2017 "It's All Write!" Contest Finalists

569 writers sent their stories to the 2017 "It's All Write!" Teen Writing Contest! Below is a list of the 2017 winners and finalists.

2017 Winners in Flash Fiction:

6th-8th Grade Winners:

1st Lily Patterson "25 Pills"
2nd Madeline Gupta "The Color Blue"
3rd Jeremy Klooster "The Cycle"

9th-10th Grade Winners:

1st Julianna Eng "A Hymn from a Mother"
2nd Seun Ajepe "They Came for My Tusks"
3rd Jessica Xu "The Orange Tree"

11th-12th Grade Winners:

1st Darby Baird "Unseen"
2nd Mackenzie Konschuh "The Monsters in Us"
3rd Miranda McCarthy "Open New File"

2017 Winners in Short Story:

6th-8th Grade Winners:

1st Billie Hoffmann "Dans le Trou de Lapin (Down the Rabbit Hole)"
2nd Delaney Christy "5 Million 270 Thousand Seconds"
3rd Amber Yu "Why I Loved You"

9th-10th Grade Winners:

1st Adam Whitbeck "The Sky and the Land"
2nd Sophie Nadel "The Traveling Hat"
3rd Julia Somma "His & Hers"

11th-12th Grade Winners:

1st Anya Svintsitski "Watchman"
2nd Sara Roza "Leave the Doors Open"
3rd Kaleigh Perkins "California"

2017 Finalists in Flash Fiction:

Finalist 6-8 Grade:

Cate Weiser The Black Diamond Melia Austin Dear Future Me
Aidan Quinn Believe It Or Not Tyler Diehl Kidnapped
Anonymous The Hiding Place Logan Yoon Rumors
Anonymous The Fox and the Hound Elyse Thomas Dreams in Tehran
Duncan Powell Tomorrow Caroline Plotner That Kind of Day
Anonymous The Watch

Finalist 9-10 Grade:

Rajunea Stevens Mer & His Mother Alexis Greca Stardust
Sonja Benjamins-Carey Stories Leah Fleming The Day of Roaches
Alexandra Grossman The Charred Remnants of a Childhood Anna Rinvelt Shadowless
Anonymous Choices Livvy Dayney Under the Bed
Anonymous Falling Benjamin Vanderhyde The Tale of a Mouse

Finalist 11-12 Grade:

Brendan Wayne Mysterious Transmission Anonymous The First Attempt
Nicholas D'Oria Belphegor and Geometry Anonymous Wearing the Pants
Owen Brooks Peter's Beard Stina Trollbäck Sunny Socks
Cierra Taber Tag Katie Watson Iris
Kamryn Thomas A Shiver in Her Spine Soo Yun Gangnam Style
Anya Bothner The Ninth Anonymous Served
Sofia Amanda Bening Savior

2017 Finalists in Short Story:

Finalist 6-8 Grade:

Sabrina Guo Activism Anonymous Where I Belong
Emma Hudson Taxi Maya Miller Trudie's Goose
Catherine Bui Swim with the Mermaids Diane Glasford Stars on Our Side
Max Janevic The Spotlight Aidan Quinn Logan's Reality
Avani Hoeffner-Shah Too Late Sydney Thompson Time and Time Again
Leo Nelson The World Beyond Sofia Brimhall Frostbitten Memories
Serafina Sabatini Unforgettable

Finalist 9-10 Grade:

Seth Wimberly The Tragedy of Promise Christina Diaz The Funhouse
Jarod Werner Capgras Delusion Elliana Branchesi Rap Songs and Purple Hair
Destiny Piela Medical Supplies and Insubordination Marissa Minor Hero of the Shadows
Emily Hampton The Betrayal Chelsea Macasaet Frozen Food
Sofia Aleem Beauty in Plain Sight Hannah Kat Cohen Yellow Jackets in Contrast to Red Armbands
Julianna Eng Streetlights

Finalist 11-12 Grade:

Gwen McCartney Bucket Kicker Adrija Bhattacharya DECK
Anonymous Enouement Mechelle Horelick Migration
Angeles Parada Pagar el Pato Annasofia Padua Night Shift
Allyson Koda The Job Annie Ning Daffodils
Isabel Sicree Special Delivery Anya Bothner Play it Again
Mary Collins Interlude Alaina Pellar-Kosbar Good Luck
Zoë Stephan Blank Screen, Blank Walls

2017 "It's All Write!" Writing Contest

569 writers sent their stories to the 2017 "It's All Write!" Teen Writing Contest! Below is a list of the 2017 winners and finalists.

2017 Winners in Flash Fiction:

6th-8th Grade Winners:

1st Lily Patterson "25 Pills"
2nd Madeline Gupta "The Color Blue"
3rd Jeremy Klooster "The Cycle"

9th-10th Grade Winners:

1st Julianna Eng "A Hymn from a Mother"
2nd Seun Ajepe "They Came for My Tusks"
3rd Jessica Xu "The Orange Tree"

11th-12th Grade Winners:

1st Darby Baird "Unseen"
2nd Mackenzie Konschuh "The Monsters in Us"
3rd Miranda McCarthy "Open New File"

2017 Winners in Short Story:

6th-8th Grade Winners:

1st Billie Hoffmann "Dans le Trou de Lapin (Down the Rabbit Hole)"
2nd Delaney Christy "5 Million 270 Thousand Seconds"
3rd Amber Yu "Why I Loved You"

9th-10th Grade Winners:

1st Adam Whitbeck "The Sky and the Land"
2nd Sophie Nadel "The Traveling Hat"
3rd Julia Somma "His & Hers"

11th-12th Grade Winners:

1st Anya Svintsitski "Watchman"
2nd Sara Roza "Leave the Doors Open"
3rd Kaleigh Perkins "California"

View 2017 Finalist Stories

View All 2017 Submissions

Blank Screen, Blank Walls

Grade: 
12

The blinking of the black line was mocking, tallying the seconds in which I still hadn’t found the words to begin my email. Dear Mother… I typed out, then deleted. The blank body of the message was insulting, and over the back of my laptop, all I could see were the white walls. I’d enjoyed the “modernistic” look when I’d first moved in. Now I wondered if the landlord simply hadn’t bothered to paint them. Dear Mother…

            I’m sorry; I can’t make our dinner on Friday night. Something has come up. Would it be possible to reschedule? And no, this isn’t an opportunity to complain about how little you’ve seen of me since I’ve gotten back. Except, of course it was. My index finger weighed heavily on the delete button. Leaning back against the padded headboard of my bed, I sighed. Should I just call? But no, that would give me even less of an opportunity to explain myself.

            The laptop clicked shut, before I’d even realized that I was moving. Feet into black sneakers, a hoodie pulled on over my blouse to combat the early March chill. I palmed my keys and slipped my iPod into the right pocket of my jeans, headphones and all. I could work out the tangle later, while I was moving. No phone. I didn’t expect any calls.

 

            One of the main upsides to my new place was its glorious proximity to a park, much larger than the sparse expanses of green that dotted my home city, Miami. It took about three minutes of jogging for the sidewalks to give way to roughly paved paths, and then I was alone, weaving through the trees. I pulled up my hood with one hand, regretting not grabbing a tie for my hair, which was only just long enough to warrant being restrained.

