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Grade
12

As the icicles grow outside her window so does her will to stay in bed.

Her skin is snow white and her fingernails purple as to match her under eyes.

And behind her eyelids a constellation of veins can be seen.

Cold to the touch, but her heart is sweltering.

 

State
IN
Zip Code
46613
Grade
11

A box in my closet 
holds the remnants of us—
our pictures,
our memories,
on a shelf collecting dust.

My mom asked about you,
and I told her that we don't speak. 
You said we'd stay friends,
but that was a promise you couldn't keep. 
Months have gone by
and the distance between us has grown deep. 

Yet after all this time,
I still don't understand 
why you won't stay apart of the past.
I thought that I was healed, 
that I had moved on.

But I still hear the sound of your heart beating in my ear,
the smell of your love invading my air, 
and the warmth of your touch lingers on my hair,
while your face in my dreams always appears. 

I can’t let you go,
you're stuck in my heart.
Even though I want you out,
you're the heartworm that I can't live without. 

State
HI
Zip Code
96813
Grade
11

I waltzed among the stars on airplanes’ wings.

Those eyes of youthful green watched cloudless skies.

Now I wait, wait— for land to which I cling.

 

Wide blazing windows showed me comets sing

And moonlight blind and galaxies arise.

I waltzed among the stars on airplanes’ wings.

 

A toppling sun—tick— governs Time as king,

While babies roar—tock— over mothers’ lies.

Now I wait, wait— for land to which I cling.

 

No brighter joy could destinations bring

Than birds of flight who journeyed into highs.

I waltzed among the stars on airplanes’ wings.

 

Late stops, and, turbulence upon me spring,

Confined on this machine (in steel disguise). 

Now I wait, wait— for land to which I cling.

 

I should relinquish fighting old Time’s ring; 

As I am fastened tight, she drowns in skies. 

I waltzed among the stars on airplanes’ wings.

Now I wait, wait— for land to which I cling.

 

State
CA
Zip Code
94582-5250
Grade
8

Delilah sat up in bed, hunched over her newest gift. She was too weak to sit up straight. “I hope you like it.” Joseph said softly.

Delilah flipped the journal over in her hand. The cover was smooth and pink, with flower embroidery climbing up the sides. The girl’s nimble fingers traced these floral designs up and down. “You deserve it after... everything.” Joseph's glossy eyes fell to the IVs in her wrists. 

“Thanks, I love the flowers.” she grabbed a pencil and flipped to the first blank page, starting to doodle a teacup. The pencil’s strokes were light and precise, until Delilah accidentally drew the handle crooked. She tried to erase it, but even when the surface graphite was gone, a harsh mark still tainted her page. “I pressed too hard.” she mumbled, then paused. Despite erasing it, evidence of the line remained. It wasn’t truly gone. 

The girl felt herself growing weaker with time, Joseph noticed it too. It wouldn’t be long until she passed on and was forgotten… unless… unless she had pressed hard enough. “D-do you think I’ll leave a mark?” heat welled up behind her eyes. 

Joseph immediately knew what she meant, “Definitely.” 

 

State
CO
Zip Code
80016
Grade
11

“Here you go,” the waitress says politely as she sets down Marnie’s black coffee and caramel-and-pecan pastry. “Enjoy.”

“Thank you.”

The cafe is mostly empty, but Marnie likes it that way. The only worker on this shift, who serves as both the cashier and the waiter, is pleasantly quiet and kindly let Marnie, a regular customer, stay inside to wait out the heavy downpour despite it being closing time soon. It’s a good chance for Marnie to catch up on some leisure reading or perhaps start sketching new ideas for her boutique’s fall season.

Somehow, though, Marnie ends up scrolling through her social media. It isn’t a terrible thing, she supposes, if it means it will get her creative juices pumping.

