Carmen Liu


Carmen Liu


The Constraints of Fear

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions in the world; it can grab hold of you and never let you go. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to escape its constricting grasp, and sometimes never. A few years ago I was able to overcome that restricting grip that had controlled me for years.

At the age of eight, I had been swimming competitively for two years. The water had always called to me; at a very young age I had loved to frolic in the pool and swim beneath the surface. I felt like I had discovered a whole new world where I was powerful and could do whatever I wanted. During swim meets, however, this fun was replaced by adrenaline and fear. It made me feel weak instead of powerful. The fear was in control, not me. 

I dreaded the flip-turn. I knew that if I ever wanted to continue swimming competitively and stay as fast as the other kids, I would have to conquer my fear. At this age, all of the fast heat one swimmers were already doing flip-turns and breaking away from the slower kids who didn’t. I have always been extremely competitive; doing well and excelling has been my nature since birth. I knew that to overcome my fear I had to beat it down and squeeze through its clutching grasp. 

My swim coach had been trying to help me through it for a year and it just wasn’t working. Every time I thought about being upside down in the water, I panicked. Visions popped into my head of drowning and hitting my head on the bottom of the pool. I just couldn’t handle it. Every time my coaches would ask me to do it, I would flip halfway on the turn and then turn back onto my belly. My fear and my fierce will to do well clashed. This was something I would not turn away from; I needed to face my fear head on and overcome it. But every time I got my will power up, I looked at that dreaded pool wall and my fear kicked in and took control. 

A year went by and right before the next swim season began my family and I went to our neighborhood pool to swim. My love of the water had not diminished; I swam like a dolphin, doing butterfly kicks through the water that transported me into another dimension, another world. As long as I didn’t confront my fear, I was content, but my will power to continue swimming and winning blue ribbons was not about to let go. As much as I wanted to conquer my fear, I didn’t know how. I was helpless and weak and unable to do it myself. The fear was too much; I knew it was all in my head, but I was unable to reach past it.

During that summer day in the pool with my family, my life changed. My mom, who had been doing her routine laps in the lap lane, swam over to me and my brother and started to talk to me about the flip-turn. She told me that if I didn’t try, I would let the fear win; I would become powerless, with fear controlling my everyday life. I knew this was true, but the fear was winning and I felt like I could do nothing about it. My mom told me to at least attempt a flip-turn, so I did. As I swam towards the wall I did my semi-flip in the water and pushed off the wall. As I resurfaced I knew that this wasn’t what my mom or I wanted. After that, my brother and my mom talked to me about it and I decided that with their help maybe I could control my panic. While I flipped in the water, my mom and brother would make sure I did a complete flip. I took a gulp of air and prepared myself. With a push off the gravely pool floor, I flipped over and tucked myself under. Kicking with my legs and releasing bubbles simultaneously; I had just completed my first flip turn!

The joy of my accomplishment made me feel so proud. As I thought about it, I concluded that something as small as a flip-turn can change your life. That day taught me many things, but most importantly it made me realize that fear can lead your life.  Sometimes you must take a leap of faith into the dark unknown or you will never fully experience life. Swimming through the water and watching the light reflect and refract in a beautiful spectrum, I realized that I had changed. I no longer felt restrained or held back. I was fearless.

--Lana Bennett


My Mother

I longed for my mother’s life as a youth. Unlike what I experienced, namely, endless schoolwork and tedious video games, my mom was born in a military base, surrounded by a military family. Her childhood and youth can be summarized as “seeking fun under military discipline.” Being a naughty child, she never followed the rules set by my grandfather, who was a lieutenant; she climbed trees and stole the pears the neighbors planted and got punished by my grandfather, but she never stopped. Growing up under strict rules and in a serious atmosphere, my rebellious mother never surrendered to discipline. Whenever my mom told me her stories, I was jealous because I never had a chance to experience the unique life she had. 

Although my mother was full of mischief, she got deeply embarrassed once. I was surprised when I heard this since I considered my mom a “shameless” person. Born in a military family, obviously, my mother joined the army after graduating from a military school. She was sent to the north coast of China, on the border of Mongolia. The real army discipline restricted my mother’s bad behavior; however, she still tried her best to exert her sly talents and relax under rules.

My mother’s camp had a routine running exercise every evening, and all new soldiers and married male officers were required to participate, My mom told me that she wanted to marry at that time because married female officers didn’t need to attend the running exercise. New soldiers formed a group of four columns, and married officers formed a group of two columns; each group had an advisor who ran in the inner circle of the sports ground. In the winter, the night came early and covered the sky with a black veil; the groups were the shadows in the darkness and were hard to distinguish. As I expected, my mother came to the exercise late on the first day; the groups were already uniformly organized and started running. The rule said that people who came in late should fill in the part of the column that had fewer people; however, my mother would not listen to what the rules said. She vaguely saw that there was a group with only two columns, and a person was running in the inner circle. 

Of course, running in the inner circle would be the easiest; my mom followed the only person who was running in the inner circle with the smaller group, which was the advisor of these married officers. She even called her colleagues, who followed the newcomers' group, to come with her because they could run less. My mom told me that she ran at a leisurely pace at that time since her circle was much smaller than the others’.

However, when the groups were required to stop and the advisors called for attention, the awkward time had come. People in the queue turned left, following the command, and the advisors turned right to face the soldiers. My mom did not listen to the order and just followed the person in front of her to turn right. Suddenly, she found herself facing a group of married officers, who were the higher-ups, and the only person besides her was a respected advisor. Everyone fell silent and stared at my mom for a few seconds, and then they all broke into a loud laugh; my mom only wanted to dig a hole in the ground and hide in it. When my mom told me this part of the story, she was still embarrassed. She asked me to imagine that I found myself standing beside the head of school accidentally, and when I turned, all teachers were standing in front of me, staring at me. I imagined the scene and hoped some hero would batter me unconscious if that happened, so I didn’t need to face the embarrassment.

My mother felt so awkward that she almost crawled back to the group to which she belonged. Although this incident doesn’t seem to be serious, the military discipline and unwritten rules were broken, so my mom became “famous,” and her legend was widely spread among the camp. Everyone knew that a newcomer had followed the advisor during the first running exercise. 

By the way, my father was a member of the new soldiers when the incident happened, and that was his first time noticing my mother. 

--Angelica Bi


Beach Day

I soaked in the glorious sunlight that poured down upon my face while I lay on a beach in Lewes, Delaware. I was in a state of absolute bliss while I listened to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and heard the nearby crashing waves and screaming seagulls. That day was my family’s first chance to go to the beach because of the giant storm that had passed through the day before, so we took full advantage. 

All of a sudden I saw my mom jump up out of her beach chair, which startled me out of my peaceful state. I looked up and I saw my dad walking awkwardly out of the waves. I knew as soon as I saw his face that something horrendous had happened. As soon as we got to him, he collapsed in the sand clutching his neck and silently said, “I heard something crack.”

The words stunned us all. I looked down at my father and saw blood trickling down his forehead. Everything seemed so surreal. It didn’t seem like this could possibly be happening on such a glorious day. My brother, who had had lifeguard training, held my dad’s head in place while asking my dad questions. My mom was crying because she knew that he could have broken his neck and become paralyzed. I tried holding back my tears while trying to reassure my mom. My brother called me over and told me that I had to hold my dad’s head while he ran down the beach to the lifeguard stand that was a mile away. I nodded and silently took his place in the sand by his head, while my brother sprinted away as fast as he could. I kept repeating to my dad, “Everything's going to be all right.” I was not only trying to tell my dad that but also silently reassuring myself that everything would be all right as well. I looked down at my dad and saw tears starting to well up in his eyes. 

It seemed like an eternity waiting for my brother with my dad lying in the sand. I told my dad again, “Everything will be okay, don’t worry.” The next few words my dad uttered broke me inside. He said silently in between tears and a crackling voice, “I may not be able to take care of our family anymore.” Tears started to trickle down my face as I realized then that all my dad cared about was taking care of us and that he had only thought that now that he might no longer be able to do his job as our father. My eyes started stinging and tears started coming down, but I knew that I had to keep my hands, still while my brother was coming back with the lifeguards. In those few minutes, I had gone from being a young girl to a young adult. I knew then that from that moment onward, no matter what happened with my dad, I would relieve some of the weight that rested on both my parents’ shoulders and take care of my dad. No longer would I be a child whom my parents had to worry about being self-reliant.
---Lana Bennett


Traveling

I enjoy traveling because I can learn more about the world’s diverse cultures and histories, make friends with people who have different linguistic backgrounds, and taste different food. After visiting more countries, my understanding of the world has become more comprehensive. The country that I want to visit again is Japan since the Japanese keep their ancient culture and customs while incorporating modern and Western civilizations.

During the Chinese Han Dynasty, when Japan was not united, Japan was affiliated with China and needed to pay tribute to the Chinese emperor every year. Although China profoundly influenced early Japanese culture, after the establishment of Japan with its emperor the Japanese developed their distinctive traditions and have preserved them until today. Traditions such as Ikebana, Kendo, calligraphy, and the tea ceremony are widely spread among the Japanese so that they can be circulated to the future generations. The Japanese also have beliefs that have been influencing them since ancient time such as Bushido, which was the reason why the United States believed that Japanese soldiers would fight until they would be all annihilated during World War II.

Japan is a well-developed capitalist country; its economy, education, scientific research, space technology, manufacturing industry, utilization of resources, and environmental protection are all at the world’s top level. However, I believe tourists are attracted by Japan mostly because of their advanced cultural industry. In Japan, people can not only experience a highly developed modern country but also learn ancient history and traditions. The harmony of modern and ancient civilizations is best shown in Japan; walking on the streets of Japan, you can see men in suits and women in their traditional clothing, the Kimono. Except for big cities like Tokyo, small Japanese towns still preserve ancient buildings and temples for tourists to visit. Japanese food culture is also a significant part of their traditions. Fish, which contains high protein and low fat, is their staple food; the unique dietary structure makes Japan the country with the lowest obesity rate in the world. 

I believe Japan is one of the countries that people must visit. The blend of traditional and modern culture there is very appealing and  doesn’t appear in any other country.

--Angelica Bi


Mother

Mother waited. She carried. She ate. She slept. She ate more. She startled. She yelled. She departed. She bore her miracle. Baby awakened. Baby saw. Mother observed. Mother cherished. Baby cried. Mother awakened. Baby shrieked. Mother fatigued. Baby laughed. Mother beamed. Baby crawled. Girl walked. Girl ran. Girl read. Mother taught. Girl talked. Mother watched. Girl broke. Girl broke. Mother fixed. Girl wandered. Mother followed. Girl boy. Mother warned. Girl argued. Mother stressed. Girl obstinate. Mother worked. Girl grew. Mother encouraged. Woman became. Mother loved. Woman achieved. Mother was proud. Woman left. Mother waited. Woman learned. Mother let go. Woman loved. Mother held on. Woman married. Mother smiled. Woman bore. Grandma became. They adored . . . together.

