Dead Beat, Anonymous


The last thing I remember of my dad living with us was when he caught me and my little brother a frog and brought it home for us to play with. The next day the frog was gone and so was he.

My dad has been gone since I was five. I’ve seen him around – like I was on the school bus ‘cause I used to get picked up from my granny’s house and then he was just standing there in some door. It might have been my sister’s house – I can’t remember where she used to live. Another time, he picked us up and got us some ice cream. Then the ice cream got on my shirt. He got mad and said he was going to kill the ice cream man.

My dad is like Casper – a ghost. He is brown-skinned, with cold, hard eyes. I have a picture of him on my phone wearing a lame, button-down t-shirt with red and white checks. He’s wearing a black skullcap. He’s holding his marriage license to Little Sally, a thin white woman drug addict. She looks like a geek. She is a geek. A real-life geek. My dad has five or six kids with Sally.

I was in class at Ding Ding Academy. They called and said my daddy was in the office. And I was in class. I just started crying, because I hadn’t seen him in about five or six years. I hadn’t even had a conversation with him. The last time my sister talked to him, it was two years ago, he said, “Ain’t none of ya all my kids.” He called my sister a bitch. He said, “F— all of you in Saint Louis.” I thought, I’ll wup his a— as soon as he gets back.

I remember one time before he moved out we went somewhere. He used to take us to all hood block parties and stuff before he left. He didn’t take us around his family and stuff, he took us to his “hood family,” if that’s what you want to call it. He was driving through the alley behind my grandma’s house. He did like 180 through the alley. I’m like, this man has lost his mind. He was doing a dance through the alley. He scraped not one trash can, scraped not one pole.

My dad got married when I was in seventh grade. I can’t remember what I said, but I was mad. What he used to tell us was prejudiced. He said, “Don’t ever mess with the white devil.” That’s what he always used to say when we were little. And then he went and got married to a white woman. And then they had a baby. And then they had another baby, and another baby, and another baby, and they about to have another one. Her daddy is a lawyer, so she got him out of child support for all of us – me, my little brother, Isaiah, my other little brother, Devin, and my two big sisters, Domenyque and Ghiovanna. Isaiah is the only one with my mom, Mimi. The rest are with several other women.

My dad used to take us to my great Granny’s house. My dad’s granny. We called her Gigi. Her real name is Carol Jenkins. We used to go over there a lot. Even when he was gone. She lived in a townhouse with several floors. She lived on the first floor. She had a whole lot of stuff, a whole lot of pictures, and elephants. She had an old-fashioned pearl and gold phone that looked real expensive. She had a big grandfather clock that was real wood, I think. The pendulum was real gold. She had a big rocking chair, too. Her living room had two white couches and a glass table. One time we went over there with my dad, slept all day, left, and went to a block party.

We never met my dad’s momma. When I was first born, somebody showed her a picture of me and she started trying to get in touch with my mamma and my dad smacked his mom and called her the b word. He told her to stay away from us because when he was young, she went to college so she could get a good job to take care of him. When she came back from college, my grandpa married somebody else. My grandpa used to tell my daddy that his mom just left my daddy, that she didn’t want him. They wouldn’t let her see him when she came back either. I got a picture of her. She got light colored skin, and my color eyes: green, with a blue ring around them. Her eyes are a bluish green color. The picture I have, she has curly hair and her face looks smooth. She worked at a hospital, but every time we went there, they couldn’t find her. When my grandpa was on dialysis for his diabetes, my grandma was his nurse. My grandpa had to get one of his toes cut off.

My parents broke up because my momma gave my dad a choice: he either clean himself up and take care of his kids, or stay on drugs. And he chose to be a drug addict. My mom’s not allowed to have boyfriends – that’s what I say. The last one she had, Steve, I pulled a gun out on him. Me and my brother, Isaiah, we had a rifle, a sword, a knife, another sword, and two machetes. He knocked on the door, smiling and stuff. I was just playing with him, and he started laughing. He went to prom with my mom. I had the picture in my hand. “Is this you?” I asked. We was just laughing the whole time. That was a year or two ago. He stayed around for a little minute, until he started bull-crappin’, actin like a little kid. Then my mom told him something — I don’t remember what she told him – but they broke up.

Before that, my momma had my little brother Rashad, with another man named George. George was bald-headed, ugly, fat, sloppy, and soft. No, I did not like him. I had a feeling he wasn’t going to be good to my momma. And I was right. He was messin’ with other women. We had jumped him one time, me and Isaiah. And he bit my brother. Then I tackled him. And we started punching him, kicking him, then we ran into the house. He chased us in there, and tried some sneaky stuff while I was sitting down on the couch. He tried to use his weight on me because he was fat and sloppy. Then my brother came and put him in a headlock. He tried to sneak me in the kitchen one time too. He tried to body slam me in the kitchen ‘cause he thought I was weak ‘cause I was little. This was about two years ago.

Yeah, I like Rashad. He looks like me a little bit, but cuter. His hair is kinda messed up because my grandfather’s wife be puttin’ all kind of stuff in his hair. I taught him how to fight before he learned how to walk. So now he just be beatin’ people up. He was fighting people when we was downtown the other day. He didn’t even know them people. He seen them boxing and stuff, so he just got to swinging on people. He punched this girl in the face. He just be fighting people. I shouldn’t never have taught him how to fight. That young, you know. I think he was like six or seven months and I was just playing with him, swinging my arms and stuff, and he started laughing. And then when he learned how to walk, it was over with. He swings fast and hits hard, and he’s only like two. I think he’s heavy-handed. People be trying to get all in his face and stuff, and he just smacking. He be fightin’ my granny. He also like dogs a lot. A whole lot. But he be scared of ‘em at the same time. We had this one little Chihuahua, and he don’t know how to play with him, so he be grabbin’ him by the tail. He like animals. He like cats too.

But back to the subject at hand — my father is like a ghost. You can’t see ‘em but you know he’s there. He says he doesn’t care about us. I honestly believe it. If someone ever acts like they could care less about you, then believe ‘em. Nobody deserves the pain of not being able to see both of their parents everyday, but aye, there’s people that don’t have their parents at all. It’s sad that we have to grow up like that. I’ve never had anyone to look up to but one person and he was around the same age as me. He was like a big brother to me. He always had my back — we used to get in a lot of trouble together.

I remember we jumped this kid in the fourth grade because he called me a midget. I punched him — then he ran at me and tried to put me in a headlock. His name is Tim. Tim rushed him and hit him like three or four times — then he let me go — then I started hitting him. I hit em’ like 10 times, then he fell and we started stomping him and I threw a book at his stomach. After that they sent us and a handful of other students on a field trip to the juvenile detention center on Enright which is pretty close to my school.

We had fun in the cell. They put us in — we banged on the cell door singing prison songs for the small time they sat us in there. There was a single bed in the room made of metal. The room’s walls were white and there was writing on the walls — whoever they had in the cell before that must have drawn and wrote in the wall. The bed was cold, and there was a single small window on the back wall and a bigger window on the door which was pretty dirty. I never told my mama about the field trip; she didn’t know about a lot of times when I would get in trouble at school because she was always at work and didn’t have a phone.

Me and Tim alone couldn’t be messed with and when we got together we got in a lot of trouble. Even when we got into middle school, he died in 2014. He was killed — shot over thirty times. When I heard that, I was hurt and in denial. I couldn’t cry. It still hurts till this day. His mama died two months after him from a broken heart. He was her only son, and she couldn’t take the pain of losing him. People disrespect him now that he’s gone but when he was here he had em’ scared.

Ever since my dad left I’ve been unhappy. More and more things happened after he left that added onto the pain I was already feeling inside. I’ve lost a lot of people, and my heart turned cold over my years of living. I don’t care about a lot of things only a few, but that’s life…

Never Ever by McKynzi Baum

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If there was one person I hated most, it was Grayson Walton. It wasn’t because he was a bully or that he hated me or even that we had history as children, it was actually the complete opposite. Grayson Walton was the infamous class clown and flirt, and also the biggest jerk at Wentridge High. Everyone liked him, to which it made it worse. Girls loved him and if guys didn’t want to be him, they wanted to be friends with him. His dark brown curly hair and his perfect height drove girls wild. Not only was Grayson tall, but his creamy, light, caramel skin, and hazel eyes was hard to miss. Especially for a girl like me; one he would never see. It wasn’t like I cared, I didn’t like him at all. At least, that’s what I thought.

Today had started out great actually. I had a great ballet and modern class, get picked out to demonstrate, being lead in one of our dances, and I did great on two of my tests. I had Government next and I felt like nothing could mess the rest of my day up but boy I was wrong. As I sat down in my seat, Mr. Swine walked into the classroom full of loud animals, closing the door behind her. “Alright class we’re doing something new today.” She said as her smile grew as big as the moster coming out of her head. I breathe in deeply, hoping that this would be something fairly easy and quick. “We’re going to do a project that will be due in 3 months and I will be assigning partners this time.” She nodded at all of us. I smiled, knowing that usually I got partnered with my best friend, Maria Griffin so I wasn’t worried at all. As I listened to her call names I heard her call Maria’s name and I sigh and slump down into my seat. Oh no, “Lastly, Delaney Thompson and Grayson Walton.’ I groan and shake my head disapprovingly. “Aww princess, you don’t want to be my partner?” I hear the sound of the devil himself and I bite my lip to keep everything that I truly wanted to say. “Ouch, that hurt but don’t worry you’ll love me pretty soon.” I ignored him, rolling my eyes.” Sure, whatever you say.” I hissed, realizing that this day had been ruined.

I walk down the quiet, little, boring neighborhood of which I lived and sighed as I looked around. Everything looked perfectly placed and put together like a Barbie dream house type of place. I focus on my breathing and the consistent clicks of my footsteps against the concrete as my phone goes off. It was Maria wanting to facetime again, even though she facetimed me right before school ended. “Maria what’s up?” I said, hoping she didn’t hear the slight annoyance in my voice. “woah there honey, I just wanted to see how you felt about working with Mr.Hottie.” She said smiling brightly and flipping her hair. I rolled my eyes as I walked up the stairs to my house and stepped inside. “He is not even hot and Hi Mom.” I exclaim, walking upstairs as she waves from the living room. “Hi, Ms. Thomspon.” Maria screamed, knowing she wouldn’t be heard. I trudged into the quiet, most green room of mine, dropping my bag and throwing myself onto my soft, comforting bed. “Do you know what this means, You could be dating and you guys could…” She continues and I zone her as I begin thinking about the project. Maybe creating a presentation where I dance and he sings and play another thing other than girls, like his guitar.

But would he actually do it? I don’t want to end up suggesting something that won’t happen. Whatever, he’ll get over it. I smiled and nodded telling Maria that I would see her tomorrow and goodnight. I get ready for bed and laid on my bed sighing. Grayson Walton was going to ruin my life for the next 3 months.