But the posts in her feed are far from dress designs and inspiring photographs. Several of them are group photos at sophisticated events or dreamy travel destinations. Even more are overly cheerful couple photos drowning in heart emojis. Marnie’s college roommate has posted a ten-day countdown to her wedding; there are still eight days left and Marnie is already tired of all the white and lace and floral, not to mention the corny captions, fancy filters, and slobbery smooching. She doesn’t know how she’ll survive the actual ceremony.

Marnie’s friends insist that her disgust derives from her five-year Supreme Single Status. Her last relationship, they suspect, broke her poor heart so badly that she locked herself out of the realm of romance. Maybe they’re right, but Marnie knows breaking up with Kyle was a good choice. With thousands of miles between them once she moved to North Carolina, it was nearly impossible to keep things up.

He called from their hometown in New Jersey and, within merely ten tearful minutes, ended their three-year relationship. The breakup went relatively smoothly, for the most part, without much drama. But for weeks afterward, life seemed to move by in a muted, foggy haze disrupted only by the harsh pain of heartbreak and the gentle sting of tears. When she moved to southern California a few months later, she knew she had to start over and focus on something else.

Kyle… Marnie hasn’t thought about him in a while.

She glances at her caramel-and-pecan pastry. He hated pecans. Or was it peanuts? She can’t remember now.

He was a good boyfriend, and more importantly, a good man. The two of them understood the irony: because they loved each other, all they wanted was for the other to be happy, yet despite their love, they could not be together due to distance, and being together brought them happiness. Still, they know they had to put their careers first, for their individual sakes’.

“You’re going to be really successful one day, Marnie,” Kyle said that night in a voice as soothing as ever in spite of the rough edges scraped by tears. “I can’t hold you back like this. We should let go of each other. You know?”

“You’re my support, Kyle, not my barrier.” But Marnie was too tired, too stunned, to argue at the time. “But I do know. I do.”

“You need to grow on your own, and I think I need to too.”

“My mom is always telling me to be satisfied with myself first before I try to fill up anyone else.”

“Yes! Exactly.” She could hear his relieved smile. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

“Kyle…”

“I’ll always be here for you.”

She sighed. “Me too. Gosh, I… There’s so much distance, so much space between us.”

“I know.”

“It’s hard, isn’t it? Distance. Yeah.” She cleared her throat. “You’re right. We should let go.”

He sniffled, then slowly let out a long breath. “As long as you’re happy.”

“I love you. I’m going to miss you.”

“I… Yeah. Me too.”

As long as you’re happy.

Am I happy now? Marnie wonders as she absently sips her coffee. Have I truly moved on from him? It’s been a while, but sometimes, for nostalgia’s sake, Marnie likes to ponder the fragmented what-ifs that float deep inside her mind.

What if she never moved? What if they worked out? What if they were together now? What if…?

Was it all worth it?

Am I happy now?

The bell above the cafe’s entrance buzzes. A soaked man in unfortunately formal clothes stumbles in from the rain, his umbrella in tatters. His dark brown hair sticks to his wet face, and he doesn’t bother pushing it away.

He approaches the worker at the counter with a sheepish smile. “Hi, sorry, um—”

That voice…! The familiarity of it sends odd tingles down Marnie’s spine.

“Are you still open? If it isn’t too late, I’d like to order something.”

“No worries,” the cashier replies. “What would you like to order?”

Marnie definitely knows his voice. But there’s no way—after all, this is southern California. Why would he be here?

“A large hot cocoa, please…”

That sweet, polite tone. That soft, soothing voice, like the caress of a breeze or a stream.

There’s no doubt now. That man, Marnie knows, is unmistakably Kyle.

When he genially takes his drink and turns for a seat, he sees her.

He doesn’t realize it’s her at first, but when he catches her eyes, the light of recognition sparks in his face.

“Oh, wow,” he whispers. “Marnie?”

And then the wall of shock disappears and the emotions come crashing down on her.

Her fingers tremble, just barely noticeable, hidden in her lap. Her heart turns over and over in uncomfortable cycles of wistfulness, awe, and hints of sadness all at once.