--Lana Bennett


The Tribulations of Writing a Paper


With surface clear, and so blindingly so

The stress and troubles that daily arise

Invidious glare, plastered like glazed snow

All the thoughts that I keep internalized

But from deep thought, inspiration will come

“Flow, my hand, write with smooth simplicity”

As I rhapsodize a few words and some

The frost marked with my creativity

Now I can turn in my work with such joy

That I have forgotten I was annoyed

--Aliana Chambliss


Beneath The Sea

As animals come and go, the colors remain.

Through the bright blue and flashy array of color,

The aquatic life can be seen zooming through their lane. 

As the light creeps through, the ocean is anything but smaller.

Beneath the sea lies absolute darkness. 

Once those magnificent colors disappear, 

The beautiful animals don’t become so harmless.

The ocean doesn’t seem so clear.

When the world seems all lost and forgotten,

The ocean will always be there for you.

Once the light and darkness has fallen,

Go out on the ocean and take a canoe.

Always be one with the ocean, 

And you will feel a lot of emotion. 

--Youssef Metwally


A Realist Theory

To accept the fact that we are nothing,

We cease to question the concept of time.

We focus on memories that we bring,

Fearless and meaningful that holds our bind.

Creating an individual path,

We saunter on our own specific pace.

We need more than a solitary grasp,

Seek the companionship that lovers face.

Putting forth the effort of love and care,

We forget about the time we must die.

Sometimes this love turns to an affair,

Time and love is wasted and we abide.

Happiness in life that was once sought,

Diminishes and we’re soon forgotten. 

--Emma Jacobs


My Garden

Birds chirping and the sugary smell of blossoms,

My gaze settles upon my cornucopia of life 

Menacing praying mantises peak from their rostrums

Under pristine iridescent leaves free of blight


Juicy red, lush viridescent pome and fruit 

Scattered across a bed of verdant leaves 

Oh garden of mine free of dupe

Plump, round, juicy, and red—tempting Eve


Garden of Life, how art thou cursed

Your beauty is so pure and bright but yet---

Millions of people are left accursed

From your ungarnered plentitude


And yet, when Time shows her ugly head,

All life disappears as never noted.

--Lana Bennett


The Dream

Everything around me is peaceful and perfect, almost like I’m living in a utopia. I do not see anyone or anything except the trees surrounding me and the road I’m walking on. I feel at ease until I see bright red lights flashing and sirens coming my way. I walk a little more down the road to see a car flipped upside down. Reality begins to set in and I begin to understand what I’d been through. I start to panic as I look for my friend that was right beside me, but I can’t find her. Right next to the crash scene is an orange cat that continued on as if nothing had happened, as if it wasn’t the reason we crashed in the first place. Enraged at something so small and so innocent that we risked our lives and our futures for, I walk away. 

The paramedics, firefighters, and policemen are scrambling, doing their best; but unaware of my presence. I watch as my friend is lifted onto a gurney and into an ambulance. A feeling of relief washes through me, but confusion still creates a haze in my mind. With all this commotion going on, I haven’t really thought about where I am. Yes, I’m watching all this happen, but I was in the car as well. How am I okay and how did I end up so far from the crash? The paramedics are yelling about something else now, something about finding another girl. I go over and see that it’s me. My lips are cold and and red, with cheeks stained with a touch of purple. The paramedics are yelling commands at each other, realizing my heart has almost stopped beating. 

Just like that, everything goes black and I wake up in a hospital bed feeling like everything that happened was a dream. There were cords going in every direction from my body. I look around the room to see if any family or friends were there, but there was no one. I looked at my body to see what damage the crash did, but there was nothing, not even a bandaid. Something was different; I didn’t know what it could be, but something was off.  I felt extremely weak -- so weak I could barely lift my arm to hit the button to call one of the nurses. As soon as I hit the red button, two nurses immediately came in my room immediately and start crying out, “She’s awake! She’s awake!” Three more nurses came in and looked at me in awe. At this point, not only confusion but fear settled in; the car crash seemed vivid and recent. The nurses rushed in my family and began to bombard me with questions. I had one question, but everyone seemed to be ignoring it. So I asked my question one last time: “What happened to me?” 

I wasn’t ready for what I was about to hear. I explained to everyone why I thought I was there, and that was because of the car crash. They all looked at each other in confusion. I kept talking and one of the nurses interrupted me, blurting out,“You were never in a car crash; you’ve been in a coma for almost a year now.” 

--Alexa Luger


Flight 

They drop like bombs into thick night,

Hurtling for years through darkness.

No warning, no sign,

Yet I see their path in my mind.

Behind me, a breeze rustles in the open door.

I twist my neck to look back, but there is nothing

And the light weakly fails to break the darkness.


Yet I see them when they land,

Hot flames piercing the night,

Exploding with a desire for recognition.

In the glow, we little figures scuttle about

Claiming to be surprised.

But we heard the howling about us

And continued on in professed ignorance.

A moment of silence, then they are forgotten.


A tear falls into the abyss, hurtling to earth

Perhaps it will find a broken body in the dust

And bring a single tear of sympathy to their cheek,

Bring life to their limbs, and they will rise

And they will come back to me.


But in my own flight I am far away below the moonless sky,

Flown past every mile their broken body can walk.

We will never meet so long as I am in my flight.

I cannot turn back, that I would fall too,

I know not the color of silent eyes

Yet they are dark and dim, and chase me in my dreams.

--Sam Justen


Cycles

A thousand generations cry out with one voice.

How dare you plant your false idols

In our fields of prosperity?

We did not ask to be pushed forward;

Unlike you, we are content with the present

And have no desire for your future.

Unlike you, we cherish our loved ones,

Spend time with our families.

Unlike you, we see beyond worldly desires;

We understand the needs of the soul and spirit,

Unlike you.


They wailed and screamed and tore their clothes

Until there were no tears left

And old generations, heavy with sadness,

Passed away into dust.


With no one left to stop it

Somewhere, a black seed was planted

By the vestiges of the past generation.

It corrupted the once rich soil into clay.

It grew like poison through the crops.

It traced spiny webs through children’s skin

And in the hearts of women and men.

It conquered.


Dreams were delivered they never imagined:

Home, love, happiness, enough wealth,

Trends of trend breakers,

The little things that sustain our existence;

Peace of mind from others’ troubles.

Do not pay attention to them!

Save yourself, and you will save others!

In their minds, they were at eternal peace

Yet ignorance.


Time takes what cannot be given,

That which was strong and proud.

The engines of human might and doing

Become loose and frail and weak and brittle.

Then they realize, and tremble with fear.

They fight with creams, surgeries, and pills.

They fight to clutch their treasure as it slips away.

They fight God with teary promises, then rage;

They lose.


Learning from their past, the old find wisdom

And solace in past generations.

But the seed takes the young by the heart.

Now the old are too tired to stop it.

They see their mistakes in full view.

The old reflect and cry in their hands.

The old fall by to young generations.

The old fall ill to warped ideas.

Yet the young fall to their own promises.


A thousand generations cry out with one voice,

How dare you plant your false idols 

In our fields of prosperity?

We did not ask to be pushed forward;

Unlike you, we are content with the present

And have no desire for your future.

Unlike you, we cherish our loved ones,

Spend time with our families.

Unlike you, we see beyond worldly desires;

We understand the needs of the soul and spirit,

Unlike you.


They wailed and screamed and tore their clothes

Until there were no tears left,

And old generations, heavy with sadness

Passed away into dust.

--Sam Justen

Lena Howard

Lana Bennett


Amanda Hess


Isabelle Horn


Angelica Bi



Lazarus and Croix

“Good morning, Lazarus. Today is the Lunar Eclipse,” said a female robotic voice from the speakers within the warehouse. “You can watch it in the Highercity for a meager price of te-.” The voice got cut off suddenly by another feminine voice. This voice, sounding as human-like as possible, was also coming from the speakers.

“Shut up, you filthy advertisement! We don’t need your advertisements down here. You just want to fill up your pockets more with filthy money! You fu-.”

Another voice, a male’s voice, cut off both the voices from the speaker as he rose from his bed. 

“Croix. Mute,” commanded the voice. The vulgar AI’s voice was suddenly silenced. All that was remaining was the advertisement through the speakers. 

-ave a nice day, Lazarus. Remember your annual donation to the Heroes Foundation.”

Lazarus walked over to a socket with a flash drive plugged in and removed it slowly. This gave Croix time to think. There was no real way to turn off her power; the only thing Lazarus could do was mute her. He sighed heavily before walking over to a large, rectangular machine. Plugging in the flash drive once more, he sat down in a chair nearby. Six very large screens started to turn on as a pink-haired female appeared. She was floating around in an abyss behind the screen, pouting at Lazarus. She started yelling and waving her arms once she noticed Lazarus had turned the screens on, but no sound came from the speakers. He smiled deviously and cupped the back of his ear with his hand. Croix turned her back to him.

“What? I can’t hear you, Croix. You may need to speak louder,” Lazarus called. A few seconds passed by before he continued, “I’m kidding! I’m kidding! Unmute.”

Croix took a few seconds to settle down before turning back to Lazarus. 

“What’s your use for me today?” Croix jabbed.

“‘Use’? Since when have you used that word? You know we work together on jobs.” Lazarus replied. He was pretty concerned about Croix’s sudden change in attitude over their work habits. She loved doing her job. He didn’t even need to program that inside of her. Lazarus did program an AI with a full set of emotions, but she developed her thoughts and relationships herself. That wasn’t him. 

“You don’t have a use. We’re partners here.”  

Croix took a deep breath and ran her fingers through her hair.  “Laz, I’m stuck. I’m really, really stuck. I feel just as human as you are. I’m programmed to breathe, develop relationships, I . . . I don’t know what I am. I feel all of these emotions, yet I’m programmed to. No matter what I say, what decisions I make, I’m programmed to do so.” 

Lazarus frowned. He never realized how large of a burden a fully sentient Artificial Intelligence would be. As he paced horizontally in front of the screen, Croix watched intensely. She had tears in her eyes. The tears only made her feel worse. 

“I don’t really know what to say, Croix,” Lazarus eventually spoke. “You sit precisely on the fine line between human and program. If we ever put your mind into a human’s body . . .” 

“My origin was still just a bunch of coding on a screen.” Croix finished for him. 

