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Embers

By Anya L.

     “No, no, no, no! This can’t be happening now… not now,” I murmur. A crash sounds to my left, and I leap out of the way of another piece of falling timber. “Kara!” I yell. “Kara! Where are you? We need to get out now. The building is coming down!” No response. I get desperate. “Kara, you need to come out now! You can’t be dead… I’m not letting you die here.” Great, my first day as a real firefighter, and I get to rescue my best friend who’s trapped inside a burning building! How perfect and symbolic of my career. I’m off to a great start.

     Bright red flames kick up around me and scorch my face. It’s a wonder that I haven’t caught on fire yet. It takes all my concentration to shoo away little embers and dodge flaming pieces of wood. Kara is somewhere in here. Unconscious or something.

     “Sierra?” a weak voice asks to my left. I turn rapidly, trying to locate where it came from.

     “Kara!” I screech.

     “Sierra! I’m under here, help me… ” Kara’s voice sounds so quiet, almost a whisper. Smoke billows up around the building, and the crackling noises of the structure make it very clear that the building will collapse any second now.

     I turn towards a pile of wooden beams that haven’t fully caught on fire. Peeking through a crack in the heap, Kara’s scared face stares up at me.

     “I climbed under here for shelter, then more wood fell and the fire is starting to get through to me,” she coughs, gasping for air from the smoke. I don’t tell her that the smoke starts to burn my lungs, too.

     “Kara, just stay calm and don’t move, okay? I’m going to get you out of here.” I examine the pile, then kick a beam to the side, the one flaming the most. Thankfully, it doesn’t kick up any more sparks. I continue this pattern until the the logs leave a big enough opening for Kara to crawl through and not get burned as much. Once she squeezes out, both she and I sob in relief. “Can you walk?” I ask her. It pains me to see the horrible state Kara is in. Her black leggings burned half off, and she’d ripped her T-shirt about halfway so it wouldn’t catch on fire as quickly. Her wispy, scorched hair clings to her sooty face, and I can already tell her shoes won’t make it through the fire.

     “Kind of,” Kara whimpers.

     “Okay, then we’ll help each other out of this place, and fast. The building will start to collapse, and we don’t want to be in here when it does,” I tell her. Another timber crashes to our right. We don’t have much time. I put Kara’s arm over me, and we stumble along together. To where? I have no idea.

     My burns stop hurting, the skin they cover turning numb. Sparks dance in front of our eyes, around our clothes, lighting up then getting shooed away. Smoke fills my lungs and makes my eyes water. I go as fast as I can without dropping Kara, stumbling through fire and smoke and dodging falling pieces of wood.

     I see a whitish light seeping from cracks in a framework of wood, crowding a crumbling doorway. “Kara, look! The way out!” Kara looks towards it, squinting from the smoke, and seems to get one last burst of energy. We reach the exit and I kick and kick the timbers. They give away easily, revealing…the sky? Ugh! Of course we have to be on the 3rd floor!

     “Sierra,” Kara calls. “I’m feeling woozy.”

     “Don’t sit down,” I yell. “Keep moving!” I look out beyond the doorway. The timbers I kicked out must have alerted the other firemen to come here, because they’re standing underneath the window, holding out a big cloth. I’ve seen movies like this; the character jumps out and lands on the cloth, and won’t get hurt that way. I leap over to Kara and shove her towards the window. “See you on the other side!” I shout as I push her out. She screams the entire way down, but she’ll be safe. Me, on the other hand…not in the best place to be.

     I hear the framework crack. The beams of wood eaten away by the fire can’t stay up anymore. The supports snap and hiss as they exhaust smoke and flame. The doorway I’m looking out splinters and heaves. I’m running out of time. I catch one last glimpse out the opening, enough to see Kara getting loaded into an ambulance. She’s safe.

     The building shuffles, and timbers slowly fall from above. Smoke fills my lungs and spears my eyes, and flames kick up around me in perfect unison, as if putting on one last show for me. Everything slows down, the falling wood, the bright red fire, the sparks, the smoke. I stand, taking it all in. No noise can be heard as the ceiling comes towards me. Embers dance in and out, between the timbers, in perfect harmony with the fluffy, black smoke. They leap and twirl and float in the air, spinning and whirling in a dance of pure joy and melancholy.