“If you haven’t heard of the 50% project raise your hand please.” Mr. Swine asked politely. I shrugged resting my hand on the palm of my hand while she begins to explain the 50% project. (which is just a project where you get to choose the topic) I liked the idea of getting to be creative without being told the limitations of rules, but I mean others don’t and that is none of my business. I was starting to fall asleep until a note was dropped delicately onto my desk. I turn to look in the direction to where it came from and I instantly regretted it. Of course, it just had to be Grayson- who was winking and smirking at me. I groan silently and roll my eyes. I turn back to face the note and slowly opened it. “Hey babe, meet me at my house to start this project? (314) 868-7468” I shook my head and turned back to him. “Nope, but you can meet me in the dance studio after school. Got it? Good.” I turned around quickly just to hear the chuckles of his friends and him saying things like “Ooh feisty” and “Damn she’s sassy.” I chuckled at how ridiculous guys were. How ridiculous he was. “Bring your guitar too.” I said, not even bothering to look at him and hearing them laugh again.

Ring! The bell screamed at us letting us know it was time to go, well everyone else but me. I grabbed my bag and trudged down the hall leading to the dance studio. Usually, I would be overjoyed to be there but he was there. The big bright smiling jerk was tuning his guitar, waiting for me. As I sigh loudly, I open the door slowly. “Baby you’re here and on time too.” He said, with that stupid playful smirk on his face. I rolled my eyes and threw my bag down and faced him. “First off, I’m not your baby at all. My name is Delaney to you and ever heard of the words shut up before?” You really should invest in it. He chuckled as he walked towards me slowly. “Now, now there’s no need to be feisty Laney.” I pushed past him and huffed, looking at my tiny figure though the tall mirror. “Whatever, let’s just get this done please. For the project I was thinking that you would choose a song and I’ll dance to it. Is that good enough?” I ask, not really caring if it was good to him or not. “Sure, whatever the princess wants.” He smiled and winked at me as I looked at him through the mirror. He annoyed me but at this point I just wanted to be done. “Ugh fine and let’s hurry this up. The less time I have to spend with you, the better.” My breath hitched as I felt his arms wrap around my tiny waist and his breath against the back of my neck. “You know, that’s not true at all sweetheart. You know you want to stay here longer.” He whispered making sure his nose against my neck a little bit. I knew that I would be lying if I said I hated this moment but I couldn’t let him know that. So I had to use whatever strength I had left in me to push him off. “Get the hell off of me and play a damn song.” I said through gritted teeth looking at him. I hoped he didn’t see me blushing the whole time because I was partially a tomato. I heard him mumbling as he walked away then began playing and singing some Ed Sheeran song. I tried to come up with something the second time around, but I couldn’t. Grayson freaking Walton was taking over my thoughts and I couldn’t stop it.

After that incident though, Grayson and I spent more time together partly because we wanted to see each other. The worst part is that I started liking him and didn’t want to. Mom had always told me not to let anyone take advantage of me in any way because I am born a natural naïve child but that was hard because everyone can hide their true selves. So, I built a wall around myself to protect me from ever hurting like she did when my dad left. Grayson made it hard for me not to fall and break my walls for him.

We were walking around the peaceful quiet park breaking the silence by arguing about him doing dance. “Dance is amazing and I think you should totally try it!’ I exclaim, giggling as he says, “Hell no, have you lost your mind? Real men don’t wear tights.” He scuffed and shook his head looking up at the sky. “That’s such a lie Gray, don’t say that! Real men show women their vulnerable sides and don’t feel stupid about it. They don’t try to hide them all the time and play with a girl’s emotions.” I snap back realizing who I was talking to and looked down. “Sorry I didn’t mean it, Its just- I mumble and look back at him. “Hey, its alright. No offense taken, baby girl. I’m all good plus you’re cute when you’re mad. He flashed me a toothy smile and I felt all my insides melt into mush. Looking into his big beautiful brown eyes I fell into a trance.

I was pretty sure he knew how I felt about him or at least he had an idea by now. He chuckled running his hand through my dark long hair walking me out the trance. I blushed immensely noticing we stopped walking and turned my head away so he wouldn’t see me looking like a tomato. “Laney, baby don’t turn away I love seeing you blush and smile. I love that I’m the cause of it when we’re together. He said gently grabbing my chin to turn back to him as he smiles that genuine smile I had seen a few times for a while. He pulled me in for a hug and it felt good to be in his arms. “Delaney?” Grayson said barely above a whisper against my ear knowing it gave me chills. I stutter slightly as I respond to him with a quiet yes. “I was wondering if you wanted to…” I bit my lip hoping he was going to ask me what I hoped he would be asking me. “Race me to the swings?” He pulled away and chuckled knowing that I was now worked up. “Yeah, sure.” I replied with slight disappointment and slight relief. Even though I was sure he might ask me soon, hopefully. “Okay! On my count of three alright? One.. Two.. Three!” Screeeech. As I sprint towards the swings not looking back knowing a glimpse of him would slow me down I approach the swings and sit down on one of them. As I look up, I see him looking down at me and smiling with eyes filled with love. No not possible. He couldn’t possibly love me. Could he?

“Delaney Ciara Thompson,” He began, looking nervous and I nodded for him to continue. “I want you to always love me the way I do for you. Never leave me babe, ever.” I smiled and pulled him” in for a kiss, then against his lips, I whispered. “Never ever, Gray.”

We became an unofficial but official couple and I enjoyed it. I never had this kind of affection before and Grayson spoiled me rotten. Finally, it was the day of the project and I was pretty excited. I had arrived to school pretty early and everything seemed to be perfect. I walked to my locker and felt arms wrapped around my waist. “Goodmorning baby.” He said speaking into my neck. “You smell good by the way. He lifts his head smiling at me. “Goodmorning Grayson, but shouldn’t you be getting ready for class?” I asked pulling my books out my locker and he immediately grabs them from me. “I’d rather walk my baby to class.” He winked and I blushed brightly and took a hold of his hand as we walked to my algebra class.

Throughout the whole class, I couldn’t stop thinking about Grayson and I didn’t want to. My dance class seemed to fly by as fast as I hoped to see him again. I had gotten so excited to see where I was actually the first person to leave the class. I happily walked down the hall and turned the corner just to see Grayson and another girl all up on him. But not just any girl, it was my best friend Mara. Grayson’s eyes seem bewildered as they connect with mine and I shake my head. I quickly turned around and started walking around when I felt his hand close around my wrist. “Babe, please let me explain.” He begged, trying to get me to look at him. “Grayson get off of me anddon’t ever talk to me again.” I said, holding back tears and shaking him off of me then I ran down the hall and soon, I found myself back home. I knew it was too good to be true. For a guy like him to truly love me even if I gave him all of me was impossible. In the end, all I was to him was another toy doll he’d found interest in for a while. So I made the promise to myself to never trust in love like I did with Grayson.

I hadn’t been to school in a week because I was scared to whatever I’d come back to. In the movies, there’s always rumors going around and it feels like the whole school is against them. That was something I could never ever deal with and then there was Grayson. My first love and heartbreak, all in one. Like the holy trinity or something, no matter what I did, I still wanted to please him. Mara had been trying to visit and apologize, but after I told everything to my mom, she quickly felt immediate disappointment and stopped talking to her. Apparently Grayson has shown up everyday to my house with apologetic gifts like candy, flowers, card, stuffed animals, and more, but I wasn’t having it.

I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bowl of cereal before trudging my way into the living room. I plopped on the couch and grabbed the small, grey remote flipping through channels until I saw my favorite show, “Spongebob Squarepants.” It was just getting to the good part when the doorbell rang. I sigh, thinking it was most likely the mailman because no one would be here this early. I walk to the front door and unlock it. I pull it open and instantly regret it. “Grayson.” I sigh, looking down then back up at him. “Delancy! Babe, I miss you so much and I promise you that I didn’t do anything. She was on me and I—“ I clear my throat indicating for him to stop. “How can I be sure that I can trust that you’re not lying to me?” I ask more to myself than at him, looking down at my feet. “Delaney,” he began, lifting my chin to bring my head back up. “I would never ever hurt you like that. I promised myself never to hurt a girl I truly had feelings for.” Grayson said, mumbling the last sentence and I wasn’t sure how to respond. ‘Just come in and we can finish this, but my legs are getting tired.” I sigh, opening the door more for him to walk in then I walked into the living room again. I heard the door close and his footsteps close behind me before I sit on the couch. He steps close behind me before I sit on the couch. He remained standing looking rather uncomfortable and it was. “Grayson, sit down and let’s just end everything.” I say, rubbing my face and turns to him as he shakes his head. “No, I don’t think you understand. I don’t want to end anything, Delaney. You are the first girl I’ve ever had strong feelings for. I want all of this, all of your love, all of your pain, everything. I want to be the one for you, baby. You make me happy. Happier than I ever been for a long time. Delaney, I want to be your hero and your love. I want you to be mine and only mine. Delaney Ciara Thompson, will you be my girlfriend?” He asked, holding my hands and smiling. I hadn’t noticed I had been crying until I felt his hard, yet comforting hands caress my face and he whispered, “Baby, don’t cry. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you anymore than you already are.” He sighed and began pulling away, but I pulled him close and crashed my lips against his. I felt him smile in the kiss and I pulled away, just enough to rest my forehead against his. “You didn’t upset me, Grayson. You make me happy and I would gladly love to be officially yours.” I blush as I see him grinning like a cheshire cat and he pulled me in for a hug. “Delaney, I promise to try to never hurt you again and babe? I’m not going anywhere okay?” I smiled and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Grayson for loving me and being there from the beginning with the project.” He smirked that stupid, playful smirk he had when we were in the studio. “I told you that you’d love me soon and you totally do now.” He chuckled and I rolled my eyes, giggling.

“Mhm sure babe, whatever you say.” I shake my head and rest my head on his shoulder. He pulls me onto his lap and we sit like that for what seemed like forever. To me, it was forever and he want a part of my forever. He had asked me to never leave him. Never every, Grayson. Never ever.

SALT By: Khari LeeSlater



The September breeze is sharp and crisp. Crisp enough to bring unpleasantness to my nose. My sheened static hair flows with the currents of the wind. I hear the clap of the low heeled oxfords on the muted concrete. It looks like fall. The other adolescents crowd around me, buzzing around as if they were bees. Chatters develop as my soon-to-be peers notice our contrast.





I hear all the different names pile up against my ears as these “natives” try to figure me out. I’m too proud to look below the eyes of others, so I keep my head high. I can still hear the clap of my maroon heeled oxfords. Innocent minds compile at the foot of the door. The wood is a deep, dark, mildly glossed brown. I stop in the steps. Kids run in the old building, as I stand as if not invited. The sound of my shoes eases my tension as I make my way to the steps.I sigh loudly, just to reassure myself of my nervousness, and to remind myself that these feelings are human. My left leg carries my left foot, which presses down on the shiny flooring. One foot in, but before I proceed with the next body part, someone grabs me by the waist. I turn, unsure of what emotion I was supposed to express.

” ‘Scuse me,” the mysterious guy says, and softly shifts me to the right, then nonchalantly releases my waist.

“Um, sorry.” I study his lightly tanned face. It’s bombarded with brown freckles. He has very sharp cheekbones and dark brownish hair. His attire differed from the other males at the school we attended. The strange guy briefly stared, before making his way down the halls. I adjust my mustard yellow peacoat and head for the nearest bathroom. As I look in the mirror I make sure I look somewhat acceptable before finding my classes. I apply more dark purple lipstick and fix my long thick lashes. My dark skin contrasts beautifully with my teeth and lip color. I pulled my short fitted light purple dress down. Even though its only the 70s I’ve always admired the 50s mod look. All of the colors I picked are dark and muted, but makes my red under tones, beneath my chocolate skin, brighten. I make my way down the expanding hallway. I feel as if I’m Alice falling horizontal. I pass a small glass room, where I see small heads bob back and forth. I firmly grab the stainless steel handle and turn it.The carpet is unlevel from the marble flooring in the hall.

