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Hog Creek Review
Allen County High Schools 2009

Allen East star Apollo Career Center star Bath star Bluffton star Delphos Jefferson star Delphos St. John’s star Elida star Lima Central Catholic
Lima Senior star Perry star Shawnee star Spencerville star Temple Christian
Freshman/Sophomore Division
For the Better
Stephanie Pohlman, Delphos St. John’s, $60
Sponsoring Teacher: Christina Elwer

The door opened with a quiet creak.  I looked around, but I already knew there was no place to run.  A beam of light moved across the far corner of the department store.  I would soon be caught red-handed for the third time.  The third time, the judge said, meant going to prison.  (Not being able to see my family and friends for a year -- having to spend time with other delinquents.)  I decided running would only make my punishment worse, so I stood in the open, just waiting.  I closed my eyes as the police officer clasped the handcuffs on my wrists and led me to his car.
My name is Riley Landon, and I am fifteen years old.  I never thought I would go to prison at such a young age.  I was a pretty good kid until my parents divorced when I was twelve.  My grades dropped, I left my friends for a gang, and I started to commit crimes.  At first, the crimes were just little things like shoplifting a pack of gum or nail polish.  Over time the items got to be a little bigger and more expensive.  But lately, I have been breaking into stores at night, trying to steal money, purses or electronics.  Tonight I was trying to make away with about a thousand dollars in merchandise before I was caught.
The next morning, I woke up in the police station to the smell of freshly-made coffee and the buzzing voices of the officers.  A female officer came over to me and helped me get ready for my case with the judge.  I already knew what the judge was going to say, though, so I didn't practice too much on making myself look innocent.
After I had a cold meat sandwich for lunch, the female officer drove me to the courthouse.  Walking through the entrance, I noticed my mom.  She had tears streaking down her face, and her eyes were extremely swollen.  I knew what was running through her mind at that moment.  What could she have done to help her only daughter? How could she keep me from leaving? I glanced up at her with sorrowful eyes, trying to think of a way to lessen her pain.
The court hearing went quickly, ending with an unsurprising verdict.  I was to spend a year at Oakwood Ranch where I would be taught that hard work and determination would pay off in a good way.  It is a co-ed center, so I would be interacting with boys and girls my age.  The ranch also has animals, and the students care for them.  The judge told me this is one of the best camps in the state.  I was granted one week to live with my mother before I was moved.  I didn't have very much freedom because I had to wear a tracking device around my ankle.  The judge told me to get used to it though, because I would be wearing it for the next year.
My last week at home flew by.  My mom tried to keep me as occupied as possible with going shopping, visiting the park, and going out to eat.  I wasn't allowed to watch TV, play video games, or get on the computer.  My mom wouldn't even let me say good-bye to my friends without watching over me like a hawk.  The last day with my mom was the hardest because she was blubbering the whole time she helped me pack my bags.  I finally made her go to another room where I couldn't hear her.  It was already bad enough.   I was going to prison.  I didn't need her to make me feel worse about it.
At 7:30 the next morning, I heard a sharp rap on the door.  The officer was here to take me to Oakwood Ranch.  I said a quick good-bye to my mom and headed straight to the car that was waiting for me.  Sitting in the backseat of the car made me feel like a true prisoner because bars were between me and the driver.  I looked out my window the whole ride, knowing that this would be my last look at normal life for a while.
Arriving at the ranch was a hard thing to do.  All my freedoms and privileges were gone.  I had to earn them back one step at a time the hard way.  My roommate was a girl about my age named Jillian.  She was very talkative and a little annoying.  I sat with her at lunch that first day, and then I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about everyone.  She briefed me on my classes and teachers, and she informed me what to expect on the ranch.  She told me one of the hardest things to do was clean out the barns.  I was also allowed to write one letter a week to send anywhere I want.  As I lay down to go to sleep, I thought to myself that it might not be too bad here.
I was definitely wrong.  This place was just as bad as it looks in the movies.  Everything I did was monitored and timed.  I was only allowed to have a couple minutes in the restroom by myself.  Everyone gets up at the same time in the morning and gets dressed in the same style of clothes.  We then all head to the cafeteria where a breakfast of hot oatmeal is served during the week.  On the weekends, though, the cooks will serve up something special.  After breakfast, we all split up and headed to our schooling classes.  These classes involve the basics -- science, history, math, and English.  There are also a few extra classes thrown in, like guidance and counseling courses.
The only thing I really liked about the ranch was the animals there.  My favorite class of the day was taking care of the animals.  I went out to the barns each day with my class to be taught how to handle animals properly.  We are also required to do hard work by cleaning out the stalls.  If I worked my way up, I would be able to visit the animals several times a day.
Jillian helped me study last night.  We didn't get much studying done, though, because she was chatting between every other sentence.  She told me that she caught word of a group of kids being transported to Oakwood Ranch because of remodeling at another state institution.  Apparently, all of these kids could ride a horse reasonably well.  The ranch was considering adding a horse club to the list of available activities.  This could very possibly interest me.
It has been two weeks since I first arrived at the ranch.  Time seems to go fast when the same activities are repeated day after day.  The horse stable was my favorite place to spend time.  I had gotten to know the horses reasonably well in the short time I had spent with them.  My favorite horse was a gray mare named Susie.  She could be gentle and kind when she wanted to be, but was ornery and rebellious at other times, kind of like me.  I was allowed to ride her now, but only if I looked after her and cleaned her stall.  I told Susie all of my secrets and concerns, and she shared her feelings with me through a nuzzle or stomp.  I knew I could depend on Susie to get me through a rough day.
As I started to walk to the barns one day, I noticed Susie was out in the pasture with someone.  In a huff, I ran up to the fence to see who was with my horse.  A boy about my age was leading Susie around with a rope.  I hopped over the fence and stood beside him as he led Susie.  The boy just glanced over at me, then went straight back to his task.  After a few minutes, I became impatient, yanked the rope out of his hands, and began to lead Susie back to the barn.  The boy chased after me, hollering about how I had no right to take the horse away from him.  I stamped my foot, and I told him that this was the horse I signed up to take care of and ride, so she was mine.  The look on his face was priceless, full of confusion and amusement at the same time.  I couldn't help but laugh.  His harmonious laugh joined mine a few seconds later.  As soon as all the laughter was out of both of us, the boy introduced himself as Justin Wilson.  Justin was a boy from the group of kids that came here from another state institution.  He knew how to ride a horse, and said he would teach me if I wanted to learn.  I told him that would be great if we could find time in our busy schedules to go to the stable.  Now I would finally get a chance to learn how to ride a horse properly.
Justin was at the stables the next day.  I skipped over to stand by him as he brushed another horse.  I smiled at him and said that I was ready for my first lesson.  Justin grinned back and followed me to Susie's stall.  The first thing he taught me was how to properly groom her and clean her tack.  Apparently I wasn't doing it well enough to meet his high standards.  After Susie's coat was shiny and her tack was clean, I thought Justin would teach me how to ride.  I was wrong.  Justin first said I had to be able to take care of Susie well enough that I could clean her in my sleep.  I had to get to know my horse's mood by the way that she presented herself and behaves.
I had been at Oakwood Ranch for about a month and a half.  Whenever I was able, I'd go to the stables to ride Susie.  Justin was there once in a while and helped me.  Justin was teaching me how to ride Susie when she is running.  The feeling of freedom overwhelmed me as Susie and I gallop through the pasture.  It would be even more fun if I could run past the ranch's barriers, into the woods, but I knew that wouldn't ever be possible.
Justin told me he talked to the head of the school the other day about having a competition at the end of the year for horse riders.  The competition would include speed, maneuvering, and jumping.  I was pumped and hoped the head master would consider it.  This was just what everyone at the school needed - some friendly competition. 
When I was riding Susie in the pasture, Justin came running up to me with the most excited look on his face.  The head master had agreed to a horse competition!  Justin said I had real potential at winning the contest, and said he would help train me.  There was only one condition--I would have to devote all my energy and time allotted to practicing with Susie.  I gladly agreed to Justin's conditions and started to practice right away.
After only the first week of practice, every muscle in my body hurt.  I didn't think anyone could ever get so sore from just sitting on a horse all day.  I was wrong again.  Jillian and I had an argument the other day about the horse competition.  Jillian thinks this whole horse thing is just a waste of my time.  She proclaims there are better activities to do at the ranch instead of riding horses.  I got a little livid with her and chewed her out.  She hasn't said a word about it for the rest of the week.  It's not my fault she pokes around in my business too much.
Today marked my sixth month at the ranch.  There is also only one month left until the horse competition.  I have pretty well mastered my speed and maneuvering, but Justin says I need more work with the form on Susie's jumping.  I believe my horse is doing just fine, and I don't want to push her too far.  Susie and I developed a special bond.  We were like best friends.  Susie would get excited when she saw me, and she could tell if I was the one who was riding her.  I would get a joyful feeling in my stomach, too, whenever I saw her.  We really cared  and looked after one another.
With only one week left until the competition, it was now officially crunch time.  I had to try to stretch what little time I did have into a lot of time.  Justin had been pushing both me and Susie to our limits.  After practice, when we headed back to the stables, Susie and I would both be absolutely exhausted.  I really do believe all of our hard work has paid off.  Justin said that I jump and maneuver almost as well as an experienced rider.  Susie is also an exceptionally fast horse, so that will help in the speed division.  I was very enthusiastic and could not wait until the competition.
 The day I had been waiting for had finally arrived--the day of the long-awaited horse competition! The stables are filled to the brim with riders, spectators, and, of course, plenty of guards.  Susie seemed to be enjoying all the attention she has been getting today.  I, too, was all keyed up and ready to get started.  When an announcement for all competitors to get ready behind the stables was sounded, about fifteen other riders and horses followed me out the door.  Here, the rules were restated by the judges, and numbers were given out.  I was handed the lucky number seven.  The judges then told us to take a warm-up lap around the make-shift track.  As the horses were prancing around the track, the open area around the fence was being filled in by spectators enjoying the day outside.
A bell was signaled for the racers to head to the first challenge—maneuvering.  Justin reassured me that I would do fine.  I nervously awaited my turn to ride around the barrels.  My number was finally called, and I took a deep breath as I led Susie up to the starting line.  The bell for me to go sounded, and I took off in a blurred dash.  I carefully maneuvered Susie around the barrels.  We crossed the finish line just a couple tenths of a second earlier than the best rider so far.  For now, we were in first place.  I stood by the gate, biting my nails as I watched the rest of the competitors fall below us.  After the last horse crossed the line, it was announced that number seven has won this challenge.  Justin and I jumped up and down like little kids, filled with pure joy and excitement.
The next challenge was jumping.  I have an advantage being in first place, so I was not as nervous as before.  My number was announced, and I hopped on Susie.  The bell sounded, and Susie leaped gracefully over the first fence.  She was doing perfectly fine until we turned the corner for the last jump.  This fence was taller than the ones we were used to practicing on, and Susie got a little tense.  She bumped the bar just a tiny bit with the back of her left hoof.  The judges caught the mishap.  It hurt our score a little bit, but we still remained in first place.  Susie and I were still placed at first until the very last rider started to jump.  He did absolutely perfect on every jump and won first place for that challenge.  This meant Susie and I were down at second place on the overall list.  I was so bummed, and so was Justin.  Susie even seemed a little down to me.
There was only one challenge left--speed.  The speed challenge was set up just like a horse race, where all fifteen riders start at the same time and duel it out to see who comes in first.  Justin calculated that if I came in first at the race, I would win the whole thing.  This put a great deal of pressure on Susie and me.  After a short break, (which was enough time for Justin to give me a pep talk) the bell sounded to get ready for the race.  I slowly walked Susie over to her designated starting gate.  I looked around for rider fifteen, who has taken first place overall so far.  He was only two spots away from me.  He noticed I was looking at him, and he gave me a dirty look.  He clearly wanted to win this race.  I sighed and took my starting mark.
The shot sounded, and the race began.  Susie had a great start, and we dashed off to find ourselves with the top five horses.  Susie rounded the first turn very well, and we took the lead.  I knew we wouldn't be able to hold this spot for very long.  After the next turn, rider fifteen came up behind us.  With two turns left, I knew that Susie and I would have to give it our all to pull this off.  We stayed neck-and-neck as we rounded the third turn.  Rider fifteen looked over at me and hunched down as far as he could to prevent any air resistance.  I mimicked him and off we sped to the fourth and final turn.
While we were nearing the last turn, rider fifteen swerved in close to the inside of the track, trying to cut me off.  Just as he was doing this, I remembered a technique that Justin showed me that would fool the other rider.  I quickly jerked the reins and let Susie fall behind rider fifteen.  Justin said that, due to my sudden change in direction, the other horse would become confused and lessen his pace ever so slightly to allow for another close horse to take the lead.  Justin was right.  The other horse was mistaken, and Susie was able to come around in front of him! The race was still close, though.  Susie and I managed to cross the finish line first, half a length in front of rider fifteen.  The competition was finished, and Susie and I took home the gold.  Justin ran up to us with a huge smile on his face, and gave Susie and me both a big hug.  He said he knew I could pull it out the whole time.  He even enjoyed the trick I added at the end.
Before the awards ceremony, I went around and shook the hands of the other competitors.  I gladly took my place on the platform when they called lucky number seven.  The head master handed me a small plaque with a horse engraved on it.  As I stood on the platform, I couldn't keep from smiling at both Justin and Susie.
The judge was right the whole time.  I did learn something at Oakwood Ranch.  I now know what it is like to have that feeling of pride and confidence for doing something well.  I could now smile and brag about what I did, rather than be ashamed of it in the long run.  I have learned not only to trust myself, but to trust everyone around me.  Susie and Justin have taught me what life can be like if I turn around and change myself for the better.

Never Giving In
Emily Hullinger, Lima Central Catholic, $60
Sponsoring Teacher: Tricia May

