMERS The Ride: The Ultimate 3D Battle. We were almost mad when the radio played “delay from technical problems” time and time again. Finally, after hours of waiting, we got to go inside. I was proud of my discoveries of the ride, which was covered with the sounds of punches and squealing voices.

We went to the Revenge of the Mummy next, an indoor highspeed roller coaster. The oldest boy in our group is always scaring us, and with the horrible mummy sounds and carvings, even I was feeling a bit fear. I screamed very awkwardly on the ride, though I closed my eyes in the main part.

We ate lunch in Malaysia Food Street when we had the first two rides, my roommate commented that it looked like a parking there. I shared mine with her, and she shared hers with me, either. We ate a meal of Bak Kut Teh, fried chicken wings and icy coke. I enjoyed that meal, with her and Rainbow beside me.

Our group played three more amusing rides after lunch. The show, Wings of Time, started when we finished dinner and rested for a while. It’s nearly the best light show ever- so majestic and mysterious.

On the schedule, the results of semifinal are listed to be announced on the evening of Day 4, so we kept asking Rainbow and Alice again and again very patiently “are the results out yet”, but they shook their heads every time we asked.

I started daydreaming again on the way back to our hotel. I dreamed how happy Rainbow would be when she saw that I could attend the final contest, and how she announced it. I would never think of the terrible truth, that-

 

I failed.

When we asked Alice excitedly that dawn after Day 4, she shook her head very mysteriously and whispered, “Only one person has been promoted. The main results will come out in this afternoon.”

I kind of believed that I was the only person. I raised my head and gazed at Rainbow as she padded towards us with a strange smile on her face. I narrowed my eyes when I saw her giggle with that familiar expression.

“Who gets in?” the Second Graders gathered around Rainbow, blinking their eyes naively.

How can Rainbow know? I thought wearily with a silent sigh. To my surprise, Rainbow announced the name with a crazy-like laugh.

She announced the name of the other Six Grader, not me. I’m the friend and school-bus-mate of that person. I never doubt him; he is more energetic and more outgoing than me. I always know that if I get in, he’ll, either.

The promoted boy cheered with delight and started to run over and over very funnily. The girls beside me were laughing at him. I didn’t know how they could laugh out when they weren’t promoted. But I copied them. I laughed, too- and it was the most upset and most disappointed and most awkward laugh.

I didn’t believe the truth then, I thought Rainbow was guessing. It all changed when I saw Rainbow walked towards me with a regretful smile and called my name. “If I haven’t forgot, you get the Most Potential Award.” She murmured to me.

I knew she wasn’t guessing then. I realized something in a sudden, that most of our vows we wished on the Singapore Flyer didn’t come true.

Rainbow stopped when she got quite close to me. I pressed my cap brim down, so that no one would see my tears. I stared at my sneakers and the shimmering floor.

I cried.

I didn’t know how I cried then, I never cried in front of familiar peoples. I whimpered. I didn’t make any voice, and no one- I think no one, had ever noticed.

I felt Rainbow’s dress touched my shirt. I spun around and looked into her gaze. So many emotions almost bumped me onto the floor at that moment.

Sorrow.

Upset.

Pain.

Grief.

Fury.

Disappointed.

Shame.

Regret.

Suspicious.

How couldn’t I get in? I invested so much! Perhaps the interviewers didn’t like my characters…. But I got First Price in the City Trial of GoodTalk! I rocked the whole speech lesson of Group E in Day 2 even I’m nearly the youngest! I was the first and only person who finished the speech draft in time! Why?!

And I felt… sorry for Rainbow.

I felt so sorry for her. I know how much she expected hope in me.

Then, just then, I did something I would never ever do.

I hugged Rainbow, I was stupefied.

I knew how awkward that is for a Six Grader, and it was even for me, a so reserved person in the others’ eye. I didn’t care anything then. I just hugged her. She comforted me by the soothing words my mom would say, too, when I met frustrations. I didn’t say anything; I didn’t argue, I didn’t comment, I didn’t complain. I noticed the friendly laughs from my Fifth Grade friends. I ignored them. Rainbow smiled and told them gently, “Elsa stuck me yesterday, she’s sticking me today!”

I hugged Rainbow until the bus came.

I planned to stick Rainbow with my roommate Elsa side by side. It was comforting me. I told myself to be strong, but my world was filled with the scent of upset and grief that morning and noon. I fell into silence then, I didn’t know how I would spend my time at the part of ice breaking and the final.

I soothed myself that the Most Potential Award was pretty good either, but I couldn’t stop retorting and willing silently about everything I could think of that time.

I was deeply moved and sadder when I saw the text of Rainbow and a teacher of GoodTalk. She should be very, very disappointed with me. My roommate probably wouldn’t feel that…

I realized that looking fragile wasn’t good, so I pretended I was nothing to the persons who looked nothing too after a few hours of bad-looking.

I went to the Conference Hall the next dawn with the promoted boy, when our group was going to the plant park.

I learned many things that full and meaningful morning which will benefit me for a whole lifetime. I got very bored when the meeting was over. I wandered around in the whole building, waiting for our group to attend the final.

They finally came. And the final started. Well, I already watched the dress rehearsal of it many times before they came. I was kind of sleepy then.

I became soppy again at the award ceremony. I was careless then, waving my citation as it was a sheet of normal paper or something. When it ended and it was the time to eat supper, I chatted deeply with Ginny, we recited many poems to express our feelings.

I hoped my band-aids in my bag could use to recover my bleeding heart. Well, time is the best cure for emotion injuries, I knew it.

 

I love this trip for many reasons. Sometimes, I feel like not been promoted is a reason, either. When I recall my marvelous journey, every part of it seems to be perfect. This is the best trip for me so far.

 

At last, I’d love to remind you that I love you all!

 

State
Shaanxi
Grade
8

“A train in London ran off of trail and crashed last night. The investigators are still trying to find what caused this accident to happen. Two people were found dead and one was missing.” The TV reporter said woodenly. 

            “No, Mom, no you’re not dead!” I opened the phone rashly and called her. “Bi, bi, bi, bi. Please leave a voice mail message for Honey Mommy.”

            “I should have known, I should have told her not to go onto that train!” I yelled, tears running down my face as if it would never stop. The only light of my world turned off forever. 

            One year later. “Is this just an accident?” I kept on questioning myself while I was scanning through the piles and piles of photo copy of the pictures taken right after the accident for the twentieth. “Ah, still nothing” Just as I was about to scan them through one more time. A picture at the bottom of the pile caught my eyes. It was a picture taken in the cockpit of the broken train. Everything was burnt into a brownish black color. But there was something shiny. There was a purple necklace hanging in the middle of the picture. It almost looks like it was floating in air. “Isn’t that my necklace?” I yell out. I touched my neck immediately. I felt the rough texture of the lace. The coldness of the gem. It is still there. This is the only one in the world. I remember my mom designed this necklace just for me. Then how come the same necklace appear in the cockpit of the train right after the accident. I stayed home all night that day. I was packed with confuse. 

            I decide to go to my Mom’s bedroom to try to find an explanation of the necklace. I ran upstairs and took out the key for my om’s bedroom door and opened it. The room still looks as if someone was still living in there, but she was gone I looked around and suddenly I saw a dark shadow flashed though just outside the door. No, it’s just my imagination, I said to myself. I walked near the closet and saw the coat my mom loved. She wore it almost every day. Let me touch it one more time, I thought. When I took it out a folded paper fell onto the ground. I kneed down, picked it up and slowly unfolded it.

            “Ah!” I covered my mouth with both of my hands and shivered in fear. it was an old picture. In the picture, there’s my mom wearing a doctor’s white coat. Besides her, there’s a little girl about five. She stared blankly into the space and her whole body was stiff and frozen. It felt as though someone had sucked her soul out of her body. Then I saw it. The purple necklace on the girl’s neck. Ok, you got to be kidding me. I don’t have the memory of taking this picture ever. There are only two explanation for this. One this is me, but I just forgot. Two, this is someone else that stole my necklace, or … my mom maked two necklace, one for me and one for some stranger. Then I shifted my eyes onto my mom. 

            “Wait, what? My mom’s a doctor?” There was no place in my memories that my mom’s a doctor. But clearly, she is, she was wearing a white doctor’s robe and she was standing in front of a hospital. I was confused, then I flipped the paper around to check if there were other hints. There was a small line of words written in the bottom right corner of the photo. “Go to the locked room at the end of the hall.”