Yet, strangely, there is not a drop of regret.

“Kyle. Hey.”

Her voice is steady and at a reasonable volume. Even more surprising, Marnie realizes, she doesn’t feel any self-consciousness either—not over her new haircut, her lack of makeup, or even the weight she’s gained over the years. If anything, she glows.

Kyle, too, looks lighter and more mature than the last time she saw him. He hesitates, like he isn’t sure if his presence is welcomed or even tolerated, but at her smile, he hustles over to the seat across from her.

“I can’t believe it!” he exclaims, a grin alighting his face. “Marnie, is it really you?”

“Absolutely. And Kyle, you—I mean—” She laughs. “I didn’t recognize you with your beard!”

He laughs good-heartedly. “Yeah, it took some getting used to. But how have you been? What are you doing in California?”

“I could ask you the same.” She takes a large gulp of black coffee. “I moved here almost five years ago, actually.”

“Five years?” he echoes. “That’s… that’s around the same time I moved here.”

There it is. The could-have-been that hangs in the burst of silence between them.

“Well, I mean, not here here,” he stammers with that characteristic chuckle. “I lived up north for a while, near Sacramento.”

But it was still the same state. All this time, they’ve been in the same area and they didn’t even know.

Nevertheless, it’s been five years. They have moved on. Haven’t they?

Marnie clears her throat. “I see. For your job, or…?”

“Yeah, um, I got a promotion and relocated here. You?”

“I came here for… uh, something new. ‘Land of Opportunity’ and all that, I guess. I opened my boutique here.”

“Really!” The grin comes back as genuine interest shines through. “How is that?”

Passion pushes past all the intimidation of awkwardness. “Really well, actually! We just wrapped up an end-of-season sale and we’re bringing in the new designs for summer. Sales are doing well, I’d say.”

“Good. Great! That’s really great.”

Outside, the storm is relentless. Marnie can barely see through the window, the dark streets shrouded in grey and rain.

“It’s really something out there, huh?” Kyle looks outside with a small smile.

“No, not your typical SoCal weather. I still miss NJ, though.”

“Good ol’ Jersey.” Kyle sighs as he stretches his arms. “Froze my freaking bum off.”

Marnie bursts into snorts, and he jolts in surprise. “I remember! You always complained about the cold. You would always ‘borrow’ my extra-large sweatshirts too, as if you didn’t have enough of your own already.”

He joins her in both laughing and reminiscing. “Yours were always way fuzzier than mine! It’s like they were trying to be sexist or something.”

“They were unisex, Kyle.”

Another round of laughter later, silence settles over them again. This time, though, Marnie isn’t squirming to get away.

At some point, the downpour slows a bit. Kyle sips his hot cocoa carefully.

“Marnie, can I ask you something?”

She tilts her head. “Hm?”

“Are you happy?”

As long as you’re happy.

And without hesitation, she replies, “Yeah. I am.”

“If you don’t mind my asking… why?”

“Why?” Marnie frowns. “Because… things are good. I’ve spent the last five years developing my own business and it’s really successful. In fact, my friends and I are going on a weekend vacation soon to celebrate. And even if things weren’t good, I still have a lot to look forward to and be grateful for. I have a pet dog who I love and I’m doing what I love and…” She meets his gentle gaze. “And I love myself. I’m satisfied with myself.”

Kyle smiles, a bright smile full of sweetness and sunshine, something Marnie has never seen before. “That’s good. I’m glad you’re happy.”

“W-what about you?”

And then the smile turns shy, but underneath pulses pride and adoration. “Actually, I’m proposing to my girlfriend tonight. I’m nervous, but… yes, I’m happy. Thrilled, even.”

“Whoa, congratulations!” Marnie laughs in surprise, but much of that emotion is again directed at herself. Somehow, her words are genuine, and not a smidge of envy, dismay, or disappointment mars her heart. Only a kind, caring warmth makes her face glow with joy. “Good luck. She’s a blessed woman.”