It was early October, and Elizabeth was a senior in high school. She had long brown hair and brown eyes. She was very tall, thin, and graceful. As she grew up in little Lima, Ohio, most people knew her as Liz.  Elizabeth had been in dance classes ever since she was four years old. In about the 5th grade, she decided to give up all other activities and just dance. This really upset her Dad because he wanted her to participate in school sports. At recitals, she was always placed front and center in her performances, and it was clear she knew she was pretty good, too, though she never seemed to flaunt her talents, or brag, for that matter.
At the end of dance class one night, Lyn, her teacher, told the students about the Nutcracker Ballet Production that would be performed in December, near Christmas.  Lyn asked which students were interested in trying out for The Nutcracker, out of curiosity. When class let out, Elizabeth proceeded out the door to take off her shoes and get her bag. Of course, as always, she was the last one to leave the studio because she tended to “lollygag.”  She never seemed to be in a hurry and never really cared what people thought of her.
As she walked out to her car, she heard footsteps that sounded like they were running behind her. Frightened, Elizabeth jumped a little, then giggled. Lyn stood there and waved a paper in her face. “Why in the world didn’t you take one of these, young lady?! Out of all the girls in your class, heck, out of all the girls at this studio, you have the talent. I think you should at least try out.” Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders and stood there, dumbfounded. She decided to take the paper. Lyn smiled, “Thanks, girl!” she blurted out. When Elizabeth looked back up from the paper, Lyn was already gone and back in the studio. Elizabeth was slightly confused. She mostly just did dance because her Mom wanted her to. She got in her car and thought about the paper the whole way home.
When she got home, she carelessly set the paper down on the kitchen counter. Her mom quickly picked it up and read it aloud, very excited. “Sis! You should do this!” she squealed. Becky, her mother, had a high, squeaky voice and was well known around town. “Dancing with professionals! Liz, this is like a one time thing!” Becky always loved how Liz danced and really supported her in it.  Liz, though, just danced to please her mom. Elizabeth usually worried more about being with friends and going to parties. She just stood in the kitchen, blankly saying, “I don’t know.  I’ll think about it, Mom.”
A week later, the auditions rolled around, and Elizabeth decided she would try out.  She was a little nervous when her name was called. The dancers learned a few combinations, and she thought she only did all right. She had mixed feelings about her performance dance. While the judges scored all the dancers, the main instructor called Elizabeth out to the Civic Center lobby, and Becky went, too.  The instructor’s name was Paul, and he really admired Elizabeth’s skill.  He told her she was an absolute natural. “Would you be willing to move to Dayton?” Paul anxiously asked. Becky’s eyes lit up, and she sharply turned to Elizabeth.
“No! No! My friends! My school! I couldn’t,” Elizabeth cried. Paul started rambling, “You, my dear, have the best pointed toes I have ever seen, and you just look so confident. You should be dancing in a bigger studio in a bigger city. You, girl, were born to dance!”
Becky stood very proudly, listening to Paul talk.  “Ha!  I don’t think we can do that.  Her Dad would never allow it.”
Paul shook his head and understood.  “But Elizabeth, you do have true talent. It could take you places.  You should consider going into school for dance.”   Elizabeth smiled.  She knew she was good, but never thought she was professional material. They then called the dancers back onto the stage and called the ones forward who made it. Elizabeth made it easily. She stood, feeling strong, on the stage.
The next day, they started practice for The Nutcracker.  Elizabeth had a simple but very important part as an angel. Days and weeks passed.  Soon it was time for dress rehearsal. During rehearsal, Liz did great.  She even seemed better than some of the professionals. Off stage, some of the ballerinas would glare at her with jealousy in their eyes.  Also, the Dayton instructors loved watching her.  Elizabeth’s parents were so proud of her, and yes, even her Dad was.
The big day of performance came, and Liz felt she was ready.  Lyn gave her a pep talk, as did the Dayton instructors. “Break a leg, hun!” Becky shouted when Liz went back stage. Elizabeth was actually a little excited. A backstage employee, Nan, knocked on her dressing room door. Liz took a deep breath.  She knew it was time to line up and perform for a sold-out audience. She and a few of her dancer friends skipped down the stairs singing. All of the sudden, there was a thud. It got really quiet, and the girls slowly looked back. Liz had tripped and fallen. “Ouch!” she yelled loudly. Her friends looked at each other with dropped jaws.   “What should we do?!”  Liz screamed.  Her ankle began to swell, and she did her best trying not to cry. She couldn’t mess up her make-up with only five minutes until she went on.
“I’ll call your…” her friend Ann started to say, but Liz interrupted her with a loud “No.”  The girls found Nan, and she brought an ice pack.  The girls helped Liz up. “I can do it. It’s just one dance,” Liz quietly said to herself. She sat behind stage with the ice pack on her throbbing ankle. Luckily, it was her left ankle that was swollen; she did all of her turning on her right leg.  Everyone kept surrounding her and asking questions.  When it was her turn to dance, she hobbled up unsteadily.  Liz flashed a quick smile that obviously shouted pain. She went out and took her place on the stage.  Even Nan was worried.  Liz walked on to stage with her left leg shaking a little. 
When the music began for her part, she started out a little stiff, but in no time she was back to normal. No one from the audience would have known that she had sprained her ankle. Inside, though, she was trying to fight back the tears. People had such high expectations for her. Overall, she did amazingly, and everyone back stage was surprised. Finally, her part was over, and she let out a huge sigh of relief as she ran off stage.  Her friends ran over to her. The tears she had held in for so long started rolling out and down her rosy red face. They helped her back upstairs, telling her how great she did. She disappointedly took off her make up and got changed.
After this experience, she actually started realizing how much she did enjoy dancing, and she made up her mind she would try to pursue it as a career. Liz began loving all of the pretty costumes and the feeling she got when she was finished with a performance. Also, Liz even began to like some of the classical music, a thing which she swore would never happen.  She decided that she didn’t want to be a waste of talent.
After it was over, she wobbled out to meet her parents in the lobby. The instructors were already talking with her parents. Paul even brought out his assistant, Amy. Becky hugged Liz with joy. She could tell something was wrong with Elizabeth, though. “Why is your face all red, Sis? What’s wrong?” Liz sadly retold the story.
Paul and Amy looked at each other and grinned. “This girl is gonna make it one day,” Paul whispered.  He then held a paper in front of Elizabeth. “We heard you’re attending Wright State University, and we want you to dance for us while you are there.” Liz stood on one foot with a huge, real smile, “I don’t know.  I’ll think about it.” Her parents also smiled and looked at her. She started limping back to the car with her parents, feeling like the luckiest girl, at least in Lima, Ohio, that is.

All For the Glory
Victoria Shaw, Shawnee, $60
Sponsoring Teacher: Heather Shatto

War was never meant to be a beautiful thing, but eventually you find yourself anticipating living the life of a soldier.  You’ve been told the facts and the horrors, but you are blinded by the prospect of being your country’s hero.  You want to feel alive; you want to be free of your everyday chores and your life at home.  You want to be someone that children look up to, and you want to be in future history books.  You dream of fame and adventure.
And so you enlist.
It may just be your grave, but you wouldn’t know because you’re young and free and you’ve just been deployed.  You’re ready, except you’re not.  Eventually you’ll figure out that the glory you’d pictured isn’t worth it, but by then it may be too late.
You’re the only woman in your platoon.  The men’s facial expressions clearly say you won’t last long.  They taunt and trick you mercilessly, but you do your best to ignore them.  Your captain is a nice man, older, who sticks up for you, shows you around, and explains everything with a calm sort of patience.  “You okay, soldier?” is his customary greeting.
So far, no action.  The trenches are being dug, and the day is bright.  You drink from your canteen and wait.
You don’t have to wait long.
There are gunshots that seem to ricochet in the blank columns of your mind, echoing and never fading, always buzzing.  Shells explode left and right and above you.  You don’t know what’s happening.   Your head is whirling, and you feel like you’re going to be sick.  Suddenly, he’s there–not your captain, but one of your nicer comrades–and he’s staring at you with a gruff kind of worry that instantly has you on edge.  You stare into his eyes, and it takes a moment to register that, yes, he is actually talking to you.  You feel the confusion hazing your mind, much like the poison gas that fell many of your new friends and rivals.  Your hands begin to shake, and you fumble to keep a hold of your gun as he stares you down.   “Hey, you okay?!”
You expect his words, but can’t hear him over the rushing of bullets and the blood pumping in your ears.  It’s frighteningly silent, but you can see things flying and people screaming, and it should be loud but it’s not.  It begins to scare you and your mouth moves to some language that you can barely recall in your confusion.  “Y-yeah, I - !”
Then he’s not there any longer, and all you can see is blood and a crumpled heap at your feet.  It’s not too dark yet, so you’re able to see his eyes staring up at you, and in that moment, you know it’s going to haunt you as long as you live.  Your vision begins to blur and you lurch to the side just into time to empty your stomach of the little rations you’d eaten over the past few days.  Your fingers scrape the dirt for purchase, searching for a way to get away from the empty corpse that had been speaking to you not moments ago.  The trench had been a safe place at first, something that had reminded you of your childhood forts.  It had been a comfort; now it was your prison.  The rain left puddles ankle-deep and made the sides slick with mud.  It smelled of death, and you were surprised this was the first time you’d been sick.
Absently you picture yourself, covered with dirt from head to toe and smelling of something worse than garbage, but not smelling as bad as the bodies around you, your expression haggard and worn .  .  .  in a word: horrible.  And when the whistle suddenly sounds from farther down the line, you can almost feel the blood draining from your face.
You’re able to scramble over the top of the trench after a few long moments of struggling and vault across the ground as fast as possible.  It’s hard, since a part of your mind is screaming, telling you to go back, but you proceed on with the men on either side of you.  Gunshots echo, and people begin to fall around you.  You barely avoid tripping over a body and watch for more carefully.  The ground is no longer firm, but is made of mud and water.   It’s slippery and smells like a swamp.  The enemy trench isn’t too far, and you’re not surprised that most of your comrades have fallen already.
You are surprised, though, at the fact that you are still standing.
Momentary panic engulfs your mind, and your footsteps falter as you ponder what to do once you reach the enemy trench.  In that moment of hesitation, you see an enemy angle his gun towards you, and your side explodes in flames of pain as he presses the trigger.  You’re sent to your knees, and your hand presses weakly to your side.  Your vision begins to fade into darkness as the noise around you lowers to a dull roar that you hardly hear.  Suddenly, you’re very calm.
The last thing you see before you hit the ground is another man falling beside you, and the irrational thought that maybe the men in your platoon were right.
A long time later, it seems, you open your eyes.  A figure leans over you, and you stare in confusion as your captain peers down at you anxiously.
“You okay, soldier?”
And you began to laugh in a distressed state of delirium as he explained that you were the only one in your entire platoon to come through alive.  You’re sent back home the following month, and as you watch the camp fade away, listening to the gravel crunch beneath the jeep’s tires, you think to yourself, Who’s laughing now? when in reality, no one was.
(Because war was never a beautiful thing, and now you could understand that.)

Flirting With Katrina
Max Brodbeck, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Tricia May

I wake up from a terrible dream.  There is one slight problem, actually, one huge problem.  This is not my imagination playing tricks on me.  I wake up in a rain-soaked room with the windows blasted out from the very strong wind whipping my body.  I struggle to get up from the bed and there is debris scattered across the room.  Somehow the room still has electricity because my alarm clock is blinding my eyes with its blinking red light, repeating 12:00.  I rub my face to completely shake off the death-grip hold of my sleep.  I begin to wobble across the room to the door to open it.
The hallway is filled with sleepless nurses and terrified patients.  I walk past them like it is a normal work day and into the bathroom.  Once I get done cleaning myself up, I start to check my patients.  Most of my patients are in their fifties to late seventies, and this visit to this forsaken building could easily be their last.  I walk over a flipped-over stretcher and find the cement stairs.  I start my walk down the stairs, and to my left and right are nurses, doctors, and even some of the healthier patients-- praying.  I am about to get down to the second floor, but a nurse cuts me off.
The nurse yells, “Sam, it’s too dangerous down there.”
I reply, “What exactly is going on?”
The nurse runs off without an answer to my question.  I am very confused about the situation going in this building.  Many thoughts are running through my mind.  What happened while I was asleep? What about my patients? What’s so dangerous down there? Should I be panicking like the others? While these thoughts run crazy in my mind like a wildfire, I start to smell the scent of salt water.
I reach what is left of the second floor, where random medical supplies are floating away harmless, like clouds in the sky.  I notice a black shadow getting closer and closer to me.  I start scrambling back up the stairs until I hear a familiar voice.  I turn around to see Harold Steel, one of my patients.  Harold is a patient of mine who transplanted a kidney just two days ago and was resting in one of the death beds.
Harold screams, “Sam! Thank God, you’re here.”
I ask, “What happened here?”
“It has finally happened.  Judgment Day is here.”
“God is coming.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Goodbye, Sam.”
I try to understand what he just said, but he goes back into the water before I can respond back to his terrifying assertion.  I still have no clue what is going on, but I notice the water is starting to climb the stairs up to me.  I struggle up the stairs to get to safety.  Right now, my safety is the fourth floor cafeteria.  The cafeteria is like an urban desert.  No one is around, so I just get whatever I want out of their storage area.  After eating my stolen meal, I feel guilty. I feel like I should have left some money on the counter, but I decide it might be taken by an unwanted party.  I walked back to the nurse’s counter on the fifth floor.
Nurses and doctors are flying across the hallway into patients’ rooms.  These frantic actions reminded me that I should check on where my patients are.  I find a bloodshot-eyed nurse at the desk, writing notes and messages for doctors and nurses.  She looks up at me.
She asks, “Who died this time?”
I answer, “I don’t know, but where are my patients?”
“I have no clue.  If they were on the first or second floor, they are most likely dead.”
That last word “dead” hits me so hard I almost fall to the ground.  The people that I was trying to heal are now dead.  Then I remember one of my patients telling me about a huge storm that is coming and how its path could go over this sinful city.  I did not have time to go and think this one out, because I am hit by a tree branch that flies into the hallway from a shattered window.
I wake up and find myself still on the hallway floor.  The hit from the branch knocked me out for a good couple of hours, and it is morning again.  A new nurse is now at the desk to freak out and have a breakdown.
I ask, “How long was I out?”
She screams, “You’re alive!”
“Yeah, but how long was I out?”
“I can’t believe it.  You’re alive!”
She runs off down the debris covered hallway to tell the world about my recent recovery.  I wonder how long I was out that she was amazed that I was alive.  My guess is that I was out for a full day, and no one had the time to check me because they were too worried about their patients.  I decide to walk down the hallway to find someone not hysterical to talk to.  The hallway is almost completely empty except for the debris of branches covering the blue tile floor.  I find a room that is occupied by no one other than Harold.  He looks at me and almost falls to the ground.
I ask, “What day is it?”
He answers, “I have no clue, but I can’t believe you’re still alive.  I haven’t seen you in three days.”
“Yeah I know . . . wait, three days?”
“Yeah, I saw you yesterday on the ground and thought you were dead.  I even asked the lady at the desk and she thought you were dead, too.”
I leave, knowing that soon he would start to ramble about the end of the world and six-headed dragons coming down to make us suffer for our sins.  I still cannot believe that I was knocked out for three days.  I think to myself, What might have happened while I was knocked out?   I cannot come up with an answer until I look outside from the blasted window.
From where I stand, I can see destruction everywhere.  Cars are pressed up against buildings, water has risen up to the third floor of most buildings, every single window is shattered on every building, and something even more gruesome.  In the most likely diseased water, bodies float like leaves.  To make matters worse, people are just calmly swimming past these bodies and are taking whatever is good from the buildings.  I almost vomit from the scene of total destruction.
A few days have passed since I was knocked out, and there are still no rescue teams out trying to save us.  Every day it just keeps getting worse.  More people are dying, we are running out of food and water, and people are starting to go cuckoo.  A prime example of a person going cuckoo in this forsaken building I now have to call home is Harold.  Harold is starting to speak in tongues (or gibberish).  I cannot really tell because I have never heard anyone speak in tongues.  Harold has started preaching to us in the hallways about how Judgement Day is upon us and we were not good enough to be brought up in heaven by God, so we were left here to die.  I honestly think Harold was mental before this ordeal ever happened because he was always too energetic about very small events in the world.
There are only a few patients, including Harold, six nurses, and three doctors.  At this moment, we are rationing our food because we have had no outside contact,  and it looks like no help is coming.  Yesterday we sent out two nurses and one doctor to try to reach someone and try to get a rescue team here.  It has been already a day, and they are still not back, so we have pronounce them dead.
I start walking down the hallway to play cards with the other doctors when I hear someone screaming.  I cannot recognize the voice because the person sounds like they are crying and screaming at the same time.  I run to where I thought I heard the voice, but no one is there.  Then I notice the makeshift window, the one that we made out of the debris that has floated into the building, is opened.  I scramble over a death bed to the naked window and look down.  I see the normal destruction, but there is one small new thing now.  Harold is stuck on what seems like fourth floor.  There is some kind of hook that is holding him from the deadly water and a certain death.
He screams, “Lord, let me die!”
I yell down, “Harold, don’t move.  I’ll get help.”
“Sam, let me go.  I want to stop the pain of life.”
“We can help, Harold.”
“It’s too late.”
Harold jerks his body off the hook and disappears under the deadly water.  I look away from the disgusting site of his body just floating there.  I should have known that he would do this, but I thought he was sane enough that he would not kill himself.  I just hope he is in a better place and his family is all right.  I did not have that much time to mourn for his loss because of a gunshot.
Someone is in the deadly institution and has a gun.  I hide in the room and watch from under the bed.  Two men in dirty old clothes are randomly shooting the hallway with 9mm.  I have feeling these two went to the police station and raided it.  One looks in my room.
I have never been so scared in my life.  My life is on a high wire and is about to fall into the spikes of a dark death.  I start to sweat, and he looks around aimlessly without any purpose.  He looks in a cabinet.  His back is turned from me.  I climb out under the bed and run up behind.  I wrap my arm around his neck and start choking him.  While I am choking, I fly my leg out to kick the gun out his hand so he has no way to stop me.  I put my other hand over his mouth to make sure his friend does not hear me killing his buddy.  He struggles for a few seconds, then becomes limp.  I let his lifeless body drops on the blue tile.  I pick up his gun.
Now I am in charge.  I walk down the hallway and look for his partner in crime.  I find him about to shoot two nurses.  I jump in the room and shoot five bullets into his body before he can even react.  I shoot once more because he tried to move his arm up to shoot me.  He dies from the sixth bullet.
I get the shocked nurses back to rest of the nurses and doctors.  After I walk them back, I cannot help but cry.  I cannot believe that I just killed two men.  I need to get out of here--or dispose the evidence.  Before I can do this, the doctors and nurses tell me that they will protect me from getting criminal charges for my two killings.
The next morning, a rescue team comes by and takes us to a shelter.  When we are there, we tell them all the events that happened, and I become a national hero.  I was in interviews on national news programs with my title as “Hurricane Hero” below me on the screen.  I finally see my family a week later.  They were moved to one of the hurricane-relief towns.  They thought for sure that I was dead, but they still prayed for me.  We live in this town for a year or so until we are allowed to come back to our house.  Somehow our house only had a little water damage, but other than that, it is fine.  We decide to move a year later, though, because I have flashbacks of the storm and the hospital.  Now I live in a small town that has a small local hospital.  Luckily, this whole new setting in no way reminds me of my painful past.