            Ok, I think this is for me. I walked out of the room towards the hallway. There stood the white door that was always locked in my memory. I tiptoed to the front of the door and twisted the handle. Nothing happened. I reached in my pocket for the chain of keys. I tried each and every one of them. Until, finally “click” the door opened. I stuck my head in and tried to figure out what’s in there. But, I couldn’t, all I can see is darkness and I smelled a hint of rubbing alcohol. I ran to my room and took out a flashlight, walked to that door again and took a deep breath.

            “Ok, Sirah, there’s nothing bad in there. What could be in the house you lived for your whole life?” I told myself.

            I opened my flashlight and pushed open the door. Now, a strong smell of alcohol hit me. It was the one you can smell in the emergency room. The cold breeze attacked my body, every goose bomb on my skin appeared. It’s an abandoned laboratory. There was an empty surgery bed in the middle of the room, around it there were about a dozen of huge unnamed specimens. Every one of them was floating in a huge cylindrical tank filled with preservative water. Fear started to rise in my body. All the specimens are human! I tried to calm myself down and not look at them again. I wondered, “why there were human preservatives in my house. did my mom know about them?” I walked around the room. There are old and new pictures pined into the wall all around the laboratory. There is caption written in the same font and thickness of the small not on the photo on every one of the pictures.

            I read from the captions, “October 1st1988, Sirah and Sabella’s memories are all been banned and erased. October 4th1988, starting to plant memories into Sabella’s brain. October 5th1998, starting to plant memories into Sirah’s brain.”

            I was in complete shock; my mind backed out. She’s not my mom. I squad down onto my feet with my hand covering my face. Who is she? Who am I? Where did I come from? I looked at the picture above the caption. There were two girls that looked completely the same. The lay unconsciously on the surgery bed in the middle of a huge room. Who was the other one?

            “Do I have a twin sister called Sabella? How come I never seen or heard of her?”

            I stood up and moved on scanning the wall, there were dozens of cases of memory planting. And then I found it. It was a picture of me or Sabella. The caption said, “October 4th1998, the surgery went wrong and failed, what result in Sabella’s brain was unknown.”

            “Unknown?” I read in wonder.

“October 11th2000, Sabella escaped, trying to capture her but failed.” I continue to read

            That was a day before my mom died. I looked down on the desk and I picked up a notebook. This notebook was completely new with a huge lock drawn on the front cover. I quickly flipped through the pages. There was nothing on it. I flipped again, and I stopped at the last page. This font and this size look familiar. I moved my face closer to the book. The words were written in dark red inks. I read it out.

            “Run! Now!”

            The next thing I knew was the smog trembling into the laboratory. This house is on fire! I ran out and saw the fire almost covered all of the first floor and was still spreading tremendously fast.

            “What should I do!” I yelled desperately.

            I ran to the bathroom and got a basket of water. I knew it is no use, but I can’t give up my last hope. I ran down stairs and poured the water with all my strength. it was no use. I know the next thing I could do is escape. I carefully walked through the fire and all the woods fallen on the floor. The smog was sneaking into my nose and went down to my lung. I kicked the door, but it didn’t open. I hit it as hard as I could. It was no use. I knew everything was too late now. I’m going to die. I ran upstairs and just stared at my ‘be loving’ house, the place I called home. Now, it was all gone under the fire. Suddenly, I heard a footstep coming up the stairs.

            “Someone is here to save me.” I screamed as I waved at her.

            I spring towards the stair case. Then, I stumble onto the floor. I can’t believe this. There was a girl who looks exactly like me. I closed my eyes and said “sister…” The last thing I saw was the match on her hand and the big bloody smile on her face.

State
NV
Zip Code
89147
Grade
6

Once Again

By: Winter Chiu

Calypso

I always had a voice. I was just too afraid to sing.

Kaitlyn

My feet always knew the rhythm of ballet. I was just too afraid to dance.

Albert

The music was always in me. I was just too afraid to let it out.

Calypso

Don’t ask why my parents named me Calypso. I’m not a nymph from the island of Ogygia. I’m a regular twelve-year old girl with a secret. And don’t ask why I just didn’t die the night my parents did. In short, it makes my name ironic. But also tragic. Actually, don’t ask me anything at all. Just know this. I’m a cursed girl. A cursed girl without a voice.

Kaitlyn

When I was five, my parents took me to watch a ballet. The Nutcracker, specifically. That’s when I knew all I would ever want to do was dance. But I was a different girl then. A girl with both parents instead of none.

I still remember the night vividly. Strolling along the gum-encrusted pavement, I tried to copy the dance steps I had seen on the way to ice cream. As my parents held hands and watched me dance along ahead, it made me feel giddy with joy, hyper in an odd way. To me, it was a dream I didn’t want to leave. A dream that turned into a nightmare.

Albert

“The piano’s alright… I think I like the viola better,” I decided in front of my judicial parents and music instructor. Boldly I snatched up the smooth wooden instrument, running my fingers over the length of the bow.

“Very well, my little seven-year old” my mother sighed and patted my shoulder affectionately.

“A fine choice, I suppose,” drawled my piano teacher in his dull voice. “I shall arrange for you to meet an acquaintance of mine. He of whom plays the violin and viola equally skillfully.”

Not waiting for sanction, I set the viola on my shoulder, lifted the bow to the string and began to play.

Then, to match the intense piece I coaxed from the viola, the ground began to shake.

 

 

Calypso

Although I was only three, I still could remember being curled up on my mother’s lap, sobbing helplessly into her blouse, scented with the sharp tang of alcohol. I had beat my fists against her chest, begging her to stop. She would just shush me and refill her wine glass. My father sat next to her, smothering her with kisses. Or bruises. I wasn’t sure.

They didn’t care that it was past midnight and I, their lowly child, was still awake. No, not at all.

They didn’t mind that they were alcohol addicts. My father offered me a sip of beer.

Eventually I slipped away and leaned against the door of my bedroom, listening to my mother and my father crank up the radio and invite their friends over. They partied till dawn. When the first rays of the lustrous sun breached the horizon, my parents were both dead.

As for me?

I was dying on the inside. Shattered in the soul. I could still hear the sound of Calypso music playing from the downstairs radio, accompanied by the bitter incense of alcohol.

Kaitlyn

Lazily a car cruised along, a black sports car with tinted windows. Then, that tinted window rolled down and a gun locked on my head.

“Help!” I shrieked as my father locked his arms protectively around me, shielding me from the shot.

Two bangs.

Two parents.

Two bloodstained hands.

Six things that should have not happened.

I should have gotten shot.

Those were my two parents.

My two bloodstained hands from clawing helplessly at my parents cooling bodies as the black car shot away.

My name means pure, unadulterated.

My soul is tainted. Tainted by a cloud of guilt that should have been my parents’ and with blood that should have been mine.

 

 

Albert

As screams, raw and agonized echoed around me, I only concentrated on my own buffeted breathing. I dived under a table and curled up around my viola, enervated and petrified. The shaking filled my mind and rattled my heart. I waited for death.

The shocks died down, and I left my viola, abandoned, on the ground.

“Albert!” rasped my mother, choking and coughing blood.

“Momma! Momma!” I croaked, dust coated in my throat.

Aftershocks. They arrived suddenly, I couldn’t react.

But, my mother did. She lunged, shoving me out of the way and taking the falling debris herself.

My father? Impaled on a bass endpin a floor down. Both dead.

As if my limbs decided to do something else, I found myself sobbing over the viola, underneath the mahogany table again. When I grabbed the bow, I found only one more thing to do, I began to play for the second and the last time as melancholy as I could.

It was enough to make the sky lament. Enough to make it cry.

Calypso

Don’t you dare tell me you’re sorry. My parents made that choice. In fact, just leave me alone. I’m cursed. I can curse you too.

There’s a reason for everything. Even if that reason is nothing. There’s a reason for when I run away from every foster home, every orphanage. Simply because it makes everything better.

At least for a little while.

Why I decided to find my way to Portland, Oregon? Luck perhaps, or maybe it was fate.

Though it was long ago, it still feels like yesterday.

Kaitlyn

The police arrived, and everything was a blur. The next thing? I was running. Sprinting like the wind. Away from everything.

Furiously scraping the wild tears from my eyes, I left my face raw and red, stinging from my parent’s blood, and from mine. It was as if my world was crumbling before my eyes.

Eventually everything changed again. But that was when I met my two friends.

Albert

While the chaos was still raging, and people’s screams were still tearing through the air, I fled. South, I think.

South to Portland. Where a lanyard flipped my life.

