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Category Archives: Project Writeway
With a murder mystery, you have to know the end first. You have to know who did it, why they did it, how they tried to cover it up, who they are scared will find out, and what their plans are for the future.
This is why I will never be a murder mystery writer. you have to plan. You have to be meticulous. You have to drop clues that aren’t obvious on first reading but totally obvious on second reading.
One time I wrote a murder mystery. It was an accident. A big fat accident and when I was done I thought to myself, no way in a million years would that have happened if it wasn’t an accident.
So what are your murder mystery tips? Do you write out an outline? Get a feel for the characters first? Start with the dead body and branch out from there? Do character sketches?
You have very few words to do a lot a lot of work.
In other news, I have started eating dates stuffed with pecans. I am scared I am approaching old age. Also, I am horrible at Zumba.
I think that is all.
John Bennion writes novels, essays, and short fiction about the western Utah desert and the people who inhabit that forbidding country. He has published a collection of short fiction, Breeding Leah and Other Stories (Signature Books, 1991) and a novel, Falling Toward Heaven (Signature Books, 2000). He has published short work in Ascent, AWP Chronicle, English Journal, Utah Holiday, Journal of Experiential Education, Sunstone Magazine, Best of the West II, Black American Literature Forum, Journal of Mormon History, The Hardy Society Journal, and others. He has written two historical mystery novels (not yet published), Avenging Saint and Ezekiel’s Third Wife. He is currently working on a young adult mystery, The Hidden Splendor Mine. An associate professor at Brigham Young University, Bennion teaches creative writing and the British novel. He has made a special study of the late Victorian and Modern writer, Thomas Hardy. As a teacher, he specializes in experiential writing and literature programs, including Wilderness Writing, a class in which students backpack and then write personal narratives about their experiences; and England and Literature, a study abroad program during which students study Romantic and Victorian writers and hike through the landscapes where those writers lived. A documentary The Christian Eye: An Essay across England covers his 2007 tour.
IMAGINE A PICTURE OF JOHN HERE
I was supposed to choose the short essays that moved me. Easy peasy: they all did. Then Carol put on her dictator hat and told me I had to choose fewer. I tried to find those that did something to my gut, enacted some drama with the words, and did it with grace and clarity. I still had too many. I tore my hair out and chose three that bore reading four times.
Statements I’ve gleaned from the entrants that we could all put above our computers for when we need inspiration:
Like [Dylan] Thomas, I am searching for light. Maybe, on the way, I can give it to others like it was given to me.
I want my readers to know they are not alone and that there is light within the darkness.
[W]riting . . . gradually filled all the spaces in my restlessness
I keep writing for the hope of discoveries to come.
I write because putting thoughts into words makes my dreams more real than any other artistic medium I’ve ever tried.
And isn’t that what writers do? Make something wonderful materialize out of nothing?
So thank you for sharing a bit of your souls.
First Place: Eight Stars
I used to be able to do the splits.
Not when I was really little, because flexibility didn’t come natural to me. In ballet class, I remember being embarrassed by how ungraceful my stretching looked. I wanted to be like the beautiful dancers, with perfect balance and control. I could barely touch my toes. I quit taking ballet when I was seven—just after my mom died. I didn’t feel much like dancing after that.
Still, I always wanted to do the splits. So I stretched every day and every night, until I could kick straight up to the ceiling. I grew up, got married and had kids, but I still exercised and I stayed flexible. I could do the splits when I was thirty-five—just last year.
But I can’t do it anymore.
I remember a December long ago; it might have been Mom’s last one, or maybe the second to last. All I know is that she walked slowly and painfully. The cancer spread into her bones in the end too. Just like me. A few weeks before Christmas we decorated sugar cookies for the neighbors: my mom, my brother and me. I tried not to deform the little stars and bells, but my little fingers weren’t that steady. My favorite cookie cutter was a gingerbread bear. Mom cut out one of those bears, so carefully, and put it on the cookie sheet. With the tips of her fingers, she gently moved the little bear arms up and then one of the legs.
The bear looked like it was jumping.
“I wish I could that,” she said.
I try to focus on all the things cancer hasn’t taken from me yet: my hair, my mind, my life. But, I wish I could do the splits.
I like how this doesn’t tell me how to feel and it doesn’t tell me how she feels, but it makes me feel what she is feeling through the details of the two, parallel stories. She evokes a situation and a past situation. She shares with me honestly the details of her life that make her feel the way she does. So she doesn’t have to translate or tell or preach anything to me.
Honorable mention: Madeleine Dillard
I like this because it reveals two stories about her life. She does tell me some concerning how she feels and what she thinks, and it is done with precise, graceful language.
All Mixed Up, move on over to the Play at Home side.
This week DOUBLE ELIMINATION!!!!
Work carefully because we are losing two of our Project Writeway Players.
Here you go–please write a scene–400 words or less–from your own damned dystopian novel.
(If this story doesn’t cause you pain, well, you aren’t suffering enough! You must suffer like Ann Dee and I have suffered while writing OUR books!
You may complain in the comment section.
Though you won’t have as much time to complain as Ann Dee and I have!)
Remember,every word you use, counts.
You are developing a new world, so watch sense of place.
Description, dialog, character development and problem must shine.
Use a new name, and don’t tell anyone that name until after the judging is over.
The contest closes at five (5) pm on Wednesday, March 7.
You may vote for two (2) people.
Judging will be on Thursday and Friday and will close midnight.
Are you suffering yet?
On your marks, get sets, go!
We lucked out this week and got the amazing Claudia Mills to judge this middle grade contest for us.
Here’s her bio:
Claudia Mills is the author of forty-five books for young readers, most recently the Mason Dixon series from Knopf and Fractions = Trouble! from FSG, which was just named one of the “best of the best” books of 2011 by the Chicago Public Library.
Claudia has an amazing mid grade voice. When I first discovered her work, I’d published only Kelly and Me and a few Latter-day Daughter books. Claudia’s voice, her characters and their situations made me laugh till I cried. We met at an SCBWI meeting and I stalked her for only a little while before we became fast friends. I’ve loved her ever since I read one of her Dinah novels. Meeting her only confirmed my undying affection–Claudia is as funny in true life as she is in her writing. Plus also, guess what? I’ll love Claudia Mills till the day I die (and after that, too). We are PTSW and share the same agent.
Here’s what the amazing Claudia Mills had to say about YOUR writing:
Oh, this was hard to do! There was something I liked in every single one of these, from a sparkling detail, to an especially memorable line, to a promising story premise, to a surprising twist. Here’s a few:
The doctor speaking “in that high voice used for littler kids than me”
The scene idea of a boy sent to do his service hours cutting out valentine hearts for the dance committee
The idea of a a clueless character doing inappropriate field research into the science of love
A school project of making a mini city with marshmallow and spaghetti
A girl called Queen Dork because King Dork likes her
An opening line: “No one else believed it was a dragon house, but we knew.”
A vivid sense of place: “I set my suitcase down on the porch, hoping that it wouldn’t put another hole in the rotten boards. A small shower of dust fell from the roof as a truck rumbled by.”