Pale faces and cat-eyed frames all cock their heads toward me. Silence fills the room until a portly olive toned woman with purple glasses and smeared red lipstick breaks the awkward atmosphere. My stomach feels as if its going to drop as I open the door. Nothing but white faces stare at me as if in a trance. The teacher makes eye contact and points to an empty seat in the center of the class. Kids laugh as I get to my seat; fortunately I’m too well accustomed. As I make my way to my desk, I notice the person who sits behind me. He’s the same freckled faced guy from earlier. I smile at him, but I don’t get one in return. He looks down at his paper, then back at the teacher, as if I’m not there. If I wasn’t so dark you could see how red my face was. I sit silently. I can feel the other eyes burn through my skin. I wait for the class to end. I try to brush off my embarrassment and focus on the teacher. Mr. Hanks is a tall, olive skinned man. In all honesty, he’s actually very handsome. Handsome enough to become a model. His sharp jawline and light brown eyes pierce through you almost. I intently watch his large masculine hands as he spins the huge faded globe. Quickly finding India. After about fifteen minutes of his teachings, we’re handed a single sheet of paper. He instructs the class to write about What History Means To You. He walks down the aisle and passes out the sheets of paper. As he passes, I get a whiff of his cologne. His smell motivates me. An average size sheet of paper I placed in front of me. I grab my black pencil from my bag and write my name boldly, pressing down hard on my paper.

Elizabeth M..

Date: September 25, 1972

I begin to write:

History, in my opinion is just another word for origins. I can’t just pinpoint one thing about history, and define what it means to me. History is Deep, but shallow and remains simple. I can’t exactly tell you what history means to me, all you ask you to do it is represent it correctly.

 I reread my small passage about three times. I’m told to bring my paper towards the front desk. I stand up and smooth my dress down and shape out my Afro. The class is deathly silent. My low-heeled oxfords clap against the tile. I’m the first to turn my work in, so all eyes are on me. Mr. Hanks grabs my paper, making intense eye contact. He looks at my mouth, then my nose, then my large, dramatic Afro, but lastly he stares at my melanin rich skin. I can’t pinpoint his emotions towards me, so I turn on my heel and strut down towards my seat. His eyes never left my presence. I become nervous. He breaks his stare and reads my paper. There’s no reaction.

The bell rings.

Year Nine by Kumari Pacheco


It all began with a bike lock, wrapped around the neck of a tree. Mind you, this was not just any old thing. It held secrets beyond comprehension, beyond simple understanding. It harbored the promise of a reality that could be lined with the greatest light, or saturated with grief and loss, for whoever would free it of its perch.

For days, it went by unnoticed, ignored completely by many a passerby, people who were too preoccupied with their activities to even give it a second glance. Perhaps they were the lucky ones. Next up the sidewalk came a woman with a young girl, who was aged nine. The girl’s name was Amy Schmitt. She was a pale child, thin and short, with cropped brown hair and mouse-like features. Her eyes held a distracted, vindictive look as she trotted alongside the tall frail-boned woman with blotched skin and florid arms and legs. The two could have been mistaken for mother and daughter, but they were not, at least not in Amy’s eyes. The woman, whose name was Megan, was actually Amy’s stepmother. The two were always at odds for one reason or another, and today was no different. Anyone walking by could feel the crackle of tension bouncing between the two as they walked. It was for this reason, Amy sought for other things to hold her attention, that, and the diagnosis of ADHD she had received years ago. Her brown eyes delved into the park’s landscape, sliding down the dimples and slopes that made up the small golf course to her right. Next, her gaze skirted the greenish liquid of the lake, before finally coming to rest on a single, lonely tree. Its branches were fully leafed with green, its bark swirled with rings of age. And from one of its limbs, hung a bike cord.

Amy Schmitt was not an ordinary child. Ordinary children didn’t find themselves curious about bike locks hanging from trees, at least not enough to want it for themselves. But this is exactly what Amy wanted. Her eyes took on a hungry color as she stared at bike cord, curiosity etched across her face. Megan seemed to sense her sudden change in attitude, and her eyes snapped to her step-daughter, then followed her line of vision to the bike cord. “Amy, don’t you think about it.”

The girl blinked and turned to look at her. “Why? It’s just sitting there. It doesn’t belong to anybody.”

“Because I don’t want you getting in the habit of picking up garbage wherever you see it.”

Amy pursed her lips, eyes flashing with challenge, but she knew better than to argue. After all, why bother when there so many ways of evading her orders? Amy stopped and dropped onto one knee, hurriedly untying her shoelace before proclaiming, “Wait, I have to tie my shoes!”

Megan glanced over her shoulder before turning back forward. “Just hurry up. I won’t have walked that far.”

Amy grinned as the woman ventured farther and farther. She had been counting on her stepmother’s indifference. She waited until Megan was a few more steps away before jumping to her feet. She then dashed to the tree, and grabbed hold of the cord, yanking it. The tree shook with protest, but eventually, it gave way. Amy casted a nervous glance at Megan before tucking the cord into the small pack hanging from her shoulders. With a smirk of pride, the girl then capered back to Megan’s side, humming jollily and fighting to keep the grin of triumph off her face.

Once the two arrived home, Amy immediately leaped up the stairs and ran into her room. Without missing a beat, the girl reached a hand in her bag and pulled out the bike cord. She smiled in satisfaction, basking in the glory of deception. In her world of loneliness and stagnant dreams, fooling her stepmother was the only joy she ever got. Amy frowned slightly as she turned the cord over in her fingers. It looked old. Amy sniffed, then shrugged, tossing it across her room and onto the pile of things that sat near her desk. It was a random assortment, with stuff that ranged from broken watches to scratched picture frames. Her room had a certain likeness to the heap. There were boxes full of things everywhere, books scattered across the floor, clothes draped over the desk and bed. Not an inch of the floor could be seen, and it had been this way for so long that Amy herself had forgotten what the color of her rug was. Ever since she was old enough to form thoughts, she had vowed never to throw anything away, fearing she might accidently discard a remnant of her past, of her birth parents. Megan refused to talk about them besides when and how they had died, which wasn’t the most heart-warming information. She wanted to know what they were like, what they liked to do, and who they spoke to. Shaking her head, Amy plopped down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. However, she soon began to fidget, her eyes darting to the bicycle cord that lay atop the pile of trinkets. A sudden feeling gripped her, one that wasn’t unfamiliar. She often had these urges to get up and do something, to inspect something or look at something. However, this time, the urge was much stronger, and it was focused directly on the bike lock. Amy slowly rose to her feet and tottered her way through the minefield of things in her room. She picked up the bike cord and tilted her head at it. Hesitantly, she flipped around a couple numbers, so that the number row read 2673. Instantly she was entranced. She swapped more numbers around, growing more obsessed by the second. A satisfactory click followed each switch of numbers, and she went faster. Click click click. Then there was a creak on the stairs. Amy immediately froze, a rabbit cowering in the presence of a wolf. Then, she bolted onto her bed, rolling herself in the thin blanket and shoving the cord beneath her pillow. She should have been asleep by now, but in her fascination, she had lost track of time. The door flew open. Silence followed. Footsteps. Amy squeezed her eyes shut, trying to keep her body from quivering in fear. More silence. Then the footsteps receded, the light flicked off, and the door closed.

Amy sat up almost immediately, relaxing her bunched muscles. After her heart stopped racing, she reached over the side of her bed and pulled out a flashlight and a notebook. Clicking on the flashlight, she opened up the notebook, flipping past pages and pages of notes on other things that laid in the pile. She liked to write down everything she noticed about them, even make up the story of their origin sometimes.

The bicycle cord has a long, curly, thick, rubber wire with a small rectangle shaped metal cylinder in the middle. There is a little red sticker indicating where you line up the numbers for the combination. The numbers go up to nine. They flip in columns, so if you had one lined up with the sticker and you flipped it up, two would come and line up with the sticker. It looks old and rusty, and it has a little gold button on the opposite side to the red sticker.

Amy stopped writing.

“Why do I even care about this thing?” She whispered to herself.

It seemed ‘practical Amy’, as her stepmother had dubbed it, was making an appearance.

It was in these moments she questioned her priorities, and even her own sanity. How many nine-year old girls collected random things and hoarded them over the years as she did? That was something Megan said a lot. Amy snorted, and pushed thought of her stepmother to the back of her mind. She had to think for herself, stay strong against the suppressing force that was Megan. However much Amy liked to claim that she was alone in the world, that wasn’t true. Her only friend was a stray cat named Misitu. He had been there ever since Amy was old enough to go outside on her own. She still remembered the day they had forged a pact in trust, that they would help one another, keep the other company, and walk by each other’s side as equals. As crazy as it sounded, no one seemed to understand Amy as well as Misitu did. Suddenly, Amy yawned. A wave of sleepiness hit her and she let the notebook slip off the edge of her bed, turning to place her head in the pillow. The flashlight clicked off and silence ensued. She fell asleep thinking of the bike cord she had found in the park.


Amy flinched and stared at the teacher blankly. Kids snickered around her, reminding her of where she was. Berch Elementary School, the place where she was loathed by all, despite her best efforts. Amy raised her hand, but still stared into space. The teacher continued with attendance.

Amy had no friends, at least not human ones. There was always Misitu, but Amy knew having a cat as a best friend was weird. According to Audrey Fuse, Amy was weird, painfully so. But Amy didn’t care what she thought, or what anyone else thought for that matter. To her, the world was an ugly place, with an even uglier center, named Amy Schmitt. She had to admit though, some things in this world were good. Like Steven Ramirez. An olive-skinned boy with clean-cut features and hazel eyes. He was a nice boy, at least this is what she observed from distance. He was at the top of the hierarchy, the 4th grade food chain. And yet, somehow, he didn’t seem as stuck-up or pompous as her other classmates. But who was she kidding? Steven didn’t know Amy even existed. On top of that, everyone knew that Audrey liked him. Poor Amy didn’t have a chance against blond haired, blue eyed, popular Audrey.

The brown-haired girl made her way past the jostling kids streaming through the halls, sighing every time she was shoved. As usual she was late for class, that is, if she even showed up at all. She meandered down the corridor as the other kids steadily trickled into their classrooms, until there was no one left. Suddenly she was pushed up against the lockers by two pairs of hands. There she was, the bane of Amy’s existence, Audrey Fuse. Holding her up against the lockers though, was Rachel Scott and Jody Lai, Audrey’s minions, who always did her dirty work for her. Amy struggled, but they weren’t Audrey’s bruisers for nothing. The blonde menace smirked at Amy’s helplessness, but Amy had too much dignity to accept ridicule silently.

“Shouldn’t you be in class Audrey?”

“You shouldn’t be the one to talk, Ms. Skipping School.”

“You know that I don’t care about grades or class, or did that info just go through one pretty ear and out the other?” Amy sneered.

Audrey made an expression close to a snarl. “Search her.”

And so, Amy was held still as her lunch money was emptied from her pockets and the contents of her backpack were spilled onto the floor. Then, the bike lock thudded onto the ground.