     Then everything spins towards me. The embers began to pirouette across my skin, the smoke settles and envelopes me like a cruel blanket, and the falling timbers push me down to the ground. My burns are numb, the embers protect me from the pain of the beams as they crumple me downwards and twist me into shapes that I never thought I could make. Flames surround me and flicker up, down, up, down, across my skin, on the wood. My vision blackens. I suppose it’s the end.

     I saved Kara. That’s good enough for me.

 

Walking the Broken Road

By Chiara J.

     Beep. Beep. Beep.

     “She’s awake!”

     Beep. Beep. Beep.

     “Stay with us, Nora! Stay with me,” I heard a man sob.

     A flash of lights.

     And then nothing.

 

     I opened my eyes to a white ceiling and the smell of urine and raised my head to find I was alone in a small, square room. The first thing that caught my eye were the metal bars that sealed the windows and the triple locks on the door.  

     What kind of hospital was this? I started to swing my legs off the bed only to find that they were strapped to the bed. Something was definitely wrong.

     I started tearing at the restraints, shaking the sweaty sheets off of me. Immediately I heard footsteps pounding down the halls, getting closer to me. I panicked, and in a last attempt to escape I slammed my whole body forward and pushed off the bed. The restraints held, and I fell back on the mattress, but now there was a ringing in my ears. The door slammed open and I looked up to see a wide eyed doctor standing in the doorway.

     He was lean but muscular, with a dark patch of unruly hair that looked like it had been pulled out and glued back onto his head. He had dark bags under his eyes, but I barely noticed them because I was so busy staring at his mesmerizing green eyes.  

     I snapped out of my daydream when I realized he was probably the man who had put me in this prison in the first place. I noticed the clipboard in his hand and the red button he wore around his neck on a chain. Looking back into his eyes, I was no longer mesmerized but afraid

and disgusted. Who knew how long I’d been out cold, and who knew what this man had done to me? And now he dared barge into this room wearing a remote control around his neck that would do who knows what to this place if I tried anything. I backed up as much as I could into

the bed and glared at this sick man. He still hadn’t moved from the doorway where he stood wearing an expression of shock.  

     He’d been staring at me for the past minute, and I was getting impatient. An evil psychopath I could handle, but so far this man had acted more like a brainless minion. I was about to break the silence with some rather unkind words but he beat me to it.  

     “Nora,” he said. “You’re really awake. Oh thank goodness, they said you wouldn’t make it, but I told them you would. I knew you would!”  

He had a grin plastered on his face and he started to run to my side when he seemed to realize I had yet to say anything. He stopped in his tracks and looked me over with a worried look.

     “What’s wrong? Nora, are you alright? Does anything hurt?”

     He stayed at a distance and wouldn’t stop asking me questions. He kept saying that name. Nora. He was obviously in the wrong room. My name was not Nora. My name was—My name was—

     I didn’t know my own name.

     I stared at the man in shock. Who was he? Did I know this doctor? He was still talking, but my brain didn’t seem to register any of what was going on. I kept trying to think back, to remember anything about myself. Where did I live? What kind of foods did I eat? Was I married? Did I have children? Nothing. Nothing came to mind. Something was very wrong here, and I had no idea what. Maybe this man could help me, but first I had to get him to stop talking. I opened my mouth and he immediately shut his.  

     “I—n-need…”  

     “What do you need, Nora? Are you thirsty? Hungry?”  

     The doctor stared at me, waiting for an answer. I opened my mouth to speak once more, but only incoherent noises came out. I tried forming the words, but my tongue wouldn’t cooperate. I stared in alarm at the doctor and his eyes widened when he realized what was happening. He ran to the door and slammed his fist on a blue button. He took a phone from the wall and dialed a number.  

     “It’s Nora. I don’t know what’s happening but she hasn’t been able to say more than two words in fifteen minutes. Something’s not right, I need nurses here stat. Bring a nurse and call Bryan, he’s going to want to be here for this.”  

     He hung up the phone and rushed back to me., carefully stroking my hair as if I were a wounded dog.  

     “Don’t worry Nora, we’ll get you help. You just need to stay with me. I just need you to lie down and wait until they get here.”  

     I started to nod and open my mouth to thank him but broke into a coughing fit instead. The doctor held my hand tightly and patted me on the back, whispering encouraging words. I closed my eyes as my whole body shook, and when I opened them again I wished I never had.

     Because now the whole bed was red.

     Blood red.