Parents having to sign a permission slip before you can watch a snake eat a mouse
Two girls judging another girl’s curtsey as only a “peasant curtsey”
Feeling like “the gray-blue color of crayon that’s only good for storm clouds and stinky whales”
Another great opening line: “Until I kissed him, I’d thought Trent Lowry was cute.”
Plus a great closing line: “At that moment, I would’ve given anything to be kissing a frog instead of having one hop around in my stomach.’
Okay, no more stalling. I guess I really must choose.
First place: Hugh Greenwood
I’d thought a lot about what Uncle David’s house would be like. The drive to Malone had taken three hours short of forever so there had been plenty of time. Besides, imagining a house I’d never seen was easier than imagining an uncle I’d never met. I came up with hundreds of possibilities: a mansion, a ranch, a log cabin with a bearskin rug, but the run-down, peeling, saggy house that we pulled up to didn’t come close to any of them.
I set my suitcase down on the porch, hoping that it wouldn’t put another hole in the rotten boards. A small shower of dust fell from the roof as a truck rumbled by. I coughed. There had to be some kind of mistake.
“This is it, Sam. No mistake.” Deb followed me up the steps, careful to avoid the gaping hole in the third one up. She always denied it, but I knew she had ESP or something; it was part of her job.
“Don’t give me that look,” she nudged me. I tipped into the railing which groaned and covered my sleeve in dirt and slivers. “I know it may not be– ”
She gave me her shush-up-and-be-nice look.
“–what you expected, but I’m sure it’s perfectly fine.”
I saw her eye the front door which sat crooked in its frame. It looked like it would take some convincing to open.
“Besides,” she straightened her sweater, the envelope thick with my files shifted in her hand, “we talked about this. You’re not old enough to have a say in where you go. You’re lucky to have family to go to at all. At any rate, we are very thorough about these things. We’d never put you with your uncle if he didn’t check out.”
“Maybe you weren’t thorough enough this time,” I muttered as Deb stepped up to press the bell which dangled out of the wall by its wires.
A muted ‘ding-dong’ echoed behind the door.
Footsteps started from somewhere in the house and moved toward the door. The handle turned but the door didn’t budge. There was a brief pause and a muffled curse. Suddenly the door rattled violently, bringing down another shower of dust. After more cursing and one last screeching yank, the door flew open. A man covered in wood shavings and sweat stood in the doorway.
“You must be Sam.”
I loved the vivid sense of place here that put me completely into the scene with every detail. The opening drew me in immediately: “I’d thought a lot about what Uncle David’s house would be like. . . Imagining a house I’d never seen was easier than imagining an uncle I’d never met.” By the end of the short scene, after the beautifully detailed presentation of the house, I couldn’t wait to see what the uncle was like. That last line, “You must be Sam,” made me wild to know more about how the relationship between the two would develop.
Second place (tie) :
Very funny young middle-grade voice, with spot-on kidlike perceptions of the cool and uncool teachers.
A well-framed scene building to an abrupt wrenching shift from funny to scary, just as would happen in real life.
April Hill, that means you are out. Please move over to the Play at Home side.
Congratulations, everybody, for putting your work out there for all of us to enjoy.
And thank you, Claudia, for helping us out this week.
This week you must write a short, personal essay about you, the writer.
Please don’t think, “Essay? School! Yuck! No creativity there!”
What we want is something that touches our judge in some human way and convinces us of your heart.
You have just 300 words.
That means every word you use, counts.
So tell us why writing matters to you.
Remember to use a new name, and don’t tell anyone until after the judging is over.
The contest closes at five (5) pm on Wednesday, February 29.
You may vote for two (2) people now!
Judging will be on Thursday and Friday and will close midnight.
Follow the rules, exactly!
On your marks, get sets, go!
PS I am apologizing right now for any mistakes I may have made in this post.
Andy ordered me to be the judge of the paranormal haiku that one of this blog’s two readers may write this week. In case you’re reading, let me clarify what “paranormal haiku” are.
Paranormal defined: literally, “two normals.” Rarely confused with ‘fewanormal,’ which refers to three or four normals. When Ann Dee and Carol Lunch Williams are together, you definitely do not have a paranormals. Informally, ‘couplanormals’ is sometimes substituted for ‘paranormal,’ but its use is still considered nonstandard. The prefix of this term, ‘para’ comes from the Greek, meaning “two” or “one more than one.” ‘Normal’ is a city in Illinois (here’s their website) and is the capital of Weird County and the twin-city of Abnormal, Illinois. The city of Normal derives its name from a hero in Roman mythology, Norman Medusaminster, who is considered the father of modern psychiatry.
Haiku defined: though misunderstood by many to be a traditional form of Japanese poetry, haiku is actually an American verse form developed by students at University of Kansas in the 1960s. After a big basketball victory in Pfog Allen Fieldhouse on the KU campus, a literary group of long-hairs met to celebrate the big win by smoking a brick of maryjane. While they were floating in their sweet and smoky whiter shade of pale, they began composing short poems to capture their enlightened states of euphoria after the big win. After several attempts at naming their new verse, they settled on ‘High KU,’ which, in their stoned condition, they misspelled as ‘haiku.’ The spelling stuck.
Paranormal haiku defined: two short poems celebrating the heroic deeds of Norman Medusaminster written in the precise form of the traditional High KU.
Of course, not everyone has my refined and sophisticated understanding of poetry, and their ignorance of the English language and of serious poetry perpetuates the misunderstanding of haiku in general and paranormal haiku in particular. Two notable perversions of paranormal haiku are quite prominent in American pop culture these days: Spam haiku, sometimes also known as ‘spamku,’ and Zombie haiku (don’t miss the accompanying video), but, as I have already established, these are amateurish perversions of true, literary paranormal haiku.
One other thing to remember about your submission, an important detail that Andy forgot to mention. Because I bring so much prestige to the competition by serving as judge, there is an entry fee of $75 per syllable for each poem you enter. That, and the $5 paranormal haiku handling charge. So be sure to include 5 brand new $20 bills with your submission is you want it to be taken seriously. Include only 4 brand new $20 bills if you want your submission to be taken.
Good luck, and may the best writer include the proper entrance fees!
Okay. You can now vote. Click on Project Writeway Results in the header and vote for your top six entries.
We realize half of the pen names are in gray, half in white. This is a glitch. Don’t be alarmed or sad.
Also, you don’t have to vote today . . . in fact, you can wait until Thursday. Your choice. Just keep in mind you can only vote once for up to six entries so make it count.
Also also, Happy Chinese New Year!
We are excited about all the entries for the contest. Thank you for all your hard work. We can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Right now we have over 60 entries. We’ll be narrowing down the field to 12 finalists by the end of the week. Part of the process is the popular vote. Please vote for your TOP SIX favorites (not including your own). Since it’s a lot to read, get started now and take notes. Voting will begin on Tuesday and end on Friday (we’ll put up a voting poll). Then we’ll announce the final twelve.
Here are a few things to think about as you read the entries and make your choices.
1. How is that first line? Does it grab you? Do you want to keep reading? Are you bored?
2. Are you asking questions about the work (not “Why was this written?” but more like “Wow, what will happen next or how did she come up with this?!”)?