Calypso

Meandering along the gum-encrusted streets, I felt entirely at home. I was fingering my pink lanyard with a name tag attached to it. It was one of those things that hurts, but you can never seem to let it slid from your fingers. In kindergarten, I received the lanyard and name tag. Calypso was still scrawled across the name tag in messy pink marker.

I was Cleo now though. Calypso was something I had long left behind.

Kaitlyn

I bumped into a girl with long, braided amber hair, and my first thought was- Why is she so beautiful?

I’m serious. She wasn’t just cute, she was beautiful, gorgeous, alluring. Cascading over her slim shoulders and gray tank in a loose, luscious braid, her caramel blonde hair matched her fair skin and delicate freckles perfectly. Strong and angelic, the girl, decked out in jean shorts and beat up sneakers frowned at me.

I’m not kidding. She wrinkled her nose in this disgusted way of hers and watched me clumsily stumble backward.

“I’m so sorry!” I yelped steadying myself against a grimy building.

Sniffing, she glared at me and then stormed off down the street.

“How polite,” I grumbled then realized she dropped something.

A pink lanyard. Suddenly, a calloused hand scooped it up.

Albert

Out of all the things I’ve ever done, picking up the lanyard was the worst and the best.

“Hey, that’s mine!” cried a girl.

Angular and lithe, the girl, who was in a peasant style top and paint-splattered capris, plucked it out of my hand.

“Wait a second!” I called after her. To be honest, I was very lost and hoping she was a local with directions.

Whirling on her beat up Converse, she glared at me in this cute, pouty way.

“What do you want?”

“Uh, I was wondering if you know where this place is,” I stammered like a complete idiot.

“Not now,” she snapped.

“What?”

Now, I was genuinely confounded.

“She’s getting away!” Paint Girl took off running across the street, dogging by pedestrians and angry taxi drivers.

I took off after her.

 

Calypso

After five minutes, I realized my lanyard was gone. (Also that my hair tie had fallen off, unraveling my braid.)

A few seconds later, this Asian girl, about my age bursts out between some people.

“You dropped this,” she huffed, breathless.

I had bumped into her earlier. It was surprising that she even bothered to return this to me. Nodding my thanks, I snatched it up and was about to turn away when I smacked right into a boy.

Glaring, I took in his haggard appearance. His curly hair was everywhere in an afro of black locks. In scuffed Birkenstocks, frayed jeans, and a threadbare t-shirt, he was probably a more disastrous mess than I was.

Then, I noticed the instrument case at his side.

That was when the gunshots started.

Kaitlyn

All I could think about was my parents.

The crimson spewing from their bodies.

The silver tears streaking down my face.

The guilt. The horror. The terrible beauty of it all.

The next thing I knew, I had the amber-haired girl hunching over me, behind her the idiot who had grabbed her lanyard.

“Do you… feel alright?” asked Idiot.

“Mostly, why did you save me?”

“Well, we obviously couldn’t leave you to die,” Idiot scowled as if it were, well, obvious.

“Uh, thanks, anyways, I’m Kaitlyn and you’re…”

“Albert, I’m Albert.”

Beauty Queen didn’t open her mouth, instead she merely glared at us. And sniffed. Again.

“She doesn’t talk,” Albert clarified uncomfortably. “But she does go by Cleo.”

“Oh,” I felt like an idiot as my cheeks burned.

“So, um,” Albert bit his lip.

“To be clear, I can talk if I want to, but I haven’t done so in ten years,” snapped a voice.

I knew exactly who it belonged too.

Albert

Gawking, I did a double take.

“Ten years,” Cleo did her sniff/wrinkle her nose/disapprove of me glare.

“Funny, I’ve stopped dancing for ten years, but that was when my parents died,” Kaitlyn interrupted.

“Whoa. Back up. My parents died ten years ago and that was when I stopped playing.”

“Violin?” queried Kaitlyn.

“Viola,” I corrected, feeling the familiar rush of annoyance when people made that mistake.

“Oh sorry!” Kaitlyn yelped, bowing her head in embarrassment.

“My parents died ten years ago too,” Cleo confessed softly. “They got drunk.”

“Mine died in a shooting. That’s why I blacked out back there.” Kaitlyn chimed in. Her voice was barely a whisper carried on the wind.

“Oh man, tough luck. Two shootings? My parents died in an earthquake,” I felt the familiar wave of rushing nausea.

“While we’re pouring our hearts out to each other, how old are you guys?” Cleo asked.

“Twelve.”

“Twelve.”

“I’m twelve too.”

Calypso

I could not believe myself. I was talking- literally talking. Talking to complete strangers. It didn’t feel weird at all though. That was the worst.

Confessing your life’s greatest regrets to complete strangers of kids? Nope, not weird at all.

I was a lunatic.

Deciding that this was all a crazy dream, I did the only logical thing.

I opened my mouth and started to sing.

Sing a song of my life.

Kaitlyn

At this point I was thinking. Information overload. Of course, Cleo or Calypso was singing. It was so beautiful, artful, eerie, and soul shaking, I felt the tears roll down my face, hot and stinging before I realized that Cleo was crying too. Everything felt so utterly wrong. And so undeniably right.

Dance, my mind beckoned.

So I danced straight from my heart, my mind, and my tainted, black, soul.

Albert

I had no idea why I was crying at this point.

In a dark alley, with two sobbing, psychotic girls, one singing, one dancing, I should have lost my mind.

Instead, my limbs betrayed me.

Pulling out my viola, I began to play to Cleo’s tune, the rhythm flowing through me, breaching Kaitlyn whose dancing became more even. And wild. The music was coursing through my veins.

The song was in my blood.

Calypso

I could feel the music. I could taste it. I was whole once again.

 

 

 

State
WA
Zip Code
98075
Grade
6

I never meant to kiss Emma. I never meant to, but I did. There are a lot of things I never meant to do, but did anyway. This was the only time I wanted to repeat one of them.

 

On the fateful day that I first kissed Emma, it started out as a normal day. Mr. Hood’s terrier barked at me. I barked back at it. I biked to school, arriving a minute after the first bell. I rushed to my classroom, stuffing my backpack in my locker hastily, though somehow arriving before half of my class. I sat in the third seat from the back, in the leftmost row.

 

The second bell rung as I arranged my pencils next to my ruler, lining them up along the one inch mark. Class had officially begun.

 

“Would anyone like to explain how we know that the square root of two is not rational? You’ve had all of winter break to work on it, so I expect a fully-fledged proof.” Mr. Lintax said.

I raised my hand confidently. I had gotten a reputation as a math geek, and as such most people, including the Mr. Lintax, were expecting something good.

“Yes, Mrs. Apson?” Mr. Lintax gestured for me to come up to the board. I did so, loosely holding my notes in my hand. He handed me a piece of chalk, and I accepted it.

 

“Why, Mrs. Apson, are you writing that?”asked Mr. Lintax.

“Erm, because, because it’s a proof by contradiction and we start by assuming the opposite of what we are trying to prove and show that it’s impossible?...” my voice wavered, and I trailed off.

“Why are you writing in simplified terms?”

“Because it helps me focus on the math?...”

The rest of math quickly passes in a blur, and I grabbed my stuff as it finished.

 

“Hey, Audrey, I really liked your proof. It was very comprehensive.”Emma said after we left the class, “Would you mind teaching me a bit about math at lunch?”she blushed, shaking her head, “Of course you wouldn’t want to.”

“Emma, I’d love to teach you about math.” I replied.

“What- what got you into math? You’ve just got a reputation as, well, a math person, so I wanted to know why.”

“I don’t know. I guess I just have always loved numbers.”

“Wow. I thought that only was said in, like, cheesy 80s movies or something.”she laughed.

“Maybe I’m just an 80s movies person.”I offered.

 

“Audrey and Emma, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” Dennis Okalvan and his gang chanted, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage!”

“Oh, back off!” I yelled hotly, “Just because I’m helping her with math doesn’t mean we’re in love!”

Dennis Okalvan was the classical storybook example of a school bully. Stupid, big, athletic, rich, immature, got a gang of cronies. As the storybook bullies go, he also liked to mock those smaller than him, though not very adeptly.

“You just don’t want to kiss her, and get all of her ugly bookworm germs!”

“I wouldn’t mind kissing her, I just don’t love her!” I shouted back.

“Kiss her then, I dare you. ‘Less you’re scared!”

“Fine then!”

“Do it!” Dennis screamed back.

“Kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss!”an army of kids picked up the cry.

