Seven Billion Cities

Seven Billion Cities

By Alyssa Loughery                                                   

The day begins with the infinite canvas of red and orange, the everlasting molasses in the sky. The color of mangoes hang above seven billion heads as the sun rises for the day.

Nuzar Buqri has seen her own sunrise, found in blaring alarms and black coffee. She reads the newspaper at the counter of Buqri General, waiting for the world to wake up and come in her store.

Nuzar’s seen people of all shapes, colors, sizes, everything. Not many have seen her, though. The dark woman’s head can be found buried in a newspaper or glued to a TV screen, with the news always turned on. She seldom can be caught with a magazine in her hands, but only if it featured an interview with a famous journalist. Customers come and go throughout the day but the only thing Nuzar notices is the turn of the page and, of course, the beep of the register.

She looks up and the dark skies left over from last night are gone, the heavens now lit up in a bright azure. The clock next to the register says 8 am and in fourteen minutes her sister will stomp down the hardwood steps leading from their apartment to the store.

“Good morning, Beela,” Nuzar says calmly, taking a sip of her hot coffee.

Abeela replies with a mumble or a groan or maybe a croak, but, to Nuzar, they all mean ‘good morning to you too.’

The sisters are right on schedule.  Nuzar grabs her purse and leaves the store with Abeela. On the way out, a note tucked into the glass door peeks out of its hiding place and Nuzar takes it.

It reads “GO BACK TO IRAN” and other obscenities scribbled on a piece of notebook paper. Another uneducated bigot who thought every Muslim came from Iran. She shoves it into her brown leather bag, hopeful that Abeela it.

“What was that?” The question her sister asks fills her with dread.


“Are you sure? Was it from our boss?”

“We don’t have a boss, Abeela. We run our own business.”

“Then who’s that guy who we give money to every month? With the key to our house?” The little girl quickly went off topic, and Nuzar was glad she didn’t have to find an excuse as to what the letter was.

“No, that’s our landlord. He’s a man who owns our house and we pay him rent for it.”

“Oh. Okay.”

That’s another thing she admired of Abeela, how she absorbs new information so easily. Nuzar may be a smart woman, but she didn’t start that way. A youth of ignorance leads to her somewhat educated self today. But Abeela has always been very bright, with a seemingly photographic memory. Once, she calculated a customer’s total in her head.

However, this is also another of Nuzar’s myriad of anxieties. What if she lets something slip? What if she doesn’t notice notes placed in the front door? She couldn’t do that to Abeela. She wouldn’t let her sister’s identity be reduced to a piece of loose-leaf. Those misguided words will stay in her bright mind forever. Even if she doesn’t have a photographic memory.

They make it to the metro stop, and Beela has finally woken up. Her slouch has retired itself until the next morning and she’s alert, waiting confidently for the train.

“How do they work?”

“What?” Her question broke Nuzar’s contemplative silence, but she didn’t mind. Her questions were always fun to answer.

“The train. How does it go? Who makes it move?”

The older sister laughed to herself, imagining the subway being pulled by a couple of minimum wage workers.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing. The train was made in the industrial revolution, but it looked very different than our modern trains. They weren’t underground or inside a station, they were outside so that way the coal fumes could be easily ventilated. They’re pulled along on tracks.”

“Why are they trapped down here?” Her imagination amused her, thinking of stations as a sort of prison where they keep trains contained on the tracks.

The aforementioned train interrupted their conversation, and Nuzar gave her little sister a kiss goodbye.

“Pay attention in school today. Have fun!” She knew she didn’t have to tell her to pay attention, but it was part of their morning routine. The small girl boarded the metal car, too occupied in her thoughts to notice what her sister had said. This was a key part of their routine as well. 

Nuzar waited for its daily departure and began to walk home. She got the usual stares but remained unfazed. Her hijab has been a constant barrier in her life since she was 13, therefore onlookers have been a part of her public persona for the past eight  years. She remembers that day like any other,  Aunt Qirat teaching her how to pin her hijab. She recalls Beela begged for her own headscarf. She was only three, and the picture of her was lying on Nuzar’s  dresser. It was one of their aunt’s t-shirts, but Beela looked adorable.  It was a fun day,one that Nuzar remembers fondly.

The reminiscence was interrupted by an interjected slur, another microaggression that comes with living in America.

In the New York crowds, it’s hard to determine who said what in the street, the perfect platform for the anonymous cowards hiding behind the singularity.

It is easily forgotten, and Nuzar goes about her day. Returning to the store, she sits back in her swivel chair behind the counter and turns on the small box TV.

BBC News is switched on as usual, but the headline for today makes Nuzar wish it wasn’t.


It was easy to miss – hidden away in the bottom bar where only titles fly across. Newscasters didn’t think the story was important enough for a speaker, or to even interrupt their current tell-all with a mother begging young girls to stop wearing leggings.

Sambrial. A city of Pakistan that is easily overlooked. It has no landmarks, and no notable history. The Western world doesn’t know of its grey skies and busy markets. Nuzar has seen every dirt path, old park, creaky store, and kind-eyed person that her city had given her.

But where were they now?

Her beating heart didn’t cease as she began to run through every person in that city. Mama, Baba, Teeta, Jeddi, Cousin Aasim and his son Baqar, Auntie Rumeha and Uncle Khazi. The shop owners, shoe shiners, taxi drivers, pedestrians, everyone. Everyone. Gone.

The phone rang.

Nuzar picked it up and said nothing, only listening to the red plastic receiver tied to the cord.

“Hello?! Is this Nuzar Buqri?” said the man with the thick accent. He sounded afraid.

“Yes, Baba. I just heard the news. Please, what happened?”

“Our house is down to rubble. We can’t find baby Tariq. His mother has been searching for days.” Nuzar had known the small boy in pictures, he had the same dark shade as her, and Abeela says they look just like each other. He’s only two years younger than her sister.

“Farha was in a restaurant when it collapsed, doctors are saying she’s lucky to be alive. There is only so much they can do here, Habibi. They couldn’t save her legs.” The nickname that usually makes Nuzar smile is easily forgotten when she hears the news of her best friend from childhood. They used to hide from soldiers together.

Her father lists the many losses that the war had given them. Each name made Nuzar gag. They were all once so happy.

She sat in her black chair, frozen. The tall woman didn’t know what to do. So she asked.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“I want you and Abeela to come home.”

“Are you serious?!”

“I want my daughters to meet their family before there is no family to meet. Pictures and status updates on Facebook aren’t enough. Please. At least stay for the memorial service.”

Nuzar thought about Farha and Tariq, and her heart ached for her home. She knew the consequences. She knew what would happen if Abeela saw Pakistan in its current state.

“Alright. I’ll let Beela know when she gets out of school. We’ll call you later.”

“Okay. Goodbye.” She missed her home.

The afternoon rolled around and Abeela had chimed herself into the store. The bell rang. The older sister didn’t seem happy to see that Abbela was home from school.

“I need to tell you something,” said Nuzar in a worrying tone.

“Okay.” replies,Abeela

“Do you remember the name of the country I told you we were from?”

“Yes, it’s Pakistan, right?”

There was that bright mind of hers. She doesn’t forget anything, does she?

“Yes, that’s right. We’re going to visit.”

The 11-year old’s smile went from ear to ear. She had wanted to meet her family, say hello to her culture, and be welcomed back to her city for so long. Nuzar could only wonder what it felt like to love a city that gave her such bad memories. Now her sister can make her own.

“Really? For real? Are you serious? I can’t wait! Oh my gosh, I have to tell cousin Farha! And Sadaf! Oh, do you think they know yet? I wanna surprise them!”


“What?” She knew something was wrong by the unusual sternness in her voice.

“It’s not – happy. We aren’t going for a family reunion. Do you know about the war? The one that makes me upset and stay up at night?”

“Yes, between Pakistan and India. It’s why we can’t go visit.”

“That’s right. We’re going because there’s been an attack. India has bombed our city. They bombed Sambrial, and a lot of people we know got hurt. Mama and Baba want us to meet our family before the next attack is even worse. I’m sorry Abeela, I didn’t want this life for you. I didn’t want you to grow up like I did, hiding away from big scary soldiers, hearing gunshots while you try to sleep at night. You’re only a little girl. You don’t deserve this. If it’s not you growing up with a warzone in your backyard, it’s people filled with hate and spitting it out at you. I’d give anything to make you happy. Even if it meant only me having to go through all of this pain.”

Nuzar hid behind her headscarf, hiding her tears so her sister wouldn’t see her cry.

Abeela hugged her big sister, even though she could only reach her mid-stomach. Nuzar didn’t notice, she felt her warmth all over.

“That’s why we’re sisters. We face the world together. Even if it means we have to go through bad things. We do it together.”

Nuzar was so, so proud of her little Beela. How did she get so lucky?