3. Is the writing strong, clear and original?
4. Does the writing move you? I think of Jandy Nelson and the opening lines to her novel THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. From the opening of that book, I wanted to read and bawl.
5. Is the work cliche?
6. Can you feel the tension already in the work, even with 150 words?
7. Do you wish YOU had written this?
8. Is there emotion in the words?
9. Does the author establish a problem early on–or the feel of a problem?
Take your time reading the entries–read a few each day so your mind is fresh (60 + entries is a LOT!). Maybe you’ll end up with more than six. If so, keep narrowing the entries down. Get your family and friends to vote too. The more the merrier.
Remember–even if you are eliminated–keep going. We have plenty of give-aways, INCLUDING another critique by our terrific agent!
Don’t forget, you can’t vote for yourself.
The hummed melody pulled Lily down the corridor. It permeated the rest home, seeping into the rooms like a vocal fog. The soft sound seemed to mute the calls for help drifting from open rooms, droning TVs, and even the scuff of Lily’s tennis shoes against the lime-green linoleum.
Nimue never gave me a name. On the day I was born, she fastened a veil in my hair and clothed my ageless maiden’s body in white. “You are a Rowaness,” Nimue said. “Therefore your beauty is an illusion. If a man sees your face, you will die.” Seventeen years later I remained nameless, the veil draping the back of my hair, always at the ready.
As I stood under a rowan tree, my imagination drifted off with a falling blossom, spiraling toward my outstretched hand. “I can feel touch,” I whispered, as if my words would make it true. I am a fawn nuzzled into my mother’s fur. A fox, scratching my back against an oak….
I tried to forget I was a Rowaness: my life, my spirit tied to the rowan trees.
As the blossom silently kissed my hand, I sighed and cast it away.
After a time the storm relented, and the small girl crossing the wilderness by starlight was grateful at least for that. With icy fingers she fumbled with the bundle at her chest, pulling the baby closer and pressing her hand against its swaddled back to feel the fluttering bump-bump-bump of a tiny heartbeat. The baby stirred. “Shhh. Sleep now.”
A wolf howled in the distance, and then another, and soon a plaintive chorus echoed across the sky. The girl’s stomach twisted and she faltered, shivering; but then she lifted her chin and pushed onward, forward, toward the sound. Frightened as she was, she knew the wolves’ mournful song was her north star, guiding her into the forest and away from the terror she had left behind. She had no plans—nothing beyond the words whispered into her ear as she left: “Seek out the forest. My people will find you.”
B. B. Overhill
Gwen wanted to dance in the center of the street.
Christmas lights, hanging on the trees and the houses, lit up the wet pavement and hid the gloomy night. A few cars slowly drove down the block, with the people in them gawking at the plastic glowing Santas and Nativity sets, tall toy soldiers and white reindeer, and hundreds of feet of colored light ropes and thousands of tiny light bulbs. The air was cold, though the snow had stopped and was no longer sticking to the lawns and front gardens. Now would be the perfect time to go out to the street, and slowly, gracefully sway and twirl around, as if she were starring in a movie.If a car came, she’d get out of the road. Everyone else would still be eating dinner or doing dishes. Nobody would see her.
And if anyone did, Gwen thought, so what?
With a blast of explosive magic, a black cat flew through an open window, its tail bristled and whiskers curled. Clouds of purple smoke gushed after it, filling the sky with dark plumes and spoiling the sunshine. The cat sailed over the vegetable garden before streaking off into the woods. Moments later a man flung open the door to the cottage, unhinging the sign declaring it to be“The Residence of the Terrible Wizard Smoot.” Spluttering and waving his arms about his face, Smoot attempted to clear away the thick haze of swirling, glittery powder. It was then that he noticed the knight standing just beyond the gate to the yard, looking wary as he gazed at the spectacle before him.
“Failed spell,” Smoot wheezed, gesturing inside. The knight pointed at the chimney; Smoot looked and saw that plum-colored foam oozed from it, while violet flames danced on the roof.
Darcy Wren Wilder
Even in the blackness, I can taste the sky.
It lies on my tongue like licorice, black and sharp. She’d always come to my window on licorice nights and tap until I woke up.
“C’mon, Ellis, we’ve got to breathe it in!”
I’d crawl out of bed and follow her outside. We’d climb the wood fence, getting splinters in our hands, laughing as we tried to gulp down the air.
Now it tastes bitter and presses against my stomach.
I wrap my arms around myself, pulling my cardigan tighter. It’s not cold but I shiver anyway.
“Why did you leave me?” I whisper.
Behind me the screen door rattles, making me jump. “Ellis, why don’t you come back in. For Skye?”
I think she’d want me out here tonight, but instead I turn around, too drained from her funeral to explain.
Mom blocks the door. “Honey—”
I shake my head and push past her.
My heart pounding into gear, I whipped around, expecting to see a creepy man.
He was creepy, but he wasn’t a man.
He was dark and hairy. Furry was probably a better word for it. And I swear he couldn’t have been more than three feet tall. Maybe four. It was hard to say, because he was halfway underground.
“You have a lovely singing voice,” he … it … said, revealing a broad set of smiling teeth.
That’s when I screamed and took off, sprinting to the top of the dusty hill. I should have never come. I should have listened to my mother’s warnings about mountain men (in my case, mountain things) who prey on teenage girls.
It ain’t true you see your life flash before your eyes when you die. I should know, seeing as how I’ve done it twice already. Well, almost.
On the other hand, it is true you see stars when you get beaned on the head good enough.
That frigging hurt!” Suck maggots, I’d smacked my head hard.
Wiping the cooling remains of Cole’s spit-bomb, launched from cavern entrance above me—the latest lobby in the loogie war—from the side of my face, I worked at jamming myself into a better position on the ledge. My bad leg throbbing in complaint. At least I’d been given a walking boot instead of a cast this time.
Suck, but I hurt. And I was still seeing stars. What did I think I was? Some kind of hero? I can’t even get out of bed without rolling my ankle, let alone search for and rescue
Miss Audrey Harper
You can’t know my story without knowing me. What to say about myself, though?
Rustav made his way through the crowded streets of Markuum, the shouts of dockworkers and merchants falling heavily on his ears. Other inhabitants of the city skirted around him, either pretending he wasn’t there or shooting him furtive, disapproving glances as they passed. Sixteen years of such behavior had dulled his awareness of it, and the boy had learned to appreciate being left alone; it was certainly better than the alternative.
Unfortunately, the alternative was sometimes unavoidable. Rustav could hear the heavy boots on cobblestones behind him, but he didn’t turn. It hurt less when they hit him from the back.
A rough hand grabbed his stiff collar and yanked him around, shoving him against the wall of the one of Markuum’s many fish hawkers. It was Tavers again, and no surprise; Rustav’s uncle Karstafel had just stolen a large load of merchandise directly from Taver’s father.
Lex E. Lou
I promise…wait! The all too familiar soothing vibrations and soft chimes pulled Aurea away from her sleep. Thoughts scrambled inside her brain and she squeezed her eyelids together, scrunching her light brows in an attempt to comprehend her Vision. The vibrations deepened and the chimes became more shrill.
“Okay, Mungo. I get it; time to wake up,” she grumbled. “Enough already!”