Kyle’s laughter is like little bubbles of song that float up and around, and when they burst, they spread their light everywhere. “Thank you, Marnie. That means a lot to me.”

The rain has stopped and the sun finally peeks through the clouds again. Kyle’s phone dings just then with a text alert. He glances at the screen and an all-too-familiar melting-in-love smile takes over his features.

“That’s her,” he says, gathering his things. “I have to go.”

“It was good seeing you again, Kyle. And talking to you.”

He politely holds out his hand for a shake, which she accepts. “You too, Marnie. Take care, okay?”

“Yeah. You too.”

As Marnie watches Kyle go, possibly for the last time, the sunlight through the window embraces her and warmth fills her both inside and out. Yes, Marnie thinks as she takes a selfie in the golden white light.

I’m happy.

State
NC
Zip Code
28277
Grade
9

The lab smelled vaguely of antiseptics and disinfectants that lingered in the air like a poorly erased mistake. Daniel had to crinkle his nose slightly, this wasn’t what he expected when he signed up for being a test subject. Daniel expected something easy, like answering a few surveys or something along those lines. He wanted easy money, sue him.

 

 He and the participants had to sign a contract that declared that the organization could keep them for as long as the experiment went on. They were then separated and placed in different rooms with an object, while the scientists gave them free rein on what to do next.

 

Daniel spotted a fairly obscure button along the corner, “What happens if I press this button?” He inquired politely to the scientist. 

 

“Nothing.” The scientist replied in a toneless voice that was reminiscent of the industrial androids that populated the laboratory.

 

    Daniel shrugged nonchalantly and rammed down the button with a careless fist. There was a brief period of heart-pounding expectation, which soon dulled when nothing happened. 

 

    “It’s when you let go of the button is when things get messy.” said the scientist darkly as the steel-door entrance closed slowly behind her.

 

State
AB (Alberta)
Zip Code
T4N 6L7
Grade
8

[I made a few changes from the previous version. Please use this instead.]

Huff, huff. Puff, puff. Where do I go? I have wandered this maze for long. The ground is jagged, the walls close around me. There are bends and crossroads every ten steps, such that it is impossible to see where you are going. Left, right. Left, right. Follow the scent and go to the right. Follow the wind and go to the left. Follow your gut and turn back around. Huff, huff. Puff, puff. My life is running, reach the next bend. Left? Right? Left? Right? I see another, narrow at the end. Huff, puff. Huff, puff. Ah. I stop. The path is blocked. I turn around and go the other end. Huff, puff. Another block. What do I do? The clear sky is above me, but there is no path upwards, is there? My path is the same, find the next bend. Ah. I’ve already been here before. Here too. Also there. ‘What do I do? What do I do? Is this the end? Is there no more?’ Up above the skies, a human looks down. ‘What is that insect crawling back and forth inside the cracks?’ Whistling idly, the human continues down the straight road.

State
CA
Zip Code
92833
Grade
8

She crouches, nearly frozen solid.

Her knees pulled close to her chest,

as she rocks back and forth ever so slightly.

 

Her teeth as sharp as icicles,

grinding against each other, like nails on a chalkboard, 

over and over again.

 

She doesn’t speak, no, not a single peep.

She can’t, 

her jaw won’t unlock, her purple lips won’t part,

to let her release those pent up cries for help.

 

A layer of frost covers her skin,

like moss to a lonely stone.

Her body has been numbed to the core.

Poke her, prick her, prod her, 

she won’t feel a thing,

at least not anymore. 

 

Blood, 

once warm and red, now a sickly scarlet.

Skin, 

once flushed and fair, now thin, 

with an icy bluish hue.

Hair,

once thick and strong, 

now sparse and delicate. 

A head of inky black locks, now all but gone. 

 

Is there any hope?

