Bradley walked into his hotel room at precisely 11 a.m. and started his search. He peered into the wooden closet that smelled of fresh paint and found no forgotten items. The drawer to the modern desk made a scraping sound when he pulled it open. In the desk, there was a box of matches with the hotel logo printed on it. He pushed away the white shower curtain, disappointed to find no left over shampoo bottles or unique smelling soaps like vanilla bean or citrus punch. He tugged open the short bedside table drawer to find a crisp Bible with no annotations that would give Bradley any information about the type of person who read it last. He bent down onto his knees and the green scratchy Berber carpet prickled his bare, white skin leaving a dotted rash pattern. Quickly, with hope and anticipation, he pushed away the bed skirt and peered under the dark chestnut frame. And that’s when he found something.


Bradley was ready to become someone. He was sick and tired of having no friends and having no personality. He was sick of being alone. But, as much has he hated being lonely, he didn’t know how to be anything else. All of his life his parents were his only friends. They were the only people he could talk to, the only people that thought he had a personality. But they were gone now. They moved out of Garland, Utah and out of the country when Bradley found a job at the post office and moved into his own apartment. That was three years ago, and he was 26 at that time. So, Bradley’s parents left their 29-year-old son behind on his own, hoping he’d be able to find his way.

For the past three years, Bradley has not spoken a word to his co-worker in the mail sorting office, has not smiled at one person in his apartment building, and has not left his room unless it was absolutely necessary. So, this trip he took cross country to Philadelphia must have been absolutely necessary for him as it forced him to talk to strangers in order to get his plane ticket and get out of the isolated, stony little country town of Garland. All of this made Bradley very antsy and uncomfortable, but he knew he had to do it. He decided it was time to get away when his mother arranged a get together for him.

“Bradley, it’s important for you to get out a little,” his mom told him over the phone. “My old friend’s daughter, Steph, is very kind and I’ve set up a time for you to meet with her over dinner next weekend about a half hour from the center of Garland at the Brick Star Restaurant.”

Upon hearing this, Bradley’s first thought was whether he should tell Steph that his name was Bradley or Brad. So, Bradley left on the next flight out of Garland to find his name. He left to find a personality, to be interesting for Steph. Steph could potentially be his first friend and he wanted a friend. But, he knew no one would like him if he didn’t have any spunk. So, he left to find some spunk.


Bradley grabbed the old, black striped slipper with white fur inside from under the hotel bed. He decided that since he didn’t know who he was, he would try to be somebody else. He kicked off his left gray sneaker and slipped his foot into the slipper. Without unpacking his boxy suitcase with his drab, cheap T-shirts, he headed out to the social city of Philadelphia walking in someone else’s shoe, and letting it lead him.

South Street was the first place the slipper took him. His feet told him that he was hungry, so he walked right into a pizza shop with some newfound, surprising confidence and ordered two slices of the largest pizza in the world. The creamy mozzarella stuck to his throat and the crust coated the inside of his stomach making him feel comfy and secure. Right then and there he decided that his most favorite food in the world is that particular pizza. Tomato sauce never tasted so sweet.
Across the gum-bathed street, Bradley noticed a short green building with black bubbly letters. It was a record store. Bradley’s feet led him there and guided him right to the punk section where he stood next to a shapely girl with short, hot pink hair and tall black lace-up boots. She must have been about 20.

“Hey, man,” she spat through chewing bubblegum, “nice shoe.”

Bradley gulped for a second but was soon able to spit that gulp out into words.

“Yeah, ya know. We all have days like this.”

“I don’t,” she said and kicked her heel up, bending her leg and showing off her rebel attributes.

Crap, Bradley thought. Here I go again. Not fitting in. Being the weirdo.

“But, I know what you mean,” she added obviously sensing she hurt him a little.

“Here, try this.”

The pink punk handed him a CD entitled American Idiot by a band called Green Day, and Bradley couldn’t help but think she gave it to him to send him a message. Well, he wasn’t going to stand for that. He was about to let his slipper talk. It was time for him to speak up.

“Hey. That’s not very nice.”

“Haha, dude chill. Just listen to it. Ya know, put in a player. You seem like a pretty chill guy. You need a little spice in your life. This will put spice in your life,” she answered.

Pink punk grabbed the CD from Bradley and took it up to the register and paid the ninety- nine cents for it.

“On me,” she said and handed it back to him. “Just promise me you’ll listen to it.”

“I promise,” Bradley answered, and his awkward mind-body connection told him to walk away, before he made more of a fool out of himself.

And his feet kept leading him. He went from the record shop to the hippie incense store. This shop smelled like cinnamon and licorice mixed with lavender and rose. There were lots of dangling wind chimes and miniature Buddha statues.

“Would you like a new set of slippers, sir?” A woman with long braids and a tie-dyed headband composed of browns and creams asked him. “You seem to be missing one and that can’t be very peaceful and enjoyable at night.”

“Oh, no,” Bradley mumbled. He eyed the “Zen Scents” section of the store and shuffled away from the woman. She followed him.

“Looking for anything particular?”

“No,” he faintly replied.

“You seem like you could use an energy boosting scent. You know you can never be too ‘Zen’ but it is possible to be like a walking zombie. There is a difference you know,” she proposed pronouncing the word energy as it was some mystical gift from heaven above. “Try this one.”

The scent was called Uplift and it smelled like PB&J sandwich jelly mixed with a pine tree. It was a unique combination. However, all Bradley could think about was the fact that he had bored yet another person with his “dead” personality. He suddenly questioned the slipper’s power.

“Twenty-five cents a stick or five for a dollar,” she informed him.

Bradley scooped up four sticks and went to the counter to pay. The woman grabbed another one as she could tell he obviously wasn’t listening. Bradley just wanted to get away so he wouldn’t feel like he was wasting her time anymore.

After buying a dollar’s worth of incense and leaving with barely a goodbye to the hippie woman, his feet brought him to the sneaker store. Now, he had some trouble there. Peppy workers kept shoving new kicks in his face telling him he definitely needed them. Somehow, Bradley got out of the sneaker store without saying a word, but with a fresh pair of blue and yellow sneakers, a matching windbreaker, and a lighter wallet.

