Until We Meet Again

By The Prose Train

     The stars seemed so close from up here—so close I could touch them. That was impossible, of course. Stars are spheres of burning gas and light years away. Yet at the same time, if this was possible, then…

     I felt a rumble, and realized my ride was chuckling. "Enjoying yourself?" the dragon asked, lips curling into the semblance of a smile. 

     I was sitting near the head, gripping her mane, so her eye seemed freakishly large, and her whiskers long enough to accidentally smack me off and plummet me to my doom.

     I grinned, a little breathless, nervous, and excited all at once. "Yes, I just… when you said you could fly I didn't think this is what you meant." The dragon had first approached her as a human. Sneaky shapeshifters. 

     The dragon tilted her head. "What did you think, then?"

     "Honestly? I thought you had a pilot's license."

     The dragon chuckled, and I gripped tighter as I looked up once more at the stars. 

     How beautiful. The speckled sky was breathtaking. 

     “You want to see something better?” the dragon asked. 

     “Sure,” I replied, imprinting the sea of stars into my mind.  

     Suddenly, I felt my body drift into midair and nosedive. 

     “Aaaaaaaaaah!” I screamed as the dragon shot downwards. I squeezed my thighs as I clung onto her mane with my entire body. My heart raced, as I felt exhilarated and dreadful at the same time. It was like riding a roller coaster, but so much more visceral, so much more real. The dragon leveled out her flight, skimming the surfaces of the clouds, her gnarled yet somehow graceful claws seeming to catch on to the ethereal bits of fluff scattered over the sky.

     “Wow,” I said, catching my breath. “Yeah, flying wasn’t in my plans for today, but I’m not complaining.” I shifted a bit to get myself situated more comfortably on her back. “I mean, meeting a shapeshifting dragon isn’t something I do every day, you know?”

     The dragon chuckled again, her mirth rolling down the length of her body in another pleasant rumble. “You’re not the only one who was surprised,” she said. “Most humans can’t see me anymore, even when I’m in my human form. Which was why I was intrigued by you.” She tilted her magnificent head towards me for a moment. “Do you have any idea why you can? See me, I mean?”

     I shifted on her back again, gripping her mane with all my might. “You tell me,” I said, shrugging. 

     “I can’t say for sure. But I think it may have something to do with that book you were carrying earlier.”

     “That? It was just an old romance novel.”

     The dragon responded, “It may be what you say it is, but something about that book seemed odd. When you showed it to me, it was one of the most unique and peculiar items I have seen. With its worn out pages, beautiful penmanship, and almost magical semblance, it’s a book that you simply can’t help but be drawn to. This mysterious book lies here, deep within the midst of city life with you. Quite interesting, no?”

“It does seem a bit strange. I just thought it was a cool read back at the library. I never really put too much thought into it.”

     The next few moments were silent as the dragon and I slowly began our descent back to the city. The sounds of serene wilderness and blowing wind were slowly settling down and the city lights and striking buildings came into view. Even the majestic night sky and the stars were being washed out by the bright signs and brilliant lanterns. 

     We landed next to a pavilion near the gates, making sure to stay out of sight. I witnessed the dragon shift into her human form—a tall, dark-haired woman wearing a bright red and gold dress matching the color of her scales. 

     “We should do this again sometime,” I said.

     She smiled, nodded her head, and turned in the opposite direction, fading into the night. 

     Walking back to my apartment, it dawned on me that the dragon hadn’t told me where and when we were to meet next. Somehow, I knew that once I arrived at the place, I would be able to feel that it was the right spot. 

     At home that night, I made myself a hot cup of tea and sat down to read the romance novel. Why had the dragon said that I was one of the few who could see her, and what did it have to do with this book? I had picked it up while looking for another, mostly because it was so different from all the other books on the shelf. Those had clear, sharp, covers with no signs of wear and tear. In fact, when the book hadn't been checked out under the library machine and I took it to the librarian, she seemed a bit confused and had told me that everything I had was checked out, and I didn’t have to let her know when I was checking books out. 

     As I lay in bed that night, I wondered if I either had a really lively imagination, or if I had hallucinated that flight. Although it must’ve been only a couple hours ago, it felt like a different world from a different time period. I suddenly remembered a line from the author’s note: “Eons ago, us humans had the ability to perceive a dimension beyond the one we live in.” At the time, I had thought that it was simply the author going along with the theme of the novel, but now I wonder whether it was something more. As I pondered about the issue of the book and the dragon, I realized something that I had missed before: The book was about two dragons, not one.  

     As soon as I thought that, a wave of pain flooded into my head, searing my mind. I gasped, my thoughts temporarily frozen as I put my hands on my forehand. 

     “Human!”

     Grubby hands clutched at my cheeks, shaking my head from side to side like a bobblehead. Despite feeling quite nauseous, I cracked open one eye and shot Mr. Chubby Fingers a stink eye. He backed away reluctantly, leaving me enough room to sit up and slide my sweaty palms off my forehead. My head no longer screamed—the stabbing pain had vanished just as quickly as it had appeared.

     After taking a quick moment to reorient myself, I glared at the boy. With his curious doe eyes and plump cheeks, he could not have been more than seven years old. I suspiciously eyed him up and down. How did a seven-year-old get inside of my apartment?

     My eyes darted in search of a boy-sized hole in the beige walls. But the walls had disappeared. So had my bed and my precious teddy bear and every other remnant of my cozy home. All that remained was the romance book, dog-eared on the page I had left off. But when I finally looked down, I realized that my missing furniture was the least of my concerns—I was sitting on a cloud in the middle of the sky.

A grimy finger reached out of a red sleeve and poked my nose.

     I looked back at the boy and started back; in his place, a long black coil pulsed. I looked over the cloud but the entire space around us seemed shrouded in a dense mist, almost pressing into my throat. The air shifted and I was even more on my guard. How on earth did I disappear from my apartment and find myself in this seemingly new dimension? Did this thing want something from me? Or from the dragon? I wouldn't give it up, no matter what. I shifted uncomfortably towards the edge of the misting, vast mass, wary of falling into whatever that black pit below me held. I looked back at the figure and saw it was now more humanoid. It resembled black flame, simmering and shifting around the edges of the body whose only light came from two sharp eyes who observed me.

     “Who are you? What do you want? Where am I?” The questions tumbled from my lips, even as I wondered whether the swirling black mass could understand me. 

     No answer. Those eyes simply glowed brighter, and the flames of that human-like form shot higher, spreading out inch by inch towards where I lay sprawled on the cloud. I scrambled back on my hands and knees, looking wildly between the flames and the deadly drop at the edge of the cloud. Suddenly, a hand made of flames shot out. I arched away. My foot slipped. And with a scream of pure terror, I fell—

          and fell

                    and thought Please please please don’t let this be the end

                                     and landed on a hard, scaly form.

     I hadn’t died. 

     Pain coursed through my tailbone and down into my legs as the adrenaline from falling started to wear off. Groaning, I mustered enough strength to pull myself into a sitting position. The voice in the back of my head started whispering, “Open your eyes. You must be prepared for anything.” Slowly, I lifted the pressure that was keeping my eyes squeezed shut. 

     My heart raced as shock consumed every crevice of my being. I was on top of what must have been a dragon, with its thick, snakelike body arranged in an S shape, suspended in the murky fog above a black void. I scrambled back, nearly falling backwards off the dragon. My fingers grasped the dragon’s scales as my initial panic cleared and the rational part of my brain resumed its function. This dragon was cool instead of warm, and on the underside of its body, where I should have felt taut muscle, there was only an unpleasant, squishy sensation. I pressed down hard on a scale with my palm and inhaled sharply as it cracked.

     This dragon was dead.

     “I see you’ve found my old body,” said a voice in the darkness.

     My first instinct was to get away as quickly as possible. I was desecrating the corpse of a legendary creature by remaining here, but there seemed to be nowhere to go. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could make out the inky void below the dragon more clearly. 

It was blood.

     Bubbles began to rise to the surface as a current formed in the blackened ichor. The liquid writhed and rose up before me, coagulating into the form of that flame-wreathed figure I’d faced moments before. Its eyes now streamed with fluid, pouring itself back into the dark pool like some kind of cursed fountain from hell.

     “Why do you run from me, old friend?” it gurgled through bloody bubbles. “You said we would have another flight together, did you not? Your fat-fingered friend told me you’d forgotten.”

     “Is that you? Wh-what happened?” My throat croaked as I took in the scene in front of me. 

     I stumbled back, no longer able to hold up to the view of so much blood. I gave one last glimpse at the dead dragon, looking back up at the blood-formed figure. Was this the same dragon who had given me a ride? Who had chuckled along with me? 

     As if I couldn’t be more startled, I saw a shadow lurking, growing as it came closer from behind.

     I was barely able to suppress my gasp, and as I spun around, my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Two gleaming red eyes punctured invisible holes into my soul. At least, it felt that way. 

     “Pleas-please don’t hurt me,” I whispered, not even sure how I was talking at the moment. The giant red eyes in front of me retreated slowly and I saw that they belonged to a dragon the size of a house. I stumbled back, shocked, as this dragon brought his nostrils towards my face. 

     “A human,” this large dragon stated. “How wonderful,” he continued with a sly grin. My heart beat as if it were to fall out of my chest. I am going to die.  

     He released a tense breath; the air of it hit me so hard it choked me. Tears tried hard to form along my eyes, but I closed them shut, and collapsed. 

     The dragon said, “But only so human, anymore. … Not that your human features have gone— ”

     “Of course, still as human as the rest, and not a human in this world could interest me after what their mundane desires left me with.”

     He considered. “Yes. The shape of a human’s mind, by nature.”

     “By nature? Does this thing have your sympathies?” I couldn’t tell if this conversation was about me or something bigger, and I couldn’t tell if this conversation was only one voice arguing with itself. The voice that boomed down onto me seemed so much more foreign, yet still the same. He continued, “Look at where you are now. An entire species has forgotten about you, and the last bit of your will to exist you hope to reap from a being too insolent to care?”