 

I leaned toward her, gasping for breath. She caught my eye and nodded subtly. Everything seemed to speed up but me. She smelled faintly of books, and lemon. Her brown eyes sparkled dimly. It felt like I was underwater, crushed by pressure. All sound faded to a dull murmur. My lips suddenly felt dry, and I licked them. I suddenly could taste the strawberries I had for breakfast. A shiver ran down my spine. My eye twitched.

 

Her mouth meet mine, and I tasted her subtle lip gloss, a faint cinnamon. The smell was intensified, and I breathed it in deeply, relishing her scent. Her lips were smooth, unnaturally so.  Sparks flew between us. I connected my mouth with hers. We were briefly connected, as though we were meant to be.

 

We pulled apart, and everything spun back to normal; back to plain, boring, normal.

 

“I don’t mind kissing you.” I whispered to her.

 

The crowd erupted into laughter, “Look, the two nerds kissed. I knew they were meant to be! A match made in heaven!”

 

I didn’t mind their mocking. I grabbed Emma’s hand, and we pivoted in tandem towards English class. We each went to our seats.

 

“Would anyone like to explain what the Oxford comma is?”Mr. Handers asked, “We’ve given you a lot of time over winter break to think about it.”

 

Emma raised her hand. Mr. Handers called on her.

Emma walked elegantly to the front of the room. “The Oxford comma originated in-” she began.

English class was a blur, as all I could think about was the wonderful kiss I had had.

 

“Emma, would you mind telling me more about the Oxford comma at lunch?”I asked Emma.

“Of course I’ll help you at lunch.”

We erupted into giggles.

“I know another thing we could learn about at lunch.” I suggested slyly.

“Why wait till lunch?”

“We have Physical Education.”

“Oh.”

Nobody liked Physical Education. Physical Education’s budget was nonexistent, and, as such, we just ran laps around the soccer field. The coach was underpaid, grumpy, and spiteful, devoting their time to yelling at kids falling behind. It was a run-till-you-drop situation, with everyone leaving exhausted, and cursing the day someone first ran. It united everyone with the common goal of stopping the running, and many petitions had been started, but all failed for various reasons.

“We could start a new petition.”I remarked.

“We could. Maybe demonstrate alternate ways?”

“Tag. You can always play tag.”

“Relay races.”

 

We tossed ideas back and forth, but we weren’t really focused. Both of us were just counting the minutes to lunch, counting the minutes to another kiss.

 

State
MI
Zip Code
48104
Grade
10

I put my hand on my heart and face the American flag, crimson and blue and scattered with stars.

My uniform bunches under my arms. It’s too big, but whenever I tell Ma, she continues doing whatever she’s doing—usually making dinner, tossing the garlic and tofu in the wok—and says, it last longer. So we save money.

I keep rolling up my shirt, but even as I tuck it in, it flaps out.

“Stop moving,” a girl says to me. “It’s annoying.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

Mrs. Roberts claps. “Time for the pledge of allegiance!”

The class begins reciting, “I pledge allegiance—” I try to make each word follow a honey-smooth rhythm, but they stumble out of my mouth, coming out in spurts like toothpaste.

So I speak quietly instead, feeling the ba-dum, ba-dum pulsing beneath my palm. I pretend I can feel the words sinking back into my throat and winding down all the layers of pipes into my heart, where they’ll be spread throughout my body like oxygen, like blood.

I say the words as if they’ll make me American.

But it’s hard when the girl whispers, “Why are you saying the pledge? You’re not even from here.”

State
CA
Zip Code
90077
Grade
7

Drip.Drip.Drip. Kelsey woke up to the dripping. It seemed like forever until Kelsey had the energy to get up. She looked around to see a mild glow coming from the end of the humid tunnel. It was pitch black with tiles covering the walls. The ceiling was in an arch position, everything had a dark blue glow to it. Kelsey looked to the side to see a figure a couple of feet away. Kelsey slowly got up to look at the figure on the damp floor, she looked familiar.

“Giuliana, is that you?” Kelsey whispered at the figure.

The girls’ eyes fluttered open to see Kelsey shaking her shoulders on the floor. She squinted and slowly got up looking with the turn of her head. Then it all came back to Kelsey, that was her sister, it just had to be. Giuliana had a cut on her forehead. Kelsey saw two backpacks at the side of where she sat, that could help her sister. Kelsey slowly walked over there snatching the pack and looking at the contents inside.

“Hmm, there’s a flashlight, batteries, rations, water, and two jackets. That could be useful,” Kelsey thought.

But that still didn’t help with the cut. Kelsey looked at the other backpack.

“There’s a blanket, water, flashlight, batteries, and a first aid kit. Yes! That’s what I need!” Kelsey grinned.

Giuliana was still knocked out after waking up for a minute. Kelsey shook her awake and Giuliana sat up once more.

“Kelsey is that you? What’s that over-”

“Sit still Giuliana I need to put this bandage over your head, that’s it. Look your cut is covered!” Kelsey put out.

“Where are we, what happened?” Giuliana asked.

“ I don’t know and I woke up and there’s a light around that corner, lets go check it out, it might be a ticket out of here.” Kelsey replied.

“ But if something is out there.” Giuliana squeaked. We will fight them, or run.” Kelsey concluded.

“Ok, but you go first, I am not risking anything.” Giuliana whispered.

“Ok lets go“ Kelsey urged.

Kelsey and Giuliana saw a stick and pipe and grabbed on to their weapons.

“Lets go” Kelsey smirked, she was ready for whatever.

This tunnel led outside to little dock. But with a huge ship, big waving sails with skulls on it floated there near the dock.

Kelsey and Giuliana walked aboard a ship, they snuck on but they saw there chance to leave. They turned around to see a crew of men hold their swords. Screaming they pushed the scary men off the ship. They looked as they saw more men on the shore running, they put the sails up and off they went.

Splash! Kelsey went outside, the ships anchor put under the big blue sea. But something else was in the sea, splashing and screaming for dear life.Kelsey went straight into action throwing a rope and a nearby life coat attached to it.

The person was a girl, she seemed to be a bit older but Kelsey was able to put a blanket on her.

“Who..who are you?” the girl whimpered.

“Kelsey pleasure to meet you. But not like this’

“I’m Sacha but I was in my bed then I blacked out and… and fell and I don’t know what to do.”

“Let’s go in, it’s warmer that way.” Kelsey smiled.

Giuliana walked in, confused. Kelsey tried to explain what happened, it was hard to believe but Giuliana still shaken nodded. Everyone was able to become best friends in days, those days eventually turned to months.

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH, KELSEY! GIULIANA!”

The two girls screamed to find two more girls on the floor. They were both blond, one girl with the lightest hair, the other short and sandy brown. Sacha, who has brown hair and brown eyes widened was speechless.

“They just fell on the deck, no scratches no nothing” Sacha explained.

We are all here for a reason, but what?” Kelsey questioned.

Not all of them were there. Splash! One girl left, bobbing in the water. Kelsey and Sacha reeled her in, the girl sputtering.

“Liza? Is that you? Lily too?” the girl exclaimed.

“Sofia?” Liza and Lily questioned in unison.

Everyone sat in silence, confused as ever. They were here for a reason, they didn’t know. But she did. Sofia got up first, her brown hair and eyes looked around confused.

“Let’s settle down, we’ll go to a nearby stop and see if anyone knows anything about falling people.” Kelsey concluded sarcastically.

Sacha led the Liza, Sofia, and lily to the sleeping quarters. Giuliana watched the deck as Kelsey steered the ship to skull dock. The breeze cooled down heat of Kelseys problems. And she blacked out, words were whispered into her head. They swirled and twirled in her head.

“Darune is not satisfied, the girls will end it all, these words will save from fatal fall.”

And she woke. Kelsey sat up, everyone was asleep. They arrived at the dock, Kelsey sat up all night watching and making sure no one came on.

The girls all woke up stopping at Sharky’s Diner. An old but a classic place to eat. Everyone loved the food. No one knew that some food can be so good.

“Mmmmm, that’s good.” Liza gurgled, she was stuffed with all the good food.

Sacha was watching the window as she saw someone go to an alley, very suspicious.

“Hey can we go over there?” Sacha asked. “Sure lets see whats down that area but bring your weapons, this place isn’t the best.”

Everyone walked in seeing a bookstore, the girls walked in knowing answers could be there for what happened yesterday.

“That was suspiciously convenient” Kelsey sarcastically snickered.