“I know that people are hateful. Girls at my school say that you’d be much prettier without that cloth on your head, but I tell them you’re already pretty. They don’t believe me. All the boys tell me that I should color my skin with white-out to make it lighter, but I don’t listen. My teachers blame me for what they say because they tell me I’m provoking the other kids. I know you tried to stop discrimination from reaching me, but it already has. And that’s okay.

It’s okay because I know that they don’t matter. The girls in my class are just jealous that they all look the same. They’re afraid of people who stand out in crowds. Boys tell me to whiten my skin only because someone who isn’t as pale as they are is terrifying. People are afraid of different. So why should I fear them? I am proud of my culture. I’m proud of you. No one can take that away from me.”

Nuzar had lived in fear for so long, afraid that Abeela might find the real world one day.

She had been so busy looking out for her little sister, hiding notes, distracting her from bad news and horrible people to see the brave and confident little girl that Nuzar never was.

“I’m so proud of you.”

“Me too.” It was the first time Abeela said it back.

Their last night in New York was spent in the living room, the two sisters made pillow forts and told stories of fictional princesses and train conductors. They didn’t stay up late. There were planes to be caught in the morning.

Alyssa Loughery is a senior at FTCHS, and likes to write poetry as well as short stories. She also likes to learn new things, like ASL, and lives with her dog, brother, and aunt in Philadelphia, PA. Her friends call her the “astrology expert.” 



By Allison Lentz

It was a day I will never forget. The gentle hum of the spaceship was white noise in my ears as I silently slept. Slowly, my mind and body began to awaken. My eyelids fluttered open to the tiny, modern cabin where I was staying. I pushed the soft blanket off of my body and sleepily swung my legs over the side of my bed. My toes touched the cold tile floor, chilling my bones as I stretched. I walked into the small bathroom and turned on the shower, sighing as the hot stream of water hit my skin. I allowed my eyes to close and visualized my new life. I had no idea what to expect, but that was the exciting (and terrifying) part of it all.

I dried off with a fluffy towel and looked at myself in the mirror, taking in my long blond hair and ocean blue eyes. I could hear my deep breaths, and I felt butterflies in my stomach as I focused on the rising and falling of my chest. I quickly pulled my hair over my shoulder, putting it into a messy braid. I was too nervous to do anything fancy that day, despite the importance of the day’s events. Returning to my room, I slipped into the one outfit that wasn’t packed up. I wore a casual white shirt, knotted at the bottom, jean capris, and gray slides. I examined myself in the mirror once again. I pondered skeptically for a moment, before digging into my suitcase and pulling out a black jean jacket. That was much better. Much more… me.

“All passengers, please finish packing up and report to the main wing,” The loudspeaker blared, making me jump. I did a final check, thoroughly looking over the room. I wistfully sighed, saying a silent goodbye to the place that had been my home for the past two months. I pressed the silver button to open the door, resting my hand on its smooth steel surface. I turned, feeling some sadness about leaving this tiny chamber. It wasn’t much, but it’s been comforting to have it. Taking a long deep breath, I stepped out into the pristine white hallway and the silver door slid shut behind me. I was leaving this part of my life behind, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready.

A few hours later, I gathered with the crowd of passengers in the main hall. Frustrated, I tried to move through the group towards the window, but the people were like a strong stone wall.

“Excuse me,” I huffed, “I can’t see.” A tall, dark haired young man turned to look at me. He smiled warmly, stepping aside and gesturing for me to come in front of him. Taken aback, I smiled shyly, squeezing quickly through the gap. My cheeks flushed warm and pink. However, upon seeing the view, I quickly forgot about the handsome stranger as my eyes met our new home – #2896, otherwise known as Opportunity.

I was taken aback by the most beautiful, breathtaking sights I had ever seen. Shimmering lavender oceans stretched over the surface, surrounded by emerald land masses. Light pink cotton candy clouds danced in front of us, filling the atmosphere with a romantically stunning touch. The pastel color scheme of Opportunity was absolutely magical. I felt like I was stepping into a fairy tale. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

“Attention passengers, we are preparing to land. Please find a seat for your own safety. Thank you everyone for joining us on this incredible journey.” As the ship slowly lowered towards the planet’s surface, I flashed back to the two months that I’d spent on this ship; enjoying meals in the beautiful dining hall, surrounded by views of vast outer space outside the windows. Days spent swimming, playing tennis, and watching movies in the theater on board had filled my time. It had been lonely, to be honest. None of my family had come with me, and I wasn’t the type to make friends quickly. But Opportunity has its name for a reason.

The heavy plod of the ship’s landing jolted me out of my thoughts. The passengers quickly erupted into a cheer. A bright smile stretched across my face as excitement took over. I grabbed my suitcase and shot up from my seat, joining the sea of people briskly walking towards the exit. I was grinning like a crazy person, but so was everyone else. As the doors opened and the light flooded in, the crowd started pouring off the ship. Someone pushed past me on their way out, and I clumsily stumbled forward, catching myself on my suitcase. I lifted my chin and was met by none other than Opportunity itself.

The gorgeous dark green grass shimmered under the light of the planet’s sun. A white marble fountain greeted us, the beautiful lavender water of Opportunity splashing gracefully into the pool at its base. The first city on the planet stretched as far as my eyes could see, its buildings made of beautiful metals native to the planet. They shone with vibrant colors, greeting us with emotions of joy and astonishment. The view brought delight to everyone who laid eyes on it. In the distance, navy blue mountains topped with crystalline snow protruded from the land, stretching up towards the rosy clouds filling the periwinkle sky.

The very terrain of Opportunity brought so many emotions, but I felt them all form into one – hope. A single tear of joy traced its way down my cheek, resting next to my nose like a tiny diamond. I felt a presence next to me, and I turned to look. The handsome stranger from minutes earlier held a tissue out to me, smiling warmly. I smiled back, accepting the tissue. As I dabbed the tear from my cheek, I noticed a phone number scrawled on the tissue. I looked up, but the man was gone. I stood alone at the base of the ship. What was I waiting for? I knew that the change scared me, but it was the whole reason I’d come this far. I’d come for a new life, for… opportunities. I would start by getting to my new home and calling this man. I felt the confidence to take initiative and do things that I never would’ve been brave enough to do on Earth. I can find love. I can chase my dreams. I can live the life that I’d been so lucky to be able to pursue. I took a step forward, and I walked towards the city – leaving my old life behind, and entering a life of opportunities.

Allison Lentz is 16 years old and from Ephrata, PA. She loves anything creative, especially writing, art, and music. She loves to read and write super descriptive fiction and fantasy that lets her paint a picture in someone’s mind. She also loves to ride and spend time with her horse, Oslo, swim, bake, and, of course, draw or write.

The Dangers of Letting Your Skeleton Out

The Dangers of Letting Your Skeleton Out

by Ayah Pearson

Imagine your skeleton broken and alone in a dark alleyway littered with candy wrappers. Your skeleton wants to get back to you but it can’t. Imagine how terrified your skeleton would be; you can’t even go save it. You know it’s past your skeletons curfew and you’re wondering what’s taking it so long. Soon you start to get worried and come to realize what happened. Don’t let this happen to you and your skeleton. Here are all the things that can happen to your skeleton in October.

Your skeleton should stay inside your body, especially on Halloween. Because it may be easily lost, it may become damaged if you haven’t had enough calcium. And finally, because you will be a brainless meatsack without it.

Your skeleton may be easily lost.

There are many skeletons around during the holiday. There are also costumes, decorations, and possibly other real skeletons! Your skeleton can blend in and be lost forever. Also your lil skelebuddy may be stolen! I don’t know who would do such a terrible thing but it can happen. So be careful. Someone may mistake it for their own because skeletons are very similar unless they’re missing a piece or have been chipped.

Your skeleton may become damaged if it goes out on Halloween. If you don’t have enough calcium, your skeleton may become brittle and end up chipping on its nice spooky day out, which is bad for you and your skeleton for many reasons. For example, a chipped or broken skeleton won’t be very comfy once it goes back in. It might pinch or scrape your insides, which can lead to organ leakage, gross. If your skeleton breaks, it might not be able to make its way back to you. And that sucks because you’re not exactly in the best shape to go find it yourself. Luckily there are skeleton finding services available during the month of October. You will be a useless meatsack l without it. When your skeleton leaves it’s most likely going to take your brain with it. It would be very time consuming and a big pain for your skeleton to take out your brain before leaving, so they don’t bother. You, now a brainless meatsack, would probably just slug out on the floor until your skeleton returns. Your heart and other organs somehow still work without your brain, how odd.

Just hope no one sees you in this state because once your skeleton leaves, everything that is in your intestines will drain, which is disgusting. Then, you’ll have to clean it up when your skeleton gets back covered in candy and other Halloween related things.

