People say that the city never sleeps.  Granted, the streets seem to pulse with an incessant stream of life.  During the morning—the busiest part of the day—businessmen, students, and the occasional cluster of tourists flow down the sidewalk, converting the cement pavement into a one- way stream of bobbling heads.  It stems off of the adjacent river of cars, trucks and bikes in which even more people travel untiringly until they arrive at their destination: a soaring building off to the side.

Most return to their apartments around the 5 o’clock rush, and the cacophony of horns honking and wheels grinding against the asphalt transforms into a faint roar that lulls city natives to sleep; however, the city is kept awake and alert by ambitious, type- A workers.  Their office lights stay on well into the midnight hours; from the streets, their windows are artificial stars that illuminate the sky.

College students take advantage of their newfound freedom and return to the streets for an unpredictable night out.  Hours later, some of the college kids stumble out of the clubs, young and foolish and drunk on either life or alcohol.  Yet, simultaneously, they harbor such an ineffable aura of invincibility—or as close to invincibility as a mere human can attain.

But most of the people on the streets in the nebulous hours between dawn and dusk are not leaving a party or a work office nor progressing towards home; they wander because they have no home.  They wait on doorsteps or on street corners for the sun, which will lure the rest of the city out once again.

Seemingly, the city never sleeps.

Yet, part of it lays dormant at night.

I am one of the students whose head can be seen weaving in and out of the morning throng, and occasionally, I’m one of the blithe college kids leaving the club with my arms linked around my friends’ elbows.  I navigate the streets with ease and can successfully hail a cab.  After almost four months in the Big Apple, I have integrated myself into the vivacious city atmosphere.  Like I thought, I have a propensity for the city life.  I was made for New York.

But as much as I try to blend in, I have the eyes of a foreigner—and this enables me to see the parts of the city that natives unintentionally overlook.


My phone buzzes in my bag, and I dig through my books to find my phone.  I give the screen a cursory glance.  A picture of my mom smiles back at me.  Without hesitation, I press “ignore”, and continue my brisk walk to the train station.

With what seems like the population of the whole city, I finally descend into the metro station and flood into the train when it screeches to a halt.  I’m sandwiched between an exhausted mother with a child clinging onto her legs and a stereotypical businessman, attired in a formal suit and Rolex.  The businessman laughs boisterously into his phone.  “Yes, I had to work pretty late tonight.  My latest project has kept me busy.  But don’t worry; I’m taking the next few days off so that I can be home in time.”   On my other side, the mother tries to quell her querulous son with promises.  “You can have all the pie you want when we go to grandma’s, but no ice cream right now.”

Each time the door opens, cool air blows in and people trickle out of the subway like sand out of a sieve.  Eventually, the jolly businessman exits the train at one stop and the mother with her child at the next.  The lively shouts and laughter, the constant honks and beeps leave with them.  The warmth leaves with them.  I’m left with the empty, robotic whirring of wheels against the track.  It’s a sound that the others on the train—the natives—don’t even register because it’s become like background music to them that plays throughout their day; however, I am very familiar with it.

 Slowly but surely, I watch part of New York City fall asleep.

I share the subway with one lone, elderly man.  Although he can’t be past sixty years old, his face is long, wrinkled and worn.  In fact, his whole presence feels tired; he slouches and hangs over his clasped hands as if he long lost interest in looking others in the eyes and carrying himself with dignity.  He wears a double- button pea coat that could have once been impressive and quality but is now shabby around the edges.  The bottom button is missing, like the eyes of an old, dear stuffed animal that has been forgotten about long ago.  His neatly combed salt- and- pepper hair seems like a façade—his halfhearted attempt to conceal his weariness.

“So, have you any plans for this Thanksgiving?”

I look away from him, startled that he caught me in the midst of my examination of him, and then slowly look back.  This time, his head is raised towards me. The garish lights cast long shadows and emphasize the folds in his face and bags beneath his eyes.  I smile politely.  “No, just staying in the city.”

“Well, why aren’t ‘cha going home?” The man’s voice is gravelly and almost echoes in the train.

I rashly toss aside anything I learned about not talking to strangers.  “What makes you so sure that I don’t live here?”

He lifts a long, bony finger at me.  “Your sweater, miss.”

I look down to check what I’m wearing, and blush when I see my NYU crewneck.  Half annoyed that this man soiled my efforts to fully assimilate to New York City so easily, I pull my coat over my sweater to hide the outfit I chose in the 6 a.m. darkness.

“Excuse me for asking, but why aren’t you returning home for the holiday?”

I cross my arms, my annoyance growing.   The man’s questions begin to feel like an interrogation. “I have my own personal reasons.”

He stares at me before finally returning his concentration to his intertwined hands.  They look like a knot of gnarled roots.  I avoid his eyes until he clears his throat.  “I know a boy who had big dreams.”

“What are you talking about?”  I consider the fact that I might be talking to a maniac or an insane homeless man.

“Just listen.  I think it’ll do you some good.”

I pause.  I’ll only be on the train another few minutes at most. “So, what about this boy?”

The corner of his mouth tugs up into a slight grin.  “Yes, the boy.  Well, he was a dreamer.  Oh, he strove for the stars since he was born and never set his eyes anywhere else.  When he was just a little kid, he dreamt of being an astronaut like all other boys.  When he grew up though, he kept dreaming.  This time, he wanted to be a film director.  He was given a camera one Christmas, and well,” he chuckles and smiles wistfully. “He locked himself in his room for the rest of the day.  He made a stop motion video using his action figures and RC cars.  He was so proud of that video.”

“Sorry,” I intervene. “Is there a point to this story?  Like a moral or lesson?”

 He stares at me pointedly. “Just listen.” He holds his stare, and I lower my head in resignation.

He continues, but his pensive tone has faded.  It’s melancholy.  Frail.  “But his father crushed his dreams.  He was so persistent and stubborn about his son following in his footsteps.  He was part of a law firm.  Very successful lawyer, and he was also extremely cocky about being a Harvard law school alumnus.  Obviously, his son didn’t want to be a chip off the old block. Even as a high school senior, he still had his sights on going to Hollywood to pursue his dreams.  His father forbade him.  Told him that he better study law.  If he left for California, he wasn’t welcome home.  Well, after finishing senior year, he was off on the first plane to Hollywood, leaving his family to wonder about what became of him.”

The man draws his story to a close and once again I can only hear the low whistle of the train wheels.  I stare at him again, this time not looking away when he lifts his chin.  He no longer seems like a rambling old man—rather, he is teeming with knowledge.  His numerous wrinkles are indicative of old age, but of hardship and experience.  After hearing the whole story, my irritation melts into a sense of connection.

The train stops.  We finally reached the end of the line.

I find my wallet inside my bag.  I only have a twenty dollar bill, and I’ll need it tomorrow, but I pull it out anyways.  “Here, sir, I want you to take this.”

He looks at the outstretched bill with surprise and pushes my hand back. “No need to call me ‘sir’; just call me Teddy.”

 Seeing that he won’t willingly accept the money, I place it in his lap.  “Sorry for being so rude earlier; I really enjoyed your story.  I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, Teddy.”

I turn to leave the train, but balk just short of the sliding doors.  After some hesitation, I face the man one last time.  “I can’t leave without asking you something.”

His expression of surprise hasn’t left his face. “Go right ahead, miss.”

I subconsciously squeeze my hands into fists and think of the last conversation I had with my mom.   “Do you ever regret leaving your family? Just cutting them out from your life,” I look anxiously to the old man for an answer, “even though they disrespected your dreams?”

He plays with the string that once sewed a button onto his pea coat.  After a thoughtful moment, he finally answers.  “I wouldn’t know,” he says, “I was the one left behind.”  He stands up, and for the first time I notice something behind his legs.  It’s a slim briefcase with words engraved on it in the bottom right corner:



 He presses my money into my hand.  “I appreciate the thought, but don’t rush to assumptions; Harvard law, remember?”  Picking up his briefcase, he nods at me.  “This is my stop, and I’m quite sure it’s yours too.  Now, be safe in the dark, miss, and rush on home.  Enjoy your Thanksgiving.”

After he leaves, I stare at his back until it disappears.  Finally alone on the train in the midst of the one sleepy part of New York City, I pull out my phone from my bag and bring up my call history.  My mom first called two weeks after I arrived at NYU.  As I continued to neglect her calls, her attempts became more frequent.  Eventually, I felt no guilt from clicking “ignore” each time.  She was as angry with me for leaving as I was with her for preventing me from doing so.  I planned on supporting myself.  I saved a good amount of money before coming to New York and was going to look for some work right after arriving; however, plans are hardly ever that simple.

 I step out of the train, close my eyes and exhale before clicking “call”.  The button brings up her photo ID.  In the picture I have of her, she’s smiling so genuinely and her eyes crinkle at the side.  The sun reflects off of her wavy brown hair.  I remember that day pleasant spring afternoon; she had been working for a good hour or two, so I brought out a glass of cold lemonade for her.  She laughed, pleased by my surprise, and I pulled out my phone and captured that joy in a photo.  Each time she called, I saw that smile, frozen in time.  Never before did I imagine her actual face on the other side of the phone line after I hung up on every call.

The other end clicks, and I quickly bring my phone to my ear.

“Hello?  Avery, is that you?”  Relief drips from her voice.

I walk out of the train station and back into the bustling night.  People push past me, not giving me a second glance.  They navigate the city streets like a map, so focused on reaching that “X- marks- the- spot”.

 Looking up, I notice that a few stars have broken through the darkness and thick layer of city pollution; they’re the first I’ve seen in four months.  And in that moment, I think about how they’re brighter than any skyscraper’s windows could ever be and how some nights I can’t fall asleep to the sound of traffic and how utterly and intensely I crave my grandma’s pumpkin pie.

“Hi, mom.”

Grace Shen is a high school sophomore in Cherry Hill. In her free time, she enjoys reading, writing, and drawing. She plays piano outside of school and clarinet for her school’s band and also partakes in other clubs such as student government, the school newspaper, and her school’s Science Olympiad team.

