#101 – The White Dress – Claudia Gonzalez

We were sitting in an enormous rock about a mile away from the house when we saw a tumult of heartrending white gardenias marching their way up the hill.  They were girls who had done their first communion and were offering flowers to the Virgen de Guadalupe.  In order to have a better view of them, we ran and climbed on Maribel’s ceiling.  In contrast to our high location, these girls still seemed to be above the earth and most important above us.

For a moment Maribel and I agreed not with words but a glistening in our eyes.  A glistening that slowly rolled down my cheeks and added some salt to my lips.  One of the girls’ whose white gown contrasted with the darkness of her skin, stood out to me.  I saw her, I admired her, and I envied her.  She ran her fingers through her silky, black hair.  She was smiling as if knowing something I did not, as if she realized at that early age that she would be happy forever.  I had a hard time running my fingers through my spider-nest like hair.

Maribel who in spite of her mom’s opposition regarding our friendship continued to be my friend, said “Martha, why can’t we march?”  Knowing the answer but being no smarter nor wiser than that eight year old I said, “We can.”  And so our journey began.

We ran together and found the angeles as everyone in the street called them before they had crossed the street and were standing just in front of the bakery.  We worked our way to the inside of the group as if by doing so we could be invisible.  The problem was that we did want the people’s attention but not attention from el padre.  If the priest saw us, then he would probably tell our moms we were there without their permission.  So, we walked for about a block hiding in the very heart of the angeles.  However, because we were hiding we could not feel the joy we had seen in the girl’s faces.  As soon as we had an opportunity we moved our way to the very front of the line where everyone could see that we too were angels.

We celebrated our spotlight and Maribel managed to get flowers for both of us.  While placing a small white flower behind my ear, Maribel with an elegant smile said “We should do it next year.”  I remained silent and gave her a feeble smile.  This was not the way I wanted to do it, I did not want to march with my plastic sandals or my shorts that had a classic hole in the middle of my butt, I did not want to have to hide from the stupid padre and I wanted my own white dress with pink flowers in the top and a very puffy skirt on the bottom so that I could look like a queen.  I wanted flowers all over my hair to hide the lice, no, no, no, I did not want the flowers to cover the lice I just did not want lice anymore and I wanted my own underwear too, not my sister’s which I had to be pulling up every time I was wearing a skirt.  I was having all these luxurious dreams that seem more and more real with every step of my march that I did not even see when el padre grabbed Maribel’s ear and took her out of the group.

I was observing the girls in the sidewalk that looked just like me dressed in rags, unnoticed, unprotected, insecure, and worthless.  All of a sudden I felt as if my ear had been caught on a door.  “Ouch… let go of my ear, please,” I said.

“Chamacas, you know that you are not supposed to be here, you do not even attend misa, so get out!” the priest yelled.  Out?  What an idiot, we were never in, I thought.  “And don’t you think I’m not telling your moms,” then turning to the group, “all of you look at these two demonios who are exactly what you ought to avoid.”

Thank you padrecito for this stupid comment, I mean was it really necessary?  I guess, maybe if you really wanted to humiliate us!  And so with pain in our ears no greater than the one in our pride we walked home.  This time we did not march.

#100 – The Wall – Ashley Dye

A broad field, barely visible from the road, sat just behind the arena.  A quiet breeze tickled the grass, bending the blades to its will.  The bleachers surrounding the arena were quiet and casted early morning shadows on the field.  The few movements that did happen at this time were from the contestants, who busily groomed and warmed up their horses for the long day ahead.  Within the sandy arena beams and walls were set angularly, outlining the course the riders would be required to perform.

My tall black boots stole morning dew from the grass and it left tear streaks on my toes as I walked through the field towards the arena.  The chilled gate to the arena screeched when I pushed it open.  My gloves stuck for a moment to the icy metal, but then were released.  The sand in the arena made a soft “koosh” with every step I took.  I centered myself and counted with my steps, pacing equally from jump to jump to determine the number of strides that separated each one.  Frilly plants and ribbons with all kinds of distracting bright colors adorned the jumps and shifted unpredictably in the wind.  The judges knew that an undisciplined animal or rider would startle from such movement.  The course held many possible challenges.  The triple left no room for error since only one stride separated each jump from the next.  A sharp turn in a deep corner could slow the pace down and waste a few seconds.  Tight corners and overlapping jumps could be dangerous.  All of the competitors were whispering about the brick wall, nearly six feet tall and two feet thick, and no mercy to whatever ran into it.  My back began to ache just thinking about it.

******************

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?  These walls can be pretty unforgiving,” said the tall older woman who ran the stables.  Her eyes creased and revealed her age while she inspected me and my horse, Ellie.  “You’ve never jumped a wall this high before. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”  Her eyes rounded to show her concern and she seemed, for a moment, to be a sweet lady that baked with her young grandchildren, although I knew she never had children.  She had horses.

“I think we’re ready,” I said.  We had jumped fences that high before and my youthful cockiness was at an all time high. “Aren’t we, Ellie?” I said in a baby-voice reserved only for her.  I pressed my cheek against hers, wrapped my arm under her head, and placed my hand on her face.

“These walls don’t topple as easily as fences with rails do. Walls are built sturdy and heavy,” she warned, looking down at her coffee while she stirred it.

“But if Ellie clips her hoof on it, it’ll still fall,” I said.

“Yeah.  It’ll fall because she hit it from the side, but that thing isn’t going anywhere if you go sit on it.”

“What could happen that would make us land on top of the wall?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I’ve seen a lot of things I never thought I’d see around horses.”

“I think we’ll be okay.  We’re a darn good team.  Aren’t we, Ellie?” I said patting Ellie’s neck.

“Well if you feel that way about it, then I’m sure you’ll be fine.  I think you should try it,” the lady said raising her cup of coffee to us and nodding.

I eagerly got on Ellie and jumped over some fences we had been practicing earlier in the day.  We turned and headed for the wall.  Her strides were perfectly spread to have us jump with enough space to clear the wall.  I felt like nothing could ruin this shining moment.  We were only one stride away.  I squeezed tightly with my legs and leaned forward in the saddle with my seat no longer touching Ellie’s back.  I was ready to soar through the air, but Ellie stopped and stuck to the ground, and sent me in a front flip over her head and landed me directly on top of the wall.  I wished someone would put me out of my misery.  My heart was racing and I couldn’t catch my breath.  I wondered if I could move, but I was afraid and lay still.  My helmet felt too tight around my chin.  I still couldn’t breathe.  Shouting faces blurred in my eyes.  Ellie stood looming over me with her nose pressed to my stomach until a stable hand came and led her away.

******************

Tied to an old, rusty horse trailer, in that grassy field, Ellie danced: ready to run, ready to jump.  I placed my hand gently on her face.  She breathed deeply.  The worn tack was polished to look new and expensive the way it once was.  Still, it looked much older than the lively creature that wore it.  As I pulled down the metal stirrups they chimed in the air and left noise that didn’t belong with the beating noises: beating hearts, beating hooves, beating lungs.

I took the bridle in one hand and gently eased the bit into Ellie’s mouth with the other.  She chomped on the foreign piece of metal for a while before letting it settle behind her teeth.  I laced the reins in my fingers and placed my foot in the stirrup slowly.  Carefully I eased my weight onto her back and found our center of balance.  My feet felt safe in the stirrups: much safer than they did on the ground.  Ellie’s contagious energy spread from my toes through my tightened legs and up my well-postured spine.

While we went over some warm up jumps, Ellie took gingerly strides, not as long as usual.  I thought there could be a rock in her hoof.  We stopped and I jumped off which sent pains, the kind of sharp pains you get from jumping off a swing with cold feet, running up my ankles.  The pain subsided as I focused on Ellie.  “What’s wrong, girl?  Can you show me?”  I firmly ran my hand down the back of the leg she was favoring.  She shifted her weight for me and I lifted her leg revealing a sharp pebble wedged into her hoof.

******************

I hobbled slowly past the filled stalls in the newly painted barn towards Ellie.  When I got to Ellie I stopped and stared at her and she playfully put her head out reaching for me the way she always did when I paid her a visit before bed.  I shied away from her.  I didn’t want to pet her, to pet that thing that had done this to me.  I shied the way she had shied from the wall.  Ellie kept reaching her head towards me, but I stood just barely out of her reach.  I leaned forward slightly and her nose hit the hard brace that the doctors had wrapped around my torso.  When she felt that cold, stiffness her head suddenly retreated back into her stall.  I didn’t feel the way I once had.  “See what you’ve done to me girl?  Why would you do this?”  My tears fell so rapidly; I gave up trying to wipe them away.  It hurt to lift my hands anyway.  “Weren’t we friends, Ellie?  Didn’t you love me?”  I shouted.  I opened the door to her stall and went in with her.  She wasn’t used to hearing such loud sounds come from me.  I wasn’t used to it either.  I slapped her at hard as I could in my condition and I kept slapping her and yelling at her.  I didn’t care that hitting her was causing me more pain than her.  My back and neck seared with stabbing pain, but I kept beating her.  Tears blurred my vision so I couldn’t even see where I was hitting her, but I didn’t care.  I just wanted her to hurt the way I hurt.

A pair of arms pulled me away from her.  “It’s ok.  It’s ok.”  The arms consoled me and turned into a hug.  I cried into those arms for a while before looking up to see whom they belonged to.  They were that stable hand’s arms: the one who had led Ellie away when I got hurt.  “There was a rock.  Ellie had a rock in her hoof.  That’s why she didn’t jump.  She was hurt.”  I looked up at him for only a second and then stared at the woodchips that covered the stall floor to hide my shame.  I began to cry different tears and shake with different sobs.  I reached out to Ellie who seemed unsure of my raised arms, but I wrapped them around her neck and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, Ellie.  I should’ve known.  Forgive me.”  I heard the stable hand exit her stall and walk down the hallway.  My body collapsed from weeping.  I had no more energy to give that day.  Ellie carefully lay down next to me and kept me warm.

******************

The rock was stubborn in coming out, but I soon got it loose.  Ellie placed her foot back on the ground eagerly the way a sailor who hasn’t seen land in years kisses the earth.

“Better girl?  Do you feel better?”  I asked, rubbing her leg.  I got back on and we finished our warm up.  I felt her muscles under me and the pressure I felt from her body painted a picture in my mind of what we looked like.  The arena was now bustling and the once silent bleachers now creaked and cracked from the heavy feet of onlookers.  The announcer had been updating the crowd on each competitor’s score for the past hour.  Five pairs had completed the course, but not a single perfect score was handed out yet.  The dance to this course was not loopy or kind, and the trick was to make it elegant.  That’s what really impresses the judges.

Our insides weren’t cold anymore, but the air was still chilly and it nipped at my fingertips.  It was our time.  Our hearts were beating so loudly, I swear the crowd could hear.  Through that same screechy gate, we trotted as I bridled our energy.  We circled the course in preparation and with a kiss to the air we quickened to a canter.

The rush cleared our mind.  Four strides to the first jump.  One, two, three, four.  Lift.  We held our breath until we land back on the sand.  Clean.  Her ears framed our next target: a jump about four feet wide, meant to test distance and not height.  It was covered in pink peonies and purple and red striped ribbon.  I knew this part would be a challenge and she knew it too.  Lift, breathe, hold, clean.  Tightening my legs, we hurried to keep our time competitive.  We turned and I shifted my balance slightly to guide her.  Quickly a deep corner came and a nudge behind the girth told her she needed to move quickly.  Only three strides to the next jump and in order to make it, we needed to increase our stride by about a foot.  I couldn’t hear anything except the beating things: beating hooves, beating hearts, beating lungs.  The crowd seemed to be silent, but I could hear Ellie’s hooves throwing sand at my boots.  My hands felt a pulse through the reins from Ellie’s head that moved up and down slightly with each stride.  No one moved except us and even the clock stopped ticking.

We approached the brick wall.  My back began to throb and my neck muscles tightened.  My heart skipped.  She heard it.  Ellie’s breath evacuated before mine and I could no longer hear the sand thrown to my boots.  The crowd was roaring.  Ellie jerked her head and each beat became a stomp and we ran jagged.  I searched desperately for the beating noises that had filled my ears, but all I found was clatter.   I breathed deeply and begged her forgiveness.  We had three strides to go.  One, “I’m sorry, Ellie.  I’m sorry… for everything.”  Two, Ellie took a deep breath, I almost smiled.  Three, lift.  We seemed to be in the air for minutes and much higher than we needed to be to clear the jump.  Koosh.

After we got over the wall, nothing else seemed difficult.  We finished our dance for the judge and I could feel the pressure of his eyes on us.  We circled three times to cool down, each time slower, each circle bringing back more and more noise that clattered in our ears and jarred us.  Cheers and clapping bashed into our brains and separated us.  Clean.

~ Ashley Dye

#99 – The Miracle of Mindfulness – Aubrey Reynolds

This a Tolstoy’s story of the Emperor’s three questions, retold in Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Miracle of Mindfulness.”  Hanh says, “Tolstoy’s story is like a story out of  scripture: it doesn’t fall short of sacred text.  We talk about service…helping to bring peace to the world — but often we forget that it is the very people around us that we must live for first of all.”

One day it occurred to a certain emperor that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he would never stray in any matter.

What is the best time to do each thing?  Who are the most important people to work with?  What is the most important thing to do at all times?

The emperor issued a decree throughout his kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward.  Many who read the decree made their way to the palace at once, each person with a different answer.

In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks and then follow the schedule to the letter.  Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time.

Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to everything in order to know what to do at what time.

Someone else insisted that, by himself, the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task and what he really needed was to set up a Council of the Wise and then to act according to their advice.

Someone else said that certain matters required immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen he should consult magicians and soothsayers.

The responses to the second question also lacked accord.

One person said that the emperor needed to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians.  Still others put their faith in warriors.

The third question drew a similar variety of answers.  Some said science was the most important pursuit.  Others insisted on religion.  Yet others claimed the most important thing was military skill.

The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and no reward was given.

After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain and was said to be an enlightened man.  The emperor wished to find the hermit to ask him the three questions, though he knew the hermit never left the mountains and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power.  So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.

Reaching the holy man’s dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut.  When the hermit saw the stranger, he nodded his head in greeting and continued to dig.  The labor was obviously hard on him.  He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he heaved heavily.

The emperor approached him and said, “I have come here to ask your help with three questions: When is the best time to do each thing?  Who are the most important people to work with?  What is the most important thing to do at all times?”

The hermit listened attentively but only patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging.  The emperor said, “You must be tired.  Here, let me give you a hand with that.”  The hermit thanked him, handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest.

After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions.  The hermit still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to the spade and said, “Why don’t you rest now?  I can take over again.”  But the emperor continued to dig.  One hour passed, then two.  Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain.  The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, “I came here to ask if you could answer my three questions.  But if you can’t give me any answer, please let me know so that I can get on may way home.”

The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, “Do you hear someone running over there?”  The emperor turned his head.  They both saw a man with a long white beard emerge from the woods.  He ran wildly, pressing his hands against a bloody wound in his stomach.  The man ran toward the emperor before falling unconscious to the ground, where he lay groaning.  Opening the man’s clothing, the emperor and hermit saw that the man had received a deep gash.  The emperor cleaned the wound thoroughly and then used his own shirt to bandage it, but the blood completely soaked it within minutes.  He rinsed the shirt out and bandaged the wound a second time and continued to do so until the flow of blood had stopped.

At last the wounded man regained consciousness and asked for a drink of water.  The emperor ran down to the stream and brought back a jug of fresh water.  Meanwhile, the sun had disappeared and the night air had begun to turn cold.  The hermit gave the emperor a hand in carrying the man into the hut where they laid him down on the hermit’s bed.  The man closed his eyes and lay quietly.  The emperor was worn out from the long day of climbing the mountain and digging the garden.  Leaning against the doorway, he fell asleep.  When he rose, the sun had already risen over the mountain.  For a moment he forgot where he was and what he had come here for.  He looked over to the bed and saw the wounded man also looking around him in confusion.  When he saw the emperor, he stared at him intently and then said in a faint whisper, “Please forgive me.”

“But what have you done that I should forgive you?” the emperor asked.

“You do not know me, your majesty, but I know you.  I was your sworn enemy, and I had vowed to take vengeance on you, for during the last war you killed my brother and seized my property.  When I learned that you were coming alone to the mountain to meet the hermit, I resolved to surprise you on your way back to kill you.  But after waiting a long time there was still no sign of you, and so I left my ambush in order to seek you out. But instead of finding you, I came across your attendants, who recognized me, giving me this wound.  Luckily, I escaped and ran here.  If I hadn’t met you, I would surely be dead by now.  I had intended to kill you, but instead you saved my life!  I am ashamed and grateful beyond words.  If I live, I vow to be your servant for the rest of my life, and I will bid my children and grandchildren to do the same.  Please grant me your forgiveness.”

The emperor was overjoyed to see that he was so easily reconciled with a former enemy.  He not only forgave the man but promised to return all the man’s property and to send his own physician and servants to wait on the man until he was completely healed.  After ordering his attendants to take the man home, the emperor returned to see the hermit.  Before returning to the palace the emperor wanted to repeat his three questions one last time.  He found the hermit sowing seeds in the earth they had dug the day before.

The hermit stood up and looked at the emperor.  “But your questions have already been answered.”

“How’s that?” the emperor asked, puzzled.

“Yesterday, if you had not taken pity on my age and given me a hand with digging these beds, you would have been attacked by that man on your way home.  Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me.  Therefore the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself, and the most important pursuit was to help me.  Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died and you would have lost the chance to be reconciled with him.  Likewise, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound.  Remember that there is only one important time and it is Now.  The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion.  The most important person is always the person with whom you are, who is right before you, for who knows if you will have dealings with any other person in the future.  The most important pursuit is making that person, the one standing at your side, happy, for that alone is the pursuit of life.”

~ Aubrey Reynolds

#98 – Alfredo the Giant Bag of Popcorn – Beth Lloyd

Towards the beginning of my Freshman year at BYU, I went to some sort of dance (I can’t remember exactly what it was because there are always activities going on in the WILK, especially for Freshman) with a new friend I had just made and two more of her friends as well.  An important thing to note for this story is that my new friend Carla and I have a mutual LOVE of and passion for popcorn, so keep that in mind :).

Anyways, so the four of us are at this kind of lame dance but we’re trying to get to know each other because we’re brand new Freshmen and we don’t have a lot of friends…so we stay and try to make conversation as best we can but it isn’t really going well.

The dance was just about over when we went into one of the rooms where they had popcorn in bowls and saw that someone was carrying out a mostly empty but still incredibly large bag of popcorn and we stopped dead in our tracks and almost left our eyes behind with that plastic-wrapped, butter-flavored monstrosity.  Now, remember, Carla and I really did not know each other very well yet, but we still exchanged one of those we’ve-known-each-other-forever-and-so-we-both-know-what-the-other-is-thinking looks and practically sprinted towards the other giant bags of popcorn.  We stood around them for a few minutes whispering about whether we were allowed to just take one or not and then finally Carla just gestured to some of the people working there and pointed towards the bags.  The few seconds it took the workers to look at each other inquisitively were some of the longest of my life.  Seriously.  Mercifully, one of them nodded and the other agreed and so Carla scooped up the biggest one.  Of course.

Now, four Freshmen walking around campus is nothing to gawk at, but four Freshman carrying a GIANT bag of popcorn that I decided to name Alfredo is quite the site.  SO, we decided to use this new cholesterol-filled friend to make more human friends by offering some to anyone we passed.  Almost two years later, we still remember the guy who took off his shirt and filled it with Alfredo’s delicious insides as well as the guy who filled his cardigan sweater and popcorns with said innards.  Needless to say, Carla is now my best friend, all thanks to Alfredo and our recognizing of a mutual love of popcorn, fun, and friendship.

~ Beth Lloyd, Ann Arbor, Michigan

#97 – The Game’s A Foot – Hilary Baird

Finally, we find ourselves under the bright stadium lights battling in the State Play-offs.  I can feel my labored breathing tearing at my chest and my muscles flame with exhaustion.  Our energy keeps failing and reviving, carrying on this ugly pattern throughout the whole second half.  The whistle’s blare signals the end of regulation play.

We take a five minute break, then to the summoning of the whistle, we head back on the field for our first ten minutes of overtime.  The action is a blur of our white jerseys battling against their royal blues.  Time seems to inch along as the battle is at a stalemate.  Five minutes…four minutes…two minutes.

Finally, the chirping sound of the whistle concludes these exhaustive ten minutes.  The mixture of salt and metal in my mouth triggers my gag reflex, so I make a beeline for clean water.  Maddie hunches along beside me cupping her face as we hustle to the side line.  Rusty rivers of crimson sap leak through her fingers and trickle down her arms.  She uses her slender fingers as a dam while Coach Paul hobbles on his hurt leg in search for a tissue.  I finally find a full water bottle and gulp down a mouthful, then I squirt some over Maddie’s hands to help clean them off.

Too soon, the whistle summons us to the field for another ten minutes.  I slowly bring my languid muscles into motion as the minutes tick by.  Our defense is in a tizzy trying to get the ball up field.  Feet from the goal line, Kalyn, our Sweeper, goes to smash the ball up field toward Maddie, but it crashes into the back of our defensive wing, Laura.  The ball cackles as it whizzes past Lizzy’s out stretched fingers caressing the back of our net.

In that moment, our entire team freezes in shock.  I can glimpse a blur of blue bouncing up and down off to my side.

We are all running the scene over again in our minds trying to figure out how on earth that just happened.
The last few minutes tick by as quickly as the gongs of a grandfather clock, and I try to squeeze out every last ounce of juice that I have left.  Scrambling and clawing fiercely, we try to tie up the game.

Then the earsplitting peal grants the victory to our adversaries.  I stand motionless as the weight of the night bears on my shoulders.  My throat plummets to my stomach causing a pressure to build up as if my insides are inflating a balloon.  I glance around me knowing just how intensely this night has impacted each and every one of my teammates.  Ignoring my lethargy, I jog over to the goal.  As I approach Lizzy, the water leaking from her eyes becomes visible and without a word, we embrace knowing that none of what happened tonight was any one’s fault.

I feel my own eyes begin to burn and well up as the hollow ache in my chest expands.  We walk crumple-shouldered over to Kalyn and Laura, and the four of us lean our heads together in silence.  Slowly, the rest of our team plods toward us, and for a moment we all have a hand to squeeze.  With a big sigh, we all march off the field with our arms linked together ready to congratulate our competitors.

~ Hilary Baird, Provo, Utah

#96 – Beauty Left Behind – Melissa Weigeshoff

You know how at night the sand seems to shine like  the stars in the sky?  When I was a little girl my grandmother told me how it happened.  Once long ago all this land was filled with water, water so blue that it thought it was the sky, and people lived on the areas called islands and would claim to live on the sky.  But the sky was not pleased with this, the sky wanted the people to find the water beautiful without it copying the sky.  So in order to show its own beauty decorated itself with the stars.  At night the people would walk out to the waters edge and instead of exclaiming on the beauty of the water would say how beautiful the stars were.  The water so sad at losing the admiration of the people begged the sky to make it as beautiful.  “You are beautiful, but in your own way, quit mirroring me and let them find you beautiful for all you give to them,” exclaimed the sky, but the water was not happy.  The water tried to mirror the sky but couldn’t hold the light in the reflection so choose to slowly leave the people in order to join the sky and find peace being beautiful with the sky.  Leaving the place a desert with islands of green, but when the water left, the sky gave the sands stars as if to promise  the people of the waters return, now during the raining season the water covers the sky as if to teach the people to  cherish all the water gives to it over the beauty of the skies, and with it blocks the light that makes the sands shine with its promise and never seeing the true beauty it left behind.

~ Melissa Weigeshoff, Fredericksburg, Virginia

#95 – Canyons and Angels – Lola Danielson

When I was a young child, my family journeyed to the Grand Canyon with our Spanish foreign exchange student, Elena, to see this wonder of the world.  My younger siblings, along with my mother and Elena, stayed to the higher paths that were wider, but still very dangerous.  My father and older siblings journeyed down the precipice to the raging Colorado River below.  After what felt like hours of waiting for my father’s group to come back to the car, Elena stayed with the other children while my mother and I went down the path to see if we could find them.

My anxious legs, tired of the long wait, ran down the path with my mother’s stern voice of warning hard on my heels.  There was a resting spot with a shady overhang just ahead of me, so I ran to it and decided to wait for my mother there.  My mother called to me to stay away from the ledge and, like most small children, I proceeded to get right up to the edge and peer over to see if I could spot my father on the path below.  As I leaned over, the rocks under my feet gave way and I was unexpectedly airborne.  I remember hearing my mother’s anguished cry as I was suddenly jerked to a halt by a hand on the collar of my shirt.  Slightly upset at the rough treatment, I looked at the man pulling me back onto the ledge.  My vague memory of him is blue jeans and a white shirt – a man with a kind face.  My mother rushed to us and took me in her arms, scolding me while thanking the man.  When I turned to thank him myself, as prompted by my mother, the man was gone.  He was nowhere to be seen on the path above or below.  My mother was also surprised at his absence, but soon forgot him as my father and siblings came up the path at that moment.

I, of course, was punished for not obeying – how?  I can’t remember.  However, I have since realized that man must have been an angel.  Although I do not remember his face, I am certain that he has been present throughout my life, in my many close calls, to protect me from harm.  I may not always see him, but I know he is there.

~ Lola Danielson, Pleasant Grove

#94 – The Ducklings – Jessica Engle

A couple of penguins were trying to adopt
Domestically, but they had no luck,
So they opted for international adoption,
And adopted seven fuzzy baby ducks.

The ducklings were happy,
Because their parents were sweet,
But ducklings weren’t made to live
In a place with such little heat.

So the family searched and found a polar bear,
Who had been exiled from the North for only eating carrots.
They adopted it too, so now there were,
Eight warm fuzzy ducklings, with great penguin parents.

~Jessica Engle, Pearland, Texas

#93 – Am I Dreaming? – Mackenzie Witter

Flower scented on the breeze flow gently toward me while the grass ruffles like a dog shaking the water off its fur.  The sun beating down on this hot summer day lessened only by a finger wisp wind.  I pick a tender daisy, touching each delicate petal.  I pluck each petal, he loves me, he loves me not, the simplistic childhood game of simple hope that the boy feels the same.  Eight petals fall slowly, delicately to the ground.  He loves me not.  The hope a child feels diminishes as the last petal falls.  He loves me not, the sound echoes through my thoughts.  Oh, how I wish he did.  He loves me not.   I hear a crunch, grass stamped down by a tennis shoe.  Crunch; loudly coming from behind, I stand quickly, startled by how fast they had approached.  I turn to meet him standing behind me.  Short blond hair, but long enough for a tiny ponytail and crystal blue eyes that resonate understanding. S harp cheek bones, gentle smile he continues to stare.  He stands only slightly taller than me, an average height for a 15-year-old.  Lean but muscular, I stare hypnotized by his eyes.  His hands placed behind his back.  He speaks.  His deep rich voice fills my ears “I love you.”  He pulls from behind his back a bouquet of daisies.   My heart swells with joy at his words and… Ring, the screeching school bell startles me awake.  I stand up dazed as I find myself back in math class.  I can’t believe I was dreaming.

~ Mackenzie Witter, Saline, Michigan

#92 – This One Is Different – David Berenson

My grandmother was one of the most wonderful, strong, brave, independent and intelligent women I have ever met.  And SO naive!

Right after the war, she was divorced with three girls to feed…so she took a job as a waitress.  Now, even though it didn’t pay as well as working in the weapons plant, she’d waitressed before and figured she could handle herself serving drinks again.

The bar was in Newport, Kentucky…the red light district…but it was work and although she could live on peanut butter and crackers, her girls couldn’t.

And although she’d had three children, she was still pretty and looked much younger than she was…and the tips proved it.

Unfortunately, so did the “compliments” offered by her more inebriated customers.  She learned to take in stride the come-ons, the pick up lines and the occasional slaps on the rear.  They were just men being men and since she always took care not to encourage them or walk home alone, she let it slide.

Then one night, it stopped.  “Hey, honey!” became “Excuse me, miss.”  The innuendo became “please” and “thank you.”  The cat calling stopped.  The whistling stopped.  The rear slapping stopped.

It was so odd that she commented about it to one of the other girls.  “Charlie said something,” was her reply.

“What?”

“After you left the other night Charlie told the whole bar that you were different and you weren’t to be messed with.”

Charlie, the owner of the bar, knew that she was a single mother…she figured that was what prompted the sudden defense of her honor.  But he was a little man who was no threat to anyone, except maybe to how much whiskey you got…but there were bars everywhere in that part of town and so it still didn’t make sense to her why anyone would pay attention to little old Charlie.  Anyway, she didn’t work there much longer after that and soon she forgot all about Charlie’s proclamation.

Until a few years later…when Charlie’s picture was on the cover of the local paper.  He’d been gunned down in front of that same little bar in a police raid.  You see, Charlie was a genuine, bona fide, gangster.  My grandmother had worked for the mob…and she’d never even known it.

~ David Berenson, Florence, Kentucky

#91 – Sasquatch and the Bear – Anne Flinders

As told by Captain Tim Brueckner to S.E. Schlosser
Retold by Anne Flinders

“Take a look over at this gravel bar on our left.  It’s called Bony Point, and we saw something here the other day that I thought was kind of interesting so I thought I’d mention it.