As the day turned into night and the sky started to look musty and dingy, Bradley didn’t have much time left for his expedition. His second to last stop brought him back in the punk scene to an edgy, rock star fashion store. A man sat behind the counter and he briefly looked up to acknowledge Bradley when he entered through the glass door covered with showy posters advertising upcoming events. Bradley was the only customer in the store at the time. Inside the clear counter, there was an orderly arrangement of multiple colors of hair dye that only a unique, secure person could pull off. There was Poppin’ Pink matching the record store girl’s hair and her bubblegum. There was Rock ‘n Roll Red like pizza sauce. There was Pasty Purple matching the lavender incense sticks at the hippie store. There was Breathtaking Blue and Yummy Yellow, which matched Bradley’s new color scheme. Grasshopper Green stood out to Bradley as well because of its tie to the band the pink-haired punk told him about. He was mesmerized by all the colors but then started to question the sanity of some peoples’ desires to look a certain way. He redirected his thoughts though, remembering that he was the boring one with no friends and therefore telling himself that he had no right to judge.
Haha, he thought. As if I would know what’s cool. As if I would know anything about the pleasure of standing out and being an individual.

“Can I help you?” the man behind the hair dye display asked, obviously a little freaked out by Bradley’s bipolar facial contortions.

Bradley glanced up and noticed an array of T-Shirts plastered to the wall behind the man. They resembled posters. He didn’t know what they all meant. One said Sonic Youth and another spelled out No Doubt.

No doubt about what? Bradley wondered.

Another shirt read The Cure and had a picture of a boy with untamed hair. Bradley thought that the boy looked like a mad scientist but instead of holding a beaker, the boy held an electric guitar.

The cure for what? Cancer? Diabetes? Bradley questioned again. He decided to ask the man. He figured it could be a good conversation starter.

So, out loud, Bradley asked, “The cure for what?” and pointed at the mad scientist.

The man looked over his shoulder and crunched his eyebrows. He laughed, thinking Bradley was joking. When he could tell Bradley was absolutely serious, the man said, “Oh, no son…”

Quickly and spasmodically, Bradley looked down at the floor, embarrassed. Stupid, get with the program, Bradley thought, calling himself names inside of his head. When he lifted his head back up, his eyes landed on a Green Day T-Shirt and then he suddenly realized what all these shirts were representing. “Oh…”

His slipper gave him the confidence to try to regain himself in front of the man. Bradley put on his “cool” and said, “I’ll take the Green Day one.”

“Size?” the man asked.

“Uhh…um…what? Oh… large,” Bradley finally decided on.

The man stood up with reluctance, obviously interrupting his relaxation. He searched through the tags and found a large. He unfolded it and held it out, modeling it for Bradley. When Bradley didn’t nod or say anything the man asked, “Good?” and Bradley rapidly nodded as if it were routine.
“Twenty-five,” the man told him with a demanding edge.

Bradley counted out his money and gave him exactly $25. He grabbed his shirt and left the store walking as fast as humanly possible without running.
The bookstore in Old City his feet took him to last was unlike any other bookstore he has ever been in, not like he has been in many at all. Its shelves were looming high above, and he could not stop sneezing. There was an odd silence that filled the bookstore though, and Bradley kind of liked that. All day he had been going back and forth between people talking at him, him trying to reply, and trying to be somewhat entertaining for all the city folks. It was nice to just be able to think for a moment. He traced the shelves with his finger and collected a thin layer of a gray mix. It reminded him of himself. He was as gray and dull as dust. And dust was useless.  Bradley thought he was useless. He wrote his name in the dust and put three dots next to it.

“BRADLEY…” it read, and he let the other books finish his story.

From this journey on South Street in Philadelphia, Bradley learned that pizza is tasty, pink haired girls know what’s best, hippie women can change your entire outlook on life, sneaker store workers love to make people look cool, mad scientists now make up bands, T-Shirts are too expensive, and a bookstore can tell you a story in itself.

But, he ultimately learned nothing about the person whose slipper he was wearing, except that they had many different interests. The slipper took him and all his new stuff back to the hotel but not without stopping at his favorite pizza shop to buy two more monster slices for dinner. When he got to the room he took off all his clothes and lay on the bed, bare and naked. The hot summer day wore him out and he needed to cool off.

After a few minutes of just breathing, he got back up. He put back on his jeans and tried on his new T-Shirt. Cool, he thought, spicy. Next he put on his windbreaker. He tied his new sneakers onto his feet and smiled at his obnoxious appearance. In a way, he kind of liked it, though. He was interesting looking. He had never seen such a bright blue and yellow on him before. Bradley hopped back on the bed and started looking through the lyric book that came with the American Idiot CD. He liked the lyrics. They were catchy and straightforward. He liked that they were such an exclamation. Since he was trying out all his new items, he lit the incense with the box of matches he got from the desk drawer and stuck them in a flowerpot. Feeling that he needed more than just energy from the Uplift scent, he dug into his pizza.  Now that he had enough energy, he put on the Green Day CD and started singing along, lyrics in hand.

“Don’t wanna be an American idiot. Don’t wanna nation under the new media. And can you hear the sound of hysteria?”

For this second, Bradley felt unique. Who else gets to sit in a punky, but at the same time, flashy outfit while getting energy from hippie spirits and rocking out to Green Day while swallowing large globs of mozzarella cheese? And suddenly, Bradley realized that he was in his own shoes. Right now, he was no one but himself. He told himself, I am different, as he smiled at himself.

Bradley grabbed the Bible from the bedside table and began annotating it, learning more about the story behind life. Bradley believed in the gift of life. He believed that God will always be his friend, even when he is drab, even when he feels boring and uninteresting.

It only took one day for Bradley to feel like he found something in Philadelphia and he headed back to Garland the next day. He felt ready to embrace his job and his neighbors. He felt ready to walk down the streets of Garland just because he wanted to get out. He felt ready to pet strangers’ dogs and smile just because he could. Bradley was ready to meet Steph and he promised himself that he was good enough.