Everyone walked in looking around, something caught Kelsey’s eye. The ancient city of Darune it said. Kelsey flipped through the book. Darune was an evil enchantress who ruled a kingdom, Darune. Hungry for power she took and took until the --- took her out. She seeks for revenge they say. Kelsey was confused, what was the missing piece? Who ever stopped her was ripped out of the old crumpled brown book.

Kelsey tiptoed around to find where everyone was. Giuliana had went outside, Liza and Sofia were looking at paintings while Lily and Sacha were giggling in the corner of the store.

“Hello, may I buy this book?” Kelsey asked.

“Take it. I don’t want that old lump of paper, I thought it went missing years ago though.” the old lady snarled with a snap.

Kelsey walked as everyone else was waiting.

“I found this old book in the store and it’s about this evil lady thing with powers who got taken out or something.” Kelsey remarked.

“Wait,wait,wait you mean the evil enchantress Darune?” Giuliana uttured

“How do you know--”

Wait this all matches up, the bones of paradise defeated her! They rose up from the oceans and fell from the sky! This is exactly what happened to us!” Giuliana squealed.

Everyone that day only went by the Bones of Paradise.

Off in an far away in the ruined city of Darune, an Ancient queen woke up from her slumber. She is ready to fight the Bones of Paradise once again.

“Alright, alright let’s vote who should be who” Kelsey concluded.

All morning they were fighting over captain and Kelsey won the title “leader of the ship” Of course other people got other jobs. Giuliana got co-captain, Sacha and Lily as look out’s, Liza with first-aid, and Sofia as the armour collector. Everyone agreed on a name they would love to be called by from other people. These six girls were now the bones of paradise.

Later that night Sacha was awoken by a huge crash. The boat was sinking. Sacha ran outside to see a tall woman holding a staff. The woman cackled and pointed her staff directly at Sacha. Then she blacked out, she never woke up like the other five girls who never awoke either.

State
CA
Zip Code
94402
Grade
8

Regna knows time better than just about anyone.

She has seen the ripples caused by every action. The more significant an event, the wider the ripples on the surface of the great time-river. But eventually, those ripples melt back into the ever-flowing current.

Regna, being ancient, sees time from such a distance that she comprehends the cosmic pattern. She sees that time is like variations on a musical theme; the same song, repeating in an endless cycle. There are changes in the orchestration. People, places, circumstances shift. History doesn't repeat itself exactly every time.

Still, the same melody may be perceived behind everything that happens.

Metaphor and allegory. It can be tiresome. But with something as grand and deliciously incomprehensible as time, metaphor is a mouthpiece for greater truths that you humans do not yet have the words to express.

Regna has a story. She cannot tell it like you would tell it, because she does not speak in words, so I must translate. A near impossible task. I had best stop putting this off.

Here is a story for you, Regna’s story, of a girl she knew long ago. It doesn’t come close to communicating any cosmic truth, but perhaps you may detect, behind these words, a strain of the melody of the universe.

 

There was once a child, on a planet far from here. Her name meant, in her language, something like eye of the hurricane. I am summarizing—names on this planet take pages to write out fully. Let us call her Linda. I am told that is a common name on your world.  

Linda’s people knew immediately that she was different. I will call them the Stormfolk, because they lived in a land where it was often raining. They raised her separate from others, exposed her to ideas they would not normally, because she was so different.

By the time Linda was only twelve of your years old, she was considered an elder. This is because she had been born with a strange gift.

On the rainswept night of her birth, her parents noticed two things. First: the eye of the hurricane passed over the city at the instant she was born. This is what led to her name. Second: her behavior was strange from the very start—her movements jerky, her voice high-pitched and distorted. Her parents soon deduced what was “wrong” with her.

She experienced time differently. You see—and I must resort to metaphor again to describe this—her planet was situated at the center of the time-river, where its current was strongest and wildest. I will call it Stormworld. The philosophers of Stormworld theorized that perhaps the storms occured during ripples in the time-river. Thus, children like Regna, born during a storm, often saw time in a much different way.

To Linda, all the worried nurses and relatives and elders who watched over her moved in slow motion. In the eyes of the rest of the Stormfolk, she was like a hummingbird, always in motion, flitting about, impossible to keep in sight for more than a moment. During one of her parents’ days, some twenty of Linda’s days passed.

When she learned to write, she was finally able to communicate with her parents, writing long, detailed messages in the blink of an eye. But when she spoke, her voice was like birdsong.

Having twenty times as much time as the rest of us, she was able to learn a great deal in a very short period of time. That is how she became a wise elder in twelve years. Linda soon took up residence in—here language fails me again.

I could say it was like a tree without branches, or a great beast with roots. If you crossed a tree and a winged lion, the result would be something like this. Whatever you want to call it, it was asleep. Always asleep. It would wake up someday, when it saw fit, according to legend.

I will call it a Qualgur. This is the beginning of the Stormfolk’s word for the beast. An unwieldy word, but it will do.

Qualgurs once flew in the sky like your birds, the legend goes, and the Stormfolk rode them, nestled in their cavernous mouths. But when the beasts first saw the forest, they were so taken with the trees that they decided to follow their example, anchoring themselves in the earth and falling into a plantlike slumber. It was impossible for the Stormfolk to awake their beloved steeds. Instead, many of them made homes out of the sleeping Qualgurs’ maws, so that they would not be parted from their companions. The tree-bird-houses did not seem to mind this repurposing of their bodies, they were so absorbed in their meditation, and so it was that Linda came to dwell inside of a Qualgur.

Regna is telling me now something very challenging to relay to you. I am of a race that can use both spoken language and telepathy, a race that has been observing humans for a long time and knows their languages, so I am her translator. However, I am beginning to think I may have bit off more than I can chew, to quote your expression. (I do not in fact chew, I absorb radiation for energy.) Much of what she says I myself barely understand.

How should I say this? I will give some background. The Qualgurs, when they were ridden and not used as homes, communicated with the Stormfolk through telepathy. The Stormfolk evolved to detect telepathic messages, developing a new section of their minds devoted to the interpretation of brain waves. When the Qualgurs fell asleep, this section of the mind became useless.

Yet during Linda’s first few days living in the Qualgur, she felt a sort of prickling in her mind, a waking-up feeling. An inner eye opened. No, not an eye, more of an ear. This part of her brain she had never used before began to pick up the dreams, the slow, meditative thoughts of the Qualgur. That sense of telepathic connection lost to her people returned, an almost imperceptible, a tingling, a crawling sensation.

Then, the Qualgur fell deeper into slumber, and that feeling was gone.

Linda wove a hammock from the hairs on the outside of the Qualgur, and meditated, and slept, and dreamed, just like her living, breathing home. Occasionally, she would wake with a hint of that tingling feeling. Any two creatures who have dreamed together share a strange and beautiful bond.

Linda would give whatever answers she could to the Stormfolk’s questions. Like Regna, she did not consider herself wise. She studied ancient texts and listened to the rushing of the time-river. If she found messages in it, or important ideas buried in the ancient texts, she would pass them on to the Stormfolk. If not, then she would dream, and the Qualgur would dream with her.

One day, she heard a clear and urgent message beneath the sound of the time-river. The storm brings with it something new today. Home will be home no longer.

Disturbed, Linda walked to the city to alert the people. Something was coming.

 

War had never come to Stormworld, because another kind of war was fought every day against the storms. The cruel elements forced the Stormfolk to work as one. Therefore, war had to come not from within, but from without.

There is a very distant world that is home to a species called the Gganth. They are more like you than they are like the Stormfolk, I am sad to say. Their language, appearance, and most importantly, their temperament are much like yours. They are explorers and adventurers. They are also warriors and conquerors. A path of destruction lies in their wake, wherever they fly in their spaceships. A party of their fighters had reached Stormworld.

Like you, these Gganth were fairly intelligent. They knew that a storm would cloak their arrival. They hid their ships in the hurricane’s eye and followed it towards the largest settlement.

The Gganth are different from you in one sense. They have a much better understanding of time. Instead of treating this knowledge as a gift, like the Stormfolk, they use it as a weapon. They have invented ugly machines that are like dams on the time-river, machines that start and stop time, freezing their enemies in place, helpless and robbed of their time, so that the Gganth can slaughter them. This is how the warrior race was able to extinguish so many cultures. It is impossible to fight back when you have no time to fight in.

The Gganth ships slid silently through the sky. The Gganth were certain they would not be discovered until they were directly above the natives. They would eradicate the native life and mine the planet for its resources.

They did not know that Linda, who was so attuned to the patterns in history, who understood time like no other, who listened to the rushing of the time-river and brought its messages to the people, anticipated their arrival. She was ready.