Over the Course of a Mont

the reason i am here in the first place
from look of the misnomered pleasantville apartments, one wouldn’t think that it was such a filthy place to inhabit. once one walks into the lobby, he/she would begin to have some suspicions, but mostly from the shady looking character working at the front desk. if one made it into the hallways, he/she definitely would be having some second thoughts, due to the mysterious stains and the lingering stench of mouse feces. yet here my mother and i are, in the hallways of the unpleasantville apartments, standing unflinching in front of the door to our new apartment, both of us worried about what we might encounter once the door is unlocked. neither of us move until we hear a door slam down the hall. my mother scrambles for the keys.
she swings the door open to reveal our new apartment, her face full of false excitement as she squeezes my forearm. “aren’t you so glad, james? finally, an apartment of our own; this is so great!” i hate to break it to her, since she seems so happy about us finally moving out of her ex-boyfriend’s apartment, but honestly, i would have preferred his hellhole over this one.
first of all, there were no leaks or peeling paint or mouse droppings at todd’s. secondly, at todd’s, we had real furniture. all my mother could afford on her own is a couple folding chairs and some surprisingly sturdy cardboard boxes to use as tables. (of course, this isn’t including food, clothes from goodwill, and the mattress and blankets that todd let us keep.)
my mother whispers my name again, and i realize i must not have answered her. i can’t tell her that, frankly, this place sucks, so i lie, “oh, yeah, mom, it’s nice.” sometimes, i’ve realized, it’s better to just lie to her to protect her feelings. she actually smiles.
courtesy of todd, all our furniture (or lack thereof) was brought over yesterday. to be honest, i think it’s because he wanted us out as soon as possible, but mom insists it’s because he’s a good person at heart. (maybe he is, although he lacks one, so. it’s a paradox.) this is how mom always is over her ex-boyfriend’s—she dumps them because they’re heartless, but then she tries to explain to me why they are “good people at heart”. i think she just doesn’t want me to go around assuming everyone’s a loser, which is what i do anyway, so she’s failing. though you got to give her brownie points for trying, i’ll say.
“are you excited for school tomorrow?” she asks. i want to ask her why a fifteen-year-old would be excited for school, but i don’t, because then she’ll feel bad for asking, so i just smile and nod. that always seems to work with her, because she looks relieved that i didn’t blow up with angry emotions. i know she’s upset about having me switch schools for the third time this year, even though i try to tell her that i don’t care because everyone at my old school sucks anyway and the people at this one probably will too. (she just laughs.)
she sits in a blue folding chair and gives me a way too cheerful smile. “see, james? comfy,”
i just smile and nod, and then she suggests we go to sleep, even though it’s not even six p.m. yet. but i can see she’s tired and worn out, so i just say okay, and pretend to be asleep until i can hear her breathing steady into the rhythm of sleep. i try to clean up the mouse droppings with a plastic spoon, which is disgusting and makes me want to vomit, but someone needs to clean it up and it certainly won’t be mom. (not that she doesn’t care; i’m sure she does. she just works almost all day and most nights. she has, like, five jobs, and all of them suck. i’d get a job, but she gets mad at me when i ask.) after that’s done, i leave her a note to tell her i’m going out and add the time.
i hurry out of the disaster called the pleasantville apartments and make my way down the street. the house keys jingle and jangle in my pocket; my ratty white reeboks slap the pavement. it’s late november, the cold air of december is beginning to creep in, and i’m glad i’m wearing a thin jacket. the elbows are worn out, but it helps keep most of the rest of my upper body warmish.
the town that we now live in is not unordinary. i can see the glowing sign of an acme in the distance, and there’s a couple family-owned shops lining the street on either side. there’s a bakery, a consignment shop, a café, the works. i jam my fists into the pockets of the jacket and look at the other shops. there’s a nice looking cd shop—it’s not exactly bustling with people, but most of the prices look reasonably low. really should get a new mp3 player; i didn’t see my old one at the apartment. i had all my cds in a cardboard box, and my prehistoric laptop, but no mp3 player. i bet todd stole it. (despite my mother’s protests, he’s really not good at heart.)
i spend a while wandering aimlessly around, and finally see a fluorescent bank sign announcing the time and temperature—it’s almost 8:30. i decide to head home. it’s not too far away, as i’m home within ten minutes. mom’s sitting up in “bed” with the lights on (all of them…), watching the door. when i walk in, she smiles and says, “oh, james, i was afraid you got hit by a car.”
i roll my eyes and then tell her i did and i’m the ghost of james delaney coming to seek revenge on her (for reasons unknown). she doesn’t like that.
then she holds up my note and asks me, “james, are you maybe developmentally disabled, or just lazy? because you don’t use capitals.” she always asks this, and frankly, it’s annoying. whenever i give her the answer, she always just shakes her head and says that she hopes this new school will finally fix that. that’s another thing about my mother. she doesn’t understand me.
“for the umpteenth time, mom, it’s unfair to lowercase letters. i find capitalization as confusing, aggravating, and just plain stupid as gay republicans.” i grumble and toss her the keys. she misses, but barely even flinches as it flies past her head and crashes into the wall. she just shakes her head and mumbles about how sorry she is for disrupting my mental development and such. to be honest, i don’t think she screwed up (too badly) because i turned out okay. just okay. i hope.
she suggests we actually go to bed this time and i nod, and we lie down on the mattress and fall asleep within seconds. it’s been an exhaustingly long week for us.

the day i meet shiloh 
the following day, i am forced by law to attend the revolting social jail called “school.” don’t get me wrong: i am all for everyone gaining knowledge so we can survive as a human race and whatever, but you’ll have to agree with me that “school” has become more of a social gathering (for better or for worse) and less of a place to learn. not that we’re not learning—we are. just more about how much we all secretly hate each other than anything of actual importance, in my opinion. there are some classes that you do obtain knowledge in more than others, but mostly i just really hate school.
the bus stop is only a block away, near the cd store i passed the previous night. i think i’m the only one there at first, so i sigh happily and lean against the bus stop sign. maybe i’ll have some moments of blissful peace until the yellow hell on wheels arrives.
at my sigh, however, someone jumps up from a bench under a tree in a little grove behind me and walks over. it’s a girl, with a baggy t-shirt advertising a band that i like (so i know she has spectacular taste in music) and some gray-wash skinny jeans. she has worn-out reeboks, too, but they’re black and not white. she has her hair cut short, ending just below her chin, and it’s curly and red and frizzy. her eyes are big and brown, which i find really amazing since i’ve never met anyone with red hair and brown eyes before. she’s unusually short and pale and thin, and she has an oxygen tank on one of those little steel carts. she stops next to me and looks up at me. (i’m almost five ten, and i’m estimating she’s about four nine.)
she smiles and says, “hi, you’re new.” i don’t know what to say to her, so i just kind of jut my chin in her direction. she motions for us to sit down over on the bench, and we do. it takes her an extra moment, because she’s fiddling with her oxygen tank and the cannula tubes wrapped around her ears and the nubbins in her nose. she sees me watching and laughs, pointing a thumb at her oxygen tank. “cystic fibrosis,” she explains. “doctors says my life expectancy is 27.” and oddly, she laughs again, her eyes crinkling and her smile lighting up her face.
“oh,” i say, mostly because i feel like i have to say something. i feel dumb, and i bet i look dumb, too, but the girl with the oxygen tank doesn’t seem to mind. she just waves it off and cracks her knuckles.
“the name’s shiloh.”
“james,” i respond, and stare at the asphalt street. anything to keep my attention off her oxygen tank, because i think that’d be rude. usually i don’t care if i’m impolite, but something about shiloh makes me want to have her like me. i find my eyes wandering from the street to her oxygen tank. dammit.
“don’t be embarrassed about me, please,” she rolls her eyes. “i hate when people do that—try not to look at me. that includes the oxygen tank. that’s part of me, too. it’s my lungs. if humankinds’ lungs were exterior, would you purposely look away in fear that i’d be offended? no! just like you wouldn’t give a second thought to checking me out.” she pauses, and winks at me. “because i know you were. no one can resist thiiiis.” she gestures to herself. i find myself blushing. i thought i was being subtle. “don’t worry. i like you, james. you’re good at listening. or just hate talking, either way works, because i adore talking. have to talk before i die, you know?”
it strikes me odd how much she didn’t seem to care about dying, but i like it. she talks a little bit more, about how much school sucks and why all the people there are annoying in one way or the other. she’s sarcastic and witty, cracking jokes that make me laugh until my lungs ache and beg for air, and sometimes she gets rather dark, talking about death and how much she just doesn’t care, because what can she do about it? it’s death, and you shouldn’t fear the reaper and such. every once in a while, she breaks for a slight cough and says it’s just a tickle in her throat.
the school bus arrives too early (well, technically, it’s late, but i wish it would never arrive so i can keep talking to shiloh), and shiloh takes my wrist and pulls me into the closest empty seat on the bus. she talks almost the whole time, pausing to catch her breath and cough and wait for my awed responses. finally, she gets very quiet and looks up at me, eyes wide, and whispers, “now it’s your turn.”
i don’t say anything. she keeps looking at me expectantly, and finally i nod and tell her about my mother and the unpleasantville apartments and todd and capitalization and republicans and mp3 players. she listens the whole time, and when i’m done, she looks up at me and whistles, long and slow.
“well, then, james, looks like you need a dose of shiloh.”
then she jumps back into a monologue, full of sardonic statements and complaints and praises, and a thought begins to form in the back of my mind.

My second dose of shiloh

i meet shiloh at the cd store so we can walk to the bus stop together. yesterday, she told me her dad owns it and she lives in the little apartment above it. i told her that that is extremely cool and she agreed. she said her dad’s pretty cool, and even though it’s difficult going down all the stairs with her exterior, portable lungs, she can deal. (“at least i only have twelve more years to deal with it, haha!”)
she talks almost the whole way, telling me about free cds her dad gives her, and that’s how she became so obsessed with music. her favorite is nineties alternative rock, but she’ll listen to anything that’s alt rock. plus she likes heavy metal. she really does have good taste in music. we debate our favorite bands.
at the bus stop we discuss politics, and she tells me, “i just can’t wait to vote.”
“my mother isn’t into politics, but i make her vote and she’ll vote for whoever i tell her is the best candidate. so i can pretty much already vote.” i reply, smiling. shiloh scoffs in jealousy and says she wants to meet my mother. she tells me her own mother took off when she learned shiloh had c.f., but shiloh tells me it doesn’t matter. i tell her about how my dad is “out of the picture” and she shrugs and says, “that sucks, but your mom sounds awesome.” i kind of disagree, so she punches me feebly. (not on purpose. i think she wanted to hurt me.)
on the bus, we talk about food. she mentions her favorite food is green beans because nobody likes green beans. i tell her i hate green beans and she laughs and says, “see?” she’s beautiful when she laughs, and also when she coughs, which i notice she’s been doing a little more today. it’s a mucus-y cough, which she says is a result of c.f. she uses a napkin when she coughs.
we walk up to school together, and she says i have permission to continue the food conversation at lunch but we can’t talk anymore about food now due to the fact that she’s getting hungry. i give her the granola bar that’s half of my lunch. she hesitates, but i insist.
by lunch time, i’m positive i’m in love with shiloh. the thought molds in my mind.