The next weekend, Bradley put on his Green Day top and blue and yellow getup and blasted “American Idiot” while he got ready to meet Steph. Unfortunately, he had already used up all of his incense.  When he arrived at the “five-star” restaurant right on time, he was annoyed to find that he was underdressed.

I can’t do anything right. I’m so strange, he told himself. But Steph walked into the waiting area before he could even think about going home to change.

“Hi,” she said to the hostess. “There are two of us. Under the name Steph, I think.”

“Alright, looks like you are the only one here right now. I can seat you while you wait for the other to arrive,” the hostess explained.

Bradley knew he needed to stand up and introduce himself to Steph. He admired her beauty from the second she walked in. The way her long blue dress flowed as she rushed in. The way her knuckles turned pale as she grasped her fat black pocketbook. She’s perfect, he thought. And couldn’t help but think that she was going to be much more interesting than him. But, Bradley now had the ability to smile at himself. So, Bradley smiled at himself, stood up, and smiled at Steph. Steph smiled back.

“Hi,” he said, “I’m Br…”



Hannah is a junior at Central Bucks West High School and is part of the science research club and the school literary magazine club. She works at Doylestown Hospital. She loves to sing, and has been writing song lyrics and stories ever since she was really young. Her interests include psychology, surfing, and forensic science. Her favorite book is Skate by Michael Harmon, and she and her mother enjoy Rachel Field’s “Something Told the Wild Geese” poem. She admires Dorothy Parker’s writing, and has a collection of her poems and stories. Hannah and her father love visiting Philadelphia together so that is why she decided to write a story about the city!

The Meaning of Life

While the wind whistled through the trees, Jaya and her best friend, Austin, lay in her backyard. Beep, beep, beep went the door as Jaya’s mom, Mrs. Nallark, entered the house, so both kids got up and ran into the house.
“Mom, did I get any mail today?” Jaya asked. She had been waiting for another letter from her French pen pal.

“Is that all I get? No ‘hellos’ or even a ‘hey’?” Jaya’s mom replied.

“Hi, Mrs. Nallark. Did you have a good day?” Austin said cheerfully.

“See, Jaya? That is what I want when I get home from work. You did get a letter, but it’s not from your pen pal. It’s from your Great Uncle Timothy and it is addressed to Jaya and Austin!” exclaimed Mrs. Nallark.

Immediately, Jaya ran into the dining room, grabbed the letter, and ran back into the kitchen. She and Austin ripped open the unexpected letter and took it out. It read:

My dearest Jaya, and her best friend, Austin,

Your great, great, great grandmother owned a very special box. In it was “the meaning of life”. She instructed her heirs to pass on this box until it reached the fifth generation after her. That is you. She also instructed whoever had the box when the fifth generation was of age, to put the special keys in a secret place that they must find. I have already done that for you. Now you must find the keys to inherit “the meaning of life”.  Your first clue is” Look for a tile on your number____ eye”.
Your Great Uncle Timothy Wilkins

P.S. I have included three tickets to London so that one of your parents can go with you. London is where you will find your next clue.
Mrs. Nallark read the letter and took out the tickets. “I will go with you on your adventure,” she declared. “I haven’t had good fun in a while!”

After telling Austin’s parents about the trip and getting permission for him to go, Mrs. Nallark, Jaya, and Austin set out on their journey.

On the plane to London, Austin and Jaya were discussing where the key might be hidden. “‘Look for a tile on your number ___ eye.’ That’s what the clue is,” Austin stated.

“Yeah, it’s really confusing.”

“Well, we know it has something to do with… oof. The person sitting next to me keeps trying to sleep on me!” Austin exclaimed as he pushed his seat partner away from him. “Anyway, it has to do with an eye. Do you know of any famous London eyes?”

“That’s it! The next clue is at the London Eye! Good job!” Jaya said excitedly. “Now we just need to figure out the number part.”

Austin replied, “When we get to the London Eye, we might be able to see something with numbers.” The threesome got off the plane, checked in at the hotel, which was called Covent Garden Hotel, and then went to the London Eye.

When they got there, Austin explained to Jaya’s mom that they needed to look for numbers. Looking for numbers wasn’t very hard because soon after they started searching, Jaya called out, “There are numbers on the Ferris Wheel!”

“Now we just need to figure out what to do with the numbers. Maybe we need to look for a specific number,” Austin told Jaya and her mom.
“My father always told me that ‘the best way to find answers is by asking questions’ so that is what we should do. Maybe we should ask the ride operator,” suggested Mrs. Nallark. So, they all went over to the operator and asked him if he knew Timothy Wilkins. Saying that he did indeed know Timothy Wilkins, the operator told them that the number was 23 and that they needed to figure out what to do with it. Then he gave them all tickets to ride the Ferris wheel.

Soon they soon realized that the number 23 was referring to the Ferris wheel car and that they probably needed to ride in that car. So, using the tickets that they had just gotten, they got into the car. There they found a little glass tile with the word “Meaning” on it, a clue, and three plane tickets to Egypt.

“This must be the first key,” Jaya said excitedly.  “Let’s read the next clue!”

To find your next tile, you need to go to the great place that points to the sky.

“There are tickets to Egypt! I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt! What in Egypt points to the sky?” Asked Austin. All three sat on the Ferris wheel thinking. “Ooh! Ooh! I got it! The Great Pyramid at Giza! It’s a pyramid, so it ‘points to the sky’!” Austin said, quoting from the clue.

“No. It’s obviously the Heliopolis Obelisk in Cairo. It’s the oldest obelisk in Egypt,” explained Jaya.

“NO!” yelled Austin. “Why would they italicize the GREAT, if the clue led to the OLD obelisk?”

“It’s at the Obelisk!”


“Obelisk!” And just like that the friends, who had been friends for forever and always, stopped being friends.

On day two of their adventure, Jaya, her mom, and her best friend got on a plane to Egypt. “I’m so excited! I’ve always dreamed of going to Egypt!” said Austin to Ms. Nallark, jittering with excitement.

When they landed, they didn’t even bother checking into their hotel, they went straight to the Great Pyramid because Mrs. Nallark had sided with Austin and agreed that the clue probably was at the Great Pyramid at Giza. When the not-friend kids and Mrs. Nallark got to the pyramid, they once again used the asking-questions tactic. The tour guide at the bottom of the pyramid seemed like a good person to talk to, so they went over to him.