With a nod of assent, the fist-sized golden Bot rolled away from his Commandress and hovered mid-air.
Fumbling her way out of the mass of shimmering sheets, Aurea slowly sat up in her bed. Her slender hands dug through her tousled strawberry-gold tresses, while her chestnut eyes flickered around her Sphere, as if unsure of their surroundings.
“Mungo, recall and analyze my last Vision,” she demanded.
The Bot fluttered to face her, “But, Aurea, according to my system you had no Visions.”
“Impossible,” she murmured.
The transmission towers were on the move.
Alice watched them while the hot, cracked vinyl of the car’s back seat cut into her bare legs; the dry air hissed in the wake of her parents’ latest argument. A dusty breeze snaked through the open windows and stole the breath from her peeling lips, blowing the whisper of creaking metal in her ears. Industrial forms rising against the burning sky, each tower marched forward beneath some nameless burden that pressed on their squared steel shoulders like someone else’s secret.
They crossed the sterile desert with resolute steps, their spindly shadows ascending shriveled hills and traversing panting gullies as the unforgiving sun rose higher. With the power lines strung between them, they pulled each other along until a canyon swallowed them in the foothills of the mountains looming in the east.
Alice wondered where they were going.
Like many disasters in life, the events started innocently enough. Conservative, if not traditional.
It’s hard to say who or what set the mess in motion, and I don’t know if that’s important anymore. Could be. All I care about is seeing an end – before more women and girls disappear.
I hated the whole idea because I wanted to meet a guy at my locker and make out during lunch. I knew my arguments were hormone-based, but in my darkest imaginings of how this change would affect my schooling and my life, I did not fathom the proverbial “worst-case-scenario:” I would be fighting to survive.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know my grandma. I mean, I met her a fewtimes, a nd she always made me kiss her on the lips, but I didn’t know her enough to cry at her funeral.
And I definitely didn’t know her enough to have to abandon my perfectly planned summer break back home to bore myself to death in Homestead, Florida.
Homestead. Not beachside Miami, not theme park Orlando, but hick town, alligator infested Homestead.
No one cared what I thought. Especially not Mom. She thought we had to “be there for him” or whatever. I guess he wasn’t used to living by himself since he’d had Grandma for fifty-nine years. Imagine being stuck with one person for that long. I’d been stuck with Mom in the car for only five days and I was getting ready to roll the window up on my neck.
Francesca stood outside the barn with her eyes closed, her face tilted up to soak in the heat of the sun as her toes dug through and clenched the soft, warm dirt. A slight breeze rustled her skirt and long black hair, and she reached her arms up slightly as she embraced the moment. She was finished with her chores for the day and felt satisfaction and a rare moment of peace; the latter was something she rarely experienced. She felt a pounding through the ground and opened her eyes to see her father walking furiously toward her.
Then he was screaming at her again.
“How stupid you are. He could have died from your neglect!” Immediately, her chest tightened, forcing her to breathe in tiny, sporadic bursts. With each sentence, she tried desperately to explain herself without making the situation worse.
” Who Papà …?” She barely whispered it.
“Pirates?” Isabel dashed to the ship’s rail where her friend Miguel stood, spyglass to his eye. Panting, face puckered against the
Caribbean wind, Isabel’s handmaid Katerina rustled over.
Miguel lowered the glass with a frown. “Princess, why are you out in full view? It’s dangerous.”
“I have to see for myself.” Isabel snatched the spyglass, leaning into the railing. Any moment now she expected Miguel to haul her back to the captain’s cabin. A gust blew a curl from her tightly pinned hair.
When she brushed it from her face, Miguel’s fingers bumped her arm. “Don’t you dare. I’ll just return.”
Miguel gave a short laugh. “I know.”
She focused the lens, bracing herself. She wondered if she could still trounce him. He’d grown a lot since their last scuffle.
Then she saw the dark ship bearing in, its prow kicking up foam as it plowed through pewter waves.
I slide the wedding announcement into the nasty space between the fridge and counter while Mom isn’t looking. “Oops,” I say as she glances up from her Grape Nuts.
“Rae, I liked that picture, she’s my favorite niece.”
“And I’m your favorite daughter,” I say, yanking at my cropped hair, as if that could make it grow back faster. “Its cruelty displaying couples I know aren’t going to be together next year. I mean really, how can you celebrate that?”
“Because they’re family, that’s why,” Mom says, standing in one fluid motion and smoothing her gray wool suit, the one she only wears when she’s assisting in court.
“Still,” I say, “we both know I’m right.” It’s not like I asked for this gift, if you could call it that. I’d much rather look at that picture and see what the rest of the world sees: two people in love.
Lina Mae Cobb
From the first time I saw Miss Caroline Elizabeth Preston Wagley, I hated her. She descended the steps of the Greyhound bus real slow, like she was the Queen of Sheba. She wore a pink wool suit, white sandals, and around her neck pearls big as alligator teeth and toted a bright pink suitcase. She stood near the bus door, looking around the station platform.
“Pearls, for a bus ride?” I snorted.
“Oh, there she is,” Mama said, “and see how beautiful she is.” Mama ran off to give my perfect cousin a big ol’ hug.
Her gloves were still white, twelve hours after leaving St. Louis. Her puffy blonde hair was flipped up at the ends, in the same style as our First Lady Miss Jackie Kennedy. No fifteen-year-old girl should try to copy our president’s wife, is what I think.
“Junebug, give your cousin a how-do-you-do,” Mama said.
Silence; the voices in my head haven’t yet come out to play. I sat hunched over on the edge of the bed. My hands cradled my face. Usually I’d welcome this infrequent peace, but today was the funeral for my twin sister, Joy.
The room reeked of moth balls, with a hint of jasmine. The last time I’d been in Aunt Betty’s guest room was four years ago when Ma had escaped for the weekend with her companion.
“Tori, you think Smitty will be our stepdad?” Joy had asked.
“Don’t be stupid. We’re half breeds. No one wants us.”
“But I’ve seen the way he looks at Ma.”
“Yeah, it’s called lust.” I’d wanted to add that dirty ‘ole Smitty leered at her too, like a loser stalking porn websites. But if Joy wanted to hold on to a family daydream, who was I to ruin it for her?
After a week without video games, even the riding mower looks like entertainment.
I drive, Brock holds the back and slides across the wet grass, laughing. “Go faster.”
I slow down instead. Mom’s standing on the front porch, probably ready to ground me for another week.
I turn off the ignition, but her words buzz around me, louder than engine noise. “Mowers have blades. Brock could get hurt.”
So much for recording “Don’t Try This at Home” stunts. Mom said we can’t do them at our house either. But I retracted the blades first. I should tell her that, but she’s already going inside.
Brock leaves too. I sit on the mower seat and watch the sprinklers make dark spots on the driveway. Then I climb down, open the hood, and stare into the engine’s guts. I couldn’t pull Brock faster because the transmission is weak. Maybe I’ll fix that.
My dad presses his hand to my forehead, as if I’m five. “Maybe you should stay home, Nick,” he says.
I push his hand away. “I’m fine. I pass this test every year.”
“But you didn’t eat breakfast and you hardly slept. The fever might interfere with your training.” My dad tugs at his shirt cuffs, which means he’s worried.