     “We all have our flaws, yours that you don’t realize the amount of hope that just one living thing can contain.”

     I opened my eyes, enraged and on my feet, feeling a sudden anger at the beast in front of me. The shadow of blood surrounded me from behind and held me, and I realized that I wasn’t the one that stood me up.

     Like a sack of grains, I was hoisted up into the night sky. Who had thrown me—the dead dragon or the living one—I did not know. But I knew enough to recognize the burbling voice that called after me from below:

     "It wasn't the romance novel that was special," she said.

     "It was the story in it."

     And as I looked back to see my friend one last time, she was gone. So was the book, its golden cover gleaming in the starlight as it fell towards the ground. But I knew I hadn't forgotten my friend. Because the stars were close enough to touch.

 
 

Spraining my Finger

By Caden W.

     I swung open my bedroom door and ran downstairs as fast as I could. I raced to the dining room table to get my math books. After shoving them into my backpack, I tossed it over my shoulder. Then I slipped on my shoes and grabbed a water bottle. 

     All I was thinking was, Please, don’t miss the bus! Please, don’t miss the bus! Please, don’t miss the bus! And then, What am I forgetting? WHAT IS IT? 

     A second later, I was dashing into the kitchen to pull a snack from the pantry.

     As I was bagging it, I looked at the clock.

     Whispering to myself, “The bus should be here in a minute,” I rushed to the front door.

     I put my hand on the handle, trying to open it. That door is extremely heavy.

     Just then my little brother was screaming at the top of his lungs. 

     First, I covered my ears with my hands. Then I just decided to move on.     

     My right foot hit the concrete porch, followed by my left. My fingers were still in the door frame as I took a deep breath of the morning air. 

     That’s when I first heard someone running behind me, and then my little brother screeching, “I wanted to open it.”

     I thought, Okay, all I have to do is get all the way outside and keep going.   

     Before I could lift my fingers off the door frame, I felt a gust of wind before a piercing pain tore through my left hand. 

     I let out a curdling scream, and fell onto the steps, crying.

     Through my tears, I saw the fear in my little brother’s eyes. 

     My parents came running to ask what happened. But I couldn’t answer, since I was way too busy howling. That’s when my dad simply moved past me. Taking my little brother along, he walked out the same door where I had just had hurt my fingers.

     In the meantime, Mom was making a phone call. When she told me we were going to the doctor, I stopped screaming. 

***

     “Stay still,” the doctor said, as I was laying on the metal table with the X-ray camera above me. A flash of light, and it was done. 

     Once we got back to our consulting room, I climbed onto the examination table and leaned against the wall. The paper covering the table’s green rubber surface crinkled as I shifted my body. I was scared of what the X-ray would show.

     About five minutes later, the doctor came in. He was holding a clipboard with a pen and paper. He said down in the office chair and typed something into his computer.

     Then he spun around to face my mom.  

     “His middle finger got sprained,” he said. “We are going to have to give it some support for a couple weeks.”

     My heart was racing. I thought of the time when I had sprained my ankle. I remembered how hard it was to move around. My mom and dad had to carry me almost everywhere.

     Then I saw the padded piece of metal and the green bandage. The metal was inserted between my middle and my pointer finger, with the wrap being taped around both of them. 

     I felt it getting tighter, and tighter, and tighter until my hand felt immobile. 

     On the way out, walking down the hallway with my mom, I slid my right hand along the wall, keeping my injured left one next to my body.

When entering the open lobby, I saw the exit. A nearby glass wall shimmered from the sunlight. Glancing down, I noticed that the brown carpet had blue and gray diamond shapes in it. 

     As we passed a little shop offering medicine and Gatorade, I headed toward it. 

     But just as I touched the door handle, my mom yelled, “No, Caden, it’s over here.”

     She pointed to another store. I joined her and we walked inside.

     While I was watching people going in and out, my mom found some of the same wrap the doctor had just put on me and placed it on the checkout counter. 

     Then she said, “Caden, it’s time to go.”

     When we pulled into our driveway, I was glad to be home again where I could finally sit down and rest. However, as soon as I opened the front door, I spotted my backpack. 

     That’s when I remembered that it was still the middle of a weekday.    

     “Mom, do I have to go to school today?” I asked, hoping it wouldn’t be a “yes.”

     She turned around to face me. “No, not today.”

     Relieved, I sank into the couch, thinking, Maybe this is not all bad. 

     When I tried to move my fingers, I remembered that I couldn’t. 

     Sighing, I went into the kitchen to get a drink. 

     I opened the dark oak cabinet to grab a glass. I completely forgot about the bandage on my hand. It made it impossible to hold onto anything.

     So, a second later, I lost my grip and the glass hit the counter.  

     I froze. What if the glass had shattered on the ground? It could have cut me.

     But it didn’t, I thought. Now just try to be more careful. 

     Later on, gazing out the window, I wondered about how long I would have to keep that awkward wrap on. It might be hard to attend school with it. 

     It will be fine, I told myself. I’ve done it with my ankle. I can do it with my finger.

     I shifted and turned my attention back to the TV show I was watching.

 

Human Monsters

By The Prose Train

     It all started one hot sunny day. School was just let out across the city and anywhere you went, you could hear whooping and yelling from excited students, ready to throw out all their textbooks. The ecstatic chatter and energetic movement everywhere masked everything else for a few minutes. From the air conditioners running in the background, to the quiet, terrified, and shaking screams of other students as they watched their classmate devour the teacher whole. Quiet soon fell upon the nearby classrooms as the screams of the children rose above their excited yells. Someone called for the police, and that finally caught the child’s, no—that’s not right—the beast’s attention. What had once been a small child no more than five feet tall, naturally small and shy, now turned its hulking body towards the class. Everyone all at once froze in the classroom, and the people outside who had not heard the screams earlier stopped and turned their heads. A quiet stillness fell over everyone at Westerbrook High and to the people who were lucky enough to get out that day, it had seemed as if the world all at once had become quiet for just a heartbeat, and then... Chaos. 

     I was one of the lucky ones. The moment I recovered enough to process what had happened, I was out of the classroom, practically flinging myself down the long staircase. More and more students were crowding toward the classroom, curiosity and concern painted across their expressions. Teachers shouted commands with little effect. I shoved my way through the hallway and sprinted to the back of the building. Breathing heavily, I turned to face the looming skyscrapers across the road with a single thought drumming through my mind: my grandfather is to blame. 

     Since I was small, I have been trained to maintain a calm, clear mind in chaotic situations and have trained for physical combat. This is heavily influenced by my father’s fear of my grandfather. My father is cautious around my grandfather, for he views Grandfather as a maniac who is thirsty for power. More specifically, a desire to find a way to achieve immortality. Grandfather performs his testing dirty. He would bribe kids with fame, money, and luxuries and test it on them. 

     Barely even crossing the street, I heard glass crash behind me. Quickly glancing behind, I could see a limp body flying through the air, with the beast’s shadow flashing behind the broken window. The body landed with a thump on the gravel. Blood painted the floor red. Please don’t let that be Ollie, I begged silently. 

     The screaming increased while the sun shined cruelly on us.

 

     The rhythm of my footsteps blurred with the sound of my pulse rushing in my ears. Blood appeared black as it splattered against the shifting gravel, staining it dark and glossy. The sound of what seemed like thousands of screams pierced my ears in an agonizing harmony. I ignored it, willing myself to think logically. My mind raced through countless possibilities and solutions until it screeched to an abrupt stop. Grandfather’s basement. He enjoys his experiments, but he always keeps some sort of reversal method for his own twisted curiosity. His lab is for the experiments but the basement... Bracing myself, I took off, leaving behind me a choir of manic screams and the melodic roar of a crazed beast, once human.

     The two-story lab looked more like a prison than anything else, with cracks lining the edges of its gray walls, cobwebs that had built up over decades, a tall chain-linked fence that encircled the building, and a singular window on the top floor, placed so that no one could see the inside. The rusty hinges let out a series of squeals as I pushed the door open. As I stepped inside, my nose picked up a strong rotting smell. With each step, dust rose from the ground and left small clouds behind me. Not even ten steps into the house, I heard a faint noise coming from behind a door marked with the words: subject fifty-one. Being careful not to make any noise, I tip-toed towards the door. 

     Clearly this was a bad idea. Why else would some unnamed experiment be locked up right at the entrance of a house? As if there would be guests to greet to begin with! The room—the entire building—appeared as if it sat untouched for decades. Caught between the sudden uproar of an uncontrollable and the desolate experiment lab of a house, my legs moved towards the door before my mind processed anything.

     Disgust boiled in my stomach when I peered through the foggy yellowed glass bolted to the door.

     Someone had turned the room into a massive toilet. Enough streaks and stains decorated the walls and floors that one wouldn't have known they were meant to be white without the help of a slightly cleaner ceiling. Empty syringes lay scattered on the floor in pools of brown and red. The cleaner, newer-appearing medical equipment paved a path towards the door. Right where the scratching came from. 

     From the warped viewpoint the glass provided, I could see a yellow-stained lab coat, a sufficient amount of balding spots along a hairline of gray, and wrinkled hands littered with sun spots... or something else I didn't want to name. But, I also didn’t want to name the deformed, wrinkly bag of bones as my grandfather. 

     The scratching increased. Some unknown creature locked somewhere inside the room let out a keening wail—close to a child’s cry, tinged with desperation and anger and confusion. My grandfather turned, shuffling towards the sound. 

     I waited, soundless, unmoving, breath I feared to exhale held inside. I had to act. It was now or never. 

     I couldn’t get my body to move. 

     A crash. Metal screeching. A hoarse scream. Blood splattered the walls. 