So, in conclusion, lots of bad things can happen to you and your skeleton during the month of October, especially on Halloween. Keep your skeleton safe inside your fleshy fleshy self and make sure to get lots of calcium.

My name is Ayah Pearson, I am homeschooled and in the ninth grade. I like to write horror because I’m a big scaredy cat. That along with my vivid imagination gives me the fuel to write scary stories and thrillers. When I’m not writing I like to draw, read, design characters, and ride horses. I live in Philadelphia with my mom, brother, and my stuffed animals.

Doomed for All Time? A self-help essay

Doomed for All Time? A self-help essay

by M. Pearson

Sisyphus was known by the Gods as the most cunning of humans. He used his silver tongue to trick Hades and cheat death twice. On Sisyphus’ third attempt, Zeus stepped in, deciding to give Sisyphus a punishment worse than death. He doomed Sisyphus, forcing him to push a boulder up a hill. and when Sisyphus reached the top of this hill, the boulder would always roll back down. The Sisyphean task is a punishment not of pain, but of futility, of weakness, and of melancholy. The Myth of Sisyphus is a myth often seen as a tale of tragedy and sadness. However, it is believed by some that Sisyphus was never broken by his task, and that he lives a fulfilling life as he taunts the Gods and pushes the boulder up his hill.  You are living the Myth of Sisyphus, boulders aren’t that heavy and an eternity of punishment is inevitable so have fun with it.

Here’s what you did in Olympus. You thought about doing something. No. You, a peasant, practically vermin, trash in the gutters of this golden city, you  dare to even think about doing anything but crying about how pathetic you are and wading in your own filth? You thought about creating something and changing yourself. By even thinking about being something more than you are you angered the Gods. and they gave you a boulder, a hill, and an eternity.

You are in fact doomed to this hill for eternity. or what of eternity your mortal eyes will live to see. Being stuck on this hill for all of time means that you are more than likely qualified to do, literally only thing you can do, on this hill. The Gods would be fools if they didn’t make sure that you were just barely strong enough to roll this rock to the unstable peak. You can at least push the boulder.

What is your boulder? What eternal plight have you been continually putting off until next week? What book have you been wanting to write or what workout have you been saying you don’t have the time or energy for? What boulder have you avoided pushing? and what mountain are you going to push it to the top of?

If you are plagued by the Sisyphean task, then you are a story, a myth, or a legend. Live like a legend. Tell your tale of boulders and mountains, the tale of that marathon you ran, that book you wrote, or that time you read this really good essay (yes this one, please feed my ego on the way out). Live like you are still on Olympus. Treat yourself as if you were one of the Gods as you push an insignificant pebble up an anthill.

If the Gods punish you, take it as a challenge, see it as a workout, or a meditation of zen. Enjoy your task, simply because the Gods don’t want you to.  Spiting Gods seems like a petty thing to do, but you must understand that human mythology often represents the Gods as extremely petty beings

Just past the top of the hill, if you peer through the clouds, you can see Olympus, not the mountain but the city, the city of Gods. You went there once but it wasn’t as great as you had thought it would be. All the gold looked a bit tacky. The scenery at the bottom of the mountain was much nicer. You speak with Satyrs and other friendly creatures as they walk to the top of the hill with you. Even on this hill, you are not alone. Even on your hill with your task, there are things to see and people to talk to. You don’t need the scenery of Olympus. This quaint hill is all you could ever want.

The hill is a peaceful place to live: just you, the grass, the birds, the occasional Satyr, and the boulder. You can rest on this beautiful hill and just before the sun rises, as the dew catches the light of dawn,  you lift yourself and prepare for another trek up the hill. If there is an eternity of work, then there is an eternity of rest. But of course, there must be a place to rest.

If you cannot live in Olympus, you must simply make your own. On this hill you can build a great community, a city fit not for the Gods, but for you. Your own little paradise built out of a simple garden; there an olive tree, maybe some ramps, and small roads to make watching the boulder roll down the hill a little more interesting. To build your own Olympus is a challenge to the Gods and to be satisfied with it is a victory.

As you grow each day, so will your task. You will never reach the top of your mountain but the boulder is a dream you can’t give up on. and that hill is a beautiful place to live. You are Sisyphus. Live life as a challenge to the Gods.

Mosadi Pearson is a tenth grader who likes to draw, write short stories and essays, create cardboard props, and play fighting games. Mosadi likes to use scientific concepts, mythology psychological phenomenons, and old songs.



by Rebecca Uhlman

Conor is gone from me, and no matter how many times I’ve tried, I can’t get into his head.

After catching a glimpse of him in a pub two weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I returned in hopes that he might as well. I was dragged along by the desire for him to know my pain.

I perched on a bar stool in that dim, dusty pub, a glass in my hand. The amber liquid inside ran down my throat the way I imagine electricity runs through a wire — fiery and raw and strong. I shivered and took another sip to calm my nerves. It must have been the excitement that set me on edge. The promise of confrontation.

I picked at a loose string on the seam of my pants, pulling until the black fabric gathered and the thread went taut. With one quick jerk of my hand, it tore away. Obnoxious scarlet tile greeted its wavering descent.

Conor was nowhere in sight, so I fidgeted anxiously. My eyes darted around the pub, taking in smudged windows and chipping paint. I scanned the newspaper clippings that hung on the far wall. New Pub Opens on Barrack Street, boasted one faded headline. Garda Síochána Releases Info on Recent Killings, read a central clipping, held up by three gleaming tacks. My grip tightened on an empty glass. Those words swimming and slurring in my vision, I braced one hand on the bar and refocused my thoughts.

Without warning, a strange feeling began to creep through my veins. I felt Conor’s presence. His strong hands seemed to hover over my shoulders, waiting to touch me, scorching the surrounding air. He was eerily close. Tangible.

In a blur of rapid movement, I spun in my stool so that I could face his ghost, that silent shouting thing, and pull it from me thread by thread as if I were unhinging my own shadow — but that shivering apparition spun with me, staying behind. I clawed at my jacket. My skin seemed to be stretched too tightly over my shoulders, cramping muscles and fracturing bones — all while Conor scraped furiously at the edges of my mind.

The room wavered; his figure appeared in the doorway. Outlined by hazy streetlights, that brush of orange hair seemed to glow. Every muscle in my body tensed. Those glaring eyes, that clear, pale skin, it all reminded me of the past. Suddenly I was staring and staring and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the profile of his young face. He glanced around; does he see me?

I needed to speak to him. My feet took me across the tile and blindly towards his figure, eyes cast down. If I didn’t look him in the eye, maybe I wouldn’t have to remember the searing passion he ignited in my chest all those years ago. My gaze slithered up his neck, hovering over the lips I used to kiss, dancing over ruddy freckled cheeks — eyes lingering anywhere but on his own. I watched him cross his arms and stiffen.

“Conor,” I whispered. “I need to talk to you.”

“I can’t. I…I’m done with this.” His familiar voice awoke a longing in me that I had forgotten about.

I clutched at his sleeve, my gaze flitting about his face but never making eye contact. “I love you. Nothing from my past could have rendered me incapable of loving you. Doesn’t that mean anything?”

“Look,” he started, voice weary. “You’re…you’re unstable, and you need help.”

I laughed. He really dared to assume things about me? Was it so impossible to believe that the only thing blurring my emotions was wasted love? I could feel frustration bubbling up in my body, red-hot and steaming from every one of my pores — he wouldn’t listen.

I was trapped, helpless to do anything to make him come back.

“Mark,” he began, “ever since that case, you’ve been unpredictable, aggressive. You need to resign from the Garda. Let yourself heal. You saw things that day that no man should ever have to see.”

His words dredged up memories in me — flashing sirens, muffled shouting, pools of scarlet. The visions were as red as the tile beneath my feet. I felt the cold weight of my gun in hand — I heard the click of the striker, my finger pressing firm on the trigger, the final deafening crack — I tasted bright copper and salt — I saw the limp sneer on the face of the man whose body thumped onto grass. The gross images of his victims throbbed in my brain. Mutilated, skinned, raw red bodies with eyes carved from their bleeding sockets, with dead dripping mouths pinned into animalistic grins, with tortured bodies flayed like the half-eaten corpses of unlucky prey —


There was one, still alive. The body was intact in the barest sense of the word — drooling and spitting, slumped on the ground in a shapeless mess of wet crimson. Its swollen eyelids twitched at me, its lips formed a voiceless plea for help — God, someone finish it, just take away its suffering — when it’s dead, I won’t have to see the raw red fear in those bloodshot eyes —

“Mark, listen to me. You need to get help.”

Conor’s warm hand on my arm reminded me of his presence.

As I watched a tear slip down his cheek, I found that I was no longer angry. All the rage that I had bottled up in my chest seemed to liquefy in that moment, loosening until it became a blue, blue shade of sorrow.

“Don’t cry over me,” I said, but his silent tears only fell faster.

