Baseball was my life. Whenever I was on the field in my muddy cleats, about to throw a game winning pitch, I felt important and powerful, like I had control over something in my life. But the magic ended when I stepped off the field and reality hit. When I stepped off that field I knew I had no control over anything, not even my own life. When I changed out of my muddy cleats, I was reminded of my mom’s inevitable death. I was reminded that any day that I could lose my mom to cancer.

I still remember the day I lost her.

My team, the Anderson Alligators, had just won our game against the neighboring town, so I decided to run over to the hospital to tell her about our victory. The run wasn’t very long or difficult since our town, Anderson, Alabama, was small and only had one hospital. When I made it to her room, she was sleeping. I watched for a bit as her chest rose and descended in sync with the beeps of her heart monitor before waking her up.

“Mom,” I said as I lightly shook her shoulder, “wake up mom.” I watched as her eyes slowly fluttered open and she steadily propped herself up.

“How are you sweetie, you look awfully chipper considering the weather.” I looked out her hospital window and noticed the heavy rain outside.

“That’s odd, it wasn’t raining when I got here, but that’s besides the point. Remember that game I had today? We won!”

“That’s great, sweetie!” She exclaimed. My smile faded shortly after when she started coughing into her hand. She drew her hand away from her mouth to reveal what appeared to be blood. I looked over to her heart monitor and noticed the beeps became less and less frequent.

“Hey mom, are you okay?”

“Wesley Reed Cooper, no matter what happens to mommy I want you to keep chasing your dreams.”

I was seriously starting to worry about her. It was like she wasn’t registering anything I was saying and her eyes were starting to close, maybe for good.

“Wesley, Wesley look at me,” At this point she was squinting at the ceiling: “Wesley, I want you to not worry about mommy. I want you to look forward into the future. I want you to throw on your cleats and run towards a better tomorrow.” This didn’t sound like words of encouragement, it sounded like the dying words of a caring mother.

“Mom…Mom, this isn’t funny…Mom? …Mom!” I watched as her eyes shut. It was like she was permanently sealing herself off from the world. The only thing that shook me out of his daze was the long and unending beep of the heart monitor, and the long, flat line extending from one edge of the other. As the doctors started to flood into the room, I couldn’t stand to be in there any longer. I ran as far as my legs could take me, I sunk down to the ground and cried until my eyes were red and sore. As I cried, my tears mixed together with the rain into large drops of despair, and in that moment I came a realization; my mom was gone and she wasn’t coming back.

Ten years later, I still keep those cleats with me. Even though I quit baseball a long time ago, those cleats mean so much to me. They’re a symbol of hope; they’re a symbol to always look towards the future. When I feel like all hope is lost, I look towards those cleats and think about the words my deceased mother told me 10 years ago, and they give me motivation to push through the darkness into the light.



Sydney Nixon is a rising ninth grader who likes writing. Along with writing, she also enjoys volleyball, track and reading. She lives in Philadelphia with her mom and dog, but spends every other weekend with her step-mom and dad. Her favorite subject in school is math and my favorite show is Pretty Little Liars.


The sparkle in her eye is magical and breathtaking.  Her cheeks blush, and a giggle escapes her lips.  A silent conversation floats between the couple.  As the minutes pass, I am able to define the characteristics of the thread that tethers the humans together.

If I glance quickly, I am unable to witness the magic.  However, if I patiently watch, the thread will appear.  It shimmers when the sunlight bounces off of it.  The thread glows in the wicked rain.  The thread can easily be located at night.  It sparkles beneath the stars and exudes brilliance.

I grin at the couple.  My voice aches, begging my mouth to move, but I restrain myself.  Life changing secrets are visible through my pupils.  A thread glimmers between lovebirds who are meant to be.  The unlucky ones, for whom the love is temporary, share an empty space.

“Julianna, are you listening to me?”  I quickly turn my head away from the couple, blaming myself for staring.  Landon, lying on the plush grass, throws a question in my face.  I roll my eyes, “Were you informing me that a man was behind me with a gun?”  He furrows his eyebrows.  “No, of course that’s not what I was talking about.”  I snatch my backpack and jump to my feet.  “Then, I was not listening to you.”  Landon scrambles to find his shoes before running to join me.  “Where do you go?”  He asks.

I begin to respond but my attention shifts.  A boy and a girl stroll through the park.  I slow my pace and search for a shimmering clue.  A thin rope ties their bodies together.  Suddenly, a body slams into my back.  Landon grasps my arm and pulls me away from the woman who ran into me.  She glares at me and finds a new path to follow.  “Jules, you have to focus!”

I swiftly turn my head, noticing that the boy and girl disappeared.  “It’s like you are living an entirely different life inside of your mind.”  His striking blue eyes blind me with their uncertainty.  He really wants to know.  He wants to know what haunts my mind.  He wants to know what secrets I am hiding in the depths of my eyes.  I am tempted to tell him, but I swallow the words.  “I don’t go anywhere,” I stammer.  “There’s just so much, too much, to see.  You only have to search for it.”

My phone vibrates in my back pocket.  I lean in and wrap my arms around Landon.  “I have to go; I’m cooking tonight.”  He returns my hug and shakes his head as I run away from him.  “I will never understand the mysterious Julianna!”  He shouts.  My cheeks burn with heat, and I force myself to run faster.  I know for certain that if I stop and turn around, the thread I have always been searching for will not appear.

That evening, I was focused on threads and on Landon.  My mind was not present as I chopped carrots and onions; my hands were slick with sweat.  I furiously sliced the food, frustrated about the threads.  For years, I studied the threads.  I envied the threads.  For years, I prayed that I would notice a thread between Landon and I.

Suddenly, the knife slips out of my grip and slices my thumb.  Blood streams down my hand, feeling similar to warm, thick water.  I throw the knife on the ground in a fit of rage.  I reach into the medicine cabinet and am confronted by an empty box of band-aids.

Using my right hand, I throw a paper towel over my throbbing thumb and apply pressure.  I glance out of our frosted window and recognize the signs of an oncoming storm.  Lacking the mobility to grab a coat, I run out the back door.

Across the yard, Mr. Pearson’s living room lamp illuminates the windows.  I shuffle around his garden of red peppers and cabbage and climb the porch steps.  Still clutching my hand, I kick the glass door lightly.  “Mr. Pearson?  Are you home?”  I yell through the glass.

I am about to walk away when a stocky man struggles out of a dusty, blue recliner.  I smile and gesture for him to come to the door.  He hesitantly slides the door open, but he only leaves a small crack.  “What do you want?”  He growls.  When he speaks, his glasses slip down the bridge of his wide nose.  I continue to smile, despite the fact that my finger pulse thumps with ferocity.  “I just need a band aid.”

A gurgling sound escapes his mouth, “Fine.  They are in the drawer next to the stove.”  I offer a thankful grin and slip through the door.  While unwrapping the bandage, I peer across the room at Mr. Pearson.  My eyes immediately glance to his heart, searching for a thread.  After moments of concentrating on his chest, I realize that he also is staring at me.  “What are you looking at?” He snaps.

I jump in my skin and swiftly tape the bandage on my thumb.  “Sorry Sir,” I mumble.  “I know that you don’t see nothing there, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something,” he whispers to no one in particular.  I freeze and walk to where he sits.  He peers at me through his bifocals.  “Miss Julianna, it’s there if you want it to be there.”  My confusion is caked on my face, “Mr. Pearson, what are you talking about?”  He pulls himself out of the chair and leads me to the door.  “Go home and clean up the knife you cut yourself with before your mother gets home.”

He practically shoves me out of the door.  A few reflective raindrops fall onto my hair.  Looking back into the old man’s home through the cloudy light, I catch a shimmer.  A thread barely visible to my trained eyes connects Mr. Pearson to a woman in a picture framed with glass.  Mr. Pearson slightly turns, and a sparkle glows in his eyes.  The same sparkle I saw in the woman’s eyes in the park that same day.

Suddenly, a realization hits me in the face.  I gallop into my home, sling the bloody towel into the trashcan, and snatch my car keys off the counter.  In the confines of the car, my heart beats boldly.  The rain pounds fiercely against the windshield.