     I forced myself to look at where the scream had come from, half-knowing what I would see already: my grandfather, dead at the hand of a monster of his own making. A monster, similar to the one now rampaging my school, had emerged. If anything, it was more horrific than the one I had seen.

     My eyes were tugged towards my grandfather’s limp body. The monster had gouged a gaping hole in his chest. My grandfather, who I had despised and feared for sixteen years, was dead. 

     What happened next must have been the work of hours, not minutes. But time is hollow in the face of fear, and I had never feared more for my or my friends’ lives. Ollie, I thought. Where are you? Are you safe? You have to be. Wait for me!

     I watched, horrified yet unable to look away, as the beast tore apart my grandfather’s body limb by limb, until his flesh was scattered across the room. I watched as it went one step further to disassociate his flesh from his bones, seeming to want to deconstruct him, hurt him as much as possible. To make the pieces of him so small, so scattered, that it would be like he never even existed. 

     Hours—days?—later I found myself in the room. I did not know how I got there. The beast had gone, that much I knew by the hole in the room. The blood on the walls had turned into a dark, dirty brown. My grandfather’s bones (and other pieces of him) lay on the floor. 

     The bones were something that I didn’t want to touch. But, temptation drew me in. I leaned down and kneeled on the dirty, cold floor. I felt sick looking at the dull bones of my grandfather. Memories of him started to fade back. The sick memories of him bribing me with money to do things for him. For a few moments, I was off into another world. 

 

     From what I remember, I felt like I was in a dream. In a dream of disgust. This lab felt haunted and sick. I knew that this was a place I didn’t want to be in. I needed to find a way out. 

     I didn’t want to take the blood-splattered cloth that held his only remains, but it felt wrong. To leave him here. He was still my blood, my kin. I wouldn’t be able to live with that guilt. What would father say? So with a quick shake of my head, I decisively grabbed “him” and raced out towards my school—towards Ollie. 

     Instantly, I smelled it. The metallic taste of blood ran so strong on my tongue and in my nose that I nearly retched. Those were my classmates. Ollie, I thought to myself. Is he okay? Please tell me he’s alright. The next thing I knew, I was running. Jumping over corpses that I tried my hardest not to identify. Skipping over puddles of inky red. I’d never been much of a runner, but the liquid fear in my veins kept my legs from giving out.

     I entered the campus, searching every classroom and secret hideout only we knew. He had to be here somewhere. I could only pray that he was still safe. As I entered the west wing where Ms. Barron had so unapologetically tyrannized the classroom where I used to attend chemistry class, I saw them. All dead. So many. Corpses inside, spilling out the doors. But what made my breath stop in my throat was when I recognized one of them. Marta. Ollie’s sister. This couldn’t be good. I looked away as fast as I could. I didn’t want to see it anymore. I couldn’t succumb to that same fate. Ollie couldn’t either. Unless he already had. No, he couldn’t have. I berated myself. He can’t. He isn’t— Could I finish the sentence? He isn’t dead.

     He isn’t— I looked around frantically just to make sure he hadn’t faced that fate, as my eyes darted to a slumped figure on the floor, limp and lifeless. With the same blond haircut as Ollie, the figure, though bloodstained, was recognizable. I dropped my grandfather’s remains on the ground as I stopped to stare at the crumpled body. Ollie? I took five steps closer. “Ollie?!” I ran to the body. “Ollie!” 

     I landed on my knees, careful to avoid the other corpses that surrounded us. I lifted the cadaver’s face. His eyes were limp and the tears on his face were mixed with the blood on his face—I couldn’t be sure it was his or others’ blood. Ollie. I clutched his body to mine and sobbed. Audible sobs and screams escaped me as the tears streamed profusely down my face. I forgot I was supposed to be running. Until I heard a thudding approach me. 

     I raised my tear-stained face to watch as one of the beasts advanced towards me. I had two choices: stand my ground and fight until the end, or run away as fast as I could. It took me just a second to decide to stay, for my fallen friends and classmates. For Ollie. 

     I looked around wildly, searching for anything that would give me a fighting chance. I found a toppled chair nearby. It would have to do.

The monster was close enough that I could see the strings of flesh under its claws and dilated, wet eyes. I was going to die. 

     Suddenly, a massive shape hurled itself onto the monster from its right. It can’t be, I thought. The other monster? From Grandfather’s lab? It started attacking the first monster, claws flashing, teeth ripping. Blood and bits of flesh and skin fell gently as rain, and the monsters continued to tear at each other in a mad, inhuman frenzy. Perhaps that was Grandfather’s final mercy to us: that they would destroy each other before they could destroy countless more humans. Perhaps it was their final gift to each other: that they might have to be monsters, but not for long. 

     It was a fight to the death, and neither monster won. Both fell, and eons seemed to pass before they stopped moving. 

     The chair slipped from my hands. I dropped to my knees and sobbed. It was over, I promised myself and the rest of the world.

 

Earth

By Kylie B.

     I wonder if the Earth screams when you pull grass out of the ground. I wonder if it screams in pain like a little girl if you pull her hair, out loud and in pain. 

     And when you walk on the grass, I wonder if it feels like if you got your foot run over by a car. Pain only for a few seconds, but those few seconds hurting a lot, you wanting the pain to stop quick, wanting the torture to end, and never to start again. 

     But, I do know for a fact that the Earth does have feelings. When it rains, the rain is the earth crying, the clouds its eyes. When it rains, the Earth crys about the people on it, and what they are doing every day. 

     And when volcanoes erupt, that’s quite the opposite. When lava spews out of the tops of volcanoes, all of the Earth’s emotions are spilling out, but mostly anger. Anger erupting from the crust of the Earth, most like popping a huge whitehead on a person that lives on this Earth. 

     When it snows, the Earth is lonely and sad. It is almost like when the Earth rains, but the snow staining the crust of Earth, and seeping into Earth’s land, just like a human that gets broken up with, all lonely, their tears staining their face for a while. 

     You see, Earth is like a human, unlike all of its siblings that are in our solar system. Quite special compared to the rest. 

We’re Looking for the Sky - Chapter Two, Part Four

By Alyssa G.

     Isaiah sat back and let the beige, leather seat eat him right up. He stared out of his little window, not talking much as he was watching the world pass by. The drive was going to be about twenty minutes or so, and there wasn’t much to do. He could either have a painfully awkward conversation with Skye or stare out the window and be quiet. Which was exactly what he did. His focus was stuck on the little images flashing by every second or so. He watched as the rolling hills took over the houses and other houses that sat on each block. Tight corners sucked in celebrities and rising stars along with their little dogs and friends. The dark clouds that loomed above were soon separating, letting the sun peek out every chance it got. A nauseating feeling pooled in his stomach as Skye drove faster and faster. Everything from there was a complete blur, and at the time, he felt like he was going to throw up. Isaiah quickly rolled down the window as a distraction from his cloudy mind and nausea and took in a deep breath. He started to contemplate on whether or not he should attempt a small conversation with Skye. There wouldn’t be much to talk about except for their argument and... Max. Even if Isaiah tried to say something, he would just ignore him, and there wouldn’t be any use of talking in the first place. It was still worth a try though.

     He glanced over at Skye, who was a little too focused on the road. Blue eyes pierced into black, asphalt roads and at every single car that passed by. Glares would be thrown usually from here and there, and the scrunching of his nose and eyebrows furrowing always seemed to catch Isaiah’s attention. He could see the padding of Skye’s thumbs digging into the leather of the steering wheel and the utmost anger surging within him. The boy in the passenger seat didn’t know who Skye was truly mad at the guy who just swerved right in front of him or Isaiah himself. He didn’t bother to ask and sunk into his seat while the painfully, awkward drive went on. 

     “We’re getting Jess, by the way,” Skye said out of the blue.

     Isaiah sat up in his seat and quirked an eyebrow. “What?”

     “We’re picking her up. We’re getting Jess.” he stated firmly. “She’s not exactly in the best place right now.”

     “Then... what?”

     The car came to a sharp halt. A very red stoplight was beaming right at him. Isaiah looked at Skye once more, seeing the frustration in his face. 

     “What do you mean, “Then what?” You know exactly what’s going to happen.” Skye fumed.

     “I don’t.” 

     He pressed on the gas pedal and the car lurched forward. His speed was increased, turns were sharper, and his eyes were within flames. “God, can you be more oblivious and rude? She’s staying with you, idiot!”

     A tantrum would be childish right then and there, and it was. He felt like a little kid when they couldn’t get what they wanted, like to stay away from the one girl who made everything seem like crap. He promised to himself that after Max’s funeral, he would stay away from everyone, including Skye and Jess. They were just reminders of what he lost, of who he lost. They weren’t making this any better. All he wanted to do was stay home, cooped up in his room. Maybe everyone would forget about him then.

     “Why is she staying with me? It would just make things worse, Skylar!” he bickered.

     “Well, my place is too small for both of us, and she has nowhere else to go!” Skye said. “You’re the only thing she has right now that makes her feel—”

     “No! I’m not letting her stay at my house!” Isaiah put in. 

     “Your house? It is Max’s house! The entire thing belongs to him!” 

     “Well, he’s not—” he swallowed back the words before they could even come out. Max was still alive in his head, but he knew that, deep down, he was gone. And that was one thing Isaiah didn’t want to admit. 

     “Look, she needs you, Isaiah, alright? I know you two haven’t had the greatest history together, but you two need to work this out and learn to live with each other. Max would’ve wanted that from both of you.” Skye said calmly. “You’re all she’s got right now, Izzy. You’re the one who makes her feel safe and at home.”

     He tugged at his earlobe and said,  “Can you let her stay? Please? She won’t get in the way, and we both know that. She needs a place to stay, Izzy. Let her stay.”