I’d forgotten how much green there was here, spread almost in excess across the grass and bursting in new growth from the branches that patchworked the light cast across the track. It was so much easier to go for a run when the humidity wasn’t trying to drown you, and the sun had stopped trying to glare a hole in your head. Of course, there had always been the days when the sky was coated in thunderstorms, when the water adopted the ominous dark of approaching weather - essentially, when it was hurricane season – but running in the rain had never been a favorite of mine, especially with my talent for slipping.

But the worst thing about Miami wasn’t even that it was too tropical, or its abundance of concrete. It was that I missed it. Moving back to Atlanta for graduate school was supposed to be the best possible choice. My tuition was cheaper, I’d gotten a good apartment, and I was closer to my family. I should have been happy, but it just wasn’t home anymore. Almost everyone I’d been close to in high school had moved away, and those who’d stayed had made new lives for themselves. I hadn’t been able to start a proper conversation with any of my new classmates. Many of my favorite restaurants and shops had even closed. I felt like an intruder in the town I’d spent the first eighteen years of my life – and that just wasn’t a sentiment I felt comfortable sharing with my mother. I was supposed to be happy. She always said she wanted me to be happy.

Every pound of my feet took me farther from that damn blank computer screen until, abruptly, they weren’t striking the pavement anymore. A shoulder collided with my upper arm and I was stumbling, trying to regain my footing before I pitched forward onto my face. Too late – a wrong step and my ankle was turning, dumping me unceremoniously sideways and off of the path. My hands broke the fall, and I could still feel them stinging, the pain making itself heard even above the shrieking my ankle was doing. I rolled onto my side, and pulled my right knee up towards my chest. Dammit. Not another sprain.

At least this time it wasn’t my fault.

            “Oh, Christ, I’m sorry,” a voice said, and I was suddenly made re-aware of the girl I’d crashed into. She was sitting on the path, her own jeans marked by dirt and frayed at the knees. Farther up, fingerprints of paint marked the area around her pockets. “I completely didn’t see you.”

            “It’s okay. I’m okay.” I considered trying to stand, but then my ankle throbbed. Maybe I’d give it a second. “I didn’t see you either.”

             “Really? I thought you’d run into me on purpose.” She wasn’t smiling, but her lips were pressed together in a way that indicated she was trying hard not to, dark eyes bright. Widely curled hair, only slightly beating mine in length, bobbed around her face as she tilted her head to the side.

            “Are you hurt?” Her legs now crossed, she’d made no move to get up either.

“I think I scraped my knee.” Her hand rested on the damaged fabric, which was either meant to be distressed or had been torn up by the fall. “Won’t be able to tell until I get home. Not too bad.” She frowned. “Honestly, though, I’m really sorry for knocking you over.” Her eyes flickered to my ankle, and I was suddenly sure she’d noticed the strange way I was sitting. I moved to stand, made it to my feet, and then regretted it immensely.

I tried to put as little weight as possible on my ankle, slowly realizing that there was basically no way I could walk home. Could I call my brother? No, I’d left my phone at home. This is great, I thought, followed by a string of curse words (only partially caused by being in pain). “It’s okay. I’m fine.”

She jumped up as I swayed slightly, trying my best not to fall. I felt her hand wrap around my upper arm, pressure felt even through the fabric, and flushed. This was so stupid. If I’d just brought my phone –

“Are you parked nearby?” Her arm was now linked with mine, helping me keep pressure off of the injury. “I hope it’s not broken –“

“It’s not, probably just a sprain.” I smiled at her, still feeling pretty dumb. “I mess up my ankles all the time, it’s not your fault. Promise. And I walked here. I can walk back.”

            “Yeah, you’ve already taught me not to trust you.” There still wasn’t a trace of malice in her voice. “Can I walk you back to your place? I’m Grace, by the way.”

 

I’d expected her to ditch me in the elevator. Instead, she let me lean on her all the way back up to my apartment, and then, after I’d finished fumbling the door open, deposited me helpfully on the couch. Once I was situated (shoe off, foot propped up on one of the white pillows) I hesitated for a moment, then – “Would you like something to drink? Before you go?”

            “Yeah, sure.” Grace didn’t seem surprised that I’d offered. “I’ll get it, you stay put. Where are your cups?”

            “Cabinet to the left of the sink. Above, not below.” She found them without trouble, grabbing two. “Oh, I don’t need any –“

            “Hydration is important, Nina.” I’d introduced myself on the way up the stairs. The faucet sputtered, reluctantly filling both glasses.  Grace placed them on the counter. “Do you have ice? It’ll be good for keeping the swelling down.” 

            “It’s really okay, I can do it myself.” She gave me a look. “In the freezer. And there are ziplock bags in the drawer farthest to the right.” She filled one of them, swaddling it in a paper towel and tucking it under her arm.

            “And if you want, there are cookies in the pantry. My brother made them, as housewarming gift.” The minute the words left my mouth, I didn’t know why I’d said them. Her hands would already be full –

            “Oh, cool.” Finding the tupperware was quick. Grace picked it up and peered through the translucent blue plastic. “Chocolate chip, nice. Do you know if he used any nuts in these? I’m low-key allergic.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry, I think so –“

            “Don’t be sorry, I’m still eating these.” She popped the container open and stuck one in her mouth before I could protest. Carrying it like that, and after making sure the icepack was still wedged in place, she picked up both the glasses. After placing them on the coffee table, and tossing the icepack to me, Grace settled down onto one of the matching chairs, legs crossed underneath her. Once the cookie had been transferred to a now-free hand, she said, “I hope this is worth it, Nina.” She winked at me, and somehow I didn’t think she was talking about the food.

I felt my cheeks heat, and tried to think of something to say.

“Anyway, you said ‘housewarming.’ Are you new to the area?” She leaned forward as she spoke. “Because I’d be totally willing to show you around.”

“I… um, yes.” Smooth. I cleared my throat and tried to clarify. “Yeah, I’m new. And I’d love a tour.” I’d left and come back four years older, to a place that didn’t recognize me. It wasn’t a lie – and a guide might be nice. “Do you live around here?”

            “Not really, but the studio I like to work at is just around the corner. Hence the paint.” She gestured down at her pants. “I’d just finished a project, went looking for some more inspiration.” Grace hesitated, gazing around, and something about the new curve of her smile made it clear that there was a joke I wasn’t in on.

“What?”

            “Nothing. Just…” Her grin grew wider. “Makes sense you just moved in. For a while I though that you just really enjoy ‘sparse’ living or whatever. I mean, this can barely even be considered modern.”

            I glanced around myself, taking in the minimal furniture and relative lack of decor. “I like my apartment,” I said, suddenly and irrationally a bit defensive. It was my first real place that wasn’t a college dorm.

            Grace held up her hands in surrender. “I’m sorry! But really, you need to at least repaint. These walls aren’t even white, they’re off-white, which in this case is a nice way of saying grey. Trust me, I’m an artist. Do you like blue or light green better?”

            “Is ‘pretentious’ also a color? I feel like that would be a nice grey.” The words slipped out, just as they did when I was around my brother, and I was worried I’d offended her until she laughed, the sound louder than I’d expected, but just as wonderful to hear.

            “That’s it, I’m also going to help you repaint.” She leaned forward in the chair. “And pick a color. All in the name of making sure your ankle heals properly. You seem like the kind of person who’s incapable of taking it easy.” I could definitely get used to her lightbulb-bright grin.

            “Because I can’t be trusted?”

             “Exactly. Now drink your water, Nina. Health always comes first.”