Croix wiped the artificial tears from her face and moved towards the front of the screen. She sighed heavily, then waited. Lazarus and Croix both sat in a depressing silence, neither of them wanting to speak. Eventually, Croix’s digital avatar started to pixelate as the flash drive lit up once more. When her avatar was completely off the screen, Lazarus took the flash drive and stuck it in the side of a pistol. Croix’s voice played in his head as Lazarus felt a knot forming in his stomach. “We have work to do,” she said. Lazarus hesitantly nodded and acknowledged her choice of putting the topic behind them. From that moment on, Lazarus made it his top priority to make Croix feel as human as she could without any thoughts of her origin. 

“And soon enough,” he thought, “I’ll get her a human body.” 

--Jordan Martin


Solitary Life 

When I was living in China, I was living alone for two years in high school. Because my school and my home were in two different cities, it took five hours to commute. In order to go to school more conveniently, I rented a student apartment near the school. For me, living alone was a special experience. It didn’t make me a worse person; it made me enjoy life.

Because I was living alone, the house didn't need a lot of rooms. My home had only one bedroom, a balcony, a kitchen, and a living room, and there was a small bar between the living room and the kitchen. It didn’t seem crowded to live in this house alone’ it was a house for at least fifty of me! In fact, I wanted to move out of the apartment on the first day. When I walked into the house, the first thing that showed struck me was the cold. The apartment offered nothing but basic appliances. In this empty house, there was no bed, no table, no cabinet, none of my favorite plants, only a white wall which turned my heart cold. “It’s really just you,”   I said to myself. I stubbornly thought that I couldn’t let myself live in such a terrible house.

It took me two weeks to finish decorating the house. In my bedroom, I hung my guitar  on the wall and my desk moved near to the window. When I finished my study, I looked up and I could see the tall buildings outside. The bed was surrounded by a pile of books, which made it convenient for me to read before going to bed. I wanted my home to be more lively, so I remolded the balcony into a small garden, filled with different flowers and plants. There was always a faint smell of flowers in my room. In order to make myself more comfortable, I put a rocking chair in the middle of the garden. Whenever I was free, I could smell or touch the flowers, lie comfortably on the chair, watch the distant scenery, and gradually fall asleep in the sunshine. I loved the feeling of being loved by flowers and sunshine. The walls of the house were still white, but they no longer gave me a cold feeling because I hung beautiful pictures on every wall. I knew my favorite plants could heal me, so I put flowers around my picture frame. The flowers seemed to have grown out of the wall, which gave the impression of vitality.

When I was free in the morning, I would water the plants and do my homework. I had a special way of healing myself by buying a bunch of flowers for myself every week. I would put it on the desk, and whenever I study, I would think that this week I had a new friend to live with me! Then I had a cat and a dog, and I would read books on the couch and they took naps on my lap. This home made me feel warmer and warmer every time I came back home. In the evening I started to look at recipes and learn to cook, for humans or for dogs and cats. Everyday was like this, but it did not feel boring, and the cold feeling of the house no longer existed. I was enjoying the life that I gave myself.

This house has a special meaning to me. I learned how to treat myself well there’ I learned how to enjoy life. With the process of growing up, as more troubles appear I learn to enjoy life and to develop the ability to make myself happy. Come to think of it, this is a gift from God.

--Samantha Miao


Making Night

In the darkness she is beautiful. He gently grasps her coarse hair and passes it between his fingers, releasing it just to catch her soft fragrance of eucalyptus. Her skin whispers to him of the ocean air. As she turns her face away, the warm morning sun traces her collarbone, then the line from chin to jaw, leading to her lips, to her nose, and over her eyes. Her face is strong and determined, but glowing in the orange sun. He knows in all his heart that this woman is his Venus, conceived of that he has created within the confines of his imagination. She is an eternal image of the beauty and vigor that warms his soul.

But he had to open his eyes.

She stood before him, looking down on his expression as it changed from peace to disappointment. Inspecting her face in the phosphorescent light, he saw it had been worn down by hard years, and creased by disappointments and fading dreams. In the electric light her skin had lost its luster, while her hair seemed cracked and dulled. Despite seeing his disappointment, she continued on “. . . and don’t forget we’re cleaning the house tonight.”

Why must he be forced to look at this world? It led him only to quiet sadness and disappointment. With distance they all had beauty: their clothes, their hair, their faces, their smiles -- it was all genuine and real. He could see their apparitions dancing in his mind, and they were beautiful. But moving closer the fine details revealed themselves. Yesterday, he saw a happy girl running through the park, a smile on her face with each step. In sunlight she was beautiful. But when she passed him in the shadows of the leaves, he saw the darkness beneath her eyes. They were glassy, like no one was there at all. That unsettled him. 

“Did you hear me, dear?”

“Yes, we’re cleaning the house,”

“All right, I’ll be back at four.”

That night, they cleaned the house. She believed that with a perfectly clean house, they could relax for the rest of the week. Since this week was his turn for dusting, he went through the rooms, brushing away the thin layer of dust on every exposed surface. It was remarkable, he thought, how much dust could gather in a week. Maybe they cleaned on a different day last time, so that this isn’t an entire week’s dust. But he doesn’t remember what they were doing then.

It doesn’t matter: the dust is gone. 

But when would it build up again? 

It could take a few days. 

Or one. 

Or an hour, a half-hour.

A second. 

It’s settling now. He dusted the shelf again. It wasn’t clean. Then he dusted it again, and again, and again. The dust was always there, always forming, always making it unclean. He scrubbed fervorously to make the surface perfectly clean, as his great itch and scratch were consummated in one mad frenzy against the ever-pervading dust.

”Honey, are you all right?” He slowed, and stopped.

“What? Yeah, I’m fine. There’s a smudge that I can’t get off.”

She saw that look in his eyes, as if she had caught him doing something obscene. Looking at the spot, she shrugged it off. People do strange things.

“It looks like you got it off. Would you help me clean the floors?”

Gazing and the spot, he muttered, “sure.” 

He started, and came back to reality. “Sure,” he said turning to her, his voice raising with a little passion. It seemed like the floor was clean anyway, but he was happy to help.

He took the bottle of cleaner, swished it into a rag, and sat down, placing the bottle on the counter’s edge. After his first wipe, the rag came up filthy. Looking closer, he saw that there was a layer of grime coating the tiles, made black by the accumulation of millions of tiny particles brought from the outside. He wiped again, and again, and again.  With each successive wipe there was less dirt, but the dirt was still there. The madness was there again, pushing him to eradicate the dirt from the floor and make it perfect.

 After a moment, he raised his eyes to the sky, and he saw the bottle of cleaner closer to the edge than he remembered. He watched in silence as the breeze pushed it gently, and it fell back, the plastic tapping softly on the countertop. 

Another breeze: tipping, then back. 

A gust, and the bottle arched into the sky, tipping over, and fell towards him. He watched it curiously as it fell as if a million miles, the liquid plunging down towards his serene face. It landed, and everything was dark. 

Pain. 

The raging, acrid, searing pain exploded through his eyes, nose, and lips. It cascaded across his burning face and down his blistering neck, while he screamed in anguish, the features he prized melting away. He fell over, contorting and straining his limbs in pain. Slowly the squirming stopped, and he huddled in a fetal ball, shivering.

When they found him, he was alive, making short, painful breaths. They put him on a stretcher, and she watched as they moved him to the ambulance. Despite his burned skin, as he passed through the doorway, she thought she saw the traces of a smile, satisfied to be in eternal darkness.

--Sam Justen



Another World

The irritating noise had been around everywhere. It sounded like rusty iron rubbing together, but it was more like the sound of human beings. This noise trapped my body like chains, limited my actions and obstructed my thoughts. My thread, a thread with golden light, appeared in this painful world. It was my salvation and took me away from a noisy place. I was in another world. There was only one huge whale except me. It didn’t swim in the golden sea, but it lingered in the sky above me.

The gold thread was protecting me, I know. Everyone's voices were blocked out by it, making the only one alone in this lonely world. I laid on the beach, the golden glow of the sky was in my eyes, and the flashing waves crossed my body. No one can talk to me, no one knew how the hurricane of joy destroyed the darkness in my heart. Lonely, free, how crazy you make me feel!  When I stared into the distance, I saw the chains of the noise from the other world flew like a sharp edge constantly hit the world's protective shell. They were trying to bring me back.

I stared at the chains and thought of the pain they gave me. If everyone was kind to others, maybe the chains will disappear. The other world will become better. If it came true, would I be able to have the same life as in this world? The whale could fly freely, the waves could drift like silk slowly across my cheeks, nose, and hair. No noise can limit my actions and thoughts anymore.

Looking at the bright sky, I saw that the sun continued to shed its light on the world. I thought about the past. I know I will be different from others and yet I was afraid to be different. So I expended a great deal of courage to change myself.  I looked at the thread; it sprinkled my sky with light and washed away the darkness. When the waves crossed me again, a feeling entered my body and burned my soul. The thread was still around me. I stood up, turned around, and stepped on the waves of layers.  Finally catching up with the whale, I asked it to take me to the sky.

I left the beach and looked back at the chains on the other side. I laughed. I know, the thread is me, and I am the thread. The thread will never be destroyed; it will always exist in my heart, weaving my courage and giving me freedom. I will not be controlled by chains again. I have the courage to live alone and find my own freedom. Of course, it is more important to always give more kindness to others and not to be the chain that imprisons others. I hope that kindness and the courage to seek freedom will always be the thread of my life.

--Samantha Miao


Helpless Love

I have been close to the moon; but I failed and the moon is still far away, but I would have become one who has seen the moon.

I was young and full of enthusiasm towards life and possessed the most tender imagination towards love. Throughout my stages of life, I have loved a teenage boy, an intelligent college classmate, a handsome senior, and a mature doctor. But, in the end, my heart fell for you.

The day when I first saw you was just like in a movie set. It was a usual rainy morning with crowds of people. It was as if the street and the people had merged together. You were standing at the corner of the shop, with the smell of lemon, and little wet. When I passed you, I saw that you were crying. You tried very hard to hold your tears and you gave me a rattled smile to mask your sorrow. My heart clutched and something happened at that time:  I fell in love with you.

I loved your frown under the sun; I loved how your shadow fell on my feet; I loved my perfume on your wrist after holding hands with you. I also loved that you were the first person I wanted to see when I opened my eyes every day; I loved you because the weather was perfect that day, and you wore the white, clean shirt that I like the most. I loved you; it had nothing to do with loneliness.