The sadness then gave way to a growing sense of control. He was still mine, after all, so I could fix this. I had caused his pain. Perhaps it was only right for me to take it away in the end.

He didn’t say anything as I pulled him close. My hand strayed to my belt, fingers closing on the cold grip of my gun. It was firm and sure in my hands as I brought it quietly to his chest.

“I’m sorry I made you cry,” I whispered, and pulled the trigger.

The click of the striker. The press of my finger. The final deafening crack.

I felt a little numb as he coughed in my arms. Too weak for any expression to form, his jaw went slack and his eyelids fluttered. I watched the blood as it pooled on the floor. It was red. Scarlet, and I was swimming in it, watching him drop to the ground and dissolve away.

The scrambling of feet, shattering of glasses, and shouts from the pub behind me blurred together. All that mattered was Conor’s face. It was relaxed; those beautiful eyes no longer bled tears.

“Goodbye, darling,” I murmured. “You won’t be in pain again.”

Rebecca Uhlman is a junior in high school. She enjoys creative writing, reading, and photography. She would love to be a novelist one day.

16 Candles

16 Candles

by Nadia Ibbetsom

Skylar woke up very happy one morning, because it was her 16th Birthday. Becoming sixteen was a big deal to her, and she wanted to make the very best out of it. She went downstairs, walking past her mother who was in the kitchen, herr mother was just simply sitting there and did not say a word. Then her father came downstairs, he also walked right past her. Skylar kept wondering to herself, over and over, but was still so confused that she ran upstairs. She got dressed for school and fixed her hair. She walked into her little brother Justin’s room, as he was fixing his school tie in the mirror. Skylar called out to him, but he did not budge or turn around. Skylar was in a panic. She ran downstairs, and saw her family get into the car. She followed, thinking that ignoring her was just a prank or maybe a surprise? Her family stopped at a graveyard, walking towards a small tombstone. With the name of Skylar Williams. That was her.

It all started a week before on Skylar’s 16th birthday. Skylar went to a concert with her friends downtown. They went to see their favorite bank. Skylar was so happy.  She went with her two girlfriends, and three other boys. That night they all got drunk at the concert, and decided to still drive home. Because he was older and the only one with a license, Brandon, Skylar’s good friend, was the one driving. As they got onto the bridge, they drove over the long river beneath them. They blasted music, laughed, sang and did not pay attention to their surroundings. Brandon was looking away, until Skylar screamed, “Truck!” That was it. They flew off the bridge crashing into the river. Skylar remembers going down under the water, but then everything turned black.

Skylar broke down, dropping to the grass on her knees. Her mother placed Skylar’s charm bracelet on top of her grave, following with flowers and a pink candle – Skylar’s favorite color.  They cried in silence, while Skylar got flashbacks from the crash and started to put the  pieces together. The name Tara Richards caught Skylar’s eye on the tombstone across from hers. That was her best friend, who had been in the car. Soon enough, Skylar had found everyone’s name she had crashed with. Skylar was dead, nobody can either see or hear her. But she still decided to get more information, especially about why she was still lingering in this world where she didn’t belong.

Skylar walked to her high school, down the block from her house. Kids were crying everywhere, especially teachers and staff. Her locker, and the others were decorated by students with candles, flowers, and pictures. Signs saying, “R.I.P” or “We miss you”,and “Happy Birthday Skylar”. Skylar was so heartbroken, seeing her classmates and teachers walk through the halls with so much sadness. All she thought was, why did I go to that concert? After roaming through so many hallways she seen one of her best friends Marissa Lewis at her locker. Staring at a picture of her and Skylar, and slowly tearing up. There’s something you don’t know about Marissa. She was supposed to go to the concert that night, but she refused because she didn’t like the fact that they were drinking. Marissa felt guilty for the death of her friends, especially for letting Skylar go. Also, Skylar and Marissa got into an argument that night. Ever since then, they haven’t talked but now it was too late.

Skylar walked slowly through the halls, not knowing of what to do. She thought to herself, why am I even here? She was completely invisible, she had no way of proving she was still in this world. She had to show she was still here, looking over her family and friends. Skylar walked into the cafeteria, instead of everyone happily laughing all she saw was the sad faces of every student. Conversations were not about good grades, sports, or fun weekends, it was all about the crash. She found Marissa again, sitting by herself studying for a test. Marissa was super smart, she often helped Skylar with her math work. Skylar never got to thank Marissa for not wanting Skylar to go to the concert that night. So much guilt ran through her body, and hit her heart. She wanted to call out and scream, but could not. After many hours of simply wondering and  lingering around school, was over.

That night at Skylar’s house, her family had a small cake for her. A pink cake, with exactly sixteen candles. They had her picture on it too. They did it out of respect, and even Marissa came over. As they sat in silence, Skylar came over to the table and watched everyone celebrate her birthday. She didn’t want to leave them, and she wished this moment could last forever. If only they could see her. So, Skylar blew out the candles, after the song. She wanted to show a sign she was still there. Her family and Marissa saw the candles blow out, and finally saw Skylar’s reflection. They tried reaching for her, but Skylar was just a spirit you could not touch. They tried reaching for her, but Skylar was just a spirit you could not touchTheir eyes got wide, and they paused. No one could believe what was actually happening. Skylar felt happy she got to show them she was okay. She wanted to show her family that they should not feel guilty and to know she would always be with them.

Soon enough, Skylar crossed over, knowing now the only thing she needed was hope. The hope that her and her family lost due to the crash. Thankfully, everything was finally at peace. But, most importantly Skylar got to spend her last birthday with her family and best friend.

Nadia Ibbetson is a student at String Theory Schools in Philadelphia.

The Wrong Side of History


by Ella Bianco

I feared I would go insane if I stayed in this wretched place, but the contract was already signed. There was nothing to be done.

The wind howled in my ears, mocking the screams I had to hear every day. I grit my teeth as the bone-chilling cold swept through the Bastille, filling the air with an even deeper feeling of despondency. Misery had inhabited this place and made it a home, for it was everywhere I looked. I could not run from it. I knew I was the root of this pain, and because I am an absolute cur, I am powerless to stop it. How can one conquer a fear in a place enveloped by it?

The terror was visible in their eyes, too. I glanced over, and the prisoners cowered, and backed against the tall, brick walls behind them, anticipating their end. A gaunt woman draped in battered rags with an infant in the crook of her arm let out a yelp as our eyes met, and her baby began to wail. She quickly looked forward again and stumbled on in a hurry.  Another family, this time a mother, father, and son, huddled in a corner and spoke in hushed tones. The boy took a glimpse over his shoulder and quickly swiveled his head back, pulling on his his father’s muddy coat. I focused my attention back on the woman with the infant. The woman was much further in line now, and was sobbing, begging a guard “Please sir, don’t take her! She’s only a few weeks old! She can’t survive on her own!” She began to run after them. (After the guards? Did they take the baby?) The guards did not look back, although two new officers emerged from the crowd to restrain her.

“Stay in line.”

The woman was hysterical. “My baby!” She screamed before collapsing. I felt sick to my stomach. I watched as the woman was dragged into a brick building by the guards. The rest of the prisoners would never kno what befell her or her child. I didn’t believe they wanted to know, either.

You could have done something about that woman and her child. I deliberated with myself, staring at the wall behind the prisoners. You could have saved them. But you are a coward. And so you will just sit here and wait in inaction until you are consumed by your guilt. Unless you do something, you will be your own downfall. But still, I dismissed these thoughts. If I did take action, a humiliating end by firing squad would await me, or worse, my family.

“Stabsscharführer Liskowitz, Sieg Heil!” A voice came from behind me, breaking me out of my coma-like train of thought. I was greeted with an outstretched arm, meant to show others they meant no harm, but to so many was a symbol of the despair and the cruelty humans are  capable of. A short guard stubby stood behind me and peered at me expectantly.

“Sieg heil,” I spat. The words left a bitter taste in my mouth. “Blockführer Mlynarz, is there anything to report?”

“Yes sir,” He began to walk away, waving his arm for me to follow. He passed dozens of distressed faces, not turning to look, not even batting an eyelash at the horror that surrounded him. A woman in a corner cradled a boy, weeping, who looked maybe three or four, whose ribs were visible through his taut, thin skin, and his dark hair caked with mud and dirt. His bony hands grasped at his mother’s hair, and he raised his head and met my eyes. They were shocking blue. His body suddenly went limp and he collapsed like a sandbag. His hands no longer pulled at the woman’s hair. She sobbed softly over her boy.

Still, we moved past them, ignoring the agony. A pit of dread formed in my stomach again. Something vile forebode me. I could sense it. But I could not turn and run. My feet felt like they were in cement. Run! Run! My intuition shrieked at me. I glanced around at the hideous sights that fenced me in. Ghastly visages surrounded me, cowering, as the wind wailed and chilled my body. Walking for what seemed like an eon. Through an iron gate and into a clearing.