Before I realize where I am headed, my car screeches to a halt in front of Landon’s home.  I jump out of the car and find myself standing on his doorstep.  I knock multiple times in order to pass minutes in the icy rain.  My body shivers, but I refuse to leave his doorstep; I need to know.

Finally, Landon opens his door.  The crust from an afternoon nap occupies the corners of his eyes.  The V-neck shirt gives me a glimpse of his lean and muscular body.  A light scruffle shadows his jaw.  His crystal eyes sparkle in the rain.  His chipped front tooth reveals itself in a brilliant smile.  “My mysterious Julianna, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

My eyes shift to his heart.  At first, I see nothing but the cotton fabric of his white shirt.  Then, slowly, a shimmer sparks in the air.  I focus, I will it to form, and the thread grows.  It lengthens and defies the laws of science, stretching across the space between our bodies.  Then, in a single precious moment, the thread touches my heart, sending vibrations through my body.  A tear, disguised as rain, slips down my face.

“Disappearing again?”  He asks gruffly.  I leap into his arms and passionately embrace Landon.  My wet lips brush against his ear.  “I’m not disappearing,” I whisper.  “I’m seeing what I have been searching for.”




Caroline Donovan attends Archmere Academy in Wilmington, Delaware. Her passion is writing, but she also enjoys playing sports. She competes in athletic events throughout the year. Caroline is a huge fan of John Green and has read all of his novels. She aspires to be a bestselling author and use her unique perspective to change the world.

Empty Dreams

Black talons, coated in thick, slimy gloss tap on the windowpane.  Slowly, agonizingly slowly, the thin glass cracks.  Uneven lines race each other across the glass.  A young boy hears the soft cracking, jostling him from slumber.  The creature taps again, and a small hole allows the moist breath of the animal to seep into the room.

The boy is paralyzed with fear.  He lunges for the bedroom door, but pain jolts through his legs.  He desperately attempts to lift his legs; the creature’s hand bursts through the window.  Shards of glass skate across the slick hardwood and slice the boy’s sweaty ankles.  His lip quivers, and a whimper tumbles out of his mouth.  A tear rolls down the crease of his nose.

The creature, no longer separated by the glass, crawls towards the boy.  Its claws create spidery patterns on the wooden floor.  An ear-splitting screech echoes in the room.  Quickly, the creature captures the boy in its talons, covering his Spider Man pajamas in bubbling goo.  The boy releases a bloody scream, and he closes his eyes.

I arch my back and hurriedly rip the quilt off my body.  I rub my blood-shot eyes with the back of my hand.  My labored breathing stings my raw throat.  I force my sweaty palm to drop the dream catcher clutched between my fingers.  The clock on the nightstand vibrates; my shift is over.  I stand, shove my feet into the leather shoes perched on the shelf, zip up my jacket, and throw the empty dream catcher into the shadows.

The door closes, and locks, behind me.  The narrow hallway is flooded with people.  All of the people look the same: exhausted and scarred.  I suspect that I appear the same.  A woman greets me, “Hey Bill, how was your shift?” My eyes linger on her shiny forehead, slick with sweat, and her blotchy cheeks.  Similar to a robot, I utter the same word I have uttered for six years, “Fine.”

She shrugs her shoulders and falls into rhythm with my steps.  Together, we snatch our files from the labeled cabinets.  A paycheck peeks out of the corner of my folder.  The more dream catchers I empty, the more pain I endure, the more money I make.  “How many did you empty today?” The woman, Sheryl, asks me.  My mind pauses, so I open the file.  I respond numbly, “103.” Her eyes widen, and she enthusiastically throws her hands into the air.  “How do you do it Bill?  I mean, is there a secret?” I shake my head, open the door, and burst into the daylight.  I jog, stretching my legs, and run towards my car.  “No secrets,” I yell, “just dreams.”

My car bakes in the afternoon sun.  The silver car door handle burns my skin.  I fumble with the key, and a girl’s voice rises behind me.  “Hey, can I talk to you?” I spin around, completely forgetting about the car.  A black tank top paired with cut-off jeans accents her curvy figure.  Her blonde hair is streaked with pink dye, and her toenails are painted the color of twilight.

I lean my body against the car.  “What do you want?” I ask.  She steps closer and sweeps a lock of hair away from her emerald eyes.  “I want to do what you do,” she eagerly states.  A chuckle escapes my mouth; “You want to work in a factory all day?” I gesture towards the catcher; the building in which dream catchers are emptied.  “Don’t lie to me.” Her voice is smooth and carries the hint of venom.

I turn my back to the girl and begin unlocking the car.  “You empty dream catchers.” She lunges towards the car.  “Somehow, all of the dreams disappear.” I continue to fumble with the key, careful to ensure that she does not see the surprise in my eyes.  “Listen kid, I don’t know what you are talking about.” I hop into the car and begin to shut the door.  She snatches the handle and rips the door open.  The file slips out of the side door pocket, and the papers fan across the fiery pavement.  Before I can bend down, she drags the file towards herself.  She shoves the papers in my face.  The first paper, in large block letters, reads: 103 DREAM CATCHERS EMPTIED.  “It looks like you do know what I am talking about,” she sneers.

I release a heavy breath and step out of the vehicle.  “Do not tell anyone what you saw,” I threaten.  She hugs the file against her chest, “I won’t, but under one condition.” I raise my eyebrows, and she raises hers.  “You have to teach me how to empty a dream catcher.” I firmly grasp her delicate hand and shake, “Fine.  You have a deal.” Her lips curl upward, and her eyes sparkle.  “When do we start?” I gaze towards the building.  I slam the car door.  “Now.” She throws the file into my arms and sprints in the direction of the catcher.  I sulk after her, doubting my decision.

A heavy force weighs on my arm as I pull the door open for the girl.  “What’s your name?” Her eyes intently scan the empty hall.  She continues to observe, “You can call me Ray.” Her legs pull her in various directions.  Eventually, she locates the shaft.  Thousands of dream catchers fall from the shaft, are separated, and then delivered to different rooms.  “So, this is where they all come from?” She asks me over her shoulder.  Her eyes widen in wonder.  She lifts a glass panel and reaches into the shaft.  She closes her eyes and allows the feathers attached to the dream catchers to brush against her pale skin.  The nightmares are hidden in the pure beauty.

I gently grab her arm and drag her in a different direction.  I quickly direct her into the room.  The room is bare.  A container, filled to the brim with dream catchers, is enclosed in a clear, sealed box.  I retrieve the key, unlock the door, and carefully select a dream catcher.  “Lay there,” I order.  Ray eagerly plops onto the gray bed sheets.  I throw the dream catcher to her; she examines the specific design.  I shuffle through a drawer.  A small syringe winks at me from the corner of the drawer.  I nervously pick up the syringe, and I attach a thin tube of watery liquid.

Ray notices my actions, but she remains calm.  “This injection will prevent you from waking up until each dream is over.” She sits up, “Okay, inject me, let’s go!” Her happiness sickens my stomach.  “I can’t guarantee what you see; these are someone else’s nightmares.” I point towards the dream catcher.  She nods her head and places her warm hand over mine, “I know,” she whispers.  I plunge the needle into her neck, and she instantly falls asleep.

For hours, I sit in a plush leather chair and watch.  I watch her writhe in imaginary pain.  I listen to her scream.  I smell the sweat roll down her skin.  Her eyes flutter open, and tears violently flow down her cheeks.  “Ray, calm,” her screams silence my words.  She jumps to her feet and sprints towards the door.  Her hands shake uncontrollably, and she is unable to undo the simple latch.  In panic, she yanks tufts of her pink hair.  Beads of sweat drip from the tip of her nose.  I leap forward, grab her body, and she falls into my arms.  Anger thickens in her voice, “Do you enjoy it?  Do you like to see people’s most terrifying nightmares?”