 

Grace swore me and my blank walls were ideal vectors for her next project; I still couldn’t get the words to come. Back on my bed, legs tucked underneath me, laptop balanced unevenly on my knees, I was way too distracted by thought of the day after next. Grace had promised to “drag” me to her favorite art supply store, followed by her favorite coffee shop, though I wasn’t nearly resistant enough to warrant the verb.  Finally – Dear Mother, I think we should meet sooner. I have a lot to tell you.

 

Princess of Mystery

Grade: 
6

Princess of Mystery

 

Chapter One

 

“For the last time, your highness, it’s forward step, back step, then RIGHT STEP not left step!”

 

“I’m sorry, but with a pile of 5 books on my head, it is kind of hard to remember- like- the 90th step you have told me!”

 

Princess Anna of Rieno was in her dancing lesson and was not good at it. “Ah!” she said as she fell onto the hard freshly polished tile floor with the toppled books spread around her. “Oh dear” said her governess, Lady Gardenia, putting her wrinkled hand to her head in discouragement. Anna blew a piece of her red hair out of her face. She got up, fixed her green and gold skirt, and yet again blew that one piece of hair out of her face. “Why would it not behave?” she thought. Then, she realized she sounded like her governess, saying “Why will you not behave?”  

 

“Your highness, your mother wants you in the throne room!” said a messenger, who was standing in the door. “ Finally FREEDOM!” anna sang as she kicked off her shoes and ran through the ballroom, sliding on her socked feet on her way to meet her mother.

 

“I suppose dancing lessons did not go so well?” asked her mother, Queen Maryam.

 

“Not really, mother. . . I mean ma’am. . .  I mean your highness. . . You know what? I am going to stop talking miss. . .ma’am. . . um UG!”

 

“You MUST master this dance in three moons, or else you will not be married and you will not be queen. Your governess will be.”

 

“I know. I promise I will.”

 

“You are dismissed to go to dinner.”

 

“Yes,  mother. . .  sir. . .  ma’am. . .  I will just go.”

 

As Anna slid through the palace, she heard something coming from the ballroom.

 

“You must do as I say! Yes -- the day right after! Now Go!”

 

Out of the room came the gardener, his plump face white with fear.  She peeked in the open door to see… an empty room? She tried to shrug it off but even when she went to bed she heard In her head the same voice saying the same thing. She could not sleep, so at midnight she got up, lit a candle, and snuck through the halls. She heard a noise -- foot steps. she turned around and there was her governess.

 

“Princess, you must go back to bed, or your mother will hear of this!”

 

“How did you know I was out here?”

 

“Um . . . I well . . . hmm . . . never mind that.  What’s important is that you get to bed.”

 

About an hour later, just before she fell fast asleep, she heard the studder of her governess.  Then she was asleep.

Chapter Two

 

“Wake up your highness! Your birthday is in two days!! We have a lot of dancing to do!”

 

Anna opened her eyes and of course that same piece of hair was in her face again.  

 

“Very well! After breakfast! And after I am ready!”

 

She got out of her nightgown and into her emerald green dress. She did not even bother to put on her shoes. They were still in the ballroom from yesterday! She stuffed the poppyseed muffin, soda bread, and goat’s milk into her mouth as fast as she could, and slid down the halls to the ballroom before anyone could stop her!

 

One eternity later…

 

“Why do I have to do this?!?!” said Anna.

 

“Because if you do not go, you will not get a fiance, and you will not become queen one day, and I will and I am not ready for the responsibility ” said her governess.

 

“I AM 12! I DO NOT NEED TO THINK ABOUT MARRIAGE!” Anna said, exasperated. Just then the same gardener that had been talking with whoever was in the ballroom the other night rushed in, sweat dripping down his face.

 

“The emerald!” he said, “it’s gone! I went to go talk to Charlie, the man who guards it, and when I found him knocked out on the ground, I ran inside and the glass case was smashed and GONE! I tell ye - GONE!”

 

The governess responded gravely, “Call the guards and the queen!”

 

“Already done it, ma’am” said the gardener.

 

“Good. Now I must see it for myself” she said, and off went Anna’s governess, faster than if she were running on hot coals to a cold bath. Anna, of course, followed. She, however, took her time thinking about last night. Could her governess have been the person who was yelling at the gardener? Could she have stolen the emerald? These thoughts almost brought tears to her eyes.

 

Lady Gardenia had been Anna’s REAL mother figure and best friend for years. It is hard to make friends when your mother will not let you off of the grounds, unless you are accompanied by your entire wait staff. By this time, Anna had almost reached the tallest tower where the emerald, which had been passed down in her family for years, was hidden. It was the most valuable thing in the whole country! It was under very high security.

 

“How could anyone outside of the palace have reached it?” thought Anna. “They would have to be very close to my mother.” Then she realized she had just finished walking through the door of the chamber where the emerald was kept.

 

The chamber was a mess. The black velvet curtains were ripped off the windows.  The glass case was shattered everywhere. There were traces of red mud, like the kind of mud in the garden. The door had been broken down and Charlie, the guard, was knocked out.

 

“Why do we only have one guard up here?” thought Anna. It seemed pretty stupid to have like 40 guards whenever she wanted to stroll through town and only one of them guarding the most prized posession of the entire kingdom of Rieno.

 

By this time, everyone was leaving and boarding up the tower.

 

“Wait! I NEED TO INVESTIGATE TOO!” said Anna.

 

“Sorry, Miss.  This place is closed. Only the royal guard may come through,” said a guard, who was boarding up the chamber.

 

Anna calmed herself down, and went to her personal parlor for tea with her governess.

 

Chapter Three

 

“Goodnight, my dear,” said Lady Gardenia.

 

“Goodnight, Lady Gardenia,” Anna replied.

 

The candle by her bed was blown out, and softly, the governess left the room.  She waited until she heard no more footsteps and then Anna sprang out of bed. She was going to go investigate the scene of the crime. She tiptoed up the seven flights of stairs in her pink silk nightgown and slippers. The guard was asleep. She snuck into the room and looked around for a while. She noticed that the man must have climbed through the window and knocked out the door from behind, because the vines on the way up were partly broken.  Then she saw something shiny stuck in the vines. She climbed down the vines to see.  Just as she was climbing back up, the guard awoke. To not be seen, she climbed down even more. Oh no! The vines started to break! She climbed down to the bottom as fast as she could, and ran into the garden. She examined the pocket watch and gasped. Suddenly, she realized why it looked so familiar. It belonged to her governess Lady Gardenia!

Chapter Four

 

Still stunned about her recent discovery of her governess’s watch, Anna decided she had to find out more information. She had to go undercover.

 

As she put on the uniform of the governess’s cleaning maid, Anna wondered why there was dirt on the floor. It looked red, like the orchard part of the garden, not the vegetable garden next to the gem tower. If the criminal went out of the palace, she or he would not have to cross the orchard part of the garden to get to the gem tower. Hmm.

 

By this time, she put on the uniform and was unlocking her governess’s room. She looked around the closet and on the bedside table, but only found a letter. It was sealed with a wax seal,  that looked like a lion. She did not have time to read it, however, so she simply slipped the letter into her pocket. Just then, the real maid came in and screamed, “THIEF! IMPOSTER!” and Anna had just enough time to get out and run to her room, before the guards came.

 

Anna opened the letter. She gasped.  

 

“LG, if you value your life, you will make sure that princess never gets married. You will rule the kingdom exactly as I say.  Once you are queen, you will make Anna get lost in the woods, where she will perish. All along, everyone will think it is all your fault. Get to work. - count V.”