A lump formed in my throat like a tumor. I could not breathe. My lungs refused to draw breath.  The most macabre prospect stood before me. Mlynarz stood beside me watching the spectacle with amusement. The trench in my stomach deepened. The gravel below my feet seemed to fade away. Oh God! Please! Spare me from this sight! I don’t think I’ll be the same if I witness this!

In front of me was women, children, the elderly, striking the dirt with their spades. I had heard about this barbaric method of execution. They were under the universe of discourse that they were excavating holes for rubbish. The world around me spun. These people were digging their own graves.

You can help them. You can save them. They don’t have to die. Do you want more blood on your hands? Do you? I couldn’t think clearly. The prisoners around me seemed to morph into vultures, waiting for their prey to lose their will to live. So… what will it be? Their sunken eyes peered into my soul, considering the extent of my sins. Will you save us? Will you? Our blood will on your conscience. You are a coward, Jakob Liskowitz, you–

“Kind of funny, isn’t it, Liskowitz?” Mlynarz chuckled, and snapped me out of my drunken nightmarish state. “They have no clue of what awaits them.”

I laughed nervously. “Blockführer Mlynarz,” still keeping my vision fixated on the prisoners, I uttered my query cautiously, scared of the response he would give me. “Do you think these people deserve this fate?”

I peered down at him. He looked up at me with a smirk, and tittered again. “What, are you having a midlife moral crisis, Liskowitz?” He looked at me with a grin that showed his rotting, blacked incisor. “Yes, of course they do, I have no doubt in my mind.”

“Ah…” I muttered, not any more satisfied than before. I turned back to look at the inmates, and a little girl caught my eye. She was in a dress that at one time might have been white, but now was torn to dirty shreds. She could only have been about five. No parents in sight…. Her strawberry blonde hair had fallen in her face, and she was plastered with sweat and mud. I could tell she was exhausted. And after a little bit, she took her shovel and laid it on the ground, wiping the sweat from her brow. A guard came from behind her and tugged on her hair, to which she started to scream, “No! No! No!” She must have caught my pitiful glances, and her alarmed emerald eyes pierced my soul, spurring the voices to commence their horrid conversations again. Save her! Save her! Do you care for nobody but yourself? You selfish scum!

The girl shrieked in pain, contorting her body to try to escape her captor. I was frozen in place, my captor, the fear. The fear that inhabited this place. The fear that called it home. I was both the jailer and prisoner, trapped in my own stockade of misery.

The Jewel

The Jewel

by Ishi Bhattacharya

I had only flown once in my life and that was to Disneyland when I was seven. Today the clouds were beneath me and my head was spinning trying to put the pieces back together of about  these past three weeks. The plane was coming to a gradual descent as I woke up from my nap. It felt like I had been on this plane for ages and was I was eager to get off and start my journey. The airport greeted me with smiling faces, welcoming smells, and bright sunshine….. The scene was so captivating that I almost forgot why I made the journey!

My name is Isabella and, I am on an expedition. I am trying to find out what my grandmother left me in her will only using the clues that she gave me. She was very vague, but that is just like her, always wanting to have a good mystery. I’m an only child and my grandmother’s only granddaughter.  I had just landed in Madrid, Spain, alone with no directions on what to do or where to go next. As I was studying the line of drivers,  a sign caught my eye with the letters, Isabella Johnson in big letters. As I stared at my name, an odd looking man with an exceedingly long beard noticed me, motioning for me to come over. I hopped on over, anxious for the trip to start.

His name was Carl and he was a friendly man who listened closely as I explained my background. We drove to the destination he was instructed to bring me to. Soon we arrived at a small apartment with vines growing all over the stucco and a small painting. Carl told me his instructions were for me to ring the doorbell and say the word “jewel”. Amused, I followed the instructions,but I was confused as to what to what the plan really was.

A sweet woman opened the door with a big smile on her face and asked, “How may I help you?”

I responded, “My name is Isabelle Johnson and…… I guess I am supposed to say the word jewel.”

Her smile seemed to grow bigger as soon as I said “jewel” and she welcomed me in, saying her name was Maya and she had been expecting me for months. I sat down and she offered mesome cookies and tea. Up until then I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t had a meal since yesterday. She was dying to tell me the story and  started  talking right away. We talked for what felt like hours about my grandmother. I was raised to believe that she had grown up poor with almost nothing. She fell in love with my grandfather and soon after they got married and came to America. However the story Maya told me didn’t line up with the one my family told me. It turns out my grandmother was a very wealthy woman who lived in a gorgeous mansion at the edge of Madrid. This was quite a surprise to me because I didn’t think my parents and grandma would be able to keep such a such an enormous secret for so long. She also explained to me that I was looking for a necklace with a stunning jewel clasped onto it. The next clue Maya was supposed to give me was on a slip that said I had to go to a tourist spot that my grandmother used to love and find a tour guide named Amada. Yearning to move on I thanked Amada (is that the woman’s name??? I thought that Amada was the tour guide??? for all the help and got on with myjourney.

I called a cab and they took me to Palau de la Musica Catalana. There I was confronted by gorgeous and detailed architecture that was generations old. I could tell why my grandmother loved this place very much. When I was inside I asked the receptionist for a tour guide named Amada. They called her on the speakerphone and she soon shuffled in. I introduced myself and told her why I was here. She led me to a corner and with excitement on her face, her words just came spilling out. She explained that her mother was friends with my grandmother because she visited here so often. So this practically made my grandmother Amada’s aunt! When my grandmother knew her time would, sadly, soon be coming to an end, she wanted me to have something special to remember her by. Hence the search for the jewel.

Amada wrote on a slip of paper the address I was supposed to go to next and wished me luck in finding the jewel. I took a bus and then walked the rest of the way to the address that Amada given me.

When I walked in,  my jaw dropped. The house had an intricate design and the  architecture was amazing.  I walked around  (or across the property?) the house for an hour or two and that’s when I noticed a small path going further into the property.  I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go or not, but Ii decided to just follow it. To my amazement it led to a magical little garden which looked like it could be from my dreams. I slowly walked across the delicate scene when all of a sudden I remembered something. The fountain behind the benches reminded me of a picture my grandmother had shown me when she used to tell me a story. It was my favorite story about a little girl who would always have tea parties next to this fountain. Then,  one day she found a jewel necklace. I realized that was the story of how she got the necklace and I started searching. Soon I found it exactly where she described it to be. My eyes started tearing up realizing that she no longer was here. I stayed in Spain for a couple more days to take it all in. But too  soon was on my way back home.

When I got home, I realized that was the biggest adventure I’ve had for years. Most of the time,  I was  behind a desk working to get money. The thought popped up in my head that maybe that was the real reason my grandma sent me on this journey, to go live my life to the fullest. Ever since then I have travelled to all types of new places and met new people, including my husband.

“Wait so great-grammy did all of this?” my granddaughter Amelia asked.

I responded saying, “Yes, yes she did.”

Ishi Bhattacharya is from Chester Springs, PA.

Hollow Revenge

Hollow Revenge

By Bishop Conner

The periodic crunch of feet digging into the snow resounded throughout the grim atmosphere. The milky light from the orb in the night up above showered a lone warrior in its glory. The glistening armor encased his left shoulder and left pectoral muscle while exposing his right side to the tenacious stings of the cold. The warrior shook off the breeze like a bear would a bee, maintaining an unyielding stance as he strolled home. However, as impeccable as his posture may have been, it was immediately breached by the horrid stench of the battlefield as smoke began filling the man’s nostrils and lungs.

It wasn’t long before pitch black smoke began to occupy the air directly in front of the warrior. With absolutely no hesitation, he broke out into a sprint, maximizing his strides to cover as much ground as he possibly could in a short amount of time. Although the warrior moved with the strides of a horse and swiftness of a cheetah, he was still far too slow to race against the clock. His home had already begun collapsing on itself, and all means of entry were blocked off by the wicked flames of Hell. Navigating through the immense smoke clouds while holding his arm across his mouth and nostrils, the warrior saw the terror up close and personal. The warrior who appeared to be the mightiest of all was now brought to his knees in defeat; the orange flames flickering in his eyes as tears began streaming down his cheeks.


The voice shrieked over roaring flames and tumbling timber. Even still, the cry for help was ultimately for naught; destiny was inevitable. It was also the last word that Leo Tamashī would ever hear his beloved nine-year-old daughter speak. Decades worth of bone-aching training in the  way of the Samurai and nothing to show for it. In the face of the agonizing asphyxiation of his wife and daughter writhing in the blaze and squirming under the lumber.