She pounds her fists against my chest and stomach.  “You are a sick person!” She screams.  Eventually, she crawls to the door and opens it.  She steps into the hallway.  Before she leaves, she captures my attention.  A dot of dry blood covers the small hole on her neck.  The sweat dampens her cotton shirt.  Her dark makeup is smudged beneath her eyes.  She runs her fingers through her sweaty hair and glares at me, “Just tell me why you do it,” she demands.  Disgust lurks in her voice.  “It’s not a choice; it’s a punishment.” Puzzlement washes over her face.  She slams the door, and I hear her footsteps bound down the hallway.  I stand and hobble towards the container of dream catchers; it is draped in shadows.  I choose a bare dream catcher, the kind that always hold the worst dreams, lie on the bed, and I plunge the sharp needle into my neck.




Caroline Donovan attends Archmere Academy in Wilmington, Delaware. Her passion is writing, but she also enjoys playing sports. She competes in athletic events throughout the year. Caroline is a huge fan of John Green and has read all of his novels. She aspires to be a bestselling author and use her unique perspective to change the world.


Kristen has learned to accept that her grandfather will not know her face apart from her siblings. She is his grandchild, non-differentiable from the other dozen, and he knows little more of this stranger than of someone off the street, and less than if she had had a conversation with him.

“So, when’s school start for you?”

“In just a week.”

“And you’re going into…”

“…12th grade.”

Kristen never participated in sports like her sister; she was never Homecoming Queen. It took her the first three years of high school to accept that there is much more to her. Her qualities, although not as keen towards recognition, are qualities she has grown to love. There is so much she could share: the art exhibit she’s invited to in the winter, the anticipation and fear when considering years after graduation, the anxiety of deciding the next step of life when she cannot even decipher if she is on the right path. These are the variables of her life that become flat in his presence, smothered by repetitive questions.

“12th grade.”

Her grandfather directs the conversation to her father, “How’s work going for you?” He shuffles his feet towards his son and then away, as if unsure if the question is appropriate.

“It’s alright.” Her father stands with his arms crossed, as if a guard to his own kingdom. His expression is not unwelcoming, but unresponsive to any attempt at engagement. Expressionless. He has trained himself to preserve his emotions for the ones who can appreciate them. It’s difficult to sympathize with an impassive father after having children of his own, children he cherishes and longs to be with, a trait he certainly did not inherit from this man whose only offering to the world is peripheral anecdotes: the number of times a robin pecked his window sill, the current success or failure of his watermelon patch, stories of childhood friends who, last week, he either saw at church or their funeral.

The house hasn’t changed since Oma’s death. If anything, Opa’s collection has grown. It overtakes the garage, organized but growing rapidly. Beat up softballs line the back wall, worn and discolored from their previous settlement in roadside ditches. Dozens of forgotten basketballs acquired from school playgrounds are trapped in metal trash cans behind the red truck planted at the heart of the garage: a relic from his days as a carpenter. The freezer– thoroughly stocked with Dollar Store dumpster hotdogs and candy bars- – is accompanied by scooters on either side. Every item– every tennis racquet, every snowshoe, every roller skate– has a story. They belonged to a young Amish boy: a shadow cast from Opa’s childhood into the next generation. They were tossed aside, outgrown and unwelcome by a group of teenagers. They were treasured by school kids, and then discarded when new trends overshadowed traditions.

It’s been 20 years and still Opa keeps Oma’s belongings in the back room, unvisited and steadily collecting dust. Light filters through the single window, casting a dim glow over the room’s inhabitants: her rocking chair, countless piles of miscellaneous fax papers, a typewriter, National Geographics from the 30’s, photo albums, and books. Hundreds and hundreds of books. Novels on nursing, science, history. Stories of death and world catastrophes, of religion and end times. They pervade every corner, line the shelves, weigh on tables. They permeate the atmosphere, shed their warnings of doom while simultaneously offering their knowledge, as if doing a favor to the curious wanderers.

Intertwined amongst the books stand family photos. Black and white and sepia-tinted replicas, time capsules of the familiar yet distant past. Oma and Opa’s wedding day, a family portrait of their three sons, her father sitting in the front yard as a young boy. They sit under a haze of time, as if the decades have rubbed out the edges. As if one day, as fewer and fewer understand the handsewn dresses and head coverings of their upbringing, they may altogether fade.

Opa does not acknowledge the room, and yet cannot bring himself to rid the house of her belongings. And so the house tilts perpetually to one side, laden with the past that creeps steadily towards vapor as he cannot forget her, and yet he cannot even speak her name.

Hotdogs from a crockpot and stale chips are set out for lunch. Kristen and her family sit in the sun room, avoiding the actual consumption of the food but trying to maintain polite gratitude for the effort made.

“I was in my truck when I saw this shoe on the side of the road– the road behind White Horse.” He points to his left foot, adorned with a bright blue sneaker with neon soles. “Didn’t really think much of it, but then about a quarter mile down the road I see the other shoe, so I pick it up and drive back to get the first one. Some kid probably threw them out without thinking about it. But now I have a nice pair of sneakers and didn’t pay a buck!” Her brother pokes her shoulder, whispers, “Are we leaving soon?”

Kristen shushes him, but feels the same restlessness that comes with his monologues of the monotonous details that suddenly become very interesting in old age.

Kristen has been told that Oma got in an accident on the way home from a party. She pictures a party with boxed cookies and stale coffee and women with weary attitudes. The kind of party where ladies get together to discuss quilting, their kids, their husbands, church, anything so as not to talk about the expanding hopelessness and nullity of their lives. She imagines Oma sitting in a cold folding chair in a circle of women, looking at their faces and wondering what purpose she has there. She imagines Oma’s bent back, forty years weighing upon her shoulders, exhausted by her marriage. Instead of relief, her empty house brings despair; a sure sign her boys are past needing her help, having families of their own. Inundated by the forlorn sense of growing old. Kristen wishes away any regret in Oma’s decision; she replaces it with gratitude for her children and the optimism of new lives in the world. Oma believed she earned a better life than what she got, after working night shifts at the hospital to supplement her husband’s meager paycheck as a carpenter; being present for her children while her husband developed his collection of dumpster finds. Oma must have been struggling with the idea for years, ever since their first kid.

Kristen had been told there was an accident, but the tree was Oma’s opportunity, her way out.

There is still a memorial along the highway.

Oma never met her seventh grandchild. She knew about her, but left just weeks before Kristen was born. Eight months into the pregnancy. They say Oma would have loved her, but it’s easy to say how someone would have cared when that someone is dead. Oma would have loved her, but she would not have known her. When isolation and disconnect is a family pattern, it’s foolish to think one grandbaby could change the dynamics between parents and their children.

Kristen has been conditioned to understand that grandparents are not friends; they are obligations. They are people she has dinner with when guilt rises after months have gone by without a visit. She hears her parents’ critical analysis of their childhood and watches the pattern of detachment continue. They feel no responsibility to the people who raised them, no obligation to their siblings. They see a problem and remove it. She fears she will do the same.

Her parents give up on conversation. A silence falls over the company. Opa must feel some burden, some anxiety at his inability to carry the conversation.

“Opa, could I borrow a book or two sometime? I saw some interesting ones in the back room.”

“Oh, yes, of course! Help yourself! I have some suggestions if you’re interested.”

She walks with him, through the kitchen, down the hallway, to the back room. It’s a start.  

Olivia Stoltzfus is a senior at Solanco High School where she is involved in a variety of arts programs, including National Art Honor Society. She works to further develop her literature skills by analyzing advanced pieces of literature in her AP English class, and writing both in and out of school. After graduation, she plans to continue her fine art education at a post-secondary art school on the East Coast.

Winter’s Spell

“You know, I never liked winter.” Tammy turned her head to the sound of her old friend Donnie’s voice, her eyes lost in the milky night sky. They had encased themselves in the freezing February dusk, struggling to search for help. They had first found themselves trapped after taking a wrong turn from a hiking path into the immense Malsano Grove. According to Donnie’s extensive knowledge of mystery movies, they were supposed to be found in at least 3 days. However, it was already weeks after and civilization appeared to be a faint dream now. The brisk air cut at their skin, their hair practically frozen in thick locks, while their fingers were red with frostbite.

