Young women have established themselves as the future writers of their generations during the inaugural Coachella Valley Repertory (CVRep) 2020 Student Writing Competition.
Female students from both the middle school and high school categories garnered the top three place finishings, earning cash prizes from $100 to $500.
Participants were tasked with submitting a monologue, short story, scene or other creative writing piece during the entry period of May 15 until July 30. Forty students took part in the competition.
Writing submissions were judged by Georgeana Mimms, a distinguished member of the CVRep Conservatory faculty, author Hal Gershowitz (Remember This Dream, Heirs of Eden), and retired journalist Bruce Fessier (The Desert Sun).
Students in public, a private or home school setting were eligible and were categorized by their age. Category 1 – ages 11 and 12 ; Category 2 – ages 13 to 15, and Category 3 – ages 16 to 18.
During the virtual awards ceremony, plaques and cash prizes were awarded to three winners in each category: $500 for first place, $25 for second, and $100 for third.
CVRep executive board member Peggy Jacobs envisioned and sponsored the contest, which was designed to inspire the Coachella Valley’s future authors and playwrights to submit their creative best.
Below are the first through third winning entries in each category.
Category I: ages 11 and 12
FIRST PLACE: Holly Trubee, Palm Desert Charter Middle School
On the bus to Celima Bay, Paige nervously tapped her feet. It was her first time going to a summer camp and she didn't feel prepared at all. The bus was driving closer to the camp, where Paige could see a large blue lake. Soon the bus rolled past an arch that had the words "Camp Celima" carved into it.
The excited voices of kids on the bus surrounded her. Counselors waved towards them as they veered towards the wooden cabins. The campers exited the bus and stepped onto the ground covered in twigs. Then, they entered the registration area. A long line formed, which Paige seemed to be at the end of. After a while, she walked up to the small table where the owner of the camp sat.
"Name?" the middle-aged woman with dark brown hair asked. "Paige Eastin," she responded timidly.
"You're in Fox Cabin. It's over there," she said, pointing at a large cabin to her left.
Paige slowly walked toward the cabin, each footstep echoing in her head. The door made the name of the cabin clear, with "Fox Cabin" gently marked in the wood. She opened the door and stepped inside. Two girls which Paige guessed were around her age sat inside on the beds. One had dark, curly hair and the other light blonde.
"Hi!" said the dark haired girl. "Hi," Paige responded.
"I'm Izzie and this is Lane," she said as Lane waved to her. "I'm Paige."
"Welcome to Fox Cabin. I've been in this cabin for two years already. Our counselors, Jane and Avery, should be here soon."
"Okay," Paige responded, setting her stuff down on the last empty bed. "I love your bag!" Izzie exclaimed.
"Oh, thanks," she replied, glancing down at her black and white bag.
"I'm so excited for summer camp this year! On the first day, we have hot dogs and smores by the fire pit," Izzie said, overjoyed. "I'm excited for all the camp activities. The pamphlet said there's going to be horseback riding and swimming:'
"There'll be plenty of time for those activities later," said a friendly voice from behind them. Paige looked over to see a tall, blonde girl who was a few years older than them. Paige guessed that she was one of the counselors.
"Today is all about settling in and getting to know each other:' she added.
''I'm Avery, by the way. I'm the head counselor of Fox Cabin. This is Jane," she said pointing to a brown-haired girl next to her. "She's our counselor-in-training. What are your names?"
"I'm Lane," a quiet voice said from next to her.
"Nice to meet you all!" she said, smiling. "These three weeks are going to be great!"
The bright blue sky slowly faded into a pink, signaling that it was time for dinner. Avery led the girls outside to the center of the camp where there was a fire pit. There were cozy, blue chairs surrounding it. The girls from Fox Cabin took their food and joined them.
Three girls from a few seats over stared at them and whispered to each other, pointing at Izzie, Lane, and Paige.
"Who's that?" Paige asked Izzie. "Butterfly Cabin," she groaned. "They're snobs who think they're better than everyone else," zzie said viciously, making sure the girls had heard her.
The girls glared at her and sat in different seats, farther away from them. "Are they always that mean?'' Paige asked her.
"Yeah. They won't cause too much trouble, though. They just gossip about other people," Izzie rolled her eyes.
Paige took a marshmallow from a bag that the counselors had provided and put it on one of the sticks. She placed it into the fire and started to roast it until it turned golden-brown.
"Camp here is really fun. You're going to love it," Izzie told Paige before babbling on about her favorite activities at camp, describing each with a new energy.
When it was finally time for bed, the three girls snuggled into their warm blankets and drifted off to sleep. Paige did not sleep at first. Instead, she reflected on her first day at camp. She decided that it had been a good day, and finally went to sleep. Before the sun was entirely in the sky, the girls were awoken by Avery. She informed them extra loudly that there was a scavenger hunt soon, to get to know their fellow campers. Paige groaned as she tossed her thick covers off of her. She got dressed in a tank top and shorts and joined the rest of her cabin outside. Avery and Jane, along with the rest of the counselors stood on top of the small wooden stage with a megaphone.
"Okay, campers," Avery said through the megaphone. "Each cabin will be given a list of things to find inside the camp. Each camper must participate and try to find their cabin's item on the list. When you find it, bring it back to us. The first group to give us their item wins an extra smore at the next campfire. When I say go, each team will go to their cabin, find their list, and look for the items."
"We've got this, guys," Izzie said enthusiastically. "Ready, set, go!" Avery called.
The girls raced back to their cabin to find a slip of paper taped to the window. Izzie pulled it off and read it .
"What does it say?" Paige asked anxiously, shifting her weight between her feet.
"It says, 'There are five flags hidden within the campground; orange for Fox Cabin, yellow for Bumblebee Cabin, green for Snake Cabin, blue for Bluebird Cabin, and purple for Butterfly Cabin:"
"Okay, so all we need to do is find our flag and bring it back to Avery," Paige responded. "That should be easy," Lane agreed.
"Let's go!" Izzie exclaimed, before folding the list and putting it in her pocket.
The three girls raced across camp, searching in every possible place for their orange flag. They seemed to find other flags from different cabins, but not their own. When the girls were finally tired from running around, they sat down on a large rock that was settled neatly within the dense forest and caught their breath.
"I have no idea where our flag is," Izzie began between breaths. "We've checked the cafeteria, the game room, and by the pool."
"Maybe we missed it when we were running," Lane said hopefully.
While the two girls talked, Paige stared past them, into the large bushy trees. She noticed something orange standing out between the shades of green at the top of a tree and immediately knew what it was.
"Guys! I found our flag!" Paige exclaimed, pointing at the tree.
"Good job!" Izzie cheered before running to the tree. She tried to jump up and grab it, but each of the girls was too short.
"What do we do?" Lane asked quietly.
"I don't know." Paige responded nervously. "One of us could climb it." Izzie stated.
"I don't know..." Lane began. "It looks kind of high."
"Lane's right. It's too dangerous," Paige agreed. ''I'll climb it, then," Izzie suggested calmly.
"Are sure?" Lane asked timidly, but was unheard by Izzie, who was already climbing the tree.
She pulled herself up with branches, not noticing the large distance between her and the ground. She finally reached the top and grabbed the flag. She looked down at her friends, waving the flag.
"All right. Come down now," Lane said nervously. "I'll be fine, Lane." Izzie climbed down the tree, not as carefully as Lane had hoped. When she was about eight feet from the ground, she lost her footing and slipped down from the tree, screaming and flailing her limbs wildly the whole way down. When she finally hit the ground, Paige and Lane rushed over to her.
"Are you okay?" Paige asked anxiously. "I'm fine, but my ankle really hurts. I think it might be sprained," she groaned, gripping the flag tightly in her hand.
"Someone should take the flag back," Lane suggested. ''I'll do it," Paige said. Izzie handed her the flag. Paige ran off, determined to be the winning cabin. When she finally reached the counselors, she approached one with red hair and showed her the flag.
"We found the flag," she said while panting. "You're in Fox Cabin, right?" the counselor asked.
"Where are your cabin-mates?" "Oh, they aren't here. They- I'm sorry. In order to win, all of the campers in the cabin must turn in the flag together."
Paige opened her mouth furiously to complain, then decided to find Izzie and Lane instead.
When she found them, they asked why she still had the flag. She told them what the counselor had told her. Lane and Paige helped Izzie limp back to the counselors. When they finally reached them, they found that all the other cabins were already back.
"Okay, everyone. The winners are Butterfly Cabin!" Avery announced on her megaphone.
The girls from Butterfly Cabin cheered loudly, which annoyed them. Butterfly Cabin shot them dirty looks as the counselors congratulated them.
When the girls were back in their cabin, they told Jane and Avery what happened. Avery escorted Izzie to the nurse while Jane stayed with Paige and Lane.
"It really wasn't fair! Izzie was hurt, so she couldn't walk there!" Paige complained.
"Sorry guys, it's camp rules." Jane told them.
"There's nothing we can do now," Lane moped. "Yeah, I guess you're right," Paige agreed.
After a while, Izzie and Avery walked inside the cabin. Izzie had a small cast on her leg and a few scratches.
"She's going to be in a cast for a week or two," Avery informed the girls as Izzie sat down in a comfortable lounge chair. The girls didn't even speak , but only looked at their feet.
The sun slowly set, so the girls headed off to dinner. Izzie walked slowly because of her cast. Later, Paige sifted through her mashed potatoes with her spark, not eating any of it.
"It's not that bad," Izzie said optimistically. "At least I didn't break any bones."
"You're right, Izzie," Paige said with a smile. "There's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves."
Lane, Paige, and Izzie sleepily returned to their beds. "Okay, everyone. We're going to tell you a scary story." Avery told them before sitting down on her bed.
She shined a flashlight below her face and spoke in a low voice as she told the story. "Once upon a time," she began in a slow, menacing voice, "there was a man named Woody Stokes. Woody was a lumberjack. Every day he would cut down trees. One day, Woody was hired to cut down trees to build Camp Celima Bay. Unfortunately for him, it was the foggiest day of the year. Woody could barely see anything. He swung his axe, but didn't hit the tree. He hit his hand!"
Avery yelled, making the three girls scream.
"Unfortunately for him, he was standing right next to the lake, so when his tragic accident occurred, he fell right into the lake and drowned. People went searching for him, but his body was never found."
Avery took a dramatic pause. "Now every time there's a fog at this camp, you may hear Woody's scream echoing through the forest to get revenge at Camp Celima."
Paige pulled the covers close to her face, trying not to scream. "Good night," Avery said.
Paige lay down in bed for an hour, but couldn't fall asleep. She thought she was being a baby for being scared of a silly story, but she noticed that Lane and lzzie had not fallen asleep yet. Instead, their eyes lay open and flickered across the room. At last, her thoughts slowed and the fright that once kept her up turned into a peaceful sleep.
As Paige slowly opened her eyes to a new day at camp, she noticed that the two larger beds that belonged to her counselors were empty, the blankets tossed to the side. Paige anxiously woke Izzie and Lane up. They escaped their beds, wondering what
"Where do you think they are?" Lane asked with wide eyes. "I don't know," Izzie shook her head.
"We should look for them," Paige suggested. The other girls agreed. They set off and searched the camp in hopes of finding their counselors.
The girls checked other cabins, but couldn't find their counselors. They checked the lake, the pool, the cafeteria and everywhere else they could think of, but couldn't find Jane and Avery.
At last, the girls returned to their cabin, feeling hopeless. "Where could they be?" Lane asked with wide eyes.
"Maybe they were kidnapped or something," Izzie said quietly. The group sat inside the cabin, wondering what to do. Finally, they decided to look for them elsewhere.
As they opened the cabin door, they found white smoke-like fog entering the cabin. They stepped back and screamed as a tall man walked inside. He wore a long blue coat, He looked odd, but she couldn't see any details behind the long hood he wore. Paige looked at his short arms, and saw that he was missing a hand. She pointed it out to her friends, causing them all to scream.
The group screamed so loud that their throats became sore. The man stepped closer and closer, reaching his only hand out menacingly. Then the man started to laugh. But the laugh didn't sound like it was coming from an old man, it sounded like a giggle from a teenage girl.
Paige flicked the lights on, revealing Woody as a girl with long blonde hair. "Avery?" Izzie exclaimed.
The man that they thought was Woody was really Avery. Jane entered the room, laughing. "What's going on?" Paige asked angrily.
"It's just a prank! There's no Woody Stokes!" Avery cried, laughing hysterically.
"But, what about the fog?" Thomas asked.
"We used a fog machine," Jane told them, between giggles. The three girls sat down on their beds and sulked.
"Don't feel bad," Avery told them. "Our counselors pulled the same prank on us one year." Although Avery comforted them, they were still upset.
"I hate being tricked," Izzie told them, her arms crossed. "Me too," Paige agreed.
Days passed and their glumness went away. They took part in camp activities, such as horseback riding and swimming, which Paige was exceptionally excited about. Another day drifted into dawn. Paige was full from a nice dinner of mac and cheese, which was her favorite.
When it was nighttime, the girls got ready for bed. Paige slipped into her striped pajamas and settled into bed.
"Where are Jane and Avery?'' Lane asked.
"They're coming back from dinner. They had to help clean up," Izzie said.
''I'm so tired," Paige said. "Let's just go to sleep:'
"Goodnight," Lane murmured, as she flicked off the lights.
As Paige shut her eyes, she heard a loud, blood curdling scream from outside. "Did you hear that?" she asked her friends.
They both nodded, looking frightened.
"I bet they're just pranking us again," Izzie pointed out matter-of-factly.