The sight caused a psychological pain that resonated within Leo for the remainder of his existence; driving him to an unhealthy obsession with vengeance. Such ambition pushed him away from his life-long dedication to the Bushido code: he had evicted the idea of mercy for anyone from his mind, his self control had abandoned him, hatred now clouded his sincerity. As a result of this utter defiance, Leo was banished from his clan and stripped of his title as Samurai, becoming what was known as a Ronin. The scent of his smoldering home and the hopeless cries of both his daughter and wife desperately calling for him haunted him in the night, depriving him of sleep. The nightmares had to stop, the weight of the guilt on Leo’s chest felt like a safe crushing his sternum. They were gone…Forever. No matter what the cost, Leo would have his revenge. He knew who was responsible.


Five Years later

Seated on a stool at a tea house in a village  with snow covering a good portion of the rest of the houses and shops, is a man dressed in red peasant-like clothing and a straw hat. Next to the man, Leaning up against a countertop was a fairly long bamboo stick,  The aroma of a myriad of different spices and food filled the air. Workers dressed in ivory uniforms circled around the store. Lanterns were lit to brighten the shop, reflecting off the chestnut walls. A waitress with a beautiful sunshine painted across her face approached the sphinxlike man.

“The usual will be fine?” the waitress asked.

“Of course,” the man responded in a rather gruff voice.

Two more individuals dressed in higher class clothing entered the tea house pushing open the ivory curtains that displayed large crimson Japanese characters. Taking seats beside the man in the straw hat, they immediately began to converse. The man in the straw hat, as usual, kept to himself, his head lowered and his face hidden by his straw hat making it  difficult for anyone to even ponder on what he could have been thinking.

“So, have you heard about the festival tonight at Okada Province?” One of the two men asked.

“I have not, but I presume you must wish to attend if you’ve brought this up to me,”

“Let’s just say that I have a proposition for Lord Okada.”

It was at the very last chunk of that exchange between the two men that the man in the straw hat’s head jerked upward like an eager serpent poised to strike.

The man in the straw hat asked in a slightly demanding tone.  “Lord Ishida Okada?”

“Yes,” one of the men responded.

“However, I don’t think that an event housed by a man of stature such as Lord Ishida Okada would have much to offer for people like…you.”  The man in the straw hat clenched his fist just a tad from the blatant disrespect. To judge one based on appearance was beyond ignorant, but his calm nature drove him to loosen his hand.

“I’m sure ‘Lord’ Okada will come to find the utmost of bliss in receiving a visit from an old friend,” said the man in the straw hat.  Before anyone else could respond, the waitress with a smoking cup of tea in one hand and a plate of sugary biscuits in the other interrupted them. She set them down on the countertop before turning her attention to the two men who sat beside the man in the straw hat.

“How can I serve you two today?” She asked.

“We’ll take your best vegetable soup,” one of the men answered, speaking for both of them. As the waitress went to prepare their dish, one of them spoke out loud to the man in the straw hat in a pompous tone.

“Well, if Lord Ishida actually chooses to waste even a little bit of his time with you, it’ll have to wai-…”  The man came to an abrupt pause as he looked to his left to see that the man in the straw hat was no longer present. He had vanished into thin air, his tea and food remained, still smoking but he, along with the bamboo stick, were gone. Looks of confusion plastered across both of the men’s faces at the empty seat, how could he have disappeared so suddenly?

“Maybe it’s good that we didn’t order the tea?”

Ishida Okada, the name that had forcefully taken residence inside of Leo’s head. Right next to the nightmarish images of the charred bodies of his wife and daughter: Asuka and Hana. It was because his mind was so locked into the details of this ‘festival,’ that he hadn’t slit the jugulars of the men in the tea house for their disrespect. He may have lacked self control,but he didn’t lack focus. He had waited for the opportune moment to take his revenge. The news of this festival meant Ishida would be out in the open. The man in the Straw hat, Leo Tamashī was now on the hunt. Vengeance was destined to be his.


-Just a few hours later-

The moon beamed down upon Leo as he had finally reached Okada province. Licking his chops, he could almost taste Ishida’s blood. The festival had already started, sudden explosions were followed by rainbow colors, the lanterns lit the sky and breathed life into the streets.  A multitude of civilians amassed in usually vacant lots. Unfortunately, Leo wasn’t here to enjoy the view, he was hardly a tourist. Instead, the Ronin made his way past everyone, placing open palms on the chests and shoulders of those in his path and forcing them every which way, bumping people, not caring about whatever it is they might be holding. Leo headed directly to where he imagined a man of Ishida’s stature to be, loitering around in the town square pandering to the masses like a buffoon.

After a few minutes of maneuvering through the sea of humanity, Leo reached the town square. There he found his inference to be true. There he was, Ishida Okada. Once Samurai General, now a Kenin, with the insurance policy of a dozen foot soldiers dressed in silver armour whilst Ishida was dressed in expensive red silk with gold trim. There he was, mouthing off to the public while they paid attention like mindless drones. With measly hand gestures, Ishida commanded the attention of everyone within the immediate vicinity, silencing them like an adult would do to children. He was so revered that there was about ten feet feet of distance between him and the crowd on all sides. Practically, he was protected by the mass of people who circled him.

“Welcome, welcome to the first annual Okada festival here in Okada province. Despite what some may think, I am an ordinary man, a man that has made countless mistakes, I have done many things that I am not proud of, but that is why I have put together this festival, to show good faith and to repent for my sins.”

There was much sincerity in Ishida’s voice. It was the voice of a man who had taken time to reflect on himself not only in the physical sense, but in the spiritual sense as well. He only hoped that he would have the support of the people with whom he would walk the path of repentance. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, Leo couldn’t help but cringe at Ishida’s words, to him they meant nothing, they were equivalent to garbage. He couldn’t stand to hear it anymore. He was going to end this nightmare. At the end of Ishida’s sentence, the crowd gave him a small round of applause to return the ‘good faith,’ showing that they were willing to work with him.

“There will be plenty of time to repent to your god after I send you to the afterlife,” a voice pierced through the split second of sheer silence after the crowd had finished their round of applause.

The foot soldiers placed their hands on the scabbards of their Katanas, ready to defend their leader. From the crowd, the source of the voice traced back to one Leo Tamashī, making his presence known as he stepped out of the crowd, bamboo stick in hand. Leo used a finger on his free hand to push his straw hat off, revealing his identity to the crowd and to Ishida.

“Ishida Okada, you are responsible for orchestrating the deaths of my daughter and wife: Asuka and Hana Tamashī. For that, I will have your head.”

A saddened expression crossed Ishida’s face as he was reminded of his past, how it disappointed him that his past had caught up with him. Ishida could only lower his head before responding:

“Leo Tamashī…I am deeply sorry for what I have done to you, I wish there was a way I could visit the past and change things…but I can’t.”  Overwhelming guilt and regret was beginning to influence all of Ishida’s mannerisms, even his voice.

“I’ll be changing the pigment of the soil with your wretched blood, Ishida. Draw your blade Samurai, or has the glory gone so far inside your head that you now lack the decency to accept challenges?”

With his manhood called into question, Ishida ordered all of his men to stand down and give the two warriors room. Ishida reached down and took hold of the scabbard of his blade, but didn’t draw it. Leo on the other hand slammed the end of his bamboo stick on the ground to create an opening for his Katana to fall from; the bamboo stick acting as a make-shift scabbard. With just a few movements, Leo mimicked Ishida’s stance. The two warriors bent at the knees, Leo offered a cold stare while Ishida shot one full of regret back at him. The intensity itself drowned out all possible noise from the crowd. It was almost as if Leo and Ishida were alone, locked in a pocket realm.

Before anyone knew it, the two shot off like lightning, leaving nothing but a blur. Nothing was heard beside the clanging of two blades. By the end of the exchange, Leo was on his hands and knees breathing heavily. Ishida was behind him in the spot where Leo had previously stood. Declaring victory, Ishida began to speak.

“Leo…I hope you can find peace, and can somehow come to forgive me in the afterlife, but it is there that your wife and daughter await you. Farewell.”

Ishida looked down at his chest and saw a deep cut that he had somehow overlooked. A second later, he fell down to a knee and his blade fell from his hand. He clutched his chest. The foot soldiers and civilians thought they had witnessed Ishida defeat Leo cleanly, but they were wrong and subsequently awestruck. Leo began to rise to his feet while holding his blade as he turned around to face an Ishida writhing in agony. Satisfaction of mild proportions filled Leo at the sight of Ishida’s struggle, he had done it…he had done it.

“Just like I thought, the fame, the glory, it has weakened you, warrior.” Ishida was on the receiving end of mind numbing internal pain.  Leo had hit a vital spot whilst avoiding Ishida’s strike. With Ishida still writhing in agony and blood now starting to leak from his mouth, Leo continued to speak.