Since neither of the children wanted to talk, Jaya’s mom asked the guide, “Do you know a Timothy Wilkins? We need to know if you have anything from him.”

“Hmmm. Timothy Wilkins, you say? Oh! Yes! I am supposed to give you this,” the guide said as she pulled out a trio of tickets to Paris, a glass tile with the word “of,” and a note, which read:

Up, up and up. I have many stairs. Up, up, up.

“We need to go to the Eiffel Tower,” Jaya and Austin said in unison and then they both turned away.

“I said it first and I thought you were my friend and you would be nice to me!” shouted Jaya.

“We are not friends!” Austin angrily screamed.

“I guess we can just skip going to the hotel and head to the airport because our plane is in two hours,” Mrs. Nallark stated. That being said, the mom and the still-fighting kids were on their way to Paris.

In Paris, the group yet again skipped the hotel and headed to the Eiffel Tower in a taxi smelling of dead fish. Near the Eiffel Tower were a lot of shops, so Jaya and her opposite-of-a-best-friend co-traveler went to a bakery and got croissants.  After their quick snack break, the trio started to try to figure out what to do next. “Mom, I think we need to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower,” Jaya said matter-of-factly.

“I think you’re right, Jaya. Up we go!” said Mrs. Nallark. And up they did go. At the top, they searched for anything that might be helpful.

Finally, Austin shouted, “I found something I think it is the next clue!”
“I could have easily found that,” said Jaya, annoyed at her used-to-be friend, but she went over to him and read the note.

You have found your last tile. Now you have to go to 2839 Scaford Lane, Albany, NY 12212. I have enclosed three tickets to New York. There you will meet me and I will give you “the meaning of life.” I must warn you, when you open the box there is one last puzzle to complete. Your adult supervisor/helper cannot assist you in any way while you put together the last puzzle.
Your Great Uncle Timothy Wilkins

Inside the envelope, was the last glass tile, which said, “Life.” “Oh, I get it! The tiles spell out ‘Meaning of Life’,” explained Jaya. “We stayed in one out of three of our hotels. Can we stay in this last one? Please.”

“Sure we can, Jaya,” replied her mom.

“Finally, we’re going back home to the U.S.A. where I can hang out with my real friends,” said Austin exhaustedly.  After sleeping the night in the hotel at Jaya’s request, the tired-from-adventuring group went to New York, their last destination.

When they arrived at 2839 Scaford Lane, they were greeted by a woman in a maid’s uniform.

“Hello! Welcome to the Wilkins Estate. I am Mary, Mr. Wilkins’ housemaid. Please come in. He has been expecting you,” she explained and then took us up to the top of the grand house. There, Jaya, Austin, and Mrs. Nallark met Mr. Wilkins for the first time.

“Jaya.  Austin. Mrs. Nallark. Good afternoon,” he greeted the group as he noticed that something was wrong with how the kids were acting with each other the kids.

“What is going on? Is something wrong?”

“Umm, well, Jaya and Austin had a fight, and now they aren’t friends,” Mrs. Nallark explained to her uncle. He looked concerned for a second, but then he smiled. It wasn’t a big smile. You couldn’t see it unless you were trying to look for it, but it was there.

“Well, let’s get straight down to business. I presume you have all three tiles. May I see them?” he asked calmly. As Austin showed him the delicate glass tiles, he nodded as if in deep thought. “Well then, I guess it is time for me to give you my great grandma’s box.” He went into the next room and came back carrying an intricately designed box about the size of a small tissue box. On the box were three, square holes. “Please put your tiles in place.”

Jaya did as he said and put the three tiles in the holes, so that they read out “Meaning of Life.”  When she set the last tile in place, the box slowly glided open. Inside the beautiful box sat two crystal puzzle pieces.

“Where’s the ‘Meaning of life’?” Austin asked.

“Oh, you will find it when you put the pieces together. My niece cannot help you. You and Jaya have to do it yourselves, and I know that you’re not friends anymore, but you will just have to be able to stay in the same room as her. Do you think you can handle that to get the ‘Meaning of Life’?” Austin grunted in reply.

“Well, we’ll leave you to it. Goodbye! If you need anything just push that little button over there and someone will come. Have fun! And remember, ‘The end lies in the beginning’,” Mr. Wilkins said as he ushered everybody, except the two kids, out of the room.

“Now what do we do?” asked Jaya.

“I don’t know about you, but I really want to figure out what the meaning of life is. And you can do what you want to, but I am putting these pieces together, whether you like it or not!” said Austin in annoyance. He tried to jam the pieces together, but it didn’t work. After a while, Austin let Jaya try and she did to no avail. They quarreled and argued and fought, but eventually they realized that they were really best friends all along and that friends are one of the most important things in life.

“We don’t need to open some lame box to figure out that the meaning of life is having true friends, like you, Austin,” Jaya said as they put the two pieces together, each holding one piece. As they did, words carved themselves into the crystal. They read:

Life has many meanings, but one of the most important is friendship.

Smiling, Austin said, “Wow. That was a little bit of magic, but I didn’t need magic puzzle pieces to tell me that all I needed was a true friend because I already figured that out when I met you, Jaya.”

“’The end lies in the beginning’. That’s what he said, and it is true. We were great friends in the beginning, and we are great friends now,” replied Jaya.  The true friends realized that they had always needed each other and would always need each other, no matter what.

Aya’s Story

“Grandmother, what is this painting supposed to be about? It’s so, um, grey,” Anna says to me. She is pointing to a bleak grey painting of a broken down shack with a tin bucket on the doorstep I had made many years ago.

“Oh, Anna, it is such a long story, I am not sure you will want to hear it,” I tell her.

“Oh, but Grandmother, I love stories!” she says eagerly. I can never resist her joy. It makes me warm inside to know she is happy.

“Alright Anna, I will tell you about the painting.” I sit down on my favorite green armchair, and Anna sits on the worn red rug in front of me. She rests her head on her hands, and I can tell she is ready to listen to my story.

“When I was 13 years old, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Do you know about that?” I begin.