“You see where the gravel bar meets the tree line up there and how it forms those shadows?  Well, standing back there in those shadows was a big old Sasquatch.  And, this isn’t unusual, because we have a lot of Sasquatches down here.  But, we had some people on board who had never seen one, so we idled down to watch.

“Well, as we watched, after a little while, this old Sasquatch wanders across the gravel bar, wades out about hip deep in the water, grabs about a six foot sturgeon by the tail.  He drags it up on the gravel bar, thumps it in the head with a big old rock and kills it.

“Now, I don’t know why they do that.  I’ve seen them do that before.  Whether they actually eat the fish, or if it’s just for sport, I don’t know, because I’ve never really had a chance to follow up.

“But–this is where it gets interesting–because while we’re watching this on the south, down out of the alders on the north side, comes a big old black bear, and I mean about as big a bear as we’ve seen yet this year.

“Well, this old bear looks across the river, sees what’s going on, jumps in the river himself, swims right across the bow of our boat, gets out on the south side there, shakes like a big old dog, and jumps right on the back of that Sasquatch, and starts beating on him. I guess he wanted his fish.

“Anyway, as you can imagine, that old Sasquatch beat a hasty retreat up into the hills and we thought that was the end of it –people quit taking pictures.

“Well, moments later that old Sasquatch comes back down out of the hills, with a big old tree he’s pulled out by the roots and starts beating on the bear.

“Well, Holy Cow, that put them into it.  It was a terrible thing.  They went at it tooth and nail. There was blood and fur flying. You could hear their teeth popping as they snarled, and growled, and lit into each other, and I mean I was afraid.  I was scared they were going to kill each other – and I think they would have – if I hadn’t jumped in there and broke it up!

“Yup, that was something…”

~Anne Flinders, Orem, Utah

#90 – The Magic Socks – Mario Ayala

There was once a young boy who believed there was magic at work everywhere around him.  Before he would go to sleep he made sure to brush his teeth, comb his hair and put on his magic socks.  Once he was tucked in bed his cheek would receive a peck and the light would turn off.  In the darkness of his bedroom the only light came from the galaxies glowing from his ceiling.

He looked up and noticed one of the planets getting bigger and bigger.  He kept watching the planet and saw what appeared little flashes of red, yellow, and green lights coming from different parts of that planet.  The planet continued to grow and grow and grow.  Now he could also hear sounds coming from the ever-growing planet.  He heard yelling that became louder as the planet kept growing in size.  Once was engulfed by the planet he heard “clink,” “clank,” “Clunk!”  He could not see where it was coming from but around him were the tallest and funniest looking trees that he ever did see.  The grass was blue like the ocean and the rocks were orange like a carrot.  The young boy was astonished by the colors around him, he even saw what he though was water; it was white just like milk but it was not flowing in a stream on the ground rather it floated ten feet above the ground.

He was in complete wonder when all of a sudden he heard a tremendously loud “blang!”  He dropped to the ground and hid behind a large orange rock.  From the dense forest he could see in the distance an army coming closer and closer towards him.  The army was now 5 feet from him but they did not see him.  The young boy got a good look at this army and was astonished to see that they were all giants, their armor was bright red and so were their helmets.  They each carried some sort of sword attached to their arms, on their backs lay a giant sword with shark like teeth all along its edges.  Some of them carried a sphere about the size of a bowling ball that glowed a deep red color.  Some of them rode on unicorns with wings and six legs.  Even the unicorns wore armor.  The young boy couldn’t believe that the army could not see him even though the army was marching right by his rock.  The young boy noticed his magic socks were glowing blue but the army still did not see him.  Once more than half of the army marched by him they all suddenly stopped.

They began to look around as if they could sense something around them.  The young boy was terrified; his socks glowed even more at this point.  Then out of nowhere these warriors jumped out of the trees and landed on some of the giants.  They were all wearing magic socks and they all glowed just like the young boys’ socks.  Their swords were a lot smaller than the giants’.  The soldiers attacked the giant army with their swords and slingshots.  They shot light blue glowing spheres that blew up on contact.  The young boy looked closer at these soldiers and realized they looked like kids, just like him.  He noticed that they all looked at him as they fought the giants.  Their socks were glowing less and less as some of the young soldiers fell to the giant sword from the brobdingnagians.  One of them jumped over a giant and slid between the legs of another one to get the young boy.  The young boy asked earnestly, “you can see me?”  The soldier responded, “you must return with the Pachag and the Fronk or else all will be lost,” he continued, “you must rub your magical slunks together and then touch them in order to return to your world, now go!”

The young boy did not understand what a “slunk” was.  He was confused, just then all the young warriors began pointing to their dim-lit socks and chanting ,”Slunk !  Slunk!  Slunk!”  The young boy realized what they meant and he began to rub his socks together, the socks glowed so bright that the young boy could hardly see.  He touched his socks and just like that he was on his own bed, in his bedroom, but the lights were turned on.  He looked all around frantically for the young warriors or the giants but did not see anyone else in his room.  He looked over at his opened door, smiled and his lights turned off.  As he fell asleep, he repeated the words, “pachag…fronk.”

~ Mario Ayala, Southern California

#89 – I Used to Believe in Mentorships – Rebecca Wadsworth

I used to believe in mentorships.  That developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.  I had such a relationship with my Heavenly Father.  I relied upon this bond to teach me, protect me, and guide me at all times.

As a missionary, I was forced into being the mentor.  Before João, I had seen how the Lord prepares those who are ready to receive Him, readying those who are waiting. I had already felt how the Lord had often seeded, watered, and cared for the field before my arrival.  I was just the harvester.

But João was different.  He was waiting, but he wasn’t ready.  The steady smoking had bound him to a wheelchair years previous, the creaking wheels a constant static to our visits.  The acrid stench of smoke persistently hovered in the air and nostrils, leaving a stale tang in my mouth.  I watched as the light refracted from his tear-moistened eyes as he explained how he could never abandon cigarettes.

“I wish I could, but I’ve tried to quit before,” he stroked the yellow tar stains in his otherwise gray-streaked white beard, “it never made any difference.”

My tongue faltered.  How does someone respond to something like that?

Drawn into his eyes, I pleaded with the Lord to touch his understanding.  Please, change him.  He wants to change.  I needed Him to act on my behalf—to teach where I was afraid to.

But God is in His heavens, and I was the one in front of João.

“But this time, God sent us to help you.”

God couldn’t walk the two miles to his house.  But I could.  He wouldn’t plan steps specifically tailored to help João succeed or daily require an accounting.  But I would. H e couldn’t hold João’s hand as he lay in a hospital bed suffering the effects of withdrawal at age 65.  But I did.  And I saw as the Lord slowly reached into his heart, softening it into acceptance of my actions.

Father taught me in my youth so that one day I could work with Him in bringing balm for His children’s suffering.  Although I couldn’t work the miracle, I could be a means whereby it was performed.

Partners are people who agree to share responsibility for achieving some specific goal.  Instead of working through me, the Lord worked with me to carry forth His plan.

I used to believe in mentorships; now I believe in partnerships.

~ Rebecca Wadsworth, Orem, Utah

#88 – Lorenzo: A Dream of a Friend – Sara Bitterman

She stood over the amulet, the green glow it was emanating cast shadows over her face.  She reached down slowly, hesitant to touch it.  Her mission was to steal it but she was frightened of the magic it possessed.  Finally her fingers touched it and the room flooded with light.  At that moment she heard a commotion outside the room.

Several guards rushed into the room.  Seeing her they lunged at her and she gasped at the realization that they weren’t human.  They had the same shape of a man, but their skin was gray and wrinkled.  Their hair was scraggily and a bright red, and their eyes were a glowing white.  They had long fingernails, and most of their teeth were black with decay.  Their bodies were slumped, almost as if their bodies were unable to hold themselves up.

She dodged their attack and ran towards the tapestry that was hanging on the wall escaping into a secret passageway that was behind it.  It was completely dark except for the faint glow of the amulet.  She was running as fast as she could, her sweat beginning to drip down her small body.  She could almost feel the breathing of the monsters behind her, their nearness making her skin crawl.  She turned down another passage and continued to run as fast as she could.

Soon she came to a door, which she entered in an attempt to escape her pursuers.  A family of nobles who were light sleepers occupied the room.  At the sight of her caped figure they screamed in fright; the creatures that followed only perpetuated the frightened squeals.  She made it to the door only to be pushed aside by one of the creatures.   She drew her sword and stabbed her opponent who doubled over howling in pain.  Then they all began to chant something she didn’t understand as they began to surround her, forcing her against the wall.  She clutched the amulet tighter, her heartbeat racing as she tried to figure out how she was going to escape them.

Suddenly the amulet began to glow intensely and, as she was finally against the wall, she felt herself move through it.  Once in the corridor the glowing stopped and she began to run again.

It wasn’t long before she could hear them behind her again.  She ran for what seemed like forever, running through a maze of corridors.  She ran until she couldn’t run anymore and ran into the nearest room.  She locked the door then leaned against it, her breathing heavy.  She could hear them outside the door chanting, their nails scratching against the wood.  She listened trying to understand what they were saying.

“Lorenzo…Lorenzo…”

Her heart skipped a beat, terror sending shivers down her spine.  She felt the door jolt and she let out a gasp.

 

Her eyes opened, her breathing heavy. She was lying in her bed, her red hair fanned over the pillows.  She was wearing her pajamas; she wasn’t in a dark castle in some imaginary land stealing an amulet.  She was home.  It had just been a dream.  She began to relax into sleep again, resting her head on her pillow, when she heard scratching at her door.

Her heart leapt, her body freezing in fright, waiting to hear the faint moan of the name Lorenzo.  She slowly lifted her comforter off her body, her feet touching the cold wood floor as she got out of bed.  She tiptoed to her door, the scratching continuing.  She grabbed the handle and took a deep breath as she turned the knob.  She peered out into the hallway and let out a sigh of relief.

Outside was her flame-point Siamese cat Little Dickens, who was anything but little.  He forced himself into her room, pushing the door open with his lumpy body.  He jumped on her bed and began to sleep.  She stared at him and shook her head, as she closed her door and climbed back into bed.  A few minutes later she was asleep again.

~ Sara Bitterman, Homer, Alaska

#87 – Gill – Raquel Williams

This is the story of a boy named Gill.  Day in and day out he found himself questioning the usefulness of his existence.  He felt the flame of greatness burning inside of him, yet all he could see in his life was evidence of a desire to live in pure mediocrity.  He felt confused and despondent.

Everyday on his way home from work he would ponder the areas in his life where he might be able to construct greatness.  He walked the same path each day, yet each day he felt the joy of a brand new experience.  This walk was one of the few pleasures in his life, especially on the days when Mrs. McReery would greet him from her expansive wrap-around porch.

Mrs. McReery was a seventy year old widow, with a furrowed brow and a kind smile.  On an afternoon in late May, he felt prompted to communicate more with Mrs. McReery than he ever had before, instead of extending his usual friendly, “Hello.  How are you ma’am?  Have a nice evening” routine.  After being treated to her artfully crafted tea and tea cake, he found himself discussing the problems he experienced with not being able to understand his purpose in life late into the evening.  After expressing that he felt like he was called to be great at something, yet not being able to identify a single splinter of greatness in his life; Mrs. McReery observed for a long moment at the animals frolicking in front of her house.

She quietly asked Gill if he saw the two squirrels chasing each other around the base of the large oak tree on the other side of the street.  Gill laughed gently thinking Mrs. McReery had forgotten the subject they were previously discussing, as the elderly often do.  Mrs. McReery continued, “Do you not take notice the slightest change in the foliage from day to day as you walk home from work?  Do you not feel the shift in the seasons?  Do you not experience each day a different way despite it’s mundane regularity?”

Gill sat still, understanding that he did indeed do these things she had described.  Mrs. McReery then concluded; “You choose to experience life’s simplicity with bold richness.  You actively participate in a world where so many choose to reside with passivity.  Yet this skill that positively influences every moment in your life, you have chosen to forget.  Just because your greatness comes in a form that does not capture the public eye, or provide monetary rewards does not mean that this fortitude is worthless.”

“I’ve never thought of it like that,”  Gill replied.

“You’ll find that when you believe you are great, your greatness emerges.  It’s not magic.  Your belief simply allows your eyes to see the world more completely.”  And with these words, and a few more, Mrs. Mcreery sent Gill on his way home.

Gill smiled on his way home in anticipation of entering his bare apartment wherein he would feed his beta fish before not being able to fall asleep due to his excitement for the upcoming day.

~ Raquel Williams, Cedar Falls

#86 – The Stranger – Jenny Huffman

“I’m not in love with you anymore.”  A simple sentence uttered in a local coffee shop.  It was still so fresh in her mind even though it had been two years since he had said it.

“I’m not in love with you anymore.”  It was so loud.  Seeing him again just made it louder.  She hadn’t seen him since the last court appearance a year ago.  She was standing next to the wedding cake watching him from across the room.  He moved to his right and she slid back behind the fake Ficus to avoid being seen.  What was he doing here?

Now would be a good time for an invisibility cloak.  Why had that randomness popped into her mind?  At least she hadn’t said it out loud…she thought.  A quirk he hated.  She couldn’t suppress a laugh.

She’d always had a distinct laugh.  Of course he’d hear it.  Well, it was inevitable.  It was a small wedding and a small room…they were bound to end up face to face.  “I’m not in love with you anymore.” hung in the air with its own invisibility cloak.  By the time he reached her, the words were pounding in her ears.  Ugh, she shouldn’t care enough to hate him.

“Hello, Amanda.”

“Bobby.”

Silence ensued.  He’d had plenty to say to her in court; it was just like him to drag out the torture.  Finally, she couldn’t take it.  “How are you?”

“Good.  And you?”

“Fabulous!”  A too wide smile escaped.  She struggled to stay in control.  Show him you’re fine without him.  You’re no longer the weeping, broken little wife he discarded.  More silence.

“So…what are you doing here?”  Well, that was unexpected.  Her chin went up at the annoyance in his voice.

“I’m a friend of Liz’s.”  Silence.  “And how do you know the happy couple?”

“Sally is Andy’s cousin.”  Slap!  He couldn’t have done it better had he used his hand.  Her hands begin to shake.  She was with him.  “She’s right over there if you’d like to come and say hello.”  His smile was cruel.  He knew she had no interest in speaking to the woman, if you could call your ex-husband’s 21-year old girlfriend a woman.  More like…Keep calm!  Don’t cry!

“No…no…”  Please don’t cry!  And please don’t stoop to his level!  “Besides, don’t you need to get back so she doesn’t get carded.”  Gah!  Too late.  The victory showed in his eyes.

“Darling, there you are!”

They both turned.  The approaching man seemed to be talking to her.  She turned to look over her shoulder but his arm circled her waist.  His other hand lifted her chin.  “What?”  Her words were lost as he bent his head and kissed her.  Her surprise meant she instinctively kissed him back.  Oh, my!  What am I doing?  It was over before she could stop herself.

He lifted his head and she saw the humor in his deep brown eyes.  No, they were chocolate.  Who are you?

“Who are you?!”  Bobby was visibly stunned, a frown replacing the smugness of a moment before.

The man turned surprised there was someone else there.  “Anthony.  I’m Amanda’s fiancé.”

“Excuse me?!”  Where did her voice come from?  A moment ago she was speechless.  And was that a Scottish accent?

“Okay, okay, you haven’t said ‘yes’…yet.”  He kissed her forehead and turned a conspiratorial look to Bobby.  “It seems her gormless ‘ex’ has jaded her view of matrimony.  I keep telling her that we aren’t all prats.”  Looking back down at her, he smiled.  “I guess I’ll just have to work harder to convince you, won’t I sweetness.”  Okay…this guy is mad.  He was still holding her.  She should move away.  “But, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation, Mr.…”

The muscle in Bobby’s jaw flinched.  “Erickson.  The ‘ex’…what was the word you used?  gordless?  What does that even mean?”  She looked at the stranger still holding her.  Heaven help her!  Don’t laugh!

“Really!  Well, you’re not what I expected.  And the word is gorm-less…Google it.”  The stranger…Anthony, sized him up, “but now that we’ve met, I think I now have just the edge I need to convince Mandy to agree to my proposal.”

Don’t laugh!  You can’t laugh!  She couldn’t believe a moment ago she was near tears.

“Well, Mandy, when were you planning on telling me about this?”  She could tell before she looked that he was fuming.  Oh, this is good!  She had to play!

This smile was real.  “I wasn’t.  It’s no longer any of your business.”

“I see.”  The steam literally poured from his ears.  “Goodbye.”  He turned abruptly and lumbered off.  He was always so awkward when he was mad.

Amanda giggled and looked back to those incredible chocolate eyes.  She could see that he was having a hard time controlling his laughter, his grin wide.  And crooked, she thought.  Suddenly she was very conscious of him being so close.  She began to move away from his hold.  His brogue stopped her.

“Better to stay the pose a few minutes longer.  We don’t want all our fun going to waste.”

~ Jenny Huffman, Southern California

#85 – Never Answered Questions – Janice Boyd

Did I cry too much?
Did I laugh too much?
Was my bottle not the bottle you wanted?
Was I not pretty enough?
Not precious enough?
If I had been a boy, would you still have left?

Other kids have “Daddy”
I just call you Jimmy
Why didn’t you love me?

When your car hit that semi
did you think you would have liked to have known me?

~ Janice Boyd, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

#84 – Love what may Hope – Marissa Rose Larsen

The eclipse is breaking.  By starting it sending a message to one day.  “I am the twilight, I am the dawn, I am the breaking that you are not.  So love and hate are not the same.  But mixed together are ying and yang.  “The message it gives is a lesson.  So do not think that one is strong.  Mixed together is really strong, as strong as love.  Do you really want strong?  Well, I would say.  “I need hope, I need love.”  Those two are what are needed for.  Not want.  So want what you do.  But remember.  Love and hope are meant to be.  Because, ying and yang is what keeps you strong.  “So Love what may keep Hope!”

~ Marissa Rose Larsen, West Jordan, Utah

#83 – Mandarin Turtle – Megan Sanborn Jones

She was a tiny girl, a toddler really, and small for her age.  Her hair had never grown very fast but it had grown lighter and lighter, changing from the dark brown of her birth to a nearly silver gold.  Now it barely touched her shoulders in waves that weren’t proper curls but would never entirely straighten out.  As a teenager, this tendency for neither one nor the other would make her despair.  At two, she had more important things to worry about.

She lived with her mother (and her father when he was in port) in Taiwan.  There, her pale skin, freckled nose, bright bright hair, and green eyes were not just an anomaly.  They were an attraction.  Her mother sometimes covered her head with a scarf or a hat to avoid the crowds that would gather around in the grocery store, waiting for the bus, or playing at the park.  Some of those who followed the girl just wanted a closer look, others tried to snatch stands of her hair, maybe for good luck.

On her second birthday her mother put her hair up into piggy tails, a compromise between down and covered up, and took her to the zoo.  The Taipei Zoo was (and is) the largest zoo in Asia and it was the perfect way to spend such a day.  The girl was thrilled with the the animals, thrilled with her mother, and thrilled with herself.  She told everyone she could find that today was her birthday and she was two years old today.  Whether they understood her or not, her enthusiasm was infectious.  Soon, she was attracting more crowds than the animals, an affection she took as part of her due.

After the zoo, her mother took her for a drink of her favorite plum juice and to pick out one special gift.  In a small jewelry store she found it—a jade turtle just like the ones she had just seen at the zoo.  The owner gifted her with a thin gold chain and she left the store proudly wearing her new necklace.  A small, old turtle around the neck of small, young girl—the symbol of longevity.

The girl would wear the turtle throughout her life only on those days she deemed worthy of its presence:  her very first day of school, the third grade dance festival, the first time she spoke at church, when she sang at her high school graduation.  She would wear it for luck when she auditioned for shows.  She would wear it for grace when she was angry and needed to find peace.  She would wear it for the memory of the tiny girl dancing through crowds at a zoo, blissful at the joy of being alive.

And now, the girl has a daughter of her own.  A tiny girl, a toddler really, and small for her age.  Her hair hasn’t grown very fast but it has grown lighter and lighter, changing from the dark brown of her birth to a nearly silver gold.  And when her daughter wears this turtle, only on the most special of days, the girl can almost smell the warm animals in the sun and hear the murmur of Mandarin and taste the sour plum juice tart on her lips.

~ Megan Sanborn Jones, Orem, Utah

#82 – Redemption – Whitney Gibbons

Shattering.

An icy crash of doubts splintered across my mind as I considered the nothingness in front of me.  A looming promise I had to break.  I only had this chance because Michael found me and offered me a chance to save Trevor’s soul, to repent for my mistakes.  But I have just one chance.

My name is Serisa.  But until I could rescue the ones I love, I was only a number on the roll call of Hell.

I felt the heavy grip of the rough harness around my waist as my feet moved against the unforgiving steel beam beneath the molded rubber of my boots.  I remembered to breathe and pulled frosty air into my lungs.  Looking down I saw the scurrying pinpricks of light heralding the presence of Vegas traffic more than twenty stories below me.  I adjusted my mask once more for luck and vaulted out into the void, orbiting back to blast through the window.

In that moment of shattering, I was forever changed.  I had begun my quest and there was no looking back.

Shifting my boots in the broken shards that littered the burgundy carpet, I unclipped the rope and looked around.  A sickly fire crackled in a fireplace, poisoning the room with a glow that cast a chorus of shadows off of the ornate tribal masks adorning the scarlet walls.  The clinging stench of cigarettes and alcohol drifted through the air like a damning mist, triggering memories that made my stomach clench.

How frighteningly appropriate.

I secured my escape line to a mahogany monstrosity of a desk.  There were no shrill protests of alarms, Michael had done his part.  I just needed to do mine.

I strode to a thin floor lamp and moved it aside.  Underneath hid a small gap in the floorboards that might have meant a careless worker, but to me it signaled my only chance for salvation.  I slipped a thin silver key out of my pocket and fingered the delicate scrolling for the last time.  I had carried it for almost three years, never before guessing its significance.  I slipped the head into the crack.  After a quick twisting jerk, I heard the snick of a defeated lock.  The trapdoor opened on noiseless hinges.  I yanked off my glove and my trembling hand descended into the tiny void.  My fingers closed on the small velvet box I knew to be the color of the sea in December.  Who would have thought a human soul, once cheated away, could be so easily contained?  I held my sacred parcel up to the flickering light and pushed open the lid.  An all-too-familiar whisper whipped out, brushing my ear, as Trevor’s soul flew out the broken window to return to its rightful owner.

I clumsily wiped tears with the back of my glove and fumbled the rope back into my harness, I had begun my quest and had to move quickly.  Trevor, the first of seven, was saved and the heavy dread inside me was beginning to dissolve into a new, brighter feeling.  Hope of redemption.

~ Whitney Gibbons, West Jordan, Utah

#81 – Kissing Laurel – Walker Johnson

He’d seen her, of course, but never paid any attention to her.  She wants to be in a group with him, and the others have left.  She still wants to be with him, which surprises him.  They enjoy themselves and he begins to feel something toward her.  He had had a crush or two before so he recognizes the feeling but he doesn’t believe it is the real thing; he was just projecting his desire for love onto her, he didn’t really love her.

He enjoys her company so he tries to situate himself near her.  They become friends but there is always that nagging feeling, which he doesn’t believe is real.  It continues to develop as he grows more and more confused.  After two years of light friendship, he finally accepts that he really loves her.

He takes her out a time or two but the feeling only grows more agonizing as he tries to guess her feelings toward him.  He can imagine them together as boyfriend and girlfriend but can’t figure out how to get through the middle steps.  She makes him happy whenever they are together and she seems to like him well enough, but nothing really progresses.

He can always think of a thousand things to say to her but when she is actually nearby, only awkward conversations come out.  There is never enough time with her, to really get to know one another.  She hugs him at the end of every date.  She always lets go too soon, much sooner than he wants.  He wants to just sit there and hold her, smelling her hair.  But her arms begin to loosen so he lets her go.  He contemplates kissing her but the moment doesn’t seem right and he can’t summon the courage, so he lets her go as she slips inside.

He scrutinizes her every movement, watching for signs of affection or endearment.  He knows within seconds of walking into a room if she is there.  He enjoys just looking at her, but it’s not enough.  If she asks, he would be willing to do anything for her, but she never does.  Above all else, he fears being too forward and scaring her off, losing her as a friend.

He sees her around other good-looking guys and realizes she acts different around him.  Uniquely.  He drops more and more hints, and she doesn’t shy away.  He spends a month building his courage until he can’t sleep.  He tosses around for hours dealing with the agony of her not knowing, and finally convinces himself to tell her.

They go on a hike on a very pleasant day.  They get halfway and he still hasn’t brought it up.  They start on their way back home and he starts to chicken out.  He thinks himself a coward until he calls out ahead, stops her, and tells her, ‘I love you.’  She looks at him oddly, and his legs nearly collapse from nervous shaking.  She responds, saying that she does not feel the same way, that she is not ready for that.  But she does still spend the rest of the day with him.  He can’t stop smiling.  He stares at her and doesn’t look away when she notices.  She is willing to let him try, and, for now, that is enough.

He tries for a year, with all his effort, wanting nothing else but her.  He feels it is going well and plans on kissing her soon, when she pulls him aside.  She tells him that she still does not love him.  He asks and, with her permission, kisses her on the cheek.  She walks away, leaving him to sit for hours, trying to consider a life without her.

~ Walker Johnson, Pleasant Grove, Utah

#80 – Siamese Twins – Anne McGravie

Bought this album years ago and kept it up for a while.  Pasted things I cut out from the newspaper.  Pasted pictures of my wife.  Faded now.  Most of them taken after she got pregnant.   Here’s one taken one evening  on the porch.  She’s on the old rocker, talking to our unborn child.

She did that a lot.  She’d have me talk too.  “She needs to recognize your voice,” she’d say, convinced the child was a girl.   Truth to tell, I thought the talking was a bit foolish, but it  pleased her…

I bought the album intending to make it our family album, but she died in childbirth, the child with her.  A wee girl.  What she’d wished for.  I told the undertaker not to cut the umbilical cord so  her baby would stay close to her in the grave…

My grief was handed to me in one box, you might say.  Someday in the not too distant future,  I’ll join them and finally have in death what I missed in life, my own family.

Now here’s something in the album  I’d forgotten about,  newspaper cuttings  with pictures  of Siamese Twins.  I once had an interest in Siamese Twins.  Of course that was before surgeons learned how to separate them.  In those days, twins who were born conjoined, stayed that way till they died.  And an odd life it must have been.

Take this couple.  The Barker Twins, Eng and Cheng.  They were from Siam, so I don’t know and it doesn’t say how they came by their last name.  But it’s obvious why all other conjoined twins were called Siamese Twins.  The Barkers were also known as the first Siamese Twins,  the first to be famous, at least.

Joined at what looks like–from the picture I have here–the chest and hips, they still managed to marry and each have a flock of children.  Eng had eleven children.  Cheng had ten.  The twins  owned a big farm in North Carolina and– not to their credit—owned slaves.  You’d think with twenty-one children between them they’d have enough help on the farm.  Besides,  wouldn’t they know  better than most the tribulations of belonging body and soul to someone else?  One outlived the other by two hours, still attached to the dead brother until his own merciful death.

Now here’s a picture of “the talented Hilton sisters.”  It doesn’t say what their talent was.  Violet Hilton is shown “in the embrace of her fiancé, Maurice L Lambert.”  When they applied for a marriage license, they were refused in two states because the Hilton Siamese twins were considered  “two persons in one.”  The poor girls each had a heart and a soul,  so how could they be two persons in one?  I strongly surmise that the license clerks considered the marriage to be immoral…they had a point.

Only one of the Blazek twins  married.  She’s shown here holding her baby close while her unmarried sister looks sadly on.

My wife and I were married four years.  She had her friends and I had my work…Maybe if we’d known what lay ahead…

~ Anne McGravie, Chicago, Illinois (born in Edinburgh, Scotland)

#79 – The Ugliest Stone – E. Sue Sanborn

There was once a young princess who was very beautiful but also very spoiled.  She lived in a magnificent palace and was given anything she asked for.  She also never ventured outdoors because she did not want to get dust on her tiny satin slippers or have the sun tint her ivory white skin.

As with all young foolish princesses, she grew bored and listless.  “There must be something else I want,” she thought.  She happened to see a small ring on the finger of the servant girl who daily brushed the princess’ long silken hair, and an idea came to her.  “I will have the most fabulous stone in the world!”

And so it was that young men from the far reaches of the kingdom began to bring huge stones for her to choose.  The first brought her a vivid blue sapphire.  “It is the color of our sea,” he boasted.

The princess would never travel to look at a sea, so she was not impressed.  “The fountain in my own courtyard has lovely water.  I have no need of something resembling a sea.  Take this stone away.”

The second hopeful man brought a gigantic crimson ruby.  “It is the exact color of the sunset over our kingdom,” he proclaimed.

“I do not like the sun; it darkens my skin and hurts my eyes.  Take that stone away.”  Besides, the red stone reminded her of the time she had pricked her finger and she hated the color of blood.

A third suitor proudly showed the princess the most lovely emerald to be found.  “It will remind you of the cooling oasis at the edge of our kingdom,” he announced.

“Foolish man.  I would never travel through the dusty sand to see some trees and grass.  I have lovely palms the pot around my courtyard,” the overindulged princess cried.  “Away with you and your stone.”