 

With shaky hands, Anna closed the letter. She looked up at the ceiling, and it started to spin. Then everything went black.

 

Chapter Five

 

“Princess Anna, Wake up!  Are you ok? Oh dear, princess Anna!” said Lady Gardenia, kneeling beside her.

 

“I am alright. At least I think so,” Anna said, sitting up.

 

“What happened?” asked Lady Gardenia.

 

Then, in answer to her own question, she clapped her hands over her mouth and said “Oh, Anna, my letter! Did you read it? Oh dear, oh dear!”  

 

“I am so sorry, but I was trying to figure out the mystery!” said Anna.

 

“I know. At least now you know it was not me. I am being forced.” Lady Gardenia said, hanging her head.

 

“By whom?” asked Anna.

 

Lady Gardenia replied, “Count Vladimir. He lives in a large city near here. He is in disguise. I have been trying to find out who he is. I know he is the one who stole the gem! I just know it! I can bet he is one of the people in the castle, too.”  

 

“Wait a second,” said, Anna, “I THINK I KNOW WHO HE IS! Do you remember how the crime scene had red clay and bits of dirt from the orchard?  Who goes out there every day? The GARDENER!”

 

Lady Gardenia said, “Of course, I will alert your mother at once.”

 

“No” Anna interrupted. “I have a plan to catch him in the act. He wants to make an attempt on my life right?”

 

“Yes, princess, but wait!  You are going to put yourself at risk.”

 

“Do not worry.  I know what I am doing,” said Anna.  “Here is the plan.”

 

Chapter Six

 

“You look amazing, princess” said Lady Gardenia, putting the last pin in Anna’s hair.

 

“Thank you.  I never thought a girl like me could get more beautiful,” joked Anna.  “And hey, for once that annoying piece of hair is not in my face!” They both laughed.

 

“Princess, are you ready for tonight?” asked Lady Gardenia.

 

“It will be fun. Now, hurry LG! I do not wish to be late for my own 12th birthday party!” said Anna.

 

“Coming miss!” chuckled LG.

 

“Announcing: Princess Anna and her governess Lady Gardenia,” came the raspy voice of the messenger. Everyone in the palace and surrounding town was there. Anna smiled and waved to the crowd. She loved her outfit, which included a green silk sleeveless ball gown, emerald necklace, and matching tiara. Tonight was the night.

 

The party went on until moonlight struck the windows. Anna and Lady Gardenia excused themselves, along with some pageboys who came some time after. They went out to the orchard, where the princess found the gardener.

 

“What are you doing here?” asked the gardener.

 

“Just getting some fresh air. I like alone time. All alone,” said Anna.

 

“Well, since you are alone,” he pulled out a sword, “Any last words?”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m going to kill you,” said the gardener, in a mocking tone.

 

“OH NO YOU ARE NOT!” said LG, jumping out of a tree and kicking the gardener in the head. He was knocked out. Just then, out rushed the guards. Lady Gardenia pulled the emerald out of the man’s pocket. “This is the man who has threatened the royal throne!”  

 

Soon enough he was in jail. Lady Gardenia said, “But your highness, it’s past 12, and you are not betrothed! That means...”  

 

“. . . You take over the throne. I know. As long as you are not being controlled by some evil mastermind, I am happy with it.”

 

“Thank you, princess,” Lady Gardenia said, as she hugged Princess Anna.

 

Just then, her mother came rushing down the stone stairs to the jail.

 

“ANNA ARE YOU ALRIGHT? I WAS WORRIED SICK! You should not have defeated him all by yourself!”

 

“I did not do it alone!” said Anna.  “I had help from LG”

 

“LG?” said her mother.

 

“Lady Gardenia,” Anna clarified.

 

“Thank you, Lady Gardenia.” Queen Maryam said, tearing up. “I guess you are now Queen Gardenia,” she said, putting her crown on Lady Gardenia’s head.

 

“How can I ever thank you enough?” Queen Gardenia asked.

 

“By being as kind to the people as you were to my daughter,” said the former Queen Maryam, with a sad smile. “You know what? I do not need half this palace. I am going to be the first Queen to live in a simple cabin with 12 acres of garden and rule from there. The palace will be turned into a place where people can go if they are hurt. They will get fixed up and send back home. The old servants of the palace will be the caretakers.”

 

“That’s a brilliant idea,” said Anna, blowing that red piece of hair out of her face again.

 

“I am just thinking like a true ruler. A ruler who is clumsy in dancing. A ruler who skids through the halls on her socks. A ruler who is a free spirit. The Princess Anna of Reino, who had to figure out the mystery, the Princess who never gave up, Princess of Mystery,” said Queen Gardenia.

 

As Anna lay in bed later that night, she thought of what Queen Gardenia had said. “Princess of Mystery”. Anna closed her eyes. Just before she fell asleep, she thought, “From this day forward,  I will be Princess of Mystery.”  Then she went out like a candle, thrown into the ocean.

 

The End

The Dangerous Puzzle

Grade: 
8

I waved at myself. It wasn’t a friendly wave, though. Looking through the thin, crystalline glass was a tall, skinny, but rugged boy. He regarded me with an intense look in the eye. A defined clenched jaw was sculpted in place, breaking up dozens of scars. His wispy blond hair fell around his eyes. Though ripped with muscles, he was lean, a little too lean. It looked as if he hadn’t eaten in days. Five to be exact. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. The boy’s appearance surprised me. Just five days ago he looked so much neater; he looked… he was… Darn! Lost it again. Why can’t I remember my past life?

I turned away from from the neon blue stalagmite in disgust. I would have shattered it to oblivion with my two-foot sword that was hanging from my belt if my arms weren’t so tired and already scraped up from constant combat. For some reason, all around me in this endless damp and dusky cave were long and sharp speleothems. The weird thing was, they weren’t made up of hardened calcium carbonate, they were made up of a strange hard, translucent crystal-like structure with bright neon hues. Each wore one of six colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, or white. I never thought of some of those colors as neon, but these speleothems made it work. I didn’t know why, but the speleothems made me confused. A mix of emotions sloshed around in my insides, which eventually deciphered them as anger and longing. Anger is why there is a trail of glass shards following me. Longing is what was directing the glass shards onwards on a seemingly endless path. Both emotions are what were keeping me alive.

I began my walk forward for the millionth time. I knew if I stood still for too long, the enemy would catch me again. I never understood what they were. They were human-like, human-sized figurines, but did not have faces. Just a blank, flat area where one should be. There were six of these “partial humans;” one made out of the same material, and arrayed with the same color as one of the speleothems. All six of them seemed to be a part of a hunting group focused on one prey: me. They caught me on my second and fourth day in this cave. Both times, I was able to cut them down to shards with my sword, but not before nearly being gutted myself with their own wicked blades. One good thing about my situation, though, was that they could never surprise me. Because they seemed to radiate energy, a loud hum would fill the air before they were on me. I just wish they would stop resurrecting.

