Hanukkah Joys

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, 

Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik 

Ner shel Hanukkah. 

I say the blessing and take the shamash.

I light from right to left until all the candles glow.

I breathe in the soothing aroma as I pick through

The packaging of my gift, the suspense radiating

Through me all crazy-like. I see the gift!

It is exactly what I hoped for!

Then I hand my gift, bouncing on my toes

As my gift is unwrapped slowly…

Will they like it? Will they?

Finally, they see it.

I smile at the grin spreading on their face.

It is Hanukkah.

The Very Mysterious Story


A package appeared in front of Lillie’s door in the middle of the night. She was very confused. Why would someone send me a package at 12:00? She opened the package and there was a stuffed puppy. Lillie took the puppy and went back up to bed, although she could not fall asleep. Who sent it? Why in the middle of the night? Why a puppy? 

In the morning, her mom asked if she had come downstairs. Lillie said, “Yep. I came down to have a glass of water, but I came right back up and fell asleep right away.”  

Lillie said that because she didn’t want her to worry. Her mom had a lot of things to deal with now that her mom and dad were divorced. Lillie lived with her mom. 

When Lillie got to school, her mom had to be VERY annoying. She yelled in front of the whole school, “WHERE’S MY SMOOCHY, SWEETIE?” 

Lillie did not smooch her and ran to her best friend, Caroline. Lillie was her friend starting in pre-K. They had always been inseparable. They were always in the same classes. It was kind of magical.

 At lunch, Lillie told her everything. She came over to Lillie’s house and Lillie showed her the puppy. It was gone. 

“Seriously? I have dance class and you wanted to show me a puppy that doesn’t exist!”

 That night, when Lillie came back for dinner, in the corner of the room, she found the puppy. Dinner was terrible. When she went back to bed, she put the puppy behind a locked door and left it for the night. 

In the morning, he was still there. She took him out and put him on the bed. The puppy was white with some black spots. She named him Spots. 

On the way home from school, Lille found a dog with the exact same design as Spots walking across the road with no collar – just like Spots. She picked him up and took him home. He had no identification. 

When Lillie got home, she looked for the puppy, but he wasn’t there. She got takeout that night, so it was very good. Lillie locked the dog in her room and fell asleep. 

In the morning, he was not there. There was a stuffed animal. Lillie put the stuffed animal in her backpack and went to school. 

She showed Caroline the stuffed dog. Then, she told her what happened last night. She was very freaked out!!!

That night, Lillie and the dog went to her house to have a sleepover. As you might have known, today was Friday!!!

They stayed up all night and watched the puppy transform into the real dog.

The next day, Lillie started trying to train him, but that didn’t take very long because he already knew how to sit, roll over, play dead, speak, and paw. He also knew the basics, like flying and going on fire. You might be wondering if that was just me joking, but he really could fly and set himself on fire. 

Lillie started going shopping to get him some dog food and a bed. She kept on wondering who sent her this dog. Then, Lillie realized that on the doll, there was a tag and that tag probably had some identification. When the real dog turned into the doll, it said, “SOMEBODY.” She was very confused and decided to give up for the day.

Then, a couple of days later, Caroline said that she was walking down the road and she overheard some people saying, “What a stupid gal she is. I don’t even know her name.”  

“She is a nice lady. Did you know I randomly live on Seventh Ave and Eighth Street? I also went to college with SOMEBODY.”

Then, right away, Lillie knew that she, the doll, and Caroline had to sneak out of their houses and go to SOMEBODY’s house. 

That evening, they snuck out. When they got to the house, it was very dark. It was like a little bit of space just filled with clouds and rain. It was 3:39, so it was bright outside, but in that little area, it was very dark, like it was midnight. They knocked on the door and the door creaked open. A slim man walked out. They asked to come in and it looked like he didn’t have a lot of visitors, so he looked nice. They came inside but there was only one couch and a lamp. Lillie asked him if he knew about SOMEBODY. He said that he went to college with him and that they were best friends, but they grew apart. He also told them that he lived right next door. Like, literally right next door. They rang the doorbell and there was a woman at the door. She slammed the door and opened the little peephole and screamed, “NAMES???” 

“My name is Lillie Frankenstein.”

The lady gasped. It was kind of like she was choking, but she wasn’t. Lillie repeated her name to her. She immediately let Lillie in with the others. When she let Lillie and Caroline in, she told them that the dog could also talk, and he ordered her to send him to them. She thought it was just random. He would kill her if she told him no, so she chickened out and listened to him. 

“SORRY.” She began to cry. “I am so sorry.”

Later that day, they all chucked the dog out of the bag they were keeping him in. He started licking them and they pushed him away. The dog started talking. “I don’t want any trouble, but you should have never trusted her. She hates dogs. She really, really, really HATES DOGS.” 

(Roll the backstory!) 

“SOMEBODY was born on October 20th and she loved dogs when she was two years old, although the dogs always barked at her and bit her and made her get rabies. When she went to the dog store, she went with her mom and got a dog. The dog loved SOMEBODY. But the only dog in the whole entire universe who loved SOMEBODY just had to despise her mom. It was a dark and stormy night when SOMEBODY’s mom was doing the laundry. The dog walked up to her and scratched her body in half. Blood was gushing out. So the house was filling up with blood. And poor SOMEBODY had to live on the streets, alone. When she turned twenty one, she bought her own house and she made enough money to go to college. SOMEBODY met Mark, the neighbor right next door.”

(Back to the present.)

“WOW!!!” Lillie kept repeating. “I had absolutely no idea that was why!”

“Remember this: she can be really persuasive for you to change your mind. And, most of all, I love the name Spots.” And, just like that, the puppy turned back into a doll. 

The next day, it was a holiday, so they did not have school. Caroline and Lillie were wondering how they were going to save the world. Then Lillie started thinking… Maybe if she said “dog” fourteen times, she would get an idea. 

“Dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog.” Then, BOOM!!! It worked. She was going to have to go to SOMEBODY’s house and… 


Lillie was going to have to go to SOMEBODY’s house and kill her. When she told Caroline, she totally lost all control, but it had to be done. The next morning, they went up to SOMEBODY’s house and tried to kill her, but she was waiting for Lillie with a sword. 

“What did that evil dog say to you?”

“NO!!! I know you are lying!!!” 

“Fine. I am not lying, but please don’t kill me. I will do no harm.” 

“You fool… I know your plan and I will never allow it!!” Lillie started throwing knives at her and she started to get scared. She dropped her weapon and surrendered and, just like that, the knife was through SOMEBODY’s heart and there was no one in the room. Lillie ran home and started crying.  

Spots crawled on the bed and under the sheets and said in a small voice, “Thank you. Every dog in the world will know your name.”

No one ever stepped into that room again. Even the police officers… and that is LITERALLY their job.

The Opposite of The Little Mermaid

Editor’s note: This story is inspired by and responding to “The Little Mermaid.”