They exited the cabin and stepped into a thick fog that was surrounding the camp. It creeped out from the large, foreboding lake.
"Ha ha," Paige called out sarcastically. "We know it's just a fog machine."
The girls walked further into the camp. Paige couldn't see in front of her, so she tripped on something and fell into the dirt. When she got up, she brushed the dirt off and glanced at her feet. She found that she had tripped on the fog machine.
"See, I told you they were pranking us," Izzie scowled, before noticing that Paige was staring at the fog machine, which sat close to her feet. Paige's face was pale with shock.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"It's unplugged," Paige uttered in a hushed voice.
"Let's go back to the cabin," Lane whispered, her voice breaking. "I don't like this."
Then, a dark shadow emerged from the misty fog and came towards them.
"Who is that?" Lane asked, fearfully, taking a step back.
"Do you think it's-" Paige began. As if Izzie read her mind, she interrupted her. "No. It can't be Woody. He's made up, remember?" lzzie told her.
The girls slowly stepped back, but the man had gotten too close to them. They were frozen in shock. His face was gray and he had a long white beard . The dark glint in his eyes seemed to stare at the girls. Paige looked at his side and saw that there was a stump where his hand should be. His wrinkled, grey face, curled into a smile. Paige had a feeling that this wasn't a prank.
"W -who are you?" Paige asked in a hushed voice.
"I am Woody Stokes and I'm here for my revenge."
SECOND PLACE: Cidni Hordista, Palm Desert Charter Middle School
My day was off to such a great start. Kind of. I woke up to see fluffy hair rolling over my face and a really slimy tongue. What a great wake up call. My dog Benjie licks my face trying to wake me up. He pants with his huge doggy eyes as if he's trying to say hurry up so I can eat. I get up and walk over to my closet which looks like it's been hit by a tornado. I throw some clothes onto my bed so I can choose, not really caring if they were dirty or not. I ended up choosing a plain black tee with a pair of jeans. I run over to my bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. Uh, I look horrible. My olived colored skin really deserved a relaxing, soothing bath and my brown hair really needed to get combed. I quickly changed into my outfit, grabbed my backpack and ran downstairs.
When I got down, I saw my dad flipping pancakes like a professional. His pancakes are the best.
"Good Morning KK!" He greets. He quickly finishes off the pancakes and sets them on plates. "Breakfast is served, your highness."
He says as he makes a gesture with his hands, as if he were a waiter. I laugh. He gives me a hug and passes me some orange juice. I look up to see my mom coming downstairs in her work outfit with a box.
"Good morning Kalani," she says. "Good morning mom."
" So, your mom and I have a little early birthday surprise for you that we want you to open right now," dad announced.
"Now? Why not wait for tomorrow?" I ask.
"Well, we've been waiting for you to open it for a very long time and I think it's best for you to have it right now." mom says. I look at them suspiciously. My mom hands me the golden box she was holding.
"Here, open it." mom said. I tear open the box and pull out 2 pieces of rectangle shaped paper.
"Wait, are these the tickets to your show tomorrow?" I shriek. "Yes, they are," mom says.
"Their front row seats so you can watch me up close. There's an extra one if you wanted to invite Bianca too," dad explains. I run over to them and give them one big hug. "Thanks," I said.
Our hug was disrupted by a set of heavy footsteps and loud yawning. I turn to see my brother Daven, walking down the staricase. He looked like he just had the craziest sleep ever. His long brown hair covering his face with bags under his eyes.
"What just happened?" he asked.
"Daven, don't tell me you stayed up watching Netflix again," mom questioned. I try to keep my laugh in. He looked ridiculous.
"Well, I did. It was worth it. I finally got to watch the last season of-"
"Okay, I don't care. Just, get some more sleep next time. Last time I checked, responsible football players don't stay up all night watching TV," mom interrupted. My dad walks over to him and rummages through his hair.
"Good morning champ, get some breakfast." He hands Daven his plate and grabs a glass of orange juice for him too. We all have a seat at the table and dive into our pancakes. Just when we were having a great time, mom stands up and takes her dish over to the sink.
"Sorry, I have a meeting in 20 minutes, I better get going," she explains. She gives us each a hug and walks over to the door.
"Wait, mom, are you going to come to the concert too?" I ask. She looks at me
"I'm sorry Kaylen, I have a meeting at that time and your dad got 2 tickets only anyway. We can spend time before the concert if I have time." She grabs the keys and walks out of the house.
"Does she ever have any time to do anything else?," I complain.
"KK, your mom is a very busy woman. She has a company to run 24/7 and I have shows and concerts. Your mom and I are really busy. You have to understand that KK. But look on the bright side, you're invited to my concert so we get to spend some more time together!"
I was supposed to feel excited because it's like a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I didn't really feel that excited. It's always mom with her meetings, dad with his shows, and Daven with his football games. I got up and threw away my leftover pancakes, which I didn't feel like finishing anymore, and packed my lunch. I didn't want to go overload with my lunch today because they were serving slushies today at school since it was friday. Middle school food is 100 times better than elementary school's food.
"By the way Kalani, Daven's driving you to school today," he holds up his finger, telling me to wait before I start rambling how annoying Daven is when he's driving," he needs to be at the high school early for football practice so he's just going to drive you instead. I have to get to the set to continue rehearsal." he explains.
I jab my lunch in my bag and attempt to wait calmly at the couch. I look around at the house. It's white plastered walls and ceilings, its modern furniture scattered across the tiled floors. The grand staircase with the golden chandelier hanging. I wanted it to fall on me. Maybe that would make my mom pay more attention to me. My dad bought this house for us on my parents' 13th wedding anniversary a few months ago. All my mom got for him was this bracelet that had our last name Luthor embroidered onto it. It was pretty, but obviously not as big as dad's gift. I was really hoping for a change in my family once we moved in. Do the things normal families would do like cook in the kitchen, or play outside, or maybe even stay up all night watching movies together. My thoughts were interrupted by Daven's yelling.
"Come on Kaylen, we better get going. I'm going to be late for practice because of you." he says.
"Well, I really hope you do," I muttered. We said bye to my dad and climbed into his car. It smells like sweat. Disgusting.
"Please clean up your car," I pleaded. He looks at me as if I told him to clean up all the plastic in the ocean. I roll my eyes. He backs up out of the garage, bumping into the trash bins.
"Wow, you're the best driver ever," I say sarcastically.
"Hey, I just got my license, okay? Chill out, it's going to be fine. This thing can handle anything." Mom got him a white Audi for his birthday last week and he already scratched it from hitting a pole.
Yeah right, I thought.
We arrive at my school and he pulls into the drop area where I see Bianca waiting for me at a tree.
"Thanks," I said. He nods and quickly drives out of the parking lot . I ran over to Bianca.
"Hey Kalani!" She greets me with a hug and we start walking towards our first
"I got some really exciting news!" I announce.
"Really? That's something. What is it?" I stuff my hand into the side pocket of my bag and pull out the tickets. I hand them to her and her eyes widen with shock.
"Oh my gosh, tickets to your dad's concert? Wait, are you inviting me?" I nod in reply.
"Oh my gosh, I don't know what to say. Everyone is going to be so jealous of us," she says. I laugh at her.
"Well, it's my dad. So obviously they won't be that surprised. But the tickets cost a fortune too," I explain. The final bell rang and we went to our first class. "This is the best birthday present ever," she said.
The day went by really quickly, with Bianca and I sipping our berry slushies like we were on the beach or something. For some reason, a lot of the kids knew it was my birthday and they gave me gifts. At the end of the day, my dad picked us up since he got released early after his rehearsal for the concert.
"Hey Bianca, Hey KK," he greeted. "Hey Dad, can we stop by the mall real quick?" I pleaded. He looked at me with concern.
"I know, but me and Bianca don't have anything to wear to the concert and we really want to wear something good. Please?" I looked at Bianca for support. She just shrugged.
"Don't look at me, I'm not the one asking," she said. I looked back at dad.
"Fine," he sighed, "But I'll pick you up in about two hours, okay?" I smiled.
"Okay." In just a few minutes, we were already in the parking lot. We climbed out of the car and ran through the doors like we owned the place. There were people holding bags, walking with their kids, and having coffee. I wish that was my family.
"Hey, you okay?" Bianca asked.
"Yeah, I'm okay," I replied, "Maybe we should stop by Macy's, or maybe Urban outfitters, or maybe Pacsun! Oh, maybe we can stop by Nordstrom, I heard they are having a sale. I also have a gift card for-"
"Wow girl, slow down, slow down. One store at a time," Bianca interrupted. She grabbed my hand and we ran into Nordstrom like two teenagers, waiting to tire out their arms with shopping bags.
By 4:00, me and Bianca had at least a dozen bags. My dad pulled up in his Range Rover and looked at us with his eyes open. We quickly piled up into the car.
"So, I'm guessing those are not all for the concert," he said. "Well, we stopped by a few stores just for fun." I said.
We drove back home while my dad was on a call with his boss about the whole concert set-up tomorrow, so we couldn't really talk to him about anything.
When we got home, my mom got home early from work cooking our dinner. That's surprising. "Hey mom," I greeted.
"Hey KK, dinner's going to be ready in a few minutes. Bianca, do you want to call your mom and tell her that you're at our house already?" she asks.
"Sure, I'll call her." We ran up the stairs, passing by Daven's room which smelled like dirty socks. We trample into my room and quickly start trying on our clothes that we bought. It took us over half an hour just to try on all of our clothes. My mom finally called us down for dinner. She made the only thing she could actually cook which was pasta and chicken. I decided not to eat downstairs just for tonight since Bianca was over, so we ate in my room while watching Outer Banks on Netflix.
By 11:00 pm, we were so tired from such a long, exhausting day. We sneaked out of my bedroom window to look out at the stars. Bianca wanted to become an astronomer when she grew up. She's always telling me about all the constellations and different stars in the universe. As for me, I don't know what I'm going to be yet. I never really thought about it. Maybe something like my dad, or run a business like my mom.
I glanced at Bianca and saw that she was crying. I've never seen Bianca cry. She was always the tough girl.
"Hey, you okay? What's wrong?" I asked. I rubbed her back to try and comfort her.
"Um, kind of. I was thinking about when my dad died. It was the worst thing that ever happened. I didn't have anyone to rely on for help, or for love and comfort. I wanted to crawl up into a hole and stay there forever. But I knew my dad didn't want me to give up. So I come out here and look up at the stars, hoping that he's watching his little girl, trying to become like him." she sobbed. I couldn't help myself but cry. I always get so emotional when someone tells me about their life.
"But I've dealt with it," she said grabbing my hand, "I just want you to know, spend as much time with your family as you can." She walked back inside, and threw her blanket over her body, and let her head sink into her pillow. I walked over to my bed and glanced at a picture of my family on my nightstand. We were at Disneyland for my 6th birthday. I set it down, climbed into my bed, and cried myself to sleep, just thinking about what Bianca said.
The next morning at 11, I was awoken by Bianca, who was already dressed in her outfit, fixed hair, and looked stunning. Gosh, that girl has to teach me her ways. She helped me get ready since we didn't want to be late. I put on my new tie-back green floral blouse that I got from Urban Outfitters and a pair of designer jeans from Nordstorm. I topped it off with my necklace from Pacsun and my Nike air forces. Bianca put my hair up into this high ponytail and slapped on a light face of make-up. I looked in my mirror and saw a whole different person. Maybe Bianca should consider being a make-up artist or a hairdresser when she's older. We ran downstairs to see Daven on the couch eating a bag of chips.
"Wow Kaylen, you look good." he surprisingly said. "Why, thank you," I replied.
"Ha, just kidding," he snickered. "Of course you are."
"Oh, by the way, happy birthday," he said. I looked at Bianca and we laughed. We were so busy we forgot it was even my birthday!
"Where's mom?" I ask.
"She's at work," he replied, munching on his chips. I sighed. "Oh," I said sadly.
We ran outside to see Bianca's mom waiting for us in the driveway. We scrambled into the car, in such a hurry. This is going to be the best day ever!
A few hours and stops later, we arrived. It was like we were at the Grammy's or something. There were hundreds of people coming to watch. Some people recognized me and asked for a picture. The stage was outdoors, but it was surrounded by a ton of smaller buildings. We thanked Bianca's mom and looked at the line. It probably took up two blocks. We were about to walk over to the end of the line, when a tall black thing blocked us. I looked up to see a muscular looking man, wearing a tux and an earpiece. He looked like those bodyguards in movies.
"Are you Kaylen Luthor and Bianca Vasquez?" He asks in a deep voice.
"Um, yes we are. Who are you?" I ask.
'Tm Frank, your bodyguard. Your dad asked for me to escort you inside. Can I see you tickets?"
"Wait," Bianca interrupted," you mean, you get to protect us from bad people, and people that want pictures with us and get us whatever we want?" He nodded slowly, as if he was considering the last option. I pulled out the tickets from my purse and handed them to him. He scanned them and told us to follow him in. We walked around to the back and saw the whole behind the scenes area. There was a tech crew running around and tons of crew members checking the stage. I saw my dad near the back of the room, getting his hair done. We walked over to him, trying to avoid the frantic crew.
"Hey KK," he said as he gave me a hug, "Here, I got you and Bianca some waffles for breakfast if you're hungry." he passes us plates stacked with waffles topped with syrup.
"Thanks" I replied.
''I'm on in 5 minutes. Maybe Frank can show you to your seats." he nodded to our bodyguard. He walked us through another door, leading to the stage. The seats were filled with people. It was going to be a full house. We sat at our seats which I noticed were different from the rest of the others . They were velvet colored, more cushioned and bigger. Lucky us.