Slowly, on and on I trudged, looking for my next checkpoint. That’s what I called the platforms of rotten wood that rose out of the damp ground. On each platform was some sort of large dial implanted into the wood that had a large number in its center and slightly smaller ones around its edges like a clock. Each day I’ve found a checkpoint and soon I began to realize that the large center number was a tally of how many days I was in the cave like I was meant to find that certain checkpoint on that certain day. Around the edges, the smaller numbers ranged from 10 to 180 at intervals of ten. Then, there was a handle that needed to be pressed down to turn. I only turned the handle to either 90 or 180, never the other numbers. I can’t explain why. Something in the back of the mind told me to never do so. Every time I pressed and turned the handle, my surroundings would freakishly do a transformation. Sometimes it would spin the cave, and I would be facing a different way. Other times, it would flip the cave upside down, and I would fall to my should-be death, but always seemed to live through it. The ceiling wasn't too high, but it was a miracle that I’ve never landed on one of the sharp speleothems.

About an hour later, when I could tell that evening had come just by looking at how bright the speleothems glowed their neon hues, I saw in the distance a raised platform. Aah. I let out a sigh of reassurance. On schedule; that had to be checkpoint #5. I took a step forward with a little bit more energy and instantly an electric humming sound came to my ears, slowly growing in pitch. Oh no. Not again. The Hunters have resurrected for the second time. I didn’t want to have to face them again, so I did the only reasonable thing: ran like my life depended on it. Because it did. I sprinted like an olympian towards the platform. My sword was dragging me down, so I unsheathed it and continued running with it in my right hand. I didn’t dare toss it to the side, not now. The dangerous humming continued to grow, vibrating the air all around me. It was giving me a splitting headache the way it grew higher.

300 feet. My arms were aching like mad. Why did this stupid sword have to be so heavy? 200 feet. I could hear their footsteps behind me. No. To the left of me. No, wait. To my right? I’m so dead. 100 feet. Almost there! If I could only turn the dial, that might disorient them long enough for me to get away! 80 feet. 70 feet. 60. 50. Why haven’t my instincts kicked in yet? Should I turn the handle to the 90 or 180?! 30. 20. 10. BAM! I was hit from every side.

With flashes of bright colors, dozens of cuts bore into me. They never drew blood but burned unbearably. I raised my sword and blindly swung. I made a connection, and sadly due to the colored shards in my right arm, I was notified that the Blue Hunter went down. The other five were still merciless. Using my sword to block the majority of their swings, I pushed and shoved the rest of the way to the platform. The Red Hunter didn’t like that. Through the corner of my eye, I saw it lunge through the air, coming down on my back with the tip of its deadly blade. My back exploded with pain as the sword cut a deep wound down its length. I fell to my knees. When my palms hit the wood surface, I nearly blacked out, but a number blazed clear in my mind: 180.

I quickly forgot my sword and was oblivious to them as the neon rainbow Hunters started a dogpile on top of me. The only thing I could focus on was turning that handle. My hands were a fleshy mess, but I put all my strength into forcing the dial’s handle down and turning it to the 180 mark. It clicked into place, and there was a quiet pause. Then the cave turned upside down so fast I nearly threw up. I free-fell for about 5 seconds before I made contact and all went dark.

 

I woke up with the worst headache in whatever world I was in. Shards from the Hunters: red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and white were scattered all around me. My body looked like it spent the night in a blender. But I was still alive. Yay. Go, me.

That was fifteen days ago. I woke up on my twentieth day in this diabolical cave just moments ago. Each day since that fiasco at checkpoint #5, I have been slow going, but still reaching one checkpoint a day and having to brace my body for another transformation of the environment. I have come across the Hunters a few more times but was able to fend them off more easily. Each time they attacked me, they seemed less eager to hurt me. It’s been a couple of days since I’ve seen them last.

Navigating my way through the speleothems has proved more difficult, though. They seem to be “growing” thicker together like a barrier against progress. My arm felt like lead, but I continued to slash at them with my now dull sword in order to move forward. Something in my mind told me to keep moving forward. I somehow knew I that today had something different in store than usual.

Lately, I’ve had the habit of looking down while walking because my weary feet have kept tripping over pure air. That’s what caused me to run smack into a piece of wood for another addition to my head’s “bruises museum.” I looked up a smiled to myself. Checkpoint #20. I could feel a power radiating from this checkpoint. I knew my life was about to change. I climbed up onto the platform and straight into a semicircle of the Hunters.

From experience, my initial response was to swing my sword through the closest one’s neck, but my sword went through it like the Hunter wasn’t even there.

“There’s no need, we won’t hurt you,” said the Orange Hunter in a metallic voice, who should have been decapitated. I didn’t believe him and swung again for good measure.

“Really, we’re done hunting you, Matthew,” said the Red Hunter. “You have had the bravery and patience to take this challenge and we respect you for that. Very few can complete this challenge. Very few have tried. You are certainly our master, now.”

Now, I was starting to be creeped out. How did they know my name? And when did they learn how to talk? “Um, I don’t remember signing up for a challenge,” I said slowly.

There was a grinding noise, and it took me a while before I realized that the Hunters were laughing.

“Of course he doesn’t remember,” said the Green Hunter. “We need to release him.”

“Come, Matthew. The next move is a 90-degree turn. It’s time for you to go back home,” said the White Hunter.

I kneeled down and pushed the handle of the dial to the 90 mark. For some reason when the White Hunter said, ‘degrees’ something clicked in my mind, but I couldn't grasp it. When the handle clicked onto 90, My surroundings started to blur. No, I don’t want to black out again, I thought. I raised my head and saw all the Hunters waving at me.

“Bie, Friend,” They called.

Friend? And then I passed out.

 

I opened my eyes and the first thing I noticed was that I was lying in a hospital bed. What happened to me?

“You’re awake!” A little boy next to me jumped up and hugged me around my neck. My brother. It was amazing how my memories seemed to be zooming into my head all at once. Something about a Rubik's Cube contest seemed significant.

“Hey, Jonathan, how are you?” I said, so happy to be back in the real world. I didn’t even keep my injuries.

“You’ve been out for nearly a month! Right after you broke the record for solving a Rubik’s Cube, you just seemed to pass out. Are you alright? Mom’s worried.

“Ha ha,” I laughed. "I’m fine, just a little shaken up."

“Well alright. But here,” he pushed a cube into my hand. It felt cold. Looking at it, I realized it was made of glass, stained with colors like a stained glass window.

“Thanks so much, Jonathan. This is so beautiful!” I said. “But you should go find Mom, now. I want to leave this place.”

“Ok!” he jumped up and left the room.

 

I set the glass cube on my lap. I knew to never mix it up. I could swear there was a quiet hum coming from it.

 

Unforgettable

Grade: 
6

The Day was extremely cold, under 10 degrees Fahrenheit but with no snow. It was like the world was holding its breath waiting for a single snowflake to fall onto the cement. My faded purple converse shuffling along the snowless cement as we walked up to the door of the soup kitchen.

If you were in a car on the street, or just standing on the sidewalk, your eyes would instantly be drawn to me. The rest of my group, bundled up in black coats and shapeless hats, were no better than lumps of coal. I was the one black sheep among hundreds of white ones, the only star in the vast, open sky, the massive dog among tiny pups.  

  So, I will admit to having a distinguished fashion sense a bit on the, well... weird side. The rest of the street was grey, black, and brown. Boring bricks, boring walls, boring streets, and boring people.  

I’ll also admit to feeling slightly awkward in my purple shoes, lime green tank top, and a lightning bolt necklace. But I was proud of my look, however people thought of me. Still, never the less I was nervous. I kept my head down as I slowly shuffled through the door with the rest of my group.