“Yeah, we learned about that last year,” Anna says. “It was during WWII when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It forced the United States to declare war on the Japanese, entering the U.S. into WWII.”

“Right, well after that, the President made a law that all Japanese Americans had to go to internment camps, places to hold enemy aliens and prisoners of war. I found this out when mother and I were making dinner. I remember that we were making my favorite dish, Hayashi rice, rice with beef stew on top. Father came home from work with a pained look on his face. I remember that he sat his worn leather briefcase down on the kitchen table and hung up his hat and coat like he did every night. But this time, he sat down at the table and put his head in his hands.

‘Hiroki! What is the matter?’ Mother asked him.

‘Oh, Yuna, Aya, this news pains me so much. Two months ago, the Japanese bombed a place called Pearl Harbor. Now, because the government is scared, and the Japanese are their enemy…’ He paused and sighed. ‘Right after the bombing they began construction on internment camps, places where all of the Japanese Americans will be forced to go to. We, too, must go and can only bring one suitcase each.’

‘But Hiroki, we do not even own any suitcases!’ Mother said.

‘We will make do. I can find some at the thrift shop. We only can pack what we will absolutely need.’ I burst into tears and thought to myself, ‘Oh, no, I must leave all of my precious painting supplies behind.’ Painting was my passion, even then. I would have to leave behind all of the paintings that I had labored over and been so proud of throughout my life.  Father let me take one tin of paints and two brushes because he knew of my sorrows. With that tin of paints I made the painting you are holding right now, Anna,” I said.
“Really, Wow?!” Anna exclaimed.

“Yes, I created many more, but I had to leave most of them behind, and all of the others except for that one were lost one way or another.

We had to leave the next evening so I went to pack up some clothes. I only took what was necessary. When I brought my small pile of clothing and tin of paints to stuff into the new, but very worn suitcases, I found Mother hunched over with a pile of clothing in her hands.  At first I thought she was trying to fit more things in, but when I saw her shoulders shaking, I realized, my mother was crying. I’ll never forget that moment because it was the first and only time I saw my mother cry.

We arrived at the camp to find a partially built building. Father approached the guard who was standing outside of the tall barbed-wire fence. I could see the uniformed man was heavily armed with a machine gun. I could not hear what he said but when Father returned, he shook his head and said, ‘We will be in a room with a family of five; their name is Sasaki, and they have a daughter named, May, who is Aya’s age.’ Father said with a wink. Secretly, I hoped that I could find a friend at this camp and Father seemed to know how I felt.

When we found our room, the Sasaki family was already there. The room was small and cramped. There were eight small, rickety cots with mattresses so thin they were almost invisible. From the ceiling, a single light bulb hung by a thin black wire. The floor was hard and bare, and the room was icy cold. Outside there was a shared bathroom for about 20-30 rooms.

My parents were trying to get to know our new roommates. They kept beckoning me to come over from my spot on my cot, but I pretended I didn’t notice. I sank my face into the musty pillow and started to cry. I hated that new place and I hated the government for forcing us to go there.

When the bell rang for dinner the hallway outside our door was suddenly filled with other Japanese families. We filed into a long mess hall and everybody started to gravitate towards the food. I had no appetite, but I took some potato salad, so I would have something in my stomach. The whole meal I was silent and picked at the potatoes. One of the Sasaki’s children, May, kept on staring at me. May, you remember, was the girl Father told me about, who was my age. In any other circumstance I would have introduced myself right away and gotten to know her, but I had no desire to do anything right then. The camp, that place, seemed to take the friendly part of me away.

Finally, May spoke up and said, ‘So, your name is Aya.’

‘Yes,’ I said and looked back down at my potato salad.

‘I’m May,’ she said.

‘I know,’ I replied. May must have gotten the clue that I wasn’t in the mood to talk so she gazed back to the fish on her plate and sighed.

Our room was cold, and my head hurt from crying. The thin mattress felt like I was sleeping on a board and I could not find a position that was comfortable. I guess I must have fallen asleep, eventually, because the next thing I knew, the sun shone in the small window and I awoke to seven other people moving around. I looked for a clock to see what time it was, but there was none. As soon as I got out of bed the bell for breakfast rang.

Sleeping must have given me a new appetite because I devoured a slice of French toast and a bowl of cereal. I felt bad about how cold I was with May so I said, ‘Do you like to paint?’

‘Yes, I do,’ she said, ‘do you?’

‘Yes, I even brought some paints and brushes,’ I replied.

‘You did? So did I!’ she exclaimed.

‘Would you like to paint with me this afternoon?’ I asked.

‘Okay,’ she said, ‘see you then.’ Her family got up from the table to go say hello to the Sumiko family.

May and I met outside the building with our paints, and some paper we had found. She immediately started to paint a herd of rainbow horses. ‘Do you like horses?’ I asked her.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘my family owned a farm outside of Poston with many beautiful horses. We had to sell it because of this place,’ May sighed.

‘Oh, I see,’ I said, ‘That is so sad, I’m sorry.’ May kept on adding more and more horses until her paper was filled with color and horse shapes. My paper remained blank with the exception of a tin bucket painted in watery grey.

May looked at the painting, then away at her watch and said, ‘Dinner is soon, we should go back to our room.’

The rest of our time spent in the Poston internment camp was spent together. Eventually a school was built and May and I entered the eighth grade. We made more friends, but May and I remained the closest.”

“Wow, Grandmother,” Anna says, “that is an amazing story. I mean that’s so cool!”
“Yes, Anna,” I reply, “I suppose it is. Now help me set up for when May comes for tea.”



Lili May Muntean is in eighth grade at the Friends Select School and enjoys reading and writing realistic fiction. She also likes playing field hockey, swimming, and playing the piano. She lives with her mom and dad in Center City Philadelphia. In her spare time, she likes watching British mysteries with her family.

Click to Start

One simple game. Just a silly computer game. Harmless. No, it actually isn’t. Ever since people have started to download the game, it’s gone all wrong. It’s because everyone’s missing.