     Isaiah gnawed at his fingernails, letting the rest of them rake at his chapped lips. The taste of blood hinted at his tongue, and he gagged a little. He hated this girl with a passion and Max loved her with a passion. A little voice of his brother kept saying, let her stay, let her stay. It kept repeating like a broken record as he kept gnawing and thinking about every little outcome of Jessie Fetcher staying at the Wiley house. Of course, it might end up in heated arguments or endless tears, there was no doubt about that. She probably knew a lot more about Max, perhaps more than Isaiah. And he couldn’t stand to think of her hurt like that, harassed by his brother’s dumb fans because he didn’t do anything that Max would have done if he was still alive. So, he could either let her suffer, and let his brother and Skye make his life a living hell, or let her stay and let her make his life a living hell. 

     “Fine,” he said, “but if she starts to annoy me, it’s going to be utter hell for both of us.” 

     Skye smiled that beautiful, god-awful smile that made Isaiah feel warm inside. “Thank you, Izzy. I promise she won’t be that much of a nuisance.”

     Isaiah wanted to smile back, but a frown took over as he saw a girl rushing toward the car. Skye slammed on the breaks and let out a strangled yelp as the girl with raven-black hair cut through the street. Fans were crossing to corners, looking high and low for the one and only Jessie Fetcher. Isaiah, at first, thought that they could get away from them. He thought that maybe Jessie could get to the car quickly, but that was a total lie. Someone spotted her and a whole hoard of them rushed down the street with their phones and posters in hands. Jessie reached the car in time before one of them could get her and jumped into the backseat, panting. Skye swerved his way out of there, not hesitating on hitting a few people on the way out.

     It wasn’t until long that the group of people had faded into nothing but little spectacles in the rearview mirrors. Only the sound of Jessie’s erratic breathing was heard and the curses coming out of Skye’s mouth. Whatever he was saying seemed right and wrong at the same time because Jessie’s eyes were flooded with tears. Streams of it were pouring down her face and high cheekbones. Streaks of mascara followed, along with incoherent sobs that he heard from the funeral. Isaiah peered at the rearview mirror, seeing her puffy, red eyes and snot-filled, button nose. She looked like she had been crying for hours, maybe even days by the looks of it. He had been crying like that too, and as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t. There were no more tears to cry, at least, not for now.

     The car ride from there was filled with cries and Skye telling Jess that everything was going to be okay when it clearly wasn’t. Isaiah didn’t pay much mind to the conversation, or to whatever that was. He zipped his lips shut, didn’t say a word, and stared quietly out the window. It would be better if he stayed quiet like this because he knew if he did say something, Skye would probably kick him out of this moving car. Words sounded different than they were sitting in his head. The tone would most likely sound completely rude and much of it would be of him saying stupid things that he wouldn’t remember tomorrow. As much as he hated the sound of Jessie’s voice, Isaiah kept quiet. Max did too every time they got into a heated argument. It was something Isaiah always heard and could distinctly remember.

     He was wandering around the house a few nights after Max’s winning of the award. Summer was soon turning into late fall, night temperatures considerably dipped,  and the walls of the house were shriveling up underneath the warmth from the day.  He loved the warmth, sure, but it was too much for him. Isaiah was already hot after a few drinks from the after-party and a couple more when he got home. He danced around stupidly to Prince’s 1999, not paying any mind to the things around him. It wasn’t until he heard a loud crash coming from upstairs that threw him off his groove. Turning off the blasting music, Isaiah eyed the stairwell and stumbled up to the first step to hear Jessie’s unbearable voice. 

     “...that’s exactly why I didn’t want you to go there in the first place, Max! Don’t you see what’s happening? They’re only going to use you and—”

     “It isn’t like that, Jess,” he heard his brother say, calmly, “they’re good people. There is more money involved—”

     Something was thrown against the wall, a book perhaps. A picture fell from the outside and onto the ground where it laid there, sadly. 

     “Money, money, money! It’s all about the money, isn’t it, Max?” Jess yelled. “Aren’t you happy with this life? Aren’t you happy with the life you’ve lived before?” 

     “Of course I was—” Max paused, “—I still am! It’s just that…maybe this can be good for me, for us.”

     She let out an exasperated sigh. “Money doesn’t buy us happiness, Max. Don’t you see that? You were completely fine before! What makes this any different? They’re just going to use you and throw you away. They’re going to take you in and you’ll never come back—”

     Jessie began to cry, an unholy, crazy cry. It sounded like nails scratching against a chalkboard, forks scraping against plates, or birds squawking like maniacs. Objects were flying to the walls, glass and other fragile items were shattering, and Isaiah was sure enough that something was going to come out of the room and hit him in the head. She wasn’t the girl to be messed with when she was upset. He personally knew that one from experience. 

     “Baby, Jess, hey, look at me…”

     Leaning against the railing, he slid down onto a step. His face was getting warmer by the second as the alcohol coursed through his body. With his stomach rumbling and mind bumbling, he pulled himself up to listen to the murmurs and whispers wandering out into the halls. She was still bawling her eyes out and he was still trying to calm her down with kisses, sweet nothings, and unkept promises of their future together. Max coaxed her throughout the rest of that fight, keeping his lips shut as he listened to her angry, painful voice. At one point though, a loud slap and a door swinging open echoed through the empty halls. Isaiah caught the eyes of Jessie Fetcher, who only stopped for a second to glare at him through her tears and pushed right past his drunk self to lock herself in the guest room for the rest of the night. He looked back to find Max standing there in the hallway, half-expecting for the girl to rush back into his arms, to which it never came true. He saw Isaiah, sitting there, dazed and said, “Wanna go out for a drink and find a lost somebody?” 

     The rest of that night was a blur from what he can attempt to remember.

      Isaiah knew that if Jessie ever found out about what happened, she would kill him. 

     So, he remained quiet all the way home. 

 

The Abstracts: Seer - Chapter Ten

By Danielle N.

I don’t know how long I waited, but I know it was at least a few hours. My only entertainment was in my thoughts.

         That FBI guy said I was a suspect for kidnap, but I had no knowledge of this. I didn’t know who was kidnapped, or why they were kidnapped. It was completely stupid that they think that I committed this. I felt my head getting hot, and anger started broiling in my head.

         I sighed out loud, then wondered if I could talk my way out of this. I leaned back in my chair, and called out as loud as I could without screaming, “Is anybody listening?”

         No reply. Still angry, I stood up and punched the wall as hard as I could.

         Not a great decision. The pain rippled through my knuckles and down my hand. I groaned, but the pain escalated until I had to scream. I didn’t want to look at my hand, but I knew it was stupid not to.

         My hand was red, and a bloody cut was running along my knuckles. Maybe it was just me, but I thought my hand was shortened by the impact.

         “Please do not hurt yourself.” A voice rang out from everywhere in the room. Well, at least they were talking now.

         “Then let me out of this place.”

         “I’m afraid we can’t just yet.”

         “Care to explain why?”

         “You were brought here because you are suspected of kidnapping Bridget O’Brien.”

         I blinked. “Wait. What? I thought Bridget was in the hospital because of a heart attack.”

         “Bridget O’Brien was recovering in the hospital after a heart attack in your household. Two nights ago, she disappeared from the hospital. She is thought to be kidnapped. And since she was associated with you on the night she got a heart attack, you are suspected of kidnapping her.”

         “I would never do something like that! Bridget’s my best friend! And I’m only thirteen! How could I do something like that?”

         “That is yet to be seen if you are innocent.”

         “Are my fingerprints around her stretcher?”

         “That is classifi-”

         “Are they?”

         “…none of your fingerprints have been found on Bridget O’Brien's stretcher.”

         “Any surveillance of me entering the hospital?”

         “No.”

         “Anything other than the fact that Bridget was at my house in the day she had her heart attack to suggest that I was her kidnapper?”

         “Nothing has been found at the moment.”

         “Then why am I here?”

         The voice is quiet for some time, and I’m just imagining whoever is talking pondering on how to counter me.

         “Where were you two nights ago at 2:45 AM?”

         “Asleep in my bedroom.”

         “What were you doing?”

         “Is that even a-”

         “What. Were. You. Doing?”

         I sighed. “I was sleeping. You didn’t get that from my first description?”

         “You are not in the position to ask questions.” Sounded like the voice was getting agitated. I guess they didn’t have anything to say to justify taking me here.

         “And why not?"

         “While you were waiting, the air you were breathing was filled with nanobots. The tiny robots can treat your wounds.” I glance at my hand, which was suddenly healed while I was talking to the voice. “Or they can release chemicals into your bloodstream that will slow your heartbeat until you fall into a coma. So tell us where Bridget O’Brien is.”

         “I don’t know where she is, and I can’t help you.”

         “On the contrary, you can help us a lot.”

         “And how could I help you?”

         “Our sources tell us you have talent as an engineer.”

         “It’s more like a hobby to me.”

         “Well, you should know that we don’t believe you have done anything to kidnap Bridget O’Brien.”

         “Do you know who has?”

         “We have an idea. Have you ever heard of the Eluders?”

         “Never heard of them.”

         “They’re a group of super criminals that the US has been trying to stop for some time. They are making themselves more and more obvious to the public, and we believe they are trying to get attention. So, for this reason, the US government has been working to conceal their workings.”

         “You’re not warning people there’s a group of super criminals that are organizing?”

         “In a sense, yes. This is to avoid nationwide panic.”

         “So where do I come in?”

         “We want you to locate the area where Bridget O’Brien has been taken to, and rescue her from the Eluders. Use any measures you need. The FBI will fund you with any materials you might need.”

         I took a few moments to process this. There’s this group of super criminals called the Eluders who have kidnapped Bridget, and these guys want me to go in and rescue her?

         “Is it me in particular who has to go in?”

         “We’re afraid so. An assault of FBI agents will cause the criminals to evacuate, but a 13-year old shouldn’t cause them any concern.”

         “They’ll just try to kill me.”

         “Yes, but you may use any gadgets, any gear, any weapons you can make to aid you.”

         “But there is still the little nagging fact that these people might very well kill me.”

         “Yes.”