Every time I asked you, “What are you doing?” You said, “Nothing.” I continued to ask you, “What are you laugh at?” You said, “Nothing.” I suddenly remembered others said to me: “If he loves you, he will laugh and look at you; if he loves you, he will look for you in spite of everything; if he loves you, he will care for you; if he loves you, he will feel bad for you.” I thought about it with hope, but finally found out that you didn't love me. What a pity.

Now, it’s raining again. I want to be alone, listening to an unknown song, and thinking about your smile. In my memory, everything you said is still shining with light; it’s too glaring, so I close my eyes.  But you have been on my mind; this is painful.

It has always been unfair between people; I have offered with all the warmth, and you are still indifferent. And some people, even without a smile, can make all your defenses instantly collapse. So I will return you to that world and give myself a chance to let go. I think we will meet again in the future, brushing past each other, saying, “How are you?”

“I'm good.”

This is the most helpless thing; I wish in another parallel universe. We would love each other until our hair turns white.

--Samantha Miao



Mikayla Zhang


Denise Loewinger


Denise Loewinger

Joel Kabimba


Liv Miley



Changes

I’ve traveled a lot for a sixteen-year-old. I’ve gone up and down the East Coast, the Caribbean, and Central America. I’ve experienced many different cultures and traditions across various nations. I’ve met people with vibrant personalities and radiant, contagious, positive energy, even when they don’t have a dollar to their name. Through this constant movement I’ve picked up many accents and lost them the same year. Also, I have been living in what Americans deem the “South” (even though it’s on the East Coast) for almost two years now and I believe it’s safe to say that the North and South are like fire and ice. I’ve seen what’s it’s like to have almost everything and seen what real poverty looks like in the slums of Jamaica. I’ve experienced what it’s like to have your life fall apart multiple times. However, I always find a way to get back on track, even when it seems impossible. Finally I’ve changed schools almost ten times so far, creating some difficulties I will explain later on.

My life has really been something out of  a documentary, and it’s mostly thanks to basketball and the doors it’s opened for me. But the pros don’t come without cons, and one of the most impactful of the latter is all the changes that continue to happen in my life. Schools, friends, and teams all change like the seasons. These changes lead me to be a puzzle piece that fits anywhere. I am what one might call a chameleon that completely changes itself to fit with a different background. But I have missed out on certain things in life like a best friend to always come back to, and part of the reason is that I don’t really know how to make one or maintain one. So, I keep all my deepest thoughts and feelings in a dark, morbid, and secretive box, and not one person ever has opened it, not even my parents. I then cover my true feelings by being happy and energetic all the time, and I’ve been doing this for my whole life, so now I’ve become very good at it. But now smarter people notice that what they see at school everyday isn’t really me, and that then brings suspicion and the desire to know about me. This then makes me seem very secretive, which I am, but not in a negative way. I keep secrets in order not to share too much with someone to the point where I gain an emotional connection because I know that I probably won’t see them next year. Doing this makes it easier to let them go when my life changes, and they disappear into an abyss full of memories and forgotten friends that I needed to keep me company and maintain sanity at the time.

The one and only thing in my life I feel I have some sort of relation or connection too is my music. I use it to comfort myself, and I find artists who relate to what I’m going through at the time, and I share the music I listen to with others to give a dimly-lit trail that leads them to figure out what’s happening in the cluttered and confused maze in my head full of trap doors, vaults, and hidden caves that they may never discover.

--Terique Brown




Annoying Person

It was another morning in Town town. As usual, Jennifer was awakened by the alarm clock; she habitually reached toward the bedside table, but she did not touch anything. She opened her eyes and saw the clock was on the table in the living room. “How did the clock get over there? I didn’t put it there yesterday,” Jennifer said to herself. She put the clock back on the bedside table, turned around, and was shocked.  All the clothes were on the floor or caught in a crack in the door; the closet was in disarray. Jennifer tried to open the window but couldn’t. She ran to the door and found the lock was broken. Jennifer was frightened and suspected someone had come in during the night.

In the evening, Jennifer met her friends at a bar. She told her friends about what happened in the morning. Everyone knew she suffered from hallucinations recently; her doctor said she need rest. Therefore, everyone thought she might be under too much pressure at work and that she forgot what she had done. But Jennifer insisted that someone had come into the house while she slept. While her friends were comforting Jennifer, her friend Amy answered a call saying that the company had some work for her to finish, so she left. Other people looked at the time and then also left the bar. When Jennifer got up from her seat, her boyfriend Bryant with a gloomy face suddenly said that he had something important to tell Jennifer. Jennifer felt a little strange but stayed.

The next day, Jennifer was awakened by the clock again. Just as yesterday, the alarm clock was on the dining table in the living room, and there were two wine glasses on the table. Jennifer thought her boyfriend Bryant had visited. She tried to call him to confirm, but no one answered the phone. She sat down and found some psychiatric medication on the chair next to her. The bag had a red “MTV Clinic” logo on it.  She also found a box of cigarettes, and in the ashtray, there were cigarette butts with red lipstick marks. Jennifer was certain that someone came to her apartment at night because she didn’t smoke. 

Jennifer called Amy to go buy a new door lock with her. They then came back to the apartment to change the door lock. Amy entered the room, saw the cigarette butts and said, “The lipstick color on this cigarette butt is the same color as the one you use.” Jennifer said, “You know I don't smoke! Ah, Amy . . . You know, just two days ago, Bryant said he had something important to tell me, but I have no idea what he said. Even how I got home, what I did, I don't remember.: She clenched her hands and shuddered.

“Hey, don’t think too much. You have too much pressure these days. Maybe it was a dream, and you confused it with reality,” said Amy, trying to comfort her.

“Well, probably. I hope so,” Jennifer answered, spreading out on the bed.

 On the third morning, the clock was still ringing in the living room. Jennifer ran to the door to check the lock, but the door was locked again and the mirror beside it was broken. Jennifer became more and more frightened; her whole body started shaking. In the afternoon, Jennifer went to the market and bought a video recorder. She installed it in the corner of the living room. “The truth will come out tomorrow!” Jennifer said confidently.

On the fourth morning, the alarm still wasn’t on the bedside table. Jennifer ran like the wind to the living room and turned off the alarm. She turned her head, and her smile was frozen on her face. The living room was in a horrible mess. The camera was broken into several pieces, its fragments strewn everywhere from the living room to the kitchen, and then to the door. The memory card was also cut into pieces and thrown in the trash can. No one would know it was a VCR. The wooden floor was covered with metal scratches, and some of the wood had curled up. Jennifer felt her legs shaking under her. She suddenly fell to the ground and looked at herself from the screen. Then she kept asking, “ Who? Who did this?”

On the fifth morning, the alarm rang in the living room again. Jennifer turned off the alarm. She looked around and saw her bag was at the door. Her breath tightened. She moved to the door and picked up the bag with her frightened, cold hands. “Pa!” Something fell out from the bag. “It’s Bryant’s cigarette! There was blood stain! Did I kill Bryant? " Jennifer shouted insanely, “God! It’s not me! Who is it? Who?! Who?!”

In the evening, Jennifer received a call from Amy.

“Jennifer, are you all right? Don’t be so sad. The police say they'll catch the murderer.”

“Ah . . . What are you talking about?”

“You didn't see the news?”

“What news?”

“Turn on the TV.”

Jennifer found the remote, turned on the TV, and switched to the local news channel.

“Ah!” Jennifer’s lungs froze, her mouth suddenly went dry. She held her head, pulled her hair, squatted down on the ground, and then cried, “No, I didn't do it! It's not true!” Her eyes were full of fear staring at the TV, and the words hurt her eyes. On 2/23/18, a man in the Woden apartment was strangled by a rope, and his body had knife marks. Police said the murderer was a woman between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two. The case needs further investigation.”

On the sixth morning, Jennifer was awoken by the alarm clock again. But she found her hands and clothes covered in blood. Jennifer rushed to the bathroom to wash her hands and found a bloody knife on the floor. She felt her blood congeal in her body. She was frightened, and her face turned white. Then the TV repeated: “In the early hours of this morning, another murder happened in Town town. A doctor in a psychiatric clinic was killed. According to his wife’s words, a patient suddenly visited at night, and the doctor was killed after the visit. Police suspect a connection to the previous murder at the Woden apartment. This is probably a serial murderer.” Jennifer turned off the TV before the reporter finished the report. She rushed to the living room and pulled out the packet of unknown psychiatric medicine. The address on the bag was the same as that of the clinic. Jennifer was on the verge of breaking down. She called her boyfriend frantically but still no one answered. Then the doorbell rang, Jennifer opened the door. Amy glared and screamed at her, “You did it! You did it! You killed them!” Jennifer stared at Amy with a frightened face; she started moving back and kept repeating: “Not me. It’s not me; I didn't kill anyone. I didn’t.”

“You have their blood all over you. You did it!” Amy continued.

Jennifer pushed Amy away, then rushed to the bathroom to clean the blood off her clothes. She was completely crazy this time. She looked up at herself in the mirror and suddenly yelled. She picked up the toiletries and threw them at the mirror. Then she smashed her hand onto the broken mirror and kept saying, “It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me!” The saliva became white foam and sprayed out along the corners of her mouth. The glass fragments punctured her hands, but she did not seem to feel the wounds. Her hands kept hitting the mirror. Blood stained the whole mirror. A frightened Jennifer could not accept the reality. With a blood-curdling yell, Jennifer suddenly fell to the ground. After seeing Jennifer fall into a faint, Amy walked toward her, staring at the white foam on Jennifer's mouth and the blood on her palm. Amy showed an unusually weird smile.

“Huh! Looks like I made it,” Amy said to herself as she looked into the messy bathroom. “Jennifer! You are such an idiot, so easy to drive crazy.”

When Amy was ready to leave, she heard sounds behind her. She turned around and saw Jennifer standing up. Amy was startled and said, “You awake?” Jennifer wiped the saliva from her face. There was no fear on her face anymore; she was calm, as if she was another person.

Her cold eyes slowly shifted to Amy’s startled face.

“You stole a key while I was changing the lock,” Jennifer said slowly.

“What are you talking about?” Amy said and shivered.

“You know after Bryant was killed, you came to my house late at night, painted the cigarette red and put it in my bag,” Jennifer continued.

Amy couldn't feel her mouth anymore; there was some sound coming from her teeth.

“After the doctor was murdered, you brought the bloody knife to my room and sprinkled red paint on me,” Jennifer said with a biting smile.

“No, I didn’t!” Amy knew she was exposed.

Jennifer spoke slowly. “You are jealous of me. Your career, love life, are all worse than mine. So you want to make my life miserable. You tried to make me think I was the murderer, make me terrified of this unknown sin, and break me down.” Jennifer’s tone was calm, and her black eyes proudly stared at Amy’s pale face as she said, “What else do you have to deny?”