the diagnosis party—eight days in

shiloh invites me to her diagnosis party tomorrow night, which is a saturday. i ask her what a diagnosis party is.
“a diagnosis party is the day i got diagnosed, obviously.” she laughs at me as though i’m stupid, but i know she’s joking. “i celebrate it.” i tell her that she’s weird, but i’ll come anyway. she hugs me and suggests i bring my mother and a present. (“no presents, no entry.”)
“okay,” i say.
at home i tell my mother that we have a party to go to tomorrow.
“what for?” she asks. the apartment smells like microwavable lean cuisine. she’s cooking one in the microwave. i tell her it’s for a girl’s diagnosis party and then i have to explain everything. i can feel my cheeks turning flaming red.
“so, shiloh, huh?” she smiles and adds, “your girlfriend?” i tell her i don’t know. (i don’t add that i really hope she is.) we eat dinner in silence.
the following day i ask my mom to borrow five bucks. some teenagers might not find this as horrible and selfish as i do, but considering our financial issues, i feel like satan himself. but she doesn’t even flinch and gives me ten extra dollars—fifteen bucks total! i’m impressed and she says she worked an extra shift at the diner last night to get some extra tips so i could get shiloh a nice gift. i hug her tightly and she seems very surprised. she smells like french fry grease and burgers. i can’t remember the last time i hugged her.
i spend the whole day wandering main street and gawking at stores, trying to figure out what to get shiloh. i want to get her a cd of a band i think she’ll like, but her father owns the aforementioned cd store and she’ll know ahead of time. she told me she works there on the weekends. i decide to buy her green beans. i don’t know why, but i hope it’ll be funny enough to make her laugh. i really want to see that smile again.
the local gas station convenience store is pretty well stocked on generic brand green beans. i get five cans for five dollars and some rhododendrons for my mother. i vaguely remember her saying she likes rhododendrons. or roses? i get some yellow roses as well. the clerk looks annoyed at my addition. i’m short one dollar and she just waves me off and says, “i already fixed up the bouquets.” i smile at her.
at the apartment, i present my mother the flowers and she cries. it’s a big cry of joy, with her shoulders racking back and forth and tears turning into wide rivers flowing down her tired cheeks. i feel happy that she’s happy.
soon it’s time to go to shiloh’s. my heart is pounding on my ribcage, screaming her name. my mother is excited, as well. (i think she thinks i was lying about shiloh not being my girlfriend.)
shiloh’s father—mr. reynolds—opens the door. he’s tall, unlike his daughter, even taller than me. from his clothes, i can derive that he is stuck in the nineties’ grunge period: beanie over his shaggy blonde hair, t-shirt not unlike the kind shiloh wears frequently, jeans with purposeful holes in the knees, and black vans. he greets us with a half-wave with his right hand and says, “’sup. i’m shiloh’s dad, jeremy.”
shiloh’s head pokes out from behind him. “daaaad, you’re embarrassing me in front of my boyfriend.” then she winks her chocolaty brown left eye at me. my mother shoots me a look that says, ‘so she is your girlfriend.’ i feel my cheeks turn a fiery red, and shiloh pushes her dad weakly (but he pretends it hurts and falls to the ground.)
“how about we go into the living room?” she offers and doesn’t wait for my reply. we sit on the overstuffed couch. her apartment is nice, especially when compared to mine. i wait for her to fix her oxygen tank so we can sit down together. like i said, don’t want to come off as rude even though she assured multiple times that it’s okay if i am.
“james,” my mom shoves the convenience store’s plastic bag in my hand. she smiles at shiloh and says, “hi, i’m miss delaney, but please call me anna.”
shiloh grins, “hi, anna, i’m miss reynolds, but call me shiloh.” my mother laughs, and then jeremy takes her into the kitchen for a beer and “adult chat time”. shiloh looks horrified, so i ask her why.
“james, do you not understand what this means? they’re probably going to coo about how cute we look.” i nudge her side gently and she shrugs. “what? wait! give me my present. i’m dying to know what your sorry ass got me.” she grabs the bag and pulls out the green beans. “yum. i will save these for the zombie apocalypse.”
i smirk at her and say there’s no such thing as zombies, and she rolls her cart over my foot. (now that hurts.) then she starts tugging on my shirt sleeve and gawking at me.
“oh! right. my dad wanted me to give you the talk.” this transports me to pre-adolescent times when you’re getting the actual talk, but then she nudges me and adds, “the fact i’m going to die in twelve years probably and we can’t grow old together and stuff.” she pauses to cough in a napkin and tosses it into a wastebasket next to the sofa. “sorry. still got that tickle. anyway, you’re going to be brokenhearted for the rest of your pitiful life.” i look at her, wide-eyed, and feel as though she’s rejecting me. she reads my mind. “my dad’s words, not mine.”
then she rolls her eyes back into her head and says in a raspy voice not unlike a possessed opossum: “but i do want to break your little heart. snap it in two. suck the life out of it. douse it in green beans.”
“screw you, nosetube girl.” i joke, and she smiles and gushes about how insensitive i am. i feel all jittery inside. the thought from the very first day is beginning to finish.
then she squeezes my forearm and whispers, “want to wear my cannula tubes for, like, thirty seconds?”
“what? won’t you, like, die?”
“no. and even if i will, don’t fear the reaper.”
“oh,” i purse my lips, then nod. “yes.”
so i do. it tickles. i laugh and watch her watching me. she’s taking giant, deep breaths, and smiling a big smile that shows off all of her teeth. finally i take them off and put them back on her. “that was cool. i’m glad you didn’t die.”
she closes her eyes and inhales deeply, then coughs a little. “mmm-hmm. i’m glad i didn’t die, too.” i hold her hand and it’s freezing cold. i try to warm it up with my own hands, but i’m cold-blooded so i think it’s making it worse.
suddenly her eyes snap open and she looks at me bug-eyed, like a deer caught in headlights, and very quickly she whispers, “iloveyoujames,” and leans in and kisses me. she tastes salty.
i’m pretty sure fireworks go off because it’s wonderful.

the last day—twenty days in
my body feels like static on a television, all tingly and warm and happy, even though it’s a school day. school seems to suck less, and shiloh holds my hand every second she can. i notice she’s coughing a lot, and she tells me not to worry, just a tickle in her throat. (i’m starting to think it isn’t.)
the thought has been sitting in a filing bin in the corner of my mind, almost complete, needing a little something more.
after school i walk her home, up to her door, and i work up the courage to kiss her goodbye. she still tastes salty. i like it. if only i had realized this would be our final goodbye, i would’ve kissed her for longer. a lot longer. i wouldn’t have let her go.
at home, my afternoon starts out ordinarily. pop a hot pocket in the microwave, lounge on the mattress, procrastinate, eat the hot pocket, hit the books. mom comes home smelling of french fry grease and burgers, i nuke her a hot pocket. she eats it and then she naps.
then the phone rings. i close my english notebook and answer it. “hello?”
“hey, it’s Jeremy, shiloh’s dad.” jeremy’s voice sounds not so much breaking as much as already broken. his voice is thick, like pudding, as though he’s been crying. a lot. “is this james?”
“yeah,” i reply, hesitate, and then add, “is something wrong?”
“yes, actually, shiloh’s in the hospital. she’s had a cold for a while now, and we’ve had to keep an eye on her. it wasn’t a bad cold… but… but, well, it’s really bad. we’re at the local hospital, and she’s sleeping now… but… i’d like you here.”
i tell him we’ll be right there. at least, i think i did, because i’m in a haze, and the air thickens and it feels like i need some portable lungs for myself. i mumble something to my mother, but she seems to know what i’m saying, and next thing i know we’re in shiloh’s hospital room. i’m so distressed i can’t even hear anything. my mom’s hugging me, and everything’s happening in slow motion.
somehow my hand hurts and i think i punched the wall.
it feels like someone punched my heart.
at 3:29 in the morning, shiloh reynolds meets the reaper, fearless.
it happened too quickly.
and then, the thought is complete.

what i figured out
sometimes, i decided, important things deserved capitals. kind of like Shiloh.



Hailey Mullen is in ninth grade and enjoys listening to music, reading, writing, and playing RPG video games (such as Skyrim). She also likes fencing and resides in Lansdale, Pennsylvania with her mom, dad, and younger sister and brother. Her current favorite book is Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Married

Everybody knows the classic story of Cinderella.  I know it especially well, considering that I am her.  But here’s the thing: it didn’t happen exactly as they would have you believe.

‘Kay so, my mom never died.  I think the writers had it that way to make it seem like I was all lonely and heartbroken and stuff, but my parents actually split up when I was nine, and my dad got full custody.  Not that I even liked my mom, anyway.  She had like, twelve tattoos of peace and love symbols and her closet was full of eighties clothing.  Whenever I said anything to her, she quoted the Bible.

Anyway, my dad married, like, three months later, claiming that he needed to “support me,”  and have “another person to provide for me,” even though he had a high paying corporate job that could buy us a mansion, and he totally couldn’t fake a low income that well.

But who could blame him, really?  Belle was in-your-face gorgeous, with calm features and flowing blond hair.  I felt, like, really lucky to have her as my stepmom.  Plus, she was really cool, and always gave me tips on how to do my heavy black eyeliner and lipstick right.  I grew to love her much more than my hippie mother.
You heard it right folks.  Heavy black eyeliner?  Lipstick?  Your blond haired, blue eyed princess is goth.  As in, neon and black striped socks, black pigtails, death metal t-shirts goth.  I’ve even got bat-wing tattoos on my back and about five piercings in each ear, not even counting the rest of my face.

‘Kay so, my stepmother turned out really nice, but my stepsisters didn’t.  There were two, just like in the fairytale, and they were both pretty good looking.  Like, medium beauty.  My dad thought they were the sweetest girls in the world, but you already know not to trust his judgment.

Anyway, the one girl, Charlotte, would like, blackmail me into doing her chores and giving her my allowance – which my dad STILL gave me.  At sixteen, you can’t be goth if you’re dad totally babies you.  But try explaining that to him.  You see, I was hanging out with my friends one night, walking through the woods, me and Andy almost carrying Chealse and Violet, who were high (don’t worry, I’m one of the few in my group who refuses to do drugs) from the pot they had gotten from some guy on the street corner.  We ended up stumbling in on a party my neighbors were having in their mansion and my friends said some really stupid things.  They threatened to rat us out for trespassing unless we mowed their lawn for the next year for free.  They have a HUGE lawn.

‘Kay so, while I was stuck doing chores one night, my sisters declared they were going to a big fancy party held by the rich kid down the block that all the girls in my school swooned over.  And I wasn’t allowed to go.  At first, I didn’t really care.  But as I saw the girls pick out flowery dresses and twirl around in the mirror the princess side of my came out and I totally hid in my walk in and pigged out on chocolate to make myself happier (it was the good stuff from Belgium!  Don’t even try to tell me you wouldn’t do that too!).

By the end of the day of the party, I felt like I should not be the only one not at the party, so I opened my closet and shifted through eons of black and funky-colored clothing trying to find the one dress that I had that was okay to wear:  a mini black strapless with a line of paperclips down one side on the front.  Once I tried it on and stared at myself making poses in the mirror for at least, like, fifteen minutes, I was the teeniest bit excited.  I pulled my stick-straight hair into pigtails.  I had gone with magenta streaked black hair for the month.  It wasn’t as cool as neon colored, but Belle said I had to turn it black at least six months out of the year or I wouldn’t seem as awesomely goth as I was, and she kinda had a point.  That was why I made her do my makeup.

After doing my makeup, we were all pumped up, so we hijacked the neighbors Mercedes Benz and drove through some bushes to beat it up a little on the way to the party.

As soon as I stepped through the door, my best and totally emo friend, Sammi, was all “Hey, Ella, over here!”  As soon as I goth walked my way over to her, the music changed to a dub-step tune I’d never heard before.  Sammi pulled me into the crowd to dance.

When the song was over, she was all, “awww…” and sad, so we hung out near the food table trying to scare off other girls’ dates.  When Sammi was all happy again, we danced to a bunch of punk, dub-step, and heavy metal songs.  After like, five songs, I started to get blisters on my heels from my awesome lime green high tops (I know.  So unfair!).  I didn’t want them to rip my fishnets I had gotten for half price at Hot Topic (score!), so I snuck to the bathroom and took them off.  My eyes had watered when they scraped against the blister, so my awesome mascara was running down my face and totally gave me a sad clown look.