         “And this has to be me? You don’t have any teen superagents you could send in instead?”

         “No, those are all taken on a mission.”

         I shake my head, struggling to process this crazy information. I can’t believe this. “I’m going to act as an undercover agent in a base full of super criminals, and I have no basic training, no instinct, and nothing on my side except what I can make for myself?”

         “Of course not! We’ll supply you with surgery that enhances your night vision, strength, stealth, and so forth. We’ll also implant sensors into your hands, so if you get in a pinch, you can use a series of hand movements that will send a signal to us that reveal your coordinates. We will come as soon as we can, and lay siege on the base.”

         Okay, now I’m interested. “So you’ll basically make me superhuman?”

         “That’s one way to put it. You didn’t expect us to leave you hanging like that, did you?”

         “When will I get this surgery?”

         “In a few seconds, your room will be infused with gasses that will knock you out, so the doctors can do sur...”

 

The Alleyway Portal - Chapter Seven

By Jason W.

     As soon as the alarm went off, the soldiers in the room ran off.

     “Let’s go. The wormhole is right there!” said Alistair, and took off running. Jeridiah and William chased after him until they heard a yell after them. They skidded to a stop and whirled around. Two Nazi soldiers were sprinting after them. 

     “Guys! Don’t stop. Run, run, run!” yelled William, shaking his friends out of their shock. They dove into the wormhole, their heart racing.

     “Grab a bottle. Get ready,” murmured Jeridiah, holding a beer bottle over his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw William pick up another bottle and stand on the other side of the wormhole. The Nazis burst out of the wormhole, only to be smashed on the head by glass bottles, and were knocked out cold.

     “C’mon, hurry up. We have to throw all these boxes inside,” grunted Alistair as he picked up a box. They threw box after box into the wormhole. After a while, they became aware of a hissing sound.

     “What’s that sound? It sounds like a snake.” shuddered William, who was terrified of snakes.

     “I think it’s just the wormhole, don’t stop,” replied Alistair, still heaving boxes. The threw more and more boxes in until the hissing got unbearable.

     “I think we should go, it sounds super dangerous,” said Jeridiah. They each threw in one more box and sprinted around the nearest corner. They pressed their backs against the wall and prepared for a huge explosion. Instead, they only heard a quiet rumble and a pop. Peeking around the corner, they gasped in shock.

     “What the heck happened?” whispered Jeridiah. The wormhole was gone, but the surrounding buildings were also destroyed. There were huge holes in the walls, and cracks ran along the walls like spiderwebs. The remaining boxes around the wormhole had also disappeared.

     “I think the wormhole destroyed everything near it.” answered a surprised Alistair, “I did not expect that to happen.”

     They stood there in silence for a long time, gaping at the scene, before Jeridiah took off, remembering the way back through the maze. Alistair and William were right behind him as he ran. When they got outside, they realized that not much time had passed. It seemed like time spent in the past passed much slower. They split up and each went back home, all silently agreeing that whatever happened would stay a secret between them, and they would tell nobody.

 
 

Never Forgotten

by Lyra T.

Jess

     The bell on the front door jangles as I enter the diner. I look around for where my date could possibly be. There are a few couples sitting and talking, and another group of three girls chatting animatedly as they slurp their drinks. I walk to the back of the place, thinking maybe he’s seated at a table hidden behind the wall divider.
     I have to blink a couple of times when I spot him, thinking my eyes are playing tricks on me, or that it's just a similar-looking person. But no, I would recognize that face anywhere. The light brown, almost sandy-colored eyes; the jet-black hair that’s slightly too long in the front and falls in his face, – except it’s shorter now – and a smile that could make anyone listen to him.
     He hasn’t noticed me yet. He’s looking down at his lap, and then he looks up and off to the side.
     “Ben?” I say. He suddenly looks over at me. He stares at me for a brief moment before recognition hits him and his eyes go wide.
     “Jess?” he replies. “Are you my date?”
     I nod slowly as I sit down across from him. Now that I’m closer I get a better look at his face. He really hasn’t changed much since high school, except for the fact that his hair is shorter and he’s grown some stubble.
     “Oh my gosh,” I say, “I haven’t seen you in so long!”
     “I know, it’s been a while.”


Ben

     I honestly don’t know what to say. Never in a million years did I think that the Jessica that Leah wanted to set me up with would be her. She’s still as pretty as ever, with her flaming red hair in waves and her warm, blue eyes that make me want to melt.
     “So, how have you been?” she says finally, breaking the tension.
     “I’ve been okay.” I think about Jack and wonder if he's doing fine with the babysitter. “I have a son now.”
     She looks surprised. “Oh, wow.”
     “Yeah, he’s four and I love him more than anything in the world.”
     Jess smiles at this. She looks like she’s about to say something but hesitates. “Would it be rude to ask what happened, you know, since you’re going on a date now?”
     “Um, well, I was engaged to this girl, and a few months after she gave birth, she ran off with some other guy and left me with Jack.”
     “Oh, I’m sorry."
     “It’s okay. Our relationship wasn’t going very well and was bound to fall apart eventually.”

 

Jess

     Ben fidgets in his seat and I realize I’ve made him uncomfortable by asking this, so I change the subject.
     “How do you know Leah?” I ask. Leah is one of the regulars at the hair salon I work at, and she always requests me because “I’m a good listener.” A couple of weeks ago she came in squealing about setting me up on a blind date with this guy she knew. I agreed, seeing as I haven’t had much luck with dating in the past.
     “Her niece plays on the Little League team I help coach, and she’s sometimes at practices with her.”
     Aw, little league, how cute. “Baseball?”
     He shakes his head. “Soccer.”
     Our conversation is interrupted by a waiter coming over to us. “Good afternoon, can I get you guys anything?”
     “I’ll just have a coffee, please,” Ben tells him.
     The waiter turns to me. “And for you?”
     “Could I have a grilled cheese? And just a water to drink.”
     “Okay, I’ll get that out to you soon.”
     After a moment, I turn back to Ben. I think about the right question to ask next. He’s clearly gotten his life together since graduating high school. He’s got a son and a stable job. Luckily, however, I don’t need to ask him anything.
     “What about you?” he asks. “Where are you working right now. I know you wanted to study graphic design in college.”
     “Oh, I failed college,” I tell him. His face falls. “Don’t worry, I’m okay. Graphic design just wasn’t for me.”
     “But you love art!”
     “I do, but clearly not that kind. I prefer to be more expressive instead of having a bunch of linear rules to follow on what it should look like. Maybe that’s why I got a job at a hair salon.”
     We talk about our careers and what happened after college for a little bit longer. I learn that, despite having a degree in engineering, he hasn’t put it to use in any job yet. He worked as a cashier for a while before assistant coaching soccer with one of his friends. I realize how much I’ve missed talking to him. It’s been ten years but I still think about him. I didn’t realize he’d moved back home or that I’d ever see him again.
     Finally, our food and drinks come. I take a sip of my water and then set the cup back down on the table. Ben reaches out and gently puts his hand on top of mine. I’m taken aback at first. He notices this and starts to remove it.
     “No, keep it there,” I tell him. I like it, I think, but don’t add it out loud. After a few minutes of us just drinking our drinks and me chewing my sandwich. I break the silence.
     “I’ve missed you,” I blurt out. To my surprise, he doesn’t look taken aback by this statement. He also doesn’t respond, so I continue. “I haven’t been in any long-term relationships in years. I’ve dated a bunch of people, but never for more than a few months.”
     I always thought I’d been unlucky in the dating pool because I wasn’t compatible with anyone, or that I was afraid of commitment. Now I realize that I’m not afraid of commitment – I dated Ben for two and a half years – I just couldn’t bring myself to be with anyone else but him. I was subconsciously not letting anyone get close to me because a small part of me wished I was still with Ben.
     “I have too,” Ben replies somewhat quietly. His hand is still on mine.

 

Ben

     I was devastated when Jess and I broke up the summer after graduation. But as much as I hated it, it was something I needed to do. Neither of us wanted to make a long-distance relationship work, and we were both going to different universities out of state. I stayed where I was after graduating college, and didn’t decide to move back home until Jade left me and Jack and I needed a fresh start.
     “It’s been great to talk to you again,” Jess says. She rotates her hand to hold mine in hers. The feeling brings me back to when we were seventeen and in love. I bring my free hand up to her face and brush a loose piece of hair out of her eyes. She smiles at me and I realize I’m still in love with her.
     “Would you like to go out again soon?” I ask her.
     “I would love that, yes,” she replies.

 

The Ripper

By Avery N.

            It was cold. It was really damn cold. My boots were wet with grimy puddles that soaked through the seams into my socks. November in London was a special type of cold. The type of cold that won’t quite freeze, but the cold rain seeps into your bones anyways. 

            “Elizabeth,” A voice followed me down the empty street of Whitechapel. I turned to see a man, John was his name, standing at the corner of Church Lane. “Seen anything tonight? A body was found off Berner Street, only about an hour ago.” 

            John’s eyes were bloodshot and droopy, a side effect of being up all night watching. Men like him patrol Whitechapel, dauntlessly watching for the faceless assassin: the Ripper. 

            I shook my head. “Haven’t seen anything tonight, been busy. I delivered two healthy baby girls.” 

            “Give my congratulations to the mothers,” John said. He was a good man, John. They all were.

            “I will.” 

            John nodded, tipping his hat to me as I passed. 

            I began the trek home. Relieved to at last wash my hand under cold, clear water. The coppery red blood scrubbed from the crevices in my hands, washed down the drain. 

            Mine is not exactly a clean profession. 

~~

The next night I received a house call from Mary Jane Kelly at 13 Miller’s Court. It was a quaint little home, pleasantly shabby as all things in Whitechapel are. Not quite run down, but the green paint was long faded and peeling away. 

            Mary Jane was a sweet young girl, only about twenty. Her eyes were full of hope and love when she looked at her full, round belly. It was almost painful to see the light in her eyes. Whitechapel hadn’t quite put it out yet. 