When the Gganth emerged from the storm clouds, they were shocked to find the city empty. Linda had convinced the other elders to evacuate the people. Alone in the silence was a girl, a twitching, fidgeting, darting girl who moved more like an insect.

“Regna,” laughed the Gganth king, his word for “child.” He was amused. Was this the valiant defense this world had to offer? On other worlds, the natives had at least put up a fight.

The Gganth king leapt from the ship, his fall cushioned by flaps of skin on his back that were the remains of wings shredded in battle.

“Regna,” he said, “lyutha kurgeli.” It was a challenge. Linda understood.

She examined the Gganth king, searching for weaknesses. She saw that he was confident, powerful, muscular. She saw that he held a club in one of his five hands, and in another, what looked like a small box.

He did not yet understand her power, so she decided to use it to her advantage, darting back in forth until she was a blur.

The Gganth king’s grin only widened. His fingers, which were riddled with burn marks from many battles, closed over the box in his hand.

It was some sort of trigger, Linda realized, for a weapon. She was not afraid. No weapon could harm her. She would dodge any bullet in an instant.

Then, the Gganth king activated the trigger.

Everything stopped.

Linda’s thoughts were somewhere else. They were not in her head anymore. She looked down and saw herself frozen. The clouds no longer moved. The droplets of rain hung, motionless, over the ground. The Gganth king alone moved, swiftly, without hesitating. With a blow of his club he felled Linda, and her body crumpled to the ground.

Linda saw herself fall, but felt no pain. She was separate now. She could do nothing.

A tingling. A waking-up feeling. The weapon had halted everything. Yet somehow, something was keeping her thoughts from stopping. A being that was asleep was keeping her awake.

The Qualgur was tugging at her, speaking to her.

Please, friend, said Linda with her mind, it is time to wake up now.

The Gganth king stepped closer to the lifeless form of Linda. Dead? Unconscious? He would answer all questions with a single stroke of his club. He would make sure she never moved again.

There was a noise like the world was ending, a wave of sound hurling itself at the Gganth invaders. A being of such power that even a dam on the time-river could not stop it.

The Qualgur erupted from the earth, spreading its wings for the first time in millenia. It roared, violently expelling Linda’s furniture from its mouth, and surged towards the Gganth ships. It slammed its horns into the king’s craft, causing a shower of sparks. The time-halting weapon shattered into pieces, and the rain fell once again.

The remaining Gganth did something they had never in the history of their people done before. They fled. The ships vanished, as abruptly as they had arrived.

Linda saw all this. Or maybe she felt more than saw. She no longer had eyes. Her body, down below, lay dead on the ground. The king, consumed by the explosion of his ship, was dead as well.

Linda was bodiless. She did not know how she was alive, only that she could still think. Then, she heard a gentle, wordless voice in her mind. The Qualgur. Here is what it said, translated to words.

You have left your physical self behind. I cannot bring it back. I was able to preserve your consciousness, but for you to survive, you need a host. I will allow you space within my body so that you may live on as part of me.

Linda was horrified. How will I tell my people that I am still alive? How will I ever feel anything again?

The Qualgur’s wordless voice was sad, but something about it gave Linda hope. You have always felt more with your mind than with your body. Together, we will be greater than either of us was alone. I have watched you since your birth. You are the first of the Stormfolk in generations who could communicate with me so well. We may spread our knowledge across the universe, so that other beings will not fall to darkness like the Gganth. But if you are to stay with me, you must learn to speak without words.

Linda was beginning to see what Qualgur meant. To understand the melody of the cosmos, she would need to learn to listen better. To listen to the song of the stars, the teachings of all living things across many galaxies.

The Qualgur knew she understood. What shall we call ourself?

Linda thought back to the Gganth king, the name he had called her.

We shall call ourself Regna.

 

This is where Regna’s story ends. I will continue it a bit further. Regna, her mind wedded with that of the Qualgur, travelled from world to world. Sometimes, the creatures ignored her teachings. Sometimes they embraced them. Every planet she visited, Regna gained more knowledge and understanding, until she arrived at Earth. A planet with many good listeners. However, she at first had trouble communicating, so she returned to my world, which she had visited several of your months before, and enlisted my help. A translator. I have done my best to put into words Regna’s story, in the hopes that it may open the eyes of humanity to new perspectives. I am afraid, though, that some very important sections were omitted because of the difficulties conveying them to you. I can only hope I have been as clear as possible. I hope someday that you will learn to move beyond words, so that you may learn Regna’s secrets firsthand. Until then, I will be your translator.

 

State
MI
Zip Code
48103
Grade
9

The news crashed into me like a train. It made me stumble, fall, and crumble under the weight of it. It brought waves after waves of grief and tears that seemed like they would never end. I felt like I would never live again. As if I was the one who was gone; who would never return, who I would never see again.  Years later, I would think that 'yes, that person is now gone.' As of now, my pain and tribulation seemed eternal. I looked at the messenger of the bad news, hoping, praying, even begging; was there anything left? Did he have, even an ounce of, good news, an ounce of consolation?  He said a few incomprehensible words to me, words that probably made sense, but I could not understand anything. He seemed to realize this and handed me a sealed envelope, patted my shoulder and left. 

What would a pitiful, insignificant envelope do to console my screaming, broken heart?   I shoved the envelope deep inside a drawer, stumbled into my bed and sobbed until sleep pulled me under its shade. I spent days after days under a cloud of sadness and depression. I couldn't heal, I refused to. How could I, when the person who was my role model, who guided me through every part of my life was gone?  I wallowed in sadness. Even though days went on, it seemed as if my life wouldn't.  

After a month like this, my brother, Nick, came to me. He looked healthy, changed, almost happy. He saw me in this pitiful state and remarked, "Do you care at all about him? Do you even remember him?"  His words cut through me like a sword. Of course, I cared! Of course, I remember! How dare he say something like that?  I was going to retort back to him, hurt and angry, but then he said, " Have you even read the letter? The one inside the sealed envelope?"  I looked at him, confused and baffled. Suddenly it dawned on me, the envelope the messenger gave. I looked at him and shook my head. He sighed and said "Read it, Jess. It will help. I promise." And with this, he left. 

    A day later, I decided to open the drawer. I could not get myself to find the envelope. The next day, I located the envelope.  I could not stand to touch it. The day after, Tuesday, I held the envelope. On the front of it was scrawled my name in his handwriting. I could not bear to open it. The next day, I gently unsealed it. I could not make myself look inside of it. Two days later, I took out the neatly folded paper.  I did not unfold it. On Sunday, I unfolded it. I could not read a word. On Wednesday, I made the decision to embark on this painful journey.

It started, "My dear, dear girl, I'm sorry. " These six words made me want to stop, but I pushed myself. "I'm sorry that I had to go. I'm sorry that because of me, your hurting. But you need to know somethings.  First, I need you to forgive me. I could not control the time of my death. If I could, if anyone could, then this world would not be our world. This world is full of ups and downs.  Embrace them. And with this in mind, forgive me. " This is all I could read. I got up from the floor and started to pace. Should I really put myself through this? I was not sure. Can I forgive him for leaving me in this terrible world? And I realized, at the end of the day, I could. 

The next day, I started reading again. "Now that you have forgiven me, forgive yourself. There was nothing you could have done. Everyone has their time. This time, it was my turn. Nothing you could have done, nothing the doctors could have done would have saved me. I had to go, and I accepted it. Don't blame yourself for something you could not have controlled. I loved you and I know you loved me. If you still love me, then forgive yourself." I stopped reading. How did he know that is the way I felt. That deep down inside, I blamed myself.  That I wouldn't let myself out of this depression because of this pain I felt, this guiltiness. But could I ever forgive myself? These were the thoughts spinning in my head for the rest of the day.

On Friday, I began reading where I left off. " I hope you have forgiven yourself. With all that sadness, depression and negativity, how are you? Be happy Jessica. Live in this moment because it will never come back. No matter how sad, happy, depressed, excited you are, take advantage of the moment. Don't be a plant that only grows only towards the sun. Grow in every direction and spread your leaves. Give your shade to all who seek. Let your wisdom be as deep as the ocean. Let your kindness be like rain that falls everywhere on everyone.  Let your knowledge cover the Earth and beyond. Live your full potential. Don't let anyone stop you from being better. Cut through the world's prejudices and biases. Be someone who leaves a mark on this world, not someone who will live and die without anyone's remembrance.  I know you, Jessica. You are a human, just like the billions on this Earth, but be different. Anyone can be, and I am telling you, go show the world what they need. Show them the truth and never give up. You will always see good and bad, but the bravest one is the one who rises from their past and creates their future." I stopped at this. Did he really believe in me that much? Did he really think I can do this? I reflected on these questions the entire day. Just before I fell asleep, I understood what he was saying. He knows anyone can do this, but it's his dream for me to do this.