“They say it swallows you whole,” Donnie mumbled to herself. “The winter. It takes away your sanity.” Tammy nodded in agreement as she reminded herself that the person before her was not a meal. Delusions like this had plagued her since she arrived in the woods, her mind unraveling with each passing day. Some days the hallucinations were simple, a mysterious sound or fictional shadows. On bad days she saw people, dead relatives or old rivals. But the worst days were the ones she dreamt of eating, feasting upon imaginary meals created by her warped brain. It didn’t matter if what her eyes saw was inedible, she perceived it to be otherwise. Even now, as she sat next to the girl she’d known all her life, all she could envision was snatching off a limb, maybe even just a hand, and sinking her teeth into the bloody human flesh to have some form of sustenance inside of her stomach. 

“Have you been able to sleep at night?” Tammy questioned quietly. Donnie shook her head, her mind flashing with the images of her nightmares. They only occurred at night, unlike Tammy’s hallucinations, and only boiled down to one vivid dream. She was alone, locked within the depths of her mind, lacking any ability to move or even think for herself. At first, the only comfort she had lay in the piercing silence, leaving her with only hollowness. That’s when the shadow appeared. It was sleek and abstract, lacking any real physical form besides pure darkness. However, as time moved on, the darkness began to transmute, forming into the very person it stood behind. It began its movements by raising its arms in a gun-wielding position as Donnie’s body mirrored it, the actual weapon lying within her large hands. The barrel was cold against her skin, paining her fingers as she held on. The shadow placed its hands on the trigger, staring down the barrel towards its target. It was then that a massacre was committed, blood splattering onto Donnie’s face as the screams of her victims reverberated in her ears. And then, she’d wake up, body quaking as her fingers tingled from grasping the phantom gun.

“I sleep fine,” Tammy joked as Donnie slowly returned to reality.

“Good for you.” Donnie huffed, jealous of her friend’s clear conscience.

“I think a storm is coming,” Tammy remarked. Donnie rolled her eyes, skeptical of the sudden claim.

“You said there was going to be a storm last week. There wasn’t even a little snowfall.”

“I know. But this time is different.” Tammy turned to gaze into Donnie’s eyes then, the soft grey coloring matching the night. “Something bad is gonna happen.” Donnie bit her lip for a moment, lost in thought. Tammy’s predictions were usually close-calls at best, but otherwise entirely incorrect. The likelihood of her ideas being correct was 0 to none, although she’d never say it aloud.

“Whatever you say. Let’s just hope whatever it is leaves just as soon as it comes.” Donnie sighed while lying on the ground, pulling her jacket closer to her body. Tammy soon followed, lying on her arm with a small hum.

“Can you promise me something?” Tammy questioned.

“Depends on what it is,” Donnie chortled. Tammy closed her eyes then, her mind deceiving her with more delusions of feasting.

“If we ever get separated, I want you to run. Doesn’t matter where we are or what you heard, just run,”Tammy said. Donnie widened her eyes at the girl, surprised she would suggest such a thing. They had been trapped for so long, what point was there in separating after all they had been through together?

“Are you sure?” Donnie mumbled. Tammy nodded, her eyes locked into the stars as she came to terms with what she must do. It was with that bitter note, the two slept, allowing the soft chills of the night to lull them. That night, Donnie did not dream of her shadow, only the stark darkness that came before morning, content that Tammy’s delusions would never fall through. The following day, a sheet of white had immersed the Malsano Grove. The trees, the dirt, even the tracks that had previously been made, all were submerged in the snow. The scent of cold water mingled with dirty foliage to form something foul and reminiscent of death. Donnie opened her eyes with a start, the snow clustered on her eyelashes while her face felt like ice.

“Shit,” she huffed. “I guess you were right, Tam.” The wind whispered past, encompassing Donnie’s body with even more snow.

“Tammy?” Donnie turned to her side to find a blank patch of snow. Sirens rang through her head as Donnie jumped to her feet, her eyes scanning the woods.

“Tammy?!” Electric-like adrenaline pumped through Donnie’s veins as her heart pounded within her chest like a drum. Where could Tammy have gone? She’d only fallen asleep for a few hours; what could she be doing? Suddenly, like a faint, haunted memory, Tammy’s words from last night came to mind.

“If we ever get separated, I want you to run.” Donnie opened and closed her clammy fist, tears prickling the corners of her eyes as she realized what she must do. Nausea rocked her stomach like a ship caught in a storm, crashing in waves within her. She put herself into a running position, counting to ten before she decided to make a decision that would change her life forever. Her feet were light as she fled, each footstep worsening the ache in her heart as she ran away from the same girl she had grown to love. She could barely register her location as she ran, the snow blending together to make a prison of white. Why? Why? Why? Why was God so cruel to her, unforgiving and malicious? First imprisoned in this winter spell, and now forced to leave behind the one girl she loved, how could the world curse her so? However, as she continued to dash within the nightmare, she failed to realize the shadow that began to take shape behind her, lifting its arms with its cold barreled gun.


The sound rang across the forest, slowing down time itself. Donnie could feel her heart go still within her chest as a bullet propelled itself through her gut, staining the crisp snow an ugly crimson. Her body collapsed to the ground, her knees giving, followed by her upper half. Her eyes struggled to peer behind her, only to be met with that shadowy monstrosity.

The shadow held up the gun once more, staring down the barrel into Donnie’s eyes that were draped in betrayal. The shadow placed the gun against Donnie’s head, a devilish smile across her face as she came to accept her delusions. The death was quick, another shot echoing throughout the grove as ruby red blood pooled under Donnie’s head. The shadow showed no remorse as it leaned down towards her friend’s limp body, grabbing onto the flesh as she prepared to feast.

“You were right about the winter,” the shadow whispered. “It really does swallow you whole.”

Anisa is in 12th grade and lives in Camden, NJ with her older sisters and her mom. She enjoys writing in her spare time and plays clarinet for her school band.

I Wish I Was Braver

I saw him get hit, I didn’t cry.

I was outside of the emergency room, I didn’t cry.

Even now at my father’s funeral, I wasn’t crying.

Many people tried to comfort me, not for me but because they were scared, scared of judgment, scared of mortality, scared of me. I wish they were braver then. No one saw me leave; I just slipped away as my father had from life. I ran. I wasn’t missing my kendo tournament, not for my dad, the man who had missed my first words. The man who had missed my birthday three times. I wasn’t backing out on the one thing that made me feel strong like he never could. I wasn’t missing that tournament for a dead man.

I had been having bad dreams lately. Every night I was killed by a beast ten feet tall, with grey cracked skin and glowing red eyes. He chased me down and swung his giant flaming claws towards me. His rage radiated with the power and heat of one thousand suns.

I arrived at the Golden Hilt Dojo soaked in rain and my family’s tears. My coach was stunned to see me that day, but he knew me enough not to say anything.

I solemnly stepped into the locker room and put on my protective gear. As I lifted my kendo stick out of its case, I heard a grunt come from my left. I turned to face the kid who had the audacity to try to scare me, intimidate me, the boy whose dad had just died. This proved that even though he was taller than me, Jacob Mchazer really was someone who deserved nothing except downward gazes.

Jacob was leaning on the third locker from mine with a dissatisfied scowl. He loudly ordered me to go home or else. I didn’t respond; the satisfaction of a response was one of many things that Jacob didn’t deserve. At the time he was still a white belt, but Jacob walked around like he owned the place. He was at least three inches taller than any kid at the dojo, so he was intimidating at first, but he never did anything. All bark and no bite. At this point he barely had any teeth left.

“Go home and cry, kid.” He speaks but my mind doesn’t register, his words pass right through me. As he opened his mouth again, the blade I had been slowly raising out of its case with my left hand quickly whipped over my shoulder, falling in an almost perfect arc. I spun at an angle, thrusting all of my weight into my sword as I slid my right foot, setting my center of balance straight. Every single movement fell into place, a perfect symphony of blade and dance.

His insolence was met by my rage, and my sword was met by his blood. I wish I was braver then.

I continued beating Jacob until he cried. I swung that kendo stick so hard my hands bled before Jacob did. Before I could do anything to seriously harm him, I was pulled away by my coach, who had heard Jacob screaming. I slipped out of his arms and rushed to the door, running into the rain once again.

The crimson falling from my fists hit the pavement the same way my father’s did when he died. Just ten seconds before the accident everything was just as it always was. My mom yelling at him just as she did everyday, he put on his suit just like always, everything was just like always. Dead before he hit the ground; the truck slammed into him as he walked away from us for the last time. I think he was brave.