My dad was going to be on any second now. I looked around at the crowd. There were so many people, that others had to stand in the back or just sit on the floor. People were jumping up and down and screaming. My dad walked out on stage and it just got louder. He smiled and waved his hand to silence them.
"Thank you all for coming," he started, "before we start, I just want to say that it's my daughter's 13th birthday and I would like us all to sing for her tonight!" He looked at me and laughed.
My mouth just hung open. Bianca squealed and grabbed my
hand. When they were singing I felt like the whole world was singing for me. It felt so good.
When the song was finished, I climbed up the stage and gave my dad a big hug. "I love you KK," he whispered.
"I love you too dad."
The concert went by really fast. My dad was on his last song called Binded. He wrote it about our family a couple of months ago. We were waving our arms in the air, flowing with the song. By the time, it was done, the crowd went wild, screaming and clapping.
"Thank you, have a good night," he said, then he grabbed the mic stand and walked off stage. The crowd started to part. Bianca's mom texted that she was here to pick her up. We thanked Frank and ran over to the parking lot and saw Bianca's car.
"Thank you so much for a great time, it was the best," she said. I pulled her into a big hug. She climbed into her car and drove off. When I ran back into the stadium, I heard a loud boom. It startled everybody around me. We didn't know what it was, and I just kept running. Suddenly, there was a louder crash nearby. I turned around and saw one of the buildings caught on fire. I ran faster toward the stage. I had to tell dad. But I didn't make it. Because everything went black.
I can't see anything. I can't feel anything. I felt trapped, like I'm being crushed by the whole world. I open my eyes to see people running in all different directions. I couldn't see what was on top of me, but it was big. It was too heavy to push and I was so tired. I try pulling my legs instead of pushing it and they eventually pull free. I'm able to see better. I look down at my legs.
My pants are cut wide open to reveal more than a dozen cuts. I look around to see the stage and the buildings burning. I start to worry if Dad's okay. I want to get up and find him but my whole body is pulling me back with pain shocking through me. I drag myself, trying to avoid the stampede of people. I see bodies everywhere. Some are still struggling. Some completely still. Then, I see him.
He's buried among wooden boards from a collapsed building. I crawl over to him. I shake him to try to see if he's awake. He's still. I try to move him so he's on his back. Burns streaked across his face. Bruises all over his body. A splintered board sliced through his arm.
"Dad," I cried. He doesn't move. I tried again. "Dad, please wake up," I shake him more.
"Dad, are you still here? Dad, you need to get up!" My lungs were screaming.
Finally, his eyes open and he gasps for air.
"Honey, are you okay?" He chokes. I nod in reply, bringing his hands to my cheeks. He tries to get up, but he screams in pain.
"Dad, are you alright? Let's take you outside. Come on we need to go, the building's going to fall. We need to get out of here," I say, fighting back tears.
"I'm sorry, I can't," he mumbles. I shake my head. I try to pull him up but he stops me.
"Honey listen to me, I can't anymore. You need to go, I'll be alright."
"Dad, what are you talking about? Come on, we need to get out of here."
He takes my hands and squeezes them tight. "Please KK, you need to go, okay? Please tell mom and Daven that I love them. I love you with all my heart. I trust you."
I just sit there, confused. Why is he not getting up? "Dad what are you talking about? I-" "You need to go. Here take this" He hands me his bracelet. The bracelet that Mom gave him for their 13th anniversary.
"Dad I can't. I can't lose you. Please hold on." There was another loud boom and the ground started to rumble more. The building started to shake.
"Don't worry about me. Now go." He says, letting go of my hands. And motioning metogo.
"I can't leave you," I cry. Letting my tears roll down my cheeks as he wipes them off. Then, the building starts to fall apart. He grabs my hands once more and whispers,
"Aw, sweetie, I'll always be with you. I know we will see each other soon. In a better place. I love you." He cries. And with that, he lets go.
"Nooo!!" I sobbed. The building was almost completely gone. I run as fast as my legs can take me out of the building and watch in horror as it crashes down. I stared at the bracelet and cried.
"No." I cry "No, this cannot be happening." A set of arms from nowhere grabs me and carries me, away from dad.
"No, my dad's still in there!" I scream as I try to pull his arms off of me.
"I'm sorry, but we need to evacuate this area immediately." He says, as he puts me on a bed and wheels me to a clear area with other people.
The cries for help, the screams of pain, and the sighs of relief all crowd around while I'm wheeled in the ambulance. I'm starting to get out of breath. Then, everything goes black.
When I wake up, I see there are people crying with their families. Some are looking for theirs. I look down at the cuts on my legs which look a little better, but I feel so numb, like all the blood just drained out of my body. Anger, grief, sadness, all boiling up in me. Knowing that the most important person to me, died in my arms.
"Uhhhh," I scream at myself. I spent almost 20 minutes in my closet looking for an outfit. I look around at my dirty closet and just grab this random t-shirt and a pair of leggings to cover up my cuts, which were almost healed.
"This will have to do for now," I say. I look down to see I picked. It's my baby blue tee that Dad gave to me a couple months ago from Pacsun and my favorite black leggings. I try not to cry. It's been three days since the incident. It was a bombing. Thankfully, they found the person who caused it. My mom decided to let me skip school yesterday, but I'm going today. I slip my clothes on, and run to the bathroom to get ready. I comb my hair, and quickly do my morning routine. I go ahead and grab my backpack and run downstairs . I can see my mom in the bathroom getting ready for work.
"Hey mom," I said. I grab an acai bowl, some toast and get to work on my breakfast.
"Hey KK," My mom replies. " I have a meeting in 30 minutes and I can't be late, so Daven is going to drive you." She ran over to the door and grabbed her keys.
"Oh. Okay." I say as I finish up my breakfast and rinse my dishes. I didn't complain since I don't want to stress my mom before she left for work. "It's going to be fine KK, you know. He still needs time to settle in and have time to think about it." she says, trying not to choke up." Well, bye KK, have fun at school today. I love you," she gives me a hug and closes the door behind her. I sigh. Benjie runs over to me and licks my face.
"Aww, little boy. You must be really hungry, aren't you?" He wags his tail as if he was saying yes. I walk over to the pantry and pour some dog food into his bowl. He gobbles it up like he hasn't eaten in days. I walked past a photo of my dad when he was in one of his movie outfits. I always thought of how funny he looked when he was in that. Stop it, I think. Don't cry.
"Kaylen, let's go, I'm gonna be late to practice," Daven says, as he grabs the jug of milk and drinks out of it.
''I' m not using that again." I sigh.
We walk out the front door and climb into his car. It smells like sweat. Again. "Can you fix the smell of this car for once?" I ask.
"Maybe." He starts the car and backs up. We sat there in silence, like there's nothing to talk about. I know better than to ask him about how he feels now and if he's okay. Because the truth is, he's not. I know he'll never get over what happened, so I try to change the subject.
"So, when's your next football game?'' I look at him. For a moment I saw tears, but he blinked them away.
"Tomorrow." He stares out of the window. He's always been busy with school, friends, and football. I want to spend more time with him since he needs to recover, but I don't know if he'll let me.
We arrive at my school and he pulls up to the drop off area. "Bye Kaylen, Mom will pick you up today."
"Okay, bye Daven." I shut the door and saw Bianca waiting for me at the tree. I ran over to her and gave her a big hug.
"Oh my gosh, Kaylen! Not so tight. I heard about your dad. I'm so sorry Kaylen, I wish it didn't happen. You okay?" she asked as we walked to class.
"Yeah, I'm okay. How about you?"
"I'm alright," she responds. She was about to say something, but she didn't get to because a ton of people ran up to me. They started talking to me all at once. They were all asking if ''I'm okay" or " we're really sorry about what happened". I try to tell them that I'm okay, but every time that I say it, I'm not okay. That it hurts so bad. I want to run away and cry. I want to be with my Dad.
Thankfully, the bell rang and everybody started parting away. Bianca put her arm around me and tried comforting me.
"Hey, if you need anything, I'm right here, okay?" I nod in reply. The halls were filled with kids talking and laughing. But most of it died down when I walked past them. I could feel all of their eyes on me. I try not to make eye contact and shuffle quickly into my classroom. People start walking in, sitting down. Quieter than usual. Our teacher, Mr. Connor walks over to his desk and puts down all of his stuff. He gives me a quick glance, like he's saying you okay?. I nod in reply. He started class, talking about turning homework by tomorrow and starting a new project that's due next week. I didn't really pay attention because I was thinking about my dad. I played with his bracelet that's on my wrist, still burnt from the fire a little. The day went by really fast. It literally took 15 minutes to get to one class. By the end of the day, I received an armful of thoughtful cards. I'm probably not oing to finish reading them all. I saw my mom outside, waving at me and Bianca.
"Kaylen, my mom says that she has a meeting until 5, so I'm coming to your house today."
"Okay, let's work on whatever project Mr. Connor was talking about?" "You mean the project that we have to write an event from ancient history?" "Oh, nevermind," I laugh. We walk over to my mom's car and Bianca helps me with the cards.
"Hey KK! Hey Bianca, what are those?" She asks.
"There cards for, you know," She looks away. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it tight. "Don't worry mom."
On the drive back home, I read a lot of comments from my social media about my dad, people posting videos and pictures about how an amazing person my dad was. I smile. It felt so good knowing that I wasn't going through this alone. I will miss my dad. But his death has brought my family together even closer. Even though he's not here, I'm sure that's what he wanted. And I will do anything for him. Because he's my Dad and forever will be.
THIRD PLACE: Addison Jackson, Palm Desert Charter Middle School
Bytes That Bite
“In total, nearly six-in-ten black internet users (59%) say they have experienced any form of online harassment compared with 41% of whites and 48% of Hispanics. In terms of the specific behaviors they have faced, notable shares of black internet users say they’ve been called offensive names (38%) or purposefully embarrassed online (34%)” (Duggan).
Technological advancements have furthered our knowledge of our world and the significant amount of individuals occupying it. Nevertheless, it is incorporated in contributing to a platform for racial prejudice that holds jurisdiction over our society, as shown by these affrighting statistics. Social media emboldens racism against African-Americans.
By way of a rise in “influencers” engaging in racist behaviors and the biased censorship between discriminatory groups and African-Americans, social networks have become hot-spots for bigotry. Social media uplifts anti-Black behavior.
Despite the fact that 56% of U.S youth possess their own social media accounts (Howard), there has been an upsurge of social media celebrities that participate in racist activities. As stated by a Statista.com survey held between March 22, 2018 and April 10, 2018, “According to the findings, 12 percent of teenagers reported to often encountering racist hate speech while using social media. Overall, 52 percent of respondents stated that they often or sometimes came across racist hate speech on social media” (Clement).
Applying this information, it’s feasible to comprehend that many apps and websites contain a sizable number of people and content that promote this bigotry. TikTok is one example of a prominent platform that is recognized for its intolerant trends. A particular illustration of these fads is the “How's My Form?” challenge, which has produced videos that mock and ridicule Black, Muslim, and Asian people (Magsino). These videos can cause younger children to believe that demeaning African-Americans is something to satirize and may entice them to view intolerance as tolerable.
Notwithstanding, the article offers an explanation for these posts by stating, “Melissa Nance, a Psychiatry researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, explained that pre-teens and teenagers' may actually be more prone to making racist posts given their immature brain development, making TikTok, an app mostly used by Gen-Z, particularly susceptible to such content” (Magsino). Because these individuals that minors view are significantly included in their lives as entertainers and sometimes role models, racial prejudice becomes a notable component of their lives. Primarily, this online activity can impair Black children in a multitude of ways.
Challenging the idea that social media companies are inclusive and supportive of the Black community, there is a racial bias in the flagging of posts. Racist organizations, such as the Traditionalist Worker Party and the Council of Conservative Citizens, have become exploitative and persuasive in their endeavors to obtain members. To elucidate, an account from Journalistsresource.com affirms, “The researchers find that cyber-racism tends to come from two groups: racist organizations and individuals who often act anonymously. Racist organizations tend to use websites to communicate racist messages and ideas. They also communicate via online games located on racist websites. The authors write: ‘Racist groups use these channels to reach, not only general, but also very specific audiences.
For instance, the video games made available to the public from far-right groups’ sites are often used as hidden opportunities to present a more attractive image of racist groups to existing and potential members, particularly targeting a younger audience’” (Bluic). Behavior like this is what alienates African-Americans, beginning at an early age. Derogatory “jokes” online may influence a young child’s later behaviors. Furthermore, these groups aren’t able to vindicate themselves on the web. An article by Shirin Ghaffary at Vox.com proves this by stating, “Tweets written by self-identified African American users were, on average, found to be 1.5 times more likely to be flagged as offensive.
Researchers then applied this test data into a larger algorithmic model run using natural language processing on 56 million tweets and saw that these biases were only further reinforced.” Significantly ignored issues like this keep us from the ideal nonpartisan future we anticipate. To be frank, why can’t these corporations practice what they preach?
In spite of all that was previously mentioned, certain individuals do not acknowledge the truth. The conclusion of these people is that social media is an equitable and secure environment for the African-American community. To express this outlook, Twitter’s help blog declares that it’s prohibited to attack people based on their race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. (Hateful Conduct Policy). When compared to the statistics provided earlier, Twitter is actively contradicting themselves. Putting on a mask of aid for African-Americans and then censoring them covertly is deceptive to their users. Unity can’t be constructed on falsehood.
Sometimes confidentially, sometimes blatantly, the promotion of racism against the Black community is prominent in the world of social media. Due to the racial prejudice in online censorship and media stars participating in bigoted behavior, African-American youth develop low self-esteem.