Amy was silent.

“Heh, heh.” Jennifer gave Amy a satiric laugh and continued, saying, “You’re evil, but you did help me nevertheless.”

“What do you mean, Jennifer?” Amy asked, regaining some courage.

“Jennifer?” Jennifer replied and smiled again. “She’s gone! You destroyed her! I really appreciate your revenge. I finally get control of this body.”

Amy seemed to be aware of something. Her body began to shake, looking at Jenny in disbelief.

“Bryant told me that I was sick and introduced a psychiatrist to me after you guys left that day. As the dark side of Jennifer, I knew I would be discovered and wiped out, so I killed Bryant. Then I went to the clinic and killed the doctor. I cannot disappear from this body. I was trying to scare Jennifer: messing up the room, breaking the recorder. I wanted her to get out of this body. Just when I didn’t know what to do anymore, your appearance broke the last bit of her good personality,” Jennifer explained  as if nothing had happened. Amy’s body stiffened, and her pupils shook. She never thought these people were really killed by Jennifer. She couldn't believe it. Jennifer's dark personality continued, “I killed Bryant, too.”

“What?!” Amy looked at Jennifer, a laughing monster. She ran to the gate, but the gate was locked. Jennifer picked up the knife which was left by Amy and went up to Amy. Amy felt everything spinning around her, and she was terrified.

“Help! Help! Please don’t kill me! Please!”

The room was quiet again except for the sound of the gently running water and triumphant female laughter.

On the seventh day, the alarm clock did not appear in the living room. The knife with blood from yesterday was still in the bathroom. “Jennifer” looked in the mirror with ruthless eyes and smiled.

--Samantha Miao


The Garden

At the end of Devonshire Drive in Lawton, Oklahoma, past even rows of tan, ranch-style homes, lies my grandparents’ garden. In the summer, the garden is warm and alive with bees, butterflies, and other insects that help nourish the soil and pollinate the many colorful plants living and growing in the garden. Standing just outside of the garden are three large fruit trees, weighed down by heavily laden branches, which act as silent sentries protecting the garden. Inside of the garden are three even rows of planters with a walkway down the middle. Each planter is framed by rough wood, bleached from prolonged periods in the sun, and has a different fruit or vegetable growing inside of it. There is a wire trellis on the far side of the garden, opposite the fruit trees, which frames the border of the garden and separates it from the neighbor’s yard. To the right of the garden are innumerable multicolored flowers growing on bushes in planters or directly in the soil. 

Walking carefully past the apple, plum, and peach-laden fruit trees, I enter the garden and slowly stroll by each planter. First, I see bulbous, inky indigo eggplants hanging off of slightly fuzzy green vines. Next are the bright green shoots and orange tops of crunchy, delicious carrots. I see the green sturdy leaves of broccoli and cabbage plants, small bright red globes that will soon become large beefsteak tomatoes, and the reddish-purple tops of radishes growing out of dark, almost black soil. On the trellis at the end of the garden are crisp snap peas and wiry green beans, growing together in a twisting, never-ending embrace.

--Kennedy Bryant


Strings

Upon entering someone’s house for the first time, most people look at the size of the foyer, whether or not there are hardwood floors, or the color of the paint on the walls. I do not. I look at the types and sizes of shoes by the front door, the scratch marks on the banister, the little things that allow me to piece together the life of a person I’ve just met. I look at things that are often overlooked by people who don’t understand that each and every bit of minutiae can add color and dimension to the portrait of who someone is. 

Growing up, I was a sickly child, which caused me to stay home a lot. While other people were playing at friends’ houses or going to amusement parks, I was stuck in bed or in doctor’s offices. To entertain me and make me feel better about missing out on all of the fun experiences my friends were having, my mom bought plastic balls, tents, tunnels, and slides, turning our dining room into my own private Chuck-e-Cheese. When I got better and could finally go out and play like normal kids, I was shy and quiet. I didn’t say much, but I always listened to what other people said and I became very good at observing what was going on around me. Having spent so much time at home when I was young, I never really felt comfortable in other places, always preferring to invite friends over to my house than go to theirs. If I had to go to an unfamiliar place, analyzing my surroundings made me feel safer. The details I observed and the information I gathered about other people made me feel like I knew them better. Over time, analyzing my surroundings became a game of sorts. It pushed my intellectual boundaries, inspiring me to read about a myriad of things, so I could better understand and interpret the things I observed. I would often play games to myself, piecing together as much as I could about a person, using educated guesses to fill in the blanks, and then asking them questions to see whether or not I guessed correctly. 

Now, using what I observe and what I already know about a person or a place, I am able to form a clearer picture in my mind about who someone is: are they honest, athletic, artistic? Do they support a certain soccer team or follow trends? Do they have a good relationship with their parents or are things strained in their household? All of these things I can determine with a sufficient degree of certainty about someone, based solely on what I observe in their home. 

Other than using my observational and analytical skills as a coping mechanism, I also put together pieces of simple puzzles to test myself. If I want to know what kind of dog someone has, I could easily ask them, or I could try to figure it out by myself. Based on the fur I see lying around, I can easily determine if a dog is long haired or short haired and what color fur they have. From the size of their bed and their toys, I can approximate the relative size of the dog. Whether the dog has a regular leash or a harness further colors the image of what kind of dog it is. 

--Kennedy Bryant


Showtime

I am standing alone in the middle of a large, curved stage. The lights are dim and the thick, velvet curtain in front of me is closed, so that not even a sliver of light shows through. The whispers and chatter of the crowd make me nervous, but I anxiously await the resounding applause that I know is coming at the end of my performance. In the few moments of darkness before the curtain is pulled apart and I face the crowd, I think back on the series of events that led me to this moment. 

 When I left the small town in Virginia that I grew up in, I set out in search of new experiences and adventure. I longed for a chance to find myself and truly live before I was forced to go back home to the mundane, normal life my parents expect me to lead. Leaving was a rash decision, but I felt stifled by the thought of going to college, getting married, and having my whole adult life defined by being someone else’s wife or mother. Spontaneously, I took out a large, worn, brown leather duffle, packed whatever clothes were strewn on my floor or hanging out of my overstuffed dresser, and set out with seven hundred dollars, a venturesome spirit, and the barest shell of a plan for the future. 

One month later, I had made my way halfway across the globe to Rome, Italy: the most beautiful place I had ever seen. Sitting on a terrace a few miles outside of the city, drinking coffee and overlooking Lake Albano, I felt as if this could be the place I was searching for. Perhaps I had finally found the elusive thing I had left home looking for, even though, when I left, I wasn’t quite sure what that was. 

I knew that in order to stay in Italy, I had to find a way to earn money. The seven hundred dollars I left home with had long ago run out, forcing me to stay in hostels and pick up odd jobs whenever possible. The only things I’ve ever had any real talent for were acting and singing, which I’ve loved since I was a child, but I made money washing dishes, waiting tables, and singing for tips. 

In an ideal world, I would’ve been acting on Broadway by now or singing at the Metropolitan Opera House. I would be living my life on my own terms and to the fullest extent, rather than literally running away from all of my problems. In a moment of self-pity and sorrow, I began to think that I had made a terrible mistake. Maybe, in running away I’d forgone any chance to live my dream. With great difficulty, I pulled myself out of the pit of sorrow I had fallen into and in that moment I decided not to give up on my dream. 

The next day I packed up my bags and began hitchhiking to Naples in order to audition at the prestigious San Carlo Theatre. It took me half a day, but I finally arrived on the via San Carlo. The first thing I did was walk the few blocks to the theatre and admire its beauty and the symbol of hope that it provided for me when I felt like giving up on my dream. The next day, I woke up early to a bright sun and a cloudless robin’s egg sky. I walked to the theater, simultaneously terrified and exhausted. Upon arriving at the theater, I walked underneath grey stone arches, through dark oak double doors, and into a magnificent red gilded auditorium. I slowly walked in a circle, admiring the elegance and beauty of the venerable building. Suddenly, I heard a sharp voice that echoed through the room. The voice was loud, deep, and commanding, and it said, “I am Signore Esposito. You must be Maria. Please, begin whenever you’re ready.” At first, I was confused. Who was Maria and why did this man think that I was she? I had a split-second to decide what to do: admit that I was not Maria, or take this opportunity to showcase my talent. I decided that this might be my only opportunity, so I got up on the stage and began to sing. 

--Kennedy Bryant


Mankind’s Lie

Vanilla clouds are pierced by mighty peaks,

Which are capped by the purest white of snow.

The golden rays from heaven shine through leaks,

No man will ever know the heavenly glow.

The water from the mountain top is clear,

As if it were a stream of fluid glass.

The waterfalls and ripples hit no pier,

Instead they hit the mass of long green grass.

The grass leads to the forest of great trees,

The shelter of the many small beings.

This place is free of the fatal disease

Which is fine print in man’s unworthy dealings.

“Oh my!” you say but you cannot realize,

This scene is the lie of mankind’s franchise.

--Spencer Hutchins



Insane

Snow falls in light flutters through the branches above. The only noise that can be heard is the snow crunching below her feet as she continued to run, adrenaline flowing, blood pumping, the sound of her own heartbeat pounding between her ears. She could hear it. The faint voice in the distance was calling out to her. The cold wind blinding and blurring her vision, her legs continued to move on their own, her muscles throbbing with pain and sweat pouring down her face and back. With every panting breath, a cloudy puff escapes her lips. 

Her momentum slows  until she finally reaches a complete stop. Resting her back against a tree, she peers into the distance. Barren dark trees stood in bold against the muted white background of the snow. The white hills stretched for what seemed to be miles. Suddenly, in contrast to the freezing and crisp air, hot tears rolled down her cheeks. Her body began to shake with violent sobs. Her hands reached to brush the tears off her face, but they were almost frozen by the time she could do so. Panic shot through her veins and she whipped her head around, trying to figure out where she was. Her mind pounded as she racked her brain for answers. She cried out in anger and frustration, her voice becoming nothing but a quiet echo. Thoughts began to race through her mind and suddenly, nothing. She instantly realized that she no idea where she was, or even who she was. 

In a state of confusion and disarray, she began to resume her blind run. After what seemed to be an eternity, a hump suddenly came into sight. The wind blurred the distance in white sheets as she squinted to see what lay ahead. As she got closer, it could only be recognized as a body. She completely froze and felt a sense of dread begin to consume her. Was she dead? She slid to the body’s side, checking to feel a pulse. The sound continued to grow closer, snapping her back to reality. 