The smells of cooking oil and processed meat filled my nostrils as I stepped onto the cracked, blue linoleum. I am a vegetarian so I winced at the disgusting strings of meat. My heart started to pound and suddenly I stopped walking. Everyone else brushed past me as I stood, frozen to the spot. More people pushed past me as, finally I started to move.

   When we got into the main dining area, a tall, Asian man stepped out to greet us. He said his name was Rod, and that he was the head chef. Next, Rod introduced us to the rest of his staff.

There were three cooks. Jenny, a perky blonde lady with a magenta sweater, Abe, a short pale man with a lot of freckles, and Olympia, a dark intimidating woman who looked like she wanted to chop my arm of with the knife she was using.

  One by one, Rod assigned each of us to a task. The rest of the volunteers gradually filtered out until I was the only one left. Rod stared at me, his piercing blue eyes staring straight into my dark brown ones. He seemed to be sizing me up and, wow, he was intimidating. He was leaning slightly to the left, not on purpose just a natural stance, I guess. His skin was extremely pale, a face with long arching cheek bones and greying hair gelled to perfection, he scared the crap out of me.

Finally, after about two minutes of awkward staring he pointed at the door to the dining area. He didn't even say anything, he just pointed. I shuffled over to the worn wooden door. It smelled like pinecones, and a warm nutty fragrance I couldn’t put my finger on..

I opened the door and the nutty smells overwhelmed me. Some of the other volunteers were handing out casseroles. A short chubby boy with thick brown glasses motioned for me to put on some gloves. I looked to my right, and there was a cardboard box with medium sized vinyl gloves. I slipped a pair on, (they were about three inches too big.) and walked over to the serving table.

There was a pile of white, plastic, serving utensils and I grabbed a fork and started scooping green beans. They were practically liquid, with little pieces of ham poking in and out out the mush. Why must everything have meat in it!? I looked up at all the faces I was serving food to, they seemed scared and defenseless, I looked down again.

  I didn’t want to think about these people not having a home, a warm bed, two dogs, or anything that I was so fortunate to have. I saw small children without parents, quiet senior citizens, out of work moms, and out of work downtrodden dads. And one small blurry shadow, wait… My head swiveled around and I saw a tiny little girl huddled under a table. I was about to walk over to her when.. “Oi! Are you here to volunteer, or sit around on your lazy ass?” It was Abe, one of the other cooks and he looked angry. I muttered something that sounded like: “bathroom” and I walked away.

 I sauntered toward the the bathroom and went around the front of the building, through the kitchen, back towards the dining area. I saw the girl, this time she was sitting at another table in the corner. I scuttled up to her, careful not to be seen by Abe. I sat down at the table next to her and softly said, hello. She stared me, which I suppose is logical, given the way I looked. Then, she reached out and touched my hair.

Her tiny, brown, fingers grasping the strands of magenta locks. “You’re very pretty” she whispered. I was touched! I have never been called pretty. Weirdo, crazy, strange, odd, yes, yes all names I was used to, pretty? never! I thanked her and we sat in silence again. Then I asked: “Do you have parents with you?” She had a mom, no dad. I felt worse. I asked her if she wanted any food. She said yes. I got up and walked over to the food table.

  Everything looked so disgusting compared to what I ate at home. I wished she had a salad and some warm potato soup, like what I had for dinner last night. Then, I remembered: my lunch! I raced to the closet where we were keeping our coats and lunches. It took a bit but I managed to eventually get the door open. I groped around in the dark, and my hand closed around the strap of my maroon messenger bag. I gingerly lifted it out and opened it. A spinach salad, pesto sandwich, and a slice of pumpkin cheese cake. I gazed longingly at the cheesecake, then thrust my lunch under my sweatshirt and ran back to the dining area.

             I sat down for the second time and set my lunch on the table. She looked at me, as if to say “really? for me?” I nodded, she opened it up. Slowly, she savored the cheesecake first, then the sandwich. By the time she got to the salad she was shoveling it into her mouth as fast as she could. “Hungry?” I asked, “well…” she said, I’m vegetarian so it’s hard to find things to eat here. I nodded, “I know how you feel, I’m a vegetarian as well.” She beamed at me. I was about to ask how she liked my food when… “volunteers please meet your leader by the door, you will be leaving in 5 minutes.”

Her face fell, “I… have to go” I said, and I pushed my chair away from the table. My emotions were overwhelming me and I needed to get away from them, from her. I ran away as fast as I could. My group was already heading out of the door and I managed to catch up to them. We boarded to bus outside of the soup kitchen.

 As we rode back towards our homes I looked out the window there were people sitting on milk crates, they were smoking cigarettes, ruined buildings scattered about. As we got closer, and closer the scene started improving. There were more people walking around with friends, on their phones, and walking their dogs. There was a change in the environment, a brighter, happier town than the one I just left behind. I thought about the girl the whole time. Then I remembered, I didn’t even ask her name.           

  

 

 

The Revenge of "Smith"

Grade: 
10

    Ugh. Algebra class. I don’t think anyone likes math, let alone my class. I wish I were smart enough to test out; I might have to because I’m failing. It’s not my fault; Mr. Leech is the worst teacher ever, but to his credit, he is the only teacher where his name suits his personality.

    I glance at the clock. The bell rang only 5 minutes ago? How do I have 45 minutes of class when it feels like I have spent an eternity listening to him lecturing us? I roll my eyes and look at the board, ignoring the glaciers developing on the windows and people’s runny noses. There, he slouches at the front of the room in his baggy, coffee-stained, vomit-green-yellow plaid shirt, babbling and finally flipping open his algebra book, the only one in the class as no one bothers to bring it to school; would you carry a metric ton of useless pages around? No one else does. He dedicates the first 5 minutes yelling at us at how we will die in a ditch or whatever if we don’t do homework. I would much rather die painfully than be in his class for one more second. I need to escape.

    He writes some useless shapes on the board, but I observe the ugly, 12-inch, lime-green ruler on the sill. His wife gave him that ruler before she divorced him and he kept it, probably because he misses her. I’m not sure how reliable that information is since it is a rumor and he smacks the ruler on the board whenever someone tries to fall asleep or just isn’t paying attention. I swear, one day that ruler will break, and that will be the day World War III starts. At least that would be more exciting than this class.

    Another minute ticks by. Ugh, how will I survive this miserable excuse of a class? He finally goes over the homework despite no one doing it. At least it’s better than trying to threaten us and failing. I inspect the room for some desperate entertainment, but I instead see a field of nightmares; everyone stares emptily at the board with pale faces and hollow eyes. Their mouths gape open as they rest their heads on their hands. It seems like Mr. Leech has leeched their souls away. Do I appear like that too on most days? Mr. Leech must be used to it, otherwise any sane person would get nightmares. I can’t take it anymore. Another minute ticks by.

    I know going to the bathroom is out, even if I peed my pants. I can’t go on my phone or read, so my options are limited, but there is no way I am doing math. Nope. I start to feel dizzy, so I close my eyes to clear my mind.

    THWACK! I cringe at that sound as I don’t want to deal with it but I know what it is. I open my eyes to see the lime-green ruler on the board.

    “Smith! Pay attention!” Mr Leech yells. My name is not Smith; he just calls everyone that since he is too lazy to learn names. I leer at him, but of course, it doesn’t bother him and he goes back to teaching, or should I say, lecturing. I take out my pencil case and then get the best idea ever. I put on a mischievous grin as I took out my pens and highlighters.