The fourth young man presented the princess with a stone that was clear as glass.  “This is the plainest, ugliest stone ever,” she pouted.

“Ah, but it is a magic stone that only reveals its secrets at a special time,” said the very wise young man, but I will stay here with you until the stone is ready to show itself to you.”  The greedy princess agreed, but asked petulantly each day it the stone were ready to show its wonder.

After many days, a huge rainstorm came through the kingdom.  As the rain drops began to disappear, the clever man took the princess to a large window and unwrapped the stone.  Immediately, the stone glowed with brilliant bursts of color that astonished the princess.  She was so pleased with it that she had the diamond stone fitted to wear on her dainty finger AND she had grown so accustomed to having the young man in the palace, that she asked him to remain with her always.

And, after every storm, he was sure to point the stone at the huge rainbow that followed every rain.

~ E. Sue Sanborn, Redmond, Washington

#78 – Tilth Gardens – Ava Bruggeman

One rainy day me and my class went to the Tilth Garden along with another first grade class.  Our leader was Ms. Shmoz.  First we ate a snack.  I had popcorn covered in white chocolate.  Then we had a s scavenger hunt.  I found four of the things on the list.  After the scavenger hunt, we got to play at the play ground.  Then we went to the garden.  We got to eat some plants.  We made a seed pack.  I made a seed pack of Calendula.  After that we went back out of the garden and ate lunch.  I had a lunchable.  It was good.  After that we rode a bus back to the school and had P.E.

~ Ava Bruggeman, Sammamish, Washington

#77 – The Dock – Johanne Smith

Charlie sat on the porch of his brother’s house overlooking the dock.  It was so early that the eastern horizon was little more than a purple haze.  Already, people were moving on the dock.  Runners jogged by each at their own pace–their own characteristic run tell more about them than they knew.  There was the elite long-distance runner, whose strides seemed to stretch out farther than Charlie could stretch out his arms.  Two old women chugged by determined to lose weight, often alternating between slow-jogging and walking.

Through the light fog, Charlie could espy a couple recreational fisherman prepping their boats for a long day at sea.  He longed for time on the ocean, away from land, alone between earth and sky.

He rarely ventured off his perch on his brother’s veranda.  Alex had told him that his visage often made people uncomfortable and that he should keep a low profile.  It had stung at the time and Charlie had become quite angry. Yet, experience had proved his brother right, and Charlie had withdrawn back to his perch.

It was a hard hand that fate had dealt him.  He’d survived–if you could call it survival.  He’d gone out confident, ambitious, determined–only to come back a shell of his former self.  He joked with Alex that the only thing the Navy had given him was a love for the sea.  They rarely mentioned the scar.

It was lighter now and the dock began to vibrate with the movement of people.  Families came laden with picnic baskets–the children carrying bread to feed to the greedy seagulls.  Charlie loved watching the children as they ran up and down the dock.  He loved their little faces and their high, carrying laughter.  He regretted that he had never taken the time to pursue a family.  It’s quite out of the question now, he thought wryly.

A loud scream jerked him from his sober thoughts.  A woman was pointing to the water in hysterics.  Down below he saw a brightly colored jacket bounding in the waves.  As he watched, he saw it move–a child was struggling to stay afloat.

Charlie moved faster than he had in a very long time.  Down the hill to the dock he sprinted.  Barely slowing down, he leapt over the railing into the chilly water.  It took only a couple of his strong, confident strides to get to the child–a young girl.  Careful to hold her head above water, he pulled her to the rocky shore.

Swiftly, he began CPR until she had coughed up the water in her lungs.  The mother came running to embrace her child.  Tears of gratitude began to well in her eyes as she looked at Charlie.  He braced himself for the horrified look he usually got from strangers.  It didn’t come.  The woman pressed his hand because words would not come.

Charlie patted the young girl’s head then headed back toward his perch.  Maybe he would go to the store today.

~ Johanne Smith, Paradise, Utah

#76 – The Young Man and His Island – Ted Bushman

Henry was a coast guard.  When other boys were working at a bakery or in front of a computer in a little office, Henry was saving people’s lives.

One night, the cable holding Henry from the helicopter snapped and he smashed down on the rock.  He hurt his back.

The people he worked for said he would have to take a break for a while, to get better.  So they flew him home to an island called Guadeloupe, where his family lived.

The whole neighborhood and all of their friends showed up for a party.  They filled up the whole front yard, and spread into the back, the hill where they could watch the ocean.

And everyone was speaking—well, shouting—in Creole!  Hearing it for the first time in years, Henry laughed.

And there was Amelle, her hair braided in one thick braid, her eyes green as the ocean.  The two of them spoke for a moment, but then someone butted in and Amelle disappeared back to her family.

”I’m so glad you’re home,” his mother told him, when everyone was gone, “You father’s been having trouble working, and the roof needs retiled.  I don’t want him to hurt himself—”

“Me neither.  I’ll get to work on it.  Maybe in a couple of weeks.”

But he didn’t.  No one knew about his injury and he didn’t want them to know.  He would hide from people if he saw them at the gas station or at the market in Basse-Terre.  He would use his icepack when his parents were already asleep so they wouldn’t notice.  No matter where he was, he felt like he didn’t belong.

One morning he took a nap on a beach, and was woken up by a red fish with a familiar face.  It spoke to him in Creole and dragged him into the water!

The fish, whose name was Yannick, brought Henry to different places.  They swam underneath waterfalls, with manatees; they swam with whales.  Henry had never seen them like this—together, with babies and grown-ups.

“When you were nine, you caught me,” the fish told him, “You kept me in a fishbowl at your house.  You showed me to your whole family, to your friends.  To that girl, Amelle.  And then, one day, you brought me back here.  I wanted to do you the same favor.”

He woke up that night on the beach, soaking wet.  His back ached.

As he walked home, Henry fell, his back almost making him scream.  It took him almost all of his energy to get up and walk home.

Back at the house, his mom came in to his room.  He told her what had happened to him, and how he had been hiding it from her.  She hugged him.

“Henry,” she said, tears in her eyes, “I don’t want you to be something other than what you are.  You are our son.  Even if you aren’t perfect.”

When people heard, they felt bad for Henry.  They brought food to their house for him.

Amelle came by herself, without a present, but with an invitation.

They walked on the beach.  The sun was setting, making everything yellow.  They talked about their lives, which started so similarly but which were so different.  She asked him questions.  She listened.

The stars were turning above them in the sky by the time they walked home, and the moon painted everything white.  The whales had their currents and the manatees had their mangroves.  And Henry had the moon and the stars.  And a friend.  And his island.

~ Ted Bushman, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

#76 – My Amazingly Crazy Date – Kevin O. Johnson

My buddies and I had just turned 16 and they wanted to do a group date ASAP.  They were a little shy but they figured if I’d come, there would be enough conversation to go around and all would go fine.  So they planned everything and I put it in the back of my mind.  Four days before the date, I called a girl up and she agreed to go with me.  The day of the date came and it was an hour before we were supposed to pick up the girls.

The phone rang and it was my date apologizing for having to cancel on me.  I started calling everyone I knew but everyone had plans.  I went to the year book and the first girl I saw, I called.  With five minutes till 6:00, she agreed to go.  We picked her up and her dad gave me an evil glare but allowed me to take his daughter without a fight or interview.  The van now full of the six of us drove up the mountain and we pulled over to pitch a fire and roast marshmallows.  All was going well up until the sun began to set.  A car drove up and stopped right next to us.  My scout leader and some of his friends pulled over and got out to chat with us.  It was a pleasant surprise at first but then the conversation got onto the energy of the moon and stars.

My scout leader and his friends decide to teach us all about the energy of the world and how we could feel it.  So he made us all hold hands around the camp fire and meditate for about two minutes.  They were a long, long, long two minutes.  He told us how in those two minutes he saw a man in white travel across a grove of flowers.  I didn’t believe him and I felt like our dates were kind of weirded out so I asked if I could talk with him.  He apologized for intruding but asked if he could show me one more example of energy.  We were separated from the rest of the group and they all had their backs turned.  He started to rub his hands together and then he mimed like he had this orb in his hand.  Without a sound he threw it at his non-suspecting friend and his friend reacted to the invisible ball of energy like a soccer ball hitting his back.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  So for the rest of the night we all learned the how to play with energy.  Of course none of us could really do it, but it was fun to try.  For a first date I’d say everything worked out alright.

~ Kevin O. Johnson, Provo, Utah

#75 – The Adventures of Shelby and Mouse-Boy – Shelby Hintze

There was a girl.  Her name was (is) Shelby.  She was on the school bus on her way to school, as she was in the eighth grade and that was the appropriate thing for a girl of her age and social standing to do.  As she sat on the bus, most likely listening to her beloved Jonas Brothers on her brand new iPod nano, a sixth grader climbed the stairs into the bus and sat in the seat directly across the aisle from our heroine.

Now this boy was not like other boys.  No, he was not tall, dark or handsome but rather, he looked like a mouse.  Yes, a mouse.  He was very small and had a squeak of a voice.  He had beady little eyes and unkempt hair.  As he sat down, he gave Shelby a once over.  He then quipped in his mouse of a voice, “Hey.”

Shelby looked around, to ensure mouse-boy was actually speaking to her. Once she was quite positive he was, she replied, “Yes….?”

“Are you short?”

“Ummm…yes…I guess you could say that.”

Mouse-boy seemed content with his answer and went back to reading his book, no doubt about geckos or some other unsavory creature.  He then gave Shelby another once over, he had quite a bad case of elevator eyes, you see.  He then decided to say, “Hey.”

Again, Shelby looked around to make sure he was indeed addressing her. “Yes….?” she replied.

“I like your seatbelt.”

“Umm…thanks?  You are too kind.”

Mouse-boy then went about putting things in his backpack and pulling others out.  A fair amount of time had passed before, “Hey.”

This time, she was certain he was speaking to her. “Yes…?”  This time slightly more irritated.  He was, as I am sure you understand, cutting into valuable pre-school Jonas Brother time.

“Just so you know, your head is a little too big for your body.”

You read right, just so you know, your head is a little too big for your body.

Shelby was shocked and did not quite know how she was to respond to his remark.  She was not offended, as it was coming from mouse-boy but what ever do you say to that?!

“Well…I was unaware.  Thank you for informing me.”

The rest of the bus ride, mouse-boy continued fidgeting with his books and Shelby proceeded to text all her friends, who insisted mouse-boy was flirting with her and that’s all he could come up with.  Others speculated he was born without a brain to mouth filter, a very unfortunate malady indeed.

Either way, Shelby did not see mouse-boy after they finished their year of bus riding and they all lived happily ever after.

*Names have not been changed to protect the innocent.  Or not so innocent.

~ Shelby Hintze, Marysville, Washington

#74 – Logs on the Road – James Sanborn

At the Vandergrift Combat Base in Viet Nam four Marines were driving their jeep to the Staff Club on a dark and overcast night.  To reduce the danger from enemy snipers, they drove without lights.  As they drove through a shallow depression, they hit a log and the jeep bounced, tossing the men about.

“I don’t remember a log on the road!”

“Let’s stop and move it.”

As they returned to the depression, they found a huge boa constrictor laying across the road.  Sleeping?

“Lets take the snake up to the club and scare everyone!”

So, they spread out, picked up the snake, and marched up to the club to surprise their friends.  As they ran from the dark into the brightly lit club swinging the snake around, the giant snake’s eyes blinked open in amazement.  Now, finally alert, it quickly started throwing its coils around the 4 Marines and threw them to the floor.  Guess who was surprised now?

In the end, with all hands helping, the snake was again restrained and returned to the dark jungle.  And four Marines learned much that night about a log on the road.

~ James Sanborn, Redmond

#73 – The Raisins of Wrath – Thomas Jones

I met her at church.  She had an easy, comforting smile and a quirky, granola-like personality.  She wore the Birkenstocks and cotton sweaters and listened to music I didn’t like but figured it was because I wasn’t hip enough.  I’d admired her for several months before I got up the nerve to ask her out.  She’d been dating a friend of mine so when they broke up I had to wait the appropriate time before I could proceed.  When I asked her, she surprised me by agreeing to go with almost no hesitation.  A good sign.

What to do?   A movie?  Miniature golf?  No.  I really want to make a good impression.  A play?   Maybe… just maybe.  I go to the trusty Las Vegas Journal Friday Edition where all good things for the weekend are spelled out amidst the gentleman’s show ads.  There it is.  The community theater is presenting Of Mice and Men.  Excellent!  I will seem cultured and it’s not a musical.

She is up for just about anything, so we arrange to meet at the theater.  I arrive first and pace nervously hoping I won’t be stood up.  I wasn’t.  I crack a joke when she arrives and she laughs genuinely.  Another good sign.

The play begins.  She’s never seen it before and can’t remember the plot.  We talk for few seconds during the first intermission.  She likes it.  She smiles a lot.  I sense that the play idea is really endearing me to her.  She wonders what will happen next.

As the play continues, she gradually scoots to the edge of her seat.  She’s really getting into it.  I, of course, know the ending and sense that I should prepare her for the disappointment ahead.  My date will not be thwarted by Steinbeck.  She leans forward as they run away.  Her finger nervously twirls a twist of auburn hair.  I should do something.  She will be so disappointed and shocked.

I sense my opportunity.  I will place my arm gently on her shoulder so when the shooting takes place I can reassure her in her grief.  Yeah, I will be both sensitive and strong, a virtual knight in shining armor.  I quietly lift my arm off of the armrest and begin to extend it out across the back of her empty chair aiming for her delicate shoulder.  This is going to be so awesome.

Then…

Pow! Lenny shoots Squiggy.

She lurches back toward me in shock and sadness.

My elbow!  My elbow!

In slow motion my elbow crushes her pretty little cheekbone.  Her head recoils, her neck absorbing the unexpected impact.  Saliva slowly dislodges from her mouth.  Her pouty lips slowly morph from pout to puff with a slight hint of black and blue.

I…didn’t…mean…to…elbow…you…in…the…face.

I envy Squiggy and his quick demise.

Defeated, I attempt the save.

“Shocking, huh?”

Nothing but the grapes of wrath.

~ Thomas Jones, Yuma, Arizona

#72 – Remote Possibilities – Debra E. Randall

On a stormy afternoon fourteen-year-old Riley postponed his homework for the sake of a video game.  Nothing was more important to him at that point in time.  He put life on hold—even refusing to let his cat in from the rain.

While Grizwold meowed from the porch, Riley’s attack on virtual villains took precedence.  Then in a flash, his priorities shifted.  Thunder exploded across the street as lightning struck an elm tree, cutting the power and shutting his TV shut off.  Riley was furious.  He grabbed the remote to turn it back on, but a second strike hit the maple tree in his own yard.  In that instant, Grizwold screeched in alarm. Riley pictured him out there soaked and scared, and his thumb hit the power button.

For some unexplainable reason, the force of his re-focused mind channeled through the remote pushed an eery light out the front of the device and, like a scene from Star Trek, Grizwold, a huge black tom, materialized before him—right in the middle of the living room carpet, dazed and dripping wet.  Riley shifted his gaze from the cat to the buzzing remote in his hand, and he dropped it like a hot potato.

What had he done?  How had he done it?  Could he do it again?

Scrawny from birth, in the next few weeks Riley began to feel stronger, even if no one else noticed.  He spent no time on games, taking the remote to his garage instead, where he practiced clearing his mind of all distractions to focus on one image at a time.  Nothing happened at first, but then random, intense thoughts of zombies and gunfire produced results that scared him.  He called the force “imaginating,” and he struggled to get control of it.  More practice followed.  The remote was his constant companion.

Sometime later, Riley heard screams on his way home from school.  He saw three older boys harassing Megan Becker behind a maintenance shed.  Riley recognized the girl from math class, and saw the terror in her eyes.  Pulling the remote from his pocket quick-draw style, his anger surged, but he kept it in control, just like he’d practiced.  Bringing his thoughts into perfect focus he imaginated a silver sword that sliced the air as it hovered above the girl’s assailants.  Points of sunlight reflected from its surface and pierced the shadow where the boys held Megan’s arms behind her, and the sight of it shocked them into letting go.

Megan fell to the ground as the double-edged blade sailed overhead.  Riley held his focus—nothing was more important at that point in time—and the boys pulled away, screaming as they ran across a vacant field with the sword slashing just inches from their backs.  They ran for blocks without looking back or they would have noticed that the sword vanished when Riley’s attention turned to Megan.

“Are you ok?” he asked, shoving the remote back into his pocket.   He read confusion in her face and said, “I wasn’t sure how that would turn out.  Sorry if I scared you.”

Incredulous, Megan looked at Riley in awe, “No, you saved me,” her words were quiet and slow.  She paused as the color returned to her cheeks, “but where did that sword come from?”

“It was the first thing that came to mind,” Riley said.

“Good thing it wasn’t a cannon.”  She exhaled a soft, one-syllabled laugh, “Got any more tricks?”

“Maybe,” he said, gently helping her up, “I’ll think about it, and let you know.”

~ Debra E. Randall, Centerville, Utah

#71 – The Pirate’s Bounty – Ken Weene

There was a man who loved his daughter and wanted her to be most happy.  The problem was simple: she wished to marry.  Very beautiful, she should have no difficulty finding a husband; but her loving father was a pirate, who sailed the Caribbean preying on merchantmen from every land.

Although the father was a buccaneer, he would not accept a scurvied sea dog for a son-in-law.  His knew daughter deserved more.  Having lost his own wife overboard—she ran off with a merchant who was being held for ransom—the pirate knew his daughter might run away rather than spending a lifetime pining for love.

The captain did not quail at battle nor fear death, but the thought of losing his daughter was more than he could bear.  He contemplated surrender.  He would sail close enough to the coast of some land of decent suitors and in the middle of the night steal off with the girl, throw himself on the mercy of the courts, and be content knowing that his daughter would be free to find her man.

That would be a plan; he could at least spend the later years of his life waiting for his daughter and his grandchildren to visit him in prison; for to prison he would surely be sent.  He would be sent, that was, if he turned over the treasure which his pirating had earned.  Without the treasure, he was sure to be consigned to the gallows.  After all, without wealth he was just—and he knew what the word might mean— a pirate.  From the gibbet there would be no visits, no grandchildren to dangle on his knee.

On the other hand, if he were to try to take the treasure with him, his crew would turn on him.  Not only would he be killed, but what would happen to his daughter, especially as there was not a man aboard who did not from time to time drool in her direction.

The captain anguished, thought, reflected, schemed, and even prayed.  He resolved to find a likely lad, one bright, handsome, and to his daughter’s taste.  He would take this young man as an apprentice, teach him the pirating trade, and make him—with the aid of his daughter’s marriage bed—his heir.  Of course the young man would have to prove willing, but he knew that fortune had wooed many a man and that a great dowry would bait the hook.

An advertisement was sent around the world.  Three photographs were supplied: one the beautiful young woman, a second of chests of treasure, and the third?  Why the pirate ship herself.

At the appointed hour and place a large number of suitors presented themselves.  The captain and his daughter arrived and quickly discarded those men who were not comely, lacked strength and athleticism, and of course those who, although now on land, still showed the ravishes of le mal de mer.  For all this culling, the number was still substantial.

A question was then proposed, and each man responded privately.  The question: the same three photographs were displayed.  Each man was asked which had moved him most and why.  At the end only one man remained: “Why the ship,” he had replied, “a beautiful woman no matter how loved still grows old.  Treasure is grand, but one can find another prize.  But a ship with which to seek all that one desires, that is happiness enough for life.”

This story is told among the pirate race.  The man who loves his ship the most of all will be the master of the trade.

~ Ken Weene

#70 – One More Chance to Learn – Clayton Cranford

Gavin was a young man who was always adventurous.  No matter how big or risky the challenge was, he never feared he would fail.  All that changed one day because of his ignorance in not following the warning signs that were placed around him.

Gavin and his best friend Michael went to go visit a spillway that they had recently discovered.  It was fed by a canal and descended nearly 50 yards into a little pool, which was about four feet deep.  When the pool was full, it would then spill over into a pond.  The day when Gavin and Michael discovered this spillway, they saw a sign that said it was dangerous and illegal to swim there.  Ignoring the sign, they began to slide down the spillway on their feet which was easy and fun because there was only a little amount of water being let out of the canal.  They would slide down then they would jump into the pool of water.

This day when they returned, however, was different then the first day they came.  They returned with inner tubes to ride down on in the spillway.  They noticed that a larger amount of water was being let out of the canal and that the pool of water had turned into a pool full of undercurrents and fast moving water.  By the base of the pool, they tied a rope to throw to the person on the inner tube once they had reached the pool because walking out of the pool was impossible because of the strong undercurrents.  Gavin decided to go first because Michael was a little scared, and Gavin wanted to be the leader and show off his pride.

So Gavin climbed to the top of the spillway and jumped on with his inner tube.  The water was rushing so fast down the spillway that Gavin fell off his inner tube and began sliding down on his back.  Gavin hit the white pool of water and popped up safely.  When he started walking towards the side so that Michael could throw him the rope, swift undercurrents swept his legs out from under him, and he fell under the water.   He got caught in an eddy and wasn’t able to stand up.  Gavin began to panic and push himself up out of the water, but the eddy kept him under and didn’t let him escape.  Gavin would push up to breathe and then would be swept under the white watery surface.  He began swallowing water as he pushed himself up to get short gasps of air.  Thoughts of his family, friends, and his future all passed through his mind, and he suddenly had the fearful thought that this could be the end of his life.

He prayed.  He offered a quick prayer to be able to reach the side, and he promised to pay more attention to the warning signs in his life.  In that very moment, he went to push off the ground and he felt the rope underneath his hand that Michael had been trying to reach him with.  Gavin grasped the rope and was able to pull himself up out of the water and walk over to the side.  Gavin felt very thankful for his life that he had, and how risky he had been for trying to be adventurous while ignoring the warning signs.  Gavin and Michael left, always remembering how important it always was to pay attention to the warning signs around them.

~ Clayton Cranford, Worden, Montana

#69 – A Waxy Situation – Ryan Peek

It all started on a peaceful Sunday evening in the mystical land of Australia…

Many moons ago, in the mystical meadows of Melbourne, Australia there were two merry missionaries moseying about in their Mormon mobile.  They were off to dinner, quickly they flew.  Their bellies were empty and craved for some stew.  They came to the house of the Bishop of Brimbank, Vakalahi by name and Tongan by birth, the great, jolly man was wide in his girth.  He’d prepared them a feast: sheep, chicken, and fries.  The two merry missionaries couldn’t believe their eyes!  After a prayer, they were off to races;hurriedly, hungrily stuffing their faces.

There were cries of joy, laughter, and such delight!  It was sure to be a most glorious night!  The merry missionaries were, by name, Taufu’i and Peek.  Servants of the Lord, hard-working and meek… However, this night they were in for a “treat.”

This is the story of how Peek ate… Well, we`ll get to later, but back to their dinner date.  They ate, and they ate, and they ate some more.  They, in fact, were still eating when Grandma came to the door.  Grandma was an old-fashioned kind.  She was sharp as a whip and sound of mind.  She’d brought a dessert for the whole family to share.  What was it, you ask?  Well, Peek didn’t care.  He hungrily eyed the covered pot, what lie within it he knew not.  Grandma dished everyone up with a big heaping plate, even though everyone had previously ate.  Peek was up to the challenge, he’d done this plenty of times: he’d eaten kangaroo, crocodile, and emu eggs with limes.  Nothing could stop him, or so he was sure, little did he know this dessert was… Peculiar.  Put before his eyes were dozens of cubes, they were a bit off white and medium in size.  What appeared to be caramel was drowning the stuff, he didn’t think he would get enough!  Boy was he wrong, as he took his first bite.  At first the taste was quite a delight.  Then to his horror and dismay, the taste of wax came his tongue’s way.  Chewing the cube over and over… And over… And over… He finally waved his companion to come closer.  “What is this?” he asked “Tastes like it’s been waxed”. He continued to chew just one more time and whispered frantically “If it weren’t so queer I would say it’s ear wax I have here.”

His companion Taufu’i visibly whitened and his grip on the table physically tightened.  Alarmed he inquired “Who told you, bro?”  Not the answer Peek wanted, not that, N. O.  Peek knew what he must do to survive the night.  He poured himself a tall glass of soda and began the fight.  He swallowed them whole, yes, every last bite, with an ocean of soda that would give you all a fright.  It seemed like that bowl would never end for Peek our merry missionary friend.  When all seemed over and bowl’s bottom was found, they said their goodbyes and went off to sleep sound.

But one more surprise awaited our friend for Taufu’i left out one small detail for the end.  Right before bed when their dreams were nigh, Taufu’i rolled over and said with a sigh “Peek, I gotta say, I’ve never seen someone take to cow’s ear wax that way.  Not only that, but here’s the real picture, that wasn’t caramel man, it was cow’s caramelized  stomach juice mixture.”

~ Ryan Peek, Mesa, Arizona

#67 – Merry Christmas Tangerine – Emma Wiley

I stood in the produce aisle, next to the tangerines, next to the oranges, next to the clementines.  The bright oranges of the citrus fruit filled my vision.  At first, it all looked the same; the fruit blended together, and I stood unable to distinguish a difference.  All round.  All orange.  All covered with small bumps, rising and falling like valleys and hills, barely distinguishable.

I grabbed an orange with my left hand, hefty, firm.  My right clutched a tangerine, soft; as I squeezed, I could almost feel the juices beneath the skin flowing.  I sniffed the orange.  A mellow scent reached my nose, barely tickling the senses – the skin was so think, I could barely smell the flavor, like it was hiding.  I lifted the tangerine to my nose.  The smell of the tangerine burst into my nostrils, rushing to my brain as though it contained a secret it desperately needed to share.  The scent tickled my mind, until a memory burst into my consciousness, taking me away from the produce aisle and back to my former home in North Carolina, 2,000 miles away.

I was ten, almost too old to experience the rush of excitement that envelops every child on the morning of Christmas Day.  Certainly, my excitement had to be contained.  I was the youngest of five; my siblings were annoyed at being awaken at the early hour of 7:30, and they expected my excitement to remain contained.  We sat in the hallway outside of our bedrooms.  The door leading from the hallway to the living room remained closed before us.  It would remain closed until my parents completed their last moments of preparation in the living room, adding last minutes gifts to our piles, making sure the stockings were stuffed; they, particularly my father, had to make sure every detail of our Christmas morning was perfectly prepared.  We waited.

My oldest sister leaned over to me, “Emma,” she whispered, her drowsiness wearing off in place of inevitable excitement, “do you think you will finally get that dollhouse this Christmas?”  A vision of a dollhouse jumped into my ten-year-old mind, but it was not a vision of an ordinary dollhouse, but of the dollhouse deluxe, a two-story, Barbie Dream Home, two bed and one bath, with a pink exterior, blue roof, and working elevator.  My excitement bubbled over: “Oh!” I burst, jumping up as I exclaimed, “If I get a dollhouse, I am going to scream!”  My siblings laughed jointly, my momentary lapse in reserve bring them all out of their affected attitudes of indifference and revealing their excitement beneath.  We all began jabbering about our secret Christmas wishes when the door knob finally turned and my dad’s face appeared in the door.

“Merry Christmas!” he said as he stepped away.  We rushed out.  Laying on the couch, the floor, the fireplace, were our gifts, unwrapped, and ready for our reception.  Maurine got a laptop!  Andrea got a cooking set!  Greg got a computer game, and Allen a toy gun.  They all shouted and exclaimed their joy and gratitude, but their voices were for a moment shut out, as I let out a shriek.  Before me stood a deluxe Barbie home, two bed, one bath, and a working elevator.

I returned to the present.  The tangerine was still glued to my nose.  A worker stood by, staring at my revere.  I pulled the tangerine down and looked.  Why, I asked myself, had this fruit brought such a memory to my mind?  As the worker walked around me, I continued staring until it came to me.  After the dollhouse, I had opened my stocking and inside, beneath the candy laid two tangerines.  At the time, I had been disappointed – fruit was a lame excuse for a stocking stuffer.  But that day, as I stood in the produce aisle, I was suddenly very glad for that tangerine, and as I put a bag of tangerines in my cart, I knew what my husband would be getting in his stocking that year.

~ Emma Wiley, Charlotte, North Carolina

#66 – An Argument Between Seller and Buyer – Mary Farahnakian

A man once bought a house and found in it a treasure.  The seller, when informed, said: “I sold the house, not the treasure.”

The buyer answered: “I bought the house with everything in it.”

They went before the judge and explained the whole story.

The judge said: “Do you both have a child?”

The seller replied: “I have a boy.”

The buyer said: “I have a daughter.”

The Judge ordered: “Go and pledge their marriage, and give them the treasure.”

~ Mary Farahnakian, Tehran, Iran

#65 – The Pharisee’s Ballad – Christopher Cunningham

“Eli, my son,” came papa’s voice,
“Come hear the scriptures and rejoice.”
He took the scrolls and let them spread,
“‘For unto us,” my papa read,
“a child is born, a son is giv’n
and from him our faces are hid’n.
he’s born our grief, took our sorrows,
This surely is the Lord of Hosts.’
Eli, he’s coming stealthfully.
You must watch for him carefully.”

My childhood slipped into the past;
I was a grown up much too fast.
My time had come to choose a path;
I took the scriptures as my map.
I set my sights to teach the Jews,
So all could say, the law, they knew.
The temple, then, became my home;
I worked and learned, so I would grow.
The Elders were much pleased with me,
so I became a Pharisee.