“I told you vengeance would be mine, Ishida, and I promise as long as the spirit of my daughter and wife lie in the afterlife, you will never Rest In Peace…”

There was nothing Ishida could do but cough up more blood, and in time, precisely fifteen seconds, he had passed. What of the repentance he had spoken of, the acts of goodwill he had promised the masses? They were gone in just a few short seconds. But before Leo could even attempt to gather his things to escape, long before Ishida’s men could even attempt to avenge him, a small, soft voice rang through the crowd,

“Father, father.”

All eyes were on a small child no older than ten. Upon seeing the corpse of her father laying  across the ground, her heart sank into her toes before utterly melting. She frantically ran beside her father and knelt down to cradle his head. It didn’t take long for tears to flow and for wails to drown out the silence. Leo was stuck, paralyzed because of what he saw… It was eerily reminiscent of his beloved daughter, oh the memory weighed so heavily on his heart and instilled a sizable section of both humanity and mercy inside him that he wished he harbored just a few moments ago. Leo’s blade fell from his hand. He extended that very same hand in the direction of the sobbing child, his lips parted almost as if he was actually going to try to say something comforting. Leo knew it was too late, just like it was too late back then. Realizing that, his hand fell, only for him to lift both of them to waist level to see Ishida’s blood on his hands. Taking a moment to process it all, Leo found himself looking once more at the distraught child.  The only thing that could escape his mouth now was,

“What have I done…”

My name is Bishop Conner, an unpublished 17-year-old writer from the Germantown Area of Philadelphia. Just your average kid with a dream to write, hopefully comics.

In the White Room

In the White Room

by Mandy Chen


“Tomorrow, when I get better, I’ll take Ziyao to school.”

“Tomorrow?” said the daughter, “Why, certainly. If you get better.”

“I take good care of children.”

The woman had her feet propped on a pile of pillows. The pillows were white like the bed and everything else in sight, although she secretly suspected the pallor crept to beyond pulled curtains and partitioned rooms, eating at the hospital like an influenza grown deadly. Even the sky wore a jubilant white. The daughter was looking away at the window. The woman sat erect like a hawk, her eyes critical.

“Sure,” said the daughter.

“Do you really think so?”

“Why not.”

“You aren’t sore,” said the woman.

“No. Why should I be?”

The daughter was never sore. Not when she vanished into thin air for two weeks not calling, leaving her home with a half-grown sister, now dead, some thirty years ago. She supposed she wasn’t the best of mothers.

“You know,” she began.

The daughter looked away at the window.

“Did you hear they caught Fu Jitong last week?”

“Why, I used to know his father. He himself was never clean. I worked under him for scarcely a year, and then I refused to. He’s no man to work for.”

“Really, you did?”

“He had been one of the worst. He! Not today. Time has changed.”

“This life, it makes you greedy.”

The woman shook her head. Back then there wasn’t time for corruption. Back then life rolled out of its magician’s pocket gingerly, each crystalline surprise a stepping stone to greatness. She remembered her colleagues back then, her comrades who believed in the same grit and greatness and fought with their youth as she did. She was a woman and now the only one to have survived. All of her earlier colleagues were either dead or close to it.

“You remember Yang Lin?”

“Why, we used to see him at least once a week.”

“Last time I saw him he looked hardly alive. Couldn’t move by himself.”

“He’s past seventy, isn’t he?”

“Younger than I. His one son dead from suicide.”

The daughter rose to stand by the window. The mother followed her with critical eyes.

“You know, most of them are dead.”

“Mama,” said the daughter. “Can’t we talk about something else?”

“It didn’t used to bother you.”

“No.” sighed the daughter. “Will you try and sleep while I pick Ziyao up from school?”

The room was empty after the daughter left. The curtains were so white the woman thought of her sister.

            She used to be third in the family. Now that the second died she had to replace her, somehow compensating for the loss through added chores and reduced eating. That didn’t stop the smallest, a boy, from falling prey to some lone wolf passing the village half a year later. There were many deaths after that and many tears, but none imprinted themselves as venomously as that of her sister’s, newly past eight when hunger consumed her, pulled taut the skin of her belly, her belly arched and inflated like a drum. They used the whitest curtain they had to cover her body. After the wrapping it did not take much space. It was so tiny it did not require a burial. Now and then the woman recalled her name.

            The mountain roads liquified on rainy days. There was a great deal of water where they lived and no sun. Pools gathered and drenched to the core of soft earth. They were careful that year as they crossed the mud walking to school, for the year before a child had slipped and was never seen. After her retirement, the woman went back to see the mountain once, but it had been flattened to make space for a budding metropolis. It was the only mountain in that area. All around, the earth stretched, plain after plain in fertile pallor. Very rarely did a hill or two curve towards the sky like adolescent waves against the gravity of the sea. She was angry they killed the mountain. She had hated it from her youth because it stood as an extra barrier between her and the school. In time she learned to acquiesce to its presence.

           She attended junior college at the age of 16, a normal school in a different town. When she graduated they offered a scholarship for her to go to university. But her brother had also graduated by then and the military school he was admitted to required tuition. The family needed money for his education, so she worked in a factory instead and sent home her first paycheck, three kilos worth of coupons. Her father owned a little workshop in town and the family was able to get the food they needed. At that time the woman was unsure why anyone had to starve, at all. The horizon was broad and clear. Miles and miles on end the earth breathed lush and eager and eternally without bearing. Not for long the war ended and Father’s workshop became public property.

The curtain stirred. A nurse came and took her blood pressure and left. She forgot to pull back the curtain.

            The curtain was red, embroidered with golden lace. She hid behind it. On the other side of the curtain stood Shu, his hands twisted behind his back and his dark eyes evasive. Then the curtain was lifted, and under the fading sky she could see the faint blush across his cheeks, his brows disheveled over the sturdy nose of an honest man. He was looking away and trying to hide the fact.

            They had met after she graduated from Normal School. Her mother had fallen sick so she had left the  factory. She stayed in Normal School for two years and was given rations for staying When she left for the city’s foodstuffs company after graduation, she knew she could never be a teacher.  Her mother thought her quite too independent and set up a meeting at the matchmaker’s. The first time she had seen Shu she had disliked him because of his silence. Later they became friends. He spoke with a vulgar accent and an almost inexcusable shyness.  She married him because he was honest and hardworking and her mother liked him very much. A month later he was assigned to make planes in the far north. That had been his dream and he did not hesitate.

Now she could see the curtain stir again and the daughter coming through it. The daughter wore white that day and the  cup in her hand was almost indistinguishable against the dim white glare. But her face was sallow and her cheekbones rose sharp and smooth like the woman’s. She was every bit herself on the outside, but with a weariness she had never had before.

“How are you feeling?” said the daughter.

The woman felt good now that the pain was gone. She sat erect on the bed, her eyes acute with a new finding.

“You are very much like your Pa,” she said.

Back at their home in the city Shu and she almost never met and when they did, they often quarreled. There was so much quarreling she wondered why she went home anymore, except for the children. Both were daughters, not exactly lucky, but she couldn’t care less for conventions and her mother relied too much on her money by then to point a finger. Her eldest brother, fresh out of military school, was wiring radios in Vietnam while the rest of her five younger siblings struggled with literacy, the uncanny aftermath of being made red guards when they should have been students. She had just transferred to Chengdu’s Cotton and Linen Company. The spring after the birth of her second daughter she was offered advanced training at night school. She had enjoyed the mornings and afternoons paddling  from the dusty suburbs of Chengdu to downtown and back, the landscapes two racing paint panels pulled high from where the roads ran horizontally, the road racing dark and tall and new under her tumbling feet and her cropped hair fluttering against the wind. She remembered returning from night school at two in the morning, air biting into her cheeks, the city lightless and deserted but her heart too full to be cold. At the start of winter the bike slipped and ice tore loose the side of her shank. Back in the suburbs, when she dragged person and bike home Shu saw the blood and bellowed at her across the yard.

She was made manager the year the younger daughter turned three. It came as a surprise to none of them.

            The daughter was pulling something from her handbag. “Here,” she said.

“You could’ve had anything.” said the woman. “If only you’d stayed.”

“I don’t know what you’re getting at, Mama.”

“You had to leave. You had to come here.”

The woman guessed when you had to leave, you had to leave. She would have understood her daughter, standing shivering that day shortly after her marriage, at the city’s train station with one younger sister hung on each arm, all wrapped up in burlap too coarse for decency. As deputy secretary of the Foodstuffs Company she had been deemed a rightist. Defending her former superiors who were accused of rightism made matters worse, and her illiterate but insightful siblings decided she had better be shipped to Dalian, where nobody knew her and Shu worked. When she said goodbye a sister cried and said she didn’t have to go. The other sister threw her a dirty look so she shushed.

            Inside workers crouched in defensive huddles, sweat diffusing like some sort of airborne infection. In Dalian, she became a migrant worker and loomed for three months before before running back home the day Shu went out on business. Back in Chengdu she was dispatched to the chili factory and became a real worker.

She looked up now, saying “Can we not?” and the woman chuckled.