Audrey narrowed her eyes, snatching it from the floor and holding it with a look of disgust on her face. “What in the world are you doing with this?” She muttered, glancing at Amy with a devious smirk. “Weirdo.”

“Give it back!” Amy blurted without thinking.

Audrey grinned, seeing how much the odd trinket meant to the other girl. “Nah, I think I’ll keep it.”

“No, stop it!” Amy watched helplessly as her nemesis stuffed the bike cord into her backpack.

“Thanks Amy!” Audrey said sweetly, before turning and going down the hall. Jody and Betsy released Amy and followed, laughing. Amy slumped, staring at the floor. She had to get it back. However, she would have to wait. She already knew that telling a teacher would do nothing but bring up questions about her own negative track record, so she would have to do this alone. She would get it back. Amy closed her hand into a fist. No matter what.

“Misitu, are you sure this is a good idea?” Amy muttered as she darted down the street. The sun had already sunk behind the houses, shedding a dim yellow upon the pristine neighborhood. Misitu meowed and brushed against her leg, gray tail curling. With a sigh, Amy ventured forth, approaching a tall white house. It was Audrey’s house, which Amy’s entire grade had visited for her sixth birthday. Sure, it had been a long time ago, but Amy still remembered the embarrassments that day had held for her. Nevertheless, if she had not attended, she wouldn’t have known where Audrey lived, nor where her room was located. And she would need that information for the heist she had in mind. Amy narrowed her eyes and looked up the side of the pale building, painted yellow by the fading sunlight. She felt like a burglar, mind and body dressed in black, but she had promised herself, she would not let that deter her.

“How are we supposed to get in?” The girl asked Misitu, looking for any type of way up. She could see the wooden balcony of Audrey’s room up above, silhouetted against the darkening sky.

Misitu licked his paw indifferently, then stretched and walked over to a tree. After dragging his claws against the tough bark for a moment, he began climbing it.

Amy nodded, smirking. “Clever.”

Taking hold of a low branch, she began climbing up the tree after Misitu. The cat was already at the top, and leapt off onto the balcony silently. By the time Amy pulled herself onto it Misitu had begun to clean himself.

“You don’t have to brag,” Amy huffed but smiled.

Misitu was a lot like her. With a nervous swallow, Amy tiptoed to the door and twisted the knob. It was locked. Amy grimaced. But luckily she had brought a backup. She reached into her pocket and brought out a paper clip. It seemed dumb, but Amy had spent hours one night researching how to pick locks. She knew it was a useful skill, and that she would most likely need it in the future. Boy, was she right. Unbending it, she put the clip in the keyhole. Struggling, she twisted it this way and that. Finally there was a satisfying click. With all the tenderness in the world, Amy turned the doorknob and eased the door open. To her horror there was a dismal creak at the movement. Somewhere in the darkness Amy heard the sound of shifting. She froze. The small-framed girl stood there for several minutes until finally she decided it was safe, which is when she bent down and crawled inside on her knees. She glanced back at the gray cat, Misitu, but he was sitting by the door bathing himself.

“You lazy cat,” Amy muttered good-naturedly, despite the fact that she did not want to proceed alone.

She stopped mid-crawl and blinked, waiting for her eyes to adjust to her surroundings. Slowly, the black mounds of shape around her morphed into furniture. Amy heard a soft rustle, and glanced to her left. There she was, Queen Audrey, sleeping in her queen-sized bed. Amy glared at her sleeping form, then she continued crawling, her eyes peering through the gloom in search of what was hers. There it was! On the dresser, right in front of Amy, was the bike cord. However, it looked like Audrey had been messing with it. All the numbers were lined up on one. Amy rose up and snatched the bike lock, then turned to head back. Suddenly there were footsteps. Amy’s heart shot up her throat. With a desperate lunge, she scrambled out the room and closed the door behind her. Picking up Misitu, who protested with an irritated meow, she pressed herself against the wall, out of view of the room. Just then the balcony door opened. A woman stuck her head out, green eyes narrowed and forehead creased with worry. She didn’t step outside, simply swept the front of the balcony with her eyes before returning inside. Amy stood there, rigid, for a few minutes, before relaxing and letting Misitu down. The cat stretched and lazily clambered back into the tree. Amy glanced at her hand and smiled at the bike cord that was pressed in it, then followed.

An hour later, Amy was back in her room. She and Misitu had parted ways a block from her house, and she had proceeded to climb back inside through her window. After drawing the blinds, the girl sat on her bed and looked at the bike lock in her hands. She kept telling herself she had performed that risky endeavor to get back something that belonged to her, but the truth was, it was more than that. Something about this item intrigued her. Her eyes studied the thing meticulously. The numbers were still lined up as one. Amy then began to inspect other elements of the cord, pressing and twisting the screws that were embedded in the sides, uncoiling the cord and watching as it would bounce back into a curl. Then, her fingers pushed on a gold button on the side of the numbers, experimentally. Immediately light flashed from the numbers, blinding her with such a ferocity, Amy cried out. She dropped the bike cord, rubbing her eyes, and when she opened them, she saw the world folding in on itself, creasing and pulling her into the crevices. There was no time to scream. Her vision seemed to shrink around her until it was nothing but a speck of light, which finally winked out.

With a rush of sound and light, Amy was brought back into the world. Blinking, she looked at her surroundings. She was in a small car, in the passenger seat. To her right was a tight-lipped woman with dyed black hair and solemn blue eyes. Amy drew in a shaky breath, heart pulsing with cold. A babble from the backseat attracted her attention, and she turned to see a cradle fastened down firmly by two seatbelts. A baby was inside the cradle, brown eyes staring at her with curiosity. A swirl of thin brown hair covered the baby’s head. Amy then gazed back at the woman. She seemed not to have taken notice of her, instead muttering to herself.

“I should be happy…this baby is all I’ve wanted. Even if John doesn’t want her, I do.” She trailed off and licked her lips, pain blossoming in her gaze.

Amy finally managed to utter a few words. “W-who are you?”

She was met with silence. Panic set in.

“Where am I? Who are you?” Amy repeated, voice cracking.

Still, the woman did not reply, nor did she even look her way.

“Say something!” Amy screamed, reaching out to yank on the woman’s sleeve.

To her utter shock, her fingers went through the cloth, rippling the woman’s image like a pond.

“What?” Amy breathed, trembling in fear and confusion. “Megan? Misitu?” Her voice simmered down to a whimper, recoiling from the woman with wide eyes. The baby began to cry from the backseat.

The woman smiled and casted a fond gaze at the backseat. “Don’t worry, Amy. We’re almost home.”

Amy froze. Suddenly, things began to take form. The baby’s hair, her eyes, her name, all the same. The baby, presumably about one year old, the woman, whose face was long lost to her but still shallowly imprinted on her mind.


Suddenly there was the screech of tires. The woman’s eyes widened and her hands swerved the wheel sharply to the right. Amy barely had time to scream. A red truck rammed into the side of the car, Amy’s world went upside down and the shriek of metal hitting metal filled the air. The movement stopped. There was the hiss of escaping gas. A baby screamed, frantic voices called out to one another. There was not a peep from the woman at the wheel. Then darkness.

The next thing Amy knew, she was on the ground. Her hands were fastened to her legs, her body stiff and throbbing in fear. Her mind reeled. What just happened? The bike cord lay on the floor a few inches from her foot. Amy scrambled away, diving onto her bed and staring at it with wide eyes. It was that thing! It made that happen. But…how?

She stayed there, frightened out of her wits, then turned, curling herself up in the covers. This has to be a dream, just has to be. Just a bad dream. And with those thoughts spiraling in her head, the young girl dozed off, exhausted by the day’s events.

When Amy next woke, her room was washed with warm sunlight. She sat up, running a hand through her disheveled hair, and almost immediately casted a glance towards the bike cord. It seemed to call her, beckon her, saying, I dare you. Slowly, Amy stepped towards it. She picked it up, tentative, hesitant. The numbers were still lined up at one. She raised a finger, moved it towards the gold button. A nervous swallow. She pressed it. Moments passed, nothing. She pushed it again. Still nothing. She wasn’t sure if she should be disappointed or relieved.

“I must have been imagining things,” She mumbled to herself, as if to convince herself of that fact. With a half-hearted shrug, she stuffed the cord into her book bag, afraid her stepmother might go through her room and throw away all the ‘garbage’ she found, and got ready for school.

“You little rat!”

Amy stopped and turned around, ignoring the looks she got from the passing schoolchildren. She had seen it coming. That’s why she had come prepared with an excuse, and a new hiding place in her backpack for the bike cord. She wasn’t letting Audrey take it again.

“What are you talking about?”

Audrey bared her teeth like an angry dog. “I know it was you! I could sue you for robbing me of that stupid bike cord!”

Amy blinked. “What proof did you say you had again?”

The other girl’s face turned red in anger. “You, you little…” She then turned to her friends, who stood nearby, silent. “Don’t just stand there! Do something, you dorks!” The two flinched at Audrey’s tone and immediately rounded on Amy, who promptly took off. She may not have been an athlete, but she could sure beat those two dunderheads by a mile. Amy streaked down the hallway, dodging clusters of students who went along. However, she was so busy looking behind her shoulder that she didn’t notice Steven crossing her path. With a painful smack, she slammed right into him. The two tumbled to the ground, her with a yelp, him with a grunt. Amy looked up and felt her heart sink as she realized who she had toppled.

“I-I’m sorry.” She breathed, so nervous that the words couldn’t even be heard. Not knowing what else to do, she leaped to her feet and sped down the corridor.

Steven raised his head with a groan, eyes narrowed. “Watch where you’re going!”

Amy felt embarrassment fill her as she shoved past the kids and out the school doors. The good thing about going to Berch Elementary was that no one cared if you came or went. There were so many kids to account for, the staff didn’t bother to account for any of them. And so, Amy was free to go to her favorite place in the world, her hideout.

Amy’s pace slackened as she neared the copse of pine trees about fifty yards from the school house. Taking the time to actually breathe and process what had just occurred, she cursed and slammed a hand against her forehead.

“Idiot! That was Steven you ran over! Now he’ll never talk to me again…”

With a sigh, she slipped between the trees. Sun filtered through the branches, casting stripes on her skin and clothes. Before her was a single hill, green and pure. In the side of it was a small cave, made of dirt and stone. Amy ascended the slope and went inside, setting her things down on the makeshift table she had made, a slab of stone. She came here often, whenever she wanted to get away from school or Megan, or Audrey. Birds chirped quietly outside and a nice breeze brushed through the cave. Amy closed her eyes and breathed in and out, to calm her nerves. Then a familiar twitch returned. She opened on eye. Peeking out of her backpack was the bike cord. She pressed her lips together, then sighed and reached for it. Pulling it out, she inspected it with an almost suspicious gaze.

“What are you hiding?” She asked it, not caring if she sounded crazy or not.

She pressed the golden button again, to no avail. Then she blinked. Slowly, her fingers rolled all the numbers until the row read 2222. Her finger against reached for the button. The second it was pressed, the cave melted around her and she was thrusted into pure darkness.

Amy was enveloped in light. The world was bleached and everything was a bright, sterilized white. Then, the color bloomed, and she found herself in a hospital room. A man laid on the bed, hooked up to five machines, skin pallid and grey, chest barely rising and falling. His head was shaved, but Amy still knew who he was. She had seen pictures of him.