That’s when a rumor spread abroad,
Jesus claimed he was Son of God.
When I met with the Pharisees,
we declared it was blasphemy.
I went out to the countryside
to see that man who healed the blind.
I was there when the Sabbath came,
and in the church a man was lame.
Then Jesus healed the man I saw,
not caring for the Sabbath law.

Some years passed by, I heard no more
from he who claimed he was Lord.
When on the streets, a crowd rushed by
“Jesus is coming!” was their cry.
I followed to the city’s gate,
where far away I saw his face.
He ignored the law in the past,
now dared to ride in on an ass.
The people bowed and waved with leaves,
the whole scene truly sickened me.

I screamed back to the Pharisees,
“That man is here.  It’s blasphemy!”
I told them of his arrogance,
his claim to be God was enough.
To catch him at night was the plan.
We got the coins.  We bought our man.
Judas took us to where he prayed.
They cut our guard; his ear was maimed.
Then Jesus spoke, and healed the ear;
our courts and Kings he did not fear.

The night was long, he moved about
from prince to prince and house to house.
Soon Pilate stood atop the crowd,
he showed us Christ, then bellowed loud,
“What should I do?  This man’s guilt free.”
I felt he asked it right to me.
My voice rang out above the din,
my indictment, “Crucify Him!”
They took him to Golgotha’s hill,
where Jesus would finally be killed.

I saw them raise him up the cross.
They nailed his feet, his final stop.
Atop the cross I read the sign,
“King of the Jews,” surely not mine.
“Father forgive,” He looked at me,
“He does not understand his deed.”
Then to John, “Behold your Mother.”
His dying words were still tender?
His spirit left; the ground quaked strong.
The Earth knew that Jesus was gone.

I left the scene but felt confused.
Could all he said really be true?
My father’s words came back to me,
“The Lord will appear stealthfully.
He’s borne our grief, took our sorrows,
this surely is the Lord of Hosts.”
Could I have really killed the Lamb?
The Son of God, the Great I Am?
He did not seem like other men;
his perfection transcended them.

The question did not leave my mind;
some days passed by.  I felt so blind.
When on the streets, I passed a friend.
He said some claimed Christ lived again.
I shouted out, “It must be true!
He is the Lord!” I felt I knew.
He looked and said, “You can’t believe.”
That single stance would ruin me.
My heart went strong; I said with might,
“The Son of God is Jesus Christ.”

~ Christopher Cunningham, San Antonio, Texas

#64 – A Time To Learn Love – Carley Porter

Time.  It seems all things boil down to that temptress of time.  What we do with our time can change our lives.  One young woman chose to use her time to learn new talents, while one young man chose to use his time to try and woo her.

His efforts seem wasted, for the young woman was so busy learning, she had no time for love.  But the young man was determined not to give up.  He brought her perfumed flowers, exotic animals, beautiful rugs.  To no avail; she had planted and grown her own fragrant garden, tamed tigers, and woven many rugs.

One day, the young woman, in one of her many books, came across the idea of love.  This was one thing she hadn’t learned.  How was she to learn how to love?

Now, the young man was close to giving up.  He had tried everything he could think of–but he could not make the young woman love him.  Then a knock at his door arose him from his stupor.

The young woman stood there, with all her talents and glory.  She told him, “There is one thing I am missing from my learning.  I can’t learn it alone.  Will you teach me how to love?”

But a broken heart can bring bitterness even to the strongest feelings of love.  The young man, rejected so often, in turn rejected the young woman at his door.  But being a determined student, she was not deterred so easily.

She recalled the different ways that the young man had paid attention to her, and so she did these things threefold.  Her handiwork; her rugs, her flowers, her tame tigers, even exotic dishes she had prepared herself, were given as gifts.

Still to no avail.  To the young man, the flowers held no enchanting fragrance, the tigers no majesty, the rugs no color, and the food no flavor.

The young woman didn’t know what to do.  So she sought out the greatest teacher of all–the sultan’s adviser.  She asked the adviser what she was to do.  He told her the only way to reawaken love is to make a sacrifice.  But not just any sacrifice.  The greatest sacrifice that she would ever have to make.

For love is worth anything we are willing to give up.  The young woman went home, contemplating what the ultimate sacrifice for her could be.  Sitting amongst her books and all of the things she had accomplished and created, she realized.

She had dedicated her life to learning, which was why love had come and gone.  If she wanted love in her life, she had to give up her goal of learning always.

This was no easy decision.  She knew so much, and there was still so much to learn.  But returning back to the book that first taught her about love, she realized that love is the greatest things we can learn–and is therefore greater than all the knowledge in the world.

She sold all of her books, dusted off all of her shelves, and returned to the young man, this time with nothing but a humble apology.  She explained her epiphany–that if love was the greatest thing a person could learn, it was all she wanted to learn.  The sincerity in her eyes awakened the flame in the young man’s heart, and with a the sparkle of a tear in his eye, kissed the young woman.  At first she was startled, but then returned his kiss with equal fervor.  Thus began her never-ending journey to learn life’s greatest lesson, love.

~ Carley Porter, Sparks, Nevada

#63 – A Touch of Grass – John Weagly

I love grass.  The feel of it, the fresh-cut smell of it, the promise in each bright, green blade.  I even love the way it stains your clothes.  When I was a teenager, just getting into my “Too-cool-for-everything” phase, my grandmother told me to remember to let my feet feel the earth at least once a day, step off of the cement and touch the ground.  I did it, every day.  I was never too cool for Grandma.

A few months after Grandma’s sage advice, my BFF Sarah and I rolled down this long, grassy hill.  We’d been pals ever since we sat next to each other in Mrs. Armstrong’s class in the second grade.  We used to do things like lay on our backs at night in the backyard and look for flying saucers gliding among the stars.  Or, one time, we went to this patch of woods a couple blocks away from Sarah’s house and we’d see how close we could get to the trees before Bigfoot ran out and made us his brides.

Anyway, it was late-spring and we were feeling foolish.  The hill was the same one we used for sledding in the winter, a mammoth of a thing in Waverly Park.  We trudged all the way up to the top and then rolled down, rolling and rolling, faster and faster and faster, through the fresh, green grass, until the ground leveled out.  It was better than anything I’d ever felt!  Heart beating, breath racing, senses all abuzz…  It was Grandma’s plan to the Nth degree!!!  It was so incredibly awesome that we decided to do it again.  We climbed back up to the top, laid down in the grass and rolled, rolled, rolled.

The second time just made us feel dizzy and a little bit like throwing up.

Sarah and I went our separate ways a few years later.  And Grandma is no longer with us.  But I still think of them.  Every now and then I go somewhere grassy and I just roll back and forth.  I keep it simple; flat, solid land.  No hills, no flying saucers, no Bigfoot.

Grandma, stepping off the cement up there and letting her feet feel the clouds, would be proud.

~ John Weagly, Chicago, Illinois

#62 – Bloodline – Marie Steck Johnson

Under the shadow of a palm branch, a thief leaned against a dusty wall, ruminating.  In his hands rested the figurine of an iron jackal.  Late afternoon light settled through the dusty leaves, glinting off the sculpture, and a haze of airborne dirt particles swirled as he turned it over.  The desert jackal.  Stealthy.  Adaptable.  Deeply dedicated to its clan.

The words of the old vendor flitted through his mind.  “Long have you been solitary.  It is difficult to be the last of a bloodline.”

Across the dirt road lay the expanse of a desert city.  His feet knew every stone and his agile hands had relieved property from nearly every vessel.  Not once had he been caught.  Street urchins and pedestrians scurried past him in the sand and heat.

“You are certain it matches the description?”

“Your father was a mysterious man, rest his mortal soul, but he was very precise.”

Instinctively he touched a mark just below his right collarbone.  There rested the tattoo of an identical side-striped jackal.  It was his family crest.  None but kin knew the technique of rendering fur with a rare ink that changed colors.  As both ink and thief aged, so too did the characteristic stripe of the jackal.  It was impossible to forge.  His father had been particularly skilled at the technique.

In an instant, one of the street urchins bolted past and air swept across his palm.  Other pickpockets occasionally targeted him, unaware of his abilities.  He found the diversions amusing.

Primed reflexes launched him up to the rooftops.  Hardly a reed rattled as he navigated the gritty adobe.  The urchin was incredibly young, no more than ten years.  It was hard to be certain, as the boy wore a loose hooded jacket that dodged with him as he scrambled past vendors and down crumbling stairs.  The gap between them was closing rapidly.  The fateful wrong turn was made, and with eagle-precision the thief ricocheted off an alley wall and landed in front of the urchin, catching him with both hands at the jacket collar.

The thief took a slow inhale.  There was no need to scare the child.  Retrieving his property was enough.  The urchin lifted his head, and suddenly the thief flinched.  The figure before him was a girl.  At that, she was closer to fifteen years of age, not ten.  She had a fierce charisma to her plain features.  Her hair was pulled back into a ragged bundle, a dark mahogany that matched her equally dark and calculating eyes.  The thief studied her.

“The statue.”

She neither moved nor spoke.  Her eyes yielded continuous scrutiny and an unusual sense of calmness.  They locked gazes.

Finally, she said, “Your time has come.  My lord wishes to speak with you.”

His brow furrowed. “What lord?”

Silence.

He leaned closer.  His voice was neither angry nor impatient.  “What lord.”

Her gaze never broke.

He straightened up again.  As he did so, his left hand shifted on her jacket and a dark patch came into view.  He froze.  She immediately slipped from his grasp and vanished.  The thief stood in shock, aware that she was gone but engrossed in thought.  Dry-mouthed, he reached for his water flask and abruptly realized he had been robbed.  She had appropriated every possession, and left behind a scrap of parchment with an address and a message:

BE THERE IN A FORTNIGHT, THIEF.

He leaned against the alley wall.  He did not care about this mysterious master.  What he wanted to know was how she had outwitted him, and why she had a genuine jackal tattoo.

~ Marie Steck Johnson, Sandy, Utah

#61 – The Girl and the Mountain – Camlyn Giddins

That day her class had walked to the lake for a project.  She was afraid and wouldn’t go near the water.  No one else in the class was afraid.  No one else in the class was afraid?

After school she walked back on her own and sat on the ground for quite some time.  She wrote out her fear on a rock.  Gazing across the water, encrypted rock in hand, she didn’t throw the rock in, but instead decidedly placed it back on the ground.

The next day at school, she froze giving a presentation.  She couldn’t speak in front of people.  She wrote that on a rock too.  And at the end of the day, she placed it next to the first rock.

The next day it was the mean ice cream man.  The day after that it was being alone.

Every day she added another rock with the name of a fear or inability until the rocks made a large pile.  This continued for a year.  And then another…that pile became a mound.  And over the years that mound became a large hill.  She’d climb partly up and throw the rock high as she could to the top.

Finally, the girl became a woman about to go forth on her own.  She came to her hill and with rock in hand scaled to the top for the first time.  Surpassing rock after rock.

At the top she stood for quite some time and gazed across the water.  She let her rock fall.

It was blank.

And she returned from the lake soaking wet.

~ Camlyn Giddins, Orem, Utah

#60 – The Mighty Epsilon – Alex Masterson

As a boy, I loved to dream.  But more than anything, I would dream I had a dog.  And not just any dog — a white one with black spots and floppy ears.  Every night I would dream of the day he would jump right through the orphanage window and be my greatest friend.

One night, I was in bed when something dashed right through the open window.  And I knew exactly who it was.
I crawled to the foot of my bed and there smiling back up at me was a little white dog with black spots and floppy ears.

“I knew you would come,” I said, “What took you so long?”

“What makes you think that I’m late?” he asked.

Then I jumped to the floor and gathered him in my arms.  “I always knew that you could talk,” I told him.

“Do like to dream?” he asked me.

“I LOVE to dream,” I said.

So he began to sing:
“I am the king of dreams and I’ll show you everything!
The autumn leaves and the summer rain,
The sweetest songs and the strangest games,
The burning dusk and the breaking dawn,
I am the mighty Epsilon.”

“Can we dream your favorite dream?” I asked him.

“Of course!” he cried, “But just as long as you have a box.”

“A box?” I asked, “What kind of box?”

“Oh any box!” he said.

So I rummaged through my room and found a box about the size of my hand.

“Look inside”, he whispered.

So I looked inside and suddenly we were at the foot of the tallest mountain I had ever seen, on the edge of a plateau.  As I walked to side of the cliff, the sun came up and a sea of golden light splashed across my face.  I marveled at the beauty of it all and wondered how and why it would travel so far just to warm the coldest parts of me.

After that, every night we would dream of all kinds of things!

And I would ask him, “Why a box?” but Epsilon would never say.

Then one day when I was old enough, we left that orphanage and never went back.  It wasn’t long until I found myself at the foot of that same mountain, only this time it wasn’t a dream.  That day I saw a real sunrise, and as I fell to my knees, I realized that all our dreams were not only possibilities, but realities.

I begged him why he never told me and he simply said, “You never asked.”

So I cried out, “Epsilon, I want to know the world!”

And he said, “My boy, I’ll show you everything!”

So we dreamt of a better world.  A world without hunger, a world without war.  And we dreamt like that for years.  We showed the world our favorite dream and it became a reality.  But one day, I came home and waited for that song I had heard so many times before.

And it never came.

Epsilon, my greatest friend, was gone.

I cried that day but I didn’t cry for long because I realized I could dream without a box.  Epsilon had taught me that I could truly dream of anything and make it my reality.

Even today, he roams the world looking for other little girls and boys that are waiting for him to jump right through their bedroom window.  And they’ll say, “I knew that you would come!  I always knew that you could talk!”

And if I try hard enough, I can still hear him sing.

~ Alex Masterson, Irving, Texas

#59 – Flowers in the Ice – John Weagly

Tony and Maria in WEST SIDE STORY.  Rick and Ilsa in CASABLANCA.  Romeo and Juliet in ROMEO AND JULIET.  Star-crossed lovers, each and every one.

Just like me and Lily.

We have so much in common.  I believe in “Save Money – Live Better.”  She believes in “Save Money – Live Better.”  I think the front-door greeters would be good stand-ins for zombie movies.  She thinks the front-door greeters would be good stand-ins for zombie movies.  I wear a navy blue shirt and khaki pants, she wears a navy blue shirt and khaki pants.  We are meant to be together!

The problem is I only get to see her in the break-room, and only then if our shifts match up.  She works in flowers and gifts.  I work in grocery.  We might as well be on opposite sides of the world.

We started at the same time, both of us hired for the holiday rush.  We went through orientation together, I talked to her a little, I made her laugh.  There was definitely a spark.  If I can borrow a metaphor from Lily’s milieu, the seed was planted.  And as Dillon says in ALIEN 3, “Within each seed there is the promise of a flower.”  But as soon as our training was done, she was placed in her department and I was placed in mine.   After New Year’s, we were both kept on.  I was hoping they’d shift us around, let us try other parts of the store, place us closer to each other.  No luck.  I guess, for now, we both belong where we are.

It’s maddening!  Just by the very nature of what we do, where we were assigned, I can’t be with her.  She works with chrysanthemums and marigolds.  And me?  My specialty is frozen food.  I work with fish sticks and tater tots.

Sometimes I wander over to her side of the store to see how the other half lives.  I see her surrounded by bursts of color, happy greeting cards and teddy bears.  She smiles at me, and it feels like the sun is rising in my heart and warmth flows over my entire body.  I smile back at her, give her a little wave, then head back to my life in the frozen wasteland.

But it won’t be like this forever.

I’ve talked to my supervisor about moving up to DVD’s.  He says that if I familiarize myself with the products, my transfer is a distinct possibility.  DVD’s are right next to Flowers and Gifts.  And as far as the Wal-Mart ladder goes, the hierarchy, they’re both pretty much on the same rung.

C. C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik in THE APARTMENT.  Benjamin and Elaine in THE GRADUATE.  Harry and Sally in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY.  They all ended up together, each and every one.

Just like me and Lily.  Someday.  “Made it, Ma!  Top of the world!”

Until then, all I can do is close my eyes, pretend I can feel the warmth of her smile and picture her surrounded by flowers.

~ John Weagly, Chicago, Illinois

#58 – Baba Yaga – Lauren Kresowaty

Deep in the darkest part of Ukraine’s Volen forest stands a little hut. The hut rests upon two chicken legs and is surrounded by a fence of bone.

This is the home of Baba Yaga, whose appetite knows no bounds and who devours unruly children with her iron teeth.  Whenever the light of a candle flickers in the night, Baba Yaga is said to be passing by in her mortar, rowing the wind with a pestle and sweeping the trail with her broom.

Very few have entered the home of Baba Yaga and lived to tell the tale.  One was a little girl named Sonia.  Sonia and her mother lived happily on the edge of the Volen forest until Sonia’s mother became gravely ill.  It was said Baba Yaga possessed the miraculous healing water that could cure all illness.  Packing bread and butter, Sonia set off into the forest.  At dusk she came to a bone fence.  Light poured from the sockets of a skull mounted on a rusty iron gate.

As Sonia pushed open the gate the hinges creaked in protest.  Scooping butter from her bread, Sonia oiled the rusty hinges.

Suddenly, she heard a voice coming from the skull. “You are not safe in the house of Baba Yaga,” it said, “dig into the earth under this gate.  If ever you are in danger, throw this gift behind you.”

Sonia dug with her fingers and uncovered a small, dirty mirror.  She tucked it into her apron and passed through the gate.

Before her, on its chicken legs, stood the house of Baba Yaga.  A skinny dog approached and bared its teeth.

“You poor thing,” thought Sonia, “has no one fed you?”  Sonia gave her bread to the dog.

“Fear the house of Baba Yaga,” it said.

“I do,” said Sonia, “but my mother must have some healing water.”

The dog sniffed among the thistles and pulled out a wooden comb. “If ever you are in danger, throw this gift behind you.”

A crackling in the underbrush announced the approach of Baba Yaga’s mortar.

“So,” said the witch, “another fool has come to visit Baba Yaga.”

“Please, Mistress,” said Sonia, “my mother is dying.  I have come to beg for a drop of healing water.”

Baba Yaga sneered, “If you want something from me you must earn it.  You will stay in my house for three days.  If you do my bidding, I will give you a vial of healing water.  If you fail in any of your tasks, I will eat your flesh and use your bones to patch my fence.”

Baba Yaga left at dawn the next day.  Sonia swept and washed, chopped and boiled.  That evening, Baba Yaga observed the girl’s success but said nothing.

The following two days passed like the first.  Baba Yaga left at dawn and Sonia worked.

At the end of the third day, Sonia repeated her request: “Mistress, I have done all you asked.  May I please have the healing water I was promised?”

“You’ve served me well,” said Baba Yaga, “and you are clever and true.  But you are too useful to me to give up.  Tomorrow I shall turn you into a puppet and keep you as my servant.”

That night, as the witch slept, Sonia lay weeping.  The dog’s wet nose touched her hand, a small glass bottle between his teeth.

“This is a vial of healing water,” he said, “go now and RUN.  By dawn Baba Yaga will know you are gone.  Remember the comb.  Good luck.”

Sonia stole out of the hut with her little bottle.  As she passed through the gate, the skull whispered, “Her mortar moves quickly.  Remember the mirror.  Good luck.”

Sonia ran into the night.

At dawn, a furious witch called to her dog, “Why did you not bark to warn me the girl was escaping?”

“She fed me,” the dog replied, “you have left me to fend for myself.”

Baba Yaga climbed into her mortar.  As she passed through her gate she scolded it, “Why did you not creak and wake me?”

“The girl greased my hinges,” the gate said, “you have left me to rust.”

The witch slammed the gate and set off in hot pursuit.

Seeing Baba Yaga nearing, Sonia threw her mirror behind her.  At once it became a massive lake.  Baba Yaga set her mortar in the water and rowed with her pestle.  The crossing was difficult but she was soon on land again, gaining on the tiring girl.

Desperate, Sonia flung the comb.

It grew as tall as the highest trees, and as wide as the forest.  The teeth of the comb were set tightly together.  Though she gnashed her iron teeth and groped the air with her bony arms, the witch could not reach Sonia and she could not follow.

Sonia did not stop running until she reached her cottage.  She opened her little bottle and poured every drop down her mother’s parched throat.

Sonia’s mother was soon well.  They sold their cottage by the forest and moved to the sea.  Though on some wild evenings the flames of their candles occasionally sputtered, Sonia never saw Baba Yaga again.

~ Lauren Kresowaty, Vancouver, Canada

#57 – Snooze Man – Brent Robison

Have you ever woken up late certain mornings?  Was it an accident that you woke up late those mornings?  Or was it intentional?  I am not suggesting that you chose to sleep in, but that your senses to wake up on time were cut off.

Yes, you don’t know, but there is such a magical creature that will cast a spell on you every night and you will not wake up on time the next morning.  He is known as the Snooze Man.

I met him long ago, when I was beginning college.  That was a difficult time for me as I was always late and would never get to classes on time.  One night, I decided to put the effort to stay up the whole night so I would not fall asleep and not wake up late the next morning.  So I was up an hour, then it turned to two hours, then three, then I lost track and all of a sudden I could hear movement in the room.

I got out of bed to see what it was, and went over and that’s when I saw him next standing next to my alarm clock on my dresser.  He was no more than three feet tall and wearing a blue bath rob–he had pointy ears, a big round nose, and big blue eyes.  I had only heard myths of this marvelous creature that stood before me, but now I realized…he was real.  I began to reach out my hand to shake his, but he backed away so quickly and disappeared behind the dresser.  He began to escape when all of a sudden I asked the one question that popped into my mind, “Why do you cast spells on us every night?”

I heard no response, but quietly I could hear him cough, and then he began to talk, “I had a promising opportunity, but the day I was suppose to get my job, I slept in, and because I slept in, I didn’t get my job.  So, because I didn’t get my job, I have vowed that no one shall get their opportunity.”  That was all he said and I began to look for him, but he wasn’t there.

I never saw him again–in fact, he has never come by to cast his spell on me since that night I saw him.  That is now why I am up early every morning and on time for everything.

So the next time you oversleep, it isn’t because your alarm didn’t go off, it is because the Snooze Man has stopped by and caused you to oversleep.

~ Brent Robison, Provo, Utah

#56 – Scared Sober – Jes Childress

I’ll tell you about the time one Saturday night me and my buddies were running around in my truck and as we did on most Saturday nights looking for a little trouble to get into.  You know, what 16 or 17-year old boys would do.  But when you live in a town of 5,000 people and two stop lights, sometimes you got to look a little bit harder than most other people do.

So after drinking a handful a beers apiece, we thought we’d ride out in the country a bit to see what we could find.  We ended up on old Greenville Road and it was a small two lane highway that connected Central City to Greenville.  It wound its way through the countryside, in hills and hallows and curves–it seemed like it was a lot longer than the six miles that it was, especially compared with the four-lane bypass highway that went into multiple towns in about 5 minutes.

Well one of the highlights of old Greenville Road was a place we did not frequent often now as when we were younger.  Our older siblings and friends had put the fear into us when it came to a place classed Bell Witch Cemetery.  About now it had gotten to be about 11 or 12 o clock and we decided that at least one of use in the group had built up enough courage to turn in and ride up the hill to the cemetery.  We crept our way up the little gravel road, winding through the trees about a mile.  Finally, we broke through the opening and the woods to see the fence lined cemetery.

As you might guess, we were all getting a bit nervous, we were just 16 or 17-years old, and it was after midnight.  So we had been teasing one another, trying to make the others scared or spooked.  It didn’t help when we pulled inside the gate and turned our truck to the right to find a pick up truck facing us.  We stopped abruptly and found ourselves nose to nose with another truck.  Only then did we look up into the cabin to see two long haired gentlemen, resting their heads on the back on the seat, eyes closed.

Minutes (probably seconds) passed by and they slowly raised their heads forward, to cast their eyes upon the intruders—us.  Only now did we realize they weren’t dead.  We were scared out of our wits, but not so much that we were going to panic.  We then began to tease each other as we found a way to back up and leave.  It was only then as we started to leave, that we saw them raise their shotguns, and their doors began to open.

By now our fearful laughter had turned into terror filled screams.  We now found ourselves faced with the possibility of murder by two long haired men in Bell Witch Cemetery.  Needless to say the sight of the shotguns increased our desire to speed up the process.  We started slinging gavel their direction pretty quickly.  We turned around, started out the gate and with the four of us in the cab of that truck, I’m sure the two red necks with long hair and shot guns only saw one head, as the other 3 were down on the floor.

We zipped back to that two-lane country highway…ten minutes later we found ourselves in the parking lot of IGA telling everyone how sober we had become in a matter of minutes.

~ Jes Childress, Nashville, Tennessee

#55 – Between Pillar and Post – Mary Farahnakian

Between pillar and post, there may be a rescue.

In very olden times, an innocent young person was mistakenly condemned to death.  When he was taken to a special place and tied to a pillar, waiting for the order to be hanged.  The hangman asked him, “Do you have any last wish?”  After a moment, the convicted man said, “If it is no trouble for you, untie me from this post and bind to that one.”  His wish was granted.

Between this displacement, the original criminal was recognized, and the judge ordered the accused to be freed.  Since that time, the idiomatic phrase has been used by some people on various occasions.

~ Mary Farahnakian, Tehran, Iran

#54 – Chicago Reminded Me How Full I Was – Doug Olsen

I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of my surroundings.  If I was going to be in Chicago, then that meant deep-dish pizza was a must.  And Giordano’s delivered!  Now we were left with one more night.  Everything else on the “must do” list would be closed, except perhaps a chance at a steak from the stockyard capital.

So we set out in search of the perfect cut.  After asking all the locals, we were pointed towards Dublin’s.  It wasn’t much – a small little building on Rush street, tiny in comparison to some of the famous taverns.  But it had been highly recommended.  So in we went, sat at an 8-person table.  There were only 6 in our party.  I sat on the end, next to two girls sharing our table.  That’s how I met Jen.

Jen was the nicest lady I had ever spoken too.  Never was there someone more engaging in conversation.  We spoke of business, life plans, accomplishments…everything really.  Jen was very interested in my plans and admired my goals.  I was impressed with her financial accomplishments.  Despite her humility, it was no secret that she had done well for herself.

When she inquired about my company, I tried to explain our high quality housewares.  I asked her if she ever cooked.  No; she had “some help with all of that.”  It became clear that Jen had her own privately hired house staff.  I congratulated her on being successful enough to afford such a luxury.  She thanked me for the compliment, and then said something very interesting: “I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, but I’m empty in other ways.”

The waiter came by with my steak.  I thought it was odd that he had recommended the cheapest cut on the menu.  But it was the tastiest piece of meat that ever crossed my lips.  Juicy, tender, the perfect amount of pink in the middle – truly, words can’t do justice to this steak.  It was fantastic!  Yet even with such a culinary masterpiece there fore the taking, I found myself more interested in continuing my talk with Jen.

It wasn’t just Jen – her friend was an active part of the conversation.  Of course, she was also much more actively drinking.  At one point, she turned to me and said, “If you could do anything completely out there, but responsible at the same time…”  Silence.  Jen laughed at her incomplete sentence.  I said, “Are you asking what I would do differently with my life if I could?”  She nodded, and I thought about it.  I thought about it for a significant amount of time.  Jen was obviously interested in my reply.  Sure there were crazy things I would like to have done with my life.  But I responded honestly.

“I would do exactly what I’m doing right now.  I know what I want most, and I’m headed strait towards it.”  Jen was clearly affected by my response.  Her friend had clearly moved on from the conversation, turning to one of my friends and spouting out further nonsensical inquiries.  Our conversation turned to more spiritual things, and I was able to testify to my new friend about the things I loved most and knew to be true.  I told her that there was a way to not feel so empty.

I left the pub much different from when I had arrived.  There was a rekindled gratitude for my blessings.  I knew I was on the path I wanted to be on.  I had great things going for me in my career, and I wasn’t empty in other ways.  I was full.

I’m really a believer in taking advantage of my surroundings.  If I was going to be around new people, then that meant making a new friend was a must.  And Jen delivered on providing a wonderful spiritual experience.

~ Doug Olsen, Sandy, Utah

#53 – Road Trip from Hell – Alanna Kruger

“You know that’s bad luck, right?” my mom warned me.  I stood in the middle of her office with a closed umbrella in my hands.  “Whatever,” I said as I pushed the button on the handle and it swung open like a charm.

The next day, I sat in the office at school waiting for my dad to come pick me up for an orthodontist appointment.  I was in the sixth grade and my third year of braces.  When he came, I noticed that he was using one of the company Suburbans.  I felt uneasy because a few weeks earlier, my mom had come home complaining that one of the Suburbans had broken down.  I pushed my worries aside and we embarked on the hour-long drive to the orthodontist.

We got into town on schedule and any thoughts of the car breaking down had left my mind until we stopped at a red light and the car wouldn’t go again.  I was terrified as my dad told me to get out of the car.  He pushed it to the side of the road near a Chinese restaurant.  I was blown away at my father’s strength, pushing a suburban alone.

We called a taxi, which promptly left after getting tired of waiting for us to get our stuff out of the car.  My dad called an auto shop and while waiting for the Triple A guy to come, pushed the car into the parking lot of  “The Happy Dragon,” which was going out of business.  The Chinese owner was selling trinkets and decorations from the restaurant.  I bought myself a small faux jade elephant and some plastic flowers for my sisters.  The owner told us that the jade elephant was a symbol of good luck.  “We’re gonna need it,” I thought.