By the time I got home, the sun had set. I didn’t want to go to sleep, I didn’t want to dream, but as I sat and watched whatever was on TV to keep myself awake my thoughts drifted, my mind slurred, and I fell into dreams once again.

As always, I was in the burning woods with a finely crafted katana in my hand. The beast’s footsteps came down hard and heavy, so loud they filled any space no matter how big. You could never tell where he was coming from. A sudden burst of heat whipped at my back, he was right behind me. I leaped to the left, awkwardly falling into an into a combat roll. I just barely evaded his swipe. He recoiled his arm back making a fist this time as if to show that he took me seriously. His second blow was fast, way too fast. How could something so huge move so fast? My left shoulder had been embedded into a nearby pine tree. Chips of wood had stuck themselves deep into my arms, almost reaching my bones. He reared back once again; this time, if I was hit, it was all over.

The second hit came down even faster than the first; this time I expertly ducked underneath his punch. As his fist hit the ground, I used the hilt of my sword to pick myself up. Using the inertia stored in the blade I pierced the beast’s ribcage. He was weakened. I felt strong, strong enough to kill this monstrosity. I began releasing a flurry of blows but I soon realized that the hits I had been aiming at his ribs were now aimed at his thigh.

I kept slicing and stabbing until my hands were sore. I stepped back and looked up. The monster was at least twenty feet tall now. The bent, cracked, and melted hunk of steel that was once a fine Japanese blade slipped from my charred palms. I wasn’t scared but I wasn’t brave either.

For a moment the forest felt like limbo. Nothing moved, there was no more fire, no more rage, and no more fear. A calm sadness spread across the beast’s face as he began to crumble away into golden flower petals. He blew into the wind. I watched as the petals danced in the breeze, shaping and forming around me into a loving embrace. My father gripped me tighter and tighter and then slowly released me, his warm glowing eyes wet but unblinking. He spoke to me. He spoke to my soul. “I love you, my son.” The words resonated within me, warming my heart, and the petals descended from the sky as the silence burned my throat and just like that, my father was gone, gone once again.

That morning I awakened brave enough to cry.

Mosadi Pearson likes playing video games and drawing. He usually listens to progressive rock while writing. After trying to write an action-heavy story and failing, he decided to go with a sadder tone. Mosadi is a proud Mighty Writer.

The Elephant Garden

We were kids, so everything was in technicolor. The sky was the sapphire ring Cam’s abuela wore. The grass was the fresh emerald paint on the corner grocery storefront. Dewdrops were the liquid diamonds that spilled from Aunt Pia’s neck on Sunday mornings. The clouds were that sweet scratchy cotton candy that melted gloriously in our mouths, the kind that reminded us of summer.

Back then, Liam used to pretend the cracks in the sidewalk were rivers of lava. He’d shout, “Mya! Watch your step!” and that would start our game. The concrete was broken up because thick tree roots snaked underneath so Liam said we had to be extra careful. He said it was tough terrain. He said a lot of things back then, actually. I wish he could have stayed eleven forever. I wish he kept talking. But I guess big brothers grow up.

When he was younger it was nice. Me and Cam were nine then, and we’d all go out wandering together. We scrounged up some money from under our couch cushions, bought a few Coca-Colas, and biked out. Once Cam took us to a little stream she found in the woods and we looked for tadpoles. Liam found a piece of shiny mica on the bank and he gave it to me. I tied a string onto it and put it around my neck.

The weekend after that, it was my turn to lead. I sped down the road on my bike in the cool afternoon, shimmery new pendant thunking lightly against my chest, and watched the buildings rush past. A blur of brick red. A swash of beige. Brushstrokes of forest green.

The street came to a dead end and I stopped, propping my bike against a knotted tree. There was a house here. Cracked yellow paint and blue-gray shutters. It looked lonely. Cam and Liam paused behind me. They put their bikes down carefully, silently, as if this place demanded quiet.

I watched them watch the trees. The bright leaves, parakeet green. The patterns of white sunlight that landed on our faces. It felt right to stop here, at the edge of the woods. Sometimes our wild youth could be stilled if we chose to wait and watch like this.

I listened to the chatter of the birds for a suspended moment, and then the three of us collectively approached the gate of the house. It was old, wrought iron with spotty patches of orange rust. A roaring lion was carved into the top. Swirling lichen traced the edges of its mane. It snarled, metal teeth jutting out. Cam snarled back. I laughed.

Liam kicked the gate lightly and it swung open, creaking. We crept in, our sneakers flattening the grass. It tickled my ankles. I scratched them and followed my brother.

“The man who lives here, he’s away, isn’t he?” Cam asked, her voice a soft whisper. She surveyed the house, cautious.

“He leaves a lot, I think.” I said, pulling a leaf from her thick hair. “For his job.”

Liam disappeared around the corner of the house so we ran to catch up. The setting sun blinded me for a second, yellow-white obscuring my vision. I squeezed my eyes shut. Then I felt Cam tapping on my shoulder.

“Mya, Mya, look at this.”

I shifted so the sun was covered by a line of trees. Its dying rays illuminated the back of the house in gentle orange, casting patterns on the garden in front of me.

And the garden was breathtaking. Liam stood motionless, watching the light dance over it. Cam had the biggest smile on her face. I just stared, and stared, because there was so much to look at.

The grass was tall and lush, whispering across our bare calves. I breathed in the rich smell of good soil. Moss blanketed a stone path, the bright green of my Aunt Pia’s eyes. Purple petunias and clusters of violets bordered the pathway. All soft as dancing slippers.

Thick, pale green stems strained towards the sky to my right. I turned to face the flowers, golden yellow and taller than I was. They stretched glowing fingers toward the rosy sun as it slipped quietly below the horizon.

I kept walking down the path, tripping over my own feet in excitement. At the center of the vast, vivid garden, there was a fountain, shaped like an elephant — intricately carved from its prancing feet to its wide, still ears. Its trunk was lifted upwards, spraying water in a graceful arc. The gray stone was inset with all sorts of things. Smooth green sea glass, ridged bits of apricot-tinged shells, tiny rhinestones. Spiky black bottle caps. They were all arranged in vibrant patterns, tracing sides, ears, toes. Liam stuck his head under the stream of water. His hair flattened against his forehead and he laughed as fat droplets slid down his face.

“Our elephant garden,” Cam breathed.

And for the moment, it did feel like it was ours. It felt like the entire world was contained within this wrought iron gate. With its carpet of petals and leaves. All smelling like jasmine.

There was a small cluster of cherry trees on the far side of the garden. The fruit hung dark and heavy from the branches, like rubies, glinting with moonlight. I saw Cam lick her lips.

“Cam, My, come here,” Liam called softly. He pointed to something sitting between the elephant’s front legs. “There’s a box.”

It was unassuming, dull gray metal with a faded, unrecognizable logo on the top. Liam pulled it out and popped it open. The hinges slid easily.

There was a collection of things inside — eccentric things, colorful, strange things. A pink leather coin purse. A small porcelain goat. An empty cigarette pack. A 1962 penny. A floral fountain pen. The question mark key from a typewriter. A champagne cork. A strawberry gum wrapper. A poem penciled onto a piece of notebook paper. An embroidered bookmark. The cap from a tube of indigo paint.

I’ve always loved the color indigo. I told Liam this once, and he said it shouldn’t have its own name because it’s just bluish purple. I said I liked the word. It has a nice shape in my mouth. It tastes like ripe peaches and sea salt. Liam said that’s stupid.

“Where’s all this from?” I asked no one in particular.

“People, I guess,” Cam replied. “People who came here.”

“We should leave something too,” my brother said. His eyes sparkled. “So it’ll remember us.”

He placed the cap from his glass coke bottle in the box. Cam pulled the length of red ribbon from her hair. I slid the blue woven bracelet off of my arm and set it down, alongside everything else.

Liam closed the box, put it back between the elephant’s feet, and suggested we head home.

After that, we didn’t go back. Instead we explored the woods. Learned every street in that neighborhood by heart. Played tag on the cul-de-sac behind Cam’s house.