About 5 million years ago, a mermaid lived in a cool town filled with short buildings with fancy carvings and beautiful mosaics. She swam through the fake blue water until she got to her father, the King.
He told her, “I strongly believe that you should go to The Surface of the Water.”
She said to the short, bearded, well-dressed man, “I HATE The Surface and I like The Water.”
Her father looked at her in a discouraging way, “Go now. Also, be back by 5:31 on the dot for dinner.”
She started to swim away.
“Oh, and don’t forget to do your homework!”
The mermaid, Ariel, did the breaststroke to her house, picked up her chorus homework, and went up to The Surface. Ariel practiced singing her scales. Then she felt the faintest drop of rain. 0.01 seconds later, a thunderstorm emerged from the not-so-puffy clouds. A man fell off the cracking ship. He plunged into the water. Eventually, his head emerged from the crashing water. He grabbed onto the rock right next to Ariel. She paid no attention to the struggling man and kept on with her chorus homework. The stranger’s eyes flickered open but Ariel had already left.
Later that week, Ariel went to school like any other day, but in science class, Miss Ursula had a new lesson in mind.
“Children! Last night I had a dream where mermaids could walk on Land. So, I want one of you ladies and gents to volunteer to be teleported to Land!”
No one wanted to explore Land. Miss Ursula walked around the room questioning every student to see if they truly did not want to go to Land.
She stopped by Ariel, stared at her, and finally said, “You shall go up! You’re the King’s daughter, so surely you should go…”
She slowly bent down and came close to Ariel’s face and then booped her on the nose and smiled a deranged smile.
The next day, Ariel was teleported to the Land. She went exploring and found the man she had seen drowning. He was in a very fancy house on the shore of the water. She wanted to go investigate, so she peered around the tall, three-story house. It was decorated with vines and wisteria, near the front door there were all types of different flowers, including chrysanthemums, red and white roses, and jasmine flowers framing the doorway.
She crept to the back and peered into the second-floor window, which was open, where the man now was being tailored into a very fancy suit. A posh man, with a long mustache, was serving him grapes and cheese on tiny toothpicks. The man being tailored saw her and yelled out the open window, “You look familiar! Come up here right now!”
Ariel did what the man ordered and went in the front door that led to a winding staircase, up to the room where the mysterious man was. She peeked her head in and the man ushered her in.
The man, who claimed his name was Prince Eric, asked her, “I saw you somewhere, but where?”
Prince Eric pondered for a bit then came back to reality. “Oh! I saw you when I fell off that ship 2 days ago. You were singing so beautifully, what were you singing?”
“I was practicing my chorus homework. I was just singing ‘He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’.”
Then some time passed and Ariel and Prince Eric married and lived not very happily-ever-after.

Roster the Puppy

Editor’s Note: Content warning — Murder/Violence

Chapter One: The Dog Catcher

Roster lived in New York City, and he loved it there. He had black fur and blue eyes. His best friends were a hamster named Peanut, a cat named Charlie, and the leader of the pack, who was called Rex. Peanut was all light brown with light brown eyes, and Charlie was black and white with blue eyes. Rex was black, white, and brown, and he had dark black eyes. He brought everybody food. They did not have someone who took care of them and fed them. Then, one day, while they were eating a pizza with STUFFED CRUST, a dog catcher came and scooped up Roster, Peanut, Charlie, and Rex with his net, hurting a couple of them. When they woke up in their cells, they saw how high-tech the security was, and they knew that they were not getting out of there anytime soon.   

Chapter Two: The Escaping Plan

After a while, the dog catchers brought cat food for everyone to eat. Everyone thought it was horrible. That night, they planned their attack. The plan was when the dog catchers brought their food, they would all jump out. The next day, early before breakfast, a little boy and his mother chose to adopt Rex and took him home. Then, a crowd of people came rushing in, and the doors almost fell off their hinges. When all of the people left, Rex saw that Peanut and Charlie were gone, along with other pets he did not know.

Roster, Peanut, and Charlie opened their eyes. They were in a big dark place with other pets they didn’t really know. Then, a person in a yellow suit with a yellow mask put every pet back to sleep, and he did it by spraying sleeping gas on them. He was wearing a mask, so he was not affected by the sleeping gas. While Roster was getting his food, he jumped out and made a run for it. Now the person in the yellow suit was on the hunt for Roster, Peanut, and Charlie. When Roster, Peanut, and Charlie woke up, they were behind bars. When the person in the yellow suit and yellow mask came, they pretended they were asleep, so the person did not put them to sleep again. Peanut, Roster, and Charlie wondered if it would ever be the same, while Rex got a ninja suit and rope to save them.

Chapter Three: Owen 

The next day, a person with a name tag that had “Steve” written on it came in holding first class food, not some stinky cat food. Even Charlie hated that food, and he was a CAT! Then, Steve dropped the food and ran away because something crashed through the window. It was Rex in a ninja suit holding a kitchen knife with blood on it. Rex told them that it was chicken blood. Rex used the knife as a key to save them, but when he tried to, a man picked him up and took the knife and ninja costume away from Rex. He put Rex in a cage and picked up Roster, Peanut, and Charlie, shoving them into the same cage as Rex. They had trouble breathing, and when they thought they were going to suffocate, a little boy named Owen opened the cage and gave them all treats.

Later, Roster, Peanut, Charlie, and Rex had dinner. Roster and Rex had dog food with gravy. Charlie had cat food with milk, and Peanut had sunflower seeds and water with a hint of carrot juice. Owen and his mother, Liz, had Chinese food. Roster, Peanut, and Charlie did not care because they loved their food anyway, but Rex really wanted some Chinese food. He whimpered and jumped up on their laps, begging for food. It worked! Rex got eight pieces of chicken, and he got some of the sauce with it. When it was time for bed, Owen brushed his teeth, and he also brushed Roster’s, Peanut’s, Charlie’s, and Rex’s teeth for them. Then the boy went to his bed, and Charlie slept on one of the pillows. Rex and Roster were curled up on the side of the bed near Owen’s head, and Peanut was between his hands.                           

Chapter Four: Rex’s Gone

In the middle of the night, Rex got up and crept out of bed and crept out of the room and then ran out the door, and as soon as he left, yellow eyes appeared out of the darkness holding a dagger and then followed Rex outside. When Roster, Peanut, and Charlie woke up, Rex was gone — he was nowhere to be found, and Owen’s mother was gone, too! And when they looked at Owen, there was a dagger stabbed in his chest. Owen was dead.

Roster, Peanut, and Charlie left the house and looked for Rex and Owen’s mother, Liz. After a while, they hit a dead end. They turned around to find Rex and Liz, but in the darkness in front of them there was a person with yellow eyes who then fell on the sidewalk. Rex was holding a dagger that was in that person’s chest. After that, they walked on the sidewalk and they saw the pizza with stuffed crust that started it all.

Rex picked it up with his mouth and said, “Let’s go somewhere the dog catcher will not find us.”

They found a nice spot, and when they were about to take a bite, dogs appeared out of nowhere and dragged Rex, Peanut, Charlie, and Roster into a cold dungeon, slamming the door behind them. Now Roster, Peanut, Charlie, and Rex were trapped in a dungeon with no food or water. They all realized they were not alone in the dungeon. Something was in there with them.

Chapter Five: Kicking Away

Rex, Peanut, Charlie, and Roster all huddled together, and in a blink of an eye, Peanut was gone. Then, Charlie and Roster were gone too. Rex ran and kicked and kicked at the door, but it would not open. Then, Rex saw something in the distance. It was a black dog. Rex kicked the dog so hard that he split it in half. After he kicked the black dogs in half, he saw the leader, and he knew it was the leader because it was wearing a gold crowd. Rex punched the lights out of the leader, and then kicked the door open with a mega-kick.

Meanwhile, Peanut, Roster, and Charlie were dumped on the sidewalk and trapped in a metal cage. Rex ran to a costume store and got ninja costumes for all of them. Then, Rex found Charlie, Peanut, and Roster. THEN, REX SUPER-MEGA-ULTRA-KICKED THE METAL CAGE OPEN LIKE IT WAS NOTHING!!!