About three years ago is when it started. Moji Enterprises had released their newest game. Moji is popular for the addictive games you really can’t put down. I have to admit, most of my devices have been filled up with their apps. Demons Demise, Red Fox, you name it. I have a brother, Gregory, and a mom. My dad is never usually around, business reasons and all. Of course, they have some Moji games, too. But Moji did something different; they released a computer game. They typically only make mobile games, but this one was for the computer.

Yeah, what’s the big deal? It’s great. I can play my games on the computer, too. That’s what I should have been thinking, but I was skeptical. The game was called “Hall Pass.” The goal was to go to different classrooms and collect items. But there are obstacles in the hallway, and the hallway looks like a maze. By day two it had 2,983,297 downloads. I didn’t download it because I didn’t have enough space on my computer. After a month or two, my skepticism subsided, and I decided to clear some space and download it.

Five minutes after beginning the download, an icon that looked like an open book appeared on the desktop. I double-clicked and it opened. It loaded for a while. The graphics looked really funny, pixelated. Funny, Moji’s games are always in HD quality. Something didn’t feel right. What was I so worried about?

My mother’s voice called from downstairs. She set the table and made dinner. Gregory inhaled his meal, and ran upstairs. He was silent the entire meal.
“This new game is really addicting. My own child won’t say a word, too busy thinking about that game,” said my mom with a laugh. My mom hates electronics, or anything that has to do with them. “Aren’t you hungry, or has the gaming virus invaded your head?” she asked.

“No, no. I’m just tired.” I replied. “Can I go to bed?”

“Fine. Only saying okay, because I’m worried you haven’t been getting sleep,” she said. I ran upstairs to my computer. A button graphic had appeared:


I clicked the button, expecting instructions, or the game. Instead another “Click to start” button appeared. Then another appeared, and I clicked it again. They kept appearing, as I kept clicking them. The screen glitched up, turned green with lines, and lines of code. I was frustrated. I absolutely HATED viruses. The screen slowly turned white. There was a flash and my picture showed with my brother’s and my mother’s.  My address turned up, and then the computer shut down.

I screamed out of fear. I ran downstairs, looking for my mother, but couldn’t find her. I returned to my room, and hid in the covers.

About 30 minutes later, I heard the front door open, thinking it was my mother. I quietly went down the stairs to look. I was wrong.

A man in a gray suit and white hair stood in the doorway, then started up the stairs after me. Two more men came in with guns and went with him. I ran to Gregory’s room, and locked the two of us inside. The three men knocked it over, and shot us both.
It was a huge blur from there.

I woke up in a white gown in a small, gray room. I tried to scream but nothing came out. A door opened and the same man in the suit comes in. He has my brother by the feet. Gregory’s eyes are wide with fear. He was thrown in with me, and the door was locked. I could talk.

“Don’t worry, momma’s coming.” I said to my brother.  We peered out the room’s only window to see thousands, maybe millions of people in a line. They looked drowsy, and wore plain clothes. And at the end of that never-ending line, was my mother. I thought I was hallucinating. I blinked, and she was gone.

I realized this a sweatshop run by Moji. Anyone who is out of line gets killed, along with his or her family. I stay silent, never saying anything, in fear my brother and I would get killed. My name is no longer the one I had. It is now 6383H. I kept telling myself, “Don’t worry, momma’s coming”, but I very well know that isn’t true.

My job is to put in the batteries of phones. The two women next to me are 4026W and 1952D, but since we’re now friends, I call them Alyson and Kate. About 15 families are killed each week, usually by one individual gone mad. My brother works at the other end of the station with the screens.

Two years have passed. I realize now that most gaming companies have collaborated with Moji, and they’re using this virus. If you ever come across a game that has the exact words, “Click to start”, delete it. Delete it right that very moment. Just do it. It’s not a game. Just please, don’t you dare click that button.

The One-Dot Mushroom

Once upon a time there lived, a queen and a king. They had two children named
Alec and Molly. Alec was a newborn and Molly was 5 years old. One day, a witch came to their palace.

She put a spell on Molly’s mom and dad, and turned them into one-dot mushrooms. You see, the witch wanted to be the new queen so she could make everyone in the kingdom her slave. She uses her magic powers to turn people and pigs into lesser beings like mushrooms, bushes, and toads. The things that she changes stay alive, but are controlled by her power. She does this to punish the people and pigs of Free
Kingdom for crossing her forest and collecting trees and bushes for ingredients to make their suppers.

So, she put a spell on the king and queen, and they became colored mushrooms with one black dot on them. After casting her spell, she also took Alec while he was sleeping. Molly did not know she had a brother because no one told her. Molly was spending time with her friend, Prince Tommy, when this happened.

In the Free Kingdom, there are two different palaces. Princess Molly lives in her palace most of the time, and Tommy, prince and messenger to the King and Queen, lives in a different palace. They are best friends. Every time the princess is sad, she talks to her best friend Tommy, the pig. He is very intelligent. Pigs can solve mysteries fast. The pig lives in Pig palace with his pig fellows. He enjoys wearing rich fabrics all in blue and red. He wears boots, and his favorite boots are colored brown. The pig doesn’t like to eat a lot, so for a pig he is quite skinny.

Princess Molly is blonde with blue eyes. She has freckles on her face near her nose.
She likes to wear dresses that are blue. She is brave and can run fast. The princess and the pig are both nice. They are not mean to others and are reliable. Other pigs and people trust them. They are nice to their kingdom’s subjects and they protect their kingdom from other people who might steal, like the witch. As was said, the witch sometimes curses the pigs and people to become her servants and other things.

The witch is wicked. She is tall and fat and ugly. She has wrinkled skin and wears ripped clothes. This witch lives under a stone near the forest. Pigs and people are scared of her, except for Prince Tommy and Princess Molly. They always take journeys to the forest.

The witch waits years for the right time to appear in front of Tommy and Molly. The witch wants Alec to marry Molly so that the witch can be the new queen.

Prince Alec has now grown, and has blonde hair, too, just like Molly. Alec knows that his stepmother wants him to marry Molly but feels uncomfortable marrying the princess because he senses a connection between himself and Molly. He doesn’t know what it is, but he feels he just cannot marry her.

One day, Molly and Tommy were walking through the forest.

“ Molly, I need to talk to you.” Tommy said.