            The ache in her swollen feet would be quickly abated by a bit of bloodletting, and so I drew my scalpel from my apron and got to work. 

            I made small, precise cuts on her upper arm. Mary Jane didn’t make a sound, intent on being a good patient. Nonetheless, tears welled in her eyes like glassy green church windows. I held her hand for comfort. 

            It was painfully easy. 

            As I made my way up her arm, my scalpel whipped upward. Her jugular vein bled startling, bright red. 

            Blood flowed freely from the veins in her neck, soaking the hem of her dress so dark it was almost black. Mary Jane gargled her own blood through her last moments of life. That ever-persevering light in her eyes went out.

            I flipped my scalpel in my hands. Now it was time to truly get to work. 

~~

            Walking home that night, I saw John once more. 

            He tipped his hat to me, once more saying, “Another body tonight at 13 Miller. Do be careful out there, Elizabeth. You never know when He might be lurking in the shadows.” 

            “I will,” I said 

            John really is a good man, kind and well intentioned. It’s a shame being a good man doesn’t get you far around here. The bad men rule the night. I turn my back on him to go and wash the blood off my hands.

 

Everything Comes Around

By Jake F.

     Tis’ the season. A dirtied wall next to my high school's senior deck becomes littered with letters from universities all over the country. The noise of students complaining grows overwhelming, and the voices of spoiled children become irritating. It is that time of year the rejection letters start flowing in, and all I can do is sit there putting on a happy face.

     I blew my chances in junior year when I decided to slack off, and now I am paying the consequences. I get to watch all my friends apply to their dream schools while I dwell on the thought of community college. At least I don’t have to worry about being rejected, right? But is that worth the humiliation that is connotated with staying home while everyone moves out?

     I wait patiently to see if my best friend Lucas gets into Stanford, that way I’ll have someone from my childhood still close by. 

     December 15th rolls around, he gets rejected. “I’m sorry man, I wish we could be closer too,” he says to me. In an attempt to comfort him as well as myself, I say “It’s cool, we’ll keep in touch, I know it.” But we both know that’s not true. Sooner or later we will drift apart. High school friendships are to be grown out of like old clothes, especially with hundreds of miles between them. 

     I suppose the isolation will be good for me. Everyone always says “I wish I took the path you did,” or “That’s the smarter thing to do anyway.” But it’s hard to tell who is being genuine. Maybe this is the right thing to do financially. But I tell that to myself as an excuse. I know what my heart wants. At the end of the day this is the consequence of my own laziness.

 

Charm

By Anne B.

     Most stories start with ‘Once upon a time.’ The tragically beautiful princess gets her Prince Charming. The ‘faraway land’ is saved, and the villain is either cast into oblivion, or left to rot for eternity in some inescapable prison. Or a tower, maybe, if the princess wants some poetic justice.

     So, happily ever after, right?

     Sure, if you’re a hero. But what about us villains? I mean yeah, sure we’re evil and we hurt a lot of people, but we deserve a happy ending too, right?

     Wrong.

     I pace the confines of our underground cell as far as my chains will allow, ice crunching under my boots, my breath fogging. Magical snowflakes enchanted to dampen dark magic fall heavily, coating my eyelashes and making it hard to see. Iron shackles clank as I rub the snow out of my eyes.

     I keep pacing, my thoughts whirling with escape plans, each more elaborate and twisted than the last.

All of them doomed to fail.

     There’s no way out and I know it. Snow White is just too good at what she does.

     Snow White.

     My fists clench, hatred making my blood boil despite the cold. We’re here because of her.

     No.

     I close my eyes, facing the ugly truth.

     We’re here because of me. Because I’m an idiot. Because I couldn’t kill Snow White when I had the chance. Instead, I let her lull me with empty words and false promises.

     That I could be good. That I didn’t have to do this, that I wasn’t my mother, but my own person, capable of goodness.

     That I could have a happy ending.

     She says all the right things, her words echoing a longing deep within my heart.

     I want my happily ever after. I want it so much.

     I tell her, and she smiles, prying the knife from my slack fingers. She slips the blade into her belt and hugs me, her hand caressing my face and stroking my hair in a motherly fashion that was completely alien to me. I stiffen, then melt into the embrace, into the realization that someone cared a little bit about me in a way my mother didn’t.

     It was wonderful, until Snow White shattered the moment with her next words.

      “But you’re a villainess, and villains don’t get happy endings.”

     Then she ripped out my heart with her bare hands.

     I stumble back, my body num with shock and disbelief even as a burning pain slices across my chest. 

Snow White catches me as I fall, cradling me to her chest. Dark shadows hem my vision as I hear her say, 

 “The blood you share binds you together.” 

     She exhales powerfully, as if some weight had been lifted from her shoulders. 

      “Thank you, Charm. Because of you, the Evil Queen will never hurt me again.” 

     Then, darkness.

     I had woken in the icy cell, my wrists in chains and my body heavy with shame and hatred. Anger warming me from the inside out.  

     My mother was there, terrible rage rolling off her in waves. For the moment I was glad of the snowflakes repelling mother’s magic. But she didn’t need magic to punish me, she could do that just as well with her words. 

     Two years passed slowly, and still my mother seethed. Not that I could blame her. Once upon a time, she had been a queen. Now she was a prisoner. 

     Over time, the burning pain in my chest had lessened into a dull, hollow ache, mingling with the utter hopelessness I felt deep within me. 

     Until a month ago, when the dreams started. 

     I dream I’m in a dark room with a single candle burning red in the center. From the candle comes a voice that speaks to the monster in me, giving me something I never thought I could have. 

     The promise of revenge.

     And a way out. If I was willing to go that far. 

     Was I? 

     Yes.

     I opened my eyes, my hands relaxed and opened at my side, my head cool. I knew what I needed to do. 

     I would not hesitate. Not this time. 

     I turn, striding purposefully to where my mother sat, her back against the wall, hands folded primly in her lap. Her jaw tightened in anger as she watched me through half closed eyes. 

      “What? Have you come to apologize for ruining my life?”

     Anger spikes through me, I struggle to keep my breathing even.

      “Are you going to grovel again? Begging me to forgive you for your stupidity?” 

     I breathe deeply, remembering the voice and latching on to the hope it offered. I lifted my chin, meeting her steely gaze with my own. 

      “I don’t need your forgiveness anymore, mother. Just your Essence.” 

     My hand shot out, wrapping around her wrist and murmuring the spell I learned in my sleep.

     Her body went limp, eyes rolled back in her head. The wrist I held burned with purple light as her power and strength flowed from her to me, her wisdom and experience, her very life essence leaving her body and entering mine. 

     I let go of her wrist and she slumps lifeless to the frozen floor. I step back, the chains fall from my wrists. My body buzzes with power.  

     The snowflakes fell harder, trying to suppress the dark magic building within me. 

     It didn’t work.

     I guess Snow White wasn’t as great as she had supposed.

     I grinned and flicked my wrist. The ice walls shattered, jagged icicles crashing down around me. I crouch down, covering my head with my arms. 

     It was over soon. A glittering sea of icicles gave way to a shadowy chamber made of stone, several doors carved in the walls, leading off into the gloom.

     I wade through the ice, stepping into the chamber. 

     I would have my revenge. 

     I would find my heart and kill Snow White. 

     And I would have my happy ending, and right now, that was Snow White’s heart on a spit. 

River Veins - Air

By Mahica J.

     One hundred seventy years ago, Roddy McCorley was hung from this tree. 

     It’s hard to imagine this as the same place, the gnarled branching birch is alight with small green buds as the gallows on which a young boy took his last breath and fell to a horrific death. The grassy base where my sisters pick tulips speckled with crimson. My brother’s summer hideout was nourished with the blood of a young Irish revolutionary.  

     On good days, Hugh takes me to the base of the old birch and lifts me onto the bottom branch from where I can see the entire sprawl of Toome. The sweeping green plains, the distant blinking lights reflected onto the still waters of the Lough Neagh. The faint rustle of wind wafts towards the faded distance where the horizon kisses the sky. 

     He shifts beside me, steady and warm as the branch shakes a little to cater for his added weight. Out of all my siblings, Hugh’s my favourite, and on those rare days when he gives me a sliver of attention, I dive after him like a swooping magpie. 

     The thing about Hugh is that he always tells the same story. The brave Roddy McCorley, riding through the hills on a Wild Irish, gunning down the ruthless British soldiers with his glistening AR-18. The young boy with his golden locks, admired by beautiful women from every town on the River Bann. The proud soldier who gave up his life rather than his fight for freedom. 

     On particularly spiteful days, Hugh adds the part about how they still hang naughty little boys who stalk their older brothers like lost sheep. 

     But in the last week, something has changed in Hugh. 

     He no longer brings back pink tulips for Mammy when he sneaks in late. He no longer takes us to Magherafelt to ogle at the strange fashion and shiny cars. Instead he curls up in the tree and stares out into the distance, jaw set and eyes hard. 

     But today, I decided I’ve had enough. I make my way to the hanging tree alone to watch my brother’s legs sway from a higher branch. Blinking the sunlight out of my eyes, I place a steady hand against the trunk and call out to his lithe shadow. 

     “Hugh!” I invent wildly,  “Da said that if you don’t dig up the south paddocks by tonight he’ll knock ya into next week.” 

     Shooting me a glare full of all the sixteen-year-old disdain he can manage, Hugh scoffs and leans back into the trunk. 

     “Get lost, Eamonn,” he snaps. “No-one likes a tell-tale.” 

     Undeterred by my brother slinking back into the foliage, I try my hardest to shake the branches I can reach. 

     “If you don’t come down, I’m coming up.” 

     With a long suffering sigh, Hugh ducks under the branch to squint at me darkly from above. Holding his gaze defiantly, I place a shaky foot onto the lower branch.