One way to eradicate this injustice is by participating in local events to be educated about the people in the community. In addition, donating to anti-bullying organizations like STOMP Out Bullying.org and No Bully.org along with mental health organizations including the Black Mental Health Alliance and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can assist the African-American victims and lead the abusers in the proper path. Lastly, dedicating time to report any instance of hate speech on social networks and standing with the victim can make an impact. It’s the platform's responsibility to protect all of their users. Though it is an arduous battle to fight, making our world whole merits every second of it.
Category II: Ages 13 to 15
FIRST PLACE: Kira Entzminger, Desert Ridge Academy
I've always lived in the darkness. I ain't allowed outside, even though I like to be. Mammo seems to think I'll "Join the Blazes" whatever that means. She worries about me. Everyone does. The last time I was outside, four years ago, I watched my school perish. Burn straight to the ground. Along with everyone in it. I stood and watched. I felt the heat of the flames and heard the screams of my schoolmates. I didn't help them. Mammo took me inside, said I ain't allowed out, anymore. I live in the darkness of a lockdown.
My brother suddenly burst through the door and flopped down on the couch. The noise from the outside scared me so much that I choked on the pen I was chewing on.
"Ya alright, Chord?" He asked, as I coughed and pulled the pen out of my mouth. He smelled like cigarettes and dirt and burning flesh.
"Fine," I gasped, and put the pen back in my mouth. I sprang up, realizing who I was talking to. "How's the outside?"
"It ain't good. Nothin's workin'." He sighed, and rubbed his temples.
"Well, what're ya tryin' to do? 'Cause from what I just heard, it's nothin'!" I always get frustrated with my brother and his clan. They act like they're doing something, but I don't think they are.
"I told ya before, dude. We're doin' all we can." He closed his eyes and continued to massage the sides of his head.
"Dain' what, Groove? Attackin' it? Ya can't exactly attack inanimate things like ya think ya can." I looked down at my book of poems and sighed heavily.
"Hey, we're doin' more than you are." He said calmly.
Groove's a real calm person. He's never yelled at me. He ain't ever upset at anyone or anything. I'm always angry or upset at everything. We're polar opposites. It's kinda hard to believe that we're brothers. Maybe I'm always on edge and ·galled' (Mammo sometimes says that) because I'm basically on lockdown, while my brother who's only three years older than me is allowed to "fight" on the Outside.
"But, seriously, dude! Ya guys gotta do somethin'!" "We can't do much more than we're doin' now, Chord."
"Oh, yeah? Which is what? Tell me exactly what you're doin' to help the outside not be chaotic." I asked, being tired of my brother's tranquility.
"We are... We're...We're. Uhh..." "Exactly. YOU don't even know what you're doin'! I bet you and your clan are tryin' to frackin'...calmly negotiate with it!!"
"Why don't ya lay off, huh? I'm tired." He yawned, and settled into the couch. It was real late. I don't blame him for being tired.
I cursed at him silently, then cursed at myself for being a jerk. I hate that I'm cooped up. I hate that Groove ain't cooped up. I hate that they're doing nothing to deal with the outside world. I stuck the pen back in my mouth, and started reading "The Raven", my favorite poem.
The pen I chew on is a nice pen. I mean, when I ain't choking on it. It's got teeth marks that are so piled up, they scratched the silver paint off of the pen itself. You could hardly read the label, it's so scratched. I think it once said, "VW Garriot". I've got no clue what it means.
Groove brought it home one night. He gave it to me, "just in case I don't come back", as he put it. I like the pen. It's my favorite. It's my thinking pen.
"Nah-uh! Dude, ya should know better than anyone: No smokin' in the house." I stood up from the desk, and pointed the pen at him, noticing that he had lit a smoke indoors.
"You and me both know Mammo don't care, no more, Dude." He puffed on the cigarette, releasing the air through his nose.
He was right, and I didn't like it. Mammo didn't care about anything. I think she's in a deeper darkness than me. But it's more of a psychological darkness that Mamma's in, not like mine, where I'm sitting in literal darkness all day. It's like Edgar Allen Poe. Though, I think anxiety took over Mammo. Not grief. Mamma's currently in a 'buffering' state. That's how I put it so I don't break down. And Groove knew this.
I looked down at my bare feet and picked at my fingers. "I know she don't care." "Hey, I'm sorry. 1-1 know ya don't like to talk about it. I don't know why 1- -"
"It's fine." I lied.
He looked at me sympathetically, and said, "Nah, ya ain't fine. You're a sucky liar." His statement ended with a laugh.
I noticed him scratching the side of his face and I changed the subject, pushing his head to the side. "What happened to your face, Man?"
"I dunno. But it's been itchin' like crazy." He kept on clawing at the raw light-pink skin near his ear.
"What, did ya walk through a fire today?" I examined the wound. I found out why he smelled like burning flesh.
"Yup. pretty much. Ow!"
"Sorry." I was picking at the weird burn mark, just prodding at the scaly patches of raw skin. I kneeled down next to him to get a closer look. I stuck the pen in my mouth and chewed on it.
Burns fascinate me. They have ever since this started because they're the only wounds us Nowheres could get. We're called 'Nowheres' because we literally live in the middle of nowhere. It's what the Anywheres, Everywheres, and the Timely-wheres (who we call Bad-timely-wheres) call us. It used to be an insult, but now it's just what we call each other, when we ain't too busy calling each other 'No-one-cares-a-wheres'. That's what we call the jerky Nowheres, and also our comrades. Ya know, just to spite them.
"Is it bad?" He asked, trying to look at it from the side.
"Nah. You've had worse." I thought back to his arm a few years back. That was bad.
Took me a couple hours to fix him up. Took him a few weeks to heal. "Do we got anymore Aloe?" He kinda jerked his head a little as the blood seeped through the burn in tiny bubbles when he said "aloe". I watched them form and drip slowly down his face, moving the pen to the right side of my mouth. "Stupid Fire." He said, then continued to curse at the flame that got him.
It irritated me that he hated fire. I don't understand what's to hate. Maybe we should hate those who hate fire. Maybe I should hate Groove. Maybe I should hate Mammo. Maybe I should hate the world for hating fire. I don't have a reason to hate fire. It fascinates me. It gives me comfort.
"I think we have Aloe," I kinda absent-mindedly answered, spreading his skin apart, making it bleed a little more. I immediately stopped when he winced. Then I stood up, and started toward the kitchen. I was just trying to get my mind off pain and back on recovery. "I'll go look for it." I put the pen in my pocket.
I heard Groove try to muffle a groan from the living room. I think he was scratching at it again.
The fridge was empty when I opened it. "Come on." I said under my breath, searching for the extra Aloe I kept in the back. I didn't find it.
"Do we got some?" He asked as I walked back into the Living room. "No." I answered stiffly. My voice was streaked with clear terror, and I guess my expressions were, too because Groove stopped picking at his fingers and looked up at me from the couch.
"Momma can go get some more." He flicked the cigarette out of his hand and crushed it under his military boot.
"N-no. She hasn't w-w-walked at all t-t-today." My voice was shaking now, and I tried to hold back tears.
"I mean, I can go." "No. You're allergic."
Groove's real allergic to the other plants in our greenhouse. The last time he went in, he almost suffocated. Mammo can't stand up if she hasn't walked all day. 1 1 can't go in there. Mammo don't let me. Says that I'll escape through there, and she scares me so much that I don't even like to talk about the greenhouse. She says I'll "Join the Blazes", whatever that means. I've only been in there once. I can't even remember what happened.
I kicked dirt from the ground with my foot and picked at my fingers. "What do we do?" I turned his head to the side again, and saw where he scratched the huge burn. It was secreting blood fast, so I walked into the kitchen to grab a rag. "Glory." I sighed.
When I walked back in, he was trying to see the burn on his face.
"They gave out gasmasks today at work," He smiled and covered his nose and mouth with his hands like a gasmask would. "We could use those," He put his hands down. "Did ya check in the back for an extra jar of Aloe?"
I pushed the rag onto his face and his eye twitched. It does that when he's quietly wincing. "I checked the back. Nothin'." I said, turning to look for the gauze in the desk drawer. He held the rag in his hand. "Did ya check in the cupboard?" He tried to move his eyebrows up, but just ripped the exposed facial tissue and made blood stream down his face. I found the gauze, then set my head on the desk. Thud. "No. I didn't check the cupboard." I felt anger creeping up on me like a shadow, and I took a deep breath.
"Ya should always check the cupboard, dude. Do ya want me to?" He stood up.
"Yep. That's good." I kept my head on the desk. I won't lash out. I won't lash out. I won't lash out. I whispered to myself.
"Found some!" He called from the kitchen after a few minutes of clicking and shuffling came from the back of the cupboard.
"Great." I unenthusiastically called back, and picked my head up. He walked in with a jar of clear gel-like liquid. "Do ya got the burn stuff?" "Yeah." I pulled a tube of burn cream from the desk drawer.
"Great." He stated happily, plopping back down on the couch.
It took a few minutes (by a few I mean about thirty-five), but I got it done. He looked like a cyborg.
"Heh. I got a Cyborg-no-one-cares-a-where!" I laughed, looking over my brother's face which was covered in a tan gauze that almost blended in with his skin. The whole right side of his face was covered, including his eye and ear.
"Yeah, yeah. Come on. It's late." He dropped to the floor so I could have the couch.
We didn't have bedrooms. Well, we didn't have two bedrooms. We had one, and being gentlemen and such, we gave it to Mammo. I sleep on the couch usually and Groove sleeps on the floor. I don't care where I sleep just as long as I do. The only time Groove sleeps on the couch is when the fire gets him, or when he upsets one of his clan. Sometimes when you're that badly injured ya gotta take the couch, I guess. I don't care.
I laid on the couch, just sprawled out as much as I could be (which wasn't much), gnawing on my thinking pen. I couldn't sleep. When I can't sleep, I just listen to Groove talk in his sleep. It's usually about his day. I don't know who he's talking to in those dreams, but he describes his day in pretty great detail.
And, as I suspected, he don't do anything to help the outside. I cursed at him. Not in a low voice. I don't know if he heard me, but he stopped for a second, then continued to talk about how he played poker and lost four packs of smokes, then won them back along with two more packs because he's a hustler.
I felt my face get hot, and I cursed at him louder. I ended up chewing so hard on my pen that the cap came off and I got ink in my mouth. "Ugh!" I hate the taste of pen ink.
Walking to the kitchen, I heard a fire start outside. I quickly got a rag from a drawer, shoved it in my mouth, then put the exploded pen in my pocket. I peered through the window, and saw a huge fire burning the house next door. I tilted my head curiously, and wondered if I could get out.
The window rattled, when I shook the lock on it, and I didn't hear Groove talking in his sleep, anymore. Maybe he's waking up. I thought. He, then, started to talk a little louder. Never mind, then. I gotta get outside. I need to. I'll get out to the Blazes. I'll do it. I continued to mess with the lock. It was a code lock. Alright. Numbers. Numbers. I thought, putting my silver VW Garriot pen into my mouth. I started to flick the numbers up and down until one of them clicked into place. 1 was the first digit to click into place. Yes! Got it. I flicked them around more, and got 3 to stick one space away from 1. The number in between 1 and 3 was 2. Okay. One, two, three thought stupidly. The last one was 4.
Wow. Wow, Mammo. One, two, three, four? Okay. I am deeply disappointed in this family. How am I a part of this family at all? Ahh. So much disappointment. I am disturbed. I just needed a moment to express how terribly disappointed I was in those people I'm related to.
When I was done being judgy I hopped out the window, throwing the rag back into the kitchen. The first thing I did was smell the air. Burning flesh and ash. It was dark. I sighed contentedly. I heard the shrieks of the neighbors. Outside world. I looked around wildly, inching closer to the fire. The blinding colors of the blaze drew me in. I put the pen in my pocket.
I've never felt what a burn feels like. I haven't been out for a long time. I want to feel something other than aggravation for once. I want to feel fire.
I heard the people in the flaming house call for help. I didn't help them. I stopped just before the fire and felt the sensation of "hot" on my face. When I chewed the thinking pen, it began to melt and fall a little. I stuck my hand out and felt the heat bite down hard on my hand. The flesh on my fingers calloused and bubbled and popped when I kept it there for a few seconds. I started to push my whole arm into it, but the flame suddenly went out. The screams of my neighbors stopped.
I watched a house a couple miles away burst into flames. "Wait!" I called after it, and started running, feeling the skin on my right hand stick to the pen when I carried it to run.
I reached the other house and put my right hand into the bonfire that used to be a home.
Those people called for help, too. I still did nothing. The skin melted off my hand within a few seconds, and the pen fell to the floor with the dead, blackened flesh from my arm. I watched the pen fall to the floor, and I picked it up in my left hand. One, two, three, four, five, six... I traced the exposed bones on my right hand with the pen. The fire went out.
The blaze appeared next to me. I waved at it, and it waved back. It took my pen and put it to its mouth. It didn't melt. I tilted my head confusingly at it. Blaze. The Blazes. It smiled at me. I didn't smile back. I looked it up and down then touched it with my burned hand. It looked at me and pulled my hand closer in its chest. Soon I was up to my elbow in flames and burns. It didn't release my hand or extinguish itself. I stared at it with my eyes wide, and it still smiled at me. It didn't give me my pen back, so I reached for it. The Blaze went out and my pen went with it.
The fire lit up another house a mile away. I started sprinting towards it, and it moved to a different place. I turned toward it, and reached the flaming house before the blaze went out. I didn't stop to hold my breath as I ran into the home. I followed the Blaze in the house because it still had my pen. "Give it back." I said sternly, and it did no such thing, so I continued to follow it deeper into the house. Debris was falling and the people had almost stopped screaming. I passed a small child who screamed for me, and I didn't help it. Instead I watched the lights go out in its eyes, and its face melt to the floor.