“What is it, Tommy?” asks Molly.

“Yesterday, I was delivering a message in the forest when I overheard the witch talking to her trustworthy servant about turning your parents into one-dot mushrooms, and stealing your brother, Alec.”

“So, you’re saying I have a brother named Alec?” asked the princess confused.

“ Yes, you do, you need to believe me,” says Tommy.

“ Look Tommy! There are some mushrooms. Let’s take some,” said the princess.

“ These mushrooms are beautiful, some are striped and some are dotted,” Tommy cried. “ Do you smell that, Molly?“ asked Tommy.

“Smell what? “ The Princess said.

“You don’t smell that perfume? ”

“ That smell is awful! ” exclaimed the princess.

“The colors are my favorite,” he hesitates. “But maybe they are poison.”

Suddenly, they found themselves in front of a huge flying stone, which was actually the roof of the witch’s invisible house. Near the stone is a large bunch of mushrooms, marking where the front door to the witch’s house lies.

The witch appeared and said, “What are you doing with my precious mushrooms?”

“We….. were just taking some for our kingdom’s people,” said the princess quivering.

The witch said, “What are you doing in my forest? And who are you?”

“I am Molly and this is………” the witch stopped her.

“Let the pig speak for himself,” the witch scolded angrily.

“I beg your pardon, my name is Tommy and we were just walking to find ingredients.” Tommy whispered quickly.

Behind the bush, Alec appears. “Mom, who is this girl and this pig?”

The witch said, “This is Molly and Tommy.”

“So, this is the Molly you want me to marry so you can be the queen?”

“How did you know about this?” Croaked the witch.

“Well, I overheard you talking with your servants,” replied Alec.

”Stop with the nonsense, young boy. Go to your room.  I’m dealing with a more serious problem.” Alec goes back into the house as he was told. Then Molly whispered in Tommy’s ear.

“Is that Alec the brother that was taken from my parents when they got turned into mushrooms?”

“Yes, indeed!” Tommy said.

“Get away now while you can or I’ll turn you into a mushroom like I did to the others,” yelled the witch.

Tommy and Molly said, “No! We won’t leave until you return my parents, the king and queen to us.”

“I have a mystery for you to solve,” the witch said, not knowing that Tommy is an expert solver of mysteries.

“You have three chances to identify which mushrooms are your mom and dad. If you fail, I will be the new queen and then you will be turned into roosters,” the witch said, confident that her plan would succeed.

Tommy picked first. Tommy picked one-dot mushrooms that were colored blue. They were not the king and queen, but it was the chef from the palace.

The second chance was harder, because the witch used her powers to mix all the mushrooms up. Molly picked a mushroom that was striped black and white. That was also not the king or queen, but instead, an old lady. Their last chance had come.

Molly said, “Let’s choose the red one.” Tommy doesn’t agree and argues for the blue one. They compromise, and agree to choose a purple, one-dot mushroom, because blue and red make purple.


Molly’s dad (the king) appears! Sadly, that was their last chance and they did not find the queen.

“Ha! Ha! You could not find your mother, the queen.” The witch laughed and went inside to get her wand while the king, Molly, and Tommy hid behind a bush. They were scared that they would be turned into roosters. The witch was smart enough to know that they would try to escape, so she put a spell on the invisible fences around her invisible house.

When the witch found them, she began turning them into roosters, but Tommy already being a pig, could not be another animal.

The next morning, the king, Molly and Tommy figured out by communicating in animal talk that Molly’s mom, the queen, was hidden in the witch’s room. Meanwhile, the witch went out for a walk, but forgot to make the house invisible. She was so happy that her plan was succeeding that she got careless.

The group rescued the queen and made it out before the witch returned from her walk. They ran through the forest quickly, but the witch discovered them on her way home. As the witch began to pursue them, she tripped and her wand fell to the ground.

Alec picked up the wand and turned the evil witch into a stone. Then, he turned the king and Molly back into people. They went back to the witch’s house.

“There are a lot of people and pigs turned into mushrooms, stones and other things here,” the queen said. “Let’s turn them back to normal.”

So Alec, who still had the wand, turned everyone else back to the way they used to be. The pigs and the people gathered together in Free Kingdom and had a celebration and they all lived happily ever after.



Marciella is 11 years old and in the sixth grade at Mastery Charter Thomas Elementary (MCTE) in Philadelphia. She likes to write stories, poems, do math, and art. This summer, she participated in a cool engineering program called Science Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK). She is also a student at Mighty Writers South. She has an awesome mentor named Sandee Mandel.

The Guinea Pig Races

In my elementary school, pets were a big thing. Class pets like rabbits or chickens were owned by a few lucky classrooms, and pets like goldfish and frogs were owned by the less fortunate. Our classroom ended up with guinea pigs.

At first, I was excited. Who could turn down furry, pig-like, hamsterish-mouse things? But then, I found out the truth:  guinea pigs were smelly, sniffly rats that waited until you decided to hold them to pee. Could this really be the classroom pet?

“Come on, eat it,” Ryan whined at the guinea pigs. Ryan, Matthew, and I were standing in the loft in our third grade classroom. The loft was where the bookshelf, blocks, and pillows were. Unlike the second and first grade classrooms, the loft actually had wooden stairs leading up to it. The only downside to this amazing loft was the smell, the smell of guinea pig poop mixed with squashed stinkbugs.

“Eat it you fat rats!” Ryan was getting impatient. So far they hadn’t liked the fries, or the grapes we had tried to feed them. And, there wasn’t much else you could do with these “pets” besides feed them. They weren’t very hard to catch, but if you held them for more than a few seconds, you were in danger of being peed on.

“Why don’t we build a guinea pig race?” Matthew blurted out suddenly. We all agreed it was an excellent idea.

So, we got out the blocks and built a twisty maze with two openings, and put them at the entrance. Matthew held “Caramel” a few inches above the ground. Ryan did the same with “Coco.”

“On your mark,” I shouted in my loudest indoor voice, “get set, go!”

Matthew and Ryan put the guinea pigs down. Coco waddled in the opposite direction, and then sat down. Caramel ran in circles a few times and sped off toward the stairs. We ran after him, me holding Coco. He got about halfway down the stairs before we caught him.