The name felt weird on her tongue, but her heart still clenched at the sight of her dying father. A woman kneeled beside the hospital bed, face buried in his stomach, sobs wracking her shoulders.


And beside her, on the floor, was a cradle, with a baby inside, whose eyes were once again focused on Amy. Can…can she see me? Amy was broken out of her thoughts as the heart-wrenching beep filled the air. Doctors stood by, with a knowing sadness in their eyes. Amy’s eyes blurred with tears and just like that the world dissolved, and she was back in the cave. Her hands were once again clamped on her thighs, the bike cord on the ground. Amy drew in a shaky breath. She knew she wasn’t crazy! This was real, this was reality. She had a time machine.

“In and out, ten minutes,” Amy told herself.

She tossed her handy dandy paperclip – which was now bent to fit the lock of the front door – to the side and rubbed her hands together.

Her stepmom thought she was at school, so it was all clear. Still, she didn’t know when she would return, so her best bet was to be quick. Amy grabbed the largest backpack she owned. In it, she stuffed two bags of chips, several water bottles, matches, a flashlight, extra pairs of socks, blankets, a pillow, hair brush, tooth brush, her fully-charged phone, and a picture of her dad she stole from her stepmom’s room. Amy slipped on two sweaters and a raincoat, because she could now hear the patter of rain outside. With that, she walked out the door, hood drawn over her head and hands cupped around her mouth. “Misitu! Misitu!”

She hoped the gray cat could hear her; she didn’t have time to wait for him. Just as she reached the end of the neighborhood, she heard a meow and saw a pathetic-looking and soaked Misitu beside her. With a good-natured laugh, she picked him up and put him up her coat. The cat purred and poked his head out the top. Thunder roared overhead, and the sky was frequently split by daggers of purple lightning. Quickening her pace, Amy trotted past the school and towards the woods. Amy knew very well where she would stay, and she knew the discomfort she was going to meet on the way there. The soft ground she had encountered earlier that day was now marsh. She grimaced at the squish squash of her feet as they trudged through the muck. When she made it across, her shoes were soaked. That’s one thing she had forgotten. Extra shoes. Rain beat down on Amy and Misitu and they hurried into the cave. Amy set about organizing her new home, setting the food out on the rock table and laying out the blankets and pillows in a dry corner. Misitu meowed and brushed past her leg. Amy stroked his flank and smiled, then sat on her blanket. The cat curled up beside her, and she reached to yank the bike lock out of her backpack. She held it in her hands for several moments, doing her best to grasp the reality of it. This bike cord had taken her back in time twice. The numbers, as far as she could tell, correlated with the years of her life. One and two had already been visited, and, seeing how her attempts at revisiting Year One had failed, it seemed she could only visit each once. Amy narrowed her eyes. In the visitations, no person could hear, see, or touch her, except Baby Amy, but Amy herself could touch inanimate objects. Amy’s eyes glossed over the nine numbers in the columns and she nodded. She would do all nine now. There was no telling when her stepmother would find out she was missing and send the cops out after her. It was now or never. Amy scrolled the numbers to three and closed her eyes. Her finger hit the button and she was gone.

When Amy next opened her eyes, she is in a familiar room. The living room, the place where she had been not an hour ago. However, boxes laid piled against the walls, furniture messily placed. Amy flinched as she hears the cry of a baby. Snapping her keen brown gaze to her right, she recognized baby Amy’s cradle. Inside laid the child herself, fussing and crying even harder as Amy neared. Amy heard footsteps coming from the kitchen, and suddenly, she was reminded of what Megan would tell her whenever she asked what was for dinner.

“Make yourself something, you’re a big girl. I won’t feed someone who won’t appreciate it.”

Amy had always been confused by this statement, because she never seemed able to scrape up a shred of memory that might justify her stepmom’s coldness. However, suddenly, is comes to her. Rushing over to the cradle, Amy hovered over it. Then she covered her face with her hands, before revealing it with a playful smile. Baby Amy laughed and cooed at the show of peek-a-boo. The noises from the kitchen ceased and footsteps came near. Amy quickly dived behind the bookshelf, eyes peering over the side. Megan appeared, jar and spoon in hand. She knelt beside the cradle and tentatively raised a spoonful of mush to the baby’s face. Baby Amy, already in a good mood, happily opened her mouth and swallowed the stuff whole. A smile of relief lit upon Megan’s face, and something close to happiness glittered in her eyes. Then Megan and the baby eroded into dust and melted to black, and the green and brown as the cave returned.

Amy shook out of her daze and looked around. Misitu was still asleep, purring. The bike cord was in Amy’s hand. Smiling, the girl reached over to grab a bag of Classic Lays. She tore open the seam and popped a few into her mouth, smiling at its crisp, salty, taste. After quickly finishing the bag, she wiped her mouth and arranged the numbers to 4444. The button was pushed and darkness descended.

Amy blinked and was in her old house again. She bit her lip, thinking. What was something memorable that had happened to her when she was four years old? With a nod of recognition, she recalled what had occurred. The time she burnt herself horribly, because of messing with a candle. She remembered she had been running through the house with a flaming candle, and had tripped. The wax dripped onto her arm, resulting in a nasty burn. Instinctively, her eyes flitted to the still not fully-healed burn mark on her wrist. The pale flesh seemed to glint in the moonlight. She looked back up and took a few steps forward, eyes scanning the room for the candle. She saw it resting on the small table in front of the couch. Deftly, she sidled up to it and blew it out with a puff of breath. Just like that, the world spiraled into nothingness, and she was back in the cave. Amy quickly rolled up her sleeve and grinned as she saw the scar gone.

“This is easy!” She remarked, glancing over as Misitu raised his head with a yawn.

“Sorry.” Amy mumbled, before flipping the row into fives. “Next up!”

Year Five was of the time she had gotten her first and only pet, a fish which she named Em. As she watched from behind the bed post as Megan gave Young Amy the fish, Amy noticed something she hadn’t before. There was a silent joy in Megan’s eyes, a secret satisfaction at seeing her step-daughter happy. Amy returned from Year Five with a smile on her face. As much as it was hard to believe, it seemed Megan did care for her. She suddenly felt a new respect for Megan, a new emotion that was close to gratitude.

Year Six was of Audrey’s Birthday Party. Amy crept through the neatly trimmed shrubs as the kids played outside. She spotted herself standing on her own, looking aloof. With a sigh, Amy slipped inside Audrey’s house and extracted a doll from her room. Acting quickly, she wrapped it in some paper, taped it as neatly as he could, signed it with her initials, and then set it on the gift table. Audrey was much too dumb to notice the difference, Amy just hoped the change would make a positive difference in her standing with her peers. When Amy returned from Year Six, she heard a buzz on her phone. She looked to see Audrey’s name on the Caller ID. Her heart seemed to stop beating, her eyes widening at the friendly message: Where you at, Amy? No one has seen you since lunch!

It seemed the whole fiasco that had happened in the hallway was gone, an echo of a reality dismantled. What did that mean for her? Was she truly accepted into the higher ranks of her grade?

Year Seven was a memory that Amy didn’t even recognize. She was at school, in Mrs. Shubert’s class. Amy quickly ducked behind the teacher’s desk, who was gone for some reason. She peeked out from behind it and saw a somewhat younger version of herself, surrounded by Audrey, Jody, and Rachel. They weren’t crowding her in an aggressive way, inversely, they were talking to her. Amy gaped. Had the past she already changed altered memories in the nearer future? Was she seeing a memory that she herself had fabricated without knowing it? Suddenly, a familiar olive-skinned boy sidled up to the four. Audrey, Jody, and Rachel shied away, smiling, but Young Amy simply looked up at Steven, brown eyes even. Amy blinked. Who was this girl? It wasn’t her, for sure. She was never this calm and collected, especially around Steven.

“Hey Amy.” Steven wore a sportive grin as he spoke, sitting in the seat beside her. “I was um, wondering if you wanted to go out for ice cream sometime.”

Amy could barely keep herself from squealing in delight, but Young Amy simply shrugged. “Sure.”

The memory swirled away and Amy found herself grasping at its corners, not wanting to let go.

Then, she was back in the cave. Happiness coursed through her veins, and she stretched, then reached down to pet Misitu’s back. Her hand was met with cold cave floor. A dagger of panic knifed through her and she looked down, then around the empty cave. “Misitu? Misitu!”

Worry knitted itself across her forehead as she got to her feet, still calling her friend’s name. Rain pounded down through the trees, and silence met her words. Misitu wouldn’t have left the cave if it was raining. Somehow, he was gone.

Then Amy’s phone rang. With wide eyes and shaking hands, the girl picked it up. It was from Audrey.

How’s Max? I knew he would be the right cat for you, better than that stray you used to hang with. You did the right thing by taking that thing to the pound.

Amy felt her world stop. Pound? She did not do that to Misitu, she couldn’t have. How could she have, when she had been in the cave the whole time? Then she remembered. There were several different versions of herself in the realm of time, one for every year, and perhaps every moment of her life. There was an Amy out there right now, living this new life she was crafting for herself. And it seemed this Amy was radically different than her. The girl shook her head, fear and pain seeping through her chest. She had vowed to never betray his trust. She had broken her promise. Her dear friend Misitu was gone. And it was all her fault. Amy sunk to her knees, eyes wide and welling up with tears. “This can’t be happening…Misitu!”

She screamed his name, voice hoarse and words half-hearted. How could any version of herself have done this? Frantically, Amy got to her feet and grabbed the bike cord. There had to be something she could do, some way to reverse this change. She lined the numbers up to Eight and pushed the button. The world flashed dark, and suddenly she was in her room. Footsteps sounded in the hall. Amy darted into the closet and pressed herself between the clothes, which were a lot girlier than she would have expected of herself. The door was slammed and Young Amy, wearing appallingly bright clothing, plopped onto the bed. The door suddenly opened, and through the small crack between the wall and the door, Amy saw Megan. She too, was different. She looked prim and small, eyes retaining a weakness she had never imagined to find in her stepmom’s eyes.

“Sweetie, I was just making a valid point…I never get to spend time with you anymore. You’re always out with Steven, or with your other friends, or on your phone, and –”

Young Amy sat up, brown eyes holding a savage humor in them. “Yeah so? They’re easier to talk to. Why should I have to sacrifice every second of my day to chat with you?”

Megan flinched at her words, hurt flashing in her eyes. “Amy, please.”

Young Amy stood, stalking over to the frail woman and jabbing a finger in her face. “You’re always blaming me for everything but who’s the one always at work, or on a date? You’re never home, so when do you even expect to talk?”

Megan narrowed her eyes. “Now that’s quite enough, you shouldn’t talk to your mother that way –”

But Young Amy wasn’t finished. “Well then I guess it’s a good thing you’re not my mother!”

The room fell silent, Amy trembled inside the closet, eyes wide. Despite her and her stepmom’s differences, she would never have expected such a thing to leave her own mouth. Megan’s lower lip quivered ever so lightly, pain and hurt blossoming in her eyes. Young Amy held her gaze evenly. Suddenly, Megan turned and fled down the hall. Unable to stop herself, Amy pushed open the door of the closet, racing after. She heard the startled “What the hell?” come from Young Amy but ignored it, racing after Megan.

“Please, wait!”

The woman ran out the house, snatching her car keys and pushing through the door. Amy could see tears glistening in her eyes. The woman opened the car door and sat in the driver’s seat, not even buckling herself in before turning it on.