I grab a nutrient drink. “You know it would look suspicious if I missed school today, with you on the committee. Not to mention my family history.”
He flinches at the reminder of what happened to Mom. Empaths are so predictable.
Dad grabs my arm. “Nick, the tests are getting tougher. You’ll have to really focus.” He squeezes. “You don’t understand what would happen to you if you failed.”
His eyes are wide and his face is pale. He’s terrified. I would feel sorry for him if I knew how.
My name is Michael Isaac Layton and neither of my parents is dead. Pretty surprising, right? I mean, there are shelves and shelves of books out there with little orphans running around crying all about their sorry lives, telling you about the tragic things they have to live through. Maybe there was a midnight fire that killed everyone off, burning the house to cinders, nothing left but the plucky cat and a few pairs of charred underpants.
While that’s depressing and everything, it’s not as depressing as the story I’m about to tell you, which is the story of my slow and painful death. The truth is, I’m dying, and that’s a whole lot worse than orphans, no matter how many plucky cats you throw in.
Jemsa ran through the black wasteland. Her muscles burned with every step and she left tracks in the mud, a clear trail, but she couldn’t change course. She couldn’t slow down. She couldn’t stop running. She could only hurry forward—eyes squinted, lungs heaving, hands squeezed into tight fists around the straps of her leather backpack.
She tried to focus on her destination but fatigue made her mind wander. Her thoughts turned backward. Everything happening to her—the running, the fear, everything—could be traced back to one decision made months ago. Perhaps she would have chosen differently, had she foreseen that her sacrifice would lead to this moment. But in truth she would have given the same answer no matter the consequences. The thought comforted her. Becoming a criminal on the run was worth it.
Anbur crouched in front of the wall, her black-smeared fingers clutching a piece of charcoal. She leaned forward, squinting in the dim lamplight, sketched in a line, sat back and considered it then, with a shake of her head, smudged it away.
“Not quite right,” she murmured and backed further, her eyes moving to and fro over the portrait she’d been working at for the better part of a week. She lifted her other hand as though to caress the thick black lines then let it fall back to her side. “Almost, though. I’ve almost got you.”
“Anbur! Anbur, where are you? It’s time for school.”
Anbur leaped to her feet, dropped the charcoal and hurriedly began restacking the bags of wheat she’d moved to get at the wall and her drawing on it.
“Anbur! Get out here now. You can’t be late again.”
Anbur gave the sketch one last look
Tess ran her fingers along the edge of the parchment. Roughness belied its smooth appearance.
So it had come to this.
Her fingers began to shake a little. The envelope was flecked with beige like a wren’s egg, interrupted by her name scratched into it by her father’s quill.
She hated that name. She hated all her names.
She flicked the envelope hard enough to pop Birdy off the page. It cartwheeled out of her hand onto the floor. How deceitful it was, lying there and looking so fragile.
Paper could be torn, but Tess knew too well the things paper could tear apart; her sister had received a similar envelope.
The Great Seal of Mont Blanc stared up at Tess like a waxy crimson eye.
It was watching her, as it always had and always would.
Her fate, like the envelope, had now been sealed by the King.
It just takes a few drops of blood. A few drops to break through the skin. To be released. To release me.
I stand there in the bathroom, watching the blood bead through my skin and wonder if Mom knows what I do in here before school. If she’s noticed the scars on the inside of my wrist. If she even notices the jagged scars on my arms from when I first started. Before I learned to hide it better.
Or if she just chooses to ignore the physical as well as the mental.
Most girls my age spend hours doing their hair, choosing eye shadow or jewelry before school. I stand over the sink, fan on, and slice open the same spot on my wrist.
I wish I was most girls.
Instead I slide my knife to the back of its drawer and press a tissue to my wrist.
Being sixteen is tough.
“Get out of the way!” a random guy yells right before he and I collide.
SLAM! Books and notes fly.
URGH! Now I’m going to be late for class.
I bend over to pick up all the books and paper from the ground. “Iris, need help?” I look over and see Madison.
Oh, Madison. There are so many words to describe her. She’s hot, sexy, voluptuous, just everything that a girl wants to be. Also just what every guy looks for.
BUT there is one thing that people do not know about her; she is a HUSSY. No good-backstabbing siren that lures any guys her way.
“Let me help you.” Madison insists.
“Thanks.” I say to her as I snatch away all the papers that she picked up.
Just as I am ready to walk away she shouts. “Wait.”
I still leave.
Ollie had to find her heart, that was the first thing to do.
She ran through the tiled hallway; her high heels and a pencil skirt rendered the effort mostly
ineffective. After kicking off the shoes, she slipped to a stop in her nylon-covered feet and with both
hands tore at the V-shaped slit by her knee. Unprepared for the strength adrenaline gave to her shaking
arms, she ripped the seam almost to the waistband, and now she was indecent and she felt bad about
Elevator! At last.
Her father had showed her where he kept her heart, and it occurred to her, as the numbers
beeped away and the elevator crawled higher and higher, that she needed a key.
Her finger punched the 9 button just as the light flashed over number 8 and she counted three
beats in her empty chest before the bell dinged and the doors opened.
Apparently, making a star isn’t that big of a deal. According to the scientist, who stood next to the white board in my honors physics class, all you needed was a BB size lump of hydrogen and giant lasers to create temperatures and pressures found in the center of the sun.
In our town, host to the National Securities’ premier research lab, drumming up some hydrogen and said giant lasers wasn’t a problem.
“So basically it’s like fusion,” Juan said. He was always busting out an otherworldly knowledge of physics that escaped the rest of us. If he wasn’t so hot, it might be annoying.
My best friend, Kit, leaned over the lab table. “Your guy is so smart.”
I rolled my eyes. Juan and I had been in all the same classes since eighth grade, which Kit saw as a sign we should be together.
Heaven was a vast crystal basilica tonight, spiraling higher than any skyscraper Stephen had seen Earthside. And it stood empty as a tomb. No spirits of the dead, no saints, no martyrs. Just a few seraphim like him, yet not like him.
He encountered two descending the stairs, gleaming beings in lustrous robes, the lucky few caught on the Other Side. They side-stepped him without so much as a glance in his direction, avoiding him as if he were a street punk here as well as on Earth.
Stephen clenched his fists. Damn them.
The thought rang from the walls—thought was language here—but didn’t get a rise out of either of them.
But he wasn’t here for them. He needed to find a gate back to Earth. Finding one here might help him locate its Earthside entrance when he woke up.
I’d rather have my nose hairs yanked out one by one in front of the whole sixth grade while wearing only yesterday’s underwear than play a baseball game, because that would be less painful and a lot less embarrassing.
I hate the white pants and the heavy helmets. I hate the way the bat almost rips my arms out of their sockets when I swing and miss. I hate the cold fear that snakes through my body because I’m scared of being hit by Every. Single. Pitch. I hate the fact that I have to special-order my uniform every year because Sports Den doesn’t stock extra smalls. I hate that, season after season, the coach looks right at me when he says, “If any of you still need help paying your fees, just call the recreation office.” He might as well just point to me and say, “This is the poor kid on the team. His grandma hasn’t paid yet.”