“I had everything settled for you. Why did you have to come here?”

“Here, take these.” In her palm the pellets glistened.

            At the chili factory they crushed red chili with their feet. After stomping and grinding all day the skin took to ruddy permeability, the toes inflated and eternally dripping so she went about without socks. When the revolution ended some two or three years later, she was rewarded with a position at the Chengdu Cotton and Linen Company, where she became secretary of Party and soon, manager. With a distinctive voice and headstrong character, she had no trouble rising to president of it provincial headquarters and sat with the Premier every year since 1978 in the Central Economic Working Conference.




            Her arrival at Sichuan Cotton and Linen Company stirred its stagnant existence.       


The woman glared.

“I just—I’ve been thinking.”


“Would you like to go back to Chengdu once you get better?”

“But I’ve not been here a month!”

“They have better doctors.”

“I’ll be alright in a while,” said the woman. “And Ziyao needs taking care of.”

“Mama, we don’t need you to—”

Their eyes met. The daughter looked away.

“I’m sorry, Ma. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

“I want to go.”

“Mama, stay.”

            Her arrival at Sichuan Cotton and Linen Company stirred the still water existence of its mechanic body. For three years the machine had rested barren with seeds, dyspeptic belly protruding, surface corrupted beneath eyes of censor. They welcomed her with hidden files and rewritten histories. Looking back at it now she was proud to say after six months of combat, here character dulled the off-putting glare of her co-workers – a result of her female identity. The men had at last gotten over a shared sense of shame. Even Deng softened. When he fell sick with fever a year later she lavished on him all sorts of cares and favors on him so the proud General Manager could not but bow once and for all. Afterwards she ensured the employment of his three children and eldest grandson. As a matter of fact she took, under her wings, all that had been loyal to her. In 1978 she sat with Premier Hua.

            “And where is Deng now?”

            Again, she grew aware of the all-encompassing whiteness of the room. A hospital wing. She could not remember why she was there. Had she fallen down? Hit herself in the head, fainted? She did not believe so. And then someone spoke and she forgot all about that, too.

She looked and saw the daughter, for a while mistaking her for a ghost of hallucination. whim not sure this is the right word. But her white shirt sagged, and the buttons were displaced, the frills of her skirt a decaying umber. She looked now and thought, how they could never forgive each other: her for her abandonment and for the ways she slumped, dragged, dulled, her eyes downcast elusive, a housewife. Hopelessly worn at thirty three.


When she heard herself called she was scared. It reminded her of her sisters howling the night her own mama died.

“Mama? Mama? Mama?”

She was scared. In her head the past swirled like glass, shreds broken into words misunderstood, words rich and pompous that used to melt at the tip of one’s tongue but now meant nothing at all. She closed her eyes to see the world looked any different. When it didn’t she thought of how one life topped another—became another and how at the end of time they all grew reword one and timeless.

“Oh, Mama!” cried the alien voice. “Please, oh please—Doctor!” And she heard herself speak in equally alien tone, “Cut it out, won’t you?” and that’s when it all stopped.

She was hiding in the kitchen. Outside her daughter stood barring the door yelling at a belligerent Deng who came to demand a share of housing. “Let me in,” she heard him say, “let me in you shameless—” and the daughter said “No”. He said, “I came to see your mother. You have no business interfering.” She was hiding in the kitchen listening, knowing she could not afford argument with a potential right hand. Outside the younger daughter was yelling as if in labor.

            “Get out,” she said. “I said, get out.”

            The woman laughed, startling her daughter.

“What’s the matter?” she said.

“Ha, ha,” she said. “Ha ha ha.”


The woman shushed.

“What’s the matter?”

The daughter began to beckon for the doctor so she stopped.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m really fine.”


“You remember Deng?”

“Yes. Will you be good and take a nap while I have a word with Doctor Zhou?”

Then she who begged and said she was only joking and the doctor went away.

            Nineteen ninety-five she and her team flew to the United States of America to learn about cotton planting and the processing machines. She had never sat in a plane for so long. She caught her first glimpse of the sunny California land through the plane window. It reeled under her in a speeding circular motion, the mild green soil stretching looped and curvaceous. At customs she was questioned for a long time. In their eighteen days of exploratory stay they plunged through the deep South, traveling from the western coast to the east. All five senses open for knowledge. She was impressed by the quality of its swarthy soil, vigorous  as a lad and purified by the cover of vegetation. There were so few people for so much land, and she began to think thatGod must have favored this place over everywhere else. The vegetation machines with big tires crawled along the surface of the soil, would have no use back home due to the  bumpiness of the land and the poverty of the peasants. Where we had peasants, America had farmers, rich farmers who lived in big two-story houses, with pools and mechanical irrigation. Beneath the soil tubes formed a maze of human ingenuity. Everything was so mechanical. Every plantation was a world of its own. while back at home the peasants wrestled with small scale economy. She’d been saying this the past few years…that they needed specialized, sustainable farming. They needed to stop using manure for laziness sake, because it drilled heavy metal into the core of land and corrupted soil and mind. But China was growing, alright. Now they told her they moved the cotton industry to Xin Jiang where the temperature was fit.

            She returned to the United States of America in nineteen ninety-five, visiting cities as well as farmland.  She remembered feeling horror-struck and embarrassed at first sight of Vegas. Personally she disproved of the gambling and extravagant colors but knew she was not one to judge. New York was a different story, what with the shiny grayness of tall metal and steel. She was impressed and a little disgusted by the way one floor grew on top of another, the people enfolded like napkins in an American fast food combo.

            The daughter was speaking. She no longer felt funny.

“And what about Deng?”

“Who, Deng?”

“Yea. Deng. Manager Deng.” said the daughter. “You’ve been talking about him.”

The woman did not remember talking about Deng. But she nodded and said, “Ah.”

Suddenly the daughter teared up. She raised a hand and turned quickly to the window.

“Ha!” said the woman, vaguely irritated. She no longer felt funny. “And what’s your problem?”

The daughter said nothing. The woman said, “There, there. Deng never forgave you, did he? Never uttered another syllable to you.”

“It’s horrible,” said the daughter, breaking into a smile.

“It is. You’d been a fierce little girl, hadn’t you? Now, is he alive?”

The daughter teared up again and she felt horrible for bringing it up.

“Did you know they moved the cotton industry to Xin Jiang last year?”

The daughter shook her head.

“I say China is growing fast,” said the woman. “The scale of agriculture has expanded. There is increased specialization.”

“That’s right,” said the daughter.

“The economy is good. God must like China too, don’t you think?”

“You look worried,” the woman commented. “What’s the matter?”

“Aren’t you tired?”

“Not at all.”

“Why don’t you try and take a nap?”

            While pretending to take a nap she saw her mother. Her mother was a pretty woman, unlike her, the uneducated daughter of a rich landowner, with very dark hair and deep-set butterfly eyes. It was in nineteen seventy-one that she died, having lived a long, fulfilled life, her hardships ending just when fortune was about to shine. Her favorite son always believed she died of happiness. The woman remembered finding out about it two days after her promotion, driving a car for the first time and seeing all around not trees but shapes, humanly shapes weaving like dancing green spots in the sun. She  suddenly felt a strange urge, a jerk of the heart muscle, a sort of primeval palpitation like a baby seeing the world for the first time, the light intrusive the shadows transmute and the heart all colorblind.

            The doctor believed her mother died of dyspepsia. Her lips were still wet with the juice of her seventh persimmon when the woman found her, eyes wide unblinking, with no sign of death but the glaring death notice hung over her hospital bed. She looked like one who decided to skip a breath as a joke but never remembered to inhale again. The woman believed she died of forgetfulness. ( I love this paragraph)

            A nurse came and went, her existence causing no disturbance in the harmony of the room. She lost her train of thought.

Something clicked inside her. She realized that when you added white to white, either white remained white.The original whiteness was incapable of becoming whiter. Just the same with harmony, or peace of mind. Extra doses of peace were as futile as climax in the face of anti-conflict. The only thing that lasted was repetition.

Presently she heard her daughter again. The little girl leaning with one arched brow screaming at the top of her lungs “Get out this is my house”.


The morning light shone blackly through a cluster of fog. Behind the window of the hospital wing the daughter stirred, her arms sore from a night’s pillowing where she dreamed of cake and confetti for her little son’s wedding. An arm’s length away the woman slept, mountainous lines heaving in the still peace of a resting Buddha. The daughter yawned. It was a good dream.


“Oh Mama,” she said. “if only you could live to see little Ziyao in suit and tie.”

She yawned again and rose to check if Mama was awake. She wasn’t. When the daughter leaned down to plant a kiss her cheek was cold, and she could not hear breathing.

Mandy Chen is a student at Northwestern University, hoping to study creative writing. She is inspired by the works of Hemingway, Faulkner and Dostoyevsky, and strives to become a martial arts master.