I yelled at the Blaze to give my pen back, but it just turned and smiled cunningly at me, still walking deeper into the house. I walked faster toward it, and put my hand into it, feeling my lungs start to give up on me due to the amount of smoke and ash that was in the air. I coughed when it stopped and gave my pen back.
I fell to the floor and looked to the side. There was another child. Older. Maybe my age. They grabbed onto my arm, the fleshy mush rubbing off of their hand and on-to my skin. f kicked them off of me, and they're hand stuck to my elbow when they fell to the wood floor with a loud thud. I stared at them until their skin blistered and broke up, falling to the floor in sloppy heaps. I didn't care.
I felt my skin begin to gush fluids and closed my eyes. My eyelids stuck to one another and I put the thinking pen into my mouth. My lungs gave out and I could only feel flames. My thinking pen melted like each sizzling layer of my seperating, leathery skin. My brain raced while I thought, Hmmm. The outer of the pen tastes a whole lot better than the inner.
SECOND PLACE: Cynthia Ruiz, La Quinta High School
“For Breonna Taylor”
Somebody’s daughter, somebody’s lover, somebody’s future mother,
Breonna Taylor, who was more importantly, somebody.
Don’t you know her story? There’s more to her than her name,
Her life goes past the phrase
“Arrest her killers. Arrest her killers.”
Breonna was murdered on March 13th. “Arrest her killers. Arrest her killers.”
She was with her boyfriend asleep. “Arrest her killers. Arrest her kill”
Myles Cosgrove, Johnathan Mattingly, Brett Hankinson, They were the killers.
Searching for someone already in custody, Breaking into their house without warning,
When her boyfriend acted in self defense they considered him a threat, And murdered Breonna, left without medical attention or respect.
The killers are under the shadows because their names weren’t caught up in a rhyme, Are issues only attention grabbed by catchy lines?
All lives matter is a lie,
Spoken by those who refuse to see different views of other eyes, People say she wasn’t murdered for the color of her skin,
But her death has been racially justified,
The government will do everything else for her instead
Of arresting Myles Cosgrove, Johnathan Mattingly, and Brett Hankinson, why? So remember her name with our consecutively louder cries,
Breonna Taylor, Breonna Taylor, Breonna Taylor!
She was a strong friend who never settled for less,
I hope in heaven she gets her deserved rest,
Because until Breonna gets justice,
We sure won’t.
THIRD PLACE: Tilda Rector, Palm Desert Charter Middle School
Rex reached back with sweaty hands and groped for his canteen. He leaned back and took a stout gulp. As the water sprang down his gullet, rushing like a speeding herd of buffalo, he lightly slapped his horse, Bailey, on the side.
Bailey made a little noise and snatched up a good, fair pace, making little putting noises as he trotted forward across the vast orange sand. Rex paid for a sturdy horse, sure to do his dangerous bidding.
Sweat glazed Rex in an ugly way, probably due to the dust Bailey kicked up clinging to his sticky skin.. His long, unkempt hair was greasy and dripping.
Rex picked up his hat and fanned himself a bit, then put it back on his head.
See, this lonesome rider was wanted in Herabuta County, where the sheriffs there, in Rex's world, were prickly pears tripping on Rex's heels. No other county was uptight like that! Rex avoided riding through like avoiding a chore, since the sheriffs let nothing slide, even if he offered a bit of bribes.
Herabuta County was a hard place to redeem oneself, especially if you were a frequent offender. In fact, Rex was knee-deep in a list of crimes and wrong-doings he'd done to Herabuta citizens. However, Rex prided himself in his actions.
Rex was headed to Greenlee County, which was brimming with folks who gave no cares as to what dirty business Rex was occupied with. He envied the people there for staying in their own lane. The business he had there was reuniting with his younger brother, who he couldn't care less about, and pluck a temporary job for some money. The biggest reason Rex was going to
Greenlee County was to wait out his arrest warrant, until Herabuta had worse problems. It usually worked just fine.
Rex could hear the sounds of a community working hard. Bushes had begun to sprout from the ground and cacti got taller and thickly dispersed. Rex pulled Bailey's reins gently and he slowed to a trot. There was a clear dirt path that led to the center of the village, and Rex hopped right onto it.
An older woman turned from her laundry and squinted at Rex. He tipped his hat towards her and carried on to the outskirts of the village.
Rex reached the farmland, where everything was a little greener and a little yellower. He scanned the wooden barns, houses, and stables, until his eyes rested on a small house. Bailey trotted a bit quicker, over yellow fields of grass, weeds poking up against his ankles. The house was small, more of a hut. Rex stopped outside the front door, slid off of Bailey and knocked.
He heard footsteps creak, the knob twisted and the door flew open.
"Rex? What are you doing around here?" Charles was thin and was wearing a ruffled shirt with suspenders and had a long pipe in his teeth. "I came to work for you," he said.
Charles thought for a minute. He looked over his stable and his barn, over his long, infinite fields that seemed to extend to the mountains. Charles stood for a long, long time. Long enough for Rex to feel the fresh wind brush against his face, giving him a little rush of coolness. Long enough for Rex to feel a little suspense, and a little hope, which he didn't feel very much, because he was tough.
Charles started to shake his head. "Rex, I don't think I can pay you for a job-"
"Don't you have any money?"
"Yes, I do," Charles sputtered. "You don't have money either, that's why you're here!" "Yes, I know, I'm fully aware I'm broke. I need to work. I need you to pay me."
Charles dropped his head down. He then begrudgingly whisked Rex away with some dirty work, promising cash at the end. Rex thanked him, and rode to the barn on Bailey. Charles watched Rex ride away, in a sort of envy for his younger brother.
Rex worked for hours straight, doing dirty work he'd done as a kid. He'd tied Bailey up outside, leaving him to fill up on the pasture while Rex tended to Charles' barn animals and farm. Rex was grateful for Charles. Charles never helped Rex out of passion, love, or kindness, but out of a brotherly responsibility he had. Rex didn't need love or passion from anyone. Rex was comfortable with himself.
He kneeled on the ground for a second, and caught his breath. He watched a pair of geese fly overhead, honking happily.
He heard rhythmic footsteps of Charles' dirty boots, scuffed white from the soil. Rex stood up straight, sweat dripping from his hair. He watched as Charles walked to him.
"Rex," Charles said, squinting from the beating sun. "Delilah is sick."
Rex quickly started toward Bailey, who was feasting on the pasture. "Where is she?" Rex demanded worriedly.
"I just got a letter. She's with Nettie. She has a high fever-"
"Where is she? Is she with Mama?" His little sister Delilah usually stayed with her if not with Nettie, his mother's sister and Delilah's aunt.
"No, Rex, she was taken to a hospital in Herabuta."
Herabuta! The lonesome cowboy groaned. Rex hopped onto Bailey and kicked the horse with the spurs of his boots. He heard Charles calling for him, telling something about money, but Rex didn't stop. He was desperate to see his younger sister.
Bailey ran hard and fast, rushing faster than the day. The air flew past him, making him feel cooler than the hot sun was. Rex stared at the horizon as the sun hovered over it. The sky had started to darken, and the clouds had turned a peachy orange. Rex noticed Bailey began to run slower, pounding harder into the ground. He kicked Bailey lightly with his boot and he resumed his quick pace. In a hurry, Rex hadn't looked behind him, and he didn't know how far he'd gone, but in the back of his head he knew Greenlee was long gone, so small it had vanished behind the sand.
The landscape was completely changed, as the hills climbed higher, the ground grew grass, and Rex heard the rush of river water near him, along with the noises ofHerabuta.
Rex trotted into the town like nothing was wrong, even though his stomach had clambered up into his throat. He casually slipped off of Bailey and tied him to a nearby fence post. Herabuta was a large town, with paved streets and tall freshly painted buildings. The citizens had significantly cleaner clothes than those in Greenlee.
Rex sort of despised them for it, stemming from jealousy for them and'turning into hating them for their natural snobbiness. It was more of a city than a town, and thus a bigger, badder worry to Rex.
Rex looked around him, eyeing every street comer, every bench and every horseback rider that could mean trouble for him. He kept his head facing the sidewalk, walking quickly and quietly until his legs had carried him to the entrance of the hospital. Soon enough, Rex ventured up to the second story and opened the right door. He found himself in a dark room with a single window. A cluster of people were gathered around a bed, whispering among themselves. Rex's boots thumped on the creaky wood floors, and heads turned toward him.
Rex's mother turned and let out a little gasp of surprise as she saw him. She went in to hug him.
"How's Delilah?" Rex said, with a tone of urgency. Nettie turned to him as well, and smiled half-heartedly. For a small while no one replied.
Nettie spoke solemnly. "She has a fever of 105°."
Rex walked to the bed and peered at Delilah. Her face was pale like the moon, and she seemed sweaty. Her lips were purple. Delilah was much, much younger than him, only fifteen, and Rex protected her dearly as a brother should.
"Will she get better?" Rex asked, curiously. He looked at the faces of his mother, Nettie, and various other sad-seeming folks Rex barely knew.
His mother and Nettie exchanged looks. "The nurse gave her medicine, but we can't really... a-afford it." Nettie barely seemed to be able to force the words out, as if she didn't want to admit to it. She didn r want to admit to it.
Rex was about to offer to pay with Charles' money, as it was all the money he had. But then he remembered that he was rushing to get to Delilah so fast that he had forgotten to take it, and now it was sitting in Charles' rotting house. He wished he hadn't left so fast.
105 degrees .
Rex put a hand over her forehead, then withdrew it as the door opened again. An older woman, wearing white, walked in steadily, holding a platter with a water glass and a bowl. She placed it on a table next to Delilah.
"I'm sorry, but Delilah needs rest," the nurse said. "Everyone out." The nurse shooed everyone out with a gloved hand. Rex looked at his sister a final time that day, looking at her yellowish, cream-colored skin a final time before leaving the room.
Rex decided to look for an old friend of his, Arnold Miller, who lived dangerously in Herabuta. Despite Arnold's train robberies, arsons, kerscuffies with other criminals, and other crimes, some of which Rex was a part of, Arnold had a knack for staying undetected. Rex didn't envy it, he merely admired it as a skill. However, all of the action had taken a toll on Arnold, and he had lost quite a bit.
Rex meandered to a crowded saloon. He came upon a small establishment, the front embellished with bright stained glass, and a big sign hung above the door. Rex pushed inside.
There was a man behind the counter holding a tom up rag, cleaning a big mug. Spotting Rex, he set it down and leaned in.
"Rex Walker!" he cackled. He smiled and turned to a cabinet full of glasses. "In Herabuta? I'm honored! Whadya want, the usual?" He already started to pour a drink.
Rex gave a small smile, but was stern. "I didn't come for no drink," he said. "I came to look for Miller."
Rex had no business reconnecting with people for the sheer fun of it, instead Rex had to have a reason: Arnold Miller had lots of money, and possibly money to spare - and Rex wasn't about to let Delilah die because no one had enough money.
The bartender stood straight and looked over the tables. Unsatisfied, he squinted at the ceiling and winced, thinking. "Oh, I think he was at... lemme see, he told me he was going to a campsite northeast of here."
"A campsite?" Rex asked.
The bartender nodded. "If my head's telling me the truth, that's where he told me he was headed. Have a wonderful day, Rex." The bartender smiled and went back to cleaning glasses. Rex was set on his new destination. He turned and walked out, untied Bailey and kicked off to Creede Camp.
It didn't take long for Rex to spot the big tower of smoke emitting from the tall trees. The air was cool and crisp. The grass below was trampled by Bailey's footsteps and years of brave
mountaineers' horses past. He let Bailey move at a slow pace, as both rested. The green branches of the trees provided a little roof for Rex, only allowing slivers of sunshine to pass through.
"Who's that?" came a deep growl, far away, sounding alerted and aggressively curious. Rex heard footsteps nearby and the cackle of a fire . Rex said nothing, and instead cut through the trees and passed onto the campsite, allowing his reveal to answer Miller's question.
Arnold Miller was a bedraggled man, with a long red beard and ragged clothes. However, the first thing you would notice about Miller was his missing eye, covered with an eyepatch, and missing leg, which explained why Miller used a cane. His own horse was tied onto a big white birch tree. Arnold sank down in his seat on a wooden log, relieved at the sight of Rex.
"It's Rex Walker, how about that!" Arnold's smile was sincere but ugly, as he was missing a tooth or three. Rex smiled and nodded his head.
"How have you been, Miller?" Rex asked. "Still scrounging around?" Rex slipped off of Bailey and brushed dirt off of his saddle.
Arnold Miller laughed heartily. "No, Rex," Arnold confessed. He shook his head and leaned toward the fire. "I took a job."
Rex stepped back, somewhat surprised, shaking his head in disbelief. "Now, why in the world would you do that?" he said. "Why would you do that?"
"Rex, don't act like you can't see me," Arnold replied. He seemed disappointed in Rex's reaction. "Look at me! I know you remember me as a rough-and-ready type, but I'm different now, since that day with Bernard Campbell. I can't keep up with that... lifestyle."
Rex couldn't counter that... but he didn't want to accept that the toughest cowboy he knew was no longer tough, and had given up completely on his usual unpredictable life.
Arnold took an armful of branches and firewood from a pile and staggered to the flames, throwing it all in. The campfire grew twice its size, roaring, then it simmered down again. "It pays well. It's stable," he said again.