Rex, Peanut, Charlie, and Roster ran and ran and ran until they stopped in front of a garbage can. Rex jumped up to see what was in the garbage can and saw a chicken, so he took that. Peanut picked up a carrot, Charlie picked up a fish, and Roster picked up a full can of baloney. They followed Rex to a rope, and Rex climbed it, Peanut, Charlie, and Roster following behind him. It led to a treehouse, where Rex took a bite of his chicken, Peanut nibbled his carrot, Roster opened his can and took a small bite of baloney, and Charlie took a big bite of fish. Then, they all realized something was climbing up the rope to them.

Chapter Six: Charlie’s Past

It was a skeleton wearing black robes and holding an ax. Peanut, Charlie, Rex, and Roster jumped out of the treehouse and onto the sidewalk. They were cornered against a door. Suddenly, a hand grabbed Rex and Peanut. Charlie and Roster made a run for it, and Rex threw a bone at the skeleton that made it fall apart. The bone turned around and picked up the ax. It flew back to Rex.

“Boomerang bone,” Charlie whispered to Roster.

They walked and walked until a net picked them up. They were back in a cage.

Roster turned around to look at Charlie. “Charlie, what are you doing?”

“Getting out of here,” whispered Charlie.

“Using your claws?”

“Yes, what else am I supposed to use?!”

That was when Roster noticed a scar on Charlie’s arm. 

“What is that scar on your arm?” Roster asked.

“Like you care.”

“I do care.” 

“You do?”

“Of course I do,” said Roster.

“Well, when I was young, my father wanted to kill me because he hated me, but when he tried to hit me with his sword, my mother jumped in the way and hit my arm. The sword flew and killed my mother and father, so I was on my own from then on.”    

Chapter Seven: Cats Everywhere 

Before Roster could say anything, Charlie’s cage opened and Charlie fell on the floor with a bang.

“Are you okay?” Roster asked, but Charlie did not answer. Roster tried to get out, but he could not. Roster did not know what to do. He sat in the corner of his cage, curled up.

Then, a wet, cold hand reached into the cage. It was a person in a yellow suit. The person told Roster that the place was closing, and if they did not get out in time, they would be trapped in there, and metal would surround the place they were in. Roster walked up to Charlie and tapped him. Roster saw the metal appearing from the roof, put Charlie on his back, and ran out of the store just in time.

Roster ran back to the treehouse. He was surprised to see Rex and Peanut there. All three  of them poked Charlie at the same time. Roster put his paw on Charlie’s stomach.

“Charlie’s still breathing,” said Roster.

“So, Charlie’s not dead?” asked Peanut.

“Nope, not dead,” said Roster. Then, he whispered under his breath, “Not yet, at least.” 

“What did you just say?” asked Peanut.


Then they heard rustling in the bushes. Rex, Peanut, and Roster turned around at the same time and saw a cat.

“Is that cat coming closer?” asked Peanut.

“One hundred percent, yes,” whispered Roster. 

Then they saw another one and another one.

“What do they want?” asked Peanut.

“It’s a trap. They’re surrounding us, and there is nowhere to go,” whispered Roster.

Chapter Eight: Leaving Earth

Then, the cats started to climb up the treehouse. Suddenly, Charlie got up, and a cat jumped on Charlie. Then, a cat jumped on Peanut.


Then a cat jumped on Roster, and a cat with a crown made of the most expensive fish jumped on Rex. When the cat got off Rex, another cat jumped on Rex. 

“I am the leader of the club of cats, and they treat me like I am their queen,” said the cat with the crown.

“You look like the opposite of a queen!” shouted Charlie.

The cat with the crown told the club, “Get them out of my sight, now.”

The cats put Peanut, Roster, Rex, and Charlie into a small rocket ship and blasted them off into space. When they blasted off, the Earth exploded behind them. Roster, Peanut, Charlie, and Rex started to float in the rocket ship until they crashed into another planet. Roster, Peanut, Charlie, and Rex opened their eyes and saw that they were in a hospital.

“They are finally awake. I have been waiting,” said a voice in the room.

Rex, Roster, Charlie, and Peanut stared at each other, and nobody moved a muscle.

Chapter Nine: News People

A few seconds later, Roster looked where Charlie had been, but Charlie was not there. Then, Roster turned to look at the window, and Charlie was there, whacking the window. Someone suddenly grabbed Charlie — it was the news people.

The news people said that they had been following them because of what they were doing. One of the news people grabbed Roster, Peanut, and Rex. The news people took them to another rocket ship. When they were all inside, the news people said, “The Earth did not blow up. It just looked like it blew up, and the cats that put you into the rocket ship died.”

Roster, Peanut, Charlie, and Rex just looked at each other and they knew what to do. They shoved the news people out of the window. Peanut saw parachutes in the back of the rocket ship and jumped out and parachuted to the ground. Then, they ran to a dumpster.

“Why are we at the dumpster again?” asked Charlie.

“Yeah, why are we here?” asked Peanut.

“Maybe we are gonna build something?” said Roster.

“We are going to build something: a robot dog. And we are going to turn this dumpster into a house for us,” said Rex.

Rex, Peanut, Charlie, and Roster got to work. They built a robot and an amazing house. When they took a step inside, it was amazing.

“It’s going to be a lot easier living in New York City with a house,” said Peanut.

“This house is amazing,” said Charlie.

“It is huge,” said Roster.

“That means more room to roam around,” said Peanut.

“Let’s check out the robot dog!” said Roster.

“CHICKEN, COME HERE!” shouted Rex.

The robot dog came, and a red light appeared in the dog’s eyes. KA-BLAM!

“The robot dog blew up… You know what? Let’s go inside the house.”

“Sounds good,” said Charlie. So, they went inside.

Chapter Ten: The Amazing House 

When they walked in, they saw more toys than they could count. In the corner, food bowls were filling up with the best food they could dream of.

“This house is the best,” said Charlie.

“Agreed,” said Roster with a mouth full of food.

“What should we do?” said Peanut.

“Play with all of these toys,” said Charlie.

They all played with the toys for about two hours. Then, they ate the food that they loved so much.

“I am tired,” said Peanut.

“Me, too,” said Roster.

“Me, three,” said Rex.

“Me, four,” said Charlie.

They opened the door to the bedroom, and it was amazing. There was a big bed, and Roster, Charlie, Peanut, and Rex slept on the bed like kings and queens. Peanut was snoring like this: “ZZZZZ!”

Roster, Charlie, and Rex were able to sleep at least. Finally, they could rest and enjoy themselves for once in New York City.



The girl is silent. This is unusual. The driver should know. He picks hitchhikers up wherever he can, and there’s always a, “Thanks,” or a, “Where to?” or at least a, “Hey, can I ride shotgun?”
Not so with this one.
And that’s not the only reason she’s strange either. She has the height and slightly rebellious posture of an eleven-year-old but wearing a trench coat made for a 50-year-old brooding detective with a high collar she’s keeping tightly wrapped around her neck, so it’s totally concealed. Though her position exposes her wrists–which are completely covered with bruises and tiny cuts. She’s also barefoot.
The driver knows the look of an escaped prisoner. He’s picked them up a few times, as this area is notorious for its prisons and other secure facilities.. He knows the bruises on the wrists that indicate having worn handcuffs for a long time, the frantic look of their eyes, the tense, twitching way they hold themselves — as if they might have to bolt any second. Of course, the first three times he picked up escapees, he brought them to the nearest police station immediately. But there’s something about this girl…
Normally he would respect a hitchhiker’s privacy, but now he decides he needs to probe.
“So… ah, what’s your name, young lady?” He glances at her in the rearview mirror. A patch of something red is starting to spread over the collar of her coat. Her eyes flit nervously to him.
“Ahh… Ah… ” she stutters. Her voice is hoarse as if she hasn’t used it in a while. This worries him.
“Amelia? He prompts after hesitating. “Anna?”
“Ah…. ” her mouth presses into a firm line. “Aaaaa….. mnesia.”
“You… have amnesia?” Now he is truly worried.
He thinks for a moment. “So… you can’t remember?”
“Can’t remember,” she repeats triumphantly.
“Ah… do you have any idea… why you can’t remember?”
Her mouth goes into that line again. He realizes that’s all he’s going to get out of her on the matter. “Well, should I call your parents? Your guardians?”
No answer.
“Do you…have any family?”
“Well… I have to call someone.” Keeping one hand on the wheel, the driver reaches for his phone, lying next to him, with his other hand. He is about to dial 911 when he catches the strange girl’s eye in the mirror. He suddenly finds he can’t look away. Then, it happens. Her pupils constrict– just a little. Then the feeling– as if something in his mind, just a bit off for years, has finally clunked into place.
His hand slowly moves away from his phone and comes to rest at two o’clock on the wheel.
“No family… that’s all right. I don’t have any either. They’re all gone, you see.” At that word, something seems to click in her mind as well.
“Gone… ” she says. “Gone… my family is gone.”