     “Don’t be an idiot,” he grumbles, annoyed, “You’re going to fall and I’m not taking you back. You can walk home, broken legs and all.” 

     But deep inside me I can tell he’s lying so I’m not surprised when he freezes as I take my first steps up. 

     “Eamonn, I’m serious.” 

     Looking back now, I should have stopped and forced Hugh to come down then. Frozen with fear and shock, there would have been a very good chance that Hugh wouldn’t have argued, just to see me back onto the steady ground. But reason and logic are two far away oceans at the tender age of ten. 

     I lift myself onto a second branch and pause for a moment as the bough sighs under my weight. Sitting a comfortable two metres from the ground, I cross my arms behind my head in a facade of nonchalance, smirking at Hugh wickedly. 

     But my brother has gone pale. He shifts down from his branches onto the sturdier centre of the tree. 

     “Just wait there,” he warns as he begins to climb down, “Don’t do anything stupid.” 

     I crawl out from the centre of the tree to face him. Euphoric at my achievement, I shift further out from the trunk and make to stand. 

     They say it took the brave Roddy McCorley thirty seconds to fall the two metres from the tree. 

     It took me perhaps two. 

     I find that I have little recollection of the moments that followed. One second, I was excitedly standing on the branches, and the next I was in Hugh’s trembling arms as he tried to stem the bleeding from my head. My crying little sisters run the entire way to the house and my father lifts me onto his strong shoulders. 

     Cool fingers through my hair, a bright light shot at my eyes, I catch a glimpse of Hugh’s tearstained face through my mother’s fingers. 

     Perhaps the days that followed were agony like I had never known before. But for a moment, entwined in my brother’s arms, a kiss pressed to my hair followed by a promise to “never leave again, just- God, Eamonn, wake up...” I couldn’t help feeling victorious. 

     I brought my brother back. My family, my world, was whole again. 

 
 

Storytelling, Redefined

By Emma Z.

            In the beginning, before human civilizations spread across the face of the earth, before any settlers even set foot in the New World, there were stories. Tales of magical spirits, deities, and myths were spun out of nothing and passed down from generation to generation, each narrative capable of transmitting and preserving decades of history and culture. Stories existed, in fact, long before humans could invent something to write them down on. 
           Over time, these verbal narratives took on the forms of books, songs, even movies and TV shows; regardless of how they're presented, all these are a product of storytelling. So then, that begs the question, what is storytelling? What can be defined as storytelling? Is it simply just what its name suggests– telling a story? That may be the simple definition, but those who take time to truly search for meaning between the lines may delve deeper to find that storytelling, at its foundation, is a transcendent form of communication, a bridge linking the past, present, and future over fault lines of the question, what if?

            What if you were amongst the first chosen to set foot on Mars, but the mission went horribly wrong? What if you were the last juror in a courtroom, and the fate of a murderer rested completely in your hands? What if you were alive in the midst of the Second World War, where you had to choose between betraying your country or your best friend? We may never receive the chance to live through these situations to find out for ourselves, but we can imagine, and that’s exactly what storytellers do. Storytellers, out of nothing, weave characters, conflicts, and dialogue together to form a story that takes a reader by the hand and shows them what life may have looked like if. Each time we open a book, listen to a song, watch a movie, we open ourselves up to worlds of possibilities, many beyond the physical realm we live in.

            Storytelling doesn’t abide by the laws of how the world works. Maybe humans have limited years on this earth, but storytelling allows us to live a million lives, taking on the perspective of a new character, in a new setting if only for a few hours at a time. If that isn’t magic, if that isn’t a perfect embodiment of transcendence, what is? Science says time travel is impossible, yet stories manage to jump from time period to another, leaving behind elaborate tales for future generations to find. We can pick up and understand a legend from past centuries; it is a common language we share. We can analyze the depths of the words, drawing inferences about the writer, culture, and history behind the story.

            As the world evolves, many things have died out. People have turned from buying paperbacks to purchasing e-books; vinyl records are slowly disappearing from shops, replaced by CDs and digital recordings. But there will always be a need for storytelling. We, as a human species, will always wonder about the road not taken, and turn to stories to quench our thirst for knowledge. We are a curious species. We want to explore worlds different from our own. We want to uncover legends from history and study how they’ve shaped our world today. We want to form relationships with characters that only exist in imagination. It was out of this want that stories were born, and out of this want that storytelling will never become obsolete.

            To find answers that our lives are built upon, we must go back to the stories that shaped and twisted our lives, enhancing our imaginations and teaching us lessons through legends and mythical characters since the very beginning.

 

I'm Still Alive

By Brooklyn A.

            “Mom, do all stories have a happy ending?”

            My mom looked surprised that I asked that. 

            “Well, I-I’m sure they can, dear,” she told me.

            “But what about me? I’m going to die soon. I haven’t even turned ten yet!” I exclaimed. It made me angry, the way that I didn’t get as long as others. 

            “Oh, Jamie, you don’t know that.”

            “No one’s lived past fourteen,” I told her quickly.

            “Plenty of people have lived past fourteen,” she replied calmly.

            I sighed. My mom could be so difficult sometimes. “No one with my condition.”

            “Then you can make history. Maybe you will be the first person to make it to sixty,” she said, her tone covered with false optimism.

            “Lots of people have made it to sixty.” I laughed at my own joke.

            “Oh, Jenna. You know, my mom died when she was thirty-nine. My dad is still alive at seventy-one,” she told me, probably hoping to make me feel better. It didn’t.

            “She had heart problems,” I told her dryly.

            “So does grandpa,” she said.

            “All grandpas have heart problems,” I shot back.

            “Jenna, you’re so argumentative,” my mom told me. 

 

            “Wanna hang out sometime?” Matt asked me. 

            My head swung up abruptly. “Uhh… no.”

            “Oh. Oh, okay. Why not?” he asked.

            I suppose it was fair to give a reason. But what would I say? I could lie, or I suppose, tell the truth.

            “I’m not looking to start a relationship right now.” That was partially true.

            “Jenna, I’m not proposing,” he said. 

            “I know,” I said. “I don’t want to go out. I’m only thirteen. Maybe next year.” If I’m still alive, I thought to myself.

 

            I stood at my mother’s grave. I had never expected her to die before me. I know she was proud of me.

            I set the flowers on the grave. I was making history, she told me every day. 

            I had just turned sixteen. I had done just what she told me to.

            Not like I’d done anything. I was surviving, barely holding on, it felt like. I was surviving off of prayers of those who loved me.

            I still hadn’t started any relationships. Because at this point, I was living on borrowed time. 

            I wished I could be brave, but I really just didn’t want to hurt anyone when I was gone. But, I told myself, my mom died before me. No doctors could have predicted that. 

            Cause the truth is, car accidents happen, people have attacks, and get cancer, but none of that happened to me yet.

            Sure, the doctors said that I shouldn’t be alive anymore. But I realized they didn’t get to choose that. Nor did my mom, my dad, or anyone else.

            “Well, Mom, I’m still alive,” I said, wondering if she could hear me, or if I was just talking to the wind. “I guess you were right. I’m making history. Thanks for believing in me.” I paused for a minute. “I gotta go now. I need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.”

Lamentation of My Best Friend

By Kirsten L.

     The Maribel I know had long, finely-tuned legs, embellished with tiny golden hairs that only appeared in the sunlight. 

     They were for running: from the weird kids at school, from time, from me. 

     She wore the same pair of sneakers each day and with those feet kicked down cities like block towers. With those feet pumping on the playground swingset, she punched holes in the sky. 

     The real Maribel smiles and nods primly, crossing and uncrossing her legs right-over-left to left-over-right. 

     The real Maribel’s giggles get on my nerves. 

     The Maribel I know followed along with the lie before we left elementary school, saying we’d text every day. 

     The real Maribel doesn’t call back after promising she will. 

     The Maribel I know wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, wasn’t hesitant to explain to me when I was being an idiot. Which is often. 

     The real Maribel doesn’t try anymore, shrugs when her father tells mine that it’ll all end one day–precisely twenty-two hours from now. 

     The real Maribel stands two inches taller than me; the Maribel I know was always my height, no matter where we stood. 

     The Maribel I know never knew when to stop; at parties, she’d heap her paper plate with berries and finish half of them, would rather let them rot than end up on the tongue of another. 

     The real Maribel takes only what she needs, says please-sorry-thank-you on instinct, dresses up to see me even though all I remember about that day is her face. 

     The Maribel I know believed me when I said we’d stay young forever. The real Maribel can’t. 

     The Maribel I know made worlds with me. A board game with pebbles as pawns, temples where Shih-Tzus are creatures that could thwart fate.

     The real Maribel reminds me not to get too caught up in my dreams. 

     I’m not letting go, she reminds me. 

     The Maribel I know was too proud to admit she fell for someone. The real Maribel nods along when I talk about love, knowing full well that I never deserved it. 

     The real Maribel says even if the sky cracks apart we’ll meet again in a cafe when we’re golden at twenty-two, sitting with our ankles crossed and eating petit fours like some impressionist caricature of royalty. 

     She loves petit fours, although she’s never tasted one. 

     Says she wants to save the first time for me. Don’t forget it, she reminds me, though we both know that I will. 

     At our first sleepover in years, I perform the ritual. Trying to coerce the Maribel I know out of the real Maribel. A non-consensual exorcism while she’s asleep – is that legal? 

     The Maribel I know is still hiding in there, I’m guessing, behind the spider webs in her eyes and in the rain pooling in her clavicle. 

     I gather the magic stones from our childhood games and surround her dormant body with them in a circle. Somehow I pass out before the ritual is complete. 

     When I woke up, the rocks, the scent, the sand on the carpet are all gone. 

     In the morning she says nothing about it as she sips the remaining milk from her cereal bowl and pins her poor sleep on nightmares. 

     But I suspect something else as she rises from the kitchen table: by the visible weight in her pocket and the clink of stone that follows with each step.