    I use the world as my canvas, like a child using a marker on paintings. Due to lack of creativity, I sketch some generic devil horns which remain on his head. Algebra just got a lot more exciting. I start giggling which causes him to glare at me. I try to straighten my face to make sure he stared at me for less time, but the horns just made him seem so ridiculous, especially with the scowl, it was easier said--or thought--than done. He did turn around though which was probably his biggest mistake. Out of spite, I draw a crack in the middle of his ruler then yawn especially loud to make him smack the ruler on the board.

    “Smith!” THWOOSH! The ruler snapped clean in half where I drew the crack. The broken half flew across the room. Everyone shot up to watch the ruler soar to freedom from the Leech. Mr. Leech peruses at the ruler, a billion sentiments flashing through his head. When it settles, so do his emotions as he becomes furious, fire burning in his eyes. He growls the lessons like a wolf at its prey as his handwriting becomes nothing more than squiggles, becoming more illegible than before. 

Seeing him so angry only encourages me to continue mocking him. I draw a floor-length, flowy skirt on him that swooshed every time he took a step to write on the board and fill it with a green highlighter. He could be a dancer if he wanted to, he would just have to work on his posture. I take out my pink highlighter and color his white, overgrown hair pink. I start giggling again which makes Mr. Leech whip around and storm to my desk. I would have been afraid, but it was so hard given his appearance. I give him some extra-long eyelashes and a curly mustache. If only he knew how good he looked.

    “Smith! Get out of my classroom,” he screamed, spitting onto my face. I felt dread drop from my calves into my feet. His horns, mustache, everything I accomplished was gone with a few simple words.

    “What,” I mumble, shocked. I have never been kicked out of a class before and I really don't want to go to the principal’s office. Maybe, I didn’t have to-

    “Get out!” My ears were ringing from his screaming. I squinted at him, glaring at him hard, before gathering my things and exiting the classroom.

 

The Heist

Grade: 
8

I could swear on my life that I wasn’t going to live. Scaling a long terraneous wall wasn’t exactly healthy. Especially in the dark. I had to complete my assignment, though. My mission was to retrieve the much longed-for items. This was the last night possible before they were disposed of.

My sweaty hands groped for another hold as I slowly pulled myself up the wall. I could barely see a thing, and my arms ached like mad, but I knew I had to keep going. If I fell, I would be caught for sure.

Finally, I found what I was looking for. My left arm circled around an oval container, and I started back down the wall. I might just escape out alive. That was, until my footing failed, along with my right arm. I tumbled down, crashing to the ground; the oval container bursting and flinging its contents every which way!

Oh no, I’m busted for sure. I’m so dead. Sure enough, searchlights blazed on all around me. The master of the lair loomed above me with the most dangerous expression.

“What do you think you’re doing, up so late at night with the cookie jar!”

Angel from Heaven

Grade: 
8

“Honey,” my mom said, gently setting her arm on my shoulder. She glanced down at Angel’s labored breathing and then back at the veterinarian, Dr. Piper. “I think we should do it soon.”

I nodded, squeezing my eyes shut as hard as I could to try to keep the tears in. I gripped the armrests of my wheelchair, so hard that I made a mark.

I took a deep breath to calm myself. “Okay, Mom. Could I have just one more minute with her?”

Mom looked at the vet and Dr. Piper nodded. “Of course, honey.” Mom said, her piercing blue eyes full of worry as she slowly backed out of the room after the vet.

As soon as Mom had finished quietly closing the door, I turned to Angel, my fifteen-year-old Golden Retriever. She was lying on her side, her stunning golden coat spread out beneath her. I could see the gray creeping in. Her big, brown eyes turned to me, and I could see the pain in them.

I slowly lifted myself out of my wheelchair and softly set myself down next to Angel. She sighed as I lay down next to her, softly stroking her beautiful head.

I closed my eyes and that’s when the memories overcame me.

I saw the smiling, laughing faces of my parents. It was perfect. Dad, Mom, and me. And then everything fell apart.

I heard the crash, I smelled the smoke. Someone screamed. I’m not sure whether it was me or someone else. I heard the sirens, and then darkness fell over me like a blanket.

My memories shifted, like a movie screen. Now I was in the hospital. Machines beeped, and I heard whispers. “Paralyzed”, “Wheelchair” and “Seizures”. I heard an unnatural scream come from my mouth. Then I saw a needle, and everything went black.

My next memory was of my mom. I was in the hospital and trying to get out of bed, but the doctors kept pushing me back in.

“My parents!” I kept saying. “Mom!” “Dad!”

“Someone go get her mom!” A doctor yelled, and then, after a few more minutes of fighting, I saw her. Mom’s hair was messed up, her clothes were dirty, and she had her arm in a cast, but she was in one piece, and that’s all that I cared about.

“Mom!” I yelled and she rushed into my arms.

“I’m okay, Eliza. I’m okay.” Mom whispered into my hair.

I relaxed into her arms, but then sat bolt upright. “What about Dad?”

Mom’s face contorted with sadness, and a tear trickled down her face. “He’s-he’s gone, sweetie.” Mom said, her voice cracking.

The last thing I remember was me sobbing into her shirt, and then a doctor pulling Mom away. Then my body started jerking uncontrollably and my vision turned dark.

The next emotion from my memories I felt was joy, like a ray of sunshine breaking through a dark cloud. I was in my wheelchair, and Mom was pushing me around a tall, red brick building. We were following a tall, blonde-haired, lady named Ms. McCloud who spoke as she walked.

What she said became a blur as I turned the corner of the building and saw a small enclosed pen full of puppies.

My eyes widened and I gasped. “Wow,” I breathed, “They’re so gorgeous.”

Ms. McCloud laughed. “You get to pick whichever one you want to be your seizure alert dog.”

“This is like a dream come true!” I told her. “I love dogs, but my mom would never let me get one!”

Mrs. McCloud smiled. “Why don’t you go visit the puppies and see if any stand out to you?”

I nodded excitedly.

As Mom and Ms. McCloud went to go look over the paperwork, I wheeled over to the adorable pile of Golden Retriever puppies as they all jumped up to greet the newcomer. There was about six puppies, ranging from cream to red, all with beautiful, fluffy coats. My eyes scanned over all of them as they jumped up on me, wanting to make the right decision. Eventually, my eyes settled on a tiny, fiery orange colored puppy. She was staring up at me with her huge, chocolate colored eyes.

“Hello, there.” I breathed.

Her tongue lolled out and her tail started swishing back and forth. I reached through all of the wiggling, jumping puppies, picked her up, and set her in my lap. All of the world fell away as I stroked her soft head and murmured to her. She licked my face, and suddenly, I knew exactly which dog I wanted.

Suddenly, I felt my mom’s hand gently squeeze my shoulder, jolting me back to reality.

“Did you find any you like, honey?”

I nodded as I said, “I found the one I want.”

My mom’s smile was full of joy at seeing me so happy.

“That’s great, honey!” Mom said. “Do you know what you’re going to name her?”

I looked at my puppy again, my mind running through possible names, and then it hit me. “I’m going to call her Angel,”I said decisively, “Because she’s my little angel.

My mom smiled softly. “It’s perfect.”

As that memory slowly faded to black, other memories flew by of me getting to know my new puppy; training and working with her, and finally taking her home to be my official seizure alert dog. Me taking Angel to the park, playing with her, and simply petting her. I poured love onto her, and in return, Angel gave me her whole heart. We trusted each other completely, and my seizures became less and less as the days went on. Many memories flashed by, and then halted at a significant one. The first time I had a seizure with Angel there for me. Angel comforted me, licking my face, as I seized and jerked. That was the moment when I realized that I wasn’t alone. From that day on, we did everything together. Every moment I was with her made it my favorite moment. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.