While still waiting for the Triple A man to come, the restaurant owner commented my dad’s Hawaiian style shirt, which had Chinese characters and dragons on it.  He said, “Your shirt says good fortune and prosperity.”  My dad and I just looked at each other and laughed.  This day was anything but prosperous.

Eventually, the Triple A man showed up, jumped our car, and we followed him back to the shop.  There, my dad called a taxi from a different company.  This one didn’t drive away without us.  We got there safely, albeit very late, and I had my appointment.

We were picked up by a Triple A employee and I ended up riding back to the shop crammed in the back of the small pickup next to an IHOP waitress.  When we got our car, we discovered that the automatic door-unlock wasn’t working so we stopped at a RadioShack to buy some batteries for the car keys.  I waited in the car while my dad was inside.  When he came out, he tried the keys and they still didn’t work.  I suggested, “Maybe you put the batteries in backwards.”

“I’m a man,” he replied, “I don’t put batteries in backwards.”  He tried reversing them anyways.  It worked and I enjoyed making fun of him for it.  My dad told me car stories on the way back, which somehow made me forget about my fears of our own car troubles.

We made it home safely and that night while lying in my bed, I remembered that the day before, I had opened an umbrella indoors and had been warned that it would be bad luck.  I’m not a very superstitious person but that is one thing I haven’t done since that fateful road trip from hell.

~ Alanna Kruger, Brawley, California

#52 – All the Names from the Past – Christopher Cunningham

All the names from the past, I wish I knew one,
instead I have memories of asking for them.
A boy with his books and thin oblong glasses,
said, “No thank you, kid, I’m too busy with classes.”
A cute girl with hair, red like a rose,
just closed her eyes and stuck up her nose.
The group wearing black on their nails, eyes and lips
said, “If you don’t have a friend, we don’t give a rip”
In my chest my heart sank as deep as a well,
but I managed to fake smile, until I heard the bell.

All the names from the past, I didn’t know any,
so to school I went jingling with some money.
To the guy in class I said I was a millionaire,
“Leave me alone,” he begged, “I simply don’t care.”
So, the next day I came with a new pair of shoes.
Finally I’d bid being a loser adieu
All day I pointed down, hoping I’d find a friend,
but new shoes aside, rejection didn’t end.
One kid then another was too cool, or too busy
to see the problem was me, was really quite easy.

All the names from the past, I couldn’t get one,
but my tries to change that were finally done.
I’d always been told ‘to thine own self be true’;
who cares if myself was a sure way to lose.
I put on my boots, and watched the autumn leaves
and I wondered why names did not come with more ease
Am I funny? Too fat?  Do I smell? Am I dumb?
Then I realized, the person that I had become.
I contorted to please a vague unknown “them”
Instead of being happy with who I am.

All the names from the past, not surrendered without fight
As myself to school I went with no fright
“This is who I am,” I shouted to the crowd,
but overhead marched a dark thunder cloud.
Drip, drip, each drop fell like a tear from the sky
I had money, and shoes, but kept screaming out, “Why?”
The kids all walked by sporting a confused look.
I grew sullen and silent, my wet body shook.
I cried and I sobbed standing out in the rain,
Then finally I realized, for me, even God had disdain.

All the names from the past I still hate them all,
between us I impose an eternal wall.
If again our paths cross during this daily race
I’d look them in the eye and I’d spit in their face.

~ Christopher Cunningham, San Antonio, Texas

#51 – Festering Love – McKenzie Foster

We were madly in love, unequivocally bewitched by each other but forced to keep our feelings hidden.  A forbidden love because our nations were at war and as army generals we could not be together.  But of course we had a plan, we would do our best to tire our armies with useless campaigns and prolonged conflicts in an attempt to cause an armistice.  As soon as matters were settled we’d run away together, leaving our former lives behind and beginning a new adventure.

We had a pact.  He made a promise.  I was madly in love with him.  I loved him with all my heart and soul.  And I thought he felt the same.

War is brutal, I’ve been taught this, but I sacrificed my life for him.  If discovered I could be put to death for treason.  I would gladly welcome death than be forced to live with a broken heart.  Yes, I would gladly take death over severe reprimands for my “poor decisions on the battlefield.”  This is why you wage war with the mind, not the heart.

I kept my end of the promise.  I was not as aggressive as I could or should have been.  I ignored orders from my superiors because I thought, just a little longer and this war will be over and we can be together again.  Just a little longer and I can rid myself of my armor and replace it with amour, son amour.

Supplies were dangerously low.  I thought those boys were taking inventory for us, determining what more we needed.  I was so distracted, by thoughts of us and the reunion I was so looking forward to, that I didn’t even notice their robes, not green and silver like mine, but gold, an unfamiliar and unwelcome color in our camp.  This did not strike me as odd until I reached my tent and then it clicked.  Why would your boys be in my camp, except to…

They were spies, clearly gauging our preparedness.  I raced out of my tent, the flaps to the entrance violently whipping to the side with a push of my body and that’s when I saw you.  You looked as handsome as ever, a strong beacon of hope to your armies that, to my surprise, were riding just behind you with weapons in hand, prepared for battle.

Betrayal.

I admit I was surprised at my strength.  I’m not large in stature and pulling a man from a horse is not an easy feat, but dragging him a short ways to my tent was the true marker of my confusion and rage.

Why?  Tell me why you would do this to me?  I trusted you, I loved you and I thought you loved me!  We had a promise!

I screamed through tears, punching his chest.  Grabbing my wrists, he tried to calm me, so I violently shook, trying to escape his grasp.

Why?  Why!

He had an answer for me, he opened his mouth and I opened my eyes.

A love, a war, a betrayal, and almost an explanation, but all a dream.

~ McKenzie Foster, Brunswick, Georgia

#50 – Tiny Sparrow: A Fable – Sarah Porter

Tiny Sparrow was certain that her mother had lost her mind.

“You want me to what?!” she exclaimed.

“It is time for you to leave the nest,” replied her mother.  “Step over the edge and you will know what to do.”

“But mother, surely I will fall.  It is a long drop to the ground, I know I won’t survive.  Besides, why would I leave when I am so happy here?”

“If you do this, I promise you will experience greater happiness than you have ever imagined.”

“I don’t want to do it; I’m too afraid.”

“My dear Tiny Sparrow, haven’t I always taken care of you and protected you?”

“Yes.”

“Haven’t I always brought you the best food to eat?  And when the sky was dark and stormy, didn’t I always keep you warm and dry under my wings?”

“Yes, you have.”

“Then know that what I am asking you to do now is for your happiness.  Trust me.”

“Alright mother, I will do it.”

Tiny Sparrow gulped, closed her eyes, and jumped over the edge.  Suddenly, her wings spread open and pushed against the air, and Tiny Sparrow was filled with a sudden rush of joy and exhilaration.  She was flying!

Flying became one of Tiny Sparrow’s greatest joys in life, and she was always grateful for the day when her mother asked her to step over the edge.

It takes a leap of faith to learn to fly.

~ Sarah Porter, Clinton, Utah

#49 – If God Wills It – Kira C. Jacobs

One of the most cunning pirates of the sixteenth century never revealed her identity.  She was quick, smart, with a lively tongue and skill for lying.   She was often referred to as “Dieu-Le-Veut” meaning, “God wills it”–because no matter what her endeavor, what her scheme, or what trickery she employed to achieve it, she was never caught–as if God willed it.

She would often disguise herself as a singer, or an entertainer, enchanting the sailors with her song and dance.  Her red scarves would swish and dance around her and her lilting voice would draw in sailors and sea creatures alike.  Through these clever means, she would gain entry on board ships, ne’er raising suspicion from fellow pirates and buccaneers–as if God willed it.

For a time, she would live among the sailors, work among the sailors and entertain on deck–but if she was left alone, or a crew sought to advance upon her, she would promptly rip her entertainers garb from her body revealing men’s clothing: breeches, boots, and weaponry.  Her cutlass and daggers, cleverly hidden beneath her plentiful skirts, would leap and dance, just as her scarf had, succumbing her every opponent–as if God willed it.

After one such hostile takeover of a ship, after all of the pirates had walked the plank and swam away towards a nearby shore, she was enjoying the lone control of the ship, the wind blowing through her hair, the dolphins swimming alongside the ship, the seagulls pooping on the deck.  When she heard something:

“Achoo,” she listened closely.  “Achoo,” she listened closer.  “Achoo, Achoo, Achoo!”  A barrel on deck shook side to side, slowly tilted to a halt.

“Is someone in there?” she rapped the barrel with her cutlass.

“Meow…”

She was aghast.   She has missed one–how had she let this happen?  Well this would not do…

“Get out of the barrel!”

“No, thank you.”

“Get out of the barrel!”

“I don’t think so.”

Well…this would not do.  She rapped the barrel with her cutlass again–RAP RAP RAP.

She poked her daggers through the slits of the barrel–SWISH SWISH SWISH.

When that didn’t work, she tipped the barrel on its side and rolled it all over the deck to get that lone man out of that barrel–but nothing worked.

Exhausted, she went to bed for the night, thinking a man in a barrel maybe wouldn’t be too bad.  So she went about her business–but the next morning…she was aghast.

“Get out of the crow’s nest!”

“No, thank you.”

So she shimmied up the mast, she threw daggers into the sky, to no avail.  So she went about her business.  That night she was exhausted and decided having a man in a crow’s nest may not be so bad.  But the next day…

“Get out of my Captain’s quarters!!”

“No, thank you.”

So she tried to knock down the door, she tried to climb in the windows–but to no avail.  So she went about her business.  That night she was exhausted and decided that having a man in the Captain’s quarters might not be so bad.

Day in and day out the man would meander the ship, hiding when necessary, but always nearby…

“Get out of this!”  “Get out of that!”

Until one day he sat with her, another he ate with her, another he danced with her, and another he fought alongside her.  That night, she went to bed exhausted thinking, maybe having a man in her life wouldn’t be so bad after all.

To this day we remain without her identity and she remains with her love–as if God willed it.

~ Kira C. Jacobs, Provo, Utah

#48 – Head Case – Jennifer Ansted

I walked out of class to take a break from listening to the commentary of a particularly verbose girl.  I figured while I was out, I’d pop into the restroom and take care of business.  No sooner had I walked through the swinging door than verbose girl walked in behind me.  Great minds.

I was forced to hide in a bathroom stall, wasting toilet paper and playing Words with Friends on my phone until she was gone.  The coast was, at last, clear and I had some crumpled toilet paper in my hand.  I stood up, wheeled around to the mini trash can and CLANG!  The corner of a metal shelf jutting out of the wall made contact with my forehead.  I stumbled to the mirror and found that the lump forming was only the size of a quarter so I gave myself a moment to recover, and went back to class.

An hour later, I was in another class taking a comprehensive exam on power tools.  I wearily rested my chin in the crook of my left arm and continued writing with my right hand.  Suddenly, SLAM!  In front of me, my friend was stretching her back by bending her elbows and swinging her torso back and forth in her desk.  Somehow her elbow made contact with the top of my head, causing my teeth to snap together with great force.  I smiled and finished my exam, tenderly rubbing my crown and massaging my jaw when I was out of the room.

I had an appointment on campus a few hours later so I walked home and came back in my car.  After perusing many books on mechanical engineering outside his office (The Complete Guide to Industrial Mixing is a real page turner), I finally got to meet with my professor.  After a good meeting, I headed toward my Honda in the dimly lit parking lot.

Whenever I approach my car in the dark, I get concerned about a number of factors.  There may be a man under my car, waiting to grab my legs.  There may be a man in the back seat of my car with a knife or a crossbow.  I might have lost my keys and will be standing outside my car in a dark parking lot giving any number of assailants time to move in.

Luckily I found my keys, got the door open, and in an attempt to get in the car as quickly as possible (to avoid having my legs grabbed by a ruffian), I performed a duck and jump, throwing all my momentum toward the car.  Although I have expertly performed this move in a number of situations, I failed to stoop my head low enough and it slammed against the metal door frame, THWACK!

After closing the door, locking it, and checking the floor behind me for murderers with plastic bags on their heads, I ascertained the damage.  One quarter sized lump on my upper left forehead.  One nickel-sized lump on the crown of my head.  One corndog sized lump above my right ear.

I was afraid I might die in my sleep that night.  I made contingency plans by writing a will in my owl notebook.  When I opened my eyes the next morning, I was extremely grateful and I had a realization.

Sometimes life smacks you in the head.  Sometimes you smack yourself in the head.  Sometimes the people you love smack you in the head.  Like going to the dentist or losing your car keys, this is inevitable and occasionally meaningful.

~ Jennifer Ansted, Evington, Virginia

#47 – Benediction – Kat Webb

She had never meant for things to end up the way they did.

The girl had once seen joy in the world around her.  Things were beautiful–the way her boyfriend’s hair stuck up at odd angles early in the morning before he’d combed it.  Or the way smoke tendriled from the end of a cigarette, spiraling into the night sky.  She saw the joy of friends getting married.  She knew the warmth of friendship, and the tenderness of a kiss.  The picture of her world presented an untainted facade, glimmering and shining like a beacon of hope in dark times.

She knew it was a lie.

War lay hidden beneath everything, threatening to rip her small bit of happiness at the seams.  It started with the little things–the girl grew into a subtle, yet unmistakable depression.  People were going into hiding.  Threats to her people, her populous, grew larger and she knew the safety once found in her smile was fake.  A single bang and all could end in a smoky flash.  And while she tried to hold on to the happier moments, it was almost impossible to escape the ruination around them.  She grew thinner.  Formerly snarky and sarcastic comments dwindled into silence, as did the once bright and happy girl.

Happiness was gone, replaced only by death and destruction.

One by one, her friends were killed.  Not all were intentional.  Some were merely bystanders that found themselves in the way of the Others.  Some were killed by Their Leader, and others still went mad from the grief.  It was difficult to retain any sense of normalcy–The Girl’s boyfriend and family helped her anger stay grounded.  But one by one they were brutally murdered.  Ripped apart from her already aching heart.

She fought.  Oh how she fought!  The emptiness within the woman grew to be filled with rage.  Hot tears stung her face as she pressed on against the forces of destruction, with thoughts of all those they had taken from her.  Mother, Father, Older Brother, Sister, Schoolteacher, Friend, all murdered.  Family dog missing.  Those wronged in the fight against evil would not have died in vain, and The Girl vowed as much to herself every day.  But the emptiness prevailed.  Fights blurred into one another, and even the sharp sting of a fresh wound only reminded her that mortality was so easily taken away.

Her own demise came calmly, at a family dinner.  Sunday, as per usual.  Gone were the former bright and bubbly conversations, replaced by feelings of being hollow.  Three of her siblings had already been murdered, and The Girl could hardly stand to look at the rest for fear of dredging up old, forgotten memories.  They murdered her parents first, then her younger brother before turning on The Girl herself.

She didn’t care.  While a spark of her former fight remained, tragedy seemed to have taken away willpower to exert herself.

On her knees, bruised and bloody, she asked once.  Only once, with thoughts of joining her deceased friends and family.  She wanted to be happy again.  She wanted to jump into lakes with Sister, or snuggle up to fireplaces with Boyfriend.  She wanted to feel things beyond the aching, empty cavity in her heart.  And so she asked for that release–“Please.”

The Girl welcomed death with open arms.  And finally, she was happy.

~ Kat Webb, Statesboro, GA

#46 – The Empty Room – Geoffrey Insch

The room was empty.  It was illuminated by sharp shafts of moonlight that cut through dirty glass windows.  Specks of dust floated through the beams of light.  The musky aroma made me cough.  I walked slowly toward the rear of the attic, careful not to make a sound.  Every few steps the floorboards groaned under the weight of my foot.  They could barely be heard over the howling wind, but to me each tread was louder than a pack of elephants trampling a fallen tree.  The sound caused my heart to beat harder and harder in my ears until all I could hear was the pounding inside my head.

Could this be it?

My eyes darted quickly over the room.  Would a few more steps reveal my prize?

I continued to walk cautiously, trying not to make a sound.  I was increasingly aware of the weight of the flashlight in my left hand, though I didn’t dare turn it on.  My right hand clenched involuntarily around a rusty old key.  The edge of which dug so deep into my skin that it is a wonder I didn’t bleed.  I had bled so much for this moment before, what would have been the harm in a few drops more?

Shadows danced in my head and before my eyes–cruel tricks of the moonlight reminding me of the crimes that had last brought me to this empty room.

I was there.  Distracted by these specters my feet had carried me to the end of the room without my knowledge.  I bent down and examined the swollen floorboards.  I ran my hand along each of them slowly until I felt three distinct notches beneath my fingertips.  I took the key in my hand and slid the tip into one of the notches.  A perfect fit.  This was the place.  My heart jumped.

Instinctively I looked around, making sure there was no one following me.  I had been careful, had I not?  I had planned meticulously for years to ensure that I would be alone for this glorious moment, had I not?  Had I come this far only to be caught red handed?  I had not.

I removed the floorboard with the three notches and a few on either side until there was enough room to remove the metal box hidden beneath.  Mustering all the strength I could, I pulled the box up into a ray of light.  It was exactly as I had remembered when I first put it here some forty years before.  Could it have been that long?

I slid a long silver key into the front of the box.  I twisted it slowly until I heard the dull click of the mechanism within, indicating that it had been unlocked.  I opened the lid, my heart pounding out of my ears.

The box was empty.  Empty?  No.  In one corner of the box there was a slip of paper, shriveled and yellow with age.  With trembling hands I picked up the slip of paper, turned it over and read.

“Thanks a million, Jack,” was all it said.

~ Geoffrey Insch, Morgantown, West Virginia

#45 – Blackberry Summer – Amelia Western

“I want to die.”

Not a typical thought for most people on a plane en route to visit their grandparents.  All I could think about was whether I could successfully make it to the back of the plane before the nausea won and I vomited all over some unfortunate passenger.

It was the summer after my high school graduation and I was traveling to visit my grandparents in Arizona for a month and a half.  I had gotten sick the night before—I suspected food poisoning, but after a week of hell my grandparents’ doctor concluded that it was “just a virus.”

I had no idea what the next month in a half held in store for me.  I loved my grandparents, but I was nervous about visiting them, and not just because I felt like all of my insides were trying to violently break free.  They were old, I wasn’t sure how to relate to them, and they lived in a tiny town where I knew no one and had no friends.  Not that it would matter if I couldn’t survive my stomach’s rebellion.

Somehow, I survived that flight.  And the succeeding three-hour drive to my grandparents’ home.  And a sleepless night of faithful worship at the throne of the porcelain god.  My grandmother was very kind, got me anything I asked for, and periodically woke up to check on me.  It didn’t help.  All I wanted was my home, my mom, my friends, my house, my bed, and my toilet.

Despite my negativity, Grandma and I bonded a lot that first week.  Our friendship developed by taking bets on how long I could keep food down and watching movies in the meantime (since I didn’t have the physical strength to do anything else).  We laughed together and cried together through various movies, and as I slowly regained strength I helped her preserve cherries and other fruit.  Eventually I could even accompany her on walks with the dog, Mollie.

On one such walk, I made a glorious discovery.  There is a small creek that runs by my grandparents’ house with blackberry bushes growing all along the banks.  One day as we walked near the creek, I saw the glimmer of sun off something small and black.  It was a blackberry!  And one of the sweetest, juiciest creations under heaven that I have ever experienced.

The discovery sparked a whole new fervor in the house.  Gramps got involved as well, and before long he and I were off, a bucket in each hand to gather berries for jam.  As we picked berries, he told me stories of his childhood, like how he and my great-aunt would always eat more berries than they picked from the blueberry patch and come home with juice all over their faces and hands.

At one point, in his quest for the biggest, ripest blackberries, Gramps tripped over a fallen log and fell.  I rushed to his side but he waved away my offer of help.  Near tears, he was more concerned about the spilled berries; his buckets had been nearly full.  I couldn’t help but think of a little boy who had lost some precious treasure.  Though not a major tragedy by appearances, to him everything was ruined.

As I reassured him and helped him scoop his treasures back into the buckets, I had a revelation that became a major turning point in my life.  I stopped seeing people’s differences and realized that regardless of age, race, religion, or nationality, we are fundamentally all the same—children in a world of blackberries and fallen trees.

~ Amelia Western, Provo, Utah

#44 – All Drains Lead to Septic Tanks – Tacia Eliason

Once there was a girl named Camille: Cammi for short.  She was a smart, kindhearted girl who was attending nursing school.  One day she got home to a huge surprise.  She had been studying most of the day at the hospital and helping out more than normal because the hospital was short handed that day.  Walking home she was very tired and exhausted from the crazy day she had just finished.  She was unaware the day was not over yet.

She shared an apartment with three other girls.  At 11pm when she got home, two of her roommates were already asleep.  She went into her room and Charlotte, her personal roommate, was not home yet.  She put down her bag and went out to the kitchen to get a snack.  As she was eating a bowl of cereal and watching their fish, Edmund, swim around in his bowl, Charlotte arrived.  They shared experiences of the day while eating cereal.

By the time they finally decided to get ready for bed it was 1am.  They picked out the clothes they would wear the next day.  After brushing their teeth, Camille claimed the toilet first.  Charlotte left the bathroom and as Cammi lifted the lid to the toilet she almost screamed.  Instead she just stopped breathing and dropped the lid.  She left the bathroom and Charlotte asked her what happened.  Cammi then finally took a breath and spoke. “Why are there fish in the toilet?” Charlotte was taken aback.  What in the world was Cammi talking about?!  She walked in and looked in the toilet herself.  Cammi followed and asked again, “Why are there four gold fish in our toilet?!  I have to pee like a race horse!” In truth, neither Cammi nor Charlotte had gone to the bathroom since around eleven that morning.

“I’ll get the fish net that we use for Edmund!” Charlotte exclaimed.  Cammi got a jar from the kitchen and they both sat down next to the toilet and began to fish for the fish.  “Success!” Charlotte squealed.  “We shall name you John,” Cammi decided.  Charlotte laughed and began to fish out another one.  It took her about five minutes to get the second one, Loo.  After another ten minutes of fishing, Charlotte lost her patience she couldn’t fish for them any longer.

They decided to just use the other roommate’s toilet.  They snuck into the other bathroom.  “What is that smell?” Cammi questioned.  “I mean seriously, did something die in here?”  They turned the light on and lifted the lid to the toilet.  As they looked into it, Cammi gagged and Charlotte started dry heaving.  The toilet bowl was completely brown on the inside.  It wasn’t even two toned brown, but completely brown.  The apartments had been brand new three months previous and the toilets were white porcelain when they moved in.  “I’m not using that!” Charlotte said, walking briskly of the bathroom with Cammi right behind her.

“Let me give it try at fishing,” Cammi offered. It took her five minutes to catch Swirly, but the fourth one kept swimming down into the pipe and only coming up when the net was out.   Finally Cammi had a brilliant idea! “LET’S FLUSH THE STUPID FISH!  Like Nemo!”  Suddenly the last fish, whom they named Peek-a-Poo, jumped from the toilet into the jar where his brethren were waiting.  “Don’t you know that in Arizona all drains lead to septic tanks?!”  Peek-a-Poo shouted.  Both girls fainted.  Needless to say, no one used the toilet that night.

~ Tacia Eliason, St. David

#43 – The Wavemaker – Elliott Sharps

Once upon a time, in a country by the sea, lived a young Princess.  Her parents were, of course, the King and Queen.  Together they lived in a castle perched on a cliff that overlooked a long coast line of golden sands and rolling, shimmering waves.  Their castle was not grand in architecture or design, and was not a mighty fortress; their country was modest in wealth and, in the Princess’ life, a peaceful place.  Here, this humble castle by the sea, was the young Princess’ home.

And the coast was her school.  On calm mornings, when the sea playfully lapped in the shallows and the wind breathed soft, the Queen and the Princess would slip out of the Castle silently and walk down to the sand together.  Once on the beach, the ritual was always the same.  They would sit on a flat stone wrapped in thick blankets until the sun rose, just listening to the waves and the wind; then, as the sun showed its face and its warmth melted away the need for blankets, the Queen would take the young Princess’ hand and walk where the foam and the sand swirled together.  Wordlessly, mother and daughter would select from the tide shells, corals, and peculiar stones.  When their hands grew full of little trinkets, they would sit again, and show each other the treasures they found.

“Look at this one, Mother…see how it sparkles in the sun?”

Shell or stone or coral; every day the two had such a morning outing.  The Queen always taught her daughter to cherish the smallest of things, just as the Queen cherished the small, young Princess. F or the Queen knew that if the Princess would love even the smallest of things, she would always be cared for and live happily, even happily ever after.

****

In the years that passed, the Princess cherished the little treasures her mother had given her as a child.  She kept them in a small silver box next to her bed, and when life seemed uncertain, she would open the chest that, inside, held the love of her mother.  She became the Queen when her mother passed, and although she thought it very silly, sometimes she would catch herself speaking to the shells, stones, and coral.  She would tell them about her life.  Some of the things she told them, I can still remember…

She said many things, and I gave what I could.  One day, in her old age, she reflected, “I have seen what there is to see, little shells.  I have done what needed to be done.  I have loved deeply.  I have done the best I can.  And, just as Mother taught me, I have cherished even the smallest things.  With that being said, I have been thinking a very peculiar thought recently: that the smallest things are the most important things, and when the smallest things are loved, they become the best things.

There was nothing more I could give, except a message in a bottle.

You have heard the waves inside seashells all your life.  Did you ever think the waves heard you?

All the sorrows and delights you gave me, I turned into shells just for you.

How glad I am, that you turned them into life.

The Wavemaker.

When she returned to the castle, the Princess tucked the little seaweed note away in silver box on her nightstand.  And from then on, the Princess lived as she always had: happily.  Even happily ever after.

~ Elliott Sharps, Fresno, California

#42 – Him – Cosette Hatch

It was raining.  My feet were numb as I ran through our wheat field.  My lungs panged with fatigue.  I heard the gunshot not two minutes ago, but felt if I didn’t run faster I would be too late for whatever He did.

I knew He was there.  I was sure of it.  I saw no reason why my actions wouldn’t make him want to send my mother to her death.  I deserved it.  With every whip of grain I felt on my calves I could think of a reason why he should kill me instead.

She didn’t do anything.  I put everything on her.  I’m the guilty one.  I’m to blame.

I was approaching my house.  I could smell the burning wood in our fireplace.  He must have come just before she called me to read.

How dare he come into my home and take away her innocent life.  He doesn’t deserve to live.  It is his fault I turned out the way I did.–If he hadn’t been so cruel to us, if he hadn’t left.–He is the one that should lose his life, not her.   Life is precious, and she is precious, not him.

My mind was racing.  Already grieving the loss of Her.  I was sure she was gone.  I had no doubt in my mind.  It had been over ten minutes now since I heard the shot.

He could not be trusted.

I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I’ve never been on my own before.  Where will I live?  Not with Him.  He will punish me like before—like now.

It doesn’t matter.  He needs to die for his mistake—for his mistakes.

I gritted my teeth as I used the sides of my feet to reach the front lawn.  I stopped as soon as I reached the gravel of my driveway.  I paused, waiting to hear something.  A movement.  A voice.  Anything to tell me what to do.

That’s when I heard her cry.

She’s alive!  I can save her!

My loyal, bleeding, feet sprung off the gravel and carried me to the front door.  I paused as I heard the sobs coming from the kitchen, and slowly allowed my butchered feet to follow the sounds.

I found her, lying in a pool of blood draining from her leg.  His hands pressed into her wound.

“Get away from her,” I growled as best I could.

Only a soft whisper came from her mouth.  “Carla, he’s helping me.  Please call 911.”

Helping you?  I don’t understand.

“What happened?”

My mom looked at me and blurted from her sobs, “Joe came over to help with the lawn mower.  The neighbor’s dog was hiding—attacked me—Joe shot him.  Stopped the bleeding.  Call 911.”

He saved her life?  He SAVED her life?  All this time I thought—No.  No.  This isn’t right.  I messed up.  I made a mistake.  A terrible one.  He said he was going to “deal with things” in his—in his tone.  I made a mistake.  I don’t understand.

I don’t understand.

I realize now the real mistake I made.  I let one man’s faults destroy my trust.  I see now I didn’t even trust myself.  I suppose I didn’t expect Joe to either—or Mom, for that matter.

How come it was so hard for me to let go of my mistake—Or his mistake?  Why is it so hard for me to put trust in someone who I think will hurt me?

Will someone please tell me how trust again?

~ Cosette Hatch, Colorado Springs, Colorado

#41 – He Held My Hand, That’s What I Remember – Amber Richardson

I don’t remember if I heard his voice in the hallway, or if I saw him walk into my hospital room first.  Regardless, if I had been hooked up to a heart monitor, everyone would have known that upon his entrance into the room, my heart started thumping a little faster than it should have been.

He was still dressed in his Sunday clothes.  He had on a white, button-up dress shirt, black slacks, and an aquamarine tie that didn’t match his eyes.  Ebenezer had dark brown eyes.  Behind him was a motley grouping of my friends that he had carpooled up to the hospital: Nicole, Jonathan, Nephi, and Celia.  I only saw Ebenezer.

My friends arranged themselves in an arc around my hospital bed.  Celia sat in the chair to my left, Nicole knelt at the foot of my bed, and the three boys stood in a row between them.  Feeling self-conscious about my unwashed head I said something to the effect of, “Sorry about my hair guys.  I know it’s kind of gross.”  My bangs had collected into a strange mass at the top of my forehead so I said, gesturing towards it, “Look at this thing, it’s like the most horrific Utah Bump I’ve ever seen.”  Everyone laughed at my joke, except Ebenezer.  His expression strained and he said, “Amber, you look very pretty.”