 
 

The Hills of Don Dilli

By Tan B.

     When the door first flung open, I was greeted by the most welcoming sight. Glittering pearls floated through the hallway, and the smell of fresh poppies filled the air. Just a mile ahead, a dazzling lit entrance could be spotted. I followed the euphonious tune and entered the room, girls and boys like me were waltzing by the step - how long has it been since I saw another human being like me? The lady that silently trailed behind me and introduced herself as Gre gave me a metallic wristband, oh I can’t describe how beautiful it lit. A girl called Eva, a needle shorter than me, came forward and did a little curtsy. By her wrist tied a string that was connected to a bobbing bubble half-filled with glitter potion. She asked shyly for my name, and ‘Pers’ was all I could say. The rest was too painful. 

     She said in a melodious voice, “All us princes, princesses, and knights alike came from various kingdoms. I come from the Land of Orphz, where my people carry Orbes just like mine. Where do you come from? I wonder if it is a place I have been?” I, not surprisingly, have never heard of the existence of the Land of Orphz. Since we all came from different stops, I assume it was a faraway island. I proceeded to respond, “The Paradise of Hospy-” before I could say no more, my breathing came to a sudden halt for a second or two and I coughed non-stop. It was only after I took a sip of my magic tea brought by Gre that then I could talk. 

     Embarrassed, I stammered, “Sorry, I get Muzellis, it’s kind of common in the Paradise of Hospy, it’s like a gene passed on.” She gave me an assuring pat on my shoulder and laughed lightly. “No, it’s alright, I get Oilges too when my potion runs out. And talking about that, that reminds me, hold on a second.” The little girl turned around and in a startlingly loud voice she called out, “Knight Tiol, come over here, there is someone from the same land as you.” Just a few seconds later, a sturdy tan boy in steel armour dashed over, the quickest I have seen anyone, in fact, his feet were flying high. 

     In a polite voice, he raised his brow. “Yes, Princess Eva, how could it be? My land, my people reside in an island, thousands, rather millions of ships away from here.” “Well, what land did you say you were from again?” The rosy girl prompted.  He puffed up his chest but quivered slightly.“The Paradise of Hospy, the one, and only Hospy.” “She too is from the Paradise of Hospy.” She gestured at me, and I panicked. My eyes shifted before they met Tiol’s, the boy who proclaimed to come from the same place as me. I had never seen him before, what shall I ever do? 

     An awkward silence formed. He looked at me confused, I stared back at him blankly. A moment went by and it was only broken by the chuckles of Eva, the girl who had to bring it up in the first place. “So… both of you haven’t met before, maybe because you are a princess and he is a knight, two different parts of the kingdom. The Paradise of Hospy is quite big, Tiol, am I right?” 

     “Yes, yes, the Paradise of Hospy is terribly large. Knights and Princess don’t meet, they live quite far apart.” A tint of remorse was seen through his gaze as he scratched his head and looked away. It was only then colour returned to my face as my lips sealed tight to prevent any more revealing of the past I inherit.

     Just in time, the gong rang, the second time I heard it since I set foot in this isle. At first, I did not know what it was for until Eva led me by the arm into the dining hall. A banquet had been set, with all kinds of food one may get, from roasted pork and meat to caramelized pudding and ice cream, and of course not to forget our own brewed drinks and toffees. I sat next to Eva, and we ate and chatted. Eva drank her sour unicorn juice and I gulped down my bitter sandweed as fast as I could. 

     I caught a glance of fellow Tiol surrounded by his knightly friends probably fifty needles away from me. To say the least strange of it all, a while ago I saw him laughing loudly but at present, he was looking down somberly at something shiny. I noticed this among the others too, from time to time many were looking down at the same identical thing they were clutching tightly. Yet, no one seems to mention it, no one at all, like it was no matter, I could not bring it up to ask about it. But when I finally did try to mention it, the first time barely five words got out of my chapped lips, and the plump girl on my right swiftly cut me off. The second time, I got through a whole sentence, Eva interrupted and that was when I knew I had to stop. Their faces were scrunched up and seemed like a knife had stabbed them in the chest or chains had wrestled them by the neck, and I felt quite guilty for having brought it up, so I kept mum throughout the rest of the dining. 

     Thereafter, it just so happened that Gre informed me that Eva was actually my suite buddy. Well I was elated, no new faces - I was quite overwhelmed by the masses at the feast table, now, the less the trouble. So I followed behind Eva as we strutted towards our room with the ebony wood ringing below our feet. The suite turned out magnificent better than I had expected. A chandelier hung over the twin beds, there were two beanbags, teddy bears and little figurines that I learned from Eva were called “doll-ss,” my tongue got twisted by saying it but I’m sure I could get used to it. Best of all, the walls were decorated with flowers and the ceiling that the sun was hung up on was plastered with an evening purple blue sky-no more dull gray walls for me, something I could cheer about. 

     I changed into my silky striped nightgown and Eva did too. We looked like twins, both thin and lean, hazelnut hair, chipped lips, emerald eyes, just that I was taller than her by a bit. After I wiped my face with a towel ever-so-soft, I dived right into the comfy bed. For once I felt at ease, no sirens, no poking, none of that anymore. As I snuggled and turned to my left, I saw Eva crouching against the bed cushion, looking troubled at a pocket watch that was wrapped in her little hands, it shone the same light and colour as the thing many other children were holding earlier on and so it was - a pocket watch. She was smiling with watery eyes of evergreen trees, so I was puzzled and so with the urge I asked cautiously. 

     “O, Eva, why so sad, it’s just a pocket watch that the others, too have.” She didn’t reply at first, but mumbled, “It is my first day having it, so it is for many others, before you came I got it from the Ruler of All Things. No point hiding it, come over and take a look.” I climbed onto her bed, eyes fixated on that pocket watch, it was a copper watch with a cat carved on it, rather pretty, no, it was exquisite. So why are they all so sad at such a magnificent gift? 

     Seeing my queer expression, Eva continued, “You see there are only three Roman numerals on it? It is at one now.” I haven’t realized that before, yes, weird indeed. “It is handmade specially for you, I see,” I tried to assure her. “No.” she promptly replied with no façade and the veil dropped. “We all get it, you get yours soon, same as mine, you know it too.” She smiled sweetly, “ You know, we princess, prince, and knight all go to meet the Queen one day.” Oh, yes, of course, that was it, to meet her majesty that was what the pocket watch was for, all the children were sober because they had to consider how to greet her majesty!

     I wanted to exclaim in glee for this newly anticipated knowing, just then Eva rose up and stood on the bed. She pointed out of the glass cracked window, “You see, the hills over there, yes, those vast hills of Don Dilli, there beyond lies the castle of her highness. When the hand reaches three, it is my calling to visit the Palace. It is better than here or anywhere else, not only do unicorns live there, pegasuses, and mermaids have their holidays there too. Whereas, before that time comes, the hills will continue dancing and sing their tune for me. You will soon hear its lovely symphony...” 

     I gazed out at the dark midnight sky. The ominous clouds could still be seen looming over those distant trees, and shimmering shooting stars were flashing by, I quietly made a wish to get my ticket to Don Dilli. Eva yawned as she rubbed her puffy eyes and I crept back into my colossal ship as the moonlight cradled me to sleep. 

     The next day, word of the hills of Don Dilli got around and laughter rang throughout. The news of Don Dilli had everyone elated. There was a renewed joy - at least for now, princess, knights, and princes were discussing on what to talk to the Queen about. Then, came the gong for lunch, and as I followed the other children into the hall, I started filling slightly nauseous but I shake it off, it was probably due to my Muzellis. I had no appetite for that meal and was keenly wanting to get back to my fluffy cotton cloud. 

     Unfortunately, Gre signalled me out, coupled with a dozen other children. Eva whispered before I left that the Ruler of All Things has summoned me. So I went into the tightly enclosed room bravely and I sat there still as the chanting went on. 

     The Ruler of All Things was an old lady, expressionless and grim, probably because she has done the same rituals hundreds of times and her own pocket watch is arriving, the things she said were not particularly pleasing to hear and I could see why Eva, Toil and the other kids were so grave afterward. But that did not matter now, with the hills of Don Dilli calling for me and I could soon sing merrily. Soon after I got my own pocket watch, I saw Eva was wrong, not all were the same, mine was engraved with an owl on it, and even as other children of this batch had owls similar to mine, I spotted slight differences in them. Knight John had his pocket watch with an eyepatch on it just like him, Kiley Jones the Great had her owl with one blue and one green eye and as for me, my owl had a smile, probably because I was smiling all the time since I had arrived. 

     Maybe things were not that bad after all if we could get past to see the better side of things - thanks to Don Dilli. Soon afterward, during dinner time, Eva’s magical bubble popped by accident and its potion flowed out like a river. Gre and the others immediately carried her away and that was the last time I saw her, she was nonetheless smiling, the brightest I have ever seen. 

     The following day, before dawn broke, that was much shuffling going on, and much murmuring, the air was stiff but not depressed, it was a quiet embracement and I hug farewell to many of the new courageous associates I have befriended, including Toil, who gave me his last salute I would see - at least on this isle. “Maybe we can visit the Paradise of Hospy together one day,” he commented. “No, Don Dilli is where we shall meet and we need not go back to those caves of ferocious beasts again,” I corrected. He immediately understood, and with a final nod wheeled in with plenty of others into the chamber of Havens, Gre entered last and in a short fifteen minutes walked out silently. 

     Credit must be given to Gre, she had taken care of all the children faithfully, and to do such a painful task over and over again, sure has not been easy for her. My invitation to the palace came a day after, and as I laid on the warm sheets of wool surrounded by crimson poppy flowers, the gong rang once more. I nodded goodbye to my mates. 

     Gre looked down and kissed me on the forehead, with all the might I had left I squeezed out my best smile, last needle, the hills of Don Dilli I have come.