‘Kay so, I totally couldn’t go barefoot in fishnets (so uncool), so I like, wandered the halls looking for a bedroom or something that might have black pumps.  I kinda had to hide from the security guards, though, cause they were coming down the halls every like, five minutes.  Eventually, I found a woman’s bedroom and stole black heels from her closet.  On the way out, I couldn’t resist the urge to bounce on the bed.  It might have been smart to take the heels off first…

Anyways, I totally realized that the rich kid’s mother was at the party, and she might recognize her shoes, so I put them back and kept up my search.  I was just about ready to go back to the party barefoot when I came across a quite secretive looking door.  I was all intrigued and stuff, so I picked the huge lock with my giant skull barrette and heaved the chain off.  The doors were so totally heavy that I had to put my chucks back on for traction.

After I showed off my amazingly awesome strength to whatever particles were in the air at the moment, I took off my chucks again and walked up to the only thing in the room:  a glass pair of heels in a glass case with an unlocked door that said DO NOT TOUCH.

‘Kay so, being goth and such, I’m prone to doing the wrong thing.  And despite how bad the heels would have looked with my awesome fishnets, I kinda had to try them on.

The weird thing was, they fit perfectly.  I was strutting my stuff around the room in them, doing all fancy turns and showy-offy things that are hard to do in heels.  As I was grabbing my chucks, prepared to walk back out, the rich kid came in.

He was all, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be in…oh my heavens, you fit the family shoe!  Let me kiss your feet!”  I’m paraphrasing.  But he did bow.

So while I was trying to figure out why the richest kid in school was worshiping my existence, I was sort of swept up into oddly muscular arms.  So I was all, “Ahem!”
And he was all, “Sorry.  You totally fit the family shoe!”

And I was all, “If you don’t explain yourself, I’ll snap the heels.”

So he kinda threw a small spazfit and I just watched him until he spit out the whole story.  Apparently, I was supposed to marry him.

So I was all, “You’re a creep.  I’m leaving.”

And he was all, “I’ll rat you out.”


That was, like, about the time that my heartbeat quickened until it was just one constant thuuuuuuuuuuump, and my brain slowed down until, like, it took me a minute per second to process everything.  I thought totally unhealthily hard for a minute or so before deciding to go to jail.

But then, there was a knock on the door.

‘Kay so, I spun around really really fast and saw a guy dressed all in white sneak in through the ginormous door.  And omigod…he was hot.

So the rich kid was all, “Hey, give us a minute, will you?”

And I was all, “Who is that?!”

And he was all, “He is my servant.  And someday, he could be yours.”

And I knew I was being set up.  I really, truly did.  But he was soooooooooo hot.
“FINE!  I guess I’ll marry you.”

And he was all, “Yay!”

And hot boy was all, *ridiculously cute smile in my direction.*



Clara LaBrake is currently in eighth grade at AJHS in Abington and loves writing short stories and poetry. She is an eight grader at Abington Junior High School.You can support young writers like Clara with a contribution to PSJR today. Click here to read how.

Hope: A Story of True Friendship


In the mists of London, in the middle of the night, you can hear a dog bark.  That dog is Barney.  I am the only one that knows why he howls, and I have permission to tell you.
It all happened a few years ago, when Barney lived with the Millers.  Mrs. Miller was a pale, kind faced woman, who always wore some kind of polka dots.  She had pouffy red hair and blue eyes.  She was a beautiful woman, but the most beautiful part was her clothes.  She had red velvet dresses with white and brown polka dotted collars, which made her look like a red velvet cupcake, and blue satin dresses polka dotted with red or white.  She looked loving, but she was the exact opposite.  She was cruel.
Mr. Miller was also kind faced, but he actually brought kindness with it.  You would expect him to wear suits, since he had a wife with such vanity, but he was a gardener, and he wore casual plaid shirts and baggy jeans. He didn’t dress up for dinner, which his wife disliked.
Barney did not deserve to be treated the way he was, and he was not treated fairly.  He was fed one scoop of food a day, and, unfortunately, it was cat food.
Sometimes, when she was in a good mood, Mrs. Miller would say to herself hopefully, “If that impish dog would just behave…” then she would laugh at the thought.
Barney was really a very well behaved dog, but Mrs. Miller was harsh, and Barney was kept outside. The garbage was his only chance of survival because cat food would never satisfy his ongoing hunger.  He was strong and shaggy with matted black fur over his eyes, and he always seemed to smile even through the roughest of times.  His long fur and short schnauzer legs made him appear low to the ground, and they made it harder for him to move quickly.
The days passed and things went on as usual.  Mrs. Miller straightened the pictures that hung in elegant frames. Mr. Miller fed Barney and went off to work. Mrs. Miller usually stayed inside, watched fashion channels on TV, or stood in front of the mirror and did and redid her hair in preparation for dinner that night. When night came after their daily routine, Barney slept in the garage on the blanket that he had been sold with.  The garage was dark and dusty even in the daytime.  The Millers owned a red Mini Cooper, which took up most of the small garage and was really in no shape for driving.
Sundays were the best day of the week for Barney.  The Millers always went shopping for books, clothes, food, anything.  Barney could go sniffing through bright, red tulips in the spring, dig holes in the snow in the winter, or drink from the marble birdbath in the summer. The yard was a perfect place for a dog, but it had its boundaries, and Barney knew it. There was a paved walkway that led to a pleasant-looking, three story house. On either side were little garden gnomes placed neatly against the pavement. Right behind the rows of gnomes were wide, grassy lawns that stretched all the way around the house. On the lawn to the right was an antique marble birdbath. The Millers had won it at an auction and were very proud of it.
The best part about Sundays was that Barney could visit Queenie, the next-door neighbor’s pup. She was also black, but she was a tall Labrador retriever. She was proud-looking with her head held high, and she always strode with long, thin legs.
One rainy, autumn Sunday, Mr. and Mrs. Miller took the Rovers, Queenie’s owners, shopping. Mr. and Mrs. Rover were very pet friendly, and they adored their dog almost as much as a child, of which they had none.  As the four neighbors got into the car, Mrs. Miller asked,
“What do you plan buying today?”
“Dog food,” said Mr. Rover flatly.
“And a new dog bed,” added Mrs. Rover rather enthusiastically.
“How overly kind you are to Queenie!” exclaimed Mrs. Miller. “Cat food suits Barney fine.  Did you see how plump he is?”
“You sound like you were preparing to eat him,” remarked Mr. Rover.
“Oh, I could never do that,” Mrs. Miller laughed.
“He would make a fine feast if he didn’t smell like garbage,” she added to herself.
As the friends drove around the corner, Queenie pawed at a decaying fence panel.
Why didn’t she go around front and into my yard?  Barney wondered.
I was lost on that too, until he mentioned that Queenie had noticed both gates were locked.
When Queenie finally got the panel loose, Barney was impatient.  He was running around the antique marble birdbath, which was overflowing with rain.  Queenie just had to join in the fun, and soon it was a game of who could stay the closest to the other’s rear end.  A robin flew lightly onto the elegant birdbath to bathe, or rather to practice swimming.  Neither Barney nor Queenie noticed the bird’s helpless efforts to stay afloat as giant raindrops plopped into the yard.

Soon the dogs got tired of chasing each other. Many other birds had gathered in the birdbath, and the two furry friends decided to chase birds instead.  Queenie stuck her nose in the detailed bowl of the birdbath and scared away half the birds while others boldly struggled to stay afloat. Barney, following his friend, tried to jump into the birdbath. Being an inexperienced jumper, he was unable to propel himself off the ground, and crashed into the birdbath instead. To Barney’s surprise, the birdbath tipped! Barney had only intended to get the birds away from the birdbath. Barney knew he would get in trouble for the mess. All of a sudden the birdbath seemed so precious.
I am not supposed to touch it.  Why were the birds allowed in?  I didn’t mean to cause all this trouble, Barney thought to himself.
Suddenly, Barney’s thoughts turned completely away from the birdbath. There was a little, round garden gnome wearing a big smile, a red shirt, and over his little porcelain legs, blue pants.  It was lying on its side and could easily be destroyed by the rain.  Barney cautiously picked it up in his mouth.  Queenie went over to see her friend’s newfound discovery.  She bumped Barney’s shoulder and the porcelain figure fell to the ground with a thump.  Barney quickly scooped the gnome up again and went to find a safer place for it. Queenie was excited.  She took the gnome from her pal and ran all around the yard.  All her running splashed mud on the house.  Barney was frantic.  If Queenie dropped the gnome it would break, and Barney would be blamed. He was sure.
Barney ran as fast as his stubby legs could carry him.  Queenie whizzed around behind him and screeched to a halt.  Barney turned around and yapped at his naughty friend.  Queenie had no idea what was going on.  If only dogs would listen to each other.  Queenie opened her mouth.  The gnome fell to the ground.
It was like the worst part of a nightmare, and Barney’s nightmare didn’t end. As the precious figure fell to the ground, Barney winced. Queenie looked at him in curiosity. What was so bad?  The gnome fell to the ground.  Barney whimpered.


Although Barney’s eyes were closed he could tell that little splinters of porcelain scattered around the yard were remains of the precious garden gnome.
Furiously, Barney howled. It was a deep, sorrowful howl, a howl of longing, for he knew what would happen.


One afternoon Mr. Miller went upstairs to find his wife posting a picture of Barney on a piece of paper that read:


Mr. Miller looked at the floor.  There were at least twenty of the same flyers.
“You can’t do-,” he began.
“Yes I can.  Period.”  Mrs. Miller made it final.
Mr. Miller could have protested. Why he didn’t, I don’t know.  He could have been frightened.  I know I would have been.
“Um-uh-I—I-I’ll go h-h-hang these p-posters up.”  He stammered.
He wanted to go outside and just get rid of the flyers. No one would know Barney was supposed to leave, but Mrs. Miller saw the gears turning in his head, pieces of the plan fitting together like a puzzle in his mind. “I am fine, thank you very much,” she said as if there was no suspicion in the air. Disappointed, Mr. Miller went outside to say goodbye to Barney.
As Mr. Miller snuggled his dog, Barney thought back to when the Miller’s car pulled up the driveway. The terrible memory played in his mind like a movie. He remembered the distant rumbling of a most dreaded car, a sound he never wanted to hear again. He remembered how the color had drained from Mrs. Miller’s face when she got out of the car and saw the yard, how she had rushed inside with a flustered Mr. Miller following closely behind. He remembered the worst memory of all: How Queenie had jumped through the fence and betrayed Barney, leaving him with all the blame.
Mr. Miller stroked Barney’s back.
“You already know, don’t you old pal, you already know you have to leave.”
It was a very sad hug, but it comforted Mr. Miller and Barney, and they both wanted to stay there forever. Then Mrs. Miller stormed outside.
“Don’t tell that dog it’s all right!” Mrs. Miller screamed.
“It’s not all right! I will not let him get away with this! Now, John!” Mrs. Miller directed the last part of her fit towards her husband.
“Go check with everybody on the surrounding blocks if we can post fliers on their fences.”
When Mr. Miller had left, Mrs. Miller put an old collar around Barney’s neck, and using a dusty, moth-eaten leash, she tied him to the fence.
Then she taped a flier to the fence.
Meanwhile, Mr. Miller was talking with the Rovers.
“I can’t believe she’s doing this!” exclaimed Mrs. Rover.
“And you must make haste, you know how much your wife can do in a small amount of time. I would not like a poster on my fence,” Mr. Rover said gravely.
“Yes, I’ve noticed how quickly Jane can work when she’s determined,” Mr. Miller hurried off.
Next door, Mrs. Miller was busy, just as the Rovers had said. Mr. Miller came panting into the yard, just as his wife was tightening the collar around Barney’s neck. He had come home much too soon for Mrs. Miller. When she saw him, she quickly let go of the collar and pretended she was just petting Barney. It comforted her, just petting someone, even if she was furious at them. As Mrs. Miller ran her fingers through the thick, knotted fur, on Barney’s back, she felt no pity. It hadn’t been combed for two years, and now, more than ever, Mrs. Miller felt it should never be combed again.  Her heart was still pounding with fury.  Barney wished that Mrs. Miller would one day stroke his back with affection.  He knew that some wishes don’t come true in the blink of an eye, and this one wouldn’t come true in a million years.  He hoped one day he would feel the soft bristles of a brush on his back, the way he once had in a veterinary clinic years ago.  He hoped one day he would be welcomed into a warm house with someone to play with in the summer.  His heart pounded with the anxiety of the future.  Mr. Miller hoped Barney would find a good home before long, so a loving family would comb him and tend to all his cuts and bruises.  He was upset and grieving, for his wife had never revealed her dark side.  His heart was pounding with fear.  Weeks passed and no one wanted Barney.  Mrs. Miller refused to buy cat food, and she unknowingly removed Barney’s source of food when she moved the garbage inside.
During those weeks, the regular mailman took a vacation.  The substitute mailman hated dogs, especially small ones, such as Barney.  After one week, the mailman could not stand seeing that little terrier, who shied away each time he passed, whose eyes seemed to say, “Help me.” One day, as the substitute mailman passed the house he most dreaded, he saw a lady in her early fifties, with red hair pulled tightly back, wearing a brown dress with orange polka dots and sitting in a deck chair.  She was not dressed properly for the season, for her cherry trees were in full bloom, and she looked more like a dead oak.
“Hello ma’am,” the mailman said.  “You know that dog of yours,” he continued.
“Yes, he’s really been on my nerves lately,” said Mrs. Miller, sipping a glass of cold lemonade casually, very un-Mrs. Miller-ish.
“I highly suggest you get rid of that dog,” the substitute began formally.  “He disturbs me with howls, and I can see he is of no use to you.”  He finished as if he had planned the whole thing, like a short speech at a wedding.
That night, Mrs. Miller tossed and turned, thinking about what the mailman had said.  She listened to Barney’s howl, and when she could take it no longer, she sat up in her bed and screamed, “That dog is of no use to me!”
Mr. Miller mumbled in his sleep and resumed a gentle snore.
“You’re just as useless!” Mrs. Miller screamed again.
Barney stopped howling and picked up his ears, listening for more sounds in the bedroom.  After awhile, he decided to keep howling to comfort himself.  In the morning, Mrs. Miller’s mood had grown worse.  After she had rushed Mr. Miller out of the house, she scooped up Barney and rushed angrily out of the house.  Barney glanced longingly back at the house, it’s smooth, brick walls, the white door he never saw the other side of, the brass numbers, “246”, nailed in a straight row on its smooth, white surface.  As Mrs. Miller hastily turned the corner, Barney looked hopefully behind him at the street sign that read, Rosemary Road.
Rosemary Road, Barney thought to himself, the road with the homeliest homes. (Now the place of no return!)
Mrs. Miller walked and walked until her heels were blistered through long, thick, laced stockings.  When she could take it no longer and called for a taxi, Mrs. Miller was holding Barney by the scruff of his neck.  When the taxi came, Mrs. Miller walked in as if she were a princess, and then dropped Barney on the seat next to her.  The most Mrs. Miller could do was eye Barney with great distaste.
“Stones End Street, please.”  The driver gasped, but did not comment.
Stones End Street had a bad reputation.  When I told my friends at school I was moving there, they acted as if I were going to die.
“I heard no one lives there,” said my best friend, Tanya.
“My sister said somebody was killed there,” gasped Eleanor, whose sister used to know everything.
“There are monsters under every bed!” shrieked Sonya, who was terrified of anything under the bed.
Actually, I no longer regret living there.
As Mrs. Miller reached Stones End Street, she was delighted at how dismal it was.  “Perfect for you, stinker,” she muttered under her breath, a wicked smile on her face.  Evil was overcoming Mrs. Miller, but as soon as Barney was out of her sight for good, she would be back to her old, proper, straight-laced self. She dropped Barney, and suddenly she felt lighter. No, not exactly lighter, more empty. She felt as if a part of her had been taken away. To Mrs. Miller, Barney was like a burden she was very happy to get rid of. In fact, she wished no one would ever love Barney and that he would become so weak and unwanted that he would just disappear.
Now, I was watching all of this through my window, and I was very surprised to see a lady dressed in petticoats and white-laced stockings (and probably a layer of under skirts and pantyhose) on my street.  Mrs. Miller was particularly fancy that day.  She was wearing a reddish-brown dress and a brown and white polka dotted petticoat on top.  Her long, laced, white socks were pulled all the way up to her crisp, wrinkle-free pantaloons.  When I saw her drop Barney, I gasped, but did not say anything.  I was sure one of my family members would see to calling the cops or the pound.
“Beth Anne!  Finish your homework!  We haven’t got all day!” My mother scolded.
I quickly turned away from the window.  Who was that lady anyway?  What kind of dog was that?  Even though I concentrated as hard as I could, my thoughts kept straying from my spelling words.  That night I had a dream about the dog.  I had taken the dog into our apartment, but my parents didn’t like him.  They said I had to leave him outside, or they’d deal with him.  I didn’t know what they meant by “deal with him”, so I handed the dog over.  Then, I couldn’t believe what they did- they chopped him up and threw the pieces away!  The next morning, I thought better of mentioning the dog at all. However, when I got to school, I couldn’t contain myself any longer.  Before lunch my whole class knew about the strange lady that had left the forlorn-looking dog on my street.
“Did she look old fashioned, or just stuck up?” asked Jess, who was quite stuck up herself.
“Oh, that’s so sad,” Annabelle cooed.  “She left the dog all alone on the street!”

The Plan

I leaped off the bus as soon as the doors opened, and rushed down the block.
“Wait!” called Annabelle.  “Wait for me!”
“I can’t!” I called over my shoulder.  “I’ve got to get home!”
My feet pounded on the cement.  I nearly tripped over the black blur that dashed into the road.  I stopped short.
“Come here boy,” I called. The dog whimpered and shied away.
“Here, doggy, doggy, doggy!”  By this time, Annabelle had caught up with me, and she too, was calling to the dog. The forlorn looking creature edged farther away from us.
Annabelle lived in the apartment building too, but her apartment was much roomier than mine. She lived with only her mother, as I lived with my mother, father, and grandmother.
After Annabelle had left, I tiptoed across the street, and slowly approached the black fur ball. He ran to the other end of the block. I gave up at that point. Even getting near the dog would be a laborious task.
I walked into the apartment building.
“Good afternoon, Beth Anne,” said a maid, stepping out of the elevator. Silently, I walked into the elevator, just as the doors started to close. I pressed the number “5” button. The fifth floor was the highest level, but the windows didn’t give you much of a view, because of the run down streets below.
When the elevator doors opened, (after a ten second ride) I stepped out and started down the long, narrow hallway. I squeezed against the wall, as a maid puffed by pushing a large cart of cleaning supplies in front of her. I continued down the hall, and stopped at the door labeled “525”. I knocked, and after a series of mumbles and shuffling footsteps, the door opened. My grandmother, dressed in a nightgown, was standing in the doorway, half asleep. She hadn’t left the apartment for four years. In her ill condition, she had barely left her bed for the past four years.
“Hello, dear,” she said. My mother, who had been working in the kitchen, stepped in the doorway beside Grandma.
“Beth Anne,” my mother said calmly, “I would like to talk with you.”
I followed Mom through the apartment into my bedroom, which provided the best view of the cobblestone road. We both sat down on the bed and made ourselves comfortable.
“Beth Anne, there is an animal down there on our street.” My heart froze. What if she wants to give him to a pet store or an animal shelter that won’t treat him well?
“Do you know anything about that creature?” Mom asked.
“Well, no.” I replied nervously. I wanted tell her about the lady who left him, about the strange connection I felt I had with him, but something inside me told me not to.
“Are you sure?” Mom asked me. She could tell I was lying.
“I’m sure.” I tried to make my answer sound positive and definite.
“All right,” Mom sighed and left the room.
As the days passed, things got worse. Mom started to guess what was going on with Barney, and I started to fall behind in schoolwork, worrying about the dog. By the end of the next week, Mom had discovered that a strange lady had left him on our street, that I wanted to rescue him, and that he needed a home.
“Sorry, honey.” Mom said. “You know your grandmother is sick. We can’t afford to have a dog in the apartment. We’re making Grandma sicker as it is.” I sighed.
Rescuing Barney would be a lot harder than I thought.
“Besides, your dad isn’t a big dog person.”
Wow, I thought. This couldn’t get any harder. I thought in despair for a few seconds, while silly, impossible thoughts popped in and out of my mind. My thoughts drifted to my “London Ladies.”
“London Ladies” are ten-inch dolls that nearly every girl in London has. They all have different books written about them, and they’re always doing brave things, so they can do what they really feel passionate about. I could do something like that, not a miracle, but something.
“Mom, why has Grandma been sick for four years? I mean, if she was diagnosed with something, she would be given medicine, and she would have recovered, right?”
“You‘re right,” Mom chuckled. “That is exactly what should have happened. She was diagnosed with a terrible case of pneumonia, so terrible that she needed six weeks’ worth of medicine. The medicine was awful- it smelled terrible and apparently tasted terrible. After three weeks, she refused to take her medicine; she got sicker and sicker. Now she may be beyond recovery.”
I thought about what Mom had said about dad not being a big dog person. I wasn’t a big dog person either, or not until I saw what happened to ‘the dog on our street’ (now a commonly-used phrase in our household). In that case, by telling Dad this dog’s sad story, he might appreciate dogs more. But convincing Dad would have to wait until the weekend, when I actually could spend time with him. Until then, I would convince Grandma that a dog was good for our family. With both Dad and Grandma on my side, Mom would surely agree.
Finally, Saturday came. After lunch I pulled Dad aside. I told him everything I knew, (about Grandma) everything Mom knew, (everything) and everything Grandma knew. (Nothing) After I finished I asked Dad,
“What do you think we should do?”
“Gee, I don’t know. What I would do is take him in as our own- I’m just worried about Grandma’s heath.”
I grinned. This was working nearly perfectly.
“I talked to Grandma. She refuses to take any medicine at all, but she doesn’t want a dog because she’s sick.”
“Yeah,” Dad agreed. “Grandma’s strange that way. And, if we sneak her medicine into her drink, she won’t want him in the house because she won’t know she’s healthy.”
“Yup” I sighed.
Now, remember how I told you about how Barney got to this rundown street in the middle of London? And you’re probably wondering how I know that, right? And as you read this you say to yourself “Dogs can’t talk!” And you’re right, they can’t. But they have a sense of recognition, and they can understand what you say. That’s what happened between Barney and I.
This happened the Thursday before I talked with Dad. I was coming home from the bus stop, and the dog dashed across the road, and planted himself right in front of my feet. He looked up at me, his eyes more pitiful and empty than any dog’s eyes should be. They seemed to question me.
“I think I know where you came from,” I said in reply to his steady eyes.  I made up two crazy stories about how he had wound up here, on Stones End Street. One told how they had floated down from the sky in a terrible storm. The other described how they barely had enough money to survive, so Mrs. Toucan (aka Mrs. Miller) had to leave him here. He continued staring at me, obviously not impressed. That was when I came up with the most realistic, but still most wild story yet. It was the exact same story that I told you in the beginning of the story, if you can remember that far back. Barney’s stare had changed, and I knew that my story was 100% accurate, that I had told it word for word. That was the first time I noticed his collar. The words on the faded collar tag read:


These words proved my story completely true.