Liam went into eighth grade and he stopped talking to Cam. In ninth grade he stopped talking to me. The next year, Cam’s family moved back to Cuba.

A family with two daughters moved into their old house. Their dad’s yellow ‘50’s Cadillac sat conspicuous in the driveway, the brightest thing on the street. Neon purple fuzzy dice dangled from the rear view mirror.

I started high school. On the weekends, the two girls next door would jump on their bikes and speed away, into the woods or down the street, just like we used to do.

It was a Sunday in June. The sun floated like a carnival balloon over blue suede sky. I could hear my dad tuning his guitar from inside, the sound swimming lazily through the thick air. I slipped off my church shoes and stepped barefoot onto the grass, thinking.

Maybe I’ll talk to them — the girls next door. Maybe I’ll tell them all about fountains and elephants and boxes of strange things. Typewriter keys and pens and paint caps and poems. Maybe they’ll laugh unabashedly at my bad jokes like Cam did. Maybe they’ll ride their bikes standing up and whistling their favorite songs off-key like Liam did.

I grinned a little to myself. Maybe it’ll be like it used to be — but then again, maybe it’ll be something entirely new. 


Rebecca Uhlman is a 10th grader at Pennsbury High School who likes writing, painting, and photography. She also adores music and old movies. Becca can’t wait to travel the world and adopt a bunch of cats someday!

The Girl Who Stared Back At Me

I glowered at the girl staring back at me through the glass. She wore leggings, even though they made her uncomfortable, as they were often scratchy. Her short shoulder length hair was down, even though she would much rather have had it pulled back in a ponytail. She wore boots, even though they would hurt. I despised this girl. Yet every day I went to school and posed as her anyway. One hundred and eighty days of hiding behind a mask –  a facade, trying to conceal from everyone, including myself, how I really felt. I knew how this worked. One leak of my emotions, and someone would exploit me for it. I had lived it

This girl continued off to school in her uncomfortable leggings, her short, blonde hair  falling into her her eyes, obstructing her view unnecessarily, and sweaty, clingy boots. Other children, strangers, also piled into the building. They all seemed to know each other. I was the odd one here. I needed some time to observe. I had studied how to get along with others.

Number 1: How to get along with anyone. Be like them. Some famous psychologist once said when meeting patients, to make a good impression, he would copy their mannerisms. It was a very effective method. Humanity as a whole is very narcissistic.

Number 2: When you’re being carefully watched by an audience, you have seven seconds to grab their attention, and ten minutes to keep it. After 10, you will begin to lose their focus, and thus the seven second mark repeats. If you bring up something interesting then, they’ll give you their attention for another ten minutes, and so on.

I’m sure nobody would like to hear Miss Wendy Ives’ long, winded psychology lesson. I’ll just shut up and tell you my story now.

So I walked over with the most confident gait I could manage, pulling my shoulders back, my palms up, and slapping on a fake smile I would really rather not have been giving, and went up to a girl huddled in a group with a bunch of other kids.

I felt her glaring at me. “Hi, I’m Wendy,” I squeezed out. Every atom in my body wanted to run. My heart was screaming at my brain ‘Abort mission! Abort!’

But I stayed. And her judgemental gaze didn’t let up. “Hello?” she said. It sounded like more of a question to me. The boy who was previously talking to her was also watching me carefully. Everyone in the group was staring at my irritating leggings, my short hair I would much rather have up, and boots I would be struggling to make it through the day with – it all felt so awkward to me. I could tell they were deciding what to do with me, whether I was worth their time. The mask was even more uncomfortable, sitting atop my face, digging into the back of my head, telling me what to do and say. At least, what the popular thing to do would be. I wanted to take it off. I wanted to leave. But I knew I couldn’t do that. So I stayed.

“Do you know where room J132 is?” That stupid, senseless smile I had plastered on my face was still there. I hated myself for it. “I think it’s seventh grade science? It’s my first period class…”

A small smile appeared on the girl’s face, followed by a mocking laugh. “You have Mrs. Reynolds first period?” She smirked. I shifted my weight nervously. “I hope you live to to see second period. You said your name was Wendy, right?” I nodded meekly. “I’m Samantha. You can call me Sam,”

A shrill ring interrupted our conversation.

“First bell.” She looked up, and started to walk off in the opposite direction, her herd of other populars following her. “And Wendy!” she glanced back at me with her fake smile. “Maybe if you survive first period, you can hang out with Aaron and me after school!” She pivoted her head back around and sauntered off with the rest of her clique.

“To the right, first door.” I muttered.  Above the entranceway sat an old, faded strip spelling out “MRS. REYNOLD’S SCIENCE 7TH in Parisian, decorative letters. It didn’t seem that bad….

I pushed my weight against the door. These were much heavier than the ones at my old school. These were solid wood, lined with stainless steel. Like a prison…. Perhaps a colorful prison, though….  I stepped into the classroom. The shelves were filled with DNA models, beakers, graduated cylinders, educational posters, and other teaching supplies.

The petite, older woman behind the desk sported what looked like Ben Franklin’s glasses, a floral dress, and a Erlenmeyer flask shaped mug, filled almost to the brim with black coffee, with steam pouring off it.

She walked over to me. Everyone else was already seated. I could see the boy Sam called Aaron peering up at me from behind his crossed arms. I didn’t even see him walking into the classroom.

Mrs. Reynolds stood next to me and told everyone to say hello. In addition to giving me a half-hearted, monotone greeting, they also gave me the same cold stare I felt earlier, the one Sam had watched me with.


Mrs. Reynolds then directed me to sit down. The class continued. Once in a while, someone would glance over at me, but only for a second.

I liked Mrs. Reynolds. I didn’t see the monstrous woman  Sam had described. Mrs. Reynolds asked a question I knew the answer to, but should’ve been way above the 7th grade curriculum. Why was she asking us this?

“I’m not expecting anyone to know the answer to this, but I need to know how much you know to know what you need to learn,” she clarified. “Who first synthesised polonium, discovered radium, and conducted experiments with uranium?”

I looked around the room. Everyone shared the same confused look. I reluctantly convinced myself that I would share the answer…. I raised my hand. Mrs. Reynolds looked at me and nodded, surprised.

“Marie Curie.” I stated. She looked shocked that I knew that easy trivia question. Anyone who knew anything about science would’ve gotten that one.  

“Correct!” She seemed elated. “Do you know what two items in her study were most contaminated by radioactivity?”

Trying to test how much I knew, I guess. Easy-peasy. “The back of her chair and doorknob,” I rattled off.

“Excellent!” She beamed. Everyone else in the room just looked more confused. Understandable. They weren’t expected to know this for years. “Anyway, we should get back to class.” She looked back and smiled, then turned back around. The rest of the class went very quickly. I knew every answer but decided I didn’t want to show off.

Walking home, the fur lining of my boots I never should’ve worn were now clinging to my ankles. The only company I had was a boy who said his name was Shane. I think he was in my science class. He seemed far more interesting than the other kids I had met earlier today. He showed an interest in science, like me. If you’re friends with him, they’ll treat you like you did last year. Like nobody. My brain told me, but my heart screamed in disagreement. What a shame….

Sam and Aaron were already waiting for me at the park. “I heard you really sucked up to Mrs. Reynolds today,” Sam called to me. I walked over.

“Yeah, maybe a little…” I looked down at my feet. My dumb boots were still on. “I just guessed on that one.”

“Now you see how boring she is.” Aaron rolled his eyes. “Forty-five minutes never went so slowly.”

“She’s so mean when you don’t do your work.” Sam complained.

My hair fell in my eyes again. Maybe if you actually tried in class, she would like you more… I felt uncomfortable and I didn’t say anything.  I left, my opinion unasserted and unknown.

When I went in to school the next day, I felt great. Energized, ready to tackle the day, my head was clear. It was a beautiful morning.

Like the calm before the storm.

As I went to first period class, something felt off. The strip above the door was no longer there. Strange. When I entered the classroom, Mrs. Reynolds wasn’t there. Probably just getting coffee, like most teachers do.

But she never came in.