Mother Orli sat on her throne, staring evenly at the shackled man in front of her. His skin was silver and his eyes glowed like lamps.
He had a proud face and was taller than most of the stars Mother Orli had killed. He wore a long white robe and his hair was silver, matching his skin.
The shackles were made of light. Instead of clanking like metal chains, they chimed when they hit together. The Chanters around the room sang. The chains were their work. Mother Orli’s work was more interesting. She rested her hand on the arm of the throne and leaned forward. The man’s lamp eyes flickered to her and then down again.
Mother Orli couldn’t read the expression in them, they were empty light. But she could tell from his hurried breathing and taut face that he was terrified.
“What is your name?” Mother Orli asked.
Cries so soft I think they’re my imagination become a sharp, piercing reality as I round the corner. My eyes now see what my ears first heard. And there is no going back.
She whispers, “Help.”
Her shaking voice wraps me in silk, I come closer.
She raises her blonde head under the humming light above us. The pale light washes out her facial features; she’s no one to me, until I see her eyes: Addison. Hard, unforgiving blue splashes against a soft grey sky; a cold electricity crackles in those eyes. I take a step back; her eyes follow. Another step. She tries to stand, but loses balance and catches herself before she hits the ground. I take a cautious step forward. As she grasps the wall behind her for support, a hot flash crosses my cheeks—I should’ve been her shoulder, a support.
My first thought—right away when she first told me—was, “At least I know it works.” And that was sort of a relief. But then that relief all went away, forever.
“Did you hear me?” she demanded.
“Yeah.” I looked around the park to see who else had heard. Had my younger brother Garrett followed us again, like that night last summer when he’d spied on us in the outfield grass and returned home to declare “Dylan’s fornicating in the park,” when my mom and dad had picked up Ashley’s parents and come screeching into the parking lot, spotlighting us with the headlights right as her shirt was going over her head, taking us back home to argue who was the bad influence on whom, demanding we never see each other again? If seeing Ashley’s bra had created that much drama, what would news like this cause?
Soon there will only be darkness, nothing but the scent of sandalwood and the sea, clinging to the cold, stale air of the bricked in room that will be my tomb. Metal digs into my wrists as I yank at the cuffs shackling me to the wall. I sense life, slipping away, a tinny taste in my mouth.
If I had known in a few hours I would be running for my life, I would have picked a different outfit. But I didn’t. So I wore a cute blue sundress and strappy heels because I must conform to expectations. Like everyone else does.
I had to get out of this town, otherwise I’d be destined to live, get married, and die in Adelphi. My headstone would read:Here lies Penny, too scared to leave.
I walked through the front doors of the school, the normal stink of sweat and perfume assaulted my nose. The students all had the same basic demographic: easily sun burned, Christian and loud. I walked down the hallway, kids whispered and pointed. The natives were restless. My fake smile smattered all over my face, as I nodded to a few students.
One hundred and six five-school days and then I was outta here.
“Hurry up, Suzanne,” Holly whispered outside the bathroom stall.
I was sitting on the toilet, unraveling a brand new pair of nylons. A cloud of hairspray clogged the cramped airspace. It smelled like ant powder doused in drug-store perfume.
It was my first church dance. I’m no good at this kind of thing, which is why I had brought Holly, so it hadn’t helped when the first thing she did was laugh at the tan line from my tennis socks.
“You need some nylons,” she had said.
I’d never worn nylons before in my life. On the way to the dance I asked my dad to stop at Seven-Eleven, where I ran in and grabbed the first pair I saw, and now I was in the ladies’ room at the church, trying to stretch the flimsy, gauzy stuff over my legs. I had a hard time getting the
Mama swept the floor boards, beating out a scratchy tune for my rag doll and I. I twirled, basking in Mama’s smile and the dim, dusty sunbeams.
Mama laughed, but then she halted her sweeping. Her smile ceased. Though I’d seen only five summers, I knew the sound of slurred profanities and clumsy footsteps meant I was no longer welcome. “Quick now, Rue,” Mama whispered, as I scrambled to shut myself in a cupboard just in time to hear Papa fumbling with the latch.
I nearly stopped breathing, though not for the reek of ale. My muscles clenched with the memory of every bruise he’d ever given me. With my doll clutched to my chest, I braced myself for the yelling and smashing.
What I heard was a sound far more terrifying than Papa’s loudest tantrum. My father, big as a mountain and mean as a hurricane, began to cry.
“Hi, my name is Chloe Ryder,” I say to the reflection in the mirror, the words foreign on my tongue. I repeat it close to a hundred times until I almost believe it’s true. I plug my nose after awhile because the motel bathroom reeks of mildew and nasty fake cherry toilet cleaner.
Valken didn’t need to look up to identify the furious hiss. He licked a finger and flipped the page. “Dunno, Father.”
A heavy hand jerked the book from his grasp and snapped it shut. Valken blinked and looked up at his father, forcing himself not to sigh.
“Don’t lick your fingers when you read my books; it’s disgusting,” his father snarled, tucking the book under one arm. “And look at me when I’m talking to you.”
“I can’t help it if the pages stick,” Valken said, leaning back in his chair.
“Well until you can find a better method for reading, you no longer have access to my books,” his father said, turning to leave the boy’s room. “Now get up and help me find that whelpling.”
“I’m not her babysitter!” Valken growled.
His father ignored him and exited the room.
“Awesome!” Cody took the shiny throwing-hatchet down from its peg. “Hey, Steven, where did you get these?” He gazed up at the rest of the weapons gleaming on the wall next to the closet door–two rapiers, a curved saber, a dagger, and a huge broadsword.
I wanted to let Cody admire them a little longer, but the number one rule about having friends over was to keep them away from the closet, and we were standing right in front of it. I glanced down the hall. Faint tapping sounds came from the living room–Mom was typing at her computer. She hadn’t noticed us yet. I kept my voice down. “They’re my dad’s, and, um, he doesn’t like anyone to touch them.”
Cody sighed. “Okay.” He reached up to put the hatchet back.
BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! A pounding knock rattled the closet door.
Oh no. Not now.
Freshmen. I sighed and bent down to help a kid pick up the books he’d dropped. Why’d he carry so many at once anyway?Before I knew what happened I was on the ground.
“Watch it Claire.” Jax scowled at me. I rubbed my knee as I stood up. Jax wiped off his pant leg as if he thought I’d gotten it dirty. “Oh, I see, trying to help a loser?” Jax shifted his foot casually and toppled the stack of books we’d piled. “Oops.” Jax grinned at his buddies. “You know, you shouldn’t leave books in the middle of the hallway. It’s rude.”
My dad is gonna kill me for this, I thought, but it didn’t stop me from doing it anyway. I grabbed all one hundred, ninety-five pounds of the quarterback with all one hundred-five pounds of me and slammed him into the locker. It was so easy.
Mellai’s eyes fluttered open. The clear blue sky overhead filled her vision, occasionally obscured by passing tree branches. Her body bobbed up and down softly and a dull pain pulsed at the base of her skull. A strong churning built up in her stomach. Mellai closed her eyes to sooth her aching body, but to no avail. She turned her head and retched violently. Despite her empty stomach, spasm after spasm tugged at her abdomen. Her knees coiled up to her chest and she struggled for breath between each episode.