Suddenly, I was jerked from my past by a tentative knock on the door.

“Eliza?” My mom called softly as she opened the door slowly. “I think it’s time.”

I nodded. “I think so, too.” I said quietly.

I gave Angel a kiss on her nose and whispered, “I love you, Angel. I’ll never forget you.”

Angel lifted her head and feebly gave me one last lick as her beautiful tail swished back and forth across the floor.

A single tear dripped down my face and landed in her golden fur as I slowly pulled myself back into my wheelchair.

I gave a long sigh as Mom and Dr. Piper stepped back into the room. Dr. Piper pulled out the needle and, once I nodded to him, he injected it into my beautiful Angel.

“You’ll always be with me in my heart and in my mind, Angel.” I whispered softly as Angel slowly faded out of our world. “You’re my angel from heaven.”

Run

Grade: 
9

Run. You hear the voice in your head. It’s relentless. Is it yours? You don’t know.

 

You run, and as you do, the word echoes to the beat of your footsteps on the pavement.

 

It’s four miles to the next town, a tiny, pint-sized place, and twenty miles to a city that’s actually big enough to show up on a map.

 

Run. Don’t think about the sharp pain in your chest, the way your breath comes in gasps.

 

Look at the grass, wilted and covered in dirt from the dusty road. Look at the road itself, wide and never-ending. Look at the sky—no, don’t look at the sky. Tilting your head makes it harder to breathe. Keep your eyes ahead. Seeing what’s in front of you is important too.

 

And whatever you do, don’t think about back there. Don’t think about the screams and the broken glass and the ruins that were left behind. Don’t think about the silence that fell and that was broken when they screamed, broke, hurt.

 

Don’t think about it.

 

***

 

Run. Your back aches, your legs are growing heavier and heavier. Bricks. Lead. But you can be strong. Bricks can be lifted. Lead can be lifted.

 

Run! Stop thinking at all. The tempo of the words slows with your footsteps. They both drag on and on.

 

They’re coming. They’re coming. No, don’t let that become the new lyric, the word that pounds in your head.

 

Not them, not the ones that remind you of screams and hurt and the color red. Just them, the ones who try to help but will never be able to. They are perfectly painted and polished. You are chipped and worn. Oil and water don’t mix. Squares and circles don’t mix.

 

Just run. Run, even though breathing takes all of your strength. Run, even though you’re not sure how you can anymore.

 

No. Run.

 

Run.

 

Run-

 

***

 

This is why you can’t ever, ever stop running.

 

If you stop, they’ll come.

 

And if you fall, if you faint, then you’ve stopped.

 

And then they’ll come.

 

Not them, just them. But you don’t want them. You don’t want them and their ironed clothes, their faces filled with the worst thing—sympathy. You don’t want anyone’s sympathy, and you especially don’t want theirs.

 

You are strong on your own. You don’t need them. You will never, ever need them. Why can’t they just leave you alone?

 

Don’t look up, because they’re right there. You can pick out the sickeningly sweet smell of her hairspray and the fake-outdoorsy scent of his cologne. Their voices crowd your head, they pound against it. But they are outside your head. Don’t let them in.

 

Run. But you can’t run. You can’t even stand.

 

If only you had an excuse. If they had hurt you—no, that’s terrible. Don’t think that. You don’t have an excuse. You don’t have an excuse.

 

You could try to run. So you stand, and you fall, the ground rushing toward you at an all-too-fast rate for the second time with a span of time that is much too short in between.

 

They catch you.

 

Their voices are sugar-coated, trying to calm you, like candies that are too sweet for anyone to enjoy.

***

 

The room should be spinning around you, the sides around and around as if they’re caught in a tornado and the ceiling up and down, up and down. But everything is calm. All that you can see are the yellow walls and the clean wooden floor and the cream bedspread with little blue flowers stitched on.

 

So why does that make you want to cry?

 

Running makes you strong. Running distracts you. It makes you pay attention to the world in your head, not to the world around you. Pretending is a good thing.

 

Everything was better before. It was better because you were strong. You were hurt, but you were strong. Now you are safe, but you are weak. And you can’t, you can’t be weak.

 

Run!

 

But you don’t move an inch.

 

***

 

A knock sounds on the door, sharp but somehow hollow. It jolts you from your thoughts and forces you to notice what’s going on in the present. You feel like a rebellious child in school, not wanting to pay attention.

 

It’s her. You don’t call out to her and give her permission to come in, but she enters anyways. Something bubbles up inside of you, and you think it might even be hate, but you’re not sure. She’s still wearing her pajamas. She’s vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean that you are.

 

Let her break. You will never even bend.

 

Her voice is soft and caring, and you try to find something bad, something superficial about it, but you can’t. Her words are genuine. She may be fake on the outside, but the words she speaks are completely real.

 

You can’t deny that. You wish you could, but you can’t.

 

But you can keep her words from getting to you. Her words try to find the cracks inside of you so that they can seep through and reach you, but you seal them shut.

 

She sees that the little spell she’s trying to cast isn’t working. Her face grows sad. I am solid iron, and she wants me to be malleable.

 

She sits down cautiously on the side of the bed. I think about running.

 

Why does she even care about you?

 

Why does he even care about you?

 

Why do either of them even care about you at all?

 

***

 

It’s been the good part of an hour, and you still haven’t broken. She’s the one who’s breaking now. She isn’t breaking like you’ve been broken, but her shoulders are drooping and she stares at the ground.

 

It makes you feel satisfied, but it also makes you feel something else. Guilty, or maybe just sad. You don’t know.

 

Why don’t you ever seem to know?

 

She walks to the door, and you think she’s going to leave. Instead, though, she calls out to him and asks him to come upstairs. Her voice is weary. You hate it, but you feel weary too.

 

You can fight one of them now, but you don’t know if you can fight both. You wish you could give up.

 

But you can’t.

 

***

 

He isn’t vulnerable like she was at the start. He’s had time to shower and put on a preppy polo shirt, and he smells like cologne again. You hate the smell of cologne.

 

And you don’t know what it is, but before he even says a word, the cracks inside of you all open up.

 

Why can’t you be strong around them? Why do they make you weak?

 

It doesn’t make sense. And you’re telling yourself that it’s all wrong, but something almost seems right. And that in itself is wrong, and then you just don’t care.

 

And somewhere, somehow you know you are losing something, but you don’t care about that either. Because you also know what you’re gaining.

 

And then your eyes fill up, and then you taste salt on your face, and then you’re crying.

 

Now you feel vulnerable, and afraid, and you do feel sad.

 

She tentatively touches your shoulder. She’s probably afraid that you’ll pull away, but you don’t. He gives you a small smile.

 

You still don’t know why they care about you.

 

But it’s nice to have people who care.

 

***

 

Now, I’m going for a run. It took them a while to let me, but they finally did. I can’t blame them for thinking that I wouldn’t return, because I might not have before. But I will now.

 

This time, instead of hearing the constantly-repeating voice in my head, I just hear my feet hitting the ground. The only sounds that accompany them are neighbors laughing, dogs barking, and the howl of occasional gusts of wind.

 

I run, but everything is different. Because now, instead of running away, I’m finally running to something.

I’m running home.

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