The pale white light flooded her vision, temporarily blinding her. The heart monitor hummed quietly in the corner. Looking down at her hands, she noticed the familiar leather restraints on her wrists and ankles. Her grogginess instantly faded as she began to tug and fight the things keeping her prisoner. Tears stung her eyes and she let out a scream, her cries echoing down the cold hallways of the medical institution.  

--Taylor Miley


Home

Here is where my family are; here is where appealing nature reaches towards me; here is Middleburg Academy; here is home. From the winding driveway up to the Academy, with the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon, to the welcome one feels when inside, Middleburg Academy is my home. What makes this school feel like home isn’t just the beautiful campus, but the people around one. As Robin Hobb once said, “Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.” 

Walking down the driveway with the soaring green trees above, the birds flitting through the woods, and the peaceful creek beside the driveway -- all these bring me to a different world. This is a world where I am happy, I can be myself, and there’s unlimited adventure waiting to happen. Looking right, left, forward, and back, there is always a different adventure when each step is taken. Nature is constantly changing, which is true of any living community. If people don’t not get along one day, they will be reconciled the next. As was once said, “Family is like branches on a tree; we may grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.” Looking up into the translucent blue sky or to the trees turning to colors in autumn, Middleburg Academy’s nature will always make me feel secure and at home. 

At Middleburg Academy, smiles will be shared, or if I’m having a bad day, someone will always cheer me up.  If someone is struggling in the classroom, hallway, or sports field, there will always be a group to help because “learn, lead, serve” teaches us about cooperation, leadership, and maturity. Watching people mature and change throughout their experience at school creates valuable memories.

As Bill Bratton once said, “No matter how you get there or where you end up, human beings have this miraculous gift to make that place home.” Home is where family has filled me with memories by helping me find myself in life, and finding friends who will always be my family. Home is Middleburg Academy. 

--Bradley Barrett


Homestyle

My home is not a physical place or a place you can see. It is a feeling, a moment, a memory, an experience. It moves with me and is around me. It comes when needed, like when I need shelter or comfort. Home is walking in the streets of Paris or St. Petersburg, and feeling in that moment that is where I’m meant to be. Or sometimes it’s a piece of writing that can click with my mind and soul. I can be as fleeting as the smell of garlic drifting from a food stand that reminds me of my family’s cooking. 

Home is when I’m in long car rides with my family. We don’t need to talk; we can just sit and enjoy each other’s presence. Home is lying in the sun feeling its warmth hit my face, and being in utter bliss. Home is when I’m at a hockey game, and I hear the crowd acting as one collective body. It is the rainy days where I go and watch movies and have giant bowls of popcorn with butter drenched on top. 

Sometimes, it can be walking the streets of a foreign country and having the wind hit you just the right way. It can happen on a boat sitting on the deck with a best friend while I eat boiled potatoes out of a pot. Or it can be lying on the front of the boat wrapped in blankets to save myself from the cold air whipping around in vicious gusts.

It can be when I am driving home at night from a game, I know it so well that I could draw a map of it, including all the bumps along the way and the way my car will hug the curves. Home is the feeling of bliss when soft melancholy music drifts through the sound system in my car. It’s home when I look over and see my sisters sleeping after a long day of school and practice. 

My home can never be grasped or held; it can only be felt. It is something that can make me look back and smile at the life I’ve lived, and make me ache for that moment at the same time. It’s something I can look back at when I’m having a bad day, or when I’m lost, and know that there will be more homes for me to discover, collect, and find. 

--Denise Loewinger 


Where Is Home? 

    Home is where the heart is, but where is the heart? I’m very lucky that my actual home is in a small Northern Virginia town called Philomont, and in the mornings when I wake up, I can look out across an open field and see my horses grazing on the dew-covered grass, while the bright orange sun is rising over the tree line at the end of the field. Because of what I do for a sport, I’m always around horses, and my heart feels at home whenever I’m around them.  But my actual home consists of a log cabin wedged back in the woods with an endless number of trees surrounding it so that someone might not know it was there. The house is located about a quarter of a mile from my grandparent’s house. My childhood consisted of foxhunting on the weekend and riding during the week. We start fox hunting in September. Hunting involves waking up before the dawn, cleaning and tacking up ponies, driving to the hunt location, and following the foxhounds trying to find the scent of the fox. The process of waking up early, getting yourself dressed, then getting your pony ready takes a long time to perfect, and most of the time I still feel as if I have not got it down. 

I have never known my life to be without foxhunting. I grew up detecting the crisp smell in the air during the transition from summer to fall, making me think of bonfires and pumpkin patches. I love hearing the hounds rustle through the freshly fallen leaves on the muddy ground that marks the path of the many who have ridden upon it. I gallop through the open fields filled with luscious green grass, hearing the pounding of the horse in front and behind me, and feeling the air run across my already wind-burnt skin. When I am riding my pony Twinkle in the hunt field, I feel as if we are invincible, almost like somebody pressed a superpower button and we transformed. It’s the feeling that nothing in the world can stop us. 

Fox hunting for me is not just about feeling invincible or going out and chasing a fox; it’s also about the memories it carries with it. Hunting has been part of all my milestones throughout my life. Since I was three years old I have gone out hunting, smelling the air change and watching the leaves crumble to the ground. Sometimes when you are standing at a check, which means a brief pause in the hunt with a group of riders, the memories come rushing back; even some of the voices that I heard when I was ten come back into my head. It’s mind-blowing the things you remember when you take a deep breath and relive some of your life memories.   

Even though I have traveled to many different states in the past year -- for instance, North Carolina, Kentucky, and New York -- each one of these place feels like home. But though I might feel these places are my temporary home, deep down I know my true home is my little town with a little country store at the end of the road that hangs the “open” flag at 8:00 a.m. and stays open to 7:00 p.m. I often call this my store because it has had a large impact on my heart. And living in the log cabin among the trees, with my ponies grazing in the field before me, is where my heart feels most full. 

--Beverly Alcock


Homestyle

Each person interprets his or her home differently and each has a different definition. My interpretation of home is wherever you are or whatever you are doing that you feel most comfortable and natural. Where I felt most at home was when I was in New York. 

My first visit to New York City happened in the spring, and I instantly fell in love with the environment of the city.  The feeling of walking along the street with thousands of other people going in all different directions and with different background stories amazed me, not to mention the amazing architecture visible on each street and corner. The extraordinary part of it was the energy that came from the city. I felt right at home when walking to Central Park with my family or seeing the Empire State Building, Times Square, and other famous landmarks. 

I similarly felt at home when walking through Times Square at night when all the billboards were lit up and I could see the reflection on everyone’s faces. It was my first time stepping into Times Square; noises were coming from every direction that almost made me lose my mind if I kept listening. Taxi drivers were honking at every car, and the bright lights of Broadway streamed down on me, tempting me to see a play. The colors in Times Square were visible in the different billboards. All the different kinds of people walking, talking, eating, listening, and driving did not know me or my story. The glistening lights of the city were like watching the sunrise on the beach on a clear morning. 

One building towered over them all: the Empire State Building. We had gotten tickets to go to the top of the building and see the view. The first time I walked out on to the terrace, I felt at home. Although the outside terrace was cold, it was invigorating. The cold touch of the railings when I was trying to hold on made me jump, but then I relaxed to enjoy the view. I could see all of New York below me, and it was magnificent. The architecture of the Empire State Building and all the buildings around us were astonishing. As I looked down, the height of the Empire State building made it seem as if I were blasting off in a spaceship. When we finally scaled down the building, the elevator went as fast as the Disney ride called the “Tower of Terror.”  When walking up Seventh Avenue to Central Park, I felt at home with my family. My grandfather, sister, cousin, and I all enjoyed walking through the Park and seeing the zoo. The sounds from a parade going on filled our heads as if we were in a football stadium cheering just after our team scored a touchdown. The chilly gust of wind on my face turned my cheeks red. 

In New York, I felt most at home when I was simply walking up and down the streets. Each street had different people, buildings, and stories behind it. 

--Alex Anderson


Homestyle

A gust of fresh air fills my nostrils, the wind floats through my hair, the sun rests on my face as birds sing. Home is sitting on my porch swing. Watching my cows wander the never- ending field of green. Listening to the light breeze shake the leaves on the trees, and smelling the flowers that remind me of summer. My body rocks back and forth on the swing, almost in sync with the rocking chairs on the other side of the porch. This is what makes me feel safe. Hearing the sounds of nature by the house my dad created. The amazing house I am lucky enough to call home. When I am overwhelmed by the stresses of life, I sit in my porch swing. As the sun sets, my troubles leave along with it. As the rain falls, the sound of the water splashing on the ground distracts me from the troubles that drift through my mind. And as the snow falls from the sky, it creates a pillow of bliss that fills my heart. I witness all the peace of life in the comfort of my porch swing.

Although some may say my porch swing is not a home away from home because it is in my home, they are mistaken. Home is not a place. It is a way something can make you feel. My porch swing makes me feel at home in ways the brick walls, worn out furniture, and creaky wooden stairs do not. Almost everyone has rooms between four cold walls that they call home. Their home may contain a fireplace that heats your toes on a cold winter's night, or a kitchen where Thanksgiving meals were cooked. But my home and my swing have character. The way it hits the brick wall behind it when I push too hard. How the cold, metal chains creek when the wind blows them. How the white paint is slowly chipping away, revealing the brown wood beneath it.  But most importantly, how just one wall divides my dad playing songs on his guitar from me sitting on my swing. The wall is so thin. I can hear him playing songs he works so hard to master, like Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” or “Lost Stars” by Adam Levine. Not only is the porch swing my home, but it is also my dad’s home. Weather he is sad or happy, he sits on the swing. He admires the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance and thinks of the joys in life. He looks back on all his accomplishments, which I idolize him for. My porch swing is home because I share it with the person who brings that warm feeling of coziness to my heart, the way home should make me feel. 

--Sophie Kay


Reflection

As the billions of people on Earth ascend to a violent state, my body unwinds, held together by a single thread, a thread that keeps me from descending into the dark, and into the radiant light. As the whole world turns upside down, I find myself alone, even in the endless universe, with nowhere to go and nobody to talk to, so I travel to my haven.

I find myself lying in the golden-washed sand; ahead is the clear, serene ocean, and the glorious, flaming sunrise above. I am in my haven. Not a single soul can damage or break me. The thread that keeps me from turning to the darkness and to the beach will never be broken. 

As I stare into the distance, distant waves where all trouble occurs are violently crashing into each other like a school of fish fighting for food. Violence doesn’t fill the world, however. On the shore, the crystal waves peacefully wash up onto the sand. Staring deeply into them, I notice a figure standing there, wondering how the world would live if every human being would be calm, collected, and nice to a fault. Looking deeper into the waves, it was my reflection that stood in the wave, now trying to tell me to surrender to the cruel world that surrounds me, but the thread never breaks; it keeps me who I am. 