“Wait!” Amy cried, slamming her hands on the car and staring through the window at her step-mother. However, as expected, the woman could not see her. The car revved and Amy was forced to step back as it took off down the street.

“Please…” Amy whispered, reaching out feebly before dropping her hand. Her head bowed. She had failed. The girl looked back up as there was the sound of a revving engine and frantic honking. Amy’s eyes widened as she saw her stepmother’s car collide with another, flipping past it and tumbling into someone’s yard.

“NO!” Amy began to run down the sidewalk, eyes blurring with tears. “Megan!”

People were already coming out their houses, eyes wide in shock as the two cars began to smoke.

“Megan!” Amy screamed as the road before her began to disintegrate into dust. “No! Not yet! Megan!”

Then the world caved in and Amy was back in her cave. Tears trickled down her face, and the bike cord was laying discarded against the far wall.

“No…” Amy whimpered, putting her head in her hands. What had she done? Now the two beings she loved most in the world were gone, because of her, because she tampered with time. Amy began to cry, tears trickling down her wrists and dripping to the ground. She wasn’t one to cry, but there in that cave, Amy Schmitt broke down into hysterical sobs. After minutes of this, she slowly raised her head. She reached for the bike lock, picked it up. Her teary eyes inspected it. Only Year Nine was left. Fear thudded in her heart. Should she do it? Should she see what horrors laid for her at the end of the road? Amy hesitated, fingers retracting. Then, her resolve hardened. What if there was a way to save Misitu and Megan? What if through some indistinct wormhole, she could change her changes? With a decisive nod, Amy scrolled the nines into place. Her finger moved to the golden button. She hesitated, then pressed it down firmly.

Amy found herself falling forward as the world shot up around her, coming up and over her head like a tent. Her face pressed into the rich green grass as the breath was knocked out of her. Then, she pushed herself up and looked around with wild eyes. This was the last one, the last year. What memory did this hold for her? Her breaths came in gasps of fear, a distraught look on her face. She was in a park. The sun smiled down upon her, spreading warmth across her skin. Her eyes searched the landscape desperately for any sign of what might transpire. Then two people came up a still far off hill. One woman and one little girl. A wave of shock billowed through her. She knew when she was. The day she had come upon the bike lock for the first time.

Amy’s eyes immediately darted to the left, where a familiar small tree sat. And from its neck, hung a bike lock. Amy felt joy fill her, a happiness like no other she had ever experienced. She could reverse it all. She could have Misitu and Megan back. Amy ran over to the tree and pulled on the cord. It was stiff, wrapped firmly around the trunk, refusing to budge. It seemed though she could touch and affect the cord, she could not move it from its spot. Then, Amy noticed something. The bike cord, it was unlocked. The lock and the part that went in it were separated. Amy held her breath as she picked up each end, inching them closer to one another. Then, there was a voice.

“Don’t do it Amy.”

It was her voice. Amy turned around, dropping the lock’s parts in her shock, and saw herself standing there. Same face, same hair, same eyes; the only difference was her outfit, a grotesque plaited skirt and tank top.

“Who are you?” Amy asked, dumbfounded.

“I’m you.” The girl replied simply. “The better you. The you you’re going to throw away if you do that.” Her eyes flicked to the bike lock.

“You don’t get it,” Amy blubbered, “Megan, Misitu, they die. They’re gone, because of what I did with this! I need to make it right.” Amy turned back to the lock.

“No! Don’t you realize what you’re doing? You’re erasing the perfect life you’ve created for yourself, a life with Steven, at the center of popularity, no pesky stepmother, no mangy cat.” The other Amy’s hand were outstretched in a beseeching way. “Don’t be stupid. You know I’m right. I’m you now, and this who you’ve always wanted to be.”

Amy blinked at the girl’s words, then let go of the bike lock and turned to face her. “You’re wrong. If you think that I would be satisfied with substituting Megan and Misitu for popularity and Steven, than you’re not me at all.”

And with that, Amy turned and slammed both pieces of the lock together. Light burst from the lock, engulfing both Amys.

“NO!” The newer Amy screamed, but then she split down the middle in light and dissolved into the air. Amy felt a chill run up her spine, cold and heat coursing through her body all at once. She looked over her shoulder, then realized there was no shoulder to look over. She was made of nothingness, and as the light rapidly consumed her body, she felt a sudden peace. Her eyes closed and she surrendered to the light, allowing it to devour her and crumple her into dust.

The Old Amy was gone by the time the new one looked over. Her eyes brightened in their mischievous way as she saw the bike cord fastened around the tree. She feigned the need to tie her shoe, waited for her stepmother to walk off, the rose to her feet and dashed to the tree. Her hands clutched at the bike lock’s cord and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. With a pang of disappointment, she noticed it was locked. She growled in frustration, then retreated, joining her stepmother on the path.

From the trees, there were eyes watching. The gaze of a girl who was erased from a reality that had never even existed. As she watched herself cavorting around her stepmother, she used the last ounce of energy left in her formless vessel and whispered simple words. While the past is forever lost, the future remains to be molded. Use your years wisely.




Walgreens Expressions Challenge


What is the Expressions Challenge? 

  • The Walgreen Company is once again having the Expressions Challenge.
  • This challenge was created for students to have a voice, express their art, and express themselves in a creative way.
  • Last year more than 1,600 students participated in the challenge and every year it seems to get better. The goal of the challenge is to express positivity through behavior so that there are more positive outcomes.
  • They want students to express how today’s issues influence their health, academics, and wellness.

What Can You Win?

  • Contest winners, teachers, and schools get cash, prizes, and public recognition. Over $25,000 in cash and prizes are given away to individuals that participate in the Expressions Challenge organization.
  • The first place winner receives $3,000. ($2,000 for student, $500 for school, and $500 for teacher.)
  • The second place winner gets $1,750. ($1,250 for student and $500 for the teacher.)
  • You are eligible if you are a current high school student.

What Is the Topic & Genre?

  • Suggested topics are abstinence, self-esteem, sexual responsibility, abstinence, sexting, STD prevention, AIDS awareness, and teen pregnancy.
  • You can write an essay, poem, short story, use graphic design, paint, create a sculpture, photography, create a video, record a song, or rap.
  • You can submit one entry per category: creative writing, media arts, or multimedia.
  • You can work in a group up to 5 people (but then you would have to split the cash prize).
  • The qualifications include originality, writing style, quality of work, adherence to contest and category guidelines.
  • You may not enter a piece of work with explicit images, profane language, nudity, any form of discrimination, or the Walgreens brand/logo.


  • October 1, 2016: Expressions Challenge Begins Public Voting Opens
  • November 30, 2016: Expressions Challenge Ends Public Voting Closes
  • December 1, 2016: Judging Round 1
  • December 12, 2016: Judging Round 1 Ends
  • December 15, 2016: Judging Round 2 Begins
  • December 19, 2016: Judging Round 2 Ends
  • December 30, 2016: Winner Notification Begins
  • December 22, 2016: Winner Notification Ends
  • January 2016: Award Ceremony St.Louis


Glossary of Terms, (See Packet from Class)

  • Abstinence — The practice of refraining from some or all aspects of sexual activity for medical, psychological, legal, social, financial, philosophical, moral or religious reasons.
  • Adolescent Sexuality — Refers to sexual feelings, behavior and development in adolescents and is a stage of human sexuality. Sexuality is often a vital aspect of teenagers’ lives. The sexual behavior of adolescents is, in most cases, influenced by their culture’s norms and mores, their sexual orientation, and the issues of social control such as age of consent laws.
  • AIDS — Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome — Immune system failure and debilitation, resulting in severe and eventually fatal illness; caused by HIV infection.
  • At-Risk Sexual Behaviors — According to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the younger the age of first sexual intercourse, the greater the risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. This is because those who begin having sex at young ages are generally exposed to risk for a longer time, are less likely to use contraception, generally have more sexual partners, and tend to engage in higher risk sexual behaviors such as alcohol or drug use prior to sexual intercourse and having multiple concurrent sexual partners. It must be recognized as well that early intercourse is frequently not voluntary.
  • Birth Control — Control the number of children born; preventing or lessening the chance of pregnancy.
  • Contraception — Deliberate prevention of conception.
  • Cyber-bullying — The use of the internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.
  • Gender Identity — A person’s private sense of, and subjective experience of, their own gender. This is generally described as one’s private sense of being a man or a woman, consisting primarily of the acceptance of membership into a category of people.
  • HIV — Human Immunodeficiency virus; the body lacks the ability to mount a normal immune response to infection; the virus that causes AIDS
  • Safe Sex — Sexual activity engaged in by people who have taken precautions to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS. It is also referred to as safer sex or protected sex, while unsafe or unprotected sex is sexual activity engaged in without precautions.
  • Sexting — Sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The term is a “mash-up” of the terms sex and texting.
  • Sexual Education — Two main forms of sex education are taught in American schools: comprehensive and abstinence-only. Comprehensive sex education covers abstinence as a positive choice, but also teaches about contraception and avoidance of STIs when sexually active.
  • Sexual Self-Concept — Developing a sexual self-concept is an important development step during adolescence. This is when adolescents try to make sense and organize their sexual experiences so that they understand the structures and underlying motivations for their sexual behavior.
  • Sexual Health — Health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Reproductive health, or sexual health/hygiene, addresses the reproductive processes, functions and system at all stages of life.
  • Sexual Orientation — is an enduring personal quality that inclines people to feel romantic or sexual attraction (or a combination of these) to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender.
  • Sexual Responsibility — To be capable of making moral, practical, or rational decisions about sexual activity. To be answerable for one’s behavior regarding sexual activity.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) — Sexually transmitted diseases (STD), also referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STI) and venereal diseases (VD), are illnesses that have a significant probability of transmission between humans by means of human sexual behavior, including vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex.
  • Teen Dating Violence — They physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship. While dating, domestic and sexual violence affect women regardless of their age, teens and young women are especially vulnerable. Young people ages 12 to 19 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, and people age 18 and 19 experience the highest rates of stalking.

How to Submit

  • Share a Google Doc
  • Visit the contest website here
  • Click “sign up with your e-mail address”
  • Enter your name, e-mail, and password –> then check your e-mail
  • Click the link in your e-mail
  • Enter your e-mail and password on the website, then enter the information it asks for
  • Check your personal e-mail for the PDF version of your parent consent form, sent by Mrs. O’Donnell
  • Upload your parent consent form on your application
  • Check your personal e-mail for the Word or PDF form of your entry, sent by Mrs. O’Donnell; then upload it to your application
  • To be entered in the Visual Arts category, entrants must upload original artwork along with a title and a caption
  • To be entered in the Media Arts category, entrants must upload a photo or video along with a title and caption
  • To be entered in the Creative Writing category, entrants must upload an original essay or poem with a title and a caption
  • Video submissions must not exceed 180 seconds (3 minutes) in length
  • Video submission files must be no larger than 1 GB in size and in one of the following formats: mp4, mov, wmv, avi
  • Art or Photo submissions must be no larger than 1 GB and in one of the following formats: jpg, png, or gif
  • Essay or Poem submissions must be at least 500 words but must not exceed 1,000 words
  • Only original music created by or music licensed by the entrant will be allowed in his/her video
  • If you enter as a group, you need to download the Group Entry Form on the website
  • Individual Entrant, not entering the contest as a Group, must be able to provide a release form for each person appearing in his/her video or photo submission of his/her entry. Sponsor must be able to contact each person appearing in the potential winner’s video or photo. Download the Appearance Release Form at the website  
  • You will be disqualified if your entry includes commercial products such as clothing, toys, food and/or their trademarks, brands, logo, or endorsements
  • You will be disqualified if your entry includes any third party materials (including but not limited to music) that may otherwise violate or infringe any of the following: Copyright, trademark, logo, or mark that identifies a brand or other proprietary right of any person living or deceased, clothing that is worn in the video or photo or artwork should not contain any visible logos, drawings, cartoons, phrases, trademarks or other third-party materials


Tension in Short Stories

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Another important element in writing that we focused on in our short stories is the principle of tension. Any good story contains four elements of tension:

  • People with problems
  • People with specific and strong desires
  • High stakes (there are serious consequences if the main characters don’t get what they want)
  • Specific obstacles that get in the way

Can you identify the four elements of tension in the excerpt from the student piece below?