The Action

I called Mom quickly before taking off.
“I going to the drugstore to get something for Grandma.” I said. I heard Mom sigh on the other end.
“Honey, she’ll never take it.”
“It’s worth a try,” I tried to sound optimistic, but Mom was right, Grandma would never take any medicine. I hurried off to the drugstore. I stepped through the door and nearly collided with another girl, just my age. She too, seemed lost in thought. The lady at the front desk seemed eager to help me.
“What can I do for you, Ma’am?” she asked.
“Um, can you help me find some medicine for a terrible, terrible case of pneumonia?” We walked silently down the aisles. Finally, the lady asked,
“How old is this person?”
“About seventy, I suppose,” I answered.
She scanned the shelf, then silently handed me a bottle. I gave her the correct amount of cash, after glancing at the medicine.
“Good luck!” the lady called after me. I hurried home to Grandma’s bedside.
“Hello dear,” she said.
“Grandma, do you ever get lonely?”
“Why yes I do, honey. Ah, it would be nice to have company while everyone was away.”
“I wish we could have a dog.” I said. “A dog would surely keep you company.”
“Yes, I agree. Wouldn’t a dog be wonderful? But my health truly stands in the way. If only somebody would give me a second chance, get me some medicine…”
“Grandma,” I had to interrupt her thoughts in order to get a chance to speak.
“Grandma, I got you some medicine. It says…” I paused. “It says it’s naturally flavored. You should like it.”
“I should like to have my first dose right now.”



Mikaela Finlay is a fourth grader at Germantown Friends School. This story is not her first, but this is the first time Mikaela has had her work published. When not writing, she likes to spend her time crocheting and illustrating. When Mikaela read an excerpt from this story at the November 10 Philadelphia Stories, Junior release party at the Arden Theatre’s Hamilton Family Arts Center in Old City, she was cheered on by her parents, her grandparents, and her sister, Anya.

Dear Jeannette

I don’t think I will ever get over that day, May 1, 2006. It is the day I lost a piece of my heart, a piece of myself. Why did you have to die in that car accident? Why do these things have to happen? It’s not fair that I had to lose you that day. You were someone so special to me.

I don’t remember that horrible day so much. I was in kindergarten. So I was too young, or I blocked it all out. I’m not sure. I don’t really want to remember that day. I recall my parents picking me up from school early and then sitting at my kitchen table. Then I remember them telling me the worst thing they could have ever said to me. The rest is a blur.

It changed my life in an instant. You were my best friend and cousin. You made me laugh. You dressed me up in costumes and took my picture. You fed me stuff my mom wouldn’t let me have, like soda and candy. And you made me feel so good about myself. Then you were gone…forever. And things changed forever. It’s just not fair. You should never have died.
I can’t explain how much I miss you. I can’t seem to get the words out of my heart and onto this paper. It hurts me so bad! Life without you is just not the same. Sometimes I feel so sad and lonely. I lost the confidence you instilled in me because I don’t remember what it feels like to be completely happy with myself. Why should I be happy? You aren’t here. I sure don’t feel like that same happy six year old who felt like a princess when you were around. I am heartbroken. I am lost. I am sad without you.

You were like my big sister and I miss you more and more as I get older. I’m a teenager now and I need you more than ever. I need my best friend. It’s been almost seven years and it still hurts that you’re gone. I don’t think it will ever get easier, but I know I can’t bring you back even though I would give anything for that to happen.

I’m so mad that you’re not here to paint my nails, pick out my clothes, and talk with me about girly things. I’m angry that you won’t be here to see me graduate. I’m mad that you won’t see me go on my first date. I wish you could be here to give me advice on life and friends. You were supposed to be here for these things.

I know you’re always with me in spirit, but I wish I could see you, talk to you, and laugh with you like we used to. I hope you hear me when I tell you my thoughts and fears and problems. I hope that you’ll listen when I finally let out my feelings. I hope that you smile when you see me from heaven. I hope that you see that I’m growing up. I hope that I make you proud. Help me to be more like you. Help me to be confident and fun-loving and full of life like I remember you. Help me to allow myself to be happy without you. Help me to be strong.

I believe that things happen for a reason. I believe that you will guide me. I believe that you’re in heaven. I believe that you’re happy. I believe in angels, Jeannette, and I believe that you’re mine.


Taressa Belle Toto is in 7th grade at Visitation BVM School in Norristown, Pennsylvania. She plays volleyball, basketball, and softball. Taressa lives with her mom and dad, her sister Ava, and her dog Snickers.

Scary Scouting

On a dark, chilly, scary Halloween night, four little Tiger Scouts named Greg, George, Dragon, and Bob were camping in a graveyard. Normally, they were quite brave little scouts, but the spooky, eerie Halloween night was really creeping them out! It would have been fine if they’d chosen to trick or treat like all the other little kids, but these boys had decided to be brave and camp in a graveyard under a full moon.

The boys were worried that vampires, werewolves, ghosts, pumpkin-heads, mummies, wizards, witches, and other scary creatures might come to get them, but most of all they were worried about a zombie invasion.

The scouts tried to calm down by eating their hamburgers, hotdogs, and spaghetti, but nothing could calm them down.

It turned out the boys were pretty smart for being scared, because all of a sudden the ground started to shake, the dirt loosened up, the tombstones crumbled, and the dead no longer rested in peace!

Green, smelly, dirty arms with the bones poking through started to come out of the ground.

The boys were super terrified that their worst nightmare had come true. But, just as they started to scream, lightning struck and dance music started blaring. The zombies had woken up to have a wild and crazy Halloween dance party!

Werewolves, vampires, ghosts, witches and more came to this crazy Halloween party. The scouts realized that the monsters were not so scary after all. They all became friends, danced the night away, and ate a lot of candy!


Short story from the writing workshop for the Pack 48 Tiger Den, Medford Lakes, NJ.

Benjamin Potatohead

Behind the sloping hill, the one with sandy patches of grass and rabbit holes, yellow dandelions and light purple wildflowers, there was a village. The tiny village was a merry place with colors everywhere: on kites sailing through the sky, on little toys that bounced and made noise, on the doors of small houses built into the ground. A stream gurgled under a sturdy wooden bridge.

The people of this little town were very unusual. They wore strange hats: propeller hats, beach umbrella hats, bowling pins, chef hats, and other headwear. Some wore hydrangeas or bowling pins on their heads. They spent all day outside, inventing games and activities, and they went to school in the red schoolhouse on the other side of the creek.

“A lovely town,” said a resident wearing a Ferris wheel hat. “But that boy, Benjamin Potatohead…he’s no good.”

“I’ll live here forever!” said another. She was sporting a monkey hat with arms that Velcroed around the neck. “But with Benjamin causing so much trouble, I don’t enjoy it as much.”

“I try to play with Benjamin,” said a child, “but he only steals my toys and laughs at me.”

Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead had lots to deal with. They loved Benjamin, but he caused all the trouble he could muster in the village and in their house, which was a giant hollowed-out potato.

Benjamin was light-ish brown with little holes for his rubbery arms, eyes, and other body parts. His parents looked almost exactly like him, but they were larger. Mrs. Potatohead wore a white felt hat with a daisy, and Mr. Potatohead’s was a black top hat. Benjamin had an eraser hat and was so poorly behaved that you probably can’t imagine how misbehaved he was. He had a remarkable quality: when he lied, his nose popped off, and it only fit back on once he told the truth.

One sunny morning, Benjamin woke up ready to cause trouble. The moment he awoke on his mushy potato peel bed, his fingers tingled and his eyes sparkled, ready for a day of utmost madness.

His mother ushered him off to the schoolhouse and watched him enter, but Benjamin snuck out the back when no one was looking. He stole ice cream and went swimming, and he also peed in the stream. Then he went to the gingerbread house and ate every gumdrop and peanut butter cup. Satisfied, he burped loudly and proceeded to rip flowers out of the ground.

“Oh, kibbets!” cried Benjamin, dropping several uprooted daffodils as he looked in the direction of the giant potato. Mrs. Potatohead was fetching the mail. Darnit, thought Benjamin. I forgot to bury the mail.

Mrs. Doodropping was walking by the Potatohead house, carrying a basket of strawberries. She stopped to chat with Mrs. Potatohead. Benjamin rubbed his rubbery hands together, an unmistakable sign of trouble ahead.
Benjamin bounced from house to house, hiding behind mailboxes. Finally, he reached his own and snuck up behind Mrs. Potatohead.

“…ashamed of Benjamin?” Mrs. Doodropping was asking. “My poor Charlie never has good things to say about him.”

“Benjamin is a troublemaker,” Mrs. Potatohead agreed, “but he is a child. That’s what kids do.”

“But he wreaks havoc in the village,” protested Mrs. Doodropping. “That is not alright. Charlie, for instance, never causes an ounce of trouble—”

Benjamin made his move. Quick as lightning, he ripped his mother’s heavily lip-sticked mouth from its hole and tore down the path, her muffled voice attempting to scream at him.

“Well, I never!” huffed Mrs. Doodropping as she wheeled and rushed down the path in the opposite direction. “What nerve! Stealing somebody’s mouth!”

Benjamin chuckled as he stuffed Mrs. Potatohead’s lips into his pear-shaped body. They rattled around as he gobbled Mrs. Doodropping’s stolen strawberries.

Yes, Benjamin was naughty. Wherever he went, a surprising amount of trouble followed. Nothing would stop him.

One day, though, when Annie Fergusen’s house caught fire, people were glad Benjamin was there to help.

Annie was always a perfect girl. She did well in school and pleased everyone except Benjamin, who wasn’t fond of girls. Annie was cute, but like a little doll: she had rosy cheeks and lips, curly golden hair, and petite dresses with white stockings. She was too clean for Benjamin; he was the muddy type.

Benjamin was yanking a girl’s hair when smoke started to drift over the village. He knew the smell of smoke from the time he set a teacher’s dress on fire. He began to rub his dirty hands together and even let go of the girl’s ponytail to see what was happening.

The little people of the town were fetching buckets of water and hoses to put out the fire at the Fergusen’s house. Benjamin ran to his mother, who had recently shaken her mouth out of his potato body.

“Linda Fergusen was cooking eggs and forgot the pan was on the stove,” said Mrs. Potatohead.

“Awesome!” cried Benjamin.

Mrs. Potatohead gave him a stern look.

Out of the house stumbled a panting Linda Fergusen, followed by her husband. Annie did not appear.

Moments later, Benjamin heard weeping. The townspeople ceased tossing water.

“We can’t find Annie,” explained Mr. Potatohead gravely.