Storming Omaha: The Story of One Man’s Courage
Matt Nalley, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Tricia May

It was a time of great tribulation, a time of rising national pride, and a time of incredible prosperity.  Back then man had to work and work hard to be able to provide for himself and his family.  That was back when men fought for their country and to maintain their freedom.  It was the time of World War II.
Back then, all four of us were alive.  They had drafted us right out of high school,   four young men, ready to take on the world and more than happy to fight for our country.  We had been friends for as long as I could remember.  We used to hang out all the time back then, whether it was going to a movie, eating at a diner, or just hanging around town.  We were the best group of friends in town.
One thing we always did was Danny's Fridays.  On every other Friday, no matter what we were doing, we met up at our favorite diner: Danny’s.  It wasn’t a big diner; it was pretty small, actually.  But we liked those slick, shiny floors; those nice red-cushioned seats; and the constant sound of plates clattering and cooks yelling.  We loved the smell of the grease mixed with the soft scent of cigar smoke.  It was the perfect place for us.  We would all decide to order the same thing, and it never got tiring.  When we entered, we vowed that after the war was over, all four of us would come back and eat at Danny’s again.  It would be a while before that would happen, though.
We were all about the same age, but the youngest of us was Paul.  Paul was the class clown and the funny guy in the group.  He wasn’t the tallest guy in the world, with black hair and the darkest eyes I’ve ever seen.  Not the brightest guy in the group, but he was an all-around,  pretty-good guy.
Henri was the oldest and probably the smartest guy in the group.  He wasn’t the most talkative guy but when you did get him talking he wouldn’t stop for quite a while.  He was just about average height, standing about 5’ 10”.  He had brown hair and blue eyes that changed from warm and wise when he was having a good day to cold and condescending when he was angered.  He knew how to solve every problem, and if there wasn’t a problem he couldn’t solve then we haven’t found it yet.
The strongest and probably the dumbest was Joe.  He was definitely the bravest out of us, but if it was courage or just plain stupidity, I don’t know.  Joe was about as big as Henri, but a lot stockier.  Joe was just built big.  The guy was like a tank with arms and legs.  Whenever one of us got into trouble, Joe was the one to bail us out.  Nobody messed with Joe.
Then there was me.  I was just the average 19-year-old guy reaching for the sky, and at 5’6” I wasn’t getting very far at all.  I was just the average guy in school, not too smart and not really dumb.  Back then my hair was brown.  My eyes were darker and didn’t have the look of wisdom they do now.  Separated, we were lost, but as a group we were the strongest fighting force out there.  What we didn’t know was that after this war was over we would be lost.
When we first got drafted we all got sent to a factory in London.  They separated us, so we all worked in different parts of the factory  Somehow we managed to be put in the same bunkhouse, though.  We still could hang out at breaks, and when we got off work, we could go grab something to eat together.  After working at the factory for a couple of months, we were getting pretty bored with it.  So at first, we were almost happy to hear that we were being sent overseas.  Soon, however, we found out that the factory was a much better place than the battlefield.
It all started on the night of April 19th, an oddly cold night for April.  Joe and I were up talking about some old high school memories, what we would all do when we got home, and just life in general.  It was past midnight when we heard them coming.  It was at first just a soft whirring sound, but only seconds passed before we knew what was happening.  Because factories like ours were key suppliers of ammunition for the Allied troops, they were often targeted for air raids. 
Seconds after our realization a siren started blaring. “WAHHHH! WAHHHH!” Then a voice came onto the loudspeaker, loudly exclaiming, “This is not a drill! This is not a drill! Evacuate the factory immediately!” Paul and Henri were up in a few short moments and immediately aware of their surroundings.  We started out on our way outside and toward the bomb shelter.  The night air was chilling to my waking bones, and I was still stiff from just getting up.  All around us were the whirring planes, the blaring sirens, and the sound of the bombs falling.  I was in a dreary haze.  Was this really happening? How could this happen to OUR factory? 
It was like fire raining from the sky.  The anti-aircraft guns were doing there jobs, blasting down planes left and right.  There just appeared to be too many for our small factory to handle.  The explosions were deafening.  Not multiple ones.  There were so many, it appeared to be one never-ending torrent of death.  The night sky flashed with fire.  Soon it would all be on the ground when those blasted Germans finally hit the factory. 
I could almost smell the gunpowder, and the soot starting to fill the air made it hard to breathe.   Yards away from the bomb shelter, I heard an almost inaudible scream from behind me.  It was Paul.  He had twisted his ankle on the uneven ground and was attempting to get up.   I could hear the planes coming in for a round of machinegun fire to kill off a few of us before reaching the shelter.  I quickly ran towards him.  Anyone could have been able to see his ankle was undoubtedly broken.  I started to drag him towards the shelter and heard the plane swoop over us.  With a quick burst of fire, they took out a line of men merely feet away from us. 
Paul was too heavy for me to lift.  I just wasn’t strong enough.  I heaved harder and moved him a bit farther, but this wasn’t working.  I turned around and saw Joe huffing towards us.  He threw each of us one across each shoulder and started sprinting towards the bomb shelter.  I quickly glanced back and saw the factory for the last time.  Time seemed to freeze, and I could almost see the bomb hanging in midair.  “BOOM!” The entire factory went up in an incredible crimson blaze.
There were a few stragglers that came in after us, but most of us (that were still alive) made it into the shelter in time.  It was a sleepless night for most, and a silence settled over us.  When the smoke cleared the next morning, we saw the horrors that the darkness had blinded us from.  The carnage was indefinable.  The ground along the path we took was strewn with the blood and the lifeless bodies of my fellow soldiers.  The factory was demolished.  There wouldn’t be anything made there for quite a while.  Our commander, who oversaw the soldiers working in the factory, told us that we were temporarily being sent to the Isle of Wight for something big.
We held out in London for several weeks after that.  The terror of the night still horrified most of us, and to this day I have never forgotten it.  The “something big” was the invasion of France, today known as D-Day.  That’s not what we were told.  To us, it was Operation Overlord.  Scheduled to launch on June 5, we were to be trained and ready for the invasion by then.  We were assigned to the 29th infantry division and were to be one of the first battalions to storm the beach of Omaha. 
Throughout the rest of the month of April and May, we were conditioned and built into fighting machines.  We learned to march and to properly handle all of the equipment we were going to be needing.  We would all be issued the standard M1-Garand, which was just a standard issue rifle.  If we scored high enough on marksmanship, we could get issued a Thompson, too-- a sub-machine gun.  Joe was the only one that scored high enough, so the rest of us got the M1’s and a handgun.
It was about a week before the invasion when we all got a break and could just sit and talk about everything that had happened.  We sat in our cozy London bunkhouse, and I just looked at my friends for a moment.  There was a change in all of us, a glow of maturity about us.  Their eyes were deep and hardened.  I could no longer see emotions in my friends’ eyes.  Still silence.  I made a daring move to break it, “How is everybody?” I questioned.  Paul looked at Joe, Joe turned to Henri, and Henri just stated, “Fine.”
Later in the day, I finally got everyone to speak, and the silence was gone.  We were our old selves again.  We made a pact that when we made it out of this mess, when this bloody war was over, and when we were safely back home, the first thing was Danny’s.  It wouldn’t be the same if everyone wasn’t there.  I took a good look at my friends again.  Henri almost looked smarter than before, and Paul was just clowning like always.  There was something in Joe that I had never seen before, a look of sorrow.  Nothing could prepare us for what was soon to happen.
We all packed up on June 4th and when the 5th came around, we were just a group of solemn, young soldiers.  We waited around on the 5th, and the commanders decided the weather was too bad for us to leave.  All that we’ve been waiting for ruined.  They told us that if conditions hadn’t improved by the next day, then we would just be sent back to another factory.  We couldn’t go back to factory work after what had happened, at least I couldn’t.  All hope was placed in those next 24 hours.
On June 6th, we awoke to find the conditions pleasing to our commanders, and we were told to be ready to leave by 6.  The four of us still had everything ready, and although we were some of the first into the transport boats, we were being separated.  Henri and I managed to stay on the same boat.  Paul and Joe were being placed together on another boat.  As soon as the boats landed, we were going to meet up somewhere, we said.  What that “somewhere” was, I don’t know, but we were going to find it.
It was a rather smooth ride and would have been almost enjoyable if the boats weren’t so packed.  The boats were just huge slabs of metal with sides, nothing fancy save for the landing ramp in the front to shield us from fire.  As soon as that ramp was lowered, the enemy would have clear shots at us, so we had to make sure to be out of range as soon as that ramp dropped.  Riding along, there wasn’t much to see.  I bet we were an impressive sight--thousands of boats just like ours followed shortly by aircraft carriers.  The water was a deep blue and would have been beautiful if not for the dreariness of the day.  The sun wouldn’t shine today, and many of the men with us would never see the sun shine again in this world.
When we got close, our commander started bellowing directions.  We were to take the Western Bunker by any means necessary, enter the city, and then we would be given orders from there.  I could hear the gunfire before they had even dropped our ramp, the clang of metal hitting metal, an explosion now and then.  As soon as the ramp started to squeak down Henri and I were already towards the front.  That ramp was halfway down and men started falling around us, so we both jumped into the icy cold ocean water.  Even underwater, we could see the bullets zooming past us.
When we surfaced, we could see that the blue water we had been in was now stained red with the blood of our fallen comrades.  I took a quick look around and then jumped into a crater created from an artillery shell.  I looked at Henri “You see them?” I asked.  He just stated a cold “No,” and we peeked out of our safe spot.  There were men dying everywhere, and the death toll was already great on both sides.  The sand was colored a crimson-red from all of the dead.  I still couldn’t see Joe or Paul anywhere.  I cursed under my breath. 
I studied the battlefield.  About 50 yards away from us was a line of sandbags, and there was a battalion of men crowded behind them.  Beyond that was a pile of all of the brave who had tried to charge ahead and were easily gunned down.  Those who made it past that couldn’t jump over the barbed wire and were ripped to pieces.  I looked back and saw the aircraft carriers some way in the distance.  The boats that we had just been on had already pulled back.  There were bodies of men who didn’t even make it to land floating in the water. 
While I was caught up in all of the scenery, Henri nudged me and nodded his head toward the sand bags, and so on the count of three, we were going to make a run for them.  I counted, “1…2…3…Go!” and we made a short dash for the sand bags.  We got up there, and I realized that some of these guys were in the boat with Paul and Joe.  I asked them if they had seen either of them, but no one knew where they were. 
I looked around for a sign.  Nothing was different save for a few more bodies.  The medics were starting to arrive and trying to save a few of the wounded.  I looked around frantically.  I was getting nervous now.  What if Paul and Joe were with those bodies floating in the water?  I couldn’t bear to look back at the water again.  We were now pinned down behind these sand bags, and all the fire from that Western Bunker was being directed at us, it seemed. 
I heard a plane whir overhead of us.  I shuddered because it reminded me too much of that night at the factory.  I heard the shifting of the turret guns and saw them aiming oddly towards the fence.  That’s when I saw them.  Paul and Joe were secluded from the rest of us, pinned behind that barbed wire.  There was a slight inclination in the ground which kept the enemy from spotting them, but if they moved at all, they would be spotted immediately.  Paul glanced around and spotted us.  I looked at him gravely.  Henri gave them that look that smart people give to people below them.
Joe heard those turrets start to move and grabbed Paul to make a dash towards us.  Joe was like the big brother that none of us had, and watching that big oaf stumbling through the sand to save Paul was a sign of courage none of us would have been brave enough to do.  He leapt behind the bags as the turret fired, missing him by inches.  They were lucky to be alive. 
That was one of two amazing feats accomplished that day.  As the thunderous gunning on our position continued,  we planned out what we were going to do with the rest of the men to take that god-forsaken bunker.  We were going to blow up the barbed wire in front of our sand bags and make a dash for it.  Going to different locations was what was settled upon.  Short, straight, and to the point, it wasn’t a very complicated plan.  As our demolitions man set the charges, the rest of us provided cover.  He got back and blew a hole right through that fence. 
The four of us were to clear the bunker while everyone else took care of the turrets outside.  As everyone else charged through the fence, we made sure we were the last ones from behind those sandbags.  I looked at the sweaty, sand-covered faces of my friends, the last time we were all four together.  As Joe and I charged forward, Paul and Henri fell behind us.  We got up beside that turret and looked back to find that we had lost Paul and Henri.  “Where in God’s name did those guys run to?!” exclaimed Joe.  I just looked back, confused, and replied, “I guess we’re alone for this one.”
That quick glance back was enough time for Joe to save my life, apparently.  As I glanced back, I heard a round of gunshots from behind me and quickly whirled around.  One of those Krauts had blasted Joe right in the gut with an automatic rifle.  I jerked my gun up,  fired a few shots, and watched him fall to the ground.
I knelt beside my now dying friend; his intestines were falling out of his belly.  There was blood everywhere.  Tears were dripping from his eyes and sliding down his face.  He was still alive! “I-I’m sorry” he sputtered through his tears. 
“Sorry? Sorry for what?” I questioned.
 “I c-can’t go back h-home,” he sobbed.  I didn’t say anything, trying to keep from crying myself. 
“You can still make it,” I replied as I let the tears go. 
“I’m sorry, Louis.” And he died in my arms.  I sat wallowing in my own tears, in the blood of my fallen companion.  My vision was blurred, so I didn’t see him coming behind me.
I stood up and turned around to meet a rifle butt in my face.  I don’t remember anything after that.  I woke up in the hospital a few days later.  With bright lights shining in my face and the smell of medicine and cleanliness in the air, it was very different than  the battlefield.  I looked around.  It was a plain room, and the walls were bare.  I turned to the side to see my best friends sitting beside my hospital bed.
Paul and Henri had to go save a battalion of soldier that had been pinned behind a turrets fire.  They thought that we had followed them, and it took them a while to find us.  I was being dragged inside the bunker unconscious when they came with the men they saved to rescue me.  The bunker had been taken, and I had spent the rest of the battle unconscious.  Joe was dead, yes, and I blame myself for his death.  The trip home was made in a solemn silence, and even Paul couldn’t laugh for awhile.
When we got home, we did go back to our diner.  It wasn’t the same without Joe, not as loud or exciting.  He had sacrificed himself to save me, and now we wouldn’t have Joe to bail us out of trouble anymore.  Fortunately, we didn’t get into trouble much anymore, and as the years passed, we tried to stay in touch.  It just wasn’t enough.  Without Joe, it wasn’t the same, and we moved on.
Henri got the army to pay for his college education and moved on to bigger and better things.  Now he’s the governor of New York.  He never got married; he never started a family.  He was too busy for those things.  He was always pursuing a further goal, and now he is pretty far in life.  He didn’t have time for us small-timers anymore.  As a head of a state, he had a big government salary, and he was set for life.
Paul got home and started working at the diner with me.  He met a girl named Katherine there, and a few months later they were married.  They’ve got two kids now,  and they stop by every once in a while.  He’s not successful like Henri, but he’s got a job working at a factory and bringing in a pretty good salary.  He’s providing for his family and has a lot going for him.
As for me, when I got home, I worked in the diner with Paul for a while, and then I went off to college.  And that factory that Paul works at--it’s my factory.  It’s a steel mill, and we’re bringing in millions of dollars right now.  We’ve got it pretty good right now.  When I went back to college, I met a girl named Jenny.  That girl is now my wife, and we’re living happily with our three children.  I’ve got all of this, thanks to Joe.  If it weren’t for Joe, I wouldn’t have the life I do now. 