The girl scares him. She shouldn’t.
Granted, she is scary. But so was the 17-year-old with the blood-red mohawk who was dealing drugs. So was the bald 14-year-old girl with obscenities tattooed up and down both arms, twirling a pistol in her hand. And so was the teen before that, and the one before that, and the hundreds he’s seen over the years. Being stationed at one of New City’s busiest subway stations, you get freaks like that. All. The. Time.
But this freak is different. Usually they strut around looking for trouble or flaunting their disturbing tattoos. She keeps to herself, huddling in a corner formed by a dumpster and the wall. And the officer isn’t exactly up-to-date with the fashion scene at the moment, but he is pretty sure that a sweaty old ripped undershirt, long pink gloves, tight white shorts that barely cover her bottom, and a vibrant orange scarf are unusual even for a subway freak. Her undyed, shoulder-length, dirty-blonde hair sticks out everywhere in a very undignified way.
Then it strikes him that she’s not wearing any shoes. Something is very wrong here. He decides to move in. In this line of work, you learn to follow every lead.
She smiles pleasantly at him when he approaches. “Hello,” she says. Her voice is smooth — too smooth. Her tone is flawless.
“Hello,” he says, slowly and cautiously. Then he tells himself to man up. This scrawny 11-year-old shouldn’t scare him. He’s 42, in prime shape for his age, and has a gun. He needs to assert himself. “Ma’am,” he begins sternly, “I’m afraid shoes are mandatory in this station.”
“Is that so?” she asks sweetly.
“Yes, it is. Rule 307 of the Customer Service Policy states clearly on the New City Public Transportation website.”
“Oh.” She makes a little squeal. “Well, I didn’t know that – ” And then, it happens. The slight constricting of the pupils — and the strangest feeling, as though something in his mind, sunken to the bottom after years of forgetfulness, is sifted to the top.
“Officer Davis Davidson,” she finishes.
“I — I’m sorry.” Davis Davidson is stunned. Because that’s not his name.
She smiles again. Her full lips look red in the dim light. He doesn’t fully register it, because she takes one step sideways away from him.
Through his shock, he can hear dimly the roar that signals the arrival of a train. The girl cocks her head to one side playfully. “Well, I need to get going,” she grins, flashing yellow teeth. Then she is gone.
The officer stands there, frozen, for 15 more minutes before one of his co-workers finds him.
When he climbs into bed that night, he can’t stop thinking about what the girl called him.
The badge reads Officer McShirley — that’s the surname he took when he was married. And well before that, when he was 20, he had changed his last name to Johnson. All the records show either McShirley or Johnson. There’s no way she could have known.
But he was born Davis Davidson.


The girl is ugly. Normally, the cashier isn’t a judgmental person, but this is simply a fact. Her hopelessly tangled and muddy hair reaches down to the floor, her face is covered in nettles and scratches, and he’s pretty sure those are real cockroaches on her arms. To say nothing of her fashion sense. She looks like she just escaped from a jail — a low-budget jail. She’s wearing a ripped white undershirt and tight, white shorts that barely cover three inches, and no shoes. There are scars and bruises covering her wrists and neck. The cashier isn’t the brightest (it’s not part of the job description) so he doesn’t stop to think how she might have gotten them. He simply checks her items.
Bread, carrots, apples, frozen peas, frozen French Fries, a pint of mint ice cream, and two six-packs of water bottles. Not exactly typical shopping for a 12-year-old girl — they usually come in giggling with Haribos and sodas and lip gloss. This girl looks wise beyond her years, like a crazed sage living on a mountain eating worms. There’s a breathless expression on her face like she’s been through something horrible, and is simply glad to be alive. It troubles the cashier.
“Your total is $29.99,” he tells her. “Paper or plastic?”
“Nothing reusable?” Her voice is hoarse, but kind.
“No,” he tells her, looking at her defiantly.
She makes a tsking noise and makes eye contact with him. She looks almost regretful. Then it happens.
Her pupils constrict, and the cashier gets the strangest feeling — as though out of his clogged and overstuffed brain, off his burdened shoulders, something has been taken.
And then it’s as if he’s closed his eyes — just darkness and darkness and darkness. He tries to open his eyes, but they are open. He can hear the clamor of the supermarket, smell the cleaning products, taste the stale gum in the back of his mouth, feel the coarse fabric of his uniform against his hands — but he cannot see. He hears the girl giggle, hears the rustling and clunking of objects being dropped into a bag, and the pad of her feet running away.
The cashier slumps to his knees. His head droops and a few salty tears seep out of his blind eyes.