Surely not, for who would give a girl who looks so pitiful,

a second shot? 

 

The sound of steps, muffled by frosted white walls.

She cranes her neck to face the approaching noise.

Thin hairs tickle bony shoulders.

 

No, not bony. Skeletal.

You could count her ribs, as small and brittle as toothpicks climbing up her chest.

 

She lifts a shaky hand,

throbbing blistered finger tips meet the icy walls of her prison, her cage.

Gathering up every ounce of strength she has left, she taps the wall.

 

"Tap, tap, tap."

No response.

Silence for a moment longer. 

She makes a fist, her fingers trembling. 

Desperate to make some noise. To get some attention. To get your attention. 

She knocks.

 

"Knock, knock, knock." 

Slowly at first, then a bit faster. 

But you disregard the noise.

After all, it happens quite often. 

 

Her tears won't fall, they only freeze on her cheeks, 

adding to the layers of frost that never seem to leave.

 

She's pleading, begging you to pick her up in your warm hands. 

She's no smaller than a baby doll. 

Surely you can hold her. 

 

The more noise she makes, the more you ignore her. 

She's not even a thought, her name never spoken, her presence never missed. 

 

Maybe because if you did open up that door to let yourself see her, 

you wouldn't allow yourself to believe it.

 

She can't be fixed. 

Her frozen bones are not to be warmed.

She's sickly, frail, and really shouldn't be alive.

Yet there she is, fragile,

but not dead.

 

Still, you would probably just shut the door, rub your eyes, think you’re losing your mind.

Forget, and never give it another thought. 

 

But she's in there, whether you like it or not.

In a place where it's never ever at all hot.

 

Everyone has one.

We visit it everyday.

She's in your refrigerator. 

Rocking, tapping, knocking, grinding her teeth away. 

The metal box whines, groans, creaks, and sometimes even squeaks.

 

So when that big cold machine makes a peculiar noise,

it's not the motor compressing cool air, 

it's not the ice making noise as it falls from the tray in clumps or pairs, 

it's the little girl, 

desperate and trembling, 

trying to reach out from the endless cold,

Just to find someone,

who she can hold.

 

State
CO
Zip Code
80016
Grade
8

Megan was roaming around the halls going to her regular classes. She had a tingly feeling in her heart that something special was going to happen that day. However, without any hopes, she resumed to her next class thinking that it would be another ordinary day. She was looking down at her feet while she was walking. Right before she entered the room she accidentally bumped into someone and dropped all her books. Megan was startled and looked up to stay sorry. However, when she locked eyes with the person something stirred inside of her. Instantly she fell in love when she looked into the boy’s dark, hazel eyes. She started to blush and quickly went on the ground to pick up her books. She was so embarrassed and rushed into the classroom. Through the whole period she could not forget about the boy. She was staring off into space when in the corner of her eye she saw the same guy. The thought of him made her feel something that she had never felt before. 

 

State
CA
Zip Code
92833
Grade
11

I walked to school, bypassing worn-out apartments and million-dollar mansions. For the last five minutes of my journey, I savored the serenity under the shade of the oak trees. Away from the gangsters. I hid my dad’s gun in my pocket, and I wouldn’t hesitate if anyone tried to take my money again. I was prepared, but lucky bastards, they didn’t show up.

While I was alone in the stockroom later that day, Claire entered. She was a year older than me and smelled of tantalizing sweetness. “Hey Claire, I want to show you something cool.” I didn’t know why, but I said it with adrenaline pumping through my veins as I pulled out my secret. Her beautiful eyes rounded in confusion. I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear, enjoying her attention on me, but then I heard a voice from another guy. “Sam, what are you doing? You shouldn’t bring a gun to school!” A pang of self-consciousness hit me, and I hurried to put it back. Shit, I lost my grip, the gun slipped and BAM! 

He stumbled backward, his hand clutching his side. 

When he lifted his hand,

it was red.

State
TX
Zip Code
77025