“Hold on, Mel,” a familiar voice echoed in her ears. Mellai turned her head the opposite direction to find Theiss Arbogast’s face inches from hers. He was carrying her in his arms.
Mellai whispered. “Where are we?”
“In the Vidarien Mountains,” Theiss said as he kissed her forehead. “Don’t talk until I get you back to camp.”
It’s a common misconception that time runs in a straight line from point A to point B, but Chrissie Fox knows better. After all, her father had been curving through time since he was ten — and Chrissie was next in line.
The whirling sound of the treadmill was blocked out by the electronic voice rasping in Chrissie’s ear. “What is the capital of Belize?”
“Belmopan,” She replied, even though the voice couldn’t hear her.
“Belmopan,” the voice repeated, “what year did Belize become a country?”
Chrissie turned up the speed of the treadmill. Movement was what helped her remember. The pounding of her feet, the adrenaline rushing through her, stimulated the thought processes. “Self government granted in 1964, name changed to Belize in 1973.”
“1964” the voice said.
A tap on Chrissie’s shoulder made her jump.
Tavia van Heurck
Asher’s feet froze on the trail as he and Ava emerged from the thickness of the pine trees. He squinted at the glint of brown that moved through the trees above them on the mountain. The creature entered a clearing and meandered through the tall grass.
“Look!” He pointed.
“What is it?” Ava asked.
“I’m not sure.” Asher’s eyes were fixed on the spot where he’d seen the movement. He stepped off the trail and moved in the direction of the creature.
“Don’t go up there.” Ava grabbed his arm. “What if it’s a bear?”
Asher pulled his arm free of her grip. “Bears are almost extinct.”
“Or a mountain lion?”
“It’s not a mountain lion. I think I saw antlers,” Asher said. “I want to see what it is though.” He glanced at his twin sister. “C’mon Ava.”
“Grandpa told us to stay on the trail,” she replied.
Catherine finished her lesson and glanced up at the clock hanging near the door of the tiny classroom. It was only 11:35. How had she managed to teach the same lesson 15 minutes faster than she had the hour before? If she kept this up, by the time she taught her last lesson that afternoon she would walk in, tell them not to forget to give their moms something for Christmas and walk out. At least then she wouldn’t have twenty-five faces staring at her from their little mats on the floor. No, the 5th graders were too old to find sitting on carpet squares entertaining, and even if the school had wanted her to pull the upper grades out of their classes for their time with the school counselor, there was no way that twenty-five fifth graders would fit in the same tiny room where the first graders sat fairly comfortably.
I wake-up to an unfamiliar sound, like waves reversed. I struggle to open my eyes in this dimly lit room.
“Well, hello there Sweetheart, I didn’t think you were ever going to wake-up.” A rough voice says next to me. I can feel his thick rough fingers on my wrist checking my pulse. “You’ve had a good strong heartbeat for the past few days, but you’ve been dead to the world.” Nothing about his voice is familiar, but I’m not frightened.
“Where am I?” I say, but my words are barely audible, my throat is rough and stings like I’ve recently swallowed an ocean. He hears my words nonetheless.
“You won’t understand until you see it. Trust me it’s easier than trying to explain it. All you need to know is you’re safe now and I’m Porter.” He patted the top of my hand, motioning the end of our conversation.
Lies have short legs. I’ve known this ominous proverb since before I could speak.
Who among my ancestors brought the saying across the Atlantic all the way to Argentina?
My Russian great-grandmother embroidered it on a pillow after her first boyfriend broke her heart. My Palestinian grandfather whispered it to me every time my mom found his stash of wine bottles hidden in the unlikeliest places, like underneath my bed. My Andalusian grandmother repeated it like a mantra, lost in her old woman insanity, before her memories and regrets called her to the next life.
Perhaps the saying doesn’t belong to any language, and sprouted from this land the early explorers thought covered with silver, and my immigrant family adopted the expression like its own.
In spite of seventeen years of practice, my lies’ legs haven’t grown stronger or faster. I know the consequences of lying to my father.
Ima C. Krette
The trouble started with a cookie. Bob would probably be the most brilliant scientist ever if that little punk had kept her thieving fingers off his snicker-doodles. Thirty years of revenge planning made becoming a super-villain more appealing. Perhaps he would thank her for inspiring his career change.
Bob smoothed out his Top Ten People To Destroy in a Most Horrific Manner list.
“Now to find you. At our last meeting, I was but a scrawny six-year-old. You will not find me so feeble this time. I have prepared for the schemes of someone so evil.”
“Did you say: Summon a weasel?” the computer asked.
“What?” Bob said. “Why would I want to summon a weasel? There are no weasels on this island, Susan. You are talking gibberish.”
“Pardon?” the computer asked.
“Augh. I’m surrounded by idiots. Maybe I should get an intern. Someone with . . .
I used to wonder what killing someone would be like. But then, I used to wonder about a lot of things. For a while, I wondered about being a sixteen-year-old college freshman. About whether boys really were as sexy as the movies made them seem. About living on shitty cafeteria food.
But mostly I wondered about killing someone.
I pictured it so many different ways–an axe splitting the skull with blood gushing like a chocolate fountain onto my shooes. A rope squeezed tightly about a neck as limbs twitched in front of me. Even the quiet ways, like a meal where the mouth froths before the poison registers. Horror in the eyes. Accusation. Finally, grudging admiration. Because I won.
It happened differently.
And I didn’t like it half as much as I wanted to.
It was yet another tiring work day.
Luka Megurine slung the coat over her shoulder as she dragged herself towards the expensive
apartment she was staying at. She hoped her idiot brother Gakupo had her dinner ready. She wasn’t
in a good mood right now.
“Ah, Luka-sama!” the security guard on duty, a middle-aged man with a shining bald head, greeted
her heartily. Too heartily, she mused, and she was well aware that he was ogling at her boobs. She
glowered at him. The man shuddered under her intense look.
“U-uh, Luka-sama…a beautiful angel like you shouldn’t be so angry—”
“Shut up, you old pervert.”
She strode to the elevator, and the door opened to admit her. She glanced up and narrowed her
eyes at the security camera on the ceiling, but said nothing. She hit the button to her floor, and the
door began to close before her scowling face.
The Comma Bandit
When I turn sixteen I will retire from war. Raja Ishan will bestow on me his greatest thanks, a place in court and a bright new house near the palace to live out the rest of my days in happiness.
He has made no promise I will live that long.
Sashi, Lavali, and I are sitting on pillows, being painted for battle. The breeze moves in through the open doorways and windows, playing gently with the thin curtains between us and the rest of the palace. When our handmaidens finish, we no longer look like children, but warriors, with the marks of tigers on our faces. The Raja has promised to bring a picnic of courtiers to watch the battle today, so we must look our best.
My handmaiden, Ojal, gives me a kiss on the forehead.
“God be with you today, my Navya. Return and fight again.”
Before we get too far into this, you should know that I’m not particularly thin, or even blonde. The only person who ever called me blonde was Hispanic, and my hair was as dark as hers, so I think it was a translation issue more than a statement of fact.