Quest for Valley Forge
Lauren Rovner, Shawnee
Sponsoring Teacher: Heather Shatto

Peter Smith was a normal, twelve-year-old-boy who lived with his parents in the Smith Tavern.  On a cold Philadelphia morning, it happened.  His mother woke him up frantically because he was late starting his morning chores.  So Peter got out of bed, brushed his hair, and hurried downstairs.
“Good morning, Father.”
“Hello, Peter.   I hope you slept well,” replied Mr.  Smith.
That winter morning, with sparkling snow and shining sun, was the same as it always was for Peter.  He ate his usual bowl of oatmeal, his father was reading the newspaper, and his mother was washing the dishes.  Today was a little different though.  The tavern was a cluster of men, women, and children.  Noticing this, Peter shuffled over to his father.
“Father, why is it so crowded today?” he asked.
“Because the paper said that British soldiers are entering our town, and people here are on the Patriot’s side.”
“Why are they coming here?”
“The paper said that a prisoner escaped and came here to hide.”
“But why are so many people here, Father?”
“Because these people are scared out of their minds of the British soldiers.”
Peter, still uncertain of what was happening, began his daily chores. 
Right across the street from Smith Tavern was another tavern, called Henry Tavern run by the Henry family.  There lived a girl of twelve named Abigail.  There were very few people at Henry Tavern today.  This was very odd.
“Mother, why do we have so few customers today?” asked Abigail.
“Because in the paper it said that the British are coming to town.”
 “But why are there so few people here?”
“Most people think that if they don’t stay home, the British will become suspicious if them.  A prisoner has escaped from a British encampment and has come here, but don’t worry.  Everyone here is on Great Britain’s side, so no harm will come to us,” Abigail’s mother assured her. 
Chores were waiting for her, so Abigail went back to them.  Unlike most people,  Abigail didn’t have a father.  A battle against the Patriots three months ago took him from her.  She hadn’t made many friends because of this, and she felt very lonely.  Suddenly, a red uniform was spotted by both Peter and Abigail through the tavern windows. 
“The British are coming! The British are coming!” shouted a man on the street, and the Smith Tavern grew silent with panic.  Those at Henry Tavern went about their business as if nothing had happened. 
The British dismounted their steeds and marched toward Smith Tavern. 
“Leave us.  There is no prisoner here,” said Peter’s father boldly.  The British ignored him, “Did you not hear me?  There is no one here!”
A British soldier then took out his sword and struck him across the face.  Everyone in the building grew even more silent with shock.  While soldiers searched Smith Tavern, two others entered Henry Tavern. 
“Good morning, gentlemen.  May I offer you a mug of beer?” asked Abigail’s mother politely.
“No, madam.  We are looking for this man,” replied the second soldier who walked in.  The poster he held up showed an old man with black, piercing eyes.  Abigail recognized him immediately as her father. 
“That is my husband, but he died four months ago,” explained Abigail’s mother.
“So you’re with the Patriots, are you?” demanded the first soldier reaching for his sword. 
“No! My husband was a loyal British officer,” she cried desperately. 
“Very well,” said the soldier, and both stormed out. 
As the soldiers walked out, they explained to their superiors that George Henry had been killed and were told to bomb both taverns.  First went Smith Tavern and then the Henry’s.  Fortunately, neither child was inside when it happened.  Peter stood, mouth agape, as he stared at the ruins of his home.  Abigail looked in disbelief at what she had just lost.  Fire and smoke trapped what they had always known and loved.  They were alone.
The ruins mocked them as smoke swirled everywhere.  Abigail burst into tears, and she began to pray.  Peter tried to hold back his sorrow, but couldn’t, and he cried.  When both looked up, they walked towards each other and fell into a tight embrace. 
“Hello, my name is Peter,” said Peter.
“I’m Abigail,” she sobbed. 
“What do we do now?” asked Peter, “We can’t stay here.”
“Maybe we could see if there are any horses in the stables down the road and go to my relative’s house.  It’s far away from those dastardly Patriots,” said Abigail.
“I’m against the British,” shouted Peter. “How can you still support them after what they just did to your home and family?” Both of them stared at each other in silence. 
“I’m sorry, Peter.  I don’t know what to think anymore,” cried Abigail. 
“Let’s just put that aside for now.  I have an idea.  We could go to Valley Forge and get help from George Washington.  I know you’re with the British, but we could go to your relative’s first, and you could stay there,” explained Peter with delight. 
“That sounds great,” said Abigail with uncertainty in her voice.
“What’s the matter?” asked Peter. 
“Nothing.  Let’s go.”
They went to the stables and two horses were waiting for them.  Abigail took the white one.  Peter mounted the brown one, and they began their journey. 
“How do you suppose we’ll find food and supplies.  We have no money,” Abigail asked.
“There’s a market down the road, and I know someone named Sam who promised my father and me that if we ever needed anything, he would give it to us for nothing,” said Peter with enthusiasm. 
So they went on for about an hour until they reached the market.  Peter knew exactly where he was going.  He went into the store with a door, but no windows.  Abigail followed as he greeted his friend. 
“Peter.  How are you, my boy?” cried Sam with the biggest smile you could imagine.  He was a middle-aged man with a broken arm and scars across his face. 
“Hello, Sam.  I’m fine thanks.  This is Abigail,” said Peter.
“How do you do?” replied Abigail nervously.   “If you don’t mind my asking, sir, how did you break your arm and get those scars?”
“Well, I used to be a Patriot.  At a battle in Maryland, not too long ago, I was wounded.  My father brought me here and told me to stay until my arm healed, but it will never heal,” he pause. “My father died a month ago, and I can’t afford a doctor.  So what can I get you two?”
“Sam, we need food, horse oats, hay and rope.  You see, umm,” he couldn’t seem to get the words out.  “Our parents died when the British bombed our taverns this morning.  We need supplies so I can get to Valley Forge and Abigail can reach her relatives,” explained Peter with difficulty.
“That’s terrible.  I’m very sorry.   I’ll get everything you need right away,” said Sam sadly.  He came back in a few minutes with three large bags full of supplies. 
“Thank you, Sam,” said Peter hugging his friend. 
“I look forward to seeing you again, and good luck,” replied Sam with tears in his eyes.
Peter and Abigail mounted their steeds and headed for Abigail’s relatives.  From the moment they left Sam, they had been silent. 
“It will take about a day and a half to reach my relatives,” said Abigail,  almost knocking Peter off of his horse from the sudden loss of silence. 
It was almost evening, and they stopped to have a bite to eat.  Each had an apple and a slice of bread.  “When we reach my relative’s home, I would like to go in alone,” said Abigail. 
“Why?” asked Peter.
“Umm, because they don’t like strangers,” replied Abigail with fear in her eyes, “Where are we going to spend the night?” she said quickly to change the subject.
“I know the perfect spot.”
He led them to an oak tree next to a stream.  The children lay down beneath the stars.
“Once when my father went to the market to buy and trade goods, we explored this area and found this spot.  We talked for hours and felt as though we would never leave, but then we remembered my mother and came home.  I miss her and my father.” Peter began to cry softly.  Abigail hugged him tightly, and Peter wrapped his arm around his new friend.  After they released each other, they put their heads down on the soft ground and fell asleep instantly. 
The next morning, Abigail woke Peter.  They saddled their horses and left for the long ride ahead. 
“Peter, I need to tell you something about my relatives before we get there,” Abigail hesitated.  “My Uncle Benjamin is a British spy,  and that is why I’ve been acting strangely.  If he finds out you’re a Patriot,  I don’t know what he’ll do.”
Peter was speechless.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“I understand.  So what are we going to do?” he asked.
“Like I said yesterday, I should go in alone, but if he notices you’re here, you should do your best to act as if you’re with the British.”
“I’ll try,” replied Peter, his knees shaking. 
As they reached the house, Abigail tied her horse to a nearby tree and walked toward the front door.  Before she could say goodbye to Peter, a large and bulky man stepped out onto the porch.
“Abigail.  Is that you?”
“Yes, Uncle Benjamin, it’s me,” said Abigail to the man. 
“And who is that?” asked Uncle Benjamin pointing a large finger at Peter.
“Uncle, this is Peter.  He’s a big supporter of the British army.”
“Well, come in, then.” Abigail and Peter followed the man inside.  They were greeted by a long staircase and the smell of flowers all around.  A woman with bright blonde hair descended the stairs.
“Hello, Aunt Eleanor.”
“Hello, Abigail,” replied the woman. 
“Uncle, the British have destroyed our home and my mother was killed along with Peter’s parents,” cried Abigail in tears. 
“Perhaps we should discuss the details in the morning,” suggested Peter. 
“Good idea.  I’ll take them upstairs to clean up,” said Eleanor. 
“Wait a minute.  Abigail, did you see in the paper that a prisoner known to be dead has escaped?” asked Uncle Benjamin.
“Yes, I did, sir,” sobbed Abigail trying to hold back the waterfall of tears.
“And do you know who that prisoner was?” Abigail tilted her head down and said nothing. 
“It just so happens that it’s your father.  I thought he was with the British, not those bloody Patriots! Are you with them, too?” exploded Uncle Benjamin.  Abigail was so taken aback that she was speechless.  Too scared to answer, she left and ran outside.  Peter ran after her and put his arms around her. 
“I’m leaving for Valley Forge now.  Will you be all right?” asked Peter.
“I’m coming with you,” Abigail whispered. 
Peter was startled at first, but after a moment, he smiled.  He helped her up and they ran for the horses.  Behind them, Peter could see Abigail’s uncle running after them.  He had a rifle in his hands.  Frantically they climbed up on their saddles as two bullets whipped passed their heads.  They ordered the horses to giddy-up and ran away as fast as they could.  After a while, they were convinced they had lost Uncle Benjamin and slowed the horses to a steady trot. 
“It will take us about six more hours to reach Valley Forge,” said Peter breathlessly, “We can ride for about one more hour before it gets dark.”
“Okay, we can camp on the riverbank,” said Abigail.  And they did just that.  When the sun had set, the children drifted off to sleep to the gentle sounds of the night.  Peter had only slept for about an hour when he woke up, startled.  Shortly afterwards, Abigail was awake.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I thought I heard something,” said Peter.
Then both of them heard it, horses stamping their feet, footsteps, and men talking quietly.  Before the children could escape, soldiers surrounded them.  They were not in red uniforms though.  They were Patriots.
“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” a soldier asked pointing his musket at Peter’s heart. 
“I’m Peter, and this is Abigail.  We are here because the British destroyed our homes and killed our parents.  We thought we could get help from George Washington.”
“How do we know you’re not lying?” asked another soldier. 
“I don’t think they are, sir,” said a soldier from the back of the group.
“And why not, Paul?” demanded the soldier.
“I read the story in the newspaper.  It said that two taverns were destroyed and three were dead.  Also, that the dead had children, but they were not there.  I think they’re telling the truth.”
“You may be right, because I read the same story.  Let’s take them back to Valley Forge, and General Washington can decide what to do with them.  Agreed?” asked the soldier who seemed to be in charge, gesturing to the others.
“Agreed,” cried the rest of the troop.
They finally put down their weapons, and two soldiers escorted Abigail and Peter to their horses.  The children breathed a sigh of relief. 
It was a long and exhausting ride.  They only stopped for water twice.  When the soldiers saw Abigail’s bag of food, they gazed at it longingly.  The rest of the way was silent.  Peter and Abigail didn’t dare speak.  They were filled with feelings of loneliness and worry.  After many long hours, they finally reached Valley Forge. 
Peter had always wanted to come here, but it was not what he had expected.  He imagined the place to be grand and exciting, but it looked like an old, abandoned wasteland.  The army men were grimy and dirty with barely any color to their skin.  There was only one cabin in vicinity, and the soldiers were leading Peter and Abigail right to it. 
“General Washington, sir, we found two children, and they wish to speak with you.” said a scrawny young Patriot.
“Children! What are children doing here?” roared Washington.
“Their homes were destroyed by British Redcoats in Philadelphia.  They thought they could get help from you, sir,” explained the soldier, shaking.
“Very well.  Send them in.”
So the soldier sent Peter and Abigail into the cabin.  They were shaking with fear and anxiety.  They walked nervously toward Washington.
Peter and Abigail stared into the eyes of the man they had heard so much about, and those pale eyes stared right back.  Peter didn’t even dare to breathe in front of someone of such importance.  Abigail’s legs trembled uncontrollably. 
“I heard about how those barbaric Redcoats destroyed your homes.  I’m terribly sorry about that, and about the death of your parents.  You two are very lucky to be alive.  You are Patriots, aren’t you?” Washington asked.
Peter nodded hurriedly, but Abigail looked down at the floor. 
“Did…Did you know…someone named Thomas Henry?” Abigail was shaking more than ever now.  The general gave her a curious look.
“Yes, he was one of my best commanding officers.  Why do you ask?”
“He was my father.  My name is Abigail Henry.  I was once with the British, but now I want to help you in anyway that I can.”  She was crying as she said this.  Washington stood and started to speak, but Peter cut him off.
“I do, too.  My name is Peter Smith.”
Washington was perplexed.  He had never seen children act so grown up. 
“Where did you come from, and how did you get to Valley Forge?” Washington asked the children.
“Pennsylvania.  And we came by horse, sir,” replied Abigail. 
“How did you survive the journey with no food, water, or shelter?”
“We stopped by a stream that I knew of to rest and have water.  My friend Sam gave us supplies, and we have extra for your army,” said Peter.
“Both of you are very brave.  Peter, who was your father? I recognize your name.”
“My father was Paul Smith.  I went trading with him often and even went into British territory once.  He was the biggest Patriot supporter I knew, sir,” Peter said.  He looked tired and worn out. 
“I know that name.  Paul Smith was one of our greatest smugglers.  He traded for us many times and gave us information on the whereabouts of the British army.  We owe him much,” exclaimed Washington.  Suddenly the soldier who Peter and Abigail had met on their journey to the camp ran through the door. 
“General Washington, the British are on their way to Valley Forge.  They will be here in less than an hour!” he shouted with urgency.
“Round up the troops and tell them to prepare for battle.  Peter, do you know how to handle a gun and sword?” Washington asked. 
Peter nodded.
“Abigail, do you know how to treat the wounded?”
“Yes, sir.  Why?”
“Because you’re joining my army.”
Peter and Abigail were speechless.  Washington rushed out of the cabin, and the children followed.  They looked out on the horizon and, sure enough, the red of the British uniforms could be seen. 
“Man your stations,” shouted Washington.  “Abigail, follow that woman in the white dress.  She will lead you to the healing area.  Paul, take Peter to get weapons!” Washington went back to his cabin to ready himself. 
Peter followed Paul, and in a matter of seconds was armed with a sword and musket. 
“Hurry and follow me,” cried Paul. 
Peter was out the door faster than Paul.  The young soldier was worried and afraid, but never once showed any sign of fear. 
Abigail knew just as much about health as Peter knew about using a weapon.  The woman she followed didn’t even have to give directions on how to use any of the medicines.  The woman, named Olivia, showed no sign of fear, but Abigail could see the panic in her eyes.  Everyone was in position, ready  to fire at the oncoming army.  Abigail peeked around the corner and could see Peter in the firing position next to Washington.  She began to pray for him and the rest of the Patriots. 
“Don’t shoot ‘til you see the whites of their eyes,” Washington whispered to Peter.  He had read that saying in the paper many times, but had never thought he would hear it.  The simple phrase gave him as much courage as ten soldiers combined.  Then they could see them, the glowing uniforms of the British army. 
Peter obeyed Washington’s orders and did not shoot.  Neither did the rest of the army.  The British seemed confused, but continued to move forward.  Then it began.
The first shot was fired from Washington’s gun, and his target fell like a sack of rocks.  He was right to shoot.  At this point, Peter could see the whites of their eyes very clearly.  The next bullet came from Peter’s gun and killed a second soldier.  He had never killed a man before, but knew it was necessary, so he put it out of his mind.  The Redcoats finally readied their weapons and started shooting.  It was absolute chaos.  Dead men from both sides began piling up on the battlefield.  Peter took cover behind a tree along with Paul.  A British soldier came after them, but Washington came from behind and shot him in the chest.  Peter and Paul rejoined the fight. 
Abigail and Olivia were ready for the first of many injured to come to them.  He was an elderly man who had a broken arm and a gunshot wound.  Abigail knew exactly what to do.  After that, many more rushed in, and the other nurses got to work.  They were doing all right with all of the patients that came to them and hoped not many more would come.
Peter was wounded, but it was minor so he stayed out and fought.  He and Paul stuck together the entire battle.  At one point, three British soldiers came after them.  Peter killed one, and Paul killed the other two.  Another Redcoat ran at Paul, but before he could stop him, the Redcoat stabbed him in the leg.  Paul fell to the ground, and Peter helped to the healing area.  Peter fought even harder after his friend was wounded.  He killed four more soldiers, and his only injury was a cut on his arm. 
The Patriots were winning, and after a long while, the British army started to retreat.  Cheers rang through Valley Forge.  Peter ran to the healing area and was relieved to find that Paul was all right.  Then he saw Abigail.  They ran towards each other and locked themselves in a tight embrace.  They walked outside and saw Washington giving a speech to his troops. 
“Fellow Patriots, we have won a great victory today.  It will be remembered until the end of time.  You fought brave and true and I am very proud to be your commanding officer.  This will not be our last battle, but tonight we celebrate!” announced Washington. 
Abigail Henry and Peter Smith remained at Valley Forge until the army moved on, and they were forced to leave them.  Washington thanked them greatly and wished them luck.  The two children rode their horses back to Philadelphia, ready for their next great adventure. 