The girl shouldn’t be here. But the reporter seems to be the only one who’s noticed, as usual. She’s come to realize that, even though she’s only an intern at LINN (Leg International News Network), she’s really the only competent member of her team. Which is unfortunate, because they’ve been assigned the war-spurred chaos in B’leg.
The girl really shouldn’t be here, for her own safety. There are crazed gangs and resistance fighters with machine guns and hand grenades everywhere. Even wearing a bulletproof vest, the reporter doesn’t feel safe. And this girl looks only ten, wearing a shirt that says My Grandma went to Seaside States and all I got was this stupid T-Shirt, a ridiculous flamingo scarf, and jean shorts that clash horribly.
She is about to stride over to the girl to tell her to clear out when their team leader grabs her by the arm.
“Avery!” he says sharply. “We need you on set! We’re live in 30 seconds! Where have you been?” Five feet away, she thinks as he drags her away.
The camera is pointed at a dramatic landscape of burning buildings and half-naked, starving people running around and shrieking. It seems like something straight out of the pages of a dystopian novel.
The team leader shoves a microphone into Avery’s hands and gestures impatiently at the cameraman. He nods, and Avery puts on her professional face.
“Hello, Leg,” the leader announces pompously. “This is Alex Alexander, everyone’s favorite re – ”
“We are live from war-torn B’leg!” Avery shouts into her mic. It lets out a squeal of feedback in protest. Alex Alexander gives her a look, but she’s already decided to take matters into her own hands. “The half-starved screams of innocent citizens caught in the crossfire fill the air, and the sharp tang of gunpowder is inescapable. Mud, fire, and death pollute these streets. And after the merciless attack of the resistance fighters, it is sadly proven once again that innocence never lasts forever… ” She pulls a six-year-old boy clutching a teddy bear that’s half ashes into the camera frame. “Young man! What was your life like before the attack?”
“Uh… my name is Humphrey and I guess I liked watching cartoons. You know that one with the rabbit and the roach? That was my favorite. But then… I mean… ”
Avery makes a roll the clip motion with her hand. Across Leg, their viewers will see a recording of yesterday’s attack. Avery waits thirty seconds, then continues talking. “After this ruthless rampage of ruination – ” (audiences adore alliteration) “ – everyone in B’leg is changed. Now, Humphrey is lucky when the news turns on! I – ”
“True,” comes a loud voice.
Avery whirls around. A girl — the girl is standing there. In their frame. “Excuse me?”
The girl’s face, framed by hair that’s black at the top and white at the bottom, with only the barest shade of gray in between, twists into an expression of horror. “I — I’m so sorry – ”
“Hey!” shouts Alex Alexander stupidly. “That’s the girl I saw you with!”
Then the strangest thing happens — a flash of events in the space of a few seconds. The girl’s eyes constrict and something flashes in them — a truth, ancient and mystical and powerful. Then they glaze over, and she speaks.
“True,” she says.
“Wait, what?” Alexander asks slowly, befuddled.
Avery sighs. “She – ” then she stops, because she realizes she doesn’t actually know what the girl did. Or what she said.
“Ha!” Humphrey cries. “Polly, ya did it again!”
The girl –- Polly? — looks uncomfortable. “Humph.”
But the boy is suddenly talking animatedly to Avery. “I found ‘er a few weeks ago. Hid her in my basement. At first, I was just doing a good deed, but then I found out she has powers.”
Another member of the team, Julia, who used to work in the tabloids, jumps in. “Is this boy crazed? In shock? Who is the Girl from B’leg?! Some may call these questions mere conspiracy theories, but the truth-seekers among you should check your newsstands.” She stops, realizing she’s live on national television. “Sorry, old habits.”
Then it happens again. The constricting of the girl’s eyes, and she speaks, “True.”
“Told ya!” Humphrey practically shrieks. “Powers! See, she can tell the truth from a lie!”
“Watch: My name is Humphrey.”
“My name is Alex Alexander.”
“False. Humphrey, I really don’t want to do this, not on television.”
“Actually, we’re not rolling,” interrupts the cameraman. “Not since she – you appeared.”
“True. Oh. But still – ”
“The camera’s not rolling!”
“True – Humphrey, please – ”
“You sleep in my basement.”
“True.” Her face has the pained look of someone about to do something they know they’ll regret. “Humphrey, I’m sorry… ”
And before Avery can say “wait,” she has vanished into the burning city.


The girl is not there.
The girl must be a figment of the hiker’s imagination.
The girl cannot be real.
The girl is not there.
Besides, no girl is that strange. She’s a child — she looked 12 or 13. She was also completely bald, and had no eyebrows, eyelashes, or hair of any kind. She was dressed in a ripped white undershirt stained with red and green juices, tight white pants that stand out against her dark brown skin, and no shoes.
Besides, if she was real, how could she have gotten there? Sure, there was a hiking trail nearby, but nobody with half a brain went hiking barefoot. And there are no roads or highways within ten miles. If her car had broken down and she’d wandered into the woods, she wouldn’t have wandered this far.
Which only leaves the possibility that she’s completely insane. The hiker refuses that one. She doesn’t want to admit it, but insane people scare her.
So, the girl is not there.
But then she is.
She is there.
Behind a tree! A pine tree. The hiker knows, somehow, that this moment will be fixed in her memory till the end of her days — the moment when all her dreams and imaginings became real.
This time, the hiker doesn’t hesitate. She plunges through a bush and starts toward the bald girl.
The girl’s eyes widen, her mouth parts in shock, and she darts away.
The hiker chases after, determined now. She tumbles through dense patches, rushes through the brief clearing where the sun streaks through the ceiling of twisting branches. She never knew the woods could be like this — crowded, thorny, dark, mysterious. Like a fairy tale. Years of hiking have only taught her cleared, dusty paths. It’s a wonder to see the forest like this. But she doesn’t let it distract her. She stays focused on the prize — the girl.
She races through the forest, following the flashes of the girl she glimpses through the maze of trees for a good fifteen minutes, until they reach a clearing carpeted with pine needles painted gold by the setting sun. There, in that little alcove of the wild, she is surprised to find a small log cabin. There are no windows, but there is a smoking little chimney. The hiker grabs the knob of the door, but it’s locked.
“Hey… ” she calls apprehensively. Silence. “I – I know you’re in there. Please, just come out. I’m not going to hurt you. Unless you’re insane. Sorry. I didn’t mean that. But — unlock the door, please.”
“Look…. I don’t want to break this door down… ” Nothing. “I could if I wanted to… ” That is true. The door is made of rotting wood planks that look like they might decompose on the spot with one good kick. And the hiker’s legs are pretty strong from years of climbing mountains.
She waits another few seconds, debating. There is something wrong with this girl — that much was clear from the start. But what if she’s in danger? What if she thought the hiker was someone else? What if there was someone so horrible she felt the need to run barefoot through a forest and hide in a crumbling log cabin to get away from?
The door comes down on the third kick.
The cabin is damp and moldy inside. There is a smoking fireplace, a decaying table, and a single chair. The floor is leaves and dirt — one area is scuffed up where the girl might have been sleeping.
And huddling, knees to chest, her face to the wall, shaking, sobbing in a corner is the girl.
“Hey… ” the hiker says softly. “I’m not going to hurt you. Please… ”
Slowly, the girl gets to her feet, still facing the corner. The sobbing slows until it is mere sniffling.
Then she speaks in a low, shaking, tear-stained voice.
“I need you to leave,” she says slowly. Then she sniffles loudly. “I need you to leave… right now. Leave, and you can’t tell anyone what you saw… ” She puts her head in her hands and starts wailing again.
“I — I don’t understand – ”
“LEAVE!” she roars. “I don’t — I can’t – ” Then more sobbing.
“Look,” the hiker says hesitantly. “I’m sure that whatever it is – ”
“You need to go,” she repeats, controlling the shaking in her voice. There’s an unexpected fierceness. “Please. Now. I can’t – ”
“Look – ”
“You should have left.”
The girl keeps her head down, but drops her hands to her sides. Then she turns around.
There is a tense pause.
Then she picks up her head and their eyes meet —
And it happens — the constricting of those midnight-black pupils — the feeling — the emptiness — yawning before her —
The hiker collapses with a thump.
And when she is dead, when the girl is alone in the woods, no one can hear her scream.

Window to the Future

This was made purely from random words people gave me.


Warm, mouth-watering pizza.

With cheese and tomatoes and all the good stuff.

Pizza, with its smell, its taste… 

The soft parts are the best. Warm and fluffy.

Who doesn’t like pizza?

It’s the best, anyway.


Swirl of black, brown, gray.

It eats everything — from the smallest speck of dirt… 

To a whole roof. Moving for miles… 

It swallows and breaks everything in its path.

Trashcans whizz. Plants’ roots are ripped from the ground.

It’s a tornado.


Sweet, dribbly.

The ice cream runs down my chin.

I suck it off my fingers.


The smell of the pages,

The excitement of the tale —

Together, it makes a good book.


Twinkling above, the stars watch me.

They serve under the moon.


Every year, on that special day,

I get presents and eat cake.

I love my birthday.

Growing Up

Chapter 1

I sat, watching the sunset with Beetle. 

Two hours earlier I’d read her a story that I’d written, where a girl’s mom dies and she’s found by the queen and becomes a princess, but then the queen almost gets assasinated, but they flee and live happily ever after. When I’d said, “The End,” and asked if she liked it, she’d squirmed.

“What?” I asked her.

“Well, don’t you think… that we’re — well, too old for stories about princesses, talking animals, and happy endings? Maybe we should read about more grown-up things, like kidnappings, or murder mysteries,” Beetle said. 