Finding a Voice of My Own

     I live in a mind of my own-literally. I haven’t even spoken a word, walked up the stairs, or played a soccer match with my “friends”. I haven’t bounced a basketball, ran the mile, or ever been able to pick up a fork. In fact, at 12 years old, I have never been able to find a voice of my own. I have cerebral palsy, and since I was born, my home has been my wheelchair and my words have been all up in my mind, begging to come out. I’ve tried, I really have, but for my entire life, everything seems to be just out of reach.

     I go to school just like most people in this world. Sure, kids can be cruel, and everyone has a tough time at school once in awhile, but imagine what my life is like everyday. People think that I can’t hear what they are saying about me, that I don’t understand. But those people don’t know what’s going on inside my head. I remember everything, and I mean everything. I’ve never been tested, but I’m pretty sure I have a photographic memory. When I’m put in the back row of a classroom (and I usually am), I absorb all the information around me: what the teachers are talking about, what the kid’s are talking about, and all-in-all, what they’re doing. My mind is like a never-ending math problem: always adding new things to the equation.

     I’m pretty much alone in this school of mine. Sure, there’s those classmates that say “hi” in the hallways on occasion, but for the most part, I’m a lone soldier. I know they’re not mind readers, and I know they can’t see the things that I want to say, but would it really hurt to sit down and have a conversation? Hey, I can answer with the limited supply of words on my wheelchair. But I guess they would rather snigger in the corner and point out every flaw I have. Plus the ones they think I have.

     Yesterday when I was wheeling down the halls, there was a flyer that caught my eyes. It had math symbols, books, and science images covering the page- just the things I like to see. After maneuvering my way through the war that marched down the hallway, I got a full look at what the flyer said: Are you a kid who wants to live up to your full potential? Waiting for an opportunity where your knowledge will take you farther than you can remember? If so, report to F-8 tomorrow to learn about the academic competition that’s sweeping the nation! It sounded interesting and it beat my regular lunch time activities (there were none), so I decided that I would go.

     This morning when I arrived at school via bus, I was heading down to F-8, when I was unfortunate enough to bump into Ava. There’s one at every school: the mean girl who rules the school. Ava’s had it out for me since day one. I guess in her mind, it’s a crime to look different from everybody else in this world. Anyways, she and her posse of Avollowers (Ava Followers) stopped me dead in my tracks.

     “Hey Zara! Oh, I mean Wheel Whale! Yikes, I have to ask, because it’s hurting my eyes, did you clean your wheelchair today? Oh, wait. You can’t…” Ava and all her Avollowers start doubling up with laughter, as if it’s the wittiest thing anyone has ever said. The worst part about not being able to talk? The fact that you can’t defend yourself or throw a retort back at her. Instead, I wheel right on by her, my face red with anger. It’s really sad to see that people can be so mean for absolutely no reason. They judge me on the way I look, not friendly enough to get to know me as well as they can. After I’m a little more “happy puppy” and a little less “fire-breathing dragon”, I head to F-8, more determined than ever. Whatever this competition is, I am going to win it.

     “Hi, kids! Come on in, I am so excited that y’all came!” Mrs. Panape waves us in, with a big smile on her face. She’s my favorite teacher because she’s the only one that doesn’t pay attention to me. I mean, it sounds bad, but she just treats me like everybody else, not some special kid who needs help with everything.

     “Ok, listen up everybody! I’m here to tell you about a new upcoming competition that features your knowledge in Science, Math, History, and English. If you choose to take place in this contest, you will come back here tomorrow at 7:00 am and take a test that might change your life forever.”

     All around me, kids are whispering and murmuring about what this exciting competition could be about. Personally, I am jumping out of my seat with excitement. Well, if I could anyways. But I can’t, so I settle for a smile instead.

     “If you choose to participate, you will take part in a 2 hour test that will test your knowledge in every way possible. If you receive the highest score out of the nation, you will receive 25,000 dollars!”

     I’m shocked. I’ve never taken part in any sort of competition, much less one with such a high reward. And if I win, the possibilities are endless… for the longest time, I've been wanting to do something but my parents never had the money to make it happen. There’s a surgery that I could take that would enable me to walk for the first time. I wouldn’t be stuck in this wheelchair any longer. The only problem is that there is a 10% death rate. It’s not a big percentage but if I were to take it, that rate would always be in the back of my head. Anyways, it’s not like I’ll ever win. However, even though I say that, I still decide to come back tomorrow to take the test.

     As I’m leaving school, I see Ava laughing with one of her friends near the exit. I try to go by unnoticed but I’m kind of a hard person to miss.