Double Life
Noor Anouti, Shawnee
Sponsoring Teacher: Heather Shatto

My work is never done. There always seems to be danger lingering by, not only on Earth, but in space. And why am I concerned? I have been chosen as a fighter of justice, to defend those in danger from the cruelty of ruthless villains wanting to seize planets and spread evil. My name is Serena Shemlice, also known as Commander Lunette in space. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana and attend Digburt High School. Ever since I turned sixteen, my life turned to misery.
My mom spilled to me her family’s secret because it was my turn to discover the world of superheroes I didn‘t know existed. She said she came from a long line of space warriors who spent time protecting planets. Only one child in the family can be a warrior, and since I was the only child, I became the next descendent of that line. That was when I had to kiss my normal life good-bye. Instead of living normally like any seventeen year old, I’m going back and forth between school and saving the universe because it’s constantly being taken over by a lunatic. My gosh!  Why do so many aliens become criminals if they’re likely to end up in prison? I mean, it’s a waste of their time and mine. I’m sick of making up excuses to skip school everyday to save the world. Obviously, I can’t tell the teacher “Can I be excused to go save planet Krypton?”  I spend half an hour every night trying to invent a reasonable excuse for the teacher or my friends.
Now, I’m talking like my job is totally bad, but it’s not. Being a warrior has its advantages. I get to use the latest gadgets, such as my multifunctional watch, which creates: a hologram that provides information on any subject, a laser beam, X-ray glasses, weapons, tracking devices, and so on. But what’s even cooler is that I have my own lab and a spaceship called the Zodiac. The entrance to my lab is created by the watch. I use a certain beam to draw a circle in the air which produces a kind of warp hole that transports me to the lab.
But you know what’s really special to me? My uniform. Legend says that the goddess of the moon, Luna, was not only a charming, warm-hearted queen who lived in the most peaceful kingdom in the universe, but she was also a pure-hearted soldier of justice. She fought one of the most dangerous shadows known to creature. Its name was Holisiphus, and its darkness almost took over the universe completely. Before all hope was lost, Luna used her powerful sword to seal in Holisiphus forever, and peace was restored once again. My uniform is exactly like hers. A lovely purple, white, and golden mini dress with boots to match, and a white cape connected to the dress and around my arms because the shoulders are bare. It’s a good thing it’s comfortable, or I wouldn‘t be able to fight well. I kind of added a few special things to it to help me on my missions. I’ll explain more about my secret life when I’m needed for a mission. Right now, I need to catch the school bus so that I won’t be late… again
Later during the day
“Hey, girl, why the sad face?”
That’s my friend Mina Watson. She came to Digburt High School two years ago when we were freshmen. That year, our biology teacher paired the two of us as lab partners, so when I saw her picture of my favorite actor, Cody Stewart, we started a conversation about our favorite celebrities. That’s how our friendship began. She has curly, light brown hair; hazel-colored eyes; and soft, brown skin. On the other hand, I have straight blonde hair, my eye color is a mix of blue and gold, and my skin is a creamy white color. Mina is a straight A student and has never broken a school rule in her entire life. Unlike her, I’m lazy, I’ve broken rules, and my grades aren’t as good as hers. I blame those evil aliens who are always attacking planets for my lack of study. Ugh, if they’d only think…
“I’m sad because no one has asked me to prom yet, and it’s tonight.  It would be a wish come true if Jesse Porter would ask me to the dance.”  Jesse is one of the hottest guys in school. Good looking, smart, funny, athletic…
“Umm, you don’t have to wish anymore because here he comes.”  My knees started shaking as he came closer to us.
“Hello ladies. How are you?”
“We‘re fine,” we said excitedly at the same time.
“I was wondering Serena… would you like to come to prom with me? Unless, of course, someone already asked you.”
“Are you kidding!? I mean yes, I’d like to go to prom with you. But why didn’t you ask Jessica out?  She is interested in you, you know.”
“Don‘t tell Jessica, but I think she‘s a self-absorbed snob. Just because she’s popular doesn’t mean I have to ask her out.  It’d be like doing the same thing they do in movies and books. Anyway, I gotta go somewhere. I’ll pick you up at six.  Bye.”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh,” we screamed after he left.
“Hey guys, what’s all the excitement for?”
That’s Harvey Minowski, my childhood friend. He’s obsessed with video games. You can ask him any question about games, and he‘ll give you a speech explaining it in details. Other than that, he’s an incredibly sweet guy whom I am proud to call my friend. He’s tall, has smooth, reddish-brown hair; blue eyes; and somewhat pale skin.
“Jesse Porter just asked me to the prom! Isn’t that cool?”
“He did!? Oh umm, that’s great. I’m happy for you,” he mumbled.
“Haven’t you got a date yet, Harvey?”
“No, because someone already took her right before I wanted to ask her.”
“Aww, too bad. Maybe you can take Mina, she doesn’t have anyone to go with.”
Fine. Mina and I will be waiting for you at the party.”
“I’ll see you later Serena,” Mina said.
They left hurriedly, especially Harvey who was walking too fast with his shoulders hunched over. He must have really wanted to ask that girl. I wonder who she is?  Oh, well, I need to head on home to prepare myself.  This is a night of my life and nothing can make it go wrong…I hope.
It’s 5:55 p.m. I’m feeling excited as I wait for Jesse to arrive. I took a shower right after I came from school. I made a simple updo and let a few strands of my hair fall. I wore my new, sky-blue, t-length v-neck Duchess Satin halter dress with a duchess sash at the natural waist, and golden ballet flats to match. Three minutes later,  the bell rang. I calmed myself down, and opened the door. Like I imagined, he was looking as handsome as ever. Too bad for Jessica.  Ha-ha.
“Wow, and whom may I presume is this gorgeous young lady here? You look stunning Serena.”
“Thank you.  So do you. Mom, I’m leaving!”
“Have a great night, you two!”
As we walked to his car, my jaw dropped open. It was a red BMW M1 Homage sports car, and it’s not even out yet! “That’s a hot ride you got there.”
“Yeah, it‘s awesome with the new advancements they put into it. Ladies first…”
This night looks fantastic already!
At the dance…
“Omg, Serena, you look fantabulous!”
“You look amazing too! Purple was a good choice. Where’s Harvey?”
“Oh, he’s at the food table. Some boys just love their stomachs.”  I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find out it was Jesse.
“May I have this dance?”
“Why, certainly.”
I winked at Mina, then turned to Jesse. I’ve dreamed of this moment for years, and it’s finally happening. We danced for about half an hour to all kinds of music. Hip hop, rock, pop, slow, and a few others. He saw his friends and excused himself to talk to them for a while. Meanwhile, I hung out at the food table. I love food, especially cookies. As I ate, I watched Mina and Harvey dance. I couldn’t help laughing at the way Harvey was dancing. He kept bumping into other students and sometimes his legs locked together causing him to trip over. Poor Mina looked embarrassed.
“Beep-beep-beep-beep.” Oh no, my bracelet was beeping. It beeps whenever there’s trouble in space. So much for my perfect night. I ran to the bathroom, hoping no one will notice my absence. The bathroom was clear. I used my watch to teleport to the lab. I quickly stepped onto a platform which shoots a circle of light  through me, changing me into my “superhero” clothes. Next, I stepped into a machine that teleported me straight to the Zodiac. It’s always in space, so that I can get to a planet in time to save it. I have two partners, both who fight beside me. X32 is the robot who provides mission information and tools, and Nigemo is the alien pilot. He’s about 19 earth years old, and he sometimes acts a bit weird, but that’s what’s special about him.
“X32, what’s our mission today?”
“It seems that planet Volcanic is being taken over by our previous enemy, Kinite. He created an ice monster called Galdor, which is turning the planet into a frozen wasteland. Half of the Volcans’s cities have been frozen, and they have nowhere to go but run. I believe that’s all the information I can access. I don’t know what Kinite‘s plan could be. ”
“Does anyone want a bite of my worm and blue cheese sandwich?”
“Uhhh…that’s kind of you Nigemo, but no thanks. Eat fast.  We have a planet to save.”
“Yes, Commander Lunette.”
We got to Volcanic in a matter of minutes. Luckily, every warrior has the ability to breathe on any planet without a mask. As we stepped out of the ship, we looked around at the frozen, dead, silent land with wide eyes.
“Commander, I don’t find any signs of  life forms here. They probably escaped before this place was attacked.”
“Let’s go find Kinite and Galdor before they hit anywhere else.”
“We d-don’t need to find them, Lunette.  They f-found us,” said Nigemo.  I turned around to see what he was talking about. I stared up at Galdor who stood 24 feet tall, and next to him stood Kinite.
“Hello and welcome, Lunette and friends.  I see you’ve come to save the day from my evil clutches once again. Well, don’t be so hopeful. I took my time in jail to plan this very well. My creation here will help me get rid of anything or anyone who stands in my way, and then I’ll be able to build my army of Galdors to take control of every planet in this universe. After that, I will brainwash all the creatures into thinking they are my slaves. No one will stop me from reaching my dream of universal domination, not even you! I’d love to stay and chat a little more, but I need to go celebrate my soon to be victory. Too bad you’re going to waste. You would have made a lovely queen.”
“Ewww!  I’ll never surrender to you, and I won’t let anyone down, especially not Earth!”
“Suit yourself. I don’t know why you even try. It’s obvious you and your friends won‘t win. My farewell gift to you will be making you my first victim. Oh, one more thing.  Galdor is indestructible, which means if you dump him into a volcano,  he won’t melt, and if you throw a bomb at him, he won’t explode. Galdor, destroy them, and don’t fail me. Good bye, Lunette and friends, it was nice knowing you. Mwahahaha!”
With a click of a button, he disappeared.
How are we going to defeat Galdor? We can’t melt him, explode him, and all my weapons are probably useless.  I could transport him somewhere, but that wouldn’t work because Kinite would track him down and bring him back. All of a sudden, a bunch of ice spears came straight for us.
We dodged about 40 spears, and it looked like he’s going to shoot a bunch more!  I’m too young and handsome to die! Help!” cried Nigemo.
“Stop crying like a baby, Nigemo. Commander, what do you propose we do?” X32 asked.
Suddenly, Galdor somehow got larger, and sharp ice rocks started to shoot up from the ground.
“The only thing we can do, X32. We have to hit him with everything we’ve got.”
As I predicted, our weapons were no match for Galdor. We used all types of weapons that are used against dangerous aliens. Lasers, fire, missiles, so on.  Nothing.  The only thing we were able to do was to put obstacles in his way.
“Everyone, get to the ship now!”  I shouted.
But before we could reach the ship, Galdor froze it. This monster really is undefeatable. From the corner of my eye, I could see a thin, blue line forming a couple meters away. As it got closer, I gasped. It wasn’t what I had expected to see so soon: a complete army of Galdors. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Kinite appeared in front of us.
“Hahahaha.  Didn’t I tell you can’t win this battle? Look around you.”  His army surrounded us from every corner. We were stuck.
“How did you build this army so quickly?” asked Nigemo.
“I used a clone machine, you silly. While you three were pathetically fighting Galdor, I sent most of my army to all the other planets.”  He showed us a hologram of what was happening right now around the universe. The monsters were freezing everything around them, and innocent creatures were running and screaming, trying to find a safe place from this nightmare. Then I saw Earth, and not just any place on Earth, but my home town. My mom just got captured by those jerks!
“Mom! No, no, no!”
I was so furious.  I pounced on Kinite and put a knife-looking laser to his neck.
“How did you find out she‘s my mother?”
“It’s simple really… you look just like her. She used to look at me with those same flaming eyes.”
“Let her go!”
“I’m afraid not, Lunette. You see, the only way to make you surrender is to capture your mother and your friends.  If you don’t give up, they will freeze and become my slaves. What do you say… do you surrender?”  I turned around to see Nigemo and X32 trying to escape the grip of four Galdors. 
“Don’t surrender, Commander,” X32 pleaded.
“But, you’ll be gone if I do.”
“Lunette.  We know you have the power and courage to defeat this guy!  You can’t give up! We believe in you… everyone in this universe is counting on you,” said Nigemo.
“I’m sorry, guys, but I can’t bear to see anyone close to me disappear. I surrender,  Kinite.”
“It’s about time. Galdors, release the prisoners.”  But they didn’t release my partners. They froze them right in front of my eyes.
“Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to make deals with villains?  Hahahah. Galdors, put the frozen prisoners in the dungeon and take Lunette to the special room I prepared for her.”
How could I be so stupid? I let my friends and everyone else down. I’m a disgrace to my family. Everyone is doomed, and I’ll be the first to be brainwashed. I can’t be Kinite’s slave…I have to fight. But how?  I’m only one against thirty million soldiers and a maniac. I’ll just have to wait and see what’s going to happen to me.
In Kinite’s ice castle…
They’re throwing me into a luxurious room? I thought I was going to the dungeon. What could he possibly have on his mind? Oh no… please.  Don’t tell me it’s what I think it is…
“How do you like your new room?”
“My room?”  I asked. 
“Yes, your room. I’ve changed my mind about you.  Instead of making you my slave, I’ll make you my empress.”
“You’re out of your mind! I’d rather kiss a toilet seat than get near you!”
“Those are some harsh words. But never mind.  Your attitude will change soon enough. Please get prepared for the ceremony.  Your dress is in the closet.”  Kinite left the room humming a wedding song…
Eewww!  Kinite sort of looks like a human. The only features he has that humans don’t have are his pink eyes, pointy ears, and long, light green hair. His skin color,  though, is the same as humans.
This was supposed to be my fairytale night with Jesse, but now it’s become the end of the universe for me and a wish come true for Kinite. I threw myself onto the bed and began sobbing. Tears kept pouring down my cheeks as I thought of those I let down.
“I c-can’t believe I’m s-saying this… Kinite has f-finally won.”
“Not necessarily, young warrior,” a soft voice said.
I got up quickly to see who that was. It was a tall, young woman, looking more beautiful and magnificent than I‘ve ever seen anyone before. Her body and face gave off a warm glow that made me smile. Her hair was like the color of the golden sun, and her eyes were an icy blue. She had soft, rosy cheeks, and her lips were like the red, red rose. But what surprised me the most was her uniform.
“Yes, young warrior.  I am Luna.”
“Thank God you’re here. I don’t what to do.  I’m so worried, I---”
“Don’t worry.  I’m here to help you. I felt the hopelessness deep inside you. I’ve figured out that someone named Kinite has taken over the universe.  Am I right?” she asked. 
“Yes. He’s frozen my friends, and he’s planning to make me his queen!  He’ll come any minute and brainwash me!”
“Don’t you have any weapons?”
“My watch was my weapon, but they took it away from me.”
“I’m going to give you some of my powers,” Luna said.  “You can use them to free your friends, and you’ll be able to defeat the ice monsters without failure. Hold out your hands.”
I held out my hands, and the second she touched them, I felt a great amount of energy flow through me. I felt so powerful as the energy in me built up.
“How do you feel now?” she asked, after she let go of my hands.
“Wow!   I feel so energetic and alive. Thank you so much.”
“Wait, Lunette.  I have to give you one more thing.”  She put one hand out, and slowly, a shape began to form. It was a sword.
“This is the sword I used to seal in the dark shadow, Holisiphus. It is now yours. Use it wisely, and don’t let any evil creature ever get their hands on it. Always believe in yourself.  Now, young warrior, it’s time for you to save the universe.”
“Thank you so much! I promise I won’t let you down, Queen Luna!”
“Good bye, Lunette.  It was nice meeting you.”  She slowly faded away.
That was some weird experience. Now, how can I find Nigemo and X32? Oh,  yeah, I just remembered.  I have a hidden tracking device in my boot! I took it out and tried to locate my friends. Thankfully, I kept a DNA sample from Nigemo inside the device. It says Nigemo is on the third floor. Okay, now I have to get out of here.
Before I went to the door, I ripped off a strip of curtain to tie the sword to my body. I added gadgets to this uniform and I forgot to put a belt. Great.
I ran to the door, but it was locked. I took out my lipstick laser from my other boot and melted the lock. I peeked out to make sure there were no guards.  Excellent, no one in sight.
I ran up the stairs, and there were still no guards. 
“What kind of a castle doesn’t have guards everywhere?” I wondered out loud.  “Oh, well, easier for me.”
I used my laser again to melt the lock of the dungeon. I opened the door and ran toward my friends. If my new powers can destroy the monsters, that means I can melt the ice with my hands. I put my hands on Nigemo and X32. The ice melted, and the two fell down.
“Commander!  How did you escape! Stop copying me,” they both said at the same time.
“There are no guards in the castle, but we won’t escape from the entrance because I’m not sure if that area is clear, too.”
“So how are we going to get out of here, Lunette?” asked Nigemo.
“Jet packs.”
“Jet packs? Who has…”  X32 opened his stomach to reveal two jet packs.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me we had jet packs?”  Nigemo whined.
“Because we use them for emergencies only,” said X32.
“This is an emergency.  Give me one!”
“Sorry, but I’m wearing this one, and Commander will wear the other.  I’ll carry you.”  I went to the end of the room and used my new powers to melt a hole in the wall.
“Whoa! Cool powers!”   We flew out of the castle and headed straight toward the original Galdor.
“Guys, you go find Kinite while I get rid of all the Galdors.”
“Are you sure you don’t need our help, Commander?”
“Yes, I’m sure, X32.  Now go!”
They flew toward Kinite’s spaceship in the atmosphere. As I flew toward the big Galdor, he shot those annoying ice spears again. I dodged them all perfectly except for one. It hit my jet pack and destroyed it. I crashed onto the ground with great force. My head started spinning, but I still got up. Then, three smaller Galdors surrounded me. Two of them approached me fast, so I jumped and smashed their heads together. At the touch of my hand, they melted. The third one shot ice at me. I ducked and shot him with my powers. After he melted, another five Galdors approached me. I fought and melted each one of them, but more and more came toward me. This is never going to end! They’re just going to keep coming. My temper started boiling up, and I screamed.  “I can’t take this anymore! You monsters and Kinite are going down right now!”
I grabbed my sword and stuck it to the ground with all my might. But as I did, one of the soldiers hit me hard in the head, and I sprawled on the ground. My head started spinning again, and this time it felt worse. All of a sudden, the sword produced a bright light, and it exploded everywhere. Knowing that I had finally succeeded, I closed my eyes and plunged into unconsciousness.
There is a warm, yellow light at the surface of the water. I try to reach for it, but it’s so far away. I need to breathe.  I’m running out of oxygen, and the water is really cold. I want to feel that warm light. I’m swimming toward the surface. Yes, yes! I’m almost there…
“Serena, honey, wake up please.”
“Serena! Oh,  thank God you’re awake! I was so worried about you!”
“Where am I?”
“You’re at home, darling. The boys brought you back home after you saved the day. They captured Kinite and sent him to a more secure prison this time. Now he’ll never escape.”
“What about my friends and all the other people.”
“Don’t worry.  They’re fine. They don’t remember what happened. Speaking of your friends, they’re waiting for you in the living room. I’m sure they want to know you’re awake now.”  I hugged my mom and went to the living room.  Harvey and Mina were sitting on the couch watching “The Suite Life On Deck” on the Disney Channel.
“Hey, guys,” I said.
“Serena,” they said at the same time. They ran toward me and hugged me real hard.
“We heard what happened to you last night. Your mom said you went outside the school building during the dance for some fresh air. Then a stranger grabbed you, knocked you unconscious, and stole your purse. Why did you go outside? Luckily, a couple walking out there found you on the ground near a tree and reported to the police. You scared us. We‘ve been sitting here for three hours waiting for you to wake up,” said Mina.
“She’s right Serena.  We were terrified you got hurt really badly. Next time we go to a dance, I’m never going to leave your side. I’ll be your protector.”
“That’s very protective of you, Harvey.  Thanks.”
“We also got you flowers,” said Harvey.   He took out a bouquet of red roses from behind his back and handed them to me.
“Actually, the roses are from Harvey.  Hahaha.”
 “You’re so sweet, Harvey.  Thank you.”  I reached up and kissed him on the cheek. He blushed and walked toward the kitchen.
“I forgot! What happened to Jesse?”
“Jesse came here with us, but he had to leave for an appointment at the dentist. He brought you a gift, though. He told me to tell you he is really worried about you, and he hopes you’ll feel better after that incident. He also said last night was one of the best nights he ever had. You’re a lucky girl, Serena. Come on, Harvey.  Let’s leave Serena to rest.”
Mina hugged me and headed for the door. Harvey had a sandwich in his hand, and he went to the door too.
“Bye, Serena,” they both said. Right after they closed the door, I hurried to my bedroom, and was surprised to find a gift on my bed. Aww.  It’s a teddy bear that says I Love You from Jesse.”  The bear came with a box of cookies and a bouquet of red and white roses. Does Jesse really care about that much? Wow.
I felt a weird bump under my bed covers. I lifted the covers and found two other gifts. I unwrapped them both rapidly.  “My sword and my watch!”  I said.  I noticed they came with a letter. 
Dear Commander Lunette:
 Thank you for saving us and the entire universe. We knew we could count on you. We believed in you. You were brave out there. We made sure Kinite would never see the outside world again for a long time. We are honored to fight by your side, and to show we mean it, we searched for your sword, which was broken in half, and fixed it good as new. We also found your watch in Kinite’s pocket, and knew you’d want that back. Thank you again, and we hope you’ll be fine when you wake up.
From your partners,
Nigemo and X32
Thanks, guys, I thought.  I’m glad you’re my friends. And thank you, too, Luna.  Without you, everyone would have been Kinite’s slaves and I would have been his empress by now.  I admired the sword for a few more seconds and put it in a safe place. Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep.
“Here we go again,” I chuckled. 