I didn’t think so. I liked to write about princesses and talking animals. I liked knowing there would be a happily ever after. But I didn’t want to lose Beetle as a friend. I noticed that she’d been growing up faster. She told me to drop that nickname and just call her Beatrice, like her real name was. But she was lodged in my mind as Beetle. 

“I guess,” I responded. “I’ll revise it so the queen dies because the mom turns into a zombie.”

Beetle smiled. “Now that’s a good ending.”

I studied her face to see if she was joking. She was wearing the usual: blush, lip gloss, pink eyeliner. She’d brought her quilt, but I knew underneath she was wearing something maturer than me. I just had on a wool sweater over a t-shirt and some jeans, along with no makeup. My unbrushed hair whipped into my face.

“It’s getting late. And windy. And I need to revise this story,” I said, getting up. 

Beetle waved goodbye as we got to the fork in the road that separated our houses. As I walked in my house, which was a quiet lavender with a yellow door and trim, I alerted my mom that I was there, and then ate my very cold meatloaf. After I finished, I went to my room, got out a piece of paper, and wrote the incredibly morbid, apparently ‘mature’ story I promised Beetle. After an hour or two of writing, my eyelids started to droop. I slowly changed into some pajamas, brushed my teeth, and pulled the black ringlets of my hair into a bun. 

“Eira! Bedtime!” My mom called out. But I didn’t answer. I was already in a deep sleep.

The Grain

It felt like a nightmare. Maybe it was. Or maybe it never happened at all. By the time you finish reading, you’ll know what I mean. 

MONDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2031, 1:15 PM


“Jennifer, would you like to share your report next?” 

I smiled as Ms. Bragenstien acknowledged my raised and wriggling hand. 

“Of course.” I strode to the front of the room and grabbed the Grain Projection Chip (PC) connected to the Smartboard from her desk. Ms. Bragenstein said nothing, only smiled silently and expectantly as I plugged the PC into the Grain slot in my head and murmured, “Saturday, October 3, 2031, 5:00 PM.” My Grain presentations were already almost legendary at Emeryville Middle School. 

The Grain was invented in 2027 as a security device to monitor released prisoners. Their Grain recordings would be reviewed to make sure that they weren’t participating in any illegal activity. Thanks to the Grain and its memory recording power, crime rates plummeted phenomenally. But over the years, people started to implant it voluntarily, so they could relive the best moments of their lives. These days it was common, with babies getting it as young as 2 months old. There was even talk of making it legally mandatory. And if you didn’t get it, you were deemed suspicious — people assumed you had something to hide. 

I grinned at Ms. Bragenstien as the recording began to play on the Smartboard at the front of the room. 

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2031, 5:00 PM


I smiled in the mirror, made sure my hair was neat, glanced at my notes, and began. 

“This report is on a very serious topic: The Cha — ”



The door burst open and I stepped into the Oval Office. The door slammed shut behind me. President Jackson looked up from the letter he was skimming and stared at me. 

“Marshal Jackson,” I growled. My voice didn’t sound like my own. “It’s time to pay for your crimes.”

Before he could stop me, my knife was hurtling toward his heart. It found its mark. Jackson collapsed with a thunk

Almost immediately, two men in black suits with guns jumped out at me from behind blue drapes on both sides of the room. I ran. 

The window exploded in a shower of glass behind me, the grass outside rushing up to meet my feet before me. 



Everyone in the room was speechless. 

For a minute. 



My chest heaved up and down, beads of sweat starting to form around the hole in my head where I had yanked the PC out. I took a deep breath, tried to compose myself. Tried to look less panicked than I really was. 

“Ms. Bragenstein,” I began. “This is all a big mi — ”

“Jennifer,” Ms. Bragenstein interrupted. Her voice was oddly stiff. “Did you assassinate President Jackson?”

I was shocked. “I — what — no! Ms. Bragenstein, I have no idea how that recording got in my Grain!”

“You — you’re lying,” she said coldly. It nearly broke my heart. “No one can alter their Grain.” 

“Please!” I cried. “I can give you my report now! The Challenger — ” The other kids were staring. I didn’t care. All that mattered was Ms. Bragenstein and if she believed me, but she was unmoved. I panicked. Tears started to wet my cheeks. 

“I didn’t know you had this in you, Jennifer.”

“Please! You know where my house is — where I was recording! Wembly road! That’s nowhere near the Oval Office! How could I — ”

“That could have been any mirror. I didn’t see your surroundings, murderer,” she spat. “I suppose that was a confession. Rather odd way of doing it, but — never mind. The police will be here soon.” She picked up her phone to dial 911. 

I ran for the door.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2031, 1:40 PM


“A half-day,” I told my mom, out of breath. “I’m going to my room.” I raced up the stairs of our small suburban house before she could object. 

I slammed the door of my room and collapsed into my desk chair, staring into the mirror. How was this my life? I lied to my mom. I ran out of school. And I was about to become a fugitive from the law. I couldn’t believe it. 

Sighing, I opened my computer and grabbed the PC connected to it. I plugged it into my Grain slot and said clearly, “Saturday, October 3, 2031, 5 PM.” On the screen, I watched the recording of me — no, of someone — assassinating the president. I paused as they threw the knife. Then I took a screenshot. Their hands were darker than mine. It wasn’t me, but I couldn’t very well go back to Ms. Bragenstein and show her the evidence. She wouldn’t believe me. It still hurt how quickly she had shunned me. 

But there was no time to dwell on this. I took off my backpack and dumped out all the schoolbooks. I took the purse containing $327 from various birthdays and gifts from my desk and put it inside the backpack. Then I emptied my state quarter collections into my backpack as well (for use in laundromats). I also put in some outfits, jackets and coats, books, my computer and PC, and an empty notebook and pen. I hesitated, then tore the first sheet from it, wrote a quick note, and left it on my desk. 

Dear Mom and Dad:

By the time you read this, I bet you’ll have seen the news. It looks bad, I know. But I swear I didn’t do it. You have to believe me. I had to leave. I’m going to try to find out what really happened. 

I’m so sorry.


I put on my backpack, grabbed my sleeping bag, and headed downstairs. 

“It’s, um, actually, we’re supposed to go back because we’re going to watch a movie in the gym. With sleeping bags.” I told my mom quickly. 

She gave me a suspicious look. “And… why didn’t I get an email about this?”

“Ms. Bragenstein told us she forgot to send it.”

“Okay, but I’m going to check your Grain later.”

“Sure, mom,” I said, trying to keep my voice from quavering. If I ever saw her again, I knew what she would find if she checked. I grabbed an umbrella and opened the door.


“It… might rain.”

MONDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2031, 5:09 PM


“Oh… and a butter roll, please.” I added. 

The man at the counter of the small, grubby, cramped deli gave me a strange look as I asked for the breakfast special at 5 in the afternoon. I glanced outside to avoid meeting his eyes. The ugly Deli & Beer was topped by a faded awning in a particularly ugly shade of green. It smelled of rat droppings and hastily applied cleaning supplies. I waited patiently. 

I took out one of the books I had brought, an atlas of the United States. It had maps of the whole country, each of the states, highway and landscape maps, etc. I opened it to the general map of the country. I took a pen and made a line from Emeryville, Montana (usually Emeryville would be too small to be featured on a map, but there were so few towns in Montana that it had to be there) to Washington DC. It looked far. I probably couldn’t get on a train or plane because I was a minor, so I would have to walk. I couldn’t think of any other option. Then, just as I was thinking it couldn’t be any worse, I heard:

“We interrupt this broadcast for some breaking news. Live from the Oval Office in Washington DC, I hand it over to Josephine Merson…”

I swiveled in my red, cracked leather stool, turning my attention from the atlas to the television almost hidden in a corner of the wall. The blond woman on-screen was standing in the Oval Office in front of the president’s desk… but it looked more like a crime scene. The window behind the desk was shattered, there was caution tape everywhere, and police officers and investigators were poking around with flashlights and magnifying glasses everywhere. 