I thought I looked more like the Grim Reaper.  Unsure how to respond, I brushed his comment aside.  The conversation continued, much the way it would have if we had been back in my living room in Provo.  At one point, Celia engaged me in a one-to-one chat, which required me to roll over and face her.  Typically, turning required two nurses.  They would lift me in my bed sheet, and from there, one of them would gently push my body over.

This was the first time I had attempted it without aid.  I tried not to draw attention to myself as I grabbed the handrails to my left, and exerting all the force I could muster, rotated from my back to my side.  I glanced across the room to see if anyone had noticed.  Ebenezer had.  An expression of deep concern and pain crossed his face.  He looked like he might step forward and help me.  But then, I had made it to my side, and he quickly cleared his face of any indication of how much he cared.

Because there was no conceivable way I could give them real hugs before they left, I told everyone that I needed hand-hugs.  A hand-hug is an extended hand shake, without the bobbing of the conjoined hands.  Ebenezer and I hand-hugged near the top of the exiting procession.  He lingered near my bed until everyone else had said their goodbyes and moved towards the door.  Then he reached down and grabbed my hand again.  His fingers were warm and soft against my emaciated cold ones.  He very gently squeezed my hand.  Then he stood up and joined the group at the door.  They all waved and noisily made their way out of my hospital wing.

I had wanted to say it then, but the moment that hadn’t really existed in the first place, had passed.  As he walked down the hall, I said it inside my mind: I love you, Ebenezer.

~ Amber Richardson, Nampa, Idaho

#40 – Victor – Cali Wilkes

Today I want to share the story of a person named Victor.  Victor came into my life about two falls ago.  Our acknowledgement of each others presence can be compared to a cheesy 1980’s sitcom when the girl finally notices her male best friend has turned into a hottie over the summer and asks herself how she never noticed him before.

I wouldn’t say that Victor and I had this type of chemical reaction to each others hormones, but it is true that I didn’t notice Victor for a long time and he knew that.  That all changed the day I ate buffalo wild wings.  That day we had a physical reaction that solidified who was the one in charge in this relationship.

Victor is the name of my stomach.  For a period of months at a time Victor was the controlling girlfriend who set everything I was allowed to do, how often I would do it, and who I would do it with.  He was a psychopath.  He was committed to making my life an uncomfortable, miserable, awkward experience.

Hi, I am Victor.  Some say I am a bit too choosy to treat Cali unfairly but I just blame it on plain bad luck.  If I don’t like wheat, sugar, or other major sections of the food pyramid, I don’t have to explain why.  I am trying to find my flow and sense of Zen and I am just gonna scream, kick, and shout until Cali figures it out.

I made the choice to find a remedy to please Victor.  I went about my life living with the pain and discomfort that each new food item would bring to my body.  Apples would make my throat close off, carrots cause me to projectile vomit without warning, dairy would turn me into a dog foaming at the mouth, and in addition, prime rib left me lying on the floor in the fetal position at Christmas dinner.

I come from a family that plans all their activities around food.  And suddenly I found myself living in a home where the thing that we love as well as the things that brought us together as a unit was taken away from me.  These phrases  are often repeated throughout the walls of my home, “Do we have to eat what Cali eats?”, “what smells?… Cali is your stomach acting up again?  Don’t run upwind from Cali she oozes stink.”  I have turned into the girl who attends parties and acts like she isn’t hungry so the whole world doesn’t have to know the mood Victor is currently in.

With much searching and multiple pokes and pricks later I found myself a new boyfriend.  I went and talked with a wise medicine man who directed me down a path of happiness, jumping, and the abandonment of oozing smells and bloated stomachs.  My new boyfriend is digestzen—he is an essential oil.  He lives on my bathroom sink next to my toothbrush in a little black bottle with a blue label.  Three drops of him and a little rub on the belly and he turns my worst nightmares and fights with Victor into a pleasant night sleep.

With the bite of a single barbeque wing my life has been altered forever.  This act of feeding myself sent me down a path of pain, discomfort, and frustration that I can never erase.  Listen to your body and find the things that can heal and comfort you from all the pain in your life.

~ Cali Wilkes, Portland, Oregon

#39 – Wicked Child – Makinsey Eddy

I should preface my story by explaining something…I was an awful child.  You know those kids that literally drive their mothers crazy–you see moms giving that dead sort of glare, hair all messed up, just ready to give up on life.  Yeah well…that was my poor mother.  Whether you were that child, your sibling was, or you are currently dealing with that type of offspring of your own, you know…you just know… that mother is praying every day that God will strike that child so she doesn’t have to.

I did many terrible, terrible things–if you ask my mother I was the worst of the lot.  I would run away from her as soon as those automatic doors in Costco opened (voom).  I was gone, the Costco cop was called, a voice came on over the intercom announcing to the store that there was a missing child.  That was by no means the worst of it, though perhaps the most embarrassing.

I would demolish my toys–sweet little stuffed teddy bears close family friends had bestowed upon me at my birth were…de-stuffed.  My mother sought for a few moments of rest, but all it took was a few moments for the little child terror to rip wide eyed teddy bears to shreds.  Never underestimate the strength of a small strange child.

At any rate, when I was about 6 years old, and in the middle of my era of terror, my mother was forced to take me and my older brother to work with her.  She got dressed up in her best meeting/work outfit, and made sure that we didn’t look like a couple of frumpy kids.  Before I knew it we were in the elevator of an office building.  I can remember thinking I have to stay in this elevator.  I don’t know what it was about the elevator but I knew that I just had to remain inside it.  So when my mother and brother stepped out onto the desired floor I ripped my hand out of my mothers grasp and remained where I was.  The elevator doors closed on my mother’s ever growing red face as she whipped herself around to see me.

I rode the elevator until I felt like getting off and walked right into the open door of an office.  There were two men sitting having an informal meeting.  I announced my presence with a small smile and a hello.  The men looked at me shocked–it was like they’d never seen a little girl before.  Finally, one of the men managed to gather his wits and took me in search of my mother.  As soon as we walked toward the elevator, the doors burst open and my mother and a security guard burst out.  That is when I learned how much my mother loved me.  I thought of my rebellious outbursts as a game with a woman who was always cranky and mad.  That day as my mother scooped me into her arms with tears on her face, I learned that all the time outs and talking to’s she’d given me was because she loved me.

I hope that I can show my children as much love as my mother showed me that day.

~ Makinsey Eddy, Ashburn, Virginia

#38 – A Hebrew Christmas – Ariel Mitchell

“Frankie!”

I jerk my head at the sound of my name, but continue to gaze out of our townhouse window at the twinkling Christmas lights which litter the houses of the block.

“Francine!  We need to get to the synagogue in five minutes.”  I sigh and stand up, trying to wipe the wrinkles out of my faded dress in vain.

“Francine, if you don’t come right now, we’ll leave without you!”

Carefully I restrain myself from calling down, “Wish you would!”  Instead I grab my necklace with the tiny golden Star of David on the thin thread chain and race down the stairs.

When I get there, my entire family is gathered in our kitchen.  Samantha, my elder sister, is staring at her own reflection in the mirror above the table, making minor adjustments to her newly styled dress and hair, Mama hovering dotingly above her.  In a different corner, I see Papa kneeling down to fix the yarmulke, curiously askew on my wriggling brother’s head.  I jump down off the last step and wait for the reprimand.

“Frankie!”  Mama squeals as she rushes to my side, tugging on my dress.  “This won’t do!  It’s too short!”  She looks down at my feet.  “Those shoes!”

I look down at my favorite, worn-out, comfortable, green, and red converse sneakers.  They are a bit eccentric and clash nicely with my old dark velvet dress.  They have just enough space for my feet to move and enough holes for them to breathe.  The perfect footwear for any occasion.

“What’s wrong with these, Ma?”  I say, putting a defiant hand on my hip.

“Those shoes!” Mama whines.  “Why always those shoes?”

I make no move, so the argument is over.  I have won.

Mama looks at her watch.  “We’re late! Let’s go.”

I can’t focus at all at the service.  My mind drifts as easily as the flakes of snow which gracefully fall to blanket the synagogue roof above my head.  I look down over the rail in front of me to the main floor at the men are singing a celebratory prayer.  They sing loudly so their words can travel through the ceiling all the way to God’s open ears; to welcome Chanukah, the celebration of lights.  I look further into the crowd until my eyes come to rest on the covered heads of my father and brother.  Meticulously, Papa is following each word in his prayer book with his finger.  He is teaching Bernie the ways of the laws and the men.  Women are only ever able to observe, leaving Mamma, Sam, and me to sit on the balcony above.  I glance over at my mother and sister.  They are both sitting with heads bowed in prayer.  As usual, I am the one left behind.

I didn’t want to be sitting in a stuffy synagogue.  I wanted to be out watching the snow fall and the lights twinkle.  I wanted to watch the Gentiles as they bustled about with their own celebration.  Christmas.

We didn’t have Santa in our house.  He was nothing but a “dirty gentile money-maker.”  Christmas has always been a sore subject for Mama.  When our neighbors decorate for Christmas every year, she mocks them and curses their ugly lights, gaudy figurines, and loud carols.  Winter has always been filled with spite from my mother for other cultures that, according to her, don’t appreciate ours.  But for me…

“Frankie.”  A hoarse whisper penetrates through my reverie and my mother’s face comes into view.  “Where is your head?”

At home I run up the stairs to my room and slam the door.  I kick off my shoes and pull my dress over my head.  In the corner next to my bed there is a small closet.  I open the door and sit in my shorts and T-shirt looking in.  I stare at my tree, a small pine branch I have propped up behind my hanging clothes.  It is pitiful in the dark, decorated with small paper chains and only lit by the light coming through from the street.  I lift my necklace over my head and hang it on a branch.

“Frankie! Come watch Papa light the Shamash!”

I stay where I am and I dream.

~ Ariel Mitchell, Gibson Island, Maryland

#37 – The Purple Monster – Ashley Cook

My mom has a story of when she was in college, trying to find out what she was going to do with her life.  It’s the story of the purple monster.

When my mom was in college she started out majoring in fashion design before deciding to switch to costume design.  On the first day of her very first costume design class, my mom walked into a small classroom in the basement of the HFAC.  This is where she encountered the purple monster.

In the corner of this small classroom was a 12 foot tall chicken wire monster that was being created for a show.  The bottom couple of feet were covered with long pieces of purple yarn.  My mom and her classmates were told that their job that semester would be to finish tying yarn to the chicken wire monster.  This seemed like a daunting, horribly boring task, so my mom walked out of that room when class ended, dropped the class and changed her major to fashion merchandising.

My mom has always slightly regretted this decision because she doesn’t know what would have happened if she had stuck with it.  She has told me this story to remind me that everyone will have purple monsters that stand in the way of what they want to do.  She has always encouraged me to follow my dreams and defeat the purple monsters that stand in my way rather than running from them.

~ Ashley Cook, Lodi, California

#36 – In Which My Expectations Are Surprised – Sarah-lucy

One time, I met this boy, and he got my number and a couple of days later he asked me on a date and we had a good time and then we cuddled on his coach until 5:45 the next morning.  (Yes–just cuddled.  Get your mind out of the gutter.)  And then we kept going on dates, and having a great time.  And then, all of a sudden, he pulled back.

And we kept dating, but it wasn’t the same, and then he was dating other people (and I was dating other people, but only because he was) and then after a few months, I said No More.  I liked him too much.  I told him he had to be my boyfriend or leave me alone.

He left me alone.

It should be said that everyone told me that this guy was a jerk, and that he didn’t like me, and that I needed to let it go and move on.

And I tried.  I deleted his number.  I prayed that I could stop have feelings for him.  I got a boyfriend.

It didn’t work.  I broke up with my boyfriend and I started calling him again.

My friends told me I was being stupid.  They told me things were never going to work out.  They told me I was being a doormat.  They told me I was obsessed.

We hung out as friends.  We got tacos.  I wanted him to want me, but he didn’t.

I told him I was moving.  He told me that his feelings had changed.  He told me that he was going to come visit me after he moved.

I was angry.  I was thrilled.  I was frustrated.  I didn’t want to be in a long distance relationship.  I wanted to be with him so, so bad.

I had known him for a year.  Why did he want me now that I was leaving?

And the words of my friends echoed in my ears.  “He’s not a good guy.”  “He only wants you because he can’t have you.”  “Don’t be stupid.”

But I loved him.  And I trusted him.  And he visited me many times over the next few months.  And I visited him.

And all signs point to this thing working out.

So listen to your heart, not your friends.  Make unreasonable choices.  Listen to your heart, even when your head tells you that you’re making a mistake.

Because if your heart is right, it is so, so worth it.

~ Sarah-lucy, Sacramento, California

#35 – A Voice for My Son – Sondra Learn

Even though I’m not young I have an important story to tell.  I want to tell you about my middle son.  His name is Justin and he is 26 years old.  He is severely autistic and has never said a word.  A month before his 21st birthday, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  He spent three months in the hospital re-learning to walk, sit, stand and use his hands again and he was smiling and laughing every time he gained back a skill.  At the beginning of this year he was diagnosed as bi-polar and spent two weeks in hospital in the psychiatric ward to help control his severe mood swings.  He’s back home now and doing well and happy in his daily programme.

Through the years I’ve been through a lot with Justin.  From the time he was born I’ve been there for him.  I was there for him when he spent time in a children’s hospital because at five months old he was only on the level of a six week old infant and the doctor told me ‘he won’t do much of anything when he grows up.’  I cried my heart out when he sat up for the first time.

Do you have any idea what it’s like to explain for the millionth time to some stranger that your child can’t talk because he has autism?  He isn’t deaf.  He isn’t stupid or retarded!  And I hate to admit it but, sometimes I would get jealous of mothers who have a child that is healthy and normal.  It made me feel like some sort of monster.  But I didn’t want pity or sympathy.  I didn’t want anybody to say “It’s okay.”  It’s not okay!  I have a child with Autism, MS and now Bi-polar.   It will never be okay.   So, I keep my feelings inside.  Some of them come out when I write my plays.

But keeping most of my feelings inside came with a price.  Back in November, I spent two weeks in the hospital myself due to stress and exhaustion and was diagnosed with ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’  But my spirit isn’t broken.  I carry on taking care of my family, writing my play and directing plays with my local community theatre.

My family helps out more to take a lot of the burden off me but Justin still needs his mom.

When he was in second grade, the class was given an assignment to write a fill in the blanks poem.  I have a copy of it somewhere where he filled in his blanks.  He wrote “I wish I had a voice/ I wish I could say words/ I wish I would talk so much/ I wish I was like everybody else.”  Let me go on being his voice.

~ Sondra Learn, Burlington, Ontario, Canada

#34 – Inishfree – Anne McGravie

It was August, 1939.  I was with my family on Inishfree, the island home of my Irish grandparents…the magical place my mother brought us to for each summer school holiday…the place I loved best in my world.  I loved the strand of white sand and black rocks.  One rock, our ritual rock, where one of my brothers, on our first full day on the island, would climb to the top and yell, “I’m the King of the Castle,” then jump off and lie pretending to be dead.  The cove where we “rowed” the rotting boat into Atlantic storms.  I loved the people, who welcomed us into their homes and teased us unmercifully.  The school, where we were allowed to come and listen to the lessons in Gaelic and the songs too.

We were at breakfast in my grandparents’ island kitchen, with its big hearth and crane for hanging pots, its dresser with the assortment of decorated cups and saucers, one cup standing on three gold legs that fitted into the three gold indents in the saucer, and the huge willow-patterned platters, and the plate edged with green ribbon, and the egg ups and the rest.  And the big thick wall, nails carved into flowers, that divided my grandparents’ bedroom from the kitchen.  And the red staircase that led up to the loft.  And the chair my grandmother sat in, its variety of cushions, velvet and cotton and silk, spilling onto the floor when she sat in it.

So we sat at breakfast, and the postman walked into the kitchen, wished everyone a good morning, and handed my mother her mail.  A letter from my father, usually bearing news of friends back home in Edinburgh.  This letter was different.  The closing paragraph my mother read aloud.

“So war is coming.  And soon.  I’ve booked you to leave for home in two days.”

We sat stunned.  My grandmother hid her face in her apron.  Mother tried to comfort her.  My brothers and sister went outside and stood in a group talking in whispers.

I ran outside, then round the house to the tall sandbank that gave the house some protection from fierce winter storms.  I threw myself on the grassy top, thumping a fist and saying over and over, “I won’t leave!  I can’t leave!  I won’t leave!”

My oldest brother, Colin, joined me lying stretched out, elbows on the grass, chin resting on his hands, gazing out to Rutland Island and Aranmore beyond.

“There won’t be a stupid war!” I said.

He stayed looking out at the sea.  “There’s going to be a war,” he said, “I’ll join the Navy as soon as I’m of age.  I think it’s going to be exciting.”

There was a war, of course.  My grandmother died during it.  I moved to the U.S. after it.  It was twenty years before I saw the island again.  As soon as the boat touched the pier, I was out and running, running towards my grandparents’ house, feeling the soft grass under my feet as I ran, thirteen again and coming to the island for my school holiday.

~ Anne McGravie, Chicago, Illinois (born in Edinburgh, Scotland)

#33 – A Wave and a Marine – Pam Munson Steadman

The Duke was playing “Sophisticated Lady” on the radio in the background and this tall, skinny, basketball jock thought it appropriate indeed.

He had always liked brunettes.  This one reminded him of his favorite actress, Jane Russell.

“Can I get you anything at all, sweetheart” he asked with a boyish grin and a wink.

“Nope.  I’m just fine, thank you,” she retorted, thinking him extremely forward, even though a little bit of her sort of enjoyed his arrogant mannerisms.  A few months later, she, who had not an athletic bone in her body, would show up each day at the campus tennis court with borrowed racquet in hand…watching his play furiously.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and lives in the nation and world suddenly changed forever.  The plan was to get up to Pittsburgh and sign up for the Army.  While in a line forming for Army recruitment, the jock was somehow redirected into the line signing up for The US Marines.  He shrugged, and a proud Marine he became.

So, this brunette followed the jock.  He was assigned to Quantico, Virginia, and she was given nurses’ training at Bethesda Naval Hospital as a Wave in the Navy.  The two of them often met on leave in DC, pounding the pavement and enjoying one another’s company.  The jock called the brunette suddenly one afternoon and informed her that she had only one chance to answer his question.

He was “shoving off” for The Pacific and he wanted her to marry him.

But the war was on and the likes of The Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, and other romantic bands, tore away at many a heartstring.  They eloped, found a seedy little hotel (the only kind they could afford at that time), sent telegrams to their parents, and brought in a bag of “White Castle” hamburgers to munch on for their wedding night.  The jock promised he would be right with her.   First of all, he needed to hear Johnny Boyer on the radio with the sports announcements of the day.

And so it was…the jock was injured in a jeep accident in Okinawa and missed the first six months of his daughter’s life.  Their marriage has lasted for over sixty years and has produced four children, seven grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.

Dad passed away  in 2008.  I remember him being happiest while singing Sinatra tunes and reminiscing about Big Bands and sharp brunettes on college campuses.

~ Pam Munson Steadman, Asbury Park, NJ

#32 – The Most Romantic Day of My Life – Hank Kimmel

The most romantic day of my life, and I almost missed it.

New York City, 1984.
Walking home
Minding my own business.
Thinking of the night ahead.
Laundry.
Stationery bike.
Mets on TV.

I was 24
And girls were on my mind.
But not tonight.
I just broke up with my girlfriend
Or she broke up with me.
Asking what I thought of marriage
Wonderful
I said
For people over 40

My long-term plans  defined
By what it said in that night’s fortune cookie.
Not that I wasn’t interested in girls.
Or women as I was supposed to call them.
But after dating the same girl-slash-woman for three years.
I was leery about the next phase..
Not really leery.
But the Mets were playing well
And needed attention.
As for romance
I tried to be systematic
And take The Keith Hernandez Approach to Dating.

Ketih Hernandez played first for the Mets.
A 300 hitter
About one hit every three at bats
Not great for getting to work on time.
But a path to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
If I took a Keith Hernandez Approach to Dating —
and tried to be a 300 hitter
It didn’t matter if seven out of 10 dates failed,
I was an all star

As part of my “system”
I kept index cards
With a girl’s name, address and phone number.
Of course, I allowed for spontaneity.
But only on days the Mets had off.

So on this gorgeous Spring evening
I reached the corner of 30th Street and 2nd
And then it happened.
My life-altering MOMENT ….

This girl came up from behind.
Grabbed my arm
And said with breathy desperation:
“This guy is following me, would you walk with me, thanks!”
Dumbfounded, I said sure.
And this girl and I – this woman and me – walked arm in arm
To 1st avenue.

I could tell she was frantic,
But as we walked, she became calm.
Turning back twice,
It appeared her pursuer halted chase.
I don’t know, I never saw.
But it didn’t matter now.
Her stride slowed and we walked.
Like Bride and Groom down a long aisle.

When we finally reached 1st Avenue, I had a choice:
I could release her forever,
Having served my role
Or I could ask for name and number.
Create a new index card.

Daunted
I released her.
She thanked me,
And though her presence
Began to fade,
I could still feel her touch

Then it dawned on me:
Was this more than chance?

I looked back and she was gone.
I could barely remember more than
Her soft sweater
Her Head & Shoulders smell
A voice both frantic and sweet in just the right way.

As I walked back to my building
I realized I did the right thing.
Any other action might be misconstrued
Compounding this woman’s ill will toward men.

And even if I was more daring,
Was this the kind of woman who always had to act in crisis mode.
Someone who saw the necessity of getting married before 40 —
Or 30?!

Then it hit me.
This might have been my life’s turning point
And I missed it
Of course, it could have amounted to nothing –
But I am left with the feeling decades later
That if I was more daring
Who knows?

That evening
I didn’t order Chinese food.
Or get on my stationery bike.
Or watch the Mets
Instead I organized my index cards,
Daring myself to make a call.
As it turned out,
I called the woman
Who ended up becoming my wife.

~ Hank Kimmel, Atlanta, Georgia

#31 – A Dream To Save His Life – Kent Crookston

He was a Christian living in a Muslim country and had decided to observe Ramadan with his Islamic friends – to get a “taste” of the culture he said, and his wife laughed since it meant going without food or water from sunrise through sunset for 28 days.  The holy month occurred in June that year; the days were long and hot.  One afternoon he was feeling weak and all but overcome with thirst as he stepped from the sidewalk into a small park where palm trees provided welcome shade.  As he sank to the grass he noticed a handful of workers sleeping in the shadows across the way.  Their clothes were much worn and their bare feet were dusty.  He thought of them breaking their fast that night with their families – a simple meal of soup, dates, and boiled eggs.  It would be dark by then and all the streets would be empty.

He knew it was the 26th day of Ramadan and the coming night was the “Night of Destiny” or “Night of Power” – the anniversary of the night that the angel Gabriel had revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Mohamed.   He had been told it was a night favored by Allah over all nights; a prayer on this night would be worth 1,000 prayers on any other night.  Some would be praying continuously through the darkness seeking an answer to a specific need, or for forgiveness.  Angels could be expected to attend the faithful who would be open to dreams, visions, and revelations, even to receiving a message from Jesus.

He thought of his own family who would be gathered for dinner about 7:00 o’clock, and how he would abstain until 9:30, then join their maid for a meal almost as simple as the ones the workers would have.

Then, suddenly, without warning, it happened.  He was overcome by what he would later talk about freely and call his Islamic epiphany.  “After fasting that long I was spiritually vulnerable,” he would say, “as Christians we don’t think about non-Christian holy manifestations, but I had one.  The light and love of Allah flooded over me.  I was overcome with an outpouring of love for Islam and my Muslim brothers and sisters.  I was moved to tears.”

Later, deep in that night of destiny, the man had a dream.  He had been captured by a radical extremist group.  He was bouncing along in the back of a work truck, his wrists and ankles were tied and underneath him were shovels, picks and chains.  With him in the truck were the barefoot workers he had seen resting in the shade.  They were sitting with their backs against the side of the truck.  He could barely see them; it was dark and the air was dusty.

“Do any of you speak English?” he asked.

One of the workers looked at him and said.  “You will talk later.”

He then awoke – spooked.  He was a diplomat.  That he could be kidnapped by radical militants was a possibility.  He had often wondered what he might say to better his odds of being kept alive should that ever happen.

Was there any significance to this Night-of-Destiny dream?  What would he have said had he been allowed to talk later?  Then he felt the light and warmth of his afternoon experience returning, like moonlight surrounding his bed, and he knew that he would talk about his Islamic epiphany often – and that doing so would certainly elevate, and maybe even one day save, his life.

~ Kent Crookston, Orem, Utah

#30 – Demons Are Allergic To Light – John Spelta

Once, not too long ago, there was a boy named James.  He lived with his parents in a small condo in Orem, Utah.  His parents loved him very much, but he often felt restless.  By the time he was seven, he constantly felt that he had to fill every moment of his life with excitement, and this trait often gave him more pain than pleasure.

It was no wonder why James became intrigued when he heard about the legend of the abandoned bomb shelter.  James packed his backpack with snacks and a sleeping bag.  A few people who lived near the shelter said that they heard a little girl cry at night.  James had to see if the place really was haunted.

The walk was not very long.  The shelter was shut tight, but James found a vent that was not barred on the roof.  The drop was not long.

A few minutes after his entry, the front door burst open.  James pounced behind an old crate before he was caught.  He peeked from behind the crate to find a large, strong looking man dragging a young, pretty girl that was James’s age.  James’s rash instincts kicked in and he threw his sack towards the back of the guy’s head.

The brute stumbled and James took advantage of the guy’s imbalance to ram into his legs.  The tall guy lost his grip on the young girl.  James turned to her.

“Run!” he said.  The girl ran out the door.  James felt a giant hand grip his neck.  He let the girl’s hand go and she continued to run through the door.

James felt and heard the tall guy moan.  “You have robbed me of my company.  You shall replace her.”

The tall guy spun James around and made the young hero face him.  James saw dark tentacles creep out of the tall guy’s sleeves.  He could not feel them, as if they were made out of shadows.

Just as James lost any hope of escape, a light shinned through the door.  The tall guy quivered as light filled the room.  As James’s eyes adjusted, he made out the figure of the young girl with his dad!  James’s dad was shining a flashlight into the shelter.

“Get off my son,” James’s dad said.  He sprinted to the tall guy and punched him in the face.  The tall guy went flying across the room, his tentacles trailing behind him.

James’s dad kept the light on him.  After a few seconds, the tentacled maniac disappeared in a puff of smoke.
“Thank you, James,” the pretty girl said.  “I was trapped with him for decades.  Now, I can finally move on.”

The girl smiled and vanished in a burst of light. James turned to his dad.  “How did you find me?” James asked.

“That little girl came up to our house screaming you were in trouble.  I grabbed the flashlight and followed her here.  I found it strange that Travis’s family moved into a haunted bomb shelter.”

“Dad, we just saw two ghosts disappear and that is all you can think about?”

“James, I am not going to lie to you.  I am so scared right now that I think I might pee my pants.  The only thing that is safe for me to think about is how long you are going to be grounded for this.”

“I just saved a little girl’s soul from some tentacled demon.”

“I guess that will take a few weeks off of the months you will not even look at your video games.”

~ John Spelta, Provo, UT

#29 – The Clam – Patricia and Mark Bedell

I think that I shall never see
A clam residing in a tree.
We see them most upon a beach
or in the water where we SCREECH
if we should step upon a shell
Now there, they will do very well
But in a tree?  That’s so absurd!
I think that this clam must have heard
If he were someplace really high,
and he were closer to the sky,
Then he would have a better view
of all the world, and heaven, too.
He had a view; of that we know.
His horizon certainly did grow.
He knew he could be what he wanted to be,
But he didn’t like it in that tree!
He felt so out of place, and then,
he wanted to go home again.
He missed the sand around his shell;
he missed the cool water that served him well.
He missed his friends;
he missed his bed;
he was sorry the thought had come into his head.
He took a leap right out of that tree,
and landed kerplunk back into the sea.
He’s happy now he tried his wings;
he needed to know about other things.
He just didn’t fit in, try as he may,
and if you’re real quiet you can hear him say…

CLAM
I’m happy, so happy, to be a clam.
Eh.. I am what I am, what I am, what I am!

~ Patricia and Mark Bedell, Saco, Maine

#28 – The Call – Travis Williams

The phone rings.  “Hello…”

An automated voice interrupts.  “Please stay on the line; a representative will with be with you shortly.  This call may be monitored…”

I wait.  Hold music is occasionally cut off by reminders to stay on the line.  I would have hung up if it weren’t for the consoling smoothness of the mystery voice.  Sure.  I went back to reading my book.  Forty distracted seconds pass, enough to re-read the same paragraph three times.

“Lousy telemarketers,” I say to myself.  Today, I thought, revenge would be mine.

Click.  “This is Daniel, thank you for holding.  How are you doing today?”

“Brilliant!”  I smirked to myself.

“Great,” he said, not really paying attention, “do you subscribe to the Daily News?”

“No.  Gee, that would be nice,” I gleamed.  “Would you call me if I already had a subscription?”

“Oh, well you see…”

I interrupted.  “Wow, can you hold?”