“Hi Zara!” she says in an unnaturally fake voice. “I saw you in F-8 today. I think it’s great that you’re entering the competition!” I don’t move because there is no way she can talk to me and not put in a snide comment. “I mean, it’s not like you’ll ever win.” Ah. There it is. “To win something you actually need to have a brain, and that’s something you don’t have! Among other things, of course!” My eyes tear up as soon as she says this. Not with sadness, but with anger. How dare she say that about me! She has no idea what my life is like. I wheel away from her as fast as I can, not wanting to see a second more of her. But before I can, she decides to do one, last thing.

     “Oh, going somewhere, Zara? Well, where are my manners? Let me give you a little push!” I think you know already that ‘little’ was exaggerated in that sentence. She shoves the back of my wheelchair so hard that I zigzag right into the nearby pole, my head hammering with agony. With tears dripping down my face, I wheel on to the bus, leaving the guffawing Ava behind me.

     I arrive at school the next day, my eyes lit up with persistence. I am not going to let Ava or anyone else get to me today. Today is the day where I get to show everybody that I am not just a empty person inside. I have a brilliant mind, and I am ready to use it.

     I roll in F-8 at promptly 7:00 and start on the test right away. The first 20 questions are a breeze: things you would find in a 5th grade textbook. The next 180 questions aren’t so easy. They range from anguilliform shaped objects to how to use a chronograph, and they just keep getting harder and harder. I don’t give up though. I know this might be one of the only chances I have to show the world that they’ve deduced me all wrong. So I push through the questions, one at a time, until I know that I’ve done the best that I can do.

     “And, time!” shouts Mrs. Panape, as I finish the last question. I think I’ve done a pretty good job and smile from ear to ear, a thing I haven’t done in a very long time.

     “Congratulations, everybody! I’m sure you all did a marvelous job!” At this, a few kids start muttering and grumbling, obviously not happy with how they did. “Tomorrow, the winner will be announced in your first period class, so keep your ears open. Remember, anything can happen!” With this, she dismisses us from class and everyone heads out the door. For the rest of the day, nothing brings me down, not even Ava and her rude comments, because I know that I did the best that I could, and that’s all that I wanted to do.

     The next day, I practically fly off the bus, my heart pounding with excitement. The seconds seem to inch by as I wait for the school bell to ring. Once it does, I race to my first period class, which just so happens to be Mrs. Panape’s, and wait anxiously for the announcement. I really don’t expect to win, but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that keeps on saying, “but maybe you could”. As I’m trying to push that voice out, the loudspeaker comes on, and I tense up fast.

     “Hello ladies and gentlemen of Stolling Middle School! I am very excited to announce the winner of the ‘Let’s get Academic’ competition that recently took place at our school and other schools around the nation! I am even more excited to announce that the 1st place winner is from our very own school!” My breathing slows. “So, without further ado, I am pleased to announce that the winner of the ‘Let’s get Academic’ nationwide competition is… Zara Willow!” I’ve stopped breathing all together now. My class is on their feet, clapping and shouting. Mrs. Panape is by my side, giving me a big hug. This all seems so surreal, and I pinch myself to make sure this is all not a dream. After I’ve pinched myself a total of 16 times, I’m convinced that I’m not still sleeping. I grin a grin as wide as Texas. 25,000 dollars! There’s so much I could do! And who knows? Maybe for the first time ever, I’ll be able to walk…

     I’m getting more attention today than I’ve ever gotten throughout my entire life. People are giving me high-fives, telling me congratulations, and praising me in every which way: “I love your outfit!” “O-M-G! Your hair is so pretty!” “I never knew you were a genius, Zara!” And the best part is? I haven’t seen Ava once all day.

     I don’t know what I’m going to do with my newfound fortune. I could get the surgery, but do I really want to risk my life? I mean, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t had my trusty wheelchair with me through the good times and bad. Like I said, it’s my home and I grew up with it. This whole experience was about fighting back, and proving to the people that judge me that I’m more than what they see. But now that I think about it, I think I was proving to myself, that even though I cannot speak or move, I am still a worthy person and that I’m going to do great things one day. Hey, I might not be able to talk, but I’m pretty sure I’ve finally found a voice of my own.

By Siham A.
 
 

Talking to Myself

By Sachait A.

     There was a time when I was bored. It was raining outside, and all my friends had disappeared for “family activities”. I decided I wanted to visit my younger self, so I closed my eyes and found him in my memories.