Rex knew Arnold, slightly dependable, wise. Arnold Miller was quite older than Rex, something in between a fatherly figure and a brotherly one, crazed but focused. And he had taken a job, working under people, doing calm, repetitive work, earning the same amount of money each hour, each day of the month, having no money to spare. Each day he would travel to the same place, knowing where he was headed and when he would leave. Rex thought Arnold was giving in to his body too fast, and that Arnold still had enough fight left in him to continue his lifestyle.
"What's the work?" Rex asked.
The slightest bit pleased, Arnold replied, "Laying railroad tracks, from dawn to dusk. I know it's a long day, but..." He trailed off.
"Oh," Rex said. "And where is it?" "The edge ofHerabuta County."
Herabuta! Rex had had too much to do with Herabuta recently, so much so that Rex was doing a terrible job of avoiding it. Though, he wondered what would happen ifhe stopped avoiding Herabuta, paid his dues, served his time, and made peace with the city. Rex thought about asking Arnold Miller for money but realized that Miller had no extra, and couldn't bear the thought of asking for money and Miller declining.
Arnold sighed and caught Rex's stare. "Rex, you should take the job too." "Why would you say that?" The outlaw's eyebrows creased, offended. "You and I, and James Pitcher, Gregory Thomas, everyone else... We were blowing up buildings, robbing people of their money and their power - it's a satisfying work, but dangerous."
Arnold Miller glanced at the cane in his hand. "Your heart never leaps out of your chest when you 're laying train tracks, does it? Do you ever have to escape anybody, especially when they're firing a gun at you, in a job? Is that what anybody really wants?" Arnold Miller knew what he was talking about, and each reason was true. Rex didn't want to admit to himself that that was what he should do, get a job. He remembered Delilah's medicine and how Nettie and Mama couldn't afford it. And maybe being an outlaw didn't pay as much as a job. There were times where Rex had more money than he knew what to do with, but also times like these, where he had no money when he needed money the most. Would people look down on him for the rest of his life ifhe didn't have stable money? Did people look down on him now?
After a small silence, while Arnold Miller tended the fire and rested on the log, Rex said goodbye, wished Miller luck, and headed out on his horse.
Not long after Rex had left the campsite, he noticed a small figure in the distance. He slowed Bailey down and trotted inquisitively downhill. He came upon a man slumped against a boulder.
"Sir!" he cried. "I've lost my way!"
Rex was suspicious, since it wouldn't be the first time an innocent passerby had revealed themselfto be a threat. Still, he shouldn't jump to absurd conclusions.
"Well," Rex said, nearing the man. "Where're you headed?"
The man took out a piece of parchment from a pocket on the back of his pants. "See here? That's where... "
Rex leaned in cautiously, only to see that the parchment was blank. Suddenly the man whipped out a gun from his holster and swung it at Rex's head, only for Rex to dodge to the side and slide out his own revolver. The man scrambled to his feet, and there was a BANG!! as the man aimed disastrously off the side of the mountain, and Rex grabbed the collar of the man, now on his feet, and hit him hard in the head with the side of the revolver. The man, knocked out cold, slumped to the side.
Rex noticed a bag tucked behind him, and when he looked inside, there were various things, including a wallet. He took his money and threw the man's gun off the side of the cliff. A smile crept onto Rex's face, with him now being able to pay for Delilah's medicine. He swaggered to Bailey and jumped on, tearing down the mountain.
Bailey kicked up dirt all the way down back to Herabuta, where the air became hotter, the sun beat harder and the bugs buzzed louder. Rex rode into Herabuta, feeling that his warrant for arrest had worn off over the last week or so that he'd spent leaping from town to county to campsite and so on and so forth. Rex thought about Delilah, how he would pay for the medicine. He strode down the paved streets casual and collected, but still with a look of toughness, he hoped.
Rex heard a man's voice. "Aren't ya' the one who's always causing trouble here?"
Rex turned to the man. "I've got real business here. But if need be, I'm not afraid to cause more."
The man's eyes squinted more, as he took a step forward, head tilted down.
"Is that a threat?"
Rex slipped off of Bailey and took a step forward as well. "Depends. Maybe it's a threat.
Maybe it's a guarantee." He fingered the gun in his holster quite obviously.
"Woah, woah, woah!" the man stepped back. "You tryna' get into sum' thing?" The man looked to people to his right, nodded toward Rex, and started walking to the lonesome rider.
"Because I think you'd regret it."
BAM! The sound of a gunshot rang out, and Rex ducked to the side as a swarm of men aiming guns at him were yelling to each other and finding the nearest horse. Rex ran toward Bailey and catapulted on, kicking hard at the horse's side. Rex took out his revolver as Bailey bolted down the road and onto a dirt path, the men following close behind.
Rex swung his revolver back and took a shot behind him, then another, hoping the bullet would reach its target. As if sensing a bullet, Rex leaned forward, a bullet zooming past him, Bailey kicking ahead faster and faster. He heard the sounds of gunshots behind him, and twisted around again, taking a couple more shots, until there was the doomed click! of an empty barrel. Rex cursed and kicked Bailey's side, who had taken the horseback rider to a vast orange-colored desert.
Ahead, Rex noticed a ravine, a ditch many feet deep and many feet across. As it neared, Rex saw no bridge or way around, and faced reality, so right as the ditch came close, preparing himself, Rex kicked Bailey with the spurs of his boot, and he jumped high over the ditch, gliding through the hot air, Rex gripping the mane of the horse, near slipping off. And then, there was a thump, and Bailey's front hooves made contact. One of his back hooves was stuck on the edge of the cliff, but Bailey caught himself and powered on, over the sand, cacti fleeting past him. Rex looked back, but the remaining men had swerved to a stop just before the ditch, staring at him in defeat.
Rex felt triumphant, but just for a second, when the realization hit him like a boulder: he had not bought the medicine for Delilah.
Rex slowed down and stopped. He hadn't gotten the medicine for Delilah due to his own foolishness. He hadn't gotten the money from Charles due to rushing and not thinking. He went to Charles for a job because of his own desperation. Maybe ifhe had had a job he wouldn't have been so desperate.
He remembered a day, a long while ago, when he was with Arnold Miller, James Pitcher, Gregory Thomas, Bernard Campbell and a few others. They were walking the streets of Herabuta, spitting on the sidewalks and whatnot, when Campbell, liquor on his breath, began to persistently insult a group of rough horseback riders. Rex remembered feeling excited at first, cheering each other on, until things escalated into a quarrel. It all went down quickly, a few gunshots were fired, knives slashed, and punches thrown, until three men dropped to the ground: two dead and the other with a face covered in blood and a gunshot wound in his leg. Rex could only partly remember the aftermath, but he knew some things definitely: one of the horseback riders was dead, Campbell was dead too, and Miller was left seriously injured. But of the lot of them, only Rex knew that the horseback riders were not to blame for Campbell's death - it was one of Rex's awry bullets that had killed him.
Category III: Ages 16 to 18
FIRST PLACE: Kimberly Solano Vera, Desert Hot Springs High School
“The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”
— Tahereh Mafi
On a night that was just like any other, I spent it hiding away in my room, reading a book I had found in the attic. I had no idea where it came from, because it didn’t seem like anything any of my family members would own.
Kimberly Solano Vera
It had an old, worn leather cover with a creased spine and yellowing pages. I had found it in the corner of the attic in an unlabelled, molding box. Usually, unlabelled boxes in my house were bad news, but what was odd about this one was it only held the book, nothing else.
The book was called “When the Moon Came Down”. At first glance, it looked like a children's book, and it almost made me put it back in its box. The worn cover depicted the full moon resting on a hill, with a little white rabbit next to it. Assuming it was one of my siblings’ old bedtime stories, I set it back down in its box. But something in my chest told me to take it back down with me.
Reluctantly, I picked the book back up and flipped through its old pages. Immediately, I noticed that something was written on the front cover. Upon further examination, I noticed that it was someone’s name written in neat, simple handwriting: Selene.
That’s odd, I thought. I didn’t have a sibling named Selene. For that matter, I didn’t know anyone who was named Selene, so it couldn’t have been left here by one of my friends. In the
end, I decided that it had to have been a hand me down, or that my parents got it from a thrift store second hand.
Flipping through the book in my room, I noticed there were a lot of sticky notes attached to the pages. They were written in the same handwriting as the name on the front cover, which puzzled me. If it was a hand me down book, wouldn’t my parents have taken out the sticky notes beforehand? I shoved that thought in the back of my mind and tried to not dwell on it too much.
A lot of the notes read the same thing.
I scratched the back of my head, confused as to what I had just stumbled upon. “What does that mean?” I muttered to myself, flipping through the pages absentmindedly.
For a moment, I considered asking my parents about it, but I held back. Considering our current relationship, I wasn’t sure how they would react to me snooping in their attic.
So I remained silent about the situation. I decided to keep the book hidden, and instead maybe question my siblings about it later.
That same night, something happened.
I was sitting in my room, examining the book and trying to do some research on it since I had never seen it before. Suddenly, there was a knock on my door.
Instinctively, I shoved the book under a pillow and closed the tabs on my computer before the person at my door came in. Immediately, I was filled with a sensation of annoyance and resentment.
“Why bother knocking if you’re just gonna come in anyway?” I asked, rolling my eyes.
My sister, Oliva, stood at the doorway, a confused look on her face. She crossed her arms and leaned against the door frame. “You don’t have to be mean, you know.”
I shrugged. “What do you want?” It sounded more like a statement than a question, mainly because I knew she wanted something. Anytime she barged into my room like she did, it was always because she wanted something out of me.
“I don’t want anything.” She stepped into my room, looking around with a blank expression. For some reason, that annoyed me further.
“Then why are you here?”
“Mom and Dad want to talk to you.”
My heart dropped, but I didn’t let Olivia know that, mainly because I knew she would make fun of me.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of my parents, but our relationship had been so strained lately that I had been doing my best to avoid them. In the back of my mind, I wondered where we had gone wrong, and if this even was a problem that I could fix.
“Do you know why?”
Olivia crossed her arms again. “No. They want to talk to all of us at the same time. So hurry up and come downstairs.” She turned around and started back out the room
This time, Oliva was the one who looked annoyed. “What do you want now?” “Do… do you happen to know anyone named Selene?”
Her brow creased. “Uh… no, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”
I sighed. “No reason.” Olivia rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she replied, walking out the door. “Hurry up.”
I slumped down in my desk chair, playing with a strand of my hair. Knowing my parents, they never liked having big family talks; everyone always did their own thing without bothering each other, and it always worked out. This was extremely unlike them.
Thus began the series of unfortunate events that I called my life from that moment on.
“Moving, June. We’re moving.”
Those words coming from my mother’s mouth felt like someone was throwing rocks at my stomach. We had lived in our house for all 17 years of my life, and although there were some bad memories with it, I was content for the most part. The life I had built here was the life I was happy with.
And they wanted to throw it all away.
“Mom, do you know what this house means to me? To us? Why would you just leave it like that?” I asked, my face flushed red from anger and fear and a thousand other things.
My mother shook her head. “June, you wouldn’t understand. We think it’s best to leave this house behind; it’s been with us for so long, and we’re better off with a fresh start. We’ve already had some really good offers on the house, and your father has been looking at houses on the East Coast.”
“So you guys went behind our backs and did all of this stuff regarding our house- since, you know, we all live here- without consulting us in the slightest? Not even a heads up? No opinions needed? It seems like you guys made up your minds a long time ago,” I interrupted, trying to control my anger.
Olivia grabbed my arm. I turned around, and was surprised to find not another annoyed look on her face, but a pleading one. “June,” she whispered, tugging on my sleeve. “Please calm down. We can’t do anything about this.”
There was a searing hot shard of pain making its way up my throat, but I forced it down. “What are you talking about? We live here too; we should have a say in what you do with the house!” I shouldered Olivia’s hand away, standing up.
My oldest brother, Mark, shook his head. “June, you’re right. They made up their mind. We don’t have a say in this decision, they were just informing us, so please sit down.”
I shot Mark an incredulous look. When it came to arguments with my parents, usually he would be the one to defend me, but this time he looked defeated. Almost like he had tried and failed before.
I whirled around, and saw Olivia was staring at me with the same sad and subdued gaze.
“You both… both of you guys knew about this already, didn’t you?” I forced the words out, not wanting to know the answer, mainly because deep down, I already knew it.
Olivia closed her eyes as if attempting to collect her thoughts. “June, you have to trust us. We-” “Trust you? Give me a reason to!”
“June!” Olivia exclaimed. “Please, listen to us. We did talk with Mom and Dad when they initially told us. And we did try to fight them about it. But the more we thought about it, the more it made sense to start fresh, you know? We all agreed that it would be the best and healthiest option for all of us, and most of all, for you.”
I turned to fully face Olivia, glaring her down. “Who are you to tell me what’s best for me? Did you ever ask me about all of this? Communicate to me your plans? You knew about this before I did! And you still want me to trust you?”
A thick silence cut the air. I stared at my parents, who hadn’t uttered a word.
“Nothing to say?”
Either of you?” I asked.
My father decided to speak up. “Look, we didn’t tell you because we knew you were going to be the one to take it the hardest, considering… well, many factors. We wanted to tell you, but we
just didn’t know how.”
I scoffed. “Are you listening to yourselves right now? Am I seriously the only sane one here?” I looked around, meeting everyone’s stares with a glare of my own. “Use your words properly.
Tell me the exact reason you guys chose to sell the house and move away.”
The problem was, I already knew why they had decided on this. I just needed to hear it from them.
My parents looked at each other, uneasy. “Um, June, you know why, don’t you?” “No, I don’t, Mom. Please enlighten me, if you would.”