Looking above into the peach-colored sky, no words are needed, and the sunrise regulates my thoughts and actions. Across the horizon, birds sing as loudly as possible, the sun ascends slowly, and the remains of stars appear ambiguous. Memories fill my brain while watching the sunrise. From the times when mankind was settled and safe to the times of significant moments with friends and family that spread happiness, changes occurred within minutes. The glorious peach sky was finished; it came to an end and reality rushed in, turning the sky to dullness. As the misty air passed by, a feeling swept into my body, still trying to break the thread. Not broken or damaged, I walk away from the beach. With one look back at the ocean, I smiled. The infectiousness of the smile was the key to happiness and kindness. All the human beings on Earth who aren’t nice can be changed with this one simple gesture. 

The thread inside me will never be eradicated, damaged or torn; it will always be there. It would be a wonderful change if humanity had this quality; however, it only takes one to spread the kindness. As Charlie Chaplin said, “We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”    

--Bradley Barrett



Gymnastics 

The chalk-dusted blue mats, 

Filled with the scent of sweat. 

We practice like acrobats,

Making me feel as if there was no threat. 


Sweat dripping off my face, 

After a full-out floor routine.

My teammates and coaches clapping like a showcase,

Make me feel incredible, strong, and noble. 


After a great score, I’m excited 

To see my dad in the crowd.

Cheering and clapping like I won a race, 

The smile on his face showed that he was proud. 


But after at a certain age, it got too much,

And made me feel as if I was forced to do 

The sport that made everyone else happy, 

Except me.

--Alex Anderson



To The Person I Haven’t Met Yet

I have not yet met you, but I know 

You will love the sunset as I do,

Walks on the beach, ocean breezes,

Looking at a mountain view.


Of all the people I see, I wonder 

Which one of them is the one I long to meet.

Will you break me like the sound of thunder,

Or will your love feel ever so deep?


I really hope to see your face soon,

We can dance with the grass beneath our feet, 

And the light will shine so brightly from the moon,

And my heart will feel complete.


So to the person I have not yet met,

You will be the one I will never forget. 

--Sophie Kay


My Love That Goes Away

The ball leaving from my hands deep beyond the line

Encompasses my mind as the net sounds swishhhh.

It comes and goes season to season, 

The off-season comes flooding my eyes 

Studying the screen to film of my future 

And time goes by like I’m binge watching 

The nerves and feelings that are so present

Of playing the game and sweating hard tears

The round orange ball as bright as the leaves

That fly down from the trees in the autumn 

The perfect clear rim that gets so massive,

With every shot I make, it’s calling my name 

But when there’s more thinking than playing, 

It’s not as fun and there’s no point in staying. 

--Demarcus Spivey


The Duality of Man

Duality of mankind never shook 

From pretty woods with destruction they’d done;

Humans can curse and praise with one look,

Cause one little smile and frown for each son,

From the harsh weakness of a speech of hate

To the soft courage kindness can give;

The toil of one’s tongues can caress and berate

Through the haze of musing minds which we live;

Meanings become fluid glass slowly moving

Changing as they sink worming into many others;

People so full of hate can have love

And those who love can harm their brothers

But yet it is beautiful as much cold

The duality of man which goes untold.

--Amanda Hess


Letting Go

The waves surge upon the unbounded shore

And the clouds roll across the dismal sky.

A storm seems to linger forevermore

As the eastern wind mutters a long sigh.

Creatures of the deep hide in the shadows

While the wind summons undulating waves.

But a brilliant light in the distance glows

And driftwood settles in its sandy grave,

As the storm sends forth its final wrath

And the waves fade to a gentle murmur.

Tiny treasures land on the sandy path

That will never return to their mourners

And as a rainbow spreads across the sky 

To things that are lost you now say goodbye.

--Amelia Baugh


Feeding America

Golden blades reaching for the cloudless sky, 

Fields and fields as far as the eye can see,

So tall and so strong, reaching way up high,

Farmers toiling the soil for you and me.

John Deere tractors roaming over the land,

Stalks of wheat swaying, blowing in the wind,

Working from dusk to dawn to meet demand,

A hunger cycle that may never end,

Tummy rumbling, but no food to be found,

Unsure of where the next meal will come from,

Hat in hand, outstretched; head bowed to the ground

Needing help, hoping, praying to find some.

We neighbors and friends must share our surplus

So all may live the life gifted to us.

--Kennedy Bryant


Spring

Their pink petals fluttering in the breeze, 

With every gust the ground is showered with life.

The branches rustle and whisper with ease, 

I hear the wail of the wind like a fife.

The rains come down to nurture the blissful earth;

Then the sun starts its journey across the sky. 

With every pass of the sun shines the firth,

The heavens turn dark as light says goodbye. 

The buds push through and morph into flowers.

The perennials push through the soil. 

Earthworms squirm about and dig through the earth. 

Cardinals and crickets begin to toil.

Frogs and toads egress from the bog to birth. 

Relentless deluge with no end in sight.

The mud and muck is not quite so pleasant. 

Raindrops on leaves and branches catch sunlight 

Still the reward is a rainbow crescent. 

One could only hope and dream for blue skies,

But spring like all eventually dies.

--Russell Shoja



To My Friend of Another World

Chill pearl, sad tulip, and lonely tree,

You escaped to the top of gray cold clouds.

My intense missing, I hope you could see,

Your smiles, words, and sounds were clear in my eyes.

I memorized the parting in the white rain,

Lazy willows were blown as the wind tossed;

However, when I came here again,

The innocent lives were nipped by ruthless frost.

The lonely sycamore slapped by cold winds,

Wild snow fell on the silent and bare knoll.

I've been going through these all these years,

Missing has been engraved deep in my soul.


But when time no longer flows in the snow,

My friend, I believe we will meet again.

--Samantha Miao


Brighten

I see the firmament revolve, the rising star,

The spirit makes the world change with time.

I see the starry night, the rosy dusk,

The earth colors the air of the atmosphere.

As the sun rises from the radiant east,

It is a incredible beginning of every creature’s life.

As the moon shines in the western night,

It is not the end of the young and beautiful;

We are the neighbor of Venus, the center of the moon,

We surround the main star of the solar system.

We are heroes of our life, the saviors of danger,

We live for maximum pleasure, without apologies or regret. 

And yet the stars explode millions of light years away, the galaxy goes in order,

We are the little creatures in the universe.  

--Victoria Ma

 

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta

Oh, how I crave you, delicious gold silk!

And how easily I make you great, though

How much better you taste with cheese and milk.

Oh pasta and sauce, how I love you so! 

How many different shapes you often have!

How I can make my own with just my hand

To make a new pasta everyone can crave

And you can taste it right here firsthand.

First comes the pasta, then comes the sauce, 

A concoction that is as simple as paste.

A man who makes the good sauce is the boss

And the sauce is key to have pasta with taste.

But you should stop from filling up on that 

Because if you don’t, you’ll really get fat!

--Addison Baugh


Hibernation

As they inspect their empty surroundings, the color beige is the only thing that could be registered in their vision. 

What else would they see? 

Slabbed on floors, walls, and ceilings with only the aid of paint and the friendly face of pain. The latter created in the factories of mindless labor specifically for the purpose of painting over the past. The former that comes from the people who colored their world into failure. It all fills the area, living a life of its own as people pass by in their own clouds of obliviousness.

  When the news was released to the public, all anyone could do was be oblivious, regardless of sincerity. It may be due to the certain degree of ignorance presented in all people during this time of crisis;

 The scientists had told us just one month earlier that our last cycle of summer, spring, and autumn would be our last. There would be no more mid-summer heat waves, no more blossoming of tulips, and no more excitement brought on by the simple changes from sage-hued petals to marigold leaves during autumn. The summer that ended just in September would be our last glimpse of natural warmth. If the scientists were correct, as soon as autumn runs its course following November, we would soon enter an eternal state of winter, or what they now call The Hibernation. Already, sharp cold begins to replace the chill winds that filled the autumn air, and the ground has once again familiarized itself with the white of fallen snow. 

Having knowledge of what we will soon be losing, I think, is what brings the most pain. In most cases, it takes us by surprise. It is this mere feeling of impending loss that has dominated us, taken over our minds, and claimed our joy. While we wait for the fear to begin, the fear of being afraid takes its place. Already foreseeing the painful desire for warmth, yearning for the comfort of the sun and its fleeting light has become a pointlessly preferable way to begin a day. It is almost as if we’re watching a particularly peculiar sunset, watching the sun leave its temporary position in the sky, going down and fading away, waiting for the moon to take its cover of darkness for the night, only in this case the darkness overstays its nightly welcome. Instead of the usual tints of red, yellow, and orange that we have grown accustomed to seeing every day, a cast of beige will take its place, not only in colour, but in mentality. Part of the fear, maybe, is that we will grow dull and beige. The darkness will invite mundanity to be a constant into our lives. 

  Nobody wants to be boring, right?

 As of now, it seems that most are on the verge of denial, taking small steps into grief, but an ocean away from the acceptance they need. It is already difficult to let go of things and people we will see again, but to release them into nonexistence is an unimaginable feat -- a feat we have no choice but to proceed on with. 

--Chloe Page


Never

It’ll ready for pick up in an hour, but you can come now to do all the paperwork if you’d like to get ahead of things.”

Walking through the narrow hallways deliberately placed in the wings of the shopping center, I see in the window the sun appear at last from its day of concealment. There is a certain amount of sympathy I feel for it; it’s cast as the star of the show, but somehow the supporting characters take over. Parallel to the row of windows, the walls that have been rejuvenated from the newly completed construction shimmer from the sunlight’s reflection. I feel as though my joy is a personified beam of light, gleaming in synchronization with the sun, and great enough to fill the entirety of every store I stroll past on the way out.

Never in any measurement of time would I have expected to feel this way walking through the source of my seemingly perennial misery.

I never thought I’d stray away from my five-year streak of routine.

You can never count on never.

****

“Miss? Are you still there? Do you still want the car?”

“Huh? Oh, of course, yeah, I can come n--yes, in about fifteen minutes.”

I’ve waited long enough. If ever it was the time to unleash my impulsivity, it’s now. In the last five years, I had done nothing but wait.

I waited for the coffee to finish dripping into the cups.

I waited for the countless sheets of paper to be released from the printer.

I waited for the promotion that never came to be.

I waite--

HONK!