Benjamin rubbed his hands together. This, though, was not a gesture for trouble. Instead, it was an idea.

“WAIT!” he screamed. “I think I can save Annie.” All eyes turned to him doubtfully, expecting his nose to pop off. Benjamin, the major troublemaker? Benjamin, save Annie Fergusen?

But his nose stayed put. Benjamin grabbed his eye and ripped it off his head, which is perfectly fine for a potatohead to do. Then, he threw it through a window.

“Annie is in her room!” he yelled as the eye landed on Annie’s carpet and saw the girl unconscious. Her father climbed up and heaved her out the window, wheezing.
Benjamin Potatohead still remained a troublemaker of the worst kind, stealing and playing hooky. But, from that day on, nobody forgot his cleverness when he saved Annie Fergusen from what everyone thought was her finish.




Ella Spencer is 12 years old. She says, “Writing has always been something that I loved, but I also enjoy drawing and reading. When I grow up, I would love to be a writer and have children of my own. I live in Merion, Pennsylvania with my parents, my brother, and my two pets: Willy (dog) and Violet (rabbit). I am excited to have joined this contest and be as creative as I can with it.” This story was one of the winners of the Pinocchio Writing contest co-sponsored by PS Jr. and the Arden Theatre.


In the fading light of the setting sun, Luka Yeshevsky sketched a face.
Luka drew the model’s lips, so carefully pursed around a smoldering cigarette, aligned to the curves of his chin. His pencil marked the contours and peaks of the quaint little nose, which rested plainly above the philtrum. He even captured the sagging lines beneath his model’s eyes, no doubt a result of the weary journey from St. Petersburg to Petrushka.
But his hand was having difficulty with the eyes. They were a tempest, he noted, because the gray flecks in the brown mirrored a summer storm. Their shape was odd: cat-like, and squinted, with creases and folds in places there normally weren’t.
His model exhaled and watched the smoke drift up to the rafters.
“Eyes down, would you?” Luka reprimanded, reaching for his eraser. “I’m not finished yet.”
The boy smirked, his mouth molding into a lopsided grin. “Sorry.” He placed the cigarette back in his mouth and took a puff. “I’ve been sitting here for a while. It’s quite hard to keep myself from getting restless.” Another breath, except this time he thrust open the small side window and let the smoke escape into the August fog.
Luka took a moment to glance out the open window. It was the time of eternal twilight, the unsettling period in midsummer when the sun, much like an incorrigible child, refused to sleep until the fading hours of the night. It wouldn’t be black until eleven-thirty. This meant he had more light to work by, but it also meant another night wracked by insomnia.
Curse the impossible eyes! He wiped away his most recent attempt at an eyelash. If he weren’t a perpetual perfectionist, he would just leave them out. But he was. So the picture had to look perfect.
“I didn’t mean to complain,” the model apologized, crossing his right leg over his left. He seemed quite aware of Luka’s frustration. “I lied. I like this. It’s relaxing. Petrushka is a nice break from the city.”
Luka grunted a response, his fingers rubbing in the shading beneath the eyes.
“I hadn’t even heard of this place before,” the boy continued. “It’s quite different from St. Petersburg. I’d imagine the people here are very humble, yes?”
“Some.” Luka blinked and lifted his pencil to the finely-combed hair, which he intended to capture in wispy fragments as opposed to the cartoonish strands his instructor was so fond of mocking. Most of the people here were simple folk—fishermen, retired farmers, church men—but he’d never bothered to get to know them. “It’s not uncommon to dislike Petrushka. Why should you like a town named after a marionette, anyway?”
The model gestured for an ashtray in which he could dispose of his cigarette. “Any village seems comforting compared to where I grew up. Are you going to color in my face?”
Luka begrudgingly fetched the ashtray from the side desk and handed it over. Ordinarily, he didn’t speak more than a word to his creations, and when he did, it was a direct command: sit straight, eyes forward, for the love of God, stop slouching. “Only charcoal. Where did you grow up? Eyes up, please.”
The model obediently lifted his eyes but said hesitantly, “I’m not entirely sure of its name.”
“You said you were from Kiev.”
There was an awful pause. The youth shifted uncomfortably. “Perhaps…” Then he buried his face in his hands. “Oh, I lied, Sir. I’m an orphan.”
Luka set down his pencil. “Oh. How sad.”
“My parents died of typhus when I was young, so I was brought to the orphanage by a stranger.” He set the ashtray on the floor. “My mind caused me trouble, so I made trouble.”
Luka stopped for a moment. “Oh?”
“The fat old village doctor proclaimed that I thought frightful things. Overwhelming for a boy of my ‘tender age.’”
“What ideas did you think?”
He licked his lips. “Well…I’ve never confessed this before, because it’s odd. Marxist things, you know. I recited Engle before I’d memorized my Latin. One set of prospective parents asked me to sing them a beloved old Bible verse, and you know what I did? I said, ‘religion is the opiate of the masses.’”
Luka glared at him. “They must have been horrified.”
“Oh, yes,” the boy said, “The headmaster kicked me out onto the streets shortly after. And then I answered your advertisement, because I’m starving and should find a bride soon.”
“Ah, yes, my advertisement,” Luka echoed, hoping the conversation would shift back to something less blasphemous. The model seemed wholly unaware of the gilded crucifix nailed to Luka’s doorway. “The ‘Common Man.’ It’s a little project I’m going to submit to a gallery.”
“Where is the gallery?”
Luka hesitated. If the boy found out, he would probably rip the portrait to shreds and begin to spew Bolshevik banter. But another glance at the cross reminded Luka of his sin: he should not lie. “Peterhof.” He quickly coughed into his sleeve so the boy wouldn’t have time to process the location. Perhaps he was unaware of the czar’s summer residence. He was uneducated after all, wasn’t he?
Not a glimmer of recognition passed his eyes. “Oh. What a lovely town. Perhaps I’ll visit it when I have money for train fare. May I see the painting?”
Luka turned back to the infernal eyes. It was odd, he thought suddenly, how the two-dimensional portrait of this stranger had transformed into something much greater—much more real—than a boy on a page. He was proud of his creation.
“What did you say your name was?” he asked.
The model smiled. “I didn’t. It’s Tolya.”
“It’s funny,” he remarked, inscribing the name on the top. “Portraits often reveal what the ordinary face does not. They reveal truth and dispel lies.”
“Then it is not a sketch of a face,” Tolya responded. “It is a real face.” He smiled. “It is Tolya.”

Catherine Mosier-Mills is a senior at Radnor High School in Radnor, PA. She says, “In my spare time, I love playing jazz and classical piano, participating in Model United Nations, and taking pictures of my cats. My work has appeared locally in Apiary Magazine and I recently was awarded honorable mention in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. This story was one of the winners of the Pinocchio Writing contest co-sponsored by PS Jr. and the Arden Theatre.

The Modern Gift of the Magi

Five dollars and eighty-three cents. That was all. And three of those dollars were in nickels. Cents and dollars saved one and four at a time by searching under the cushions and in the hospital kitchen. Five times Cassidy counted it. Five dollars and eighty-three cents. And the next day would be Cassidy and James’s one-year anniversary.

There was clearly nothing to do but to flop down on the hospital bed and scream into a pillow. So naturally, Cassidy did just that, which brings you to the conclusion that the moral reflection of life is full of sobs, storms of rage, and smiles, with the storms predominating.

While the young teenage girl passes through the first stage to the second, take a look around the dreary setting. A hospital room furnished like all the other 245 rooms in the building. It did not exactly have a description of wealth, but who needs luxuries in a patient room?

In the waiting room below, was a nurse who had yet today (and yesterday) let a family visit the poor teenage girl. The mother and father bearing the last name of “O’Leary.”

The name “O’Leary” had never been full of wealth, but the household at one point was close to making the average American income. When their one and only daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia hard times fell upon the family. Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary both had to get two jobs. Then Mr. O’Leary lost his first job. So, Mrs. O’Leary had to get a third job while her husband was looking for another source of income. But whenever Mr. Dean O’Leary came home to his wife, the financial worries were lost in a sea of certainty.

Now Cassidy had a man to call her own, a man named James Abbott. They met in tenth grade and had been dating for almost a year. This was why she needed a gift for her boyfriend. Cassidy finished her tantrum (which the nurses would later scold her for because it was not good for her condition) and wiped her two waterfalls with the back of her hand. Her heavy crying had created red, puffy marks under her eyes. The tears had spilled over her eyes like waves and surfed her face until they reached the sand or the pillow, which was pressed against her sullen face. She moved into a sitting position and looked around her room, which she had resided in for the past few months. Her parents could barely afford the grey wall, which she stared at, the grey tiles the nurses claimed she was not allowed to walk alone on, and the dull grey sheets of her even more grey bed that she had to be in every hour of every day. The only time she was allowed to leave her uncomfortable bed (which gave her a stiff back) was when she was going to another room to get poked at with shiny utensils that reeked of disinfectant spray. The nurses, doctors, and even her parents tried to hide the fact that she was dying. But she knew; it was her body after all.

Her mother and father felt guilty because they could not provide the money to keep her alive. Cassidy felt bad about this, because it really was not their fault.

Cassidy looked to her left and saw the IV that peeked from under her pale skin. Her reflection shined in the metal tube that held the bag. Her eyes were shining brightly, but her face had lost color weeks and weeks ago. Rapidly she looked down at a charm bracelet resting on her wrist.

Now there is one possession that Cassidy was proud of. It was a bracelet that her great grandmother, grandmother, and her mother had sported before it was passed down to her. It was a diamond-encrusted chain with four small charms on it. A charm had been added by each owner, except for Cassidy. Had Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain checked into the room next door, every time she was wheeled to surgery Cass would make sure to dangle her charms just to depreciate Her Majesty’s numerous articles of jewels.

Now James had a possession of his own. His father had given him the extravagant and expensive family ring. James would joke that if Bill Gates were his housemaid, he would drool at the idea of how much money that ring costs.

So now as the dying teen dangled her charms, she knew what she had to do. She faltered for a minute, but she knew the consequences. She picked up her ancient iPhone 3 (which was her first and only phone) and dialed up someone who would take her into town.

Thirty minutes later, James’s mom entered her room. Her parents were working their multiple jobs so they could not come. But Mrs. Abbott would do anything for Cass (who she claimed was her daughter) and going into town was a wish she would grant. The reluctant and skeptical nurses signed Cassidy out but warned her to sit and rest if she felt out of breath. Cass rolled her eyes and promised with little to none enthusiasm.

Cassidy relished the smell of fresh air as she stepped outside. She never feels the direct daylight anymore, but a distorted version shines through the old windows that never seems to cheer her up. She could have jumped for joy at the sight of the sun, but she did not have the energy. In other words, this was the best day ever.

“Cass, dear, where do you want to go first?” asked the older woman.

“A place where I can sell this…” the teenager pulled out the box in which a familiar bracelet was kept.

“Honey! You cannot sell that! You love that thing!”

“I do not care, I have to get something nice for your son. And I do whatever it takes to get something for loved ones!”

When they arrived at the store a dingy sign read “I SELL CASH FOR GOLD”. Cass sighed and opened the door. A middle-aged man sat on a stool behind the glass cage. His hair as greasy as a deep fryer. His eyes flashing with excitement at the box in her hands. Cass summoned all the courage she had in her weak body and walked all the way into the shop.