It’s 1:25 am. My family is sleeping while I struggle to even close my eyes. There’s this feeling that’s been bothering me for a while now. How do I explain it — it’s that feeling you get when someone is staring at you intensely. That burning, tingling sensation, the urge to turn around and look. I rise up from my bed, and make a quick observation of my room, dimly lit by the moonlight shining through my window. And of course, there’s no one in here but me. I shake my head in frustration — ”Ah, maybe it’s just sleep deprivation.” As I settle back into the covers, that feeling comes back, much stronger than before. I abruptly sit up, my instincts telling me to look at the window……Are those eyes? I see eyes! I stare at them and they stare back at me. “Nope. Nope. Nope. There’s nothing there, nothing at all.” I break my gaze and rub my eyes, hoping that I’m hallucinating or in a very elaborate dream. Much to my displeasure, the eyes are still there, now accompanied by a smile. I let out a light yelp and dive under the covers, using the pink flower patterned comforters as a shield. Quite threatening, if I do say so myself….I take refuge there for the rest of the night.

People with Problems

The short story is about a girl who encounters a stalker in the night. She later finds out that her stalker is ghost who is somehow relevant to her life. During her morning walk, she meets the same guy, not knowing if he was the stalker or not, until teasing him. She later finds out that he is her stalker. Frightened for a minute, the boy takes his time telling her his reasons. He begins to tell her about a boy who was once in love and how it didn’t work out in the end and how he dies. And how now he still watches over her and her oldest daughter who looks just like her mother. And that’s how their friendship begins.

People with specific and strong desires

In the early life of the ghost boy he was very depressed and lonely. He only wanted a friend. He then finally meets a girl whom he takes interest in; they become very close.

High Stakes

Through the boy’s friendship with the girl, he realizes that he loves his friend. But sadly she has fallen for someone else, which leads him to his death. So now that he’s a ghost he still lingers…

Specific Obstacles That Get in the Way

In the story the boy was in love with his friend, but in return she was in love with someone else. The boy tries to maintain his emotions but when he spots them being affectionate he goes into a depression that leads him to his death.

There are a few things you can do to create and maintain tension in any piece of writing, such as a short story.

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Match Your Opponents

  • What’s more fun to watch? A game that is 108-15? A game that is 13-15?
  • Create the kind of match that you readers will want to stay in triple overtime in pouring rain to see finalized because the sides are evenly matched
  • You want your readers to ask: Who is going to win?
  • You want your readers to ask: How are they going to get from where they are now to that win?

Notice how evenly matched the two conflicting characters are in the following excerpt from a short story:

They are rushing Rosalyn and Deandre back to the emergency room.

Scurrrr!  Deandre parks the car in the Emergency express lane, almost ramming the car into the curve.  He runs over to help Rosalyn out of the car.  Almost busting his head from almost falling on the ice in front of the car,  He opens the door.  “Okay babe. We are here.  Let’s get you inside.  Are you sure you don’t want your coat it’s freezing out here?” he says to Rosalyn.  Contraction.  “No. Just get me into the flippin’ hospital!” says Rosalyn.  I’m sorry baby I didn’t mean to yell at you. I am just in a lot of pain.  I am probably going to be yelling at you the rest of the night.” says Rosalyn.  The nurses come outside with the gurney trying to help Rosalyn get onto it.  “It’s okay babe.  I already knew this was going to happen.” Deandre replies while helping her onto the gurney.  The doors burst open.  People moving to the side as the gurney gets closer to them, like the parting of the Red Sea.  Rosalyn says to Deandre, “Hey babe.  Do you think you can get me an apple?  I am really craving an apple.”  “Babe, aren’t you allergic to apples?” Deandre replies.  The emergency crew gets to the room and immediately get her to a bed.    .

“Now my children.” says God.

“I am leaving you here to tend this here garden.  You may live off of the land, drink the water from the river, and eat the fruits and vegetables off of all of the plants.  However, you may not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil or else you will die.  Now my children, I must leave.  I will return in a couple of days to see how both of you are doing.  And remember!  You may not eat any of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Lightning struck across the sky, God left, and the Earth was calm.  The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a simple apple tree in the center of the garden of Eden.  Although the tree was not the grandest tree of the garden, the tree was most certainly the most appealing to the stomach.  Thanks to the tree’s natural array of beautiful red and green apples, not to mention the ambrosial, delectable smell.

Adam and Eve did as God told them and tended the garden until dusk.  After a hard day’s work, Adam and Eve fell asleep under a tree on the east side of the garden away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and on the seventh day they rested that night.

The following morning a Serpent slithers to the tree where Adam and Eve are sleeping.  After hearing what God had told Adam and Eve the other day, he decides to persuade them into doing what God told them not to do.  He spots Adam and Eve asleep under the tree on the east side of the garden of Eden.

“Psss!  Psss!  Hey.  Hey you.” says the Serpent.

Eve wakes up from her sleep and sees the Serpent right in front of her.  Eyes are a beating red like

“Who me?” says Eve.

“Yes you Eve.  Good morning!  My name is Lucifer.  I am sorry to have awaken you from your sleep but I must ask you a favor.  Would it be too much to ask you to go get an apple from that tree in the center?  I simply have no arms and legs, so I don’t have the ability to get an apple and I am really hungry.”

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Stay Specific

Generalizations kill tension. Active verbs, specific, concrete nouns, and carefully selected adjectives go a long way towards building and sustaining tension in a story, from the word level. Notice the specifics in the following passage:

 We had to go off the trail, through brambles and trees to find a spot that would not be disturbed. Once we got to the part of the woods where we wanted to bury her, my parents began to take turns shoveling.  In the distance we could hear the faint boom of thunder.  My parents were halfway done digging the grave when it began to sprinkle.  My dad shoveled faster but there was no way we would finish before the storm hit, so my mom, Yoshi and I started back towards the car.  It was quite a long walk and we had to cross over a field to reach the hiking trail.  To make it even more chaotic, Yoshi was terrified of thunderstorms and would not stop whimpering and fighting me to be closer to mom.

The rain began to pour down as we ran past trees dodging prickly bushes.  Yoshi whimpered and moaned.  I wasn’t any too happy either to be running through the wet woods, trying to catch up with my mom.  The two of us fought to get closer to her, Yoshi knocking me into thorns and brambles.  I felt little drops of blood oozing down my bare calves, but I could not stop to inspect them. Yoshi and I continued to struggle as we came out of the woods.

By the time we made it to the field, my clothes and hair were drenched, and I began to shiver.  To reach the trail we had to make it over an upward slope in the soybean field.  The rain had turned the dirt to wet, slippery mud, making our task even more daunting. I kept sliding down the hill, covering my legs with brown slime. Yoshi and my mom were also struggling. I pulled on her shirt, trying to rely on her strength to support me, but it simply brought us both down into the mud.

Lightning struck a little ways away making me jump. I had heard about people out in fields being electrocuted and I was worried that was what was going to happen to us.  I continued to grab onto my mom for support as we slowly made our way up the slope, and Yoshi kept trying to get in between us.

“Stop grabbing onto me!” my mom yelled at me. “You’re pulling us all down!”

I let go crying, “But I can’t make it!”

Stressed with the responsibility of looking after both Yoshi and I, she reassured me and grabbed my arm pulling me up the slope.   Slowly we made our way up to the top, our shoes, socks, and feet all soaked.

Eventually we got to the trail, continuing to run for the parking lot and our car.  By the time we got to the car I was exhausted and out of breath.  My mom, Yoshi and I jumped in and breathed a sigh of relief. Yoshi panted and sat on top of me while Mom  drove on the trail to where we had decided we would pick up my dad.  He wasn’t long getting there. After he had quickly finished burying Sadie, he had put down the grave marker and ran to meet us. He had made the marker the night before, with Sadie’s name and the date she died.

We had neglected to put towels, or anything else to dry ourselves with in the car so I was shivering all the way back to St. Louis.  My legs were covered in cuts from the bushes in the woods and continued to bleed on the way back as well.  Because of the storm, we had not had much chance to do a “proper” funeral ceremony; mom and I had merely said goodbye.

A few years later we would journey to the same woods to bury Yoshi.  We searched for half an hour trying to remember exactly where we had buried Sadie. Just as my dad had given up and starting digging a new grave, my mom wandered away and yelled, “I found it!” There was Sadie’s grave marker, half hidden under leaves. We dug down right next to the marker and buried Yoshi beside his old friend and nemesis.

After Sadie died, Yoshi gradually began to adopt many of her chief characteristics.  Some of these were her love of vegetables, but more importantly her regal attitude.  He was now the spoiled king of the household.  He had gone from poor defenceless puppy to fierce little prince. He was never quite as pushy or demanding as Sadie, but now he knew how to get what he wanted from us. Perhaps living with Sadie all those years taught him how to be fierce in his own way.  Looking back, I believe she may have had the same effect on me.