I look to my left and see a vulgar hand motion directed at me. I recognize the color of the car to be the one that was behind me just a second ago. I glance to my right to see a similar pattern. All happening within the span of ten seconds, I finally turn my head and see that, to my surprise, the light in front of me is bright green. HONK! I stomp on the pedal and rush forward, releasing the swarm of cars.

****

“Hi, I’m here. Nora. Sorry for the last minute call. I just really need the car by today.”

“Sure. Just glad you made it here safely with all the predictions of snow coming. Are  you driving far today?”

“I don’t know just yet.”

Odd. I feel odd.

How long has it been since I’ve answered a question seriously with uncertainty? 

Did I mistake spontaneity with mindless haste?

“Well, Miss Nora. Be careful.”

“Thank you.”

The car itself is a yellow Beetle full of marks and scratches. It’s a part of the charm I can appreciate.

A Beetle is uncharacteristic of me, considering what traits I’ve been told I possess.

“Nora, you are so organised.”

“Nora, you don’t take risks. Try it sometime.”

“Nora, live a little.”

If my coworkers were here, they’d talk me out of renting it at all. They’d tell me not to do any of it.

I was always the first one at work in the morning, and the last to leave in the evening. Why? I care. I want to succeed in my job.

I did care. I did want to succeed in my job.

“I’ll take it.”

****

“Hey. It’s me. You didn’t pick up, and I don’t have the time to call you five times in a row, so I’m leaving this on your voicemail. Well, I’m gonna be out of town for a while, so you won’t be seeing me for . . . I don’t know how long yet, but it’ll be some time. I think. I just need some time away. I left enough rent for a few months just in case I’ll take longer than I expect. Don’t miss me too much. Bye.”

After I end the call, I look up to see that the clouds have done a disappearing act on me, freeing the sun and all the light it holds to fill any and every corner of its desire. It steals the show completely.

****

“Thanks for the cash. Have fun on your trip.”

She sounds busy. Probably is. At least she called back.

I met my roommate at a college party senior year. I was small, uncomfortable, and vulnerable, while everything about her said big and life of the party. Her motto to this day remains: “Life is a party.”

I had always been quiet, and going to college had changed nothing at all. I was still quiet. When she approached me at the party out of the other hundred celebratory bodies in the house where the party was held, I was startled to the point of being speechless. She wanted to talk to me? The me that probably uttered less than a sentence since the school year had started? The me that had all of three friends worthy of reliability? 

She wanted to talk to me.

That’s when a group emerged from a dim-lit room and approached me not for help on their homework, not test answers, but for a leisurely exchange of knowledge. Did it finally happen? Did I make friends?

****

“Are you sure about this? Do you know how much your father and I worry about you?”

“Yes. I’ll be fine. I’ve relied on myself since graduating, and I can continue relying on myself, just in a new way.”

“Nora, honey. You know you can’t be alone for too long.”

“Bye Mom, I’ll call you when I get back.”

As I get in the car, a train of thought appears in my head.

How differently do people act in solitude in comparison to times of being surrounded by people? In which scenario do you act like yourself? 

I’m reserved around others. I remember being invited to a sleepover in elementary school. Looking around my classmate’s room, I felt badly about my own place of rest. The room consisted of hardwood floors (very obviously cleaned everyday), two bookshelves full of unread books that would probably be put to better use elsewhere, and a closet full of clothes fit to a 

seven-year-old’s dream. It wasn’t like anyone would be able to see the shabby state of my house just by looking at me.

It felt like that was the case.

I didn’t speak much that night. I merely entertained myself with internal conversation.

I’m reserved around myself. It isn’t as though I am emotionless. I think, maybe it’s that I feel too much at once, hindering my ability to concentrate on one emotion and feel it to the maximum. Everything seems to feel vague.

It’s time for a change.

****

“So you’re really not coming back to work?”

“No.”

“What’s making you leave now? You were fine just a while ago.”

“I don’t know. I’m just tired. Not everything has a reason behind it.”

“C’mon, this is unlike you. You’re going to regret it.”

“...”

“What’re you gonna do for cash?”

“I’ve saved up.”

“Just come back. I’m sure he’ll take you.”

“He would?”

No.

“Yeah!”

“...

I can’t.”


I pack everything I need, which isn’t much, into the car, get enough gas to last me until the next stop, and mentally brace myself for what’s to come,

I do the unbelievable.


I start driving.


I stop.

I look ahead, and see a thick white layer on the road, as if it was carefully laid on the ground by hand, so as to avoid the addition of the road’s roughness from poking through. The snow glistens against the sunlight. The sun almost seems to dim in comparison. That doesn’t seem right.

Does the correctness of how the sun seems really hold any importance right now, Nora? 

I begin driving again, but stop after I get ten minutes out of town.

The sun matters. Without the sun, there would never be any light. Light drives out the darkness. 

Light matters.

I look farther into the distance, see an unexpectedly orange-colored sky, and come to the realization that the sun is now setting.

I have to drive before the dark of the night sets in, so I speed forward, disregarding the speed limit for a minute. If I go slowly, I’ll never get there.

After an hour, the last speck of light disappears into temporary oblivion. It is now six o’clock and I am alone. I park the car at a reststop, consider going home, but decide against it.

I expect this thought to be a frequent appearance in the trip I never thought would happen.

I think I’ll be home by fall.

I really do it

I leave.

You can never count on never . . .

--Chloe Page


The Ocean Miracle

“Just keep going, we will get there eventually,” Makayla Middleton told her dog Bailey and her best friend Kaitlyn Miller in the dark, foggy night as they were walking towards the lighthouse on the edge of Crystal Harbor. 

“Makayla! Kaitlyn! Bailey! Get inside immediately!” Makayla’s mom Christina yelled as her eyes were searching for them from the door of their massive lighthouse. 

“What’s wrong Mom?” Makayla asked in a concerned voice as they walked inside the toasty lighthouse. “There is a really bad thunderstorm coming this way, and Kaitlyn, I have already called your mom, and she said that you will have to stay here tonight because the roads are too bad on the other side of town for her to come and get you.” Kaitlyn thanked Mrs. Middleton for her being able to stay the night as the girls darted up the stairs to get their PJs on.

As the girls were walking up the stairs, they noticed the lights began to flicker in the stairway, and they also noticed the wind screech and wail as it blew against the wall of the lighthouse. Finally, the girls made it to Makayla’s room, but suddenly the lights went dark, and they heard barking as if it was a part of the wind, but in a distant echo. 

“Oh no! Did we leave Bailey outside?” Makayla asked Kaitlyn as they were standing as still as statues in the pitch black. 

“I thought Bailey came inside when we came inside,” said Kaitlyn, “but I could be wrong.” Both girls listened intently to the barking noise they heard in the distance. 

“That’s definitely Bailey, but what’s he doing outside in the thunderstorm? Kaitlyn, we have to go outside and find him! What if he has fallen in the ocean, or hurt?” Kailyn looked at Makayla as if she had lost her mind. “But Makayla, the storm is so bad, we can’t go out there! And besides, your mom would kill us if we stepped one foot outside in a storm this bad.” 

Suddenly, Makayla got an idea, “Let’s go to the top of the lighthouse and use the spotlight to search for Bailey. That light might work.”

As the two frightened girls slowly felt their way up the steep stairs, they started to hear thunder and lightning, shocking their every step as they got closer to the top. Once they reached the lantern room, they slowly pushed open the creaky little door as a great burst of wind suddenly slammed the door behind them as they walked in, and their eyes froze upon the world they once knew, falling apart before their eyes. It was as if the bitter wind took away their breath for a long instant, and the waves swirled inside their deep blue eyes as if they were crystals in the midnight sky. The thunder and lightning suddenly snapped them out of shock, and they quickly clung onto the spotlight, turning it on immediately. Both girls could no longer hear Bailey’s barks and began to worry even more. Suddenly, Makayla remembered that nothing was impossible with God, so she decided to pray to herself in the midst of the storm:“Dear God, you know where my dog is, and I know you are keeping him safe for me because you promised me a long time ago that you would be with me always and forever. So if it's your will, God, show me a sign.” 

When all hope seemed lost, suddenly they heard a scream come from the turbulent ocean, so Makayla and Kaitlyn scanned the spotlight on the waves, but all they could see were the sheets of rain that the spotlight only seemed to catch directly in front of them. Suddenly, a long stream of lightning flashed across the ocean bright enough so that they were able to see a silhouette of a creature swimming towards the shore with something that was attached to its back. The girls spontaneously dashed down the steep stairs, clinging to the rail, grabbed flashlights in the kitchen cabinet, and bolted out the back door without Mrs. Middleton’s seeing them.

Sprinting to the shore, the girls became drenched in the bitter cold rain, and the wind became more violent the closer they got to the ocean. Makayla and Kaitlyn started to yell Bailey’s name, but it sounded as if the wind took their voices and turned them into echos whirling around them. They heard the scream again, and scanned their flash lights out on the distant ocean to find glaring, reflective eyes and a neon collar coming slowly towards the shore. As it came closer to shore, they noticed it was Bailey swimming with a little girl on his back. 

“Its Bailey!” Makayla shouted, “Hurry! We have to help him save the little girl!” Both girls ran as fast as they could to help get Bailey and the little girl to the shore as quickly as possible. The little girl appeared to be as frozen as a snowflake crystallized in the snow on a bleak winter night, but she still had a heart beat. 

“Kaitlyn, you rush the little girl inside while I dry off Bailey,” Makayla said, trembling in shock. Both girls dispersed in different directions. Makayla dried Bailey off and checked to see if he was hurt, but he was very excited for some reason. 

Makayla and Bailey rushed into the kitchen when they realized the lights were back on, and Kaitlyn and Makayla’s mom were both taking care of the child who had already begun to get her color back. Bailey gently crept up to the child and licked her face, when suddenly she let out a giggle.

“Well, it looks like Bailey found a new friend,” Mrs. Middleton said as they all smiled at one another. 

“All I remember is that I saw an enormous pine tree fall on the orphanage where I live, so I started to run, and I fell in the ocean since it was so dark outside, and then I woke up.” The little girl started to cry. “And then this doggy saved me.” Everyone was shocked to hear this news.

 “What’s your name, my dear?” Mrs. Middleton said in a gentle voice. 

“My name is Holly, and I am this many years old.” The child held up seven fingers.

“Would you like us to adopt you, Holly?” Mrs. Middleton asked. 

“You would really adopt me?” asked Holly in excitement. “ I can’t believe it! I will actually have a mommy and a daddy? I have never had parents before.” Everyone hugged Holly and welcomed her to the family, including Bailey, who licked Holly’s face. 

“I love you, Bailey,” Holly whispered, “and thank you for saving my life.”

--Madeline Wooden


Madeline Wooden