Noel Shanahan, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Tricia May

It was nearly Christmas in Chicago, and the shoppers’ faces on the streets showed it as they bustled to and fro, gathering up various presents from multiple stores that had "On Sale" signs in the windows.  Carl quickly walked down the boulevard, seemingly oblivious to the action around him.   He turned quickly into an alley and went down a narrow, sickly-smelling staircase t hat lined the side of one of the older brick buildings.   He went through a dirt-covered, black door and was suddenly in an old, abandoned subway station, long forgotten.
The arched ceiling displayed a faded fresco, while the walls were ornately decorated with various animals grazing and fighting.    Carl walked through the once beautiful station, completely unaware of the 1920's craftsmanship.  He kept mumbling to himself, and though the words seemed unintelligible, one word continued to be repeated:   Time.
"I need more time,” he mumbled quietly to nobody in particular.
He continued his fast pace down through the long empty station and slipped behind an ancient-looking door into what looked to be a broom closet.  He emerged suddenly into a brightly lit room and was momentarily blinded by the sudden bright light.  He put his hand over his eyes and waited for them to adjust.
After a few moments, he could plainly see the room he was in.   It was larger than he expected, nearly 150 x 50 feet.  The walls were painted a light shade of blue and seemed clean, for the most part.  The room seemed to be empty.  At the far wall was a wood door that looked fairly new.
Carl quickly strode up to the door and knocked, then five times, then another three.  After a few moments, the door was opened by a serious-looking man in a black suit and sunglasses.  Carl absent-mindedly wondered why one would ever want to wear sunglasses inside and underground.  He quickly shook his head and tried to remember what he was supposed to say to the man.  He suddenly remembered, after a few tense moments.  "The clock is close to midnight," he said, somewhat nervously.
The serious-looking man stepped back to let him in.  Carl walked through the door, and he could suddenly hear a number of people talking.  As he walked away from the door, he heard it shut and wondered what the outside world would be like when, and if, he saw it again.
The room he walked into was much larger than the last, with a domed ceiling whose top was probably 100 feet high.  The room itself was massive, and a large crowd of people were standing on one side, opposite the door.  As Carl made his way towards the people, he saw two familiar faces, and he suddenly began running towards the crowd.  He jumped up and hugged his older brother and sister tightly.
"I was afraid I wouldn't see you here," said Carl.
"Of course we're here.  You had us worried though; you were almost late," his sister Cecilia said with quiet concern.
"Happy to see you again, midget.  You got bigger; now I think I can start calling you kid," his brother Bob teased.
They talked and answered Carl's question, while Carl answered some of theirs in return.  Finally they came to the subject at hand.
"Why did I need to get ready and come so early?" asked Carl.
"The scientists’ estimates were off, and it's going to happen sooner than expected," answered Cecilia.  Carl began to get an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach, a feeling that he had begun feeling altogether too often since his siblings had talked him into the program.  He quickly reached into his pocket, and then remembered.  His antacid tablets were at his apartment.  He was told to not bring anything with him.  Anything.  His sister looked at him with concern.
"Are you all right?  You look pale.  Anything I can do?" asked Cecilia.
"I'm fine," he snapped, a bit harsher than he had intended.
"Sorry," his sister murmured, hurt.
"It's just a stomach ache.  Nothing bad," he replied, softer, regret in his voice.
"That'll be the least of you worries after it happens,” his brother stated seriously.
The room suddenly became quiet, and Carl turned to the center of the room where a circle in the floor had begun rising.  As it did, the people in the audience saw a man was standing beneath it.  The circle was hollow, like an enormous tube, and it rose slowly.  Suddenly the man began to speak loudly and clearly.  His voice carried well and was heard throughout the enormous room by everyone.
"Hello, everybody.  I am Government Agent Smith, and I am here to tell you the procedure for getting to your quarters below me here."
He gestured towards the tube-looking thing he had stepped out of.
"You will enter the tube in an orderly manner, and in groups of three, and then you will be checked by my friend, Agent Grom.  After he gives you the okay, you will then proceed down the hall and into your sleeping quarters."  He stressed the word orderly particularly. 
Carl and his siblings went through the tube-elevator and past the government agent without incident.  They went to a room full of cots, located their own, and prepared to sleep.
Carl had trouble getting to sleep at first.  His mind was active; he wondered what the world would be like, and what would happen when he saw the outside again.  Finally he was swept off into his sleep and immersed into odd dreams of fire and earthquakes.
Carl woke to a noise not unlike a bomb exploding.  Though he had never heard a bomb himself, he was sure he knew what it sounded like now.  Suddenly the room began shaking, and screams filled the space as those who were not awakened by the noise were shaken awake by the pitching earth.
After a few minutes of this, the two agents came into the room, turned on the lights, and urged everyone to remain calm.  Everything was going according to plan, and they were all safe.  Soon all but the most hysterical, who were taken out, had calmed down.  The room became nearly noiseless with the exception of a thousand whispers between various people.  After a while, dinner was served to them all by more men in black suits.
The couple of hundred people continued this nervous yet quiet lifestyle for what seemed like months, though it couldn't have been more than a couple weeks.  Finally Agent Smith walked into the room one day and said soberly, "You may go outside if you wish.  However, it is quite gruesome, and some of you may not be able to handle it just yet."
Carl quickly went over to his two siblings, and they discussed it for a few minutes before unanimously deciding to venture into the changed world.  They got up and slowly walked to the door where the agent was standing.  He looked at them seriously and asked, "Are you sure you're ready to see this?"
After looking at one another, the three said as one, "Yes."  He led them down the hallway, up the elevator and into the huge domed room.  Cracks could be seen in the ceiling, and in some spots, the floor was cracked as well.   They went through the wood door and found the long room that, before, had been very dusty and dirty.  They continued through the old station.  The frescos had been blackened, as if by flame, and the walls were coal-black as well.  They went through the doorway that once held the black door and up a gravelly slope that used to be stairs.  Then they stood at the top and looked over the desolate, flat, lifeless, grey plain that was once Chicago.

Junior/Senior Division
Counting Thoughts
Julia Guagenti, Lima Central Catholic, $100
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

Mason Bringes glanced over his shoulder to look outside, and he shivered.  It seemed, just moments ago, that the snow had begun to fall, but now it swirled ominously against the windows of the tiny shop called Elisabeth’s Garden.  He decided that he had to leave quickly, or he would have to stay at his sister’s.  He did not want to leave Melinda home alone for the night, and he did not want her flowers to die before he could give them to her.   Mason smiled at the thought of watching her smile, and the warmth of the thought spread to his toes.
“Will this be all for you, sir?”
“Oh, yes, thank you.”  Mason handed the woman behind the counter the amount he owed her and smiled gratefully as he cradled the beautiful bouquet of snapdragons.
“You be careful out there! Have a wonderful day.”
“And to you as well, ma’am.”  With a tip of his hat, Mason was out the door.
The wind whistled at Melinda through the window, and she whistled softly back.  “Hello, hello,” she whispered into the pages of the book resting in her lap.   Aged paper, the most peaceful of aromas, seemed to settle the twisting of her stomach as she examined the clock.  Mason was supposed to be home two hours ago, and Melinda was beginning to worry.  It’s all right, she told herself.  He’ll be here when he gets here
But as hard as Melinda tried, she was not able to ease her own mind.  She stood up suddenly, as if strings were attached to her arms and legs, and she found herself in front of the stove, where she had left dinner to cool.
“If it‘s not cool enough now, I‘ll eat my socks.”  Melinda wafted the delicious fragrance toward herself.  Fear caught the breath in her lungs and held it there.  But I really shouldn’t do that.” 
Go ahead, chimed a voice, go ahead, and eat.  It can be handled later.
Her heart beat against her ribcage like a jack-hammer.  Thump-thump.   A coldness crept into her lungs, and she felt numb.  Th-Thump-thump.  Melinda shivered in protest.  Her throat was dry, and she just continued to tell herself that she was in control.  Thump-thump.
But she wanted it.  She wanted to taste again, and she wanted to feel anything but the emptiness in her heart.  Melinda could feel her mind swirl against the plethora of mouth-watering scents.  Piece by piece, all reason and logic escaped her and blew away with the flurries of snow outside.
Melinda allowed the voice in the back of her mind to fuel and encourage her.  Before she knew it, the meal she had worked so hard to prepare for Mason and herself was near vanishing point.  Tears of shame and disgust stained her cheeks, leaving them sallow and sticky.  The feeling of resistance from the inside of her stomach began to settle in, and Melinda’s muddy-brown eyes widened in panic.  Her heart ached with over-whelming anxiety, and it once again hammered against her sternum, and it threw itself at her ribs.  In that moment, which had been like many others, Melinda wished to die.
There, on the table, was all the evidence of a clean refrigerator.  An empty ice cream carton rolled lazily off the counter, expelling the last of its melted contents onto the smooth surface of the floor.  Melinda twitched at the hollow howl of the carton, and she began to pace.  It seemed like she had paced for hours, but when she looked at the clock, only six minutes had passed.
You dug this hole for yourself, and now you have to reverse it.  The voice was loud in her head, ringing against her skull.  Melinda cringed in defeat.  She was unable to bring herself to protest, because she, too, knew what had to be done.
Horns blared left and right.  It seemed as if there was a car accident ahead, and the traffic was moving immensely slow.  In fact, it was barely moving.  Mason sighed in annoyance. 
How dare there be an accident in this sort of weather! Mason’s mind fumed.  Oh, rightHis thoughts were tangled cobwebs in the corner of his skull.  All he could think of was how much Melinda disliked being alone.  He could imagine her big, chocolate-brown eyes staring out the window, waiting for him to return to her.  Closing his own eyes, he smiled to himself as he imagined her beautiful face lighting up when she saw what he had for her.  The apples of her cheeks blushed the most delicate shade of pink, and  . . . .
Honk.  It seemed that the time was a few moments over-ripe as Mason opened his eyes.  The impatient cars behind him were trying to pick a fight with his car.  He pressed down hard on the gas to catch up to the car in front of him.  His car struggled to dig its tires out of the snow, but was once again on its way home, chugging over the small hill.  Mason couldn’t see the trees that blurred past his window through the storm, but he would not pull over.
A zombie could have gotten herself to the bathroom with more grace and more self-respect.  Melinda dragged her feet across the hard-wood floor.  She wished that the floor was able to slide splinters into her feet, and she cursed the shiny oak.  Melinda cursed the storm that brewed outside.  She cursed the sticky fingerprints on her arms.
“God forbid him to do his stupid job,” she muttered to herself as she cursed the weatherman.   “Certainly not psychic, but he’s not smart either.”  The dark closed in on her as she walked further down the hallway.
The wintry shock of the tile floor under her feet penetrated her stiff posture.  She was never enough.  Thump-thump.  Melinda shuddered as she fell to her knees on the bathroom floor.  Th-thump-thump.  Time flashed in and out of her mind, memories that produced the most pleasant butterflies.  Thump-thump.  She remained silent, listening to her racing heartbeat tripping over its own veins, stuttering.  Th-thump-thump.  The adrenaline filled her body, and everything seemed like it was in slow motion.  Thump-thump.  In that very instant, Melinda closed her eyes and couldn’t take it anymore.  Th-thump-thump.
Knuckles brushed her lips, and slowly grazed the roof of her mouth.  She could feel the soft flesh of the top of her hand under her teeth.  She could taste the ice cream on her fingers.  Her fingertips finally tickled the back of her throat, bringing forth a terrible heave from her stomach.  That was the indication that she didn’t need her hand anymore.  The second heave brought with it exactly what Melinda wanted.
The smell of her vomit assaulted her nostrils.  She wretched very softly, and continued to wretch until she could see the orange heap of what had once been carrots.  Flames felt like they were spreading in her throat, and she swallowed with great difficulty.  The fiery lump in her esophagus was so painful that more tears sprung to her eyes.  A grimace spread crookedly over her face as she flushed her mistakes.  Melinda wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, and she realized that the taste on her tongue was foul.  She stepped toward the medicine cabinet and froze.
There, in the mirror, stood a girl.  Her dirt-brown curls hung around her face, as lank and tired as the girl herself.  She had seen her so many times before, but who was she?  There was a mad look in her bloodshot eyes as they poured themselves into Melinda.  She had to catch her breath; she’d never seen anybody else with eyes so hungry, so saturated with tears of disgust.  The swollen cheeks of the girl in the mirror did not appear natural, and she clutched her throat in blatant pain.
Melinda wanted to reach out, but she didn’t want to scare the girl away again.  She looked trapped -- in shock.  Deciding that she’d better take care of the mess in her kitchen before she took care of her frightened visitor, Melinda went to the kitchen and began to clean skillfully.  With her cold hands under warm water, she washed all evidence of the incident away in the kitchen sink.  How funny it felt to have a visitor! As she wiped down the counters, she thought of the girl and shook her head in pity.
With the kitchen back in order, Melinda could put forth her best attempts at hospitality.  She usually enjoyed her time alone, especially during the week, but this poor girl just looked so lost!  Upon returning to the bathroom, Melinda saw that her visitor was still there.
“Well, you just look terrible!” She commented, scrutinizing the girl in the mirror.
The girl said nothing in reply and just mimicked her.  How rude!  Hadn’t her mother taught her any manners? Melinda furrowed her brow in frustration, crossing her arms.  The girl in the mirror did the same.  She wanted to tell the girl to leave, but she didn’t want to be as rude as the girl had been to her.  Sighing exasperatedly after staring at the girl for a few moments, Melinda took the mouth wash from the cabinet and continued with her routine.  The girl copied, and that was what finally forced Melinda to leave the bathroom.  She shut the door tight, and she left the girl inside, alone.
When Mason arrived home, he found Melinda sitting cross-legged on the big comfy loveseat.  A cup of tea steamed on the wooden table beside her.
“Hello, love,” Mason grinned, holding the snapdragons behind his back.  “I’m so sorry I’m home late.”
“It’s all right.  I’m just happy to see you in one piece.”
“One piece or millions, I’ll still love you just as much.”
“You’re a real piece of work, Shakespeare,” Melinda scoffed with a smile.
Mason watched as her cheeks turned the pink he so loved, and he could feel the warmth beginning to spread throughout his body.  He just wanted her to smile again.
“Voila! For you.” Mason watched Melinda’s face light up the instant she saw the large bouquet of snapdragons.  Her milk-chocolate eyes seemed to melt as he handed her the flowers.
“Snapdragons are my favorite,” she whispered through a smile, jumping to her feet.  Mason thought that she was going to embrace him, but she instead went to the kitchen and filled up a vase for the gift that had been given to her so thoughtfully.  Melinda carefully lowered the snapdragons into the vase and marveled at the vivid arrangement before her.
Through his eyes, he could see nothing the matter with her.  She was just as beautiful to him as she was the day they had first met.  She was turning around now, and he felt happiness pumping in and out of his heart.  He watched her hair dance behind her as she dashed back toward him.  Her long waves of hair were the color of brown sugar.  Mason welcomed her with strong, open arms, and she stood on her toes to kiss him softly.
“Thank you,” Melinda whispered breathlessly into her husband’s ear.  He smiled at the warm scent of tea that her lips so delicately emitted.
“I bought one snapdragon for every time I thought of you today,” Mason confessed, voice laced with mounting chuckles.  Melinda stared over Mason’s shoulder at the solitary cup of tea, and decided that she wouldn’t tell him how many times she had thought of him.