So if you’re hoping to read about an anorexic bombshell with high, arching eyebrows, go find a supermarket magazine. At the moment, you’re holding my gritty celebrity autobiography—okay, fine. It’s just about my little post-HS life.
Last June I put on rented choir robes and a cardboard hat and hung a tassel from my rear-view. Then I headed out with my genius-girl bestie to see America the Beautiful.
It was going to be an awesome journey. Monumental. Epic. And it was going to require a bit more cash than either one of us had. So we went to Montana.
I handled the lump of material in my hands. It was smooth and cool, somewhat heavy. Like a crystal ball, the object worked as a medium to tell me things I didn’t know about my subject.
It felt like a person, definitely a person. A parent?
Maybe. More like a family member, a sibling.
Respect other people’s privacy, my dad always said. Some things you just don’t need to know about other people. Every man needs his own thoughts.
I thought about this as I concentrated on the little boy playing in the sandbox. The kid was only about four years old, and I was eight. He seemed so much younger than me, though. His thoughts were a lot simpler.
This was only a test, I didn’t really want to invade his privacy, it was just to see—well, I guess to see what I could do.
I’ve only murdered once, and I did it to spite my father.
I can’t help thinking about it as the train slips along its track, silently moving us to our new community.
“People are destroyers,” Father’s told me, over and over. “Remember that, Sasha. People kill. I see the results of it every day.” I suppose he does see it every day in his job as a Protector. But do I need to hear it every day? For years, his words wrapped around me like a strangler vine winding up a tree—the embrace of death, gagging me. So one night, when I couldn’t stand the strangle, I took a life outside under the blank stare of stars where nothing could see. It bought me a few moments to breathe.
Maybe it was less spite, and more prophecy fulfilled.
“People are destroyers.” Does that mean he is too?
We were in a hollow room. It was dead quiet. Just white walls, white tiles, and a blue curtain. There was beeping going on in my head, like a heart monitor or something.
I stopped a few feet away from the bed. And I just looked at her lying there, tucked under the covers. Her eyes were closed. Her wrinkley face looked kind of pale. Her hair was light gray. Her body seemed so small, like she was sunken down into the bed so far she wasn’t really even there.
Mom nudged me from behind. I took another step forward. And I still just stared.
My mom said the lady’s name, and it cracked through the silence. The old lady opened her eyes and titled her head toward us just a little. “Nate came to see you,” Mom said. “He wanted to say goodbye.”
But I didn’t want to.
Tate scrunched down in the back of the pickup, bouncing between a red cooler and his mustard-yellow suitcase. He had been riding there since Grandpa’s ranch, ten miles back. Grandpa, Mom, and Dad rode in the cab.
Tate clutched his “bedroll” and frowned at the swirling dust behind them. Usually, he loved coming to their ranch in Arizona. He also loved riding in the back of the truck. But this time, he just felt frustrated and lonely.
Back at home, Mom had said, “Remember, pack enough for the whole summer.”
Tate had nearly fallen over. That was news to him! “Mommmm!” He gasped. “What about my friends? What about Scouts? . . . What about baseball!”
“It can’t be helped, Son. There’s too much to do at the ranch this year.”
Tate grunted. Grandpa and Dad would be doing all the work, and Nate would be on his own.
Dashboard Hula Girl
I don’t do birthdays.
Not because I’m embarrassed of my age. I’m seventeen, not exactly geriatric. And though I’m not a fan of the attention, that’s not the reason either. I haven’t celebrated my birthday since the day I turned nine. Waking up to find your parents murdered will do that to a girl.
“We’re almost there.” Uncle Ray caught my eye in the rear view mirror, his receding hairline revealing more worry lines than usual.
I slid my hands beneath my legs to keep them from shaking.
“Good.” Aunt Tiare shifted her eight-month pregnant belly next to him. “I have to pee.”
I smiled and exhaled a long, slow breath.
I hadn’t seen my old house in so long, I wasn’t sure I would recognize it. But as we turned the corner, there it was like a beacon, refusing to be ignored.
You can do this, Kami.
Some kids collect video games. Or state quarters. Or, if they’re really weird, baby teeth.
I collect insults.
I keep a list in a little green notebook I take wherever I go
It looks something like this:
|Insult||How Many Times I’ve Heard It|
|Phoebe the Fatso||18|
|Insults Using Bad Words that I Can’t Write Here In Case My Mother Sees It.||102|
Everybody thinks they’re the first one to call you this or that. But I know better.
Being fat and booby, I’ve heard it all.
I know who said it, when they said it, and where they said it.
If Daddy knew, he’d whip me up a four-egg omelet with ham, bacon, and three kinds of cheese.
Mom would tell me to lose thirty pounds.
My best friend Lacey would beat them up.
But they don’t get it.
As a superpower, invisibility is overrated, I thought, dodging a pair of eighth-grade boys in the under-lit hallway. When you’re invisible, you could get stampeded to death and no one would notice.
Not that I had a superpower or anything. I was just trying to survive getting to my first assembly of the year. I squeezed past a group of girls who’d stopped to chat in the middle of the hallway and took a deep breath.
I felt a little like I was drowning, swallowed up in a wash of bodies and noise. My swim teacher told me that everyone thinks drowning is noisy, full of splashing and cries for help. But that’s just Hollywood’s version. In real life, drowning is silent, almost invisible. One minute you’re treading water and then you’re gone.
That’s what invisibility feels like. That’s what junior high feels like, some days.
The boy, Lucian, slouched behind the counter of his mother’s cramped voodoo shop. He aimed his face toward a small tattered fan, its blades barely turning cartwheels, hardly stirring the air at all. Sweat drizzled down his face and his stomach smoldered like a hollow pit, taunted by the greasy promise of beignetsbeing fried two shops down on Toulouse. He propped his tattered Nikes on an old wooden Coke crate stuffed with corncob, beady-eyed dolls ready to be poked with over-sized needles, needles he was supposed to be coating with red fingernail polish to resemble blood. But Lucian wasn’t in his usual accommodating mood. Today he didn’t feel like helping in the shop. He felt like hiding in a faraway corner of the world where he could bawl like he was a baby again; better yet, he felt like punching somebody hard—no, even more driving was his urge to conjure up his dark powers, something he was forbidden to do. Ever.
“Watch out! Dog poop!” I yelled as my brother, Todd, bounded through Mrs. Carter’s yard toward her front doorsteps.
Todd braked his speedy feet, but his lanky body didn’t slow. “Dang it, Ashley, Couldn’t you warn me sooner? Some’s on my new Reeboks.” Todd hobbled sideways into taller grass and scrubbed his spoiled shoe in high, thick blades. “You’d think people who loved dogs would keep their place cleaner,” Todd said.
I tiptoed around the stinky, brown mound. “Yuck, it’s reeking stronger. You stirred it good,” I said. I pinched my nose.
My BFF, Karen said, “Ashley, remember my weak stomach? Why’d you invite me?” Karen skirted the heap of feces, stood behind my back and buried her nose in my shoulder.
“I didn’t know. Never been to Carter’s house before. You love puppies, so…”
Today was my brother’s 12th birthday. New tennis shoes and a puppy were his gifts–maybe.