We put them back in their cages, right before recess ended.

* * *

About two weeks later, Matthew had another idea (Two ideas in one month! He was on fire!). We would hold a Guinea Pig Tournament.

By this time we had learned the guinea pigs’ favorite foods. Matthew was Caramel’s trainer, so he brought in spinach in every morning, and Ryan was Coco’s trainer so he brought in lettuce. I was the race builder, so I would construct the races while they were getting ready. We had figured out how to coax the guinea pigs through the maze holding their favorite treats right in front of them. I decided to “up” my game, and made a race so confusing that the trainers could get lost in it.

Then began the guinea pig races. Everyday at recess we would hold races. But, fate was on Caramel’s side the day of the tournament because Ryan had run out of lettuce. He came in with a shameful substitute, kale. Coco would never give his all for kale. That day went down in guinea pig history.

I set up the race. Matthew ran around the room with Caramel going faster than they had ever gone before. Meanwhile, Coco and Ryan were having more trouble. Coco would stumble a few feet and then decide it wasn’t worth the effort. Then stumble a few more feet. We all felt sorry for Coco, and even more so for Ryan, by the time the race started.

“On your mark. Get set. Go!” I said for the last time during the tournament.

Matthew put Caramel down, as did Ryan with Coco. I closed the guinea pigs in the maze as Ryan and Matthew wielded the vegetables. Ryan scrambled around the maze so as to not knock it over while Coco followed. Coco was putting no more effort into the race than he did during practice.

However, back at the start of the maze, Matthew was trying to coax a sitting Caramel to run. Nothing he did would work.  He touched her nose with the spinach, but she just sat on the brown-green carpet, uninterested.

Matthew was getting desperate; Ryan was almost at the end. Just then there was a clang as Ryan knocked over a block.

The rules stated he had to pick up the knocked over blocks before he continued again. Coco, not understanding that he needed to stop, started to turn after Ryan turned around to pick up the block. Before he was all the way lost, Ryan was facing him with the kale.

And then, Caramel moved.

Everything stopped. I could almost hear the crickets chirping. Right where Caramel was there was a giant guinea pig pee stain. It had turned the carpet from green-brown, to brown-black. I quickly rushed down to get paper towels just as the bell rang. In a few minutes, 22 kids were going to come up here to read aloud.

When I came back up, the blocks were put away and the guinea pigs back in their cages. But no matter how many paper towels we used, you could still see the GGPPS (giant guinea pig pee stain.)

We quickly threw away the paper towels and sat as far away from the GGPPS as possible. Kids started coming in, positioning themselves far from the questionable stain. We hoped someone would sit on it so that the teachers didn’t see. A couple of times, less observant kids almost sat on it, but friends would hurry them away. In the end all of us were crammed around the edges and not a single person was sitting within a half a foot of the GGPPS.

At the time, I thought maybe the teachers didn’t notice the GGPPS. But the next day, the stain was washed out.  If you look hard enough, you can still see the outline in the faded carpet. After that, though, whenever someone sat on the GGPPS, we would laugh, remembering the guinea pig races.


Lydia Cunitz is an eighth grader at the Friends Select School. She lives in Mt. Airy with her mom, dad, sister, and dog, Lucy. Her favorite writing style is poetry.



She’s cute and not very tall, but she sure is small
She doesn’t lay as stiff as a log, and when she’s sick she howls like a dog
Her nickname is Tab, she’s not able to drive a cab
This is because she can’t reach the pedals and put the pedal to the medal
She sits in her seat and makes a beat
She’s a little lazy baby and although she is crazy and does not know how to waddle
She sure can drink a bottle
She’s soft like silk
That’s because she drinks lots of milk
Her tongue is white
She likes to bite
Only because she has 6 little teeth
Her best friend’s name is not Aretha or Keith
When she’s asleep
She doesn’t make a peep
She doesn’t speak at all
That’s because she is still very small



Juwaireyah Dorsey is in the fifth grade at Universal Institute Charter School in Philadelphia. She writes poetry, short stories, essays and plays. Her favorite subject in school is science, she loves shoes, and her favorite color is baby blue. She likes to hang out with her family and play with her baby sister, Jennah.

The Yearbook

An innocent nine-year-old girl sat behind a wooden desk
That desk was her home away from home
The days flew by, the teachers droned on
School was simple and life stress free
Recess and gym were a godsend
She had pals, but the desk was still her best friend

Now she is a teenager, and school is a prison
Her desk and friends have turned into plastic
Drama-filled text messages and the usual catfights
Listening to lectures and writing endless essays
Scholarly success versus the social blend
But the desk still remains her best friend

Now, she enters high school
Forced to study and whatever life she had must go
Dreading the college admissions rat race
And the endless pursuit of a perfect 4.0
Music, theater, debate, and sports, her feelings irrelevant
Still, the desk is as important to her as being Class President.

Finally, her time in prison is at a close
Diploma in hand and tears down her face
She does not want to say good-bye, and yet she does
Knowing that another nine-year-old girl needs a best friend.



Nisha Bagchi is a student in the eleventh grade at Eastern Regional High School.

A Man’s World (Inspired by Alice Walker’s “Women”)

Be soft 
And supple 
Hairless like a child
Pluck your brows
Dye your hair
But don’t be so vain
Stand up for yourself
But know your place
Be wife material
But don’t be so needy and dependent
Be strong
And confident
But rely on my compliments for self esteem
Don’t starve yourself
To look like a stick 
“Only dogs like bones!”
But don’t indulge
Be sexy
Be curvy
Be thick
But don’t be a cow
Spread your legs when I ask
Wear crop tops
Skinny jeans like a second skin 
And skirts so short they look like panties 
But don’t be so easy
You’re just asking for it then
Cross your legs
Sit up straight 

Make sure your skirt is long
And your lipstick demure
But don’t be such a prude
Please me
Abide by my rules
But don’t you dare
Cry “misogyny”
After all, we’re equals, aren’t we?



Marissa Wenglicki is 15 years old and lives in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. She attends Neshaminy High School and is in tenth grade. She loves books, art, writing, and animals.