Instead, a young man in his early thirties walked in. “Good morning class.” He smiled. “I’m Mr. Kate. I’ll be taking over for Mrs. Reynolds for the rest of the year.

Whispers spread throughout the room. Most of them seemed joyful. They were glad she was leaving. I laid my head down on my desk. I felt sick. The teacher I had only known for a day, the only teacher I had felt comfortable with, was gone. And I would never see her again.

“I’m so glad she left.” I overheard Sam and Aaron talking at lunch. “Thank God. I hated that witch.”

“Oh, Wendy!” Sam finally noticed my presence, and smiled that fake smile. “Finally, you’re here! Wanna hang out again after school?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I can,” I smiled, and walked away. Instead, I went over to Shane, who was eating his peanut butter sandwich in solitude. I sat down next to him. “Those kids over here can be pretty mean.” I grinned at him.

He looked up from his sandwich and smiled. “I would say that’s a case of the social anthropological principle of outgroup homogeneity bias if I’ve ever seen one.”


I could feel Sam and Aaron staring at me. I laughed. I was right. He was a great person to have a conversation with. And a better friend than Sam and Aaron would ever be. I didn’t care if last year happened again. I was happy this time. And I decided that was all that mattered.

Ella Bianco is in 7th grade and likes to paint, draw, and study psychology and physics. She also runs track and XC and lives with her parents, little sister, and dog in Haddon Heights, NJ. She has run into more things and injured herself more times than she can count on both hands.

On This Dark Night

Most teenagers have been to at least one party where they played with a ouija board, and when nothing happened, forgot about anything remotely supernatural for the rest of their lives. However, these three boys had always been curious. Ouija boards and Bloody Mary had never been enough for Cam, Mitch, and Elliot. So, when they finally had Mitch’s parents house alone for the weekend, they had broken out a summoning ritual (from the internet of course) and were going to attempt it that night.

The marred wooden table was set in the middle of the furnished basement, the dimmed yellow bulbs giving the space a welcoming light, so at odds with what was sprawled across it. Old yellow parchment covered the center of the table, with intricate symbols drawn in a dark thick paint. Various black candles sat lit across the tabletop, giving it an infernal orange glow. In the middle was a dark wooden bowl, that contained what looked to be dirt, feathers, and salt. At the head of the table was Cam, his blonde hair cut short and stormy gray eyes dancing with wicked delight. It had been Cam’s idea in the first place to try all this demonic stuff. Mitch and Elliot were willing to go along with it to please their friend and show him, for the last time, that this stuff didn’t exist, and that he needed to get his head out of comic books.

“Welcome.” He said in an ominous tone. Thunder stuck outside. “Woah! Did you guys hear that? That was like it usually is in the movies!”

“Or you just happened to speak as the same time as the thunder, dork.” Mitch responded, a sly grin plastered on his face.

Cam shot up from his spinny chair, probably about to try to tackle Mitch, because that was how he solved his problems, when Elliot intervened, “Guys, guys, there’s enough of me to go around.” The three laughed and started sitting around the table.
Mitch raised an eyebrow at the concoction in the middle. “What is that, summoning soup?”

Cam got serious, which may have been the first time in his life, and replied, “It’s raven feathers, soil from an unmarked grave, and rock salt.”

“Where did you get all this?” Elliot asked incredulously.

Ebay.” Cam said in a sarcastic tone. “I collected it dumbass, where do you think I got it.” Cam started mimicking Elliot’s voice, “Maybe he got it from the neighborhood witchcraft store next to the walgreens! Come on man.”

“Sorry Cam, I’ve never summoned a goddamn demon before.”

“Well, neither has he.” Mitch pointed out.

“And I never will.” Cam replied. “Demons are scary S.O.B.s, from what I’ve read. We’re summoning this weird thing called The Raven Man. No one knows what he is, but he’s not a demon.” Thunder struck again outside.

“Okay, that time it was weird.” Mitch said.

“Seems like easy ingredients to summon an extraplanar entity.” Elliot quipped.

“The stews’ not done yet, boys. We have to add the secret ingredient.” With that, he got up, took out a rather plain looking pocket knife and sliced it across his palm, hissing as he did so. Blood slid down his hand and dripped into the bowl, the metallic scent of it filling the room.

“I guess it requires the blood of a virgin.” Mitch remarked, earning a snarl from Cam.

Elliot felt a tingle go down his spine as the blood dripped into the bowl. Drip. Drip. Drip. He didn’t know why it was so unsettling. “Guys, I don’t think we should be doing this. Shouldn’t we have more respect for this stuff?”

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in hocus pocus.” Cam said with another grin, and took a Dora bandage out of his pocket and applied it to his wound. Elliot and Mitch would usually make fun of it, but after what he had just done, neither seemed inclined to do so.

After he was done bandaging the cut, he said, “Now we have to light the candles and say the incantation. It was originally written in Latin, but Latin is annoying and hard to pronounce, so I translated it to good ol’ American.”

“What is it supposed to do?” Mitch asked.

“Well, once it’s summoned, we can ask it any one question each, then it will ask something of us, usually our soul, but since we have the rock salt mixed in to keep him bound, and I have a protection charm–” he pulled out a necklace with a small bag attached that smelled faintly of rosemary — “we should be okay. I read someone else’s experience with this ritual; apparently it worked and everyone died, but the username was EmoGirlx666, so I’m a bit hesitant to believe that.”

The boys laughed. “Who even posted about it if everyone died?” Mitch asked.

“My point exactly. You guys ready?” Cam asked, glancing back and forth at his friends.

“For this not to work? Sure.” Mitch said, blowing his dark hair out of his eyes.

Elliot thought for a moment. He really didn’t think he should do this. Oh come on, it’s harmless, this stuff doesn’t work, his thoughts seemed to say. They felt… foreign to him though. It was an odd sensation. “Yea. I’m ready.”

“Alright boys, chant with me. Remember, it’s ‘On this dark night, I call the Raven Man. Appear before me here and now, and grant me your forbidden knowledge.”

“Isn’t it supposed to rhyme?” Elliot asked. It always did in the movies.

“No, you idiot.” Cam said, and took a lighter out of his pocket. He walked over to the candle farthest from his seat, and held the flame to the wick. He started saying, “On this dark night, I call the Raven Man. Appear before me here and now, and grant me your forbidden knowledge.” and the others joined in half way through. The small flame flickered rapidly back and forth, and another chill went down Elliot’s spine. He moved over to the next candle and lit it. All of their voices syncing up as they said, “On this dark night, I call the Raven Man. Appear before me here and now, and grant me your forbidden knowledge.” Their voices seemed to echo off the basement walls, and the room got considerably colder.

“Guys, I really don’t think we should-” Elliot began, but Cam moved onto the third candle. As the flame touched the wick, a giant crack of thunder shook the house. “On this dark night, I call the Raven Man. Appear before me here and now, and grant me your forbidden knowledge.” Elliot still chanted along with the others, oddly feeling compelled to do so. His voice felt hoarse.

He lit the fourth candle, the boys said the incantation, and another lightning crack rocked the house as the room was plunged into darkness, the only light the flickering of the four candles.

It’s just the storm… His thoughts seemed to say, caressing Elliot’s mind into an even calm. “It’s just the storm,” the three boys said in unison. None of them seemed to notice.

Cam sat down at his chair. The final candle sat there in front of him. Elliot wanted him to light it.

He lit it.

“On this dark night, I call the Raven Man. Appear before me here and now, and grant me your forbidden knowledge.” They all whispered.

Taking the candle in his hand, he held it over the bowl in the middle, and said in a voice that sounded strange, ‘The flame is my beacon, the blood is my sacrifice. I call you, Raven Man.” He lit the bowl’s contents on fire.

The bowl was immediately engulfed in fire, the flame reaching unnaturally high, nearly singing the ceiling. Cam was thrown back into his chair, and sat ramrod stiff. Elliot’s own back straightened and his face was schooled in neutrality, his hands resting politely on the table. He tried to get out of his chair and run away, run anywhere, just to get away from that horrible place, but he couldn’t. He was trying to tell his body to move but it wasn’t listening.