“Absolutely,” he said.  I went back to reading the book.  A page and a half later, I picked up my hand-held recorder, and resumed our conversation.

“Hi.  You don’t mind if I record this do you?” I questioned.

“Umm,” he paused and breathed out through his nose, “guess not.”

I started the machine.  “Now where were we?”

“Yes,” he said, back to script, “you can get up to seventy five percent off…”

“Not sure I’m interested,” I said disappointedly.  Whistling softly, I nodded my head back and forth.

“O.K.,” he fumbled, “you can get seventy five percent off …”

I interjected, “You said that already.  Let’s try again.  Sell me.  Start with the intro, and this time, make the Daily News paramount to my life.  An oasis that will satisfy my insatiable thirst for the latest headlines, entertain me, you know, that kind of stuff.”

“You want me to what?”  He was struggling.  “Are you interested in receiving the Daily News, at seventy five percent off what you pay at the news stand?”  His agitation was percolating slowly.  I was biding for a stout brew.

“I don’t go to the news stand,” I replied coldly.

“Well,” he sputtered, “you’ll still save.”

“Tell me,” I rebutted, “why do you guys always call at dinner time?”

“I’m sorry, were you eating?”

“Yes,” I said.  I looked around for a plate of food but there was none.

“Should we call back at a better time?” he asked.

For some reason, I responded in Scottish-English, “What, an have ya come-a-callin’ agin tomorra at sevin o’cluck, intarruptin’ me luvly dinah?” Again I looked for the food.

He was huffing.  “So you don’t want the paper?”

I made a clicking noise with my mouth.  “Well, I think I might want that paper but I’m not sure.  I just don’t know!”

He was about to explode, but he kept going for some reason, like staring at a horrible accident he didn’t ever want to see.  “Do you even read the paper?” he questioned demandingly.

“I told you,” I said, barely able to contain myself, “I am blind!”

A long moment passed.  “You never told me that,” he proclaimed, replaying the conversation in his head.

I hung up and had a good laugh.  Smiling, I returned to my book.

In a small cubical, somewhere in a tall building, someone else was smiling too – grinning with grit while he put my name on a secret list, insuring the spread of my personal information to marketers nationwide.  The following Monday my first daily newspaper arrived, and a week later, a bill came too.  I paid it.  I’ve always wanted to get the paper.

~ Travis Williams, Woodland Hills, California

#27 – The Invincible Cave – James Lowe

Once there were three friends named Austin, Taylor, and James.  One day they were playing video games at Austin’s house, when an ad popped up.  They clicked on it.  The ad gave them 50 choices of adventures to pick from.  They clicked on the cave one.  They read it and it said that one person had been there and made it alive.  They decided to go.

The next day, they ditched school and hid food in their backpacks.  After hiking for thirty-five miles, they found themselves in the middle of nowhere.

“I’m cold and I’m hungry!” complained Austin.  Icicles were forming on his spiky hair.  “And I’m pretty sure we’re lost!” he added.

“Impossible!” said Taylor “I’m following the map on the GPS!”

“Lost or not, we are going to make it to the cave,” chattered James through his teeth.

The mountain was steep and rocky. It was so tall, no trees would even grow.  All of a sudden, they heard a growling noise.  “Hah!  A tiger!” screamed Taylor.

“Tigers live in Asia, you genius!” corrected Austin.

Then they heard the noise again.  All together they jumped behind a bush.  They peeked through the leaves.  They saw him—Milo!  He was so tall, he looked as if he could be in the 6th grade when he was in kindergarten.  He was wearing a scout uniform.  He stared at the three boys.

“Come with me,” he said.  Milo led them to a cave.

“Hey!  This is the cave we saw on the ad!” said Austin.  Milo said nothing.  “How did you know about the cave?” added Austin.  Milo went in the cave and stepped back out.  “I’ve been watching you all along,” Milo said, “this cave has valuable treasure, but also hard obstacles.  The last obstacle I do not know.  I never made it that far.  But I can tell you that the first one is lasers that set off alarms, and the second one is swinging hammers.”

Taylor started shaking.

“We can do this!” said James.

The boys went inside.  There were lasers.  “Stay here.” said Austin.   Austin got past the lasers since he was flexible.  Once he passed the lasers, he hit a button.  All the lasers disappeared.  James and Taylor then easily walked to where Austin was.

“That was easy!” said James.

“Watch OUT!” screamed Taylor.

All of a sudden, swinging hammers were above their head.  CONK!

“A hammer just hit my head!” said Austin.

“Hurry and crawl.” said James.  The three boys crouched down past the swinging hammers.

“Get up!” said Taylor, “The hammers are all gone.”  They got up and walked father.  The cave got darker but they kept walking.  They heard a crunchy noise but ignored it.

“Hey Taylor, stop tickling me!” giggled Austin.

“I’m not!  You are!  Stop it!” said Taylor.

“Well, somebody is touching me, and they better stop!” added James.

Austin realized something was wrong.  “Turn on your flashlight Taylor.”

“But we need to save the batteries…” said Taylor.

“Turn it on!” shouted James.  Taylor turned it on.  All of a sudden, the boys saw those— cockroaches!  Millions of them!  Crawling all over them!

“Haaaahhhh!”  Austin and Taylor screamed like girls.  James sprinted away, brushing the bugs off.  He was running so fast that he did not see a wall in front of him.  He hit it super hard.  He did not realize that he had pushed a secret stone.  The whole wall slid open.  He found the treasure!

He called to Austin and Taylor.  They were still slapping their body to get all the cockroaches off.

“Whoa!”  They said when they came.  “We found the treasure!”

They ate all the food in their backpacks to make room for the treasure.  They filled up their backpacks with all the gold and gems they could fit.

They made their way home.  Their moms were furious.

“Look moms, we’re rich!” said the boys to their moms.  They showed the moms their treasure.  Their moms were not mad anymore.  James, Taylor and Austin got to buy IPads for themselves with all the apps in the world—except girl ones.

And James did not have to share with any of his sisters, ever!

~ James Lowe, Springville, Utah

#26 – The Story Of How Our Son Will Be – Lex Tan

Our story begins in the middle of a dark and stormy night.  Wild tropical winds and rain are not known to be gentle on trembling canvas tents, and neither are the growls of thunder on a young child’s night.  Yet one child, our child, lies in wide-eyed wonderment on his back, silent and still even through the stinging of raindrops the size of dried peas, and sharp whipping blades of grass all across his bared bronzed skin.

Oh how you would have trembled at the sight of such brash innocence my Beloved, if you were not as mighty a man as you are.  For our Son remained so untouched in the center of Mother Nature’s fury, so accepting of it, yet so undefeated.

It WAS a dark and stormy night, but when the sun rose to caress the few lingering tears of the clouds, oh our Son.  The birds chorused his handsome laugh like a gaggle of schoolgirls, chirping when he acknowledged them with a knowing smile and nod, and a spark of life in his step.  Then this child began to set up his tent again.  And it brought me to tears how unafraid of circumstance he was, how he embraced the inevitability of Nature, and rose to meet it with a smile on his face.

And one day, brick will replace canvas, and a Wife and Child will replace the gaggle of birds, but our Son.  He will meet Nature the way he did that night, smiling off into the unknown darkness, as long as he lives.

~ Lex Tan, Lumpur, Malaysia

#25 – Sophia’s Cat (Monologue) – Martha Patterson

SOPHIA:

(a successful movie star in her early 30’s talking to her old rock star boyfriend at his townhouse in New York City – she picks up a magazine from the coffee table and fans herself with it.)

I AM a little harried.  A cab driver just gave me a very hard time on the ride up from the Village.  I’m overheated from the strain of the argument we had, and I’m trying not to resent the fact that he charged me too much money for the fare.  He was a foreigner.  I suppose it’s needless to explain.

(putting the magazine back on the table)

But anyway.  On to more pleasant things.  Nick, do you know I had the strangest experience today in the apartment I was renting?  It’s on 4th Street, in the West Village, and I’m keeping my cat with me.  I brought him out with me from Hollywood, I always bring him with me, and today, would you believe it, I opened the door to the laundry room, and he wanted me to follow him out there.  To the back room, where people keep suitcases and empty cardboard boxes and things.  My cat wanted me to follow him, he brought me to a spot on the floor he wanted to show me, and there was a black heart painted right there on the floor.  Somebody dripped paint there, and they left a large black heart about a foot tall and a foot wide painted right there.  And seeing this heart was amazing, because I think it must have happened a while ago, someone dripping paint onto the floor.  I think my cat wanted to remind me of something.  That there is such a thing as some kind of loyalty to one’s fellow creatures, despite whatever danger and fall-to-ground we might experience in our lives, there are people we have known who suffer and still think about us, as we think about them, and there is something precious in owning that knowledge, no matter how close we come to death or destruction, and that it will always be there, our loyalty and faith that other people we once loved still do think of us and feel pain about this thing we call living, even though we sometimes imagine they don’t know what’s going on in our lives anymore or care about us.  They really do still wonder and care.

~ Martha Patterson, Boston, Massachusetts

#24 – Pearls – James Spencer Dixon

I had never really considered myself a lucky person.  I never really believed in luck anyway…that was until one fateful night when I was 13.  I got sprayed by a skunk…on October 13th, which coincidentally happened to be Friday the 13th.  From that moment on, I knew that if there were a such thing as luck, mine must be bad.

This principle proved itself time and time again throughout my life, and particularly with my love life.  Relationships never really worked out in my favor.  This is why one very lucky moment changed my life forever.

A jewelry store nearby was giving out free pearl necklaces as a promotion.  I got one, stuck in my glove compartment, and promptly forgot about it thinking, “Maybe someday I’ll need this.”

Several months later, I was in a relationship with a cute little red-headed girl.  We were up on the side of the mountain, watching the sunset.  Holding her in my arms, I thought I would try to be romantic.  “Anything you want right now, anything at all.  Its yours.”

She smiled and replied, jokingly, “Pearls.  I want pearls, Jim.”

At first I laughed at our little joke.  But as soon as I remembered the pearls in the glove compartment, my heart skipped a beat!  I told her to wait right there, and I went back to my car and quickly retrieved the small velvet bag holding the necklace.

“Here.”

She opened the bag and breathlessly pulled out the necklace.

“But… how… I…You…….I was……………..wow.”

I ended up marrying her about a year later.  I won’t say she married me because of the pearls, but a little luck certainly didn’t hurt.

~James Spencer Dixon, Salt Lake City, Utah

#23 – The Eye Tooth – Van Brown

Thinking it was the right thing to do, I once hired out to a large firm.  It seemed they had magical powers.  The company would help me become significant, and worthy.  Additionally, they would shield me from all decay, and from all demons that might prevent my significance and worthiness, thus keep me safe.

So in exchange for a small wage, I was harnessed to laborious tasks where my life force would fuel their engines.  The marginal utility was that I got a share of the profits as long as I allowed the company to reinvest it for me.  By imposing penalties, I was discouraged from extracting any benefit of those profits.  It’s a good thing that I never needed them, as they turned out to be worthless.

Every day, I was given assignments, each of which were less fun than having a root canal.  I was required to sign forms where I promised to not bite my employer, so they let me keep my teeth.  At times, I thought about biting, but did not want to risk breaking a tooth in the process.  I must have valued my teeth.

I thought about being a child, and how much the tooth fairy idea helped get over the trauma of losing a chomper.   I particularly remembered getting a nickel once and told the boy next door about my new found wealth.  He showed no signs of being impressed and said the tooth fairy always left him a quarter.

I pondered the prospects of this and came to the conclusion that the market value of a tooth varied from house to house.  The next day at school, some casual conversations with other entrepreneurs in the ivory trade confirmed it.  Some got dimes, some quarters, and one girl said she got a silver dollar.

I studied that girl for a while, and noted no particular manner of conduct that would make her a better person than some of the other children who got nickels and dimes.  As a matter of fact, I was surprised she got more than a penny.

I also studied how I might make some progress with this tooth fairy business.  Since I knew I couldn’t change the circumstance of where I lived, I  decided to take my next tooth over to the boy next door.  I explained what I had in mind, and we worked out an agreement to split the profits.

Evidently, there is a rule that the tooth has to be under the pillow of the person who lost it, and not to be passed around for just anybody to use.  Somehow, the tooth fairy caught us at our scam and the rest of our teeth were removed from the commodities market by the Securities Exchange Commission of Elves, Pixies, and Fairies.  Turns out that the elves and fairies were imaginary, as were the hobgoblins my employer was protecting me from.

Since I was never allowed to sell the rest of my teeth, I kept them.  I began to see some things that before were hidden from my eyes.  Perhaps my eye tooth was doing the looking.  In that leadership role, it guided all the other teeth to chew through the bindings that tethered me in servitude.

Freedom turned out to be more valuable than the wage and worth a whole lot more than any disbursement the tooth fairy would have been able to make.  I would do it again, even if I had to break every tooth in my head to cut myself loose.

~ Van Brown, Atlanta, Georgia

#22 – The Big Round Red Scare – Christopher Cunningham

On Christmas Eve of ’53,
while children slept, starts our story.
A holly jolly tub of fun,
St. Nick had work that must be done,
so, “Dasher, Prancer off the floor,”
when “Who is that at our front door?”
A mail man stood letter in hand,
“I hope this won’t mess up your plans.”
So, Santa took the envelope,
ripped out the note and read real close,
“You have been called to testify,
we know the truth you cannot lie.
December 25th’s your day
to put the truth out on display,
before the House’s Committee
on Communist Activity.”

Christmas morn on Capitol Hill,
the labor groups fought through the chill,
to defend Santa’s politics
from congressmen and capitalists.
Santa smiled at their bravery,
then walked by Joseph McCarthy.
St. Nick walked over to his chair,
a media blitz already there.
A gray haired man started the day
by leaning in and speaking plain,
“Are you now, or were you ever
a communist party member?”

“No ,” Santa cried, “It is not true.
My blood is American blue.”
The man then coughed into his mic,
“Have your elves ever held a strike?”
Santa was ready to reply,
when from the crowd came this mad cry,
“A cap’talist won’t give for free
all kids a gift on Christmas Eve.”
Another, “Those elves sure aren’t paid,
you little commie renegade”
“With Stalin you must be in bed,
’cause you favorite color’s red”
“We agree, you must desist
acting like a Bolshevist”

The crowd began to get so loud,
warily, Santa looked around,
jumped from his seat, ran through the door.
Into the streets the people poured.
Santa picked up a picket sign,
high-fived the labor union line,
ran down the street, into the mist,
then turned around raising his fist.
He bellowed loud into the night,
“Merry Christmas to all and to all fight the fight!”

~ Christopher Cunningham, San Antonio, Texas

#21 – Bring Him Home – Marel Stock

I was a Freshman in college and life was pretty good.  I was worried about silly classes, dorm room workout parties, and what was on the cafeteria menu.  Then, late one night, I got a phone call from Kenny.

Kenny was a quiet boy that set next to me in Chemistry class in high school.

Kenny was with the first troops into Iraq.  We watched the Saddam statues come down.

He came home and all was well for awhile.  I went to college.  And then, in the dorms, I got a call from Kenny.  I could tell he was crying but was trying to hide it.  He told me he was crossing into Iraq.  The troops were making calls to families before crossing over.  He never said he was scared.   What he said was  that in the battalion that went before them, all the soldiers with his position had been killed.  Kenny was a bomb dismantler.  He was with the team that went ahead of the group, spotted roadside bombs, and dismantled them before the rest of the group came.  I kept wondering why he was calling me.  Then he said: “I can’t get a hold of my mom.  Her phone wasn’t working when I tried to call.  I need you to call her and tell her I love her.”

I think my heart stopped for a minute.  And I tried not to cry.  “Yeah, that’s fine.  Just let me know what her name and number is.”  More than anything, I did not want to be Kenny’s final words to his mother.

I wished him luck and said goodbye.

I walked into the quiet, abandoned common area upstairs in the dorm.  I remember looking out the window and only seeing my own reflection.  And then, all I could think of were the lyrics:

“God on High.  Hear my Prayer.  In my need, You have always been there.  He is young.  He’s afraid.  Let him rest.  Heaven blessed.  Bring him peace.  Bring him joy.  He is young.  He is only a boy.  You can take.  You can give.  Let him be.  Let him live.  Bring him home.  Bring him home.  Bring him home.”

For nearly an hour, all I could do was replay these lyrics over and over in my head.  They became my prayer.  And I honestly couldn’t think of any other words to pray.  All I did was cry and plead in a song-lyric prayer that Kenny would come home.

I called his mom the next morning and tried to sound upbeat.  “Hey… my name’s Marel.  I’m friends with Kenny.  Yeah.  We went to high school together.  Anyway, Kenny called last night.  They’re crossing into Iraq today.  He just wanted me to call you and tell you that he loves you.  He tried to call you, but your phone wasn’t working.”  I remember her saying something trivial like “dumb phone.  Anyway, thanks for telling me.”  And that was that.  I really prayed that wasn’t the last time she heard “I love you” from her son… through me.

Kenny did come home.

Kenny returned a third time to Iraq.  And when his time with the Marines was over, I asked him what he wanted to do.  He said he only had the skills to become a pyrotechnic or a hit man.  He went to gunsmith school.  And then he joined the Army.

I say a prayer for Kenny and for all the other quiet boys that serve our country so we can enjoy our dorm room dance parties and cafeteria lunches.  God on High.  Hear my prayer.  Bring them home.

~ Marel Stock, Anchorage, Alaska

#20 – The Clothing Quilt – Elise Osorio

Once there was an old forgotten grandmother, (at least I thought she was forgotten until her freckle faced grandson started visiting) who lived down my street, in a red brick house with a green lawn and spring tulips forever in bloom.

I noticed that once a week (when I would pull back my curtain and stare through the window), every Saturday night, a little boy with perfect freckles and red hair would come and visit her, and  with him he brought the forgotten grandmother all sorts of clothes in cardboard boxes.

Red shirts, child’s skirts, used jeans, onesie pajamas, all sorts of clothes!  I wondered what the forgotten grandma would ever do with such clothes, and so many.

After a couple months passed, I decided to work up the courage and leave my window side, and walked to the front of her green grass lawn with the tulips forever in bloom, and met the red haired boy, but this time, he had no cardboard box with him.

“No clothes today?” I asked him.

He gave me a very toothy smile, “No, not today, she’s finished.”  He noticed that I was a bit confused, so he offered his small hand to me, “Would you like to see?”

Inside we went, the house felt more like a cottage, warm, and wood, the lights were sparkling and golden.  All was clean, all was welcoming.  There were colorful jars in the kitchen, couches and pillows, and coo-clocks adorned the walls.  And then in the middle of the living room, I saw what the boy had meant.

There lay the clothing quilt.  Patches of jeans, squares of the soft onesie pajamas all cut up and outlined by red shirts, and children’s skirts.  The old forgotten grandma had sewed on the remaining buttons and zippers all throughout the quilt, as if all of these clothes were being pieced and held together by their old buttons and zippers.

The old forgotten grandma looked on at us, as the little boy and I approached the quilt and traced the patterns with our hands.

If you think about, the quilt was quite mismatched and, perhaps doesn’t seem like anything special.  But in that moment, in that golden house, with the freckle faced boy, I traced with my fingers the clothes of their family: they lived their lives in these clothes, laughed, worked, cried, played, loved in these clothes.  Oh the memories!  And it was all put together into a large blanket, that would cover her generations to come: starting with her freckle faced grandson.

~Elise Osorio, New Delhi, India

#19 – The Golden Apples – Alan Bruggeman

Warily, the man stretched forth his arm to pluck a golden apple.  The tree’s branches sagged with the weight of its bounty, surely no one would miss just one.  The apples glowed brightly from within, illuminating the tree against the black of the night sky.

He snapped the apple from the branch.  The glow flickered and faded, then was extinguished as the apple withered and rotted.  He plucked another apple and earned another handful of rot.

“Would you like an apple?”  Only then did the man notice the woman sitting with her back against the tree.  “Here, take three.  I give them freely, with no expectation of return.”  The apples continued to glow as she handed them to him.  The tree, however, faded into the night and the woman along with it.

The man held his future in his hands.  “With one I shall win love.  With one I shall win riches.  And the last I shall save against the day when love and riches are no longer mine.”

He hurried to the house of the woman he had loved only from afar.  Until today he had never dared approach her.  Until today he had nothing with which to win her.

His heart raced as she opened the door.  He introduced himself.  She smiled and said, “Yes, I know you.  I see you every day as you return from the market.  I’m glad you’ve finally stopped to speak with me.”

Her kindness was unexpected and unsettling.  He struggled to deliver the speech he had rehearsed.  “I’ve longed to speak with you before, but have feared that words would betray me.  Instead of words, I bring you a marvel that is your equal.”  He cradled a golden apple in his palm.  “This wonder is worthy of you: most rare, most beautiful, most precious.”

She took the apple, which immediately withered in her hand.  Staring at the rotted core, she quietly said, “Is this how you see me?  Please leave.”

The next day the man nervously entered the Market of Wonders, a section of the marketplace reserved for the sale of the rare and mysterious.  He spied The Merchant from afar and waited anxiously.  The Merchant was unmistakable.  Though no one knew his name, everyone knew of his adventures seeking, finding, and selling rarities.

The apple nearly slipped from the man’s hand as he stepped before The Merchant.  “Sir, my humble apologies, but I am sure you will find what I have to offer worthy of your attention.”  He presented the apple to The Merchant.

The Merchant eyed the glowing orb.  “Remarkable!” he exclaimed.  “This is indeed worthy of my attention.  May I examine it more closely?”

“Certainly,” said the man and handed the apple to The Merchant.  But in The Merchant’s hand the apple faded and withered.

“Guards!  A swindler and a fraud!” cried The Merchant.  The man fled the marketplace, knowing he could never return.

The man journeyed home, cursing the golden apples.  He was in no mood for the beggar that sat near his door.   Dirty and ragged, she stretched out her hand.  “I need food,” she whispered.  The man stared at the final apple.  He recalled the words of the woman who had given him the apples.

“I give this apple freely, with no expectation of return,” he said as he gently wrapped the woman’s hand around the apple.  In the woman’s hand the apple glowed more and more brightly.  The man squinted to see the woman lift the apple to her mouth.  She devoured it and its light devoured her.  Then the light disappeared, and the woman along with it.  A small glowing seed remained.  It sank into the soil.

A tree grew.  Marvelous golden apples grew from the tree.  The man sat with his back against the tree and waited.

~Alan Bruggeman, Seattle, Washington

#18 – The Hill Where Goats Cry – Susan Gilbert

Father said never to take the goats onto the hill.  Goats would eat the berries and there would be none left to harvest.  Then father went to his fishing boat.  Brother said the hill was a good place for goats, they liked it up there and wouldn’t run off.  This was true.  The goats stayed on the hill.

The boy liked it up on the hill.  He could see across the fields and houses to the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other.  On the hill-top, Brother showed him a game.  They lay on their backs and looked up to the blue, where clouds rolled and rushed.  The clouds were very fast.  Brother told him the clouds were horses and dragons and warring gods.  Soon he could see the dragons and even the angry faces of the gods.

After a time the goats were unhappy, they ran about, holding their heads high.  Then they climbed on top of each other and they were crying.  Brother said they were bad goats and he hit them with his stick.

There was a big noise inside the hill, inside him and the world moved.

Brother did not comfort him when he fell over.  Brother laughed and said it was not the gods, just a tremor, nothing to be scared of and anyway the hill was a safe place.  Father said so.  Brother called him a baby.  He told Brother he was not a baby, he was four years old.  Mother said so.

Then another noise came.  First it was low and far away.  It moved inside him like the noise that came before the world moved.  But the world didn’t move again, the noise just grew louder.  It became like no noise he had ever heard.  He looked away from the mountain, towards the sea and he saw the noise.

It was brown and flat with houses and trees moving in it.  It was much closer than the sea.  It was coming towards the hill and there was nothing behind it.  Only brown.  He looked to Brother, asking what it was, but Brother said nothing.  Brother was crying.  Brother ran away down the other side of the hill.

He waited as the brown came and made the hill small, only just a bit taller than Father.  A fishing boat came and leaned on the side of the hill.  It was broken, there were no fishermen, no father.  The goats huddled together, crying sadly.

He still waits.  The goats wait.  Brother has not come back yet.  He pulls a wooden bit from the fishing boat and pokes the hill with it.  The hill does not move.

Now he is thirsty and hungry.

Inside a parcel of folded leaves, Mother has put a rice cake and some small onions.  He opens the parcel and eats.  The goats eat too, they have found the ripe berries.  He eats some berries, they are sour, but they stop his thirst.

He waits.  Dark clouds have come and covered the blue sky.  He does not look at them.  It is cold now and Brother still has not come.  The goats lie down, close together.  They have a warm, safe smell.  He pushes his feet against one, it sniffs him, then puts its head down.  He snuggles in among the warm goats.

Brother will come back soon and they can take the goats home together.  They won’t say they took the goats up the hill.  Father would be angry.

~Susan Gilbert, Huddersfield, United Kingdom

#17 – Rose O’Brien – Dana Fleming

It was a Wednesday in late June, and I went into the city centre to visit the Limerick office of revenues and tax to sort out my tax return.  I was lost.  A woman perhaps in her late 60’s or early 70’s in a pink suit with a matching hat was walking on my side of the road.

“Excuse me,” I said, “could you point me in the direction of the Tax Office?”

“Oh of course, my dear!” said she.  “It used to be right along this road, but it’s since moved.  How about I come with you?  I just need to drop a book off in the library, would you mind waiting?”

“Not at all.”

“You’re grand,” she said with a smile and went in.  We walked and talked.  Okay, so I talked.  She never ran out of questions.  I told her about my home in America and my job at McDonalds.  There was something about her eyes.  I could not put a word to it.  The color, it was so…beautiful?  Well, it was beautiful, but that wasn’t the word I was looking for.

“Now what’s your name dear?” she asked.

I smiled. “Dana.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Dana.  My name is Rose O’Brien.”  And it was all I could do to not tell her that my middle name was Rose and that my Irish ancestors were O’Briens.  I hear that the Irish grow weary of us Yankees relating our Irish ancestry, so I just smiled and said. “So nice to meet you as well, Rose.”

We reached the building; she walked with me inside and explained everything in great detail at least twice.  After explaining to the point where there was absolutely no possibility for confusion, (perhaps it showed a bit in my face) she smiled shyly said she just wanted to make certain I would be okay.

Then she held my hand and squeezed it tight, and said “Oh deary, best of luck to you now.  Maybe I will drop by and visit you at work one of these days!”  I smiled and told her I would love that.  She was going to leave, but then she grabbed my hands one more time and looked into my eyes, as if she couldn’t stand to part.

Our eyes connected, I realized the word I was searching for.  They were familiar…the color was exactly mine.  The blue, green, and gold all layered in one iris.

And suddenly she was gone.  And suddenly I wanted nothing more than for her to come back, and give me a second chance to ask her about herself, and find out where she grew up, and who she was when she was my age.  Did she ever marry?  Was she ever in love?  What book did she check back into the library?  Did she live alone?  What’s her address?  Does she like snickerdoodles?  Singing?  Could I bring her both one of these afternoons?

What stopped me from running out that door and chasing her down?  This woman who for some reason cared for me so much, and I hadn’t done a thing!  What stopped me?  Taxes could of been dealt with later…anytime that day…that month!  Who said they had to be dealt with at all?

My body stood awkwardly for a few seconds as my thoughts chased Rose out of the office and down the street.  A lady at the desk brought me back.  “Excuse me? Miss?”

When did paperwork and paychecks become more important than a living, breathing woman?

“Miss?  Can I help you please?”

Who shared my name, my ancestry….my eyes?

~Dana Fleming, Chewelah, Washington

#16 – Construction Workers – Kristen Pullen

Construction workers work all over town.
They build things up and they tear things down.
Construction workers fix houses and streets.
They patch up the sidewalks so they look really neat.

Construction workers wear hard yellow hats.
Constructions workers drive big bobcats.
They drive dump trucks and big excavators.
On tall buildings, they ride outdoor elevators.

Construction workers work all through the day.
They don’t have time to nap or play.
When the job is finished, they’re glad to be done.
Then they go home to have some fun.

~Kristen Pullen, Indianola, Iowa

#15 – When Sharma Flew – Eric Samuelson

One morning, Sharma woke, and realized he could fly.  One tiny leap, and his head banged on the ceiling, and down he flew.  He raced outside to practice, and this time, he made it to the top of a tree.  He caught just a glimpse of a bird’s nest full of eggs, before landing lightly.  His next leap, he managed to float long enough to grab a handful of eggs, which he took home to his mother for her breakfast.

Day after day, he flew higher, and stayed up longer, touching first the rooftops, then the tops of mountains, then the clouds themselves.  And with each flight, he found some new present for his mother–a gem from the mountaintops, spun sugar from the clouds.  And Sharma’s mother became very wealthy, and she began telling him what new presents she wished from him, and her house filled up so she had to move outside and live in a tent, but still she asked him–this time “a mountain goat’s hoof,” that time “a shred of lightning.”

And Sharma grew weary of flying, weary of collecting.  Then came the final demand.  She asked him to get her the breath of God.  He flew,and searched, and flew, and searched, until he touched the moon and brushed the sun, and still he searched, but to no avail.  And his mother became very angry.

So Sharma flew one more time, this time higher than ever before.  And there he lay, floating on the breeze.  And he felt it, a warm breath that touched his head and warmed his legs and filled his heart.  And he looked down at his mother, living in her tent.  And he thought “I will float her forever.  I will gather no more.  I will live in this warm breath, and I will never return.”