I woke up the next day and started reading right away. "I hope you have realized what you can become. Fly higher than the stars. But how can you without wings?  Remember Jessica, your wings are made of determination and balance. With determination, asses yourself and make changes. The world will change with you.  With determination, make goals. The world will challenge you. With balance, attain perfection in the work you do. You, yourself will never be perfect, but let perfection shine through your work. With balance, attain peace because through unbalance we only have chaos.  And remember, be who you are meant to be. I have one last thing to say to you, my girl, never forget about those who love you. This is all I have to give you, my girl. I hope my advice will push you to push the limits of the world and break through. Make this messed up world a better place, for yourself and those who will come after. I love you so much.
Sincerely and lovingly,
Your beloved father,"
I started crying. Could I do this? Can I grow? Can I live? Can I flourish? Can I fly? And the answer to all these questions is yes. Yes, I can. I can be better. And this is the advice that I am sharing with you that my father gave me. Will you fly? Will you soar? Will you change in order to make a change? Become better, become stronger.
 Later, I found out my dad had died of cancer. He hadn't told anyone. I found out from my mom that he had passed away peacefully. I hope I will be able to fulfill his dreams. I hope you all will be able to. I hope we will all change the world.

State
MI
Zip Code
48198
Grade
9

“Alright Jake, try to be quick this time. I have to take your sister to soccer practice in just a few minutes.”

    My mom stopped the car right in front of Eric’s house. With a laugh and a tired smile, she turned to me.

    “You kids make it so chaotic all the time.” She sounded slightly irritated. “I can’t wait until you’re out of the house, so I can do something other than being everyone’s chauffeur.”

    “Sorry, mom.” I sighed and tried to unclick the scorching hot seatbelt buckle without burning my fingertips. I had to sacrifice an entire hand to open up the car door. 

    Hopping out of my seat, I scurried to Eric’s front door. Out of habit, I reached up to knock, but then remembered and dug the key out of my pocket. 

    Mid-July, it was scorching hot in the middle of Arizona. I was stuck here, swimming in my own sweat while Eric was off on vacation. He left me behind to care for his fish, his pride and joy. It took him three months of chores to prove he was responsible enough to take care of it. 

    I shoved the key into the lock and swung the door open. I looked back to my mom and she waved to me impatiently to hurry up.

    The minute I stepped inside I was met with a rush of cold air on my skin. We don’t have an air conditioner at home, so I spent most of the summer camped out at Eric’s house, shooting hoops until we overheated, and then playing video games in the basement until we had cooled off enough to do it again. Sometimes, we would have soda as a treat. The un-caffeinated kind, of course. Both of our parents agreed we are too young for caffeine. 

    I slipped off my shoes and tossed them next to the door. I breathed for a second, then headed to the back of the house. 

    My feet slid on the hardwood floors, and I made a game of sliding from one to another like I was ice skating.

 Swish…Swish...Swish.

I spun. 

Well, I tried to spin at least. I ended up with my elbow smacking against the hardwood floor, making my arm feel all tingly. 

Shaking my wrist, I walked into the kitchen to find the fish. 

Eric left me a note on the fridge with information about feeding. And a few other things too. I pulled it down, even though I read it yesterday.

It said:

Hey stinkface, Thanks for feeding my fish. Enjoy being a mature, responsible kid like me for 5 whole days. You should give it a big pinch of food every day, about the size of a quarter. Speaking of the size of a quarter, that’s the same size as your brain. I know you miss me. From, Eric

He was right, I did miss him. 

I pulled a stool over, climbed onto it, and peered into the tank, looking for the goldfish’s black and orange spots. 

The fish tank was big, at least to me. It had three plastic plants, which were bright purple and pink. The rocks at the bottom were light blue, dusted in fuzzy green. Algae, Eric said it was called. In the middle, there was a big white rock with a hole so the fish could swim right through it. That was my favorite part, the rock. I wanted to swim under an archway like that. 

I couldn’t find the fish right away. He wasn’t swimming around or hiding behind the big rock. I pressed my nose to the glass, leaving a little smudge. 

Eventually, I found him huddled behind the pink plant. 

He seemed to be almost lying on the bottom of the tank. Taking a rest, probably. I’d be tired from all that swimming. 

Satisfied with having found the fish, I grabbed the jar of food. I took a big pinch of green and yellow flakes, pulled the top off of the tank, sprinkled in the food, and closed it up. I pressed my nose back up against the glass. 

It was time for my favorite part: watching the fish eat. 

But the fish didn’t move. Instead of his usual frenzied feeding, he just lay next to the plant. 

    Slightly irritated by his lack of response, I tapped on the glass. Maybe I just needed to wake him up from a nap. I rested my forehead against the tank and tapped even more. 

“Come on, fishy,” I urged. I knew my mom was waiting impatiently in the car, but I didn’t want to miss watching the fish dart around to catch his lunch. I prodded the glass a final time. 

He didn’t even flinch. 

“Go, get your food.”

In a final attempt to wake him from his slumber, I pulled off the lid again and reached directly into the tank. My hand looked strange and distorted through the glass, so I waggled my fingers, admiring how they appeared to change shape. 

Then, I reached down to poke the fish. I nudged his slimy, scaly, skin, but he didn’t move. 

Why wasn’t he moving? I started to panic. There was only one reason I could think of.

I reached down again, this time closing my hand around the fish, and pulling him higher up in the tank. Surely this would wake him up. I let go, giving him room to start swimming. 

But he didn’t swim. He sank. 

When his motionless body hit the bottom of the tank, my worst fears were confirmed. 

I took a shuddering deep breath. 

Dead. 

Another breath, this one catching in my throat, turning into a sob.

Dead because of me. 

Tears formed at the corners of my eyes and trailed down my cheeks. My lungs felt tight like I couldn’t breathe fast enough.

I’d killed my best friend’s fish. 

My hand was still in the tank, hanging limply in the water. I pulled it out slowly, leaving the fish where he had fallen. Tears were running down my face, snot was leaking out of my nose, fish water was dripping down my arm. I was a wet mess. I was a murderer.

Five days. Eric had left me in charge of his fish for five days. Such a short time and I had still managed to kill his fish. I didn’t even know it’s name.

Eventually, I put the lid back on the tank and stepped down from the stool. I walked over to the sink and rinsed off my arms and face. I scrubbed at my hand for a whole minute, trying to erase the feeling of scales from my fingertips. 

I dried my hands, and then realized I had no idea what to do. The fish was dead, and Eric’s family wasn’t going to be home for another two days. Should I just leave it? That felt wrong. Leaving a dead body in a tank for them to find. My insides twisted with guilt. But what else was I going to do? Hold a funeral without Eric?

I decided to call Eric’s mom. She would know what to do.
 
I pulled the stool away from the fish tank and dragged it over to the cabinet that had the phone on top. I climbed up and grabbed the phone and the post-it that had her phone number on it. 

Setting the note on the counter, I punched the numbers into the phone and held it to my ear. It rang once, twice, and then Eric’s mom answered.

“Hello?”

“Hi Mrs. Perry?” My voice cracked as I spoke. 

“Is everything alright?” She sounded worried.

“Y-yeah. Well not really.” 

“Are you okay?” Now she sounded alarmed. “Did you get hurt, or-”

“No, no, I’m fine. It just…” I swallowed, holding back another wave of tears. 

“Just what?”

“Just I- the- the fish,” I choked out, “He’s dead.”

The other end of the phone was silent for a second. 

“Oh honey, it's alright,” she said, her voice soft and sympathetic. “He was getting old anyway. It’s time for him to leave this world and move onto the next, you know?”

“I-I guess,” I said, my voice shaky. 

“Everything is going to be fine. We needed him out of the house anyway, to do our kitchen remodel. He’s in a better place.”

    “Yeah,” I sniffed. “What should I do? Like with the fish?”

“Just leave him where he is, okay? We’ll take care of it when we get home.”
“Alright.” 

“See you soon, okay? And really, it wasn’t your fault.”

“Okay. Goodbye, Mrs. Perry.”

“Bye.”

The call ended with a beep, and I put the phone back on the cabinet. I pushed the stool back into the corner, where it belonged. 