     First, let’s explain things a little bit. I have a power. I can visit other times in my mind and make things happen, then they’ll actually impact the timestream and affect things in real life. But there are limitations to this power. I can visit any time, but I can only visit the place that I am standing in other times. For example, if I was standing somewhere in America, I couldn’t teleport to Rome to watch the chariot races, but I would have to make my way over there by myself. But that’s fine for my purposes, anyway.

     So anyway, I set the time I would go back to in my mind, and I closed my eyes.

     When I opened my eyes, I was in the bathroom of my old house. I pushed open the door, and walked into my old room, making sure to keep quiet. I had only 5 minutes to talk with my 8 year old self before they came back from Safeway. I pushed open the door, and walked inside.

My room was exactly the way I remembered it. All the walls were painted blue, the bed was in the far corner, toys were littered around everywhere, and there was music playing on the small radio that was on top the bedside table. My 8 year old self was so immersed in some game on the computer that he didn’t hear me come in. This would be a convenient time to talk with him. I calmed my nerves, then cleared my throat loudly and purposefully.

     He looked up, startled at the fact that I was just standing in his room like I owned it.

     “What are you doing here?” He asked suspiciously.

     “I’m your older self, coming to talk to you. You have a vibrant future ahead of you,” I replied casually.

     He folded his arms defensively. “Prove that you are ‘me’.”

     “Your favorite number is 72, your favorite color is black, your dad’s name is Sweeney Todd, your mom’s name is Hillary Clinton, and your brother’s name is Bob. You like to be called Jeff, because it has a certain ring to it that you like. You go to the ‘School of Potatoes’, which specializes in math and cooking. You currently are into horseback riding and swimming. Is that good enough for you?” I commented smugly.

“Okay, if you really are me, why are you here?” my younger self asked with a puzzled face.

“I’m just here to talk. That’s not against the law, is it? I want to know how my younger self is doing. But we can talk later, because right now I hear your parent’s pulling up in the driveway. I’ll check on you again, but until then, act like you never saw me. See ya!”

     I closed my eyes, and I disappeared back to my present room just as the door opened in my younger self’s house.

 

The Truth About Amanda

By Katie S.

     It was almost my turn to bat. My heart was pounding wildly. We were playing the Tigers. The Vikings (my team) were beating the Tigers 8-5, but before I could bat we got 3 outs. The game was over, but we still won! And we made it to Regionals! After the celebration, my family headed home. Sadly, my mom was acting a little strange. She talked to my coach for about 20 minutes. She also kept looking at her phone. She was getting me a little worked up, okay maybe a lot. Once we got home, my mom called me over to talk privately in the den. My heart started pounding like crazy. We sat down in the den and she started talking. “Your grades are down,” Mom said. “You might need to cut down on softball if your grades don’t go up soon. You are in sixth grade so this will reflect on middle school and high school.”

     “But why?! You know sports is my life and school is not,” I whined.

     My mom chose not to answer that but instead asked, “Why can’t you be as good as Jessica?” (Jessica is my older sister who is a real brainiac.) That made me so mad I stormed off. It felt like my mom knew that was going to happen because she knows I HATE being compared to Jessica. As the days went on I tried so hard. I hadn’t been playing softball. The next Monday, Mom called me into the den again. “Your grades are looking up a little bit. But you might need some more help,” My mom said.

     “OK,” I responded, as I made a mental note to try really hard. The next day I met with a new teacher, Ms. Ellen. Ms. Ellen was supposed to be a really good and nice teacher.

     “Hi,” Ms. Ellen said hopefully.

     “Hi,”I responded, mustering up as much enthusiasm as I could. Ms. Ellen turned out to be really nice. She taught me so much about fractions and dialogue, among other things. It made me feel as if I had the power to get my grades up. I worked my butt off the following weeks. I hadn’t even thought about softball, except for when I was pessimistic about doing my school work. When that happened, I thought to myself, “If you don’t work, you don’t play!” The next day, my mom called me into the den again. This time, I hoped it would be for a good reason. If it wasn’t, I would be in huge trouble.

     Mom said, “It looks like your grades are… not doing so… BAD! They are so good! Just keep this up and you can play in the state championship!”

     “Yay! Whoo hoo!” I cheered. The next day, I got up at 8:00 to get ready for State! I jumped out of bed and rushed to get my clothes on. I got there 20 minutes late! I sprinted to warm up for the last few minutes. That was the day I was sure that I was going to be a champion!