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Vary the Tension Levels

“Tension is ups and downs, back and forth, tension and the release of tension. This up-and-down is the rhythm of creative writing. Change appeals to our basic need for stimulation. Don’t let your reader adapt. Once she gets the emotional tenor of one line, you have to change it up again. Be thoughtfully unpredictable. Don’t let your piece remain at the same tension level for long.” – Heather Sellers, The Practice of Creative Writing

Notice how the previous passage also varied tension levels:

  • On a scale of 1-5, the first paragraph is about a 4, a family caught in a thunderstorm heading into the woods with a dead dog’s body
  • Second paragraph is maybe a 3, we’re used to being in the rain in the woods at this points, recognize that the character’s aren’t in immediate danger
  • Third paragraph is about remains at a 3/4, the family is in a chaotic situation in the rain
  • Then they reach the car, the tension level drops to maybe a 2.5
  • Then the last paragraph is a summary image looking back, tension drops to maybe a 2 or a 1.5

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Layer Dialogue with Action

“In order to sustain tension in dialogue, it’s useful to remember that dialogue never occurs outside of human action. When we speak, we use our full body, our face moves around, and our arms and gestures and habits punctuate our phrases. We interrupt, we slam the book on the table, we cross our arms, we roll our eyes, scoot our chair back, stroke the arm of our partner – all that is part of the conversation. Dialogue can’t be separated from action, and so action is automatically a crucial part of what is said.” — Heather Sellers, The Practice of Creative Writing

Notice how the following writer layers dialogue with action:

Well, I don’t know how, but I managed to fall asleep and was awakened the next morning by bustling in the halls outside my room — mom and dad loudly chatting while making breakfast, my brother and sister arguing about who will use the bathroom first. A typical morning in our household. I look at my clock, 8:30 am was the time. Good thing today is Saturday; otherwise I’d be screwed, I think to myself while stretching. Then I’m reminded of the events that ensued the night before. I shrug my shoulders and brush the memory off with it was just a dream. I look into the mirror that is parallel to my bed, at my disheveled self. Who would want to peep in on THIS, anyway? I finally got up from my bed and walked over to my computer. Let’s play some morning jams, I thought, but then that feeling came back, and I quickly turn around. Nothing. “Ugh,I need to go wash my face.” I exited my room, to see that Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb were still going at it outside of the bathroom. “Move you roaches!” I said, while shoving them away from the entrance. “Hey, no fair Amelia! Let me in,” Jana shouted from outside the door. Mark had given up, and after a while, she followed suit. I looked into the mirror again before I closed my eyes and splashed cold water on my face. It heightened my senses, and I felt as though I wasn’t alone in the bathroom. But I couldn’t open my eyes — my face was covered in soap, potentially blinding soap. Was it worth the risk? Quickly splashing water onto my face, clearing the soap from my eyes, my lids abruptly popped open, barely catching a glimpse of more than one reflection. “Maybe I got some soap in my eyes…..or I’m going crazy?” I rinsed off what’s left of the facial cleanser, and rushed out of the bathroom. Things were starting to get freaky.

I walked downstairs to where all the commotion was: the kitchen. There I found Mark and Jana back at it again, this time fighting for the largest pancake. In doing so, they knocked the entire plate on the floor. I suddenly lost my appetite. “HEY, you’re gonna eat those!!” mom shouted. Dad wasn’t paying them any attention. I retreated back up the stairs to my room. Closing the door behind me, I scrolled through my Spotify playlist and chose a song. I threw myself onto the bed. Now sprawled out and laying on my back, I heard a light tapping sound coming from the window. As usual, there was nothing there. So I molded myself back into the mattress and closed my eyes to feel the music. I was startled out of my trance by an unfamiliar voice that said “cool song…” Relaxation time was officially over….Why even try at this point? I decided to go for a morning walk, to clear my thoughts and alleviate myself of whatever it is that I’m going through. “Well, isn’t this a beautiful morning? The sun is high in the sky, the birds are chirping, and no little demons (children) in sight. Perfect!” I listened to the sounds of my footsteps against the pavement and soaked in the scenery. Gentle breezes made the leaves rustle in the trees and calmness washed over me, that is, until I heard echoing footsteps. I assumed that it was either my brother or my sister messing with me, so I didn’t feel any urgency to turn around. Instead, I began to walk faster, and my stalker picked up speed. Getting more and more agitated by the second, I came to a halt, turning sharply on the balls of my feet. There was someone there, but it wasn’t Mark or Jana. I didn’t know who this guy was; I’ve never seen him a day in my life. I glared at him, and the stranger wore a look of confusion. “Hey! You!” He looked around as if we weren’t the only people out there, “Yeah, I’m talking to you! Why are you following me,huh?!”.Now with a bewildered expression, he said to me, “What? I’m not following you.” Thick with sarcasm, I responded, “Oh, so it was just a coincidence that you were trying to keep up with me?” “…..Maybe?” I sighed heavily, utterly done with this day that had just begun, and this guy that I had just met. “Dude, are you lost? I haven’t seen you around before. Are you new to the area? If that’s the case, all you had to do was ask me for help, instead of being a creeper.” “Well, okay. Do you mind showing me around?” I decided that I had nothing better to do than to tell him to follow me. It was now 9:30 am. This was gonna be a long day.



Imagery in Short Stories

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In this recent post on Anton Chekhov, we shared a maxim of the short story master:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

This is called imagery. And as Chekhov suggests, it’s just as important in prose writing as it is in poetry. Here is an introduction to implementing the principle of imagery, coupled with moments of imagery mastery from the short story writers of GCAA:

  • Reading Is Image Viewing

Anytime you read something, a moving picture plays out before your eyes, however subtle. Some people find themselves attaching familiar, real-world locations and faces to the unfamiliar worlds they encounter in books; others concoct their own imagined worlds as they read through a text. Next time you read something, try slowing down and noticing what you see. For example, what do you see in your mind’s eye as you read this image-rich part of one student’s short story?

Both Shelly and Basil were driving together in their red, shiny, droptop Ford. The country wind blowing through their hair. They were excited to be on vacation, but it was a point in their excitement where their conversation of enticement and spectacle had come to an end and settled into a silent melancholy smile that they both wore. Their father had just bought them a house in the hills of North Carolina where they used to go as a family when their mother was still alive. Hiking, swimming, fishing, cave diving, the whole nine yards. The outdoors was a passion both of the sisters shared. They haven’t been in the mountains since their mom died and their father remarried. They couldn’t take trips like this anymore because their father’s new wife and her kids didn’t enjoy the outdoors like Shelly and Basil. The kids of their Father was more interested in disney world and other consumer directed attractions. Shelly and Basil weren’t upset by this like others would be. By the time their father remarried they both were already on their way to college and were more focused on their careers rather than vacations. Their Father bought them the house as a late graduation gift for the both of them so they could enjoy some time together away from the rest of the family.

  • Images Are the Opposite of Thought

“Show, don’t tell” is a cliché of creative writing teachers. But like most clichés, it’s true and it serves a purpose. This is a thought that tells: “Dominique wanted some ice cream.” This is an image that shows: “As Dominique passed the cold, silver barrels, a rainbow of creamy concoctions, her stomach did somersaults and her eyes dilated in a fit of desire.” Often revising our short stories is a process of translating thoughts (boring) into images (exciting). Read this image-rich section of one student’s short story:

It is not very nice to die surrounded by white walls, while someone sticks a needle into you.  But it would have been far more painful for Sadie to live another day, so we watched her go, tears streaming down our faces; little 6 year old me sobbing quietly next to the veterinary table looking on as my dog passed into nothingness.

Sadie’s eyes were hollow, black holes with hardly any life left in them.  She looked as though she were crying, as though she did not want to go.  I licked salty tears from my dry lips whispering “I love you Sadie” over and over again.  She whispered back to me with her eyes saying, “I love you too, I will miss you.”

I missed her too, after she died.  Her fat little piggy body, her flamboyant, prideful strut. She could be a little devil sometimes but boy was she fun to play around with.  Sometimes my dad would hold her front legs up and she would stand up on her back legs and they would dance. She seemed to enjoy it or at least the attention she got.

Now imagine this section of the story written as thoughts instead of images:

I was really sad when my dog Sadie died. Sadie looked pathetic as she was put to sleep. I missed Sadie very much.


  • Use Specifics

A key aspect to creating good images is to use specifics: active verbs, simple but precise, concrete nouns, and simple, sensory adjectives. It’s important to avoid language that sounds flowery or writerly, and instead focus on simple language that precisely captures the five senses. Notice how the specificity of the writers’ word choices enhances the imagery in these selections from student stories:

The sun was beaming down, peaking through the puffy white clouds that float upon the earth’s atmosphere, hitting the bright freshly cut green grass that surrounded the trunk of an oak tree. The shade from the tree was protecting me from the sun beams making the area warm and not too hot. I was there under that tree within the shade leaning against the trunk with my eyes closed thinking. I came to the tree very often to release some stress and gain some peace. The tree was the only area I know of that I knew where I could go to escape away from my “normal” life. Under this tree there were no authority or no negativity, it was all peace.

This is the way it’s always been, it’ll be my turn soon. It’s early morning, the sky is a soft dim grey. The wind takes its frustrations out on the city, hair and scarves are tossed around as it’s beaten by the strong force. Streets are overflowing with traffic, taxis and buses blaring their horns are each other is an everyday routine. The sidewalks a cluttered mess, I weave in and out of people to get to the crosswalk. Tapping my foot impatiently I wait for the signal light to switch over, ironically in a rush to get to the building I’ve hated for the last four years, Russet High. Like most days I am layered in an old tattered sweater, black jeans, and my canvas backpack. The light turns white, my eyes lock on others when walking past them their distinct assigned accessories pop out. An oversized top hat, feather boa,  multi-colored wig are just a few that stand out to me, the rest a blur as I am in a rush. Arriving to the building I open the clean glass doors to dread another day of high school.

  • Smooth Camera Work

In short story writing, it’s important to slide smoothly between backstory images and close up images. Think of a camera panning out and zooming in. Writers have to make those transitions too. If a writer has no close ups, and everything is backstory or written from a distance, the story loses tension. If the writer focuses endlessly on one close up, the camera work starts feeling like security footage – every little detail is captured, including many unimportant details. Notice the smooth camera work between backstory images and close up images in this student’s short story:

A week later, Liam asked me to go to his birthday party at the movies. We were gonna see the last Twilight movie. I was at my grandmother’s theatre production at Harris Stowe theatre. It was dim and dark, just lights on the raked stage, just the cast on the stage and me sitting in the audience. My mom was backstage. Suddenly Liam walked in and asked me if I was ready to go. His brother’s girlfriend had driven him here. My shoulders hunched, my eyes popped, my hands clenched, and I popped up, standing stock still for a good five seconds. “What are you doing here?” I whispered. “Are you ready to go?” he replied. “What are you talking about?” he said. Then it clicked. Oh my gosh, I thought, I forgot to ask. “Well go ask,” he said. So I went and asked. He came with me. Mom was ironing her costume that she was going to wear for the show. Her afro was thick, full, and curly. We both creeped up. She cocked her eyes, squinted her eyes, and flared her nostrils ever so slightly. “Mom,” I said, “I forgot to ask you. Can I go to Liam’s birthday party?” “Who’s gonna be there? What adult’s gonna be there?” she fired out quickly. “I need details, Taz, I need details…” Liam jumped in. “It’s actually a huge party,” he said calmly, “My whole family’s gonna be there.” She started checking things off the list. “So your mom’s gonna be there?” mom asked. “Yes,” Liam said. “And where is it gonna be at?” she asked. “Ronnie’s,” Liam replied. “What time will she be back?” she asked. “Nine-thirty,” Liam quipped.

From that point on, we started talking on the phone everyday. Because I had my own cell phone, I was able to hide it from my mom. He would call me everyday after school at the same time, after dinner when mom was in her room chilling. Even though he didn’t know I was hiding it from my mom, he seemed to had always called at the perfect time when my mom wasn’t around. Every time we talked we explored something new about each other.

How Can I Get Better at Imagery?

Honing your imagery skills is an ongoing part of developing your writing skills. Here are three exercises from The Practice of Creative Writing by Heather Sellers to practice getting better at imagery:

  1. “Break the rules. Write a piece that is all thoughts, commentary, no images. How do you engage, transport the reader?”
  1. “Take an image from any previous piece of writing and extend it, moving in closer with your camera, and slowing time down, so that you expand this single moment, this glimpse, into five pages of prose or twenty lines of poetry.”
  1. “Choose from your own collection of photographs, a few photos of the same person, someone you are close to, at different points in life. Write paragraph sections inspired by the images in the photographs, very directly, as well as images from your life with this person. Avoid thoughts!”