Mark shook his head. “Mom, she’s just being stubborn, don’t listen to her.”
“Yeah, don’t listen to me,” I said bitterly. “Don’t face the fact that you’re running away from what happened to Elane!”
“June!” My father shouted. “That’s quite enough out of you!”
My arms were shaking, my breathing was shallow. I gave my parents one last look of indignation before running up the stairs and slamming the door shut, locking it behind me.
I slid down the door, pressing my knees to my chest. Tears began streaming down my face before I knew it, like torrential rain. I sobbed quietly, trying to keep the noise down even though my parents and siblings already knew I was crying.
I had never had a fight with them like that before, especially not about this subject.
The truth was, I had a sister once. And although no one really believed it when I had told them, she had been my twin.
It was mainly because we looked nothing alike. My parents described us like yin and yang; I was all dark and cold and sharp edges, she was light and warm and soft, all things comforting. She was day, I was night. Elane didn’t like when I called myself night, because according to her I was “warmer and brighter than any night she had ever experienced.”
That was her, though. She was day, after all. But despite our differences and strangers insisting that we were in no way related, we were insepaThat was her, though. She was day, after all. But despite our differences and strangers insisting that we were in no way related, we were inseparable.
All I had of her now was shards of dreams and photos I refused to look at because the memory was too painful.
Elane died around a year ago, a month before our sixteenth birthday. On our way home from school, we had gotten caught up in an accident involving an intoxicated driver bulldozing through the empty lot beside the school parking lot. She had been the one to push me out of the way, and to this day I blame myself for it.
What was supposed to be our sixteenth birthday party turned into a funeral where, strangely, I don’t remember crying. I remember a swelling feeling in my throat as I stared at the casket, having lost my lifelong best friend, but oddly enough, no tears.
Maybe it was at that age that I realized that hiding emotions was one of my talents.
I loved Elane more than anyone else on the planet, but I hid my feelings because maybe, just maybe, I thought I didn’t deserve to be sad for her, because it was my fault she was gone.
In fact, this was probably the first time I had cried for her since she passed.
Our lives had gone downhill from there. It almost seemed like it was forbidden in our house to even mention her name, because by association, her name would only bring memories of pain and a light blue casket adorned with daisies.
From that moment on, it seemed like my family tried to forget Elane was ever a part of our family. Her room was packed up in boxes, locked, and never touched again. All framed pictures of her were taken down and shoved in some abandoned dusty corner. The only clues that she ever existed in our household was one family photo at the end of the hallway that was taken days before the accident, and an opal necklace of hers that I had stolen from her room before my parents locked it away forever.
I touched my neck, feeling for the coolness of the metal against my fingertips. It was gifted to Elane by our parents after she won her first contemporary dance competition, and she rarely ever took it off after. She cherished that necklace like it was her job. She thanked our parents for it almost every day.
The same parents who chose to forget about her.
I buried my face into my knees and let my tears fall, unaware of my surroundings. It was so unfair that after all the good that Elane brought to us, our parents didn't care enough to honor her memory properly. Everyday I spent in the house with them, I was reminded exactly how they let her down.
And similarly, how I let her down.
My crying drowned out my thoughts and any semblance of my bearings was lost through the ringing in my ears. It was almost enough to drown out the sound of knocking at my door.
Between the ringing in my ears and the throbbing pain of my head, I heard someone knocking quietly. “June?” the person called out, worry clearly in their voice. It was a more feminine voice, and since it obviously wasn’t my mother, it had to be Olivia.
“June, are you okay?” she asked, her voice soft.
I didn’t answer. Instead, I sat with my back pressed against the door, staring out my window, letting the tears dry on my jeans.
There was silence for a moment. I heard some movement on the other side and felt slight pressure on the door pushing against me, meaning she probably sat against the door as well. I heard her sigh.
“I know you probably don’t want me here, and that’s fair. But these feelings you have, these memories you’re holding onto, they’re the exact reason Mom and Dad chose to move.” Olivia paused momentarily, and continued with a slight shakiness to her voice. “What happened to Elane, it’s hard to talk about. She was my sister, too. You were closer to her because you guys were twins, so I see why it might be harder for you, but we’re all the same blood. We all lost someone that day; you, me, and Mark lost a sister, but our parents lost a daughter. Could you imagine how that feels? I don’t even want to think about it.”
Half of me wanted to yell at Olivia, because there was no way she was defending our parents’ actions of acting like Elane never existed. I wanted to scream that she wasn’t just my sister, she had been my best friend, my only friend, the person I had confided all of my secrets to, given all of my trust; how could they act like she was nothing at all? But the other half of me knew she was right; people had their different ways of coping with loss, and I guess our parents' way was to keep her out of sight, so it would stay out of mind.
Still, it wasn’t fair for Elane.
“All I’m saying is to keep an open mind, okay? This could just be their way of getting over her passing too, so be a little open to it. It could be good for all of us. We could all use some closure and peace.”
We sat in silence for a moment. I would never tell Olivia this, but deep down I knew she was right, as much as I hated to admit it. Still, my stubbornness got the best of me.
“In the end, we can’t do much about her being gone,” Olivia continued. “Mom and Dad’s methods are… well, questionable. I was angry too when they locked up all of Elane’s things in her room. But after a while, I realized that Elane wouldn't want us to be stuck in the past; she would want us to move on with our lives. Maybe this is the step we have to take in that direction."
Staring out my window, my gaze wandered to my bed, where the corner of a book was shoved haphazardly under my pillow. In all of the commotion, I had forgotten all about the mysterious book I had found.
Without saying anything to Olivia, I crawled over to my bed and picked it up, tracing its matte cover with my fingertips. The moonlight streaming from outside made the book almost glow silver.
I traced the title's bold letters. When the Moon Came Down. I stared for a moment, then looked back out at the moon shining brightly in the clear sky.
Clutching the book to my chest, I stood up and pushed my curtains to the side, popping the window open and kicking out the screen. It fell on the lawn, a good 15 feet down. I swung my feet out, feeling the cool night breeze for a moment. I propped the book up against the chimney and climbed up to the top of the roof, which was my highest vantage point.
The view was beautiful. The horizon was dotted with tiny points of light each representing either a home or a car driving back from work. The combination of the slight breeze, the sound of crickets chirping nearby, and the distant rush of cars on the road made the night feel alive.
Although, at the same time, it was quiet. The night was vast and dark and solemn and… Lonely.
I took the book in my hand and, illuminated by the full moon, began to read.
The book was about a little rabbit who befriended the crescent moon. As they spent more time together, the moon slowly began to fill with the love it received from the rabbit, until it became the full moon.
Eventually, it had to return back to the sky. The rabbit begged the moon to stay, but they both knew that they couldn’t stay with each other. “Even though I’m not right next to you, look up, and then you won’t be alone anymore,” I read. “The moon is forever consistently inconsistent.”
I sighed, staring off into the horizon. “The moon is forever consistently inconsistent,” I whispered to myself, watching the stars twinkle in the distant darkness. I reached for my neck, feeling for the cool gemstone, and thinking about what I could've done for Elane.
Before I knew it, I felt tears start to fall again. Under the steady glow of the moon, I looked up at its silver face. "Are you up there, Elane?" I asked, wiping my eyes on my sleeve."Are you watching?"
"Hello?" I froze. "Who's up there?" the unknown voice asked, practically yelling. "You dropped your window screen!"
I cringed from the volume of the person's voice. If my parents found out that I was out here, I would be grounded until the end of time. I leaned out, peering down from the side of the roof. Standing in the backyard of my house was a complete stranger.
"Uh… hi? Sorry to interrupt," she said, smiling nervously. "I just wanted to check and see if you were okay? I saw you on the roof and I just… well, panicked."
I stared blankly, not responding. Illuminated by the moon, the girl looked almost like she was made of moonlight. Her hair looked silver, and her skin was washed in the same silvery tint of the moon. From up on the roof, her eyes were unnaturally bright. It might've been my clouded mind, but she looked like Elane from far away.
She laughed nervously. "Uh… you okay up there?"
I snapped out of my trance. "Oh! Um, yeah! I'm sorry but… how did you get in my backyard?" She pointed at the entrance. "The gate was open," she replied simply. "Oh." I was surprised. Usually someone locked the gate at night, so I found it hard to believe. "So… can I come up?"
"Huh?" I asked, wondering if I heard her correctly. Apparently I did, because I saw her start to climb the side of the house with ease.
"Um… excuse me?" I asked, incredibly confused.
"I'm coming! Scoot over!" She swung her leg up and hoisted herself up, grunting in the effort. She smiled at me, slightly out of breath.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Selene."
I blinked. "Selene?" I sputtered, completely shocked at all that had just happened in a matter of seconds. "You're Selene?"
She tilted her head at me, confused. "Yup! Do we know each other?"
"Well…" I reached for the book I had just finished reading. "Is this yours?"
When she saw the cover, Selene's face lit up. "Oh my gosh! I've been looking for this for, like a year now! Thank you so much!" She grabbed it, hugging it to her chest and then flipping through the pages. "This story is one of my favorites; I've missed reading it so much."
Where do you live?"
Selene smiled. "I just introduced myself, silly! I live somewhere around here, but I move around a lot. And as to how you got my book, I don't know, honestly."
I stared at her. Maybe I was dreaming or hallucinating, but nothing about this interaction seemed real or normal. Now that she was close up, Selene almost looked like an intricate Greek statue in teenager's clothing. Her eyes were a dark grey but they weren't dull; they sparkled with life and cheer. Her hair was more platinum blonde than silver, but it reflected the moon's light. Around her neck she wore a similar necklace to the one that I wore, which was surprising.
"What's your name?" she asked.
I blinked. "June," I mumbled. "You didn't have to come up here, I'm okay. I just wanted to get some air."
"Yeah, that's fine! I just wanted to keep you company! Plus the view up here is amazing." Selene gestured to the sea of blinking lights that blended in with the twinkling stars. "I never realized how beautiful the sky was until I came here."
"Came here?" I wondered. "This is Glendale. The sky is the same pretty much anywhere." Selene shrugged. "Maybe. But where I'm from, I don't get to see this view a lot." I silently mused about where this strange girl could be from that she wasn't able to see the skyline and the stars.
There was an awkward silence while I watched Selene gaze at the Los Angeles sky. She caught me staring and grinned from ear to ear.
"So…" I began, not knowing quite what to say. "So…?" "Um… what's with the book?"
I motioned to the book that she was still clinging onto. As she looked down at it, her grin slowly diminished into a sad smile. "Oh. It was given to me by someone really special to me. Now it's really all I have left of them. I'm so relieved to have found it, I didn't even express how grateful I was that you found it."
I shook my head. "It's okay, I understand the feeling." Selene looked at me curiously. "You do?" My face flushed red. One of my worst qualities was unintentionally oversharing to strangers, which was one of the reasons I never had a lot of friends. "O-oh, well yeah. My… sister, she passed away. This necklace is all I have left of her."
"Oh, I'm sorry June, I didn't mean to pry." Selene looked at me with sympathy. "It's okay."
We sat in silence for a moment. After a while, the silence was almost comforting; we simply enjoyed each other's presence.
Selene broke the silence. "June, is it okay if I come back tomorrow?"
I was caught off guard. "Why?" I asked, not realizing in that moment that it was probably rude to ask that question.
Selene stared into the moon for a second. She looked incredibly at peace, and then she turned to face me, a slight smile on her face.
"I'd like to get to know you more."
It was the start of an unlikely friendship. Every day, I would anxiously await the nightfall. And every night, I would climb out onto the roof and meet with Selene.
The night after we first met, we spoke about basic things. Our favorite colors, foods, road trip destinations, hobbies. I learned that Selene didn't have a last name and that she had moved at least 20 times in her lifetime.
A few days later, she mentioned the person she lost.
"I had a sister too," she said. "She was so funny, bright, and warm. I want to see her again someday."
"Were you guys separated?" I asked.
Once again, Selene looked up at the moon. "It was something like that. I was forced to leave her."
I didn't say anything. Pity was sometimes the worst when it came to losing a family member. I squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, and she looked back at me with shining, grateful eyes.
A few days later, I opened up about Elane.
"You remind me a lot of her," I had told Selene. "You have her spirit."
Selene didn't look at me. Instead, she stared at her hands. "June, I need to tell you something." I was concerned; she sounded so serious. "What is it?"
"Well… I really don't know how else to say this except bluntly." She looked at me with watery eyes.
"I'm moving again," she whispered in a pained voice.
My heart sunk. Just when I thought things were going well, something had to be ruined.
"Did you try to talk some sense into your parents? They can't just force you to leave like that!" I had told her.
Selene shook her head. "It's not like that. It's a lot more complicated than you think."
"How complicated can it be?" I asked, annoyance setting in. "My parents did the same thing, and I assure you I'm not going down without a fight. You have to-"
"June, do you think the moon is pretty?"
The question came out of nowhere, so it caught me off guard. I glanced at Selene, who was staring at the moon so intently that it looked like she was trying to find her reflection in it.
"What?" I asked. "What are you talking about."
"The moon," she sighed, then turned to me. "Is she pretty?"
My brow creased; I was unsure of what to say. "Well, yeah. The moon is really pretty, why do you ask?"
Selene smiled sadly. "No reason." She rested her hand on her cheek. "I think tonight is gonna be the last time we see each other for a while."
"Well… it's like my book. When the Moon Came Down? Eventually, the moon has to leave back up to the sky."
I shook my head. "Selene, don't get philosophical with me. What's going on?"