“Thanks, Paul,” said Josephine. I could tell she was distressed, though she was trying not to show it. “We’re sorry to pull you from your soap operas” — she seemed to wait for laughter — “but something much more dramatic and entirely real has happened here. We’ve just received word from the police department in Emeryville, a small town in Montana — ” At the mention of his hometown, the man, carrying my plate out from the kitchen, stopped and stared at the screen. “ — That in the local middle school, a child has just played a Grain recording of herself assassinating President Marshal Jackson.” 

I froze. This was my worst nightmare, and it was already happening. It was revealed. 

They cut to a recording of Ms. Bragenstein in our classroom with a microphone held up to her mouth. 

“Angela Bragenstein, this student — Jennifer — was under your care,” said a voice on-screen. “Did you ever get any notion that she might have done something like this? Was this expected?”

“No,” she replied breathlessly. “Jennifer was a good student. The best. But now I can see it was all a ruse.”

They cut back to Paul at his blue desk in the newsroom. Flashes of the crime scene played on a screen behind him. “The student, Jennifer Hudson, allegedly fled the classroom after abruptly tearing out the PC that played the recording, and has not yet been found.” Then my school photo played on the screen. I gasped. The man with the plates looked at me. I looked away. 

“Wait a second,” he said. I hastily pulled my hood up, but it was too late. He’d seen my face. 

“If you have any information, call 1-800-706-2948.” 

The man reached for his phone. 

I slammed the atlas shut and shoved it in my backpack. I put it on and grabbed my sleeping bag from the floor. 

The man dialed the number. He noticed me sneaking toward the door. “No you don’t,” he growled. “That reward money’s gonna fix this place up… buy me a new pair o’ shoes. I’mma finally make me momma proud.”

“Sorry!” I cried, and dashed out the door. 

“WAIT!” He yelled, squeezing himself around the counter. “WAI — ”

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2031, 8:47 PM


I stretched out my legs in my sleeping bag and tried not to cry. I’d been away from home for almost ten days. I missed my bed and my home and my family. I was lying in the dirt in my sleeping bag, leaning against a tree. Chipmunks skittered across the ground a few feet away. Owls hooted high up in the treetops. Even the animals were keeping their distance. I needed privacy. Other humans could recognize and capture me, but it was driving me slowly mad. There was only me to keep me company… 

Or maybe not, I realized suddenly. 

I remembered the person in the recording. They must have altered my Grain to put the recording there. Maybe they had left other recordings. I opened my backpack and took out my computer. I opened the Grain app, plugging in my PC. I browsed through my recordings. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary — me going to school, reading, hanging out in my room. Then I noticed something. While scrolling through the automatically taken screenshots from every hour, I saw one of a tall, white building from 6 PM on October 5. This was from just after the assassination. There were no buildings like that in Emeryville — just little delis and suburban houses. This had to be something from the secret assassin. I clicked the screenshot. A recording began to play on the screen. 

MONDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2031, 6:00 PM


I glanced up at the skyscraper, then crossed the street to the park, ignoring the honking cars. I sat down on the stone wall of the park and looked down at my jeans. 

“So, you found me. Maybe by accident. Or maybe you knew what you were looking for. If you have no idea who I am, close this recording now, Jennifer. You’ll know soon enough.”

I waited. Then continued.

“You’re still watching, which means that you now know I assassinated the president about an hour ago, and altered your Grain to frame you. You’re not going to believe me, but I didn’t mean to. I know who you are, Jennifer Hudson. You do well in school. I’ve seen your Grain recordings. You’re a total goody-two-shoes. I know this must have ruined your life. And I’m really sorry. Putting my recording in your Grain was a mistake.

“After I killed Jackson and crashed through that window — ” I let out a soft chuckle. “I took a taxi to the Rocket Pharmacy in Bethesda, Maryland. I have a… well, it’s where I’ve been living. I had been looking through people’s recordings. There was a list — well, hard to explain. I found you. You were perfect for what I needed. I know that sounds horrible, but — ” I tried to keep my voice even. “Just — try to understand. I only meant to take some of your innocent recordings, and copy them into my recordings, over when I killed the president. I didn’t know it would replace yours with mine. I didn’t know it would… switch us. I never meant for this to happen. Never. So I want to help you make this right. Go to the pharmacy. At least — at least give me a chance to apologize.”

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2031, 12:05 PM


I stopped to catch my breath behind a massive shelf of band-aids, hidden from a girl a few years older than me sitting behind the counter. The sunglasses started to slide down my sweaty nose. I briefly took them off, wiped my face with the scarf I was wearing, and put them back on quickly. I couldn’t risk anyone seeing me. I picked out a pack of brown band-aids, some disposable latex gloves, and two packs of tissues. I brought them to the counter, trying to listen to the radio while still concentrating on the girl to make sure she wasn’t studying me too closely. An 11-year-old on her own with a sleeping bag and backpack wearing sunglasses and a scarf could arouse suspicion, I had learned. 

“Your total is $9.72,” she said slowly and carefully. I put a $10 bill on the counter. 

On the radio, someone was saying, “Jennifer Hudson, who has still not been apprehended, is described as eleven years old, white, five feet tall, and with medium-length light brown hair. She was last seen on October 5, wearing a yellow collared shirt, blue jeans, and a cream-colored sweater.” I frowned and self-consciously tucked the yellow shirt I was wearing into my jeans. The owner of the shop frowned at me. I took the items, not bothering with the change, and quickly made for the door. 

“Wait a second,” I heard the girl say to me. “Get back here!”

“The reward for information leading to Jennifer’s capture is $500,” droned the man on the radio. “Her capture will warrant a reward of five million dollars. If you have information or believe you have sighted this young fugitive, simply call 1-800-706-2948.”

It still hurt being called a fugitive, even though it was kind of true. You’d think that after nearly four weeks of living on the edge and running from the law, I’d have gotten used to it. But the teacher’s pet in me could not adapt. That part of me felt like salt being rubbed on an open and infected wound every time someone mentioned the reward for my capture or how I was a dangerous fugitive. Sometimes I wasn’t sure how I could stand it.

And the worst part was, I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t learn anything. Going inside public places had led to too many close calls. I’d only gone inside this almost deserted pharmacy because I had a cut on my elbow that was probably going to get infected if I didn’t put a band-aid on it. And just my luck that this tiny place (that sort of resembled a hospital) didn’t carry newspapers. Well, it might have, but they were all already bought. That was how it was with all the free newspaper boxes on the streets, too. I couldn’t read the news, and I couldn’t watch TV. Instead, anything I picked up, I picked up by listening to people talk on the street. People wondered where I was. They talked about my “poor parents.” Sometimes how “ruthless” I was. But the most puzzling thing was this:

A few days ago I had passed an elderly couple on the street. One of them had said: “That dastardly Jennifer. So lucky that her plot was foiled. And how are you, young lady? Wait…” 

Then I had had to hide in a bush, so I didn’t hear the rest of their conversation. I’d spent the time since trying to figure out what they had meant. 

My “plot” was obviously the assassination of the President. So how had it been “foiled”? Maybe they were talking about how I had been caught. But somehow that just didn’t feel right to me. My plot had still been executed (definitely no pun intended), even if I had been caught. 