Circle 7.5
Chelsea Mooney, Lima Central Catholic, $100
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

This was the chance to let go, to take a risk.  The glistening blanket of navy spread out before my eyes as I took in the fragrance of salt and wet seaweed.  Its stillness traveled to the end of the earth.   I wouldn’t be surprised if only the flocks of birds could tell where it ceased to exist.  Beneath me, I heard crashing that was continuously sounding.  An orange and yellow beam flared and forced my eyes to see nothing but obvious darkness for an abrupt moment in time.   As I adjusted, light became my point of convergence. 
Letting gravity take its toll, my weight shifted over the precipice.  Head first, I became too much for the air to handle—a pebble not able to float on top of the water.  Butterflies fluttered through my stomach, but the rush of air felt suffocating.  My face, my whole body, had a charge of bitter cold as the affliction took over my skull, letting the salt water attack with a stinging sensation.   Extreme rays of sunlight took over, blinding me.  Now I felt refined and waded slowly through the glossy brine. 
As I arrived at shore, I became disoriented—this congested area was unfamiliar and altered.  Thick darkness surrounded me as my body became compressed within my being, creating unbearable displeasure, and I could no longer possess the soul that was essential to my heart and aliveness.  My own body became like a tangling, brittle corpse with no purpose but to speak through its wounds.  Thorny appendages grew into rough, branch-like structures, and their ruggedness made them immovable.  Several harpies swarmed in my direction, quickly coming closer.  When I tried to move, nothing budged.  It is as if my feet were rooted into the scorching sand with no escape.  The realization came, and I knew they were after me.  They pecked at my bark-like skin and left deep, open wounds that seeped blood.  I glanced down at all the new appendages that have formed and take note of a familiar-looking corpse overhanging with my black foliage. 
The only form of relief from this suffering is pain.  The only thing I am able to acknowledge is pain as I watch the harpy break my twisting limb to shreds.  Blood rushes out from my corruption for eternity—for was this the longevity of Pier delle Vigne?  Only through the blood can I find my voice.  This is my final judgment. 

Those Faces
Jacob Adams, Apollo Career Center, $100
Sponsoring Teacher: Peggy Miller

Have I lost my mind?  It’s hard to tell as I walk down these bleak avenues and silent roads of a downtown metropolitan sidewalk.  The cabs and vehicles owned by wealthy industrialists and office building executives, who can get a parking space with their name plastered on the concrete where their vehicles are parked for eight hours a day, drive by with little regard to the people on the road as we walk to our simple, easy destinations just down the road.  The people who walk alongside of you or opposite of you, your temporary neighbors, disregard you, as you do them as well.  Everyone is perfectly safe in their little bubbles.  Nobody pays attention to one another, and fear that their movements are being watched by an ethereal being next to them, waiting for a physical mistake–a misstep which could lead to that woman’s heel getting caught in the little crevice of the concrete blocks that form the sidewalk, or that man’s suitcase flying open and his documents fly askew into the road and blind traffic–and at the same time, they pay attention to everyone else to point and mock or even look insultingly at the others around them when they show a sign of imperfection. 
When you put too many people together, they turn from simple beings with simple ways and simple lifestyles into consumerists who have to have the latest fashion; who have to have the items that they don’t really need, but feel that they can’t live without (even though they clearly can--see the “Greatest Dad” mug in the window of the thrift store).  They live by everyone else’s philosophies, daily rituals and logic.  They fear that they will be left as outcasts–pariahs–simply because they don’t follow their co-workers and acquaintances’ trends.  The people who can afford these lifestyles live what they call free when they can look to their friends and say, “Yes, I am the one that purchased that mug.”
What about the people who can’t afford these inessential things? They turn into animals.  They live this way because their parents, who live the lives of sociopaths, cannot afford that condo on the corner of town where the grass is green because they enjoy their career working at a hot-dog stand.  These children–even without bad upbringings–are content with the hatred that thrives in their parents, and it passes down the line of kindred.  As those children grow up, their lust for these nonessential things becomes worse.  They want these things, but they cannot have them.  How do they get them? They turn into animals­–theft, murder, rape, and the destruction of property.  These acts, although immoral and wrong, are what make the lives of many human beings. 
To repeat the question: Have I lost my mind? To be able to see and predict what the society around you does–their insanity–could potentially lead to your own: My own.  To answer the question bluntly: maybe.  How is one to assume that they themselves are insane when they cannot come with any assumptions of themselves?
By now, I’ve made my way to the intersection and am now conjoined with a crowd of these above people on my heels and my toes on theirs.  The lighted signs on the buildings–paid for by that pyramid scheme of a company that invites children of all ages to drink the soda and recycle the glass bottles to buy another one–invest heavily in the foggy gust in the sky coming from the exhaust of the automobiles on the street.  During the day, the city is dark; during the night, the city is bright.  It is night, and the only places of intimidating darkness are the alleys behind the closed shops and agencies that common folk dare not tread.  Even though I have lost track of time, the day and the month, I can see that it is not yet curfew.  Kids in couples are leaving the theater that just played a Broadway favorite, and solo individuals are cruising around town looking for a good place to feel that they belong–a bar, no doubt.
Even though the mist is strong and the lights turn night to day, the strict shadows that are projected from lights intertwine, which in return create multiple shadows that jump when the cars pass by.  I’ve mastered these shadows to mask my face–my collar is propped upright, and my fedora is pushed down until the brim touches my eyebrows.  It is not my face that I want to hide, but everyone else’s.
Misanthropy is when you hate humankind.  Being a sociopath means that you don’t like being around people.  What is it when you fear people?  Not their transparent personalities or their benign individualities, but their disproportionate physical being? Is it that you are different, or is that your phobia of them not being to your standards?  I have seen the world’s true face–their fake smiles amongst all of the immoral deeds they have done to please no one else but themselves.  The bigger a liar, the bigger a thief, the bigger a fraud, the more hideous they are.
I am now crossing another street, and I am one block from the place that I call home on Restitution Road.  I hear a man coughing in the alley to my right, and I lean over a large, rectangular garbage bin to see who.  Why are we curious?  We just are.   I am aware of this–but what made me curious?  I just was.  I stepped in a puddle of blackening water from the rain when the oily, grungy water evaporates and makes dark clouds that rain the oil down onto us, and the water made a splish!  The coughing man, who was coughing with the sound of his lungs filling up with either mucus or infection from some disease which are often acquired from the fishermen at the docks, turned to face me and gave a distorted face while bending his head.  Even though he was hunched over and his hands were placed on the walls to prevent himself from falling, his head stayed tilted, and it was clear that he was equally curious.
“Y-you’re not on’ of ‘em! You’re not!” the man bellowed as he regained his balance from an obvious drunken stupor.  His balance was a fraud, and he had to catch himself numerous times before finally standing upright.  He shuffled over to me and grabbed me by my coat’s collar before I could step away.  I retreated, as per natural human instinct.  He was in my personal space. 
“Oh, boy!  I’ve seen so many ugly people–so many messed up ‘uns! Their faces all broken and nasty, but you! You’re not! You’re clean!”
What this drunkard said to me left me with confusion.  Was this man calling me beautiful?  Handsome?  It was hard to tell by both his intoxicated slur and his thick accent.  I was neither handsome nor in any way beautiful, my brown hair full of dirt and grease, my face plain and expressionless with a shadow of growing bristles of facial hair.  I was too dumbstruck to reply.
“Every’n I see! They’ve got grins bigger than whales! You, though! Y’r clean! Nothing wrong with you at all!”
He was right.  The bigger the sham, the bigger the grin.  He saw it, too. 
This is the epitome of my life.
Have I lost my mind?  No.
After spouting a minute’s worth of jovial, incoherent babble, I am finally released to continue on my stroll.  I turn around and look at the diner for the high-class and old-fashioned.  I can see clearly through the lit windows.  A family of four sits by the window at a long table with six chairs–the two empty ones holding the family’s coats and accessories.  Their backs are turned to me.  I admire how fruitful they look.  Even as I watch their backs and the distant ends of their sides, I can tell by their body language that they are happy and content with one another–that, as a family, they are complete.
The youngest daughter of age six turns and faces me.  She looks so pure and so innocent, but her face screams otherwise.  Her hideous face has the flamboyant signs of a liar and a thief–and even for such a young girl, I was not surprised.  Her grin is wide, and when these symptoms first hit me, I thought that grin would tear the muscle and skin.  The drunken fisherman was a relief because he was normal to physical standards, but her.  She was a different story, and that story was obvious to me.  I could detect liars, con-artists, thieves, murderers and more by the size of their hideous, feature-tearing grins.  Those false smiles that all liars hide behind–magnified ten-fold–and while they smiled, even against all odds, their eyes were shaped pleadingly.
The girl looks at me; gawks at me; and her eyes scream, Help me!
I can’t.   I have seen her before–in the windows of shops and automobiles.  I can’t place my finger where I have seen her before, but I have.  Is she an illusion, or is she really stalking me? It wouldn’t even be considered a coincidence if I had made eye contact with this little girl more than three times in a city with such a vast number unless both of our schedules result in our paths crossing at these times, but they do not.
I stare some more; I give her a nod of approval, and I carry on.
How have these people acquired such hideous faces, yet I have not? It is simple–your face gets worse if you lie.  You lie when you speak.  If you don’t speak; you don’t lie.  I haven’t spoken in years.  At first, it was a challenge, but eventually it becomes impossible to speak.  If I were in a tragic accident, and I needed to scream like those eyes do, I would not be able.  I was selectively mute, and now I am mute.  The most I can retrieve from my throat is a grunt, but a grunt is all I need to communicate verbally.  Real communication is in body language.  Pointing works, especially.  It’s coherent and understandable.
Why do I hide my face from these people? It isn’t guilt that I do not follow their sameness: it is fear.  With their hideous grins and envious stares of hatred towards anything or anyone different; their speculating grimaces and pointing – they bring crowds.  If my frowning face were to be seen, I would face confrontation and even a fight.  After all, when people want things that they can’t get, they turn into animals. 
I am less than a building from my home.  As I walk past the final building, someone shouts in my direction, “Hey!”  I can tell it was aimed at me, but I continue to walk.  I both do not want to talk to anyone and am afraid.  I am terrified what may happen to me right now if I am seen.
“Hey! You, sir!” the shouting continues.
I can hear footsteps quickly surface around me.  Whoever is shouting is running to me in a hurry. 
“Sir.”  A hand is placed on my shoulder, and I spin around to see.  I only hope that the shadows cast on my face.  “Are you interested in buying some meat?” Advertisements in verbal and physical form, walking amongst the people, trying to blend in, but being looked down on does things to a man trying to fit in.  He was a lone wolf, fighting and feeding off of the lies that he spouts to everyone around him to make a petty sale.  I am not impressed.  I grab the wrist of the hand on my shoulder and pull it off, and the man reluctantly lets go.  I turn and continue trotting home.  I begin to walk faster and faster.  Footsteps behind me follow in unison: someone is in pursuit of me.
A pair of pressure on two parts of my upper back sends me into an immediate sprawl.  I regain my balance before making impact to the ground, and my gloved hands go in to a puddle of water with black bits of coal forming as sediment into the base of the puddle.  I grab a chunk of the black substance and hold it in my hand while pushing myself back up to my feet.  I turn to face a group of ten people, a mixed group of old and young men and women. 
“Hey, boys, we’ve got a live one here!”  I hear.  They know. 
The crowd forms a semicircle around me to begin the maul.  An eager woman, a beautiful blonde, maybe twenty years old, takes a lunge to strike me down and have first dibs on the assault.  I grab her wrist and throw her past me; I snap my arm back and she loses her balance.  I release my grasp, and she is propelled past me, where she smacks face-first into the brick building to my side.  While she is out of my view, I step my right foot out and shift my balance to my toes.  As I do a quick spin on one leg, I throw the blackened powder at the crowd.  I hear grunts and gags as the front row are wiping their faces from the dark dirt.  I turn and sprint.  I can hear feet clatter behind me, a mixed sound of high-heels flopping off of feet and taps of casual leather shoes.  I am not an athletic runner, but I continue.  I run past home and past the city block.  I sprint through traffic, surprisingly not getting hit, and duck into an alley.  My lungs feel deflated, and my breathing is heavy.  My muscles ache and tremble.  I continue to run through the alley until I find a place to rest and return home.
I do not keep time, but I assume hours have past since the failed attempt on my life.  The people here will destroy at the sight of indifference.  I stand up and return home.  I walk up the concrete steps of the multipurpose building, who knows how many stories high.  I have never bothered going to the top, and I have never been in the elevator, to avoid confrontation.  I have never counted the columns of windows.  I would say the building is thirteen stories high.  I push open the wooden door and enter the lobby.  The building has been undergoing renovations, and the equipment fills the lobby.  Even through my sleepless nights when I would count the number of hammers from the stories above and below, I hear none right now.  I walk past the vacant help desk, reach around the counter, and grab a spare key.  One key fit every door of the building–a master key that every person here owns.  They were told that the keys only worked for their room, but I saw past the ploy.  I’ve been in every room on the first two floors and every room on the fourth.  I’ve became acquaintances, if not an owner, to the pets that spend their days caged up in these places.  I twirl the spare around on my index finger and push the metal door that leads to the flight of stairs.  Most stairways are nice, but these are made of a dilapidating wood that would break and crumble beneath six hundred pounds of weight.  The steps creak beneath every footstep.
The wooden door creaks open as I walk in to the haven that I call home–a simple studio apartment with a separate bathroom.  The once beige carpets are now a putrid brown and damp with mildew; the painted drywall are morphing and forming lumps from the bursting water and steam pipes that rattled.  The water pipe is going to break, inevitably, and the water would swarm in here.  The room would flood in mere seconds and be waist high in a minute.  The pressure from the water would keep the door shut, and the barred window would make it impossible to flee to the fire escape.  If the pipes would break, I would drown.  I would drown in all of my contempt.  For now, however, the pipe leaked.  The water trickled through the ceiling and walls, which created mildew and dark streaks that stained the surfaces of the room.  The wooden furniture is warped and splintered.  I shrugged off my coat and tossed it to the creaky rocking chair that has never been used.  I sit down on my bed, and the spring mattress pushes back into me.  The frame makes a groan, and the mattress eventually sinks in to the pit underneath.  I lie on my back and close my eyes.
I can’t sleep.  I have no clocks or no way of telling time, except for the rays of sunlight that pass through the window tinted with dirt and mist.  I’ve lost track of how many hours I have been here.  I’ve tossed and turned in my bed countless times, and my eyes have burned holes in the walls.  Every time my eyes get heavy and I am about to sleep, my leg muscles spasm, which keeps me awake.  I nod off at night and wake up in the day, but was I sleeping?  I don’t feel tired, but I know I haven’t slept.  Is it insomnia? Is insomnia a symptom of insanity? Am I insane?
Noir always comes to an end.  It’s bleak; raw.  Is this just a noir? Am I living in black and white? Those faces--the ones that haunt me and my conscious being.  I have neither seen them before, nor done nothing wrong to them; they taunt me.  They mock me.  They are demeaning and hateful.  I am alone; I am destitute.  They have nothing, and they appear to have everything.  Is it really me that is envious of everyone else?  So many questions and no answers.  Maybe everyone is sane, with inane lifestyles that are simply not respected by the others who are afraid of them. 
I spend all night contemplating these things.  I put an imaginary puzzle together in black and white, but there are no master keys.  I think back in my history.  That little girl– the one I always see.  She is familiar;  I have seen her before.  Where? When? Have I been locking something out of my mind this whole time?
I turn in my bed and rest on my shoulder.  It is said when a person has insomnia, they have flickers of memories of guilt.  I have seen these flickers, but they are so subtle– so benign–that I cannot tell what they are.  A car.   I can see a car and hear a scream.  The contemplation is keeping me awake, but my mind is restless.
Of men and of beasts, the car passes by; stricken.  A car, a girl, a scream.  A girl in a car?  That wouldn’t haunt a man for weeks.  A girl hit by a car.  That’s it.  Whose car?  I can see the car, and I can see the license number.  I can’t place it, though.  Is it my car? Why do I know so much about this one–its leather interior–if I know nothing about vehicles?
I laugh.  Did I hit the girl? The laughing doesn’t stop.  In fact, it gets worse.  I can’t get this smile off of my face.  The laughter and smile grows, and I can’t get rid of it.  I can’t stop.  I am rolling on my bed in what I can’t tell are tears of fear or tears of laughter.  I am thinking clearly; I am terrified, but I can not stop laughing.
All noir have the ending scene with the protagonist realizing that it was them that did the bad deed with a motivation benign to them.  Is that me? Am I a noir story?
Have I really lost my mind?  To answer:  Any man would lose his mind if he were to be surrounded in those faces.