“It is impolite to leave a guest unattended.” A cold, drawling voice echoed throughout the room or in his head. By the panic in the other boy’s eyes, they had heard it too. The candle flames rose up in the air, brightening up the room and causing the shadows to dance and flicker on the walls so that they seemed alive. The flame in the middle turned a dark purple, and the feathers shot out of it, circling the room. More and more poured out of the gout of fire, so many that it looked like the boys weren’t just encircled in feathers, but in a murder of ravens. Then everything stopped. The candles flickered gently, setting the room back to a low dimness. The feathers landed on the table, forming a neat pile ringed in a perfect salt circle.

The pile started moving. The feathers began to climb on top of each other, forming a dark figure… a person. There was a flash of darkness as the candles were extinguished, and then lit again all at once. Standing in the middle of the table was a man, dressed in a fine suit, the cloth so black it was hard to look at. On his lapel was a small raven skull. He had his hands in his pockets, posed in a casual way, as if he had not just come from a pile of raven feathers after three teenagers had summoned him. His tan skin was leathery with age, and his nose was hooked like… a beak. He had jet black hair with specks of gray here and there, and his lips were thin, the skin chapped. The scariest part were his eyes. Black colorless pits where his eyes should have been gazed upon the three boys.

“Which one of you is Cam Maskus?” The man asked, his voice cold and raspy. After no one spoke, he said, “Oh, my apologies. Where are my manners? I forgot to introduce myself. I am The Raven Man.” Lightning cracked outside. “How dramatic.” The man said, looking up. Still, no one spoke.

“Speak.” The Raven Man commanded.

No one spoke.

He chuckled, a dark, humorless laugh. “Oh my. I forgot, I paralyzed you all. You may speak.”

All three of the boys screamed as their vocal cords worked again.

The man rolled his dark black eyes. “How dreadful. Stop.” The man said. They immediately stopped screaming.

“Now, I will ask once more. Who is Cam Maskus.”

Cam gulped, and choked out, “Me.” A single tear rolled down his cheek.

“You are the one who summoned me?” The Raven Man asked.


The man looked down at the circle of salt. “Tell me, Cam Maskus.” He began. “Did you use purified rock salt?”

“N-no.” Cam said, his voice breaking.

“A pity.” The Raven Man crooned, as he brushed some of the salt away with his shoe. He walked towards the side of the table and floated to the ground, hands still in the pockets of his suit. He turned to the boys, and smiled a wolfish grin. His teeth were decayed yellow stumps in his mouth. “Since you summoned me, I’ll let you go first.” The Raven Man drawled as he walked towards Cam’s seat. He bent down and whispered next to Cam’s ear. “Tell me, mortal. What is it you want to know most in this world?” His voice slithered over them all, sending shivers down their spines.  

Cam’s lips quivered. “A-are you g-going to take my soul?” He stammered, another tear sliding down his cheek. The Raven Man took a hand out of his pocket. It was not a human hand. It was withered and off-white, it’s fingers long and decrepit, and on each finger were dark, razor-sharp talons. He put one talon down towards Cam’s neck, and pulled the necklace- the protection charm, away from him. It was sliced easily by his claws.

“No…” The Raven Man whispered, “I’m not going to take your soul. What do I need your soul for?” Cam sighed in relief.

“No…” He continued, and placed his talons on the boy’s chin and head, and positioned his face to look at his eyes. “I’m going to take your life.”

The Raven Man twisted his neck to a terrible degree, the sound of it snapping reverberating through the room, through the house, through their souls. Cam’s body slumped to the table, his eyes still open.

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.

He grinned at the two remaining boys. “Oh, you two look horrid. You really ought to smile.”

Their faces contorted into a large, beaming grin. They smiled so wide it hurt.

“Much better. It’s polite to act happy when you invite a guest into your home. Now, who is next?”

His dark eyes slid to Mitch. “Tell me boy. What is it you want to know most in the world?”

Mitch gasped out, “Please! P-please don’t kill me! I’ll do anythin-”

“That is not a question, boy.”

Silver tears gleamed in Mitch’s eyes as he asked, “Is there anything after death?”

The Raven Man sighed, “You mortals and your concern with the afterlife. Why does it matter? Yes, there is something after death, of a sort. That was an uncreative question. You disappoint me.”

He walked over to Cam, each step resounding through the room.

“Only the first boy gave his blood to me.” He drawled. “Perhaps if you had all given me something, I would have treated you a bit better. But not many are willing to spill a little blood for the poor old Raven Man.”

He raked a talon down Mitch’s cheek. Blood spilled down his face, and onto his chest. Drip. Drip. Drip.

The Raven Man inhaled deeply, in something like ecstasy. “How I love the scent of mortal blood. Shall we make more of it?” In a flash, his hand was out, slicing across Mitch’s throat. Blood sprayed onto the table, and his head lulled back. There was a faint gurgling as the blood cascaded down his neck. Something fundamental in Elliot broke at the sight of his two best friends sprawled dead. He didn’t think it could be fixed.

The Raven Man turned to the final boy. “Ah… Elliot. The one who had a feeling this would work, and that it would be terrible for you. You almost stopped the boys from summoning me. But you failed, didn’t you?”

He paced over, and put his hand on the table and tapped it impatiently, the talons clicking rhythmically. “Do tell me, Elliot. What is it you want to know most in this world. Think carefully.” He smiled.


Elliot’s eyes widened. He whispered in an even voice despite all that had happened, or perhaps because he felt detached from the world around him, “Tell me, Raven Man. How do I get out of this alive?”

The Raven Man kept grinning. “How interesting….”

“You’re different, Elliot.” The Raven Man began, his swirling black eyes narrowing on the young boy. “You are the first person to summon me that has asked a question that was actually intriguing. What was the exact wording? ‘How do I get out of this alive?’ Hmmmmmm.”

“I suppose you’d get out of this alive by doing exactly what you did.” He continued. “Entertaining me… However, that is far too easy. How about a little test, hm?” He chuckled, another one of his dark mirthless laughs.

“A test?” Elliot growled. He was so tired. The shock of the events were wearing off, and now all the adrenaline was replaced with… nothingness. He felt numb.“You killed my friends, and now you want me to pass a test for your amusement? You can screw off, I’ve been through enough. Just kill me already.”

“Oh, little mortal,” The Raven Man drawled, placing his talons on Elliot’s shoulders. “Your trials are just beginning.”

He dug his talons into Elliot, and where the razor sharp claws pierced his skin, it felt like fire spread under his skin. He screamed, and the Raven Man laughed once more, and when the pain finally stopped racking his body, he slumped in his chair, panting. He was vaguely aware that the supernatural bindings that kept him in the chair were lifted, but he was too tired to get up. He wanted to just let the oblivion of sleep overtake him. Maybe forever.

“You have been marked, little mortal.” Said the Raven Man. “Survive a week, and you pass the test. I’ll be watching.”

Elliot looked up at this creature. The light of the candles reflected in his black eyes. The bastard was still smiling. That thing that had broken inside Elliot pieced itself back together, into something new, into something fiery and cold all at once. He was angry… No. It was more than that. It was utter hatred for this thing in front of him.

“I’m going to pass your damn test,” Elliot spat, curling his lip, “And I’m going to kill you. I’m going to snap your neck and rip out your throat and make you feel all the things you made them feel.” He nodded to his friends.

The Raven Man cocked his head in an avian gesture, and for once, stopped smiling. “You are so very interesting Elliot. I look forward to seeing your corpse at the end of the test.” And with that, The Raven Man vanished, and the basement lights flickered back on. The ritual materials, candles, and the parchment with the summoning sigils on it all vanished with him, leaving only the bodies. Where he stood not even a second ago was a black feather, that floated peacefully to the ground. Elliot picked it up in his shaking hands, and held on to it for dear life, crushing it in the process. He looked at the remains of his best friends.

“I’m going to kill him for this.” He whispered, tears flowing down both cheeks. “I’m going to avenge you. Cam. Mitch.Whatever I have to do. I’m going to fucking end his miserable existence.”

Nicholas Philhower is a 17-year-old writer of many stories, reader of many books, and lover of life who lives in Egg Harbor City, NJ. He enjoys adventuring to unseen places with friends, talking about the universe, and sleeping when he can — usually in that order.