    I took one last look at the fish. It lay on the bottom of the tank, pale orange with faded black spots. Dead. Left and moved on. Just like Mrs. Perry said. Out of the house. 

    Those words seemed familiar. 

“I can’t wait until you are out of the house,” My mom had said. 

Did she wish I was gone? Dead?

I could feel the prickling of tears at the back of my eyes. 

    “Goodbye,” I whispered to the fish. 
 

State
CA
Zip Code
94070
Grade
8

I’m in a field of tall brown grass that comes up to the buttons on my jean shorts. As far as I can tell the only things here besides me and the grass are the painted clouds in the fishbowl sky and the dirt on the ground.

I continue forward, in the direction that I’m currently facing towards, feeling the rough grass brush against my naked torso. There is no wind here to cover up the noise my footsteps make, and if it were not for the overwhelming amount of rustling from the grass, the usual light-purple jingle of the zippers on my boots would be the only sound in this oddly familiar barren landscape.

I haven’t been here yet in my endless journeys, although I do assume I will be here again. I don’t exactly have a definite destination. I’m just going to continue in the direction that seems correct without a second thought.

Once, at a peculiar moment in my travels, I had found myself on a spindly and humongous bridge, most like the ones you would see over a canyon in movies. It gave off an aura that made everything around it seem to be black and white, and I didn’t doubt that it actually might have been. I was walking across it to the large house at the end of it that seemed to be matching the cartoonishly thin demeanour of the bridge when, as if it were the guard dog of the establishment, a creature, that would have sent shivers down my spine if I were in a different mindset, stepped out from its place hovering below the tracks like a bat right in front of me. Its pencil-like legs drawn beneath it and a singular arm stretched out in front of it in a inquisitive pose, like a scholar in the shape of a tall furry mushroom, it opened its small circular mouth and breathed out a room-temperature breath, not quite as full as a sigh, as if to communicate to me without having to talk.

Most of my conversations go this way, so when I received the stream of conscious thought that the large dark thing wanted me to understand, transmitted into my own brain like a ribbon, I thought of it as a normal form of speech and knew that it wanted me to leave, without contemplating why. Now as I looked up at my new companion I saw that its eyes were simply hollowed-out sections in its being of literal ink on a page. Over the years I had become weary of things without eyes, but I had unconsciously formed a liking towards this particular character within our brief meeting and felt a longing to stay in this dark setting. So, instead of lifting my foot to spin around and walk back from where I came, I took off running across the bridge towards the comfort of the creaking house. After the split second that it took my new acquaintance to realize that I had ran past it, it called out to its friends (that I could have predicted were resting under the tracks as well) with a loud alarmed sounding warble, the blue sound slicing through the inky shade of the landscape like spilled watercolors. The newcomers emerged from the shadows, the background practically creating them from its dark folds, crawling upright behind the one who called out. All of them now pulled their beings towards me, dragging parts of the only floor I had currently known past me as I ran. The bridge, like in the movies, began to crumble and fall beneath my human feet, while the fluffy creatures held on to the thin metal rods with their dark limbs crawling forward as it fell.

I could reach the house, if not for the fact that the portion of the track where my feet were struggling was falling to the right, away from its previous upright pose, and dramatically leaning as I ran to the end of it. I couldn’t jump to the other side like I had originally planned on doing, and the fast pace in which I was running wasn’t exactly going to let me stop. I planted my feet on the last solid wooden rung, all the others in front of me being broken and unable to hold my weight, my shoes stopped without the rest of me, and my entire being fell forward.

I don’t remember falling into the black abyss that was waiting for me below; I don’t think there was an actual place for me to fall into within the inky darkness. As if to show how much I had overstepped my bounds by trying to make it into the house, there was a time jump in my memory, and I simply became conscious again in a large shopping mall completely filled with water, like a tank where all the customers seemed to have a fish-like air about them, and I purchased a lovely silk top embroidered with small shells.

Of course, now, in the field, I wasn’t wearing the garment, for, the sun, even though not hot, was more harsh than I would have liked. Instead, I had opted for a more reasonable look, where comfort came over style, and I simply wore my tights, jean shorts atop them, with my boots tied tightly to my thin cotton socks and feet. I usually try to ignore my chest, and that’s harder to do when there’s nothing on it to distract me. I doesn’t seem to be a problem that I’m not wearing any shirt, because while it is around midday, the fishbowl effect of the surrounding sky is warping the sun from being allowed to burn me, and my only concern is that the particularly tall pieces of grass might scrape my skin and leave a rash if I’m in this part of the meadow for too long.

Luckily, after wandering for a little while longer, I came across a parting in the grass. This wasn’t a natural formation and seemed to have been caused forcefully by a stray cart pushed through the grass for a while before being abandoned in the middle of the field. I wonder if this means a road is nearby and make a conscious decision to find it after looking at the wagon.

The wagon, toppled onto its side and missing one of its larger wheels, was made small enough to fit around one person, a suitcase, a reasonably stout cat, and a beach ball, in that order, no more and no less. It has a blue and red striped canopy over it, although now warn and bathed in the sun, thinning and lightening its color and appearance. Like the dark house at the end of bridge once did, it draws me in, causing me to feel a deep sudden comfort, more than when I was simply feeling content before. I would step towards it, but I learned my lesson from the bridge and now stand observing the shattered Christmas lights hanging from the wagon’s worn wood, waiting for whomever is probably guarding it to make the first move.

As I predicted, there was someone here, and they meant to meet me. This time, they were more human-like than the creatures at the bridge, although, like the fluffy mushroom creatures, most of their body was clumped up around their chest and their legs were long and spindly as well. The only strong difference I could see was that their arms are thick and drawn up like their waist. They adorn a pair of large, bug-like goggles, which sat above their mustache like a fat caterpillar on a thin leaf. I can see their large blue eyes reflecting the sky through these goggles, and, for that, a sense of relief falls on me, making my hunched shoulders drop subconsciously.

And at that exact moment, to my extreme surprise, they lift their mustache with their opening jaw, stick one hand forward to shake my hand, and instead of communicating telepathically like everyone else I encounter, real words fall out of their mouth as it snaps closed.

“Hello sir, my name is Brush Hair Number Three. You have nice fingernails. Shake my hand; you don’t want to come across as absurd now.”

I want to mention to them that the only absurd thing about this encounter would be the fact that they just talked to me out loud and said all of it in the very short frame of time between opening and closing their mouth. Instead, I reach out and shake their hand.

“You seem to be lost sir, may I direct you back to the road? I’m on my way to the post office in the train station’s pool and would like a bit of company, if you need to go in the same direction.”

Not seeing a reason to disagree with them, and wanting to see the post office they talked about, I nodded my head in response and am now following them out of the grass field to the dirt road. With their legs are almost long enough to reach my shoulders, their stride is almost twice as long as mine and I visibly fall behind them, even though I’m making an effort to walk fast and them slowly.

They suddenly stop, and I walk up to stand next to them, out of the grass and onto a narrow dirt road. Ironically, as if the road had not been traveled lately, there were hardly any wheel tracks in the dirt and the grass next to the road was a soft green, an odd contrast to the thick rough brown we were just walking through. My companion draws a harsh cough from below their mustache, and a layer of dust flies out of their mouth, drifting upwards and settling atop us in a thin grey sheet.

“Travel dust!” they bark out, still wheezing slightly from within their throat. Mentally preparing myself for the experience ahead of me, I take a sharp inhale and choke briefly. We both sneeze in turn, and as I open my eyes afterward we appear to be standing atop the landing with a substantial amount of marble steps stretching out behind us.

The train station.

The train station, as we all know, is where all things important happen. Although I never know what’s going on, everyone around me always knows what they’re doing here. It’s a very unsatisfying feeling. Brush Hair Number Three walks into the large glass doors and leaves me to follow inside.

When I enter the building I look around, and every surface is a different shade of polished glossy stone, like it was made purely out of a kitchen counter. I don’t like it here, and I’m quite lost now that I don’t have a purpose or want to be here.

I suddenly feel an extreme urgency to retreat from the train station out to the sun-soaked marble steps. I frantically run around, past frogs and people alike, past rooms and hallways, repeating in an endless maze of oddly shaped stone.

I come to a sudden halt in the middle of a large room, an entrance hall of sorts with a fountain in the corner. A thought comes across my mind, and I barely register it until I speak it aloud.

“I’m dreaming.”

As my brain catches up with my mouth and I comprehend what it means, the color of the words ends, and darkness falls upon me. I’m falling into the darkness, falling off the bridge again. My eyes snap open.

I’m here.

State
MI
Zip Code
48103