And he never did.

~Eric Samuelson, Provo, Utah

 

#14 – Two Tigers – Rocky Chang

A man is walking through the woods one day when he spots a tiger.  This tiger is very hungry and decides that the man would make an excellent meal.  A chase ensues and the man, running for his life, comes to the edge of a large cliff.

As he looks over the cliff, the ground gives out underneath him and he slips over the edge but grasps onto a root before falling to his death.

As he hangs from the root he notices that at the bottom of the cliff, a second tiger has appeared and is waiting for him to drop.  Flanked by a tiger above and another below, the man looks and sees a berry growing from the root which he his currently holding.  He picks the berry and tastes it.

It is the best thing he ever ate.

#13 – The Steel Specter – Lindsay Clark

It was the graveyard that hid the secrets of night.  The little graveyard hid behind the tall hill north of town – twenty minutes by day, double by night.  No roads led there except the inescapable road by death – and with that, there is no path home.

James took the path by night.  Lantern clutched in one hand and pocketknife in the other, his eyes darted from tree to tree, watching and listening.

A twig snapped – goose bumps crept their way up his arms as he went rigid, the small knife faintly gleaming in the moonlight.  “Where are you?” a tiny voice said in the blackness between trees.

The knife disappeared back into its casing as James relaxed.  With a sigh, he held up the lantern to a pair of pale blue eyes.  Timothy shielded his watering eyes as he stumbled out of the blackness toward his brother.

“Hurry up,” said James as he pulled Timothy closer, “we don’t have much time.”  James started walking into the darkness ahead and Timothy stumbled to keep up with his older brother.

“You know what they say about the Angel…” Timothy called out, “six people are missing, James.  Six.”

“I know what I’m doing,” James said as they stepped out of the shadow of the woods.  “I just want to look at it.”

The two tread into the light of the full moon.  Before them, the graveyard spread out like a black stain of stone on the sodden landscape.  Statues stood out like specters amongst the crumbing sarcophagi.  The brothers slowly walked past the iron gates that read ‘MEMENTO MORI’ in faded letters.

“Remember that you must die,” James whispered. “That’s what it reads.”

Timothy clutched his brother’s arm with shaking hands.  James held up the light to each stone face they passed—they were wrought with pain, shaping the figures into grotesque forms.  And then they saw it – the Hawthorne Angel, wrought entirely out of black steel.  The eyes were twin glass marbles that twinkled in the moonlight, reflecting the faces of the two boys.  A long scythe was in one hand—the other was outstretched, beckoning all visitors to come closer.

Timothy cried out when his brother stepped toward it, but James didn’t stop.  “It’s a stupid myth,” James said.  He stretched out a trembling hand to touch the Angel’s extended one.  “See, it’s just a slab of steel, nothing more…”

Before they could touch, though, a thundering noise sounded from behind them.  James clutched at his pocketknife as he spun around, trembling and fearing the worst.  Timothy dashed behind his older brother, away from the sound.  It rang out once more—the graveyard clock, chiming out the call of the dead, the hour of midnight.  James relaxed as the clock sang its deathly toll, twelve strikes in the night.

As the final chime rang out, a new sound rent through the air—the boys turns around and saw the unearthly sight of metal bending and screaming in the blackness.  The dark steel of the Hawthorne Angel warped and moaned, its arms and wings stretched open wide around the closest thing to it – Timothy.  They suddenly closed around the boy in a twisted cage of metal—

James backed away in horror.  His foot caught on an unearthed tree root, making him fall.  When he looked back up, the noise was gone.  The Angel was back in its solemn pose, one arm outstretched…and Timothy was gone.

The twelfth chime died out, fading away like a slow exhale.

~ Lindsay Clark, San Antonio, Texas

#12 – Turkey Sandwich – Caitlin Cotten

Jacob was the last at the table, staring at me over the lazy susan.  It was because of the partially eaten turkey sandwich on his plate.  He dug his thumb into the sandwich, making a perfect Wonder bread crater.

“Ok,” I said, “do what you want to it, but you have to eat it.  Three more bites.”

He looked up from his plate, which was beginning to look a bit like he was experimenting with a new sculpting medium.

“I want Cheetos,” he said, pointing to the bag of puffy Cheetos I’d placed in the middle of the lazy susan as incentive.  You see, the rule was ‘no sandwich, no puffy Cheetos.’  And Jake loved himself some puffy Cheetos.

I sighed.  “Great, you can have some,” he smiled big, “just as soon as you finish your bites.”  He looked down at the sandwich.  If looks could kill, that slice of turkey had just suffered a second death.

Usually Jacob not finishing his dinner wasn’t that big of a deal.  He was the finickiest little kid when it came to eating.  Sometimes he’d eat you out of house and home and other times you practically had to force the issue.  But forcing made him gag, so you counted your blessings if he ate one full meal in a day.  We called him hummingbird.

It had been a hummingbird day.  My mom gave me her Jake is going to starve himself to death look when he announced, “I’m full,” after two bites.  I decided as his aunt it was time to show the kid a thing or two about eating food.

I picked up my copy of Sarah’s Key and began reading at the table.  Like most hummingbirds, Jacob is more likely to eat if you don’t look at him directly.

He sighed and slumped in his red wooden high chair.  “I can’t.”

I looked up from my book.  “Yes you can.  Three more bites and then you can have a Cheeto.”

He narrowed his big blue eyes and pursed his lips around his buck teeth, a look he had decided as a toddler was pathetic and funny enough to get him whatever he wanted.  I went back to reading.

Five minutes later I heard him chewing.  He’d taken a bite!  I couldn’t help myself: “See Jacob, not so terrible, is it?” in my best teacher voice.

He put his hands over his eyes, hanging his head as he swallowed.  “I want Cheetos.”

“I know.  But two more bites, Buddy, that’s it.  Just take ’em.”  I wanted to hang my head too.  WE’d been at this for a half hour and all we had to show for it was Stonehenge made of turkey sandwich and one measly bite.

“I don’t want to.”

I looked up from my book.  “We all do things we don’t want to, Jacob.  You know that?”  He looked up with a wad of sandwich in his hand.  Our eyes met.  He narrowed his, sizing me up and then nodded as if he understood.  Life was full of turkey sandwiches we don’t want to eat but had to, if we wanted the Cheeto.

“I want Cheetos, please.”

I decided a wad was as good as two bites and I was pretty sure I was going to be dealing with a nuclear meltdown or the turkey going bad if we sat with the sandwich much longer.

We counted out four Cheetos. And almost as quickly they were gone.

#11 – Vienna in Red – Krystle Perkins

I scrimped and saved.  I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew that I would get there.  I signed up to go to Vienna.  No particular reason.  I knew Vienna was in Europe and I knew that it would be fabulous.  We were required to take a class preparing us for our time abroad.  Everyone was on their best behavior knowing that we would be spending three months together.

I sat next to a pretty girl. She had flaming red hair and a quiet demeanor. She was one of those people that was gorgeous and had no idea.  We didn’t really talk.  I found myself drawn to others in the group that were loud; those that voiced opinions about traveling to Spain and France, meeting boys, and making this the time of our lives.  That was my plan.  Live loud, fast, and exciting.

A month before we were scheduled to leave, our Professor announced our rooming assignments.  I dreamed of a city location where I could party into the late hours of the morning without worrying about getting home.  Instead I was to live 45 minutes outside the heart of the city.  With the red haired girl.  We made eye contact across the old square room in the maser building.  She was quiet.  I was nervous.

We got on the plane to Vienna, all 17 of us, and the red haired girl and I still hadn’t spoken more than two sentences to each other.  We didn’t sit next to each other on the plane.  When we landed they shuttled us off to a hotel and said.  “Do anything but sleep.”  Somehow we translated that into, “Sleep as much as you want.”  We woke up grumpy and exhausted.

Now it was time to separate from the group, the two of us off with our host mother.  Alone together.  We arrived at a quaint house in the countryside.  Covered in fresh flowers and slugs.  She directed us to our separate rooms in the attic.  This is what we would call home for the next three months.  We settled in still unsure of how to act around each other.  We spent our evening unpacking and then we slept.

The next morning we waited for the bus.  We spent a lot of time that summer waiting.  For the bus.  The Tram.  The train.  For friends.  And it was those moments where we got to know each other the best.  They weren’t empty.  Talking, dreaming, expressing fears, being 100% honest.  The red haired girl turned out to be one of the loveliest people I had ever met.  She loved her family.  She craved adventure.  She laughed at my jokes.  She was a diehard romantic.  She loved fresh underwear.  She loved working out.

We spent the summer experiencing Europe like it was meant to be experienced.  Living off of nutella and bread.  Backpacking through Italy.  Sleeping on trains.  Forgoing make up.  Morning runs through the lush forests.  Going to art museums.  She was the best friend a girl could ask for.  And she still is.

I often think about where I would be if Professor Plummer hadn’t assigned us to be roommates.  I literally have no idea who my friends would be.  Life is pretty interesting like that.

~ Krystle Perkins, Puyallup, Washington

#10 – Matilda, the White Wicker Rocking Chair – Phyllis Barash

My name is Matilda, and I am a White Wicker Rocking Chair.  I live on a balcony in a big high rise building at the edge of the ocean.  I thought I knew everything there was to know because I was always observing the world around me.  One day a Purple Balloon flew by.  “Hello.  I’m Matilda.  I know everything, but I don’t know you.  Where are you coming from and where are you going?”

“I was on my way to a birthday party and I got lost.  I am going wherever the wind will take me,” the Purple Balloon said.

“You should have been careful,” I answered.

“I was, but everything happens for a reason,” the Purple Balloon replied.

“I never heard of that, and I know everything.”

“Maybe you don’t know everything.  Maybe some day something unexpected will   happen to you, too,” the Purple Balloon told me.

“You were careless and you got carried away.  Nothing like that is ever going to happen to me.  I will always be right here, where I belong.”

“You don’t know what might happen in the future.  Some extraordinary journey might be waiting for you.  Anything is possible.  There’s more to this world than what you see from your balcony,” the Purple Balloon answered.

“I know there is an ocean, and boats, and birds, and fish and clouds that change into different shapes, and children that play in the sand and build castles, and people that collect seashells.  I know there are sailboats and ocean liners and rafts and beach balls and airplanes and rainbows.  I know all of that because I see it.”

“Do you know from the other side of this building there are different things to see?”

“I can see everything that I need to see, and I know everything that I need to know.  I don’t want to listen to you anymore.”

“Someday you will understand,” the Purple Balloon whispered, and he vanished.

A few months passed, and every once in a while I thought about the Purple Balloon.  I wondered where the wind took him.  Then, one morning the sun disappeared.  The sky filled with dark clouds.  Tremendous waves in the ocean came leaping on the beach.  The branches on the trees started to shake.  Huge flocks of birds went soaring by.  I had never seen the sky or the ocean like that before.  I asked one of the birds flying by, “Do you know what’s happening?”

“There’s a hurricane coming,” the bird replied.

“What’s that?” I called out.

The bird answered, “You will find out,” as he rushed away.  Suddenly, I was lifted into the air.  I started to fly.  I flew higher and higher over my building, and over other streets.  The force of the hurricane kept twirling me faster and faster.  I was lifted above clouds, and I couldn’t see the beach or the ocean or my building anymore.

Finally the storm was over.  I floated closer to earth.  I saw the Purple Balloon resting in a tree.  When he glanced up, he watched me dancing in the sky, and he smiled.  I waved at him, filled with wonder.  Then I landed on my balcony.  I was home.

I never saw the Purple Balloon again.  He is on his journey, and I am on mine.  I keep his memory in my heart, and I hope one day he will touch your life too.

~ Phyllis Barash, Miami Beach, Florida

#9 – To The Girl in the Mirror – Ariel Mitchell

I picked up this paper to write to someone else, but I saw you looking back at me across the pristine white plastic chasm of my sink, that I only just cleaned today, the Venus razor balanced precariously on the ledge, wobbling, indecisively contemplating falling, and thought how long it has been since we have talked, since I have really seen you.

I didn’t recognize you at first. Hair mussed, cascading across your face while at the same time statically charged, standing on end.  Shaking hands push it back to reveal a sunken face. Is there anything behind those sallow cheeks and hopeless eyes?  Was there a time when they sparkled and smiled?

Don’t turn away.  I didn’t mean to bring up tender memories grown raw from overuse.  Raw like your arms that you have been rubbing ceaselessly, wringing out the fear.  A little red but alive.  Young.  Strong.  But not really.  What can they do?  Hold a pen, press buttons, turn pages, cling limply to railings on buses, stairways, lifting, holding you up.  For what purpose?  What have they done?  Such a waste of human flesh to have so much power literally at your fingertips and to let it slip through your grasp like the gush of water shooting past your touch into the basin of the sink.  They don’t seem to understand that they have given up.

It seems so sad to mar them.

They are a reminder of what was, or rather, what could have been, what you could have done.  Of your potential.  It’s funny to think of you now sitting alone in your bathroom, toilet turned armchair, unwelcome light sneaking in through the blinds dancing on the tiled floor, teasing.

Is this what you wanted?  The girl in the picture frame.  The little girl, white-blond curls bouncing as she runs toward the photographer, toward her future, toward the possibility of anything and everything.

Don’t look at me like that.  You brought me here. Y ou chose as well as me to become this person, this face, this empty shell who can’t even make the decision to leave, to eradicate herself without trepidation.

Why am I writing this?  I should be writing to the person who will find me, who will find my prison sprawled on the floor in a mess unnatural to the sterilized space.  Will they care?  They’ll probably wonder what they did wrong.  Never understanding that the guilty party lies at their feet.  I wish they would blame you.  Blame that face.  Blame your inability to act, to choose to make something of yourself.  But they won’t.  Don’t they see the monster that you have made me become?  How can they look past the death to see light behind those eyes?

I wish… I wish I didn’t love them.

You look at me from your mirror, piercing eyes peering into my soul and I can’t bear it.  Tears drip down and I push against the faucet, stopping the flow.  I won’t see you again.  The empty face.  The strange girl in the mirror.  I don’t want to know you.

One last look.  For what they see.  Just for a second.

Maybe.  I can be that girl.

#8 – Dreamless – Stella Nickerson

There was a girl who wrote down her dreams.  They never told the future, and they didn’t give her wise advice.  She wrote them down because she wanted to know the soft strange corners of her own mind; she wanted no secrets from herself.

Until she stopped dreaming.  It went on for months, her sleep flat and dark.  She became easily irritated and easily distracted.  She forgot things, and no matter how much she slept she was always tired—bone, muscle, and nerve.

Her father took her to doctors who told her to diet and exercise and gave her pungent yellow pills.  Her mother took her to herbalists, hypnotists, acupuncturists.  One day she waited in the lobby of a psychoanalyst.  An older woman in an orange dress sat down beside her.  The woman leaned over and whispered, “If you want your dreams back, get into your car.  Fill the tank with gas, and then drive.  It doesn’t matter which direction.  Drive without stopping until the gas is gone, burned up and released to the sky like a prayer.  When the car will go no farther, look to the side of the road.”

The girl wasn’t sure why she trusted the woman in the orange dress.  But she climbed into her car.  She drove through the tangled woods of her own country to the grasslands beyond, the fields as flat and featureless as dreamless sleep.  The car puttered to a stop in the middle of nowhere, about a mile up the road from a farmhouse (because every middle-of-nowhere is the middle of everywhere to someone.)

She looked to the side of the road and saw it—a concrete building without windows, with no opening but a single door.   It stood in the middle of a wheat field, cutting across the rows.  She climbed out and waded through the wheat to the building.  When she tried the door, she found it unlocked.

Inside was darkness lit only by neon lights attached the ceiling and walls.  The lights formed words in English, Arabic, languages she didn’t recognize.  And in the watery colored light she saw things tucked into cubby holes or laid out for display.  After, she could never quite remember what she saw.

Turning a corner, she found a man.  He sat in front of a television turned so that she couldn’t see the screen.  He looked up at her, smiling; he had the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen on a man.

“I’m watching yours right now,” he said.  “They’re wonderful; you have a very special mind.”  He leaned forward and drew something from his television screen, and then held out his hands to her.  His cupped hands brimmed with silver light.  “Here.”

She held out her hands, and he poured the silver light over her palms.  It felt like someone kissing her fingers as it sunk into her skin.

“Stay with me,” he said.  “you never knew about stealing dreams.  Think of what else you never knew, that I know.  Stay with me.”

She looked at his eyes, too beautiful for comfort.  She thought of everything he could show her, the soft strange corners of the world.  She thought, too, of a life spent stealing dreams and leaving people tired.

“No,” she said, “and never.”

And then she was standing in a wheat field, blinking in the sun.  She thought: I shouldn’t have said “never.”

She walked to the farmhouse to ask for gas, and drove back to her life.  The next morning she wrote down a dream—all neon, and “never,” and the most beautiful eyes…

#7 – The Truth of Light – Miki Brewster

Once I was a star and I blazed in the sky.  I radiated throughout the universe and comprehended nothing, save the light I emitted.  This brilliance was all my own and only to prove I could be the brightest in the heavens.  To outshine my brothers’ and sisters’ luminosity was my purpose for beaming.

It was because of this that I fell.  When I mustered all the luster in my being, I used it up and could no longer light the night.  Out of the sky I fell into an atmosphere I had lit, but never known.  As I plummeted down, I caught fire and blazed not only with light, but with heat.  Hotter and hotter I got until I could not stand it! This fire was not worth the price of being brightest.  The inferno burned all of me, consuming me with flames.

When I felt myself losing the will to continue, I crashed into the earth.  The pain I felt from falling did not amount to the pain of the questions that now arose: Where am I?  Why so much pain?  How do I go on?  Why me?  I struggled to see the foreign world around me.  So much darkness; there was so much I didn’t understand.  How could anyone, especially a star, live in a place so forlorn?

When my eyes finally adjusted, I started to comprehend.  I could see there was life to earth far greater than simple light of stars.  This life was complex, had intentions.  It shone through every being in ways I had not known as a star.  Though darkness shadowed all things, it was for this that the light of love existed brighter.  Here, there was goodness to overpower the bad.  Yet bitter was necessary to comprehend how good was sweet.  I saw so much potential within that just needed the permission to shine, to crack through and emanate.  It was not about competition—the simple fact that you exist meant you could radiate.

This earth does not need a single beacon, I thought to myself, it needs the unified gathering of light.  I understood my purpose: to shine for the good of all and to never extinguish.

#6 – Oscar, The Doorman – Paul Warshauer

I was 6 years old and lived in a tall apartment building in the Hyde Park section of Chicago.  I called my friend Mark and his parents dropped him off.  We were bored and Mark was a troublemaker.  I, of course, was an angel.

My parents (Mort and Jeanne) went off with Mark’s parents (Martha and Eddie) to get some groceries, leaving us alone.  After routine play with trucks and cars, Mark and I ate some cookies and milk in the dining room.  He looked out the window and his suggestion was to toss things out onto the asphalt parking lot below to see what it would look like.  The building had just put fresh tar on the lot it so there were no cars down below.  I protested but the thrill was too much for me.

We started with eggs tossing them one at a time, and screamed with delight as they hit the hot, black surface.  We moved up and tossed a glass bottle of milk, a lamp, and a toy fire truck.  More screaming!  Although I protested at first my little toy cash register went next.  The doorman, a great big man named Oscar, heard the crash and looked up from the debris and saw two little heads pop out of the window nine stories above.  He shook his fists, and we knew he was coming up.

Mark and I ran like madmen around the apartment looking for a safe place to hide.  We hid in the front closet under some coats.  Oscar knocked on the door and he used his pass key to come in.  Although we tried to be quiet, we kept telling each other, “Shussh, quiet he will hear us!”  Oscar walked up and down the apartment calling out for us.   He must have heard us trying to be quiet and stopped in front of the closet door.  Our hearts stopped.

Oscar slowly opened the door.  I remember that light ceased to exist as his big frame moved in.  He gently grabbed us both and although we were convinced that he would kill us with his bare hands, surprisingly he was more upset that we could have fallen out of the window.  He was scary but actually gentle at that moment.

Time stopped but I remember our parents both arrived shortly thereafter.  Mark and I cried but I heard Mark tell them that “It was his fault!”   What a liar!  I countered that it was his idea.  No matter.  There was an adult discussion of a word we didn’t know, “consequences.”  We were forced to go down and clean up our mess!  The eggs and milk had spoiled in the midday sun so we both got a little sick.  Mark never came over again.

~ Paul Warshauer, New Ulm, Minnesota

#5 – The Honu – Cohen Jones

My name is Cohen.  I am five and a half years old.  I go to kindergarten at Cherry Hill Elementary.  I have been to Hawaii four times, but for a long time, I never saw a sea turtle.  In Hawaii, sea turtles are called honu.  I had never seen a honu.  This year, we went two times to beaches where turtles were supposed to be.  We took lots of pictures of our family on the beach, but we never saw a turtle.

Then, we went to Hanauma Bay.  It was early in the morning and cold and windy.  I didn’t want to go in the water because it was too cold.  So I sat in my daddy’s lap and he kept me warm.  My mom was out snorkeling.  For a long time, I built sand castles with my cousin, Ava.  It was really cool.  Then I decided I wanted to go snorkeling.  I did not wear a snorkel tube, because that was too hard.  I just wore my swim goggles.  They are blue.

Mom and I got on our boogie board.  We went sideways so we could both fit.  We paddled and paddled and kicked with our feet to go out into the ocean.  We took a deep breath and put our heads in the water.  Right in front of my face, not two inches, but probably only one inch was a SEA TURTLE!!!  Mom and I lifted up our faces so we could be excited together.  Then we looked again and again.  We didn’t touch the sea turtle because that is against the law because we could get it sick.  We kicked our feet and followed the sea turtle to watch it swim.  It was fast.  Faster than a cheetah, I think.  Just kidding, not really faster than a cheetah.

I also saw an eel in a little dark cave.  I saw lots of fish, even a humuhumunukunukuapua’a.  The fish were very cool because they were black, gray, yellow, and lots of different colors.  We were out on the ocean for a long time.  I felt so awesome that I finally saw a sea turtle.  The end.

#4 – The Rivet – Joshua Pluim

This is the story of how my parents met.  My grandfathers, Philippus (Philip) and Willem (Wim), were orphans.  They grew up together in an orphanage in the city of Nijmegen, in the Netherlands.  They each knew the other and occasionally would get into mischief together.  One day in May 1940, they were looking over the garden wall toward one of the bridges that crossed the river Waal.

Suddenly, they saw the bridge explode!  In order to slow down the advances of the invading German army, the Dutch were destroying their own bridge!  One of the red-hot rivets from that exploding bridge flew right between the two, and landed in the ground behind them.  Later, when it cooled, Wim dug it up and kept it.

After World War II, each married and began a family.  Wim eventually immigrated with his family to the US, while Philip stayed in Nijmegen.  During one of Wim’s visits back to Nijmegen, he ran into his old friend, Philip, and invited him and his family to visit them in the US.  The next summer, Philip’s family did so, and that was when Wim’s son Howard (my dad) met Philip’s daughter Margaretha (my mom).

The fateful rivet is now a prized family heirloom.

#3 – The Midnight Ride – Devin Wadsworth

On a warm summer’s night, five friends had gathered for a night camping on the banks of the winding Snake River.  Restlessness had overcome them and one suggested they take a midnight drive.  Without objection, they all climbed into one car and began to drive without a destination.

A few of them had visited Moody Meadow and when it was suggested that their traveling go in that direction, the rest conceded willingly.  For several miles they followed the dusty, rocky road through the forest and into the foothills.

Many laughs were exchanged as old times were relived and friendly bonds were strengthened.  All at once, a feeling of terrible darkness and despair overcame every one of them.  Fear and dread prevailed as none of them knew the cause of such horrible terror.  As the feeling grew stronger, it was felt that they should halt their proceedings and return to whence they came.  The most desperate effort was put into stopping the car and turning it about.

Speeding down the dark road, the feeling soon left and the friends were able to find laughter and excitement in the remainder of the drive.  The five companions soon learned that a cabin, known in legends to be home to dark and evil activity, stood not far off the road at the place where the dreadful feeling had overcome them.  To this day, all five of us still muse about what was going on in or at that cabin, and what might have happened if we had continued further into the woods.

#2 – As You Wish – Beau Brewster

“I am done! I am walked over day and night! I can’t do it anymore,” screamed the Persian rug in the main room of the home of a large family.  “Day in and day out kids are getting their muddy foot prints all over me, the dogs pee on me, and the vacuum keeps eating up my frayed edges. I wish, oh how I wish I could…”

Just as the carpet was about to finish his thought, rainbow colored smoke poofed into the room.  The psychedelic smoke was blinding at first but in a few seconds it seeped into the hardwood floor as a Genie appeared.

“Did I hear the words—‘I wish’?”  The Genie’s smile was as big as the Cheshire cat’s.  His power astounded the rug, insomuch that the rug was speechless.

“I…I… um… I…”

“I know what you want, don’t say a word, but once you wish it, there’s no certainty on what will occur.  Wish wisely because you can’t wish back.  What you wish is what you get, that is a fact.”

I know what I want and it will be better than what I have.  If I don’t wish it this second I will be stuck forever with the fate that I have now.  This thought overcame his speechlessness.  “I wish to be free!”  He burst out with a yell.  “I don’t want to be stuck to one spot all of my life!  I want to move, I want to glide, that is the life.”

“As you wish…”  With eyebrows raised and a hesitancy in his voice, the Genie snapped his fingers and poof, he was gone.

Within the blink of an eye, the rug floated through the sky.  He was no longer constrained to the life of immobility and service.  “I am the master now!”  His joy filled his whole self.  Through the entire house he flew, looking at things that he never knew.

“What am I doing in this house?  It’s great and all, I guess, but I am free to go wherever I wish!”  So off he went, out of little Mary’s window and over the fence.  He flew through the sky and visited everywhere he wished.  He flew over LA, New York, London, Rome, Paris, Moscow, Delhi, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong.  He saw everything he ever wanted to see but when it was all said and done, he wanted to be home with those that he loved.  “Maybe I’ll call them,” he said floating through Sydney.  He flew down to the ground but couldn’t land.  He ran into buildings trying to bring his journey to an end.  Why can’t stop?!?!  I constantly move!  This isn’t the wish that I created.”

“Did you say ‘wish’?” asked the Genie who poofed in front of the rug as he continued to fly through the air.

“Hey Genie, I have bone to pick with you!  I want to take a rest but no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to stop moving.”

Laughing in delight, “That was your wish and remember, I tried to warn you: ‘once you wish it, there’s no certainty on what will occur.  Wish wisely because you can’t wish back.  What you wish is what you get, that is a fact.’”  Before the rug could say something back the Genie poofed out of sight.

From then on the rug lived without rest.  Through his choice that he didn’t fully think through, he was left with a life constantly moving without purpose, without love, and in the end without freedom.

Your choices create your destiny, so choose wisely.

#1 – Would You Like To Meet Her? – Jacob Shamy

Not too long ago in a small town called Kingsport, Tennessee, a public speaker had finished a motivational seminar.

Afterwards, a woman approached him and said, “Would you like to see a picture of her?”

Slightly confused, he replied, “A picture of whom?”

“A picture of your wife,” the woman returned.

Now this man was pretty sure he had never been married before, but he decided to follow along with the woman to see where she is going.  So he curiously said, “Sure.”

With complete sincerity, the woman reached into her purse and pulled out a picture of her daughter and said, “Would you like to meet her?”

This somewhat shy man was thousands of miles from home and had been approached by a total stranger to be set up on a date with her daughter.  He did not wish to offend the woman so he responded with what he thought would relieve him of the awkward situation without risking offense to her, “She’s very lovely…I’m sure anyone would want to meet her.”  He was very proud of his answer.

But the determined mother continued her quest immediately.  “Okay, well when you get back to your hotel room, you call me and I’ll set you up.”

Oh, good grief, what have I gotten myself into, the man silently thought to himself.  The woman gave him her phone number and departed.  The man returned to his hotel room late that night and briefly thought about calling, but quickly decided against it.  He awoke the next morning and fled the city; he drove 30 miles to his next speaking location and figured this whole ordeal was over.  He thought wrong.

About 15 minutes into his seminar the woman from the night before appeared at the back of the room with her husband.  They made their way up the center aisle and sat down on the front row.

The man began to sweat.  The woman had been calling all night to find out where this man had gone and when she found out, she packed the family in the car and drove the 30 miles to see him.  When I say family, I don’t just mean her and her husband.  About 10 minutes after they sat down, the daughter appeared at the back of the room and the man’s brain stalled.  He stammered his way through the balance of his seminar.

Afterwards, introductions were made.  You won’t believe the first thing this girl said to him.  She greeted him in a beautiful Southern Accent, “Hi.  So when are we all gettin’ married?”  And the man’s thinking, Whatever is wrong with this woman, the daughter seems to have it to.

The parents left…without the daughter.  Now the particulars of what happened next are not important.  Let’s suffice it to say that the two had a lovely time and we’ll skip ahead a few months.  The woman was called on the phone and asked to travel the couple thousand miles to visit the man at his home.  Apparently, she didn’t understand the word “visit” because she packed all her things, quit her job, and told everyone goodbye.  After her travel, she arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Ten days later she married the man.

But the most important part of this story is what happened to the couple a year later: I was born.  And that, my friends, is the story of how my parents met.