“Hello, I would like to sell my bracelet,” she stated.

“Well, you came to the right place. Now let me see,” he rubs his hands as she takes it out, “Ah, this is very nice. I will give you four hundred dollars for it.”

“Four hundred? I will take that!” Cass exclaims.

For the next hour or so, Cass enters shop after shop, but cannot find anything for her dear James. James’s mother convinces her to rest before they head to another store. Cassidy stresses that time is running out, but the older woman will not hear it. As they sit on a bench the younger girl wants to cry in frustration. She surveys her surroundings for something to buy. She is losing daylight and she knows it. An adorable toddler waddles by, clinging onto his mother like she is a lifeline. Cassidy watches the child until he passes a store she never saw. There it was, the perfect gift for James. It was a simple but had a quietness and value that was much like her boyfriend. It was perfect. James always complained that his ring was going to fall off when he played a sport but never got around to getting a chain so he could put it around his neck. She had finally found a good chain for him. Upon further inspection, she realized that she could add a message on a thin metal circle that attached to the silver chain. She quickly bought the gift and the two women hurried to the hospital.

The next day James walked eagerly into the room. He surveyed the dull room until he saw the spark that was Cassidy. She looked as radiant as the stars to James. But one thing looked off to him, she was not wearing her bracelet.

“James!” She smiled, “you are here!”

“Hi Cassidy,” he walked over and gave her a hug.

“Open this…” she shoved a velvety purple box at him. James opened the box to find the chain. He knew what it was for and it really was perfect, but his eyes held regret.

“What is there something wrong? Is the engraving wrong? I can return it if you do not want it,” Cass rapidly exclaimed when she saw his face.

“No, it is perfect, thank you,” he smiled, “but I sold my ring to buy you a charm for your bracelet and to…”

“Oh, James! That is super nice and all, but I sold my bracelet to buy you your present.”

James enfolded Cassidy in a tight hug anyway. For ten seconds, they stare at a trivial object that faces the other way. Five dollars and eighty-three cents or a million dollars- what is the difference? A mathematician or genius would give the logical, yet wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This will be explained later.

James handed Cassidy her present and she opened it. It was a beautiful charm that Cassidy had told James she wanted. It was diamond-encrusted heart and on the back was the letters “C+J”.

“This is beautiful,” Cassidy cried, “but I no longer have my bracelet.”

“And your chain you gave me was beautiful, but I no longer have a ring,” James replied, “Cass let’s put our presents away for now and keep them for a while. They are too nice to use at the present. But I have to tell you something.”

“Alright I will save my present. But please tell me!”

“I had extra money from the ring…I am going to pay for your medical bills!”
At this moment Cass bursts into tears. Instead of sobs and storms of rage, smiles are predominating. She was going to be alright. She pulled James into a hug and they cried for a long time.

Years before you, Cass, James, and I were put on the earth, there were three men who brought gifts to baby Jesus in the manger. The three men are known as wise men or the magi. Because of them, the art of exchanging Christmas presents was born. The magi’s gifts were sensible and caring indeed. The point of this story is to retell the modern tale of two children who are in love that most unwisely gave away their greatest possessions for each other’s happiness. But let the most experienced of them hear this. Cass and James are the wisest when it comes to giving and receiving gifts. In every situation, time, place, or hospital room they are the wisest. Cass and James are your modern magi.



Emily Mahaffy is in seventh grade and loves to read. Her favorite book series include Harry Potter and The Mysterious Benedict Society. She also spends most of her free time playing field hockey. She lives with her younger sister in Haddon Heights, NJ.

The Saga of Sir Marcdalf the Valiant Part I: The Math Menace

Once upon a time, in a land that is not as far away as it seems, there was the Kingdom of Cramalot. Cramalot was ruled by King Sinderon the Strong. In the city of Monolinth, the capital of Cramalot, there lived a young squire named Marcdalf. Marcdalf was the squire of Sir Renald Shiningsword, who was a knight of the Octagon Table: a group of seven of King Sinderon’s most trusted knights. “One day,” said Sir Renald as Marcdalf helped him into his armor. “You will become a knight and replace me when I step down from my place at the Octagon Table.” This was an encouraging thought to Marcdalf, but he needed to train in order to become a knight.

One day, as Marcdalf and the other squires were sword training in the castle courtyard, the King himself walked in! With him was a cloaked figure. The squires knelt when they saw the King was present. “You may rise,” said King Sinderon. “I would like to introduce the Math Queen to you. She is a traveler from distant lands, and is here to help further our Kingdom’s technology and knowledge. I was just showing her around. Carry on.”

That evening as Marcdalf was walking home, a strange light glowed from the windows of the tallest tower of the King’s keep.

Over the next month, Marcdalf noticed strange things happening in the city. Some people were getting sick. But this sickness caused numbers and symbols to appear on people’s skin. Marcdalf suspected the Math Queen had something to do with it, but no one believed him. So he took matters into his own hands. He climbed the steps to the tower.

When he reached the top he knocked on the door. No response. “Hello?” Marcdalf called. No answer. He tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. No going back now, thought Marcdalf. He opened the door. It opened with a slight “C-R-E-E-E-A-K…” Before him was a dark room. He drew his sword. In the dim light he could make out bookshelves lining the walls. In the center of the room there was a small table with a book on it. The book was opened, and numbers and symbols seemed to be floating out of it! The source of the sickness! thought Marcdalf.

“Well, well, well, it looks like you have seen too much,” a voice echoed throughout the tower. “We can’t have you telling anyone now, can we?” The Math Queen stepped out of the shadows, sword raised. There was a strange light in her eyes. Marcdalf leapt forward and shut the book! There was a blast that knocked them both to the ground!

As the smoke cleared, two guards walked into the room. “What happened? One of them asked Marcdalf.

“I came to investigate the sickness,” Marcdalf explained. “I think that book may have been the source. I closed it, and there was some sort of explosion.”

“Well, whatever you did worked,” said the other guard. “The sickness has disappeared!” The Math Queen rose to her feet. The strange glow was gone from her eyes. “Now what’s your story?” the guard asked her.

“I opened that book,” she said. “I don’t remember much after that.”

Marcdalf and the Math Queen were summoned by King Sinderon. He held the book before him. It was now bound in chains to ensure it was not opened. “This can only have come from one place,” he said. “The dark land of Math-dor.” He looked up, his face grave. “We are being attacked. We must fight back.”

“One does not simply walk into Math-dor,” said Sir Morgan Freeman, the King’s advisor and knight of the Octagon Table. “That land is filled with fouler things than just equations. They say the very air you breathe is toxic there. The math there does not sleep.”

Suddenly, a cry of: “To arms! The city is being attacked!” was heard. It was a terrible battle. Monsters, whose skin was covered with numbers and symbols, ruthlessly attacked the city. But in the end, the attackers took the city. The survivors had barricaded themselves inside the keep. It seemed all hope was lost. But there was a secret exit that only the King and the Knights of the Octagon Table knew of. King Sinderon approached his throne, pushed a hidden button on its side, and the throne slid away, revealing a staircase into the depths of the city!

Marcdalf walked beside Sir Morgan Freeman down a tunnel lit by torches. “This,” Sir Morgan Freeman said, “is the Chunnel. It was built long ago as an escape route for times of crisis such as this.” Soon, the tunnel ended at a cave in the Foresty Forest. It was here that the survivors set up camp. “There is a way to stop the attacks and reclaim Cramalot,” said Sir Morgan Freeman as they sat by the fire, eating a stew that they had made with ingredients from the forest. Everyone eagerly looked up at him. A gloom seemed to have lifted from the camp. “In this forest,” Sir Morgan Freeman explained, “is an ancient ruin that houses the Sword of Alevan-Fiften, which means “math’s end” in an ancient language. It is said that only the Hero of Cramalot can draw the sword from the stone it is set in. The hero, with this sword, can then defeat the Dark Lord Saxon, who commands the math monsters from the land of Math-dor.”

“Well then,” said King Sinderon, “tomorrow, we will go to this ruin.”

The next day, they trekked to the ruin. And there was the Sword of Alevan-Fiften! One by one the survivors of the attack on Cramalot tried to pull the sword out of the stone, but to no avail. All hope seemed to be lost. Every single person there had tried to pull the sword out, except for one: Marcdalf. He stepped up to the sword. He gripped the handle. His hands were sweating. And then he pulled.

With a sudden “SHWING” it came out! The sunlight glinted off of the gleaming sword. Everyone was amazed. And they were relieved, for the Hero had ended up being one of them! Hope was not lost!

So it was decided that Marcdalf would then set out to Math-dor. With him would go Sir Morgan Freeman, for he was very wise, a great warrior, and knew much about Math-dor. They traveled through plains, into woods, over mountains, and across rivers. Finally they made it to the dark land of Math-dor. It was barren and desolate. But there was a tower in the middle of Math-dor. “That is where the Dark Lord Saxon is,” said Sir Morgan Freeman to Marcdalf. They set off across the land to the tower.

They reached it and climbed to the top. There, was the Dark Lord Saxon himself! He stood, looking over the land, in armor and a dark cloak. In the center of the top of the tower there was a table with a book on it, just like the one in back in Cramalot. “I knew you were coming,” said the Dark Lord Saxon, not turning at first, but he knew they were there. He turned to look at them. “I see the book I planted in Cramalot was useful.” Indeed, when the Math Queen opened the book, Saxon got a hold on her. She really was a nice person after all. The Dark Lord Saxon used confusing math, not basic math.

“You will not defeat us!” shouted Marcdalf, drawing the Sword of Alevan-Fiften. Sir Morgan Freeman drew his sword. Saxon drew his sword as well. They engaged in an epic sword fight on the top of the tower. When Saxon turned his attention to Morgan Freeman, Marcdalf saw his chance. Saxon furiously attacked Morgan Freeman, but the knight blocked each blow. Marcdalf then grabbed the book and cut it in half with the sword! A blast of light shot from the tower. Saxon fell to his knees. He laughed.

“You may have defeated confusing math, but you have not won that easily!” Saxon said. Suddenly, the earth around them began to shake. There was a roar of thunder. Lighting shot down from the sky.

“Oh no!” Marcdalf shouted. “We haven’t only destroyed confusing math, but math itself!” You see, the world needs math.

“There must be some way to restore math!” Sir Morgan Freeman said. Then, Marcdalf saw it: a slot in the table where the book had been. He took the Sword of Alevan-Fiften and slid it into the table!

Somehow, the power of the sword restored math. The world went back to normal.

Later, there was a great ceremony in the King’s keep of the now reclaimed city of Cramalot. Marcdalf knelt before King Sinderon. “Today,” King Sinderon said. “We honor this hero who has saved our kingdom. He traveled far and fought bravely to save the land.” He drew his sword, and as he knighted Marcdalf, he said, “Today, I proclaim him: Sir Marcdalf the Valiant!”

End of Part I

M. G. Sherman is in the seventh grade at Tall Oaks Classical School in Delaware and likes creative writing, drawing and writing song lyrics. He also likes playing piano, running cross-country, and playing video games. He lives with his parents, older brother and rescue dog, Nydia, in Newark, Delaware. Some of his favorite books include The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Hunger Game series. He is currently writing three novels and hopes to be a famous author before high school graduation. His disdain for math inspired this creative short story.