What if…

My plot was to kill the president. But what if he hadn’t been killed? 

No, that was impossible. The knife had hit him right in the heart. But still… 

However, there were more pressing problems at hand. I couldn’t get caught here. This was where the assassin had led me. It couldn’t end here. 

Summoning all my courage, I turned to face the girl, who was slowly walking toward me. “It’s all right,” she said to me unconvincingly. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just tell me…”

I took a step backward, reaching to pull up my scarf. 

She lunged, surprisingly fast, missing my arm but grabbing my hand and pulling it and the scarf down. I gasped. She’d seen my face on the news, like everyone in the country, I was exposed — she knew, she knew, she knew. 

What did I do in that moment?

In my old life, I would have tried to talk it out. I would have tried to explain, to gain approval. I would have tried to make things right. But maybe this life of crime was rubbing off on me. Maybe I was developing new habits, or maybe I was simply becoming a new person, because I ran. 

I wasn’t even thinking. I just dove to the wall, then bounced off and darted behind a shelf, sticking out a hand, sending boxes of Tylenol tumbling to the ground, blocking the girl’s path. I didn’t even feel bad about it. I wove my way through the aisles to the back of the shop, where a shelf of cleaning products stood in the center of the back wall. I looked around. I had assessed the entrances and exits of the pharmacy before I went in. The only way in or out was the door. There were locks on the windows. I could smash them with my backpack. Maybe I could get to the door and flee into the street. But everyone would see me. I had only one choice: hide.

Thankfully, the shelf didn’t make any of those horrible screeching noises when I moved it a few feet away from the wall. I squeezed in behind it, taking off my backpack and putting it on the floor. Then I pulled the shelf back as far as I could and hoped the owner wouldn’t think to look behind the shelf.

A few seconds later, I heard the girl’s footsteps. I peered through the gap between two boxes of Miracle Clean Powder. She examined the shelf. I held my breath. Then she turned around and walked back to the counter. I let out my breath in relief. I slowly, awkwardly, turned around in the small space between the shelf and the wall. Then I noticed something odd. The walls of the pharmacy were tiled, but this section of wall in front of me looked wrong. It was a little dim, but I realized that this part of the wall wasn’t a wall at all — it was a 5 foot square of wallpaper. 

It looked like a sample, the kind you might buy at a store and stick on your wall to see how it looked. I tugged at the bottom-right corner. It peeled. I peeled the whole thing off. There was a white door in the wall behind it. This was a secret door.

I felt a rush of excitement. I couldn’t believe it. Secret doors were the stuff of stories and books, but here was a real one. It was thrilling — moving — to be trusted with a real one. And even more than that — I remembered what the assassin had said. I have a… well, it’s where I’ve been living. This was their hideout. This was where I would meet them and get all my answers. 

The door looked a bit dirty but used. This was it. I picked up my backpack and, holding its handle with one hand, I turned the rusted knob of the door with the other. 

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2031, 12:07 PM


The back room of the pharmacy looked like it might once have been used for storing goods. There were dusty piles of boxes with long-faded labels in one corner. It was small, around the size of my kitchen at 22 Wembly Road: about 15 by 15 feet. There were no windows, but I felt along the wall until I hit a switch and flipped it, turning on a dim bulb hanging from the ceiling. There was a desk pushed to one wall, with a spinning-type professional chair next to it and a computer, mouse, speakers, and headset on it. There was a shelf on another wall with a microwave and a package of instant noodles. Under the shelf was a sink and — what? — a toilet. I edged away from the toilet and noticed a few potted plants on the floor. They looked like someone was watering them daily. There was a dresser next to a bed on the wall opposite the toilet. I dropped my backpack onto the small bed that was very slept in (this assassin sure was messy) and sunk into a battered armchair near the entrance. Then I remembered to close the door behind me.

I tried to relax. Papers, notebooks, and books were piled up in a corner next to the desk. The room felt like a home, but it felt wrong. Something was missing. No, someone was missing. The assassin wasn’t here. And I was getting impatient. I had come here, on his orders. So why couldn’t he be bothered to show up? 

Then I realized what some of the papers were. Newspapers. I grabbed the one on the top. It was dated October 4. The day before I “revealed my plot”.  Too early. I wasn’t going to get any news about the assassination from that. 

I kept searching. I noticed a mint-green three-ring binder with pink polka dots with tape over where a title might be written on the cover. That intrigued me. I opened the cover. It looked like it had been a photo book. But all the photos were torn out, leaving only tape and cheerful messages written in marker. It looked like a family scrapbook. Someone nicknamed “Win” and his mom. Win played soccer and a wide variety of video games. His mom worked somewhere that had a “take your child to work” day and a vending machine. 

This all felt strange and wrong. 

Tucked into the back was a copy of American News from October 11. Suddenly, the strange history of this scrapbook didn’t matter anymore. 

The headline read:


There was that word again — foiled. Heart racing, I stumbled back into the armchair and read on.

To be continued…

A Trip to the Beach

Once upon a time, a girl named Maya and her brother Toby, were on summer break and they were so, so happy. So happy, that they decided to go to the beach with their friends named Zoey and Fin. The first thing they did was make sandcastles. They were 10 feet tall. Then they wanted to go in the water. They were in the water for about 10 minutes then Toby yelled, “Shark!” Everyone ran out of the water but there was one baby. Maya ran back into the water to save the baby. Maya saved the baby but the shark bit Maya. She started to bleed and cry. The lifeguards helped her while she cried. 

“Oh no!” Zoey said. Toby called her mom. Her mom’s phone was off. “Fin, call your mom.” 

“She is on a work call.”

The lifeguard called 911 and the shark lost all its teeth. Maya was happy the baby, whose name was Grace, was okay, but she was still crying. 

“What will we do? We need to help Maya,” said Zoey. 

“I’m okay, just really, really hurt,” Maya said. 

“Okay, but we still are going to help you,” said Fin. Maya was sitting on the sand.

Maya’s mom came running. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” responded Maya. 

“What happened?” 

“I’m okay, but there are marks from where the shark bit me.”

“Okay, but you are bleeding a lot,” said Toby.

“Maybe we should go home and have lemonade and cookies,” said Maya’s mom. “That’s so good.” 

“Bring her to the hospital every day for 10 weeks,” said the doctor.

“Okay,” Maya said. 

At home, Maya had two cups of lemonade and three cookies, then she went to lie down in bed. Then Maya’s BFF, Becky, knocked on her bedroom door.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Sort of.”

 Maya’s mom walked in. “Mom, can I talk to Becky privately?”


“What do you need?”

“I need to talk to you. It hurts, but I am not okay.” 

“Okay, so why didn’t you just tell your mom and brother?” said Becky. 

“But … because. If I told them, I’d be in such great trouble because I’m not supposed to go in the water when the lifeguard blows their whistle.” 

“Well, you’re hurt, so it’s better if you just tell your mom so she’ll help make you feel better,” said Becky. 

“Well, I guess I didn’t think of that,” Maya said while she looked down and played with her ring.  

“Why don’t we go tell your mom now?” 

“Becky. Don’t you think my mom will be mad if we tell her now when we just left the hospital?” 

“Well, let’s tell her, Maya. We have to tell her.”

Maya’s face turned red. 

“Come on!” Becky announced. 

“Okay,” Maya said, right before she sighed. 

They walked out of Maya’s room, holding hands. Becky helped Maya get down the stairs, and then it was time to tell her mom. 

“Mom,” Maya said in a shaky voice. “My leg really hurts.”

“Okay, why did you not tell me?”

“Because I was trying to be strong.”

“You are strong. Okay, let’s go to the hospital.”