Selen pointed at my necklace. "We'll see each other again, June. I promise. In the meantime, remember that the moon is the most loyal companion there is. Even if it disappears for a little, it always comes back." I noticed there were tears in Selene's eyes, but she scooted closer to me and enveloped me in a warm hug.
I sat in shock, utterly confused and in disbelief. My one friend, someone who understood me most in the shortest amount of time, was leaving me.
It was all too familiar, but it still stung.
"I'll see you around June," Selene whispered, making her way down the roof of my house. "If you ever feel alone, just look up." She pointed towards the moon, the consistently inconsistent moon.
I looked up, and when I tried to look for Selene again, she had vanished.
I looked around almost frantically, trying to find my friend. Turning around to the other side of the house, I saw Selene walking down the street, catching beams of moonlight and dancing away between them like spotlights. The way that she danced, her posture, and the fact that she was wearing an opal necklace that resembled my own, I realized too late that the resemblance to Elane was almost uncanny.
Except that instead of Elane being the sun, this time she became the moon, the inconsistent moon.
SECOND PLACE: Aivy To, Palm Desert High School
Inspired by Moonlight
The smell of smoke and burning meat patties filled my nostrils as I plainly stared at the sight of a grill. I sat in a beaten down red lawn chair, the one that I used for every annual summer barbecue ever since I turned ten. A feeling of crisp cut grass tickled my ankles, the moisture stuck onto my skin and attracted the little bugs that came out to play at night.
My glass of lemonade was gone, but I was too lazy to get up and make the trek to get some more. I seated myself as far away as I could be, far enough to drown the conversations the neighborhood parents had, but not far enough to induce the scoldings of my mom. I never liked coming to these events, especially when it was summer and the air was so hot that my pale cheeks flushed red after just fifteen minutes outside. It wasn’t something that I could get out of though, it was always my mom’s idea to come. ‘Be present’, she always told me, ‘It’s not that hard to socialize’.
Except, it was.
It wasn’t easy saying hello and smiling to the people living around me when they knew what went on in my house. The yelling, screaming, breaking, all those sounds came from my house - from my home. That’s the messy part. Everyone but me called it home and I lived in it. How could I call a place so cold and darkening my home? How could I call a place - a place that’s supposed to make me feel like I belong but instead makes me feel like a stranger- my home?
Along with that was the knowledge that every single person who lived on the block and down, heard and judged. They knew without having to look in. I knew from being trapped in. I would always imagine that home would bring strings of attachment and warmth, but it just provoked my fight or flight response.
Aside from the people knowing what went on and myself knowing that I didn’t belong, the house itself seemed to understand too. My bed managed to pick up dust, even though I slept and laid in it for hours on end. Usually, dust forms when things are left untouched, but I was there.
Or was I? The furniture in my room knew that physically I was present, but mentally I was seeking comfort in some other place. On some days, I swore that it’s walls caved in, as though it were bringing me into a hug. Sometimes I could feel it’s sadness mixed in with mine, how it cried with me every time I heard a noise in the walls at two in the morning.
My focus had drifted off, eyes wandered up to the sky. Stars started to come out as the moon made its presence known. Never did I think I would be jealous of something non living, but there I found my envy in the moon and it’s endless company. I was so warped in my own head that I hardly realized a man had taken a seat next to me, his right foot balanced on his left knee as a cold beer rested in his hand. I sat in silence, keeping my gaze forward to avoid accidentally making eye contact.
“Just because you won’t look at me, doesn’t mean I’ll just magically disappear. That may have worked for you as a kid when you was afraid of ghosts, but it don’t work with actual people.” He said.
I tensed up at the sound of his voice, my cheeks ran red as the slight tint emerged in my skin, as I now sat in embarrassment. I hadn’t meant to make it so obvious that I was trying to ignore him, but I was pretty expressive.
“Sorry, I just wanted to sit by myself.” I mumbled as I bent down to rest my empty cup in the grass.
He let out a deep and curt chuckle. I could see him shake his head out of the corner of my eyes. It bothered me slightly, but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to start an argument with some random old man and be called more unhinged than I already was.
“You always wanna be alone, huh?” He took a sip of his beer before setting it down besides the leg of his chair. He leaned back, making himself comfortable and letting out a grunt as he adjusted his large body. “You always been alone, Birdie, you always been. Even as a kid, you was by yourself, ‘cept for that one little girl. You two hung out, what happened to her?”
My face of embarrassment soon switched back to tense. A stranger knew my name, my life, the single friend that I had out of all my entire seventeen years of being alive. I didn’t answer immediately, in hopes that maybe he’d take the hint and go talk to someone else. But when he failed to make any movement, I let out a quiet sigh and moved my lips.
“She moved to Canada when we reached high school. Her mom got a job up there or something.” I shrugged my shoulders and leaned forward to pick at the grass, pulling out the blades and scattering them around me for amusement.
“So you just stop talking to other people in general,” He shook his head again, “That’s not the way life works.” The man fixed his focus on my face, I felt his stare pierce through my skin. Noticing, he cleared his throat. “My name’s Terrence, I been seeing you grow up since your parents brought you home,” He held up his hand and pointed his finger to the light, washed out blue house just across from mine.
“That’s me. I seen you come home as a baby, I seen your daddy walkout, I seen you finish eighth grade,” He paused. “I seen you. I came home from fighting a war. I finished a divorce with a woman and got married to a man. I got grandchildren. I’m seventy-two. But I always seen you, Birdie.”
I remained silent. I didn’t move to listen to him better, I didn’t move to actually look at him, I didn’t do anything except keep on plucking the grass. If I couldn’t seem to grow, then neither could they. I thought of how to reply. What did you say to someone who practically watched your life like a movie? Say ‘thanks for watching’? Roll the credits? Curse him out for being nosy? None of those seemed like the correct answer.
“You’ve seen me,” I repeated. “So what?”
“I know you’re stuck. I know that even though you feel exposed with everyone lookin’ at you and your mama, you still feel like the loneliest thing on the planet. Now, ain’t that so ironic?” Terrence let out another hearty chuckle, his belly shook slightly, while his tone was mixed with a sense of bitterness.
I squirmed, finally adjusting my posture and sitting back in my chair. I tried to think of what to say again, searching for something that would tell him he was wrong and that he should just shut up and mind his own business. But he wasn’t. He wasn’t wrong and that was the issue. Even though I had an audience with front row tickets to the downfall of my childhood, I still felt hidden and tucked away.
“I feel like I’ll be alone no matter what,” I looked up to the sky before glancing at him. My eyes squinted slightly as the hot breeze pressed kisses all over my face. “I make up all these versions of my life, all these scenarios. But no matter what, I always end up alone.”
Terrence pulled the same card I did and didn’t speak for awhile. He stared up at the moon, his eyes closed. He looked pretty relaxed despite the rather heavy conversation we were having. I heard him grunt again, his hand moved up and down as he swatted a moth away.
Finally, he opened up his eyes.
“The only reason you see it like that, is because you’re thinkin’ in that house - the house that traps you. Think outside of it. Your name is Birdie, you a bird. Birds don’t have forever homes, they barely even remember where they was first born. Birds move, and so should you.”
“I can’t move. I can’t go anywhere. I’m stuck in this town and I don’t have enough to get out.” My response was quick and easy. I had grown accustomed to shutting down any thoughts of beneficial change in my life.
“You don’t have to jump off a cliff to fly, you can just move.”
Words failed to come to me and I found myself almost speechless for the third time that night. I fumbled with what he said, my brain trying to make sense of it. It was easy to decipher, I just didn’t want to admit it. It had no reason making so much goddamn sense.
As I continued to sit there, a light seemed to make a spotlight above us - the moon. Somehow it had managed to illuminate itself right where Terrence and I sat, as though it had purpose. I wasn’t the only one to notice as I heard him laugh. It was different from his earlier ones, there were no bittersweet tones or heartiness. Instead, it sounded nostalgic. It sounded free. I peered over at him, brows furrowed in confusion. He was so into his laugh that I could see all of his teeth, how almost all had a slight tint of yellow and how the single gold filling seemed to sparkle.
“What is it?” I asked. “What’s funny?”
“Ain’t nothing funny,” Terrence shook his head, the laughter beginning to die down, “Nothin’ funny. Just...beautiful.”
I tilted my head up towards the moon, my hair sticking to the back of my neck from the light sweat that had formed. I rested my arms in my lap, my fingers toyed with the red bracelet that my mom had given me. I attempted to look for what the man saw in the moon, but all I could do was feel the usual envy that I had for it.
“I watched this movie about a black, gay boy growin’ up,” He let out a long sigh, “I tell you I cried durin’ it all. I’m an old black man and I cried in a movie theater in front of everybody. There was this sayin’ that just made me ache,” Terrence took a breath.
“‘Runnin’ around, catching up all this light. In moonlight, black boys look blue’. I ain’t ever see the color blue the same ever again. Blue got words to it, it ain’t just a shade. It meant freedom, it meant love. It meant support and sensitivity. People now a days see a black man for his shade and they think we’re scary, we’re thugs, we wreck things. But you put us under moonlight, you can see that we actually blue, we capable of blue. I didn’t know blue until I met my husband. I didn’t find blue until I came here.” He shook his head again as a smile formed on his lips, the wrinkles around his eyes present.
I wasn’t really sure what all of that had to do with what we were talking about before. We had gone from dissecting my life to a movie. In a sense, they were both movies. Or, they were both just life.
“What’s that gotta do with me?” I peeled my eyes away from the moon to look at him once more.
Terrence met his eyes with mine, his chest heaved up as air left his nostrils. The sound of crickets chirping and quiet hums of cicadas washed over. The sound of other voices completely disappeared as he stared at me.
“You find your blue, Birdie. Your black hair already blue under this moonlight. Make the rest of yourself blue.”
THIRD PLACE: Lizbeth Luevano, La Quinta High School
I am the culmination of my culture and the struggles of my people- the living embodiment of the seeds they place into the earth, that with time, grow roots, and blossom for the harvest.
I step into the fields, the sun glaring at me in anger. Its heat came at me in waves, hoping to dry the saliva from my mouth and deter me from speaking, but I stared back, unaffected and burning bright with my own passion. The sun could not yet comprehend the power of the words that transcended my own mortal tongue. Even mute, I would still be able to speak.
Within a 10 mile radius, the fields that had minutes before been heavy with ripe grape vines, were made into the desolate desert they had once been. Fruit that once shone with the sweat of its laborers and with the glow of success from its corporate owners, had shriveled down into indigestible husks of flimsy skin.
When the phoenix had appeared in my dream, I had been expecting it-- by then, it had only been a matter of time before it emerged. Too many polarizing tensions had begun accumulating in the human world such that the phoenix had been driven from its slumber. For me it had shed its coat, trusting that I could settle it, and my magic was reawoken.
That same night, with the phoenix's feathers and with the help of the moon, whose secrecy I had bribed by calling forth the cosmos and providing it with companionship, I had approached a sleeping sun.
Uttering a spell, you reap what you sow, the sun’s tears had sprung into a pool. Magic resurfaced the pain that the sun’s rays had caused in images swirling across the water--- of workers who had toiled under the desert heat and whose skin had been burned. With a small vial from my pocket, I managed to capture only one drop before the sun’s rays evaporated the rest.
Now, it stood before me awake in fumes. The sun knew what I intended to do, but its fury could not match what the stars had already foretold. The phoenix who first came to me had been the first being to defy the natural order by burning and rising from its own ashes. Now that same spirit of defiance remained as I closed my eyes and began.
To perform the act, I required two spells. One had already been issued and now there was only one more left to be said. Behind the fire of the phoenix, my words were given power. I only had to shape my tongue for them to arise. I could feel the sun reaching towards me with more vigor now, realizing that if I could not be stopped, then at least it should hear the spells to be enchanted.
But try as it might, it could not hear me. No one else heard it coming. From the limbo of forgotten things, the spell emerged into the air from the deep-rooted pain of migrant workers often ignored.
Carried by my magic, the tear from the vial gushed out in waves, spreading across the fields before sinking into the earth, giving life to what had just ended. Vegetation quickly sprang forward in an abundance that had not yet been replicated, crawling upwards into the sky and speckled with colors of the harvest, of various fruits and vegetables. But now they carried with them an enchantment of protection, only to be eaten by those deemed worthy.
With the spell, time goes back.
And in a final whisper, it all ends. The sun draws back and I go home, desperate to see what had resulted from my magic. The earth had rebounded, but I needed to see where else my spell had reached.
From outside I could hear her, and the smell of the tamales she was making had filtered through wooden walls that for miles had drawn me over.
I ran into the kitchen and saw her diligently kneading the masa, laughing at jokes my younger brother was making.
“Mom,” I whisper.
She looks up and smiles at me, embracing me in a tight hug. With relief, I take note of how she stands taller now, her often furrowed brow now giving way to a face lit up with joy. The hands that take me in are young again, time has gone back, and she has been made stronger.
“It's time,” I say. “Now that I’ve won against the sun, the workers are ready. It is time for us to build Aztlan.”
I walk outside to where my neighbors stand under the fading light of dawn. Before, their silhouettes had blended in with their mobile homes, haggard and weary from the day’s labor.
I go to them and I make their hands gold- soothe away their wrinkles and rid them of their calluses. Backs once hunched over straightened out and their skin was erased of the sun’s beams that they had long been acquainted with. With renewed voices and health brought upon them, each now held the capacity to make their wishes come true.
I look at them, the fieldworkers. How they stand in stark contrast to the slumped porches and cracked streets of the neighborhood, upright with full confidence without burdened shoulders.
Cousins, friends, aunts and uncles...
I look into their eyes, and I see the Mayan gods standing behind them.