The Final Great War
Ryan Fischer, Delphos St. John,
Sponsoring Teacher: Pam Hanser

There will never be a war as great as the one in my mind.  The forces of right and wrong have dug their trenches, and the bullets are flying.  I have stood in the way for too long, refusing to take a side for too long.  Every war, since the beginning of time, has a catalyst, something that lit the fuse and pushed both sides over the edge.  Sometimes it is a misunderstanding on land, or a feeling of dominance, or in my case, an assassination.   When you think assassin, I guarantee a seventeen-year-old junior does not pop up.  You are probably thinking of some trained man with  perfectly trained in martial arts.  But this is not a normal case.   My assassination was not of a world leader or a high religious figure.  No, my target was an 18-year-old girl.  I was not her enemy, nobody hated her, and you could say I still love her, because I would.
On January 12th, I became the coolest junior to grace these halls in some time.  A senior girl dating a junior boy, the dream of every guy, and I lived it.  Not only was she a senior,  she was THE senior, the one every guy wanted to be with and every girl wanted to be.  She was the star of the soccer team and a basketball cheerleader.  She could play the piano better than anyone before her.  She coasted with her perfect 4.0 GPA and had a free ride to any college of her choice. 
Why me? Why now? I never had the good looks or the silver tongue.  I played basketball, but never got in.  I couldn’t even get freshmen to go with me to a movie.  So tell me why.  She always told me, “When the time comes that you need to know, you will know.” Great.  All the confusion in the world, and she is throwing clichés at me.  Like a dumb chimp, I listened.  Eventually I stopped asking her.
For three months, I was happy.  A general love grew for her presence; a love that had no foundation what-so-ever.  She never treated me good; she never treated me bad.  We watched movies, we went to dinners, we met parents, and we exchanged gifts, all with her indifference gleaming bright.  I never got her to laugh, I never made her blush, and even when we kissed, there was never passion.  I jumped through hoops for her, but never got praise.  With every failed attempt to wow her, I fell more and more in love.  With every failed attempt, I dug myself deeper, so deep I could never climb out.
Three months and four days into our relationship I finally told her I loved her.  To my surprise, a smile came to her face, but not the smile you would expect.  Something evil crept inside her, something scary, and something I couldn’t stop.  My three words to her had a return of two,
“You’re ready,” she said.  With those two words, she transformed.  The silent, beautiful girl I loved now started writing plans for some big event.  Paper after paper filled with schedules.  I asked her what was going on.  She responded with, “It’s time for you to hear my life story.”
Age two and my parents have me in front of a piano.  My legs don’t come close to the pedals, and I could barely see the keys.  Age three, I am playing soccer every day and practicing piano every night.  Age four. I played on an eight- year-old soccer team.  My dad coached and played me every second of every game.  After game,s we rushed to the next piano recital.  Imagine this. I am four years old, and my schedule is planned to the second, crammed with every possible activity my parents could find.  Age , I told my parents I wanted to quit the piano… I have never been hit that hard before.  I am sure they mean well, putting me up to all this.  I mean, it all looks great on a resume, but they don’t know at what cost. 
Age 17, I have more trophies than my parents can make room for.  I had a big soccer game coming up; my dad let me know how important this game was to him.  If only I would have let him know how little it meant to me.  Everyone has a breaking point, and I was there. At half time of the game, we are losing 5-3; I missed 4 shots on the goal.  At half time, he pulled me away from my team and gave me the tongue-lashing to end all tongue-lashings.  I thought, one more word and I am done, but he kept talking and I said nothing.  The game started and I brought us within one goal of tying and going to a shootout.  With 10 seconds lef,  I broke away.  Sprinting down the field, it was just me and the goalie.
I thought, “Yes, hero time.”  I can make everyone proud, but do I want to? Dad screamed and ran with me down the field, I thought, now or never.  Take a stand or fold; win the game or win some freedom.  With that, everything became clear; the only way to win was to disappoint my dad, disappoint him so much he doesn’t care, disappoint him by losing the game.  The choice was easy; with five seconds left, I turned towards him and kicked the ball out of bounds,  just shy of hitting him in the head.  There has never been such an obvious dive.  My teammates knew why, and they understood. I even got a high five.  But my dad was never the same to me again. 
With that kick, everything ended; the recitals, the soccer games… the love.  My dad never said a word to me again; my mom followed suit.  Life as a teenager is tough enough, but now I have no supporting cast, nobody to fall back on.  This led to my depression, to my present life, and soon to my death…
I am not as popular as everyone thinks.  I never go to parties.   I have never had a boyfriend.  People won’t even notice when I am gone.  They will all think I transferred to some fancy private school-- no second thought.  This is where you come in.  Someone who loves me will not forget me, especially if they kill me. 
She talked for over an hour about how depressed she was and how she was sick of her life, but I was still stuck on her saying how I was going to kill her.  The way she talked seemed like if I didn’t kill her, I didn’t love her.  It is strange how I started actually considering taking her life just so she wouldn’t be depressed.  Then I started wondering how long she had had this plan? How many guys has she gone after, just to have them leave her when they heard her plan? How many guys have given her the hope of freedom, just snatch it away when she wanted it most? She told me I was her first boyfriend, but did she mean first person to say I love you or first person to actually date.  My head was bulging with questions, but I didn’t want to interrupt her barrage of information into her life. 
About an hour and a half into her explanation, she finally began how I had to kill her.  Black Widow spiders, she said.  She bought some of their venom from a collector.  All of a sudden, it all became very real.  She delved into every single juicy detail.  I was to sneak up on her while she was playing the piano, take the needle that she left at the door and inject it into her neck.  Her parents wouldn’t be home, the neighbors wouldn’t hear any screams, nothing to arouse suspicion.  Her parents would come home and find their baby girl on the floor, dead.
July 10th, anytime after nine.  The war was just getting started in my head.  One side was saying she deserves to be able to die.  It is her choice.  Who am I to take that away from her?  The other side was saying how crazy it is.  If she wants to die, she doesn’t need you.  Then again, yes, she does.  She needs someone to remember her.  She needs to live on in the only way we can-- in someone’s memories.  How would you feel if you died tonight and not a soul on this earth remembered you?  What if no one came to your funeral, or when it came time for the eulogy, nobody had anything to say? SHUT UP!! The guns fall silent for a moment… then, like any war, they fire again.  Maybe I am the one who should die.  Maybe we should die together; like a Romeo and Juliet thing.  Why does she get freed from this hell with me stuck here fighting this great war.  Tell me that.  Come on, tell me why I shouldn’t die.  Silence again. 
Revelation.  Maybe if I kill her, making her life better by taking it away, that  will make my life better.  Maybe God will see my sin as a good deed and reward me with peace.  Maybe the only way to be happy is to go rogue, to do what I have been taught to never do. 
July 10th, 9:15.  I stood there holding my fate in my hand.  I still hadn’t decided what to do.  I grabbed the needle; part of me wanting to jab it in my jugular.  Maybe there was enough for both of us to use it; we could both die getting what we want.  No, she needs to live forever… with me, in my heart, in my thoughts, in everything I do.  Always present with me.  She sat at the piano playing her favorite song, “Moonlight Sonata.”  The slow, majestic notes flowed from her to the piano and out to my ears.  I snuck up behind her, within stabbing distance.  The beauty that first drew me to her shined brightly.  Her depression resonated with her tears that dropped to the keys, one by one.  I leaned close to her and whispered, “I am so sorry, and did it.  With one solid swing, I injected her with enough spider poison to put down an elephant.  After every drop was in her neck, I bolted.  I ran.  I ran faster than I thought possible.  I ran to my house and up to my room.  The war was never louder than at that point. 
This senior “it girl” affected me more than any person before.  She turned me from an innocent young man to a murderer.  All she wanted was someone to remember her, to love her forever.  Job well done.

A Faded Memory
Rachel Illig, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

The musty scent of the red and brown shag carpet was hard to get out of your nose.  It lingered more than anyone was comfortable with, and yet they didn’t care.  As the television played a fuzzy black and white movie on The Lifetime Channel  they didn’t move.  Time seemed to almost stand still with each line spoken from the characters on the set.  The noise coming from the kitchen broke the tension, and even then, no one moved.  Slowly, she pressed the palms of her hand on the edge of the davenport and made sure her feet were stable before the never-ending sigh was let out.  As she made the first step, her head turned directly at him, eyes that appeared to be gentle turned harsh.  The inner shape of her eyebrows bent in and her pale yet pink lips almost started to pucker.  Her head took a sharp turn forward with the rest of her body, and she continued to walk up the two steps that led her into the kitchen.  He never moved.  The gray, worn-out pants and the discolored green jacket that covered his body stayed in place.  The bald head was covered by a black ball cap, and in the right light, the small gray hairs stuck out because he never saw them to cut.   As Alice picked up the phone, the ringing stopped.  He lifted his cup from the side table and opened his mouth just wide enough to spit out the juice coming from inside his lip.  The motion was robotic; he had been doing it for eighty years. 
Alice slowly hunched her way down the hallway, turning left and then right to get the small closet.   She pulled out her brown coat that had miscellaneous spots on it and a broken zipper.  She always told me that when something has always been good to you (in this case, that ugly brown coat), you should never throw it away.  I guess, in a sense, she was right, but considering the many trinkets and old time décor that occupied the inside of her house, she took that saying too literally.  As she complete the last turn, she slipped her imitation fur hat on over the brittle hair that covered her scalp.   As she got to the top of the step, she looked at Robert and said in a quiet yet forceful tone, “Let’s go.  You have a heart appointment.”
He slowly lifted his head from the habitual stare at the TV and said, “Right now?”
“Yes.   The lady on the phone told me you have to see the doctor.”
“Wait, what time? And are you sure? And what doctor? The one for my heart or the one for my pacemaker?” he questioned, his voice concerned.    
“Well…well, I don’t know Bill.” The words came out as a quiver and sounded like a little child who was admitting to telling her first lie. 
“Alice, how many times do I have to tell you?  Write things down.  That is why I put the pad and paper next to the phone, so that times like these won’t happen.”
Try and picture a father yelling at his daughter for not putting away her new paint set after he told her how many times to clean it up.  The only difference was that Alice wasn’t a child, and Robert certainly wasn’t her father.  They are lifelong partners, married for 62 years and counting. 
This is where I get a call from my mom.  Now normally when my phone goes off, my head is thrown back and my eyes roll because I know what the voice on the other end will say.  “I hope all those clothes in your room are picked up because your aunt and uncle are coming in.”
“Yes, mom, I realize this.” And then you have another five second conversation with yourself asking why your room needs to be cleaned when you aunt and uncle are going to be in the kitchen the entire night drinking coffee and reminiscing about their childhood.  I still have yet to answer that question myself. 
“Your grandma ran away.” This tone of voice wasn’t a clean-your-room voice; it was a you-need-to-help-me-do-something-before-I-break-down voice.  I didn’t know what to say.  Grandma was my best friend.  I would cry at night sometimes when I left her house because I knew that the second I shut the door, she would forget who I was.  I was Grandma’s favorite.  It sounds conceited, but she would tell anyone that to their face.  I guess I’m the one who has never officially yelled at her, so she likes me.   It pained me to watch my mother suffer knowing that her mother didn’t know who she was.   That is one of the saddest things I’ve had to live through.  I knew that Grandma got mad, but never mad enough to run away.
When I drove over to her house, the smell and the sights were all the same.  My Grandma’s hat, coat and purse were all gone.  Did she really leave?  I mean, how far could she actually get?  She didn’t have a car, and it took her a while to get from one end of a room to another.  I was worried.
Grandpa didn’t leave in case she would happen to come home, but the feeling in my stomach wasn’t a good one.  If Grandma couldn’t remember something she did ten seconds earlier, would she remember her house? What if she got hit or something?
After a while, we thought it was best to go find her.  My mom couldn’t get off of work, so I left with my Grandpa to drive around for a little bit to see if we could spot a small woman with that ugly brown coat.  I tried to be optimistic, but the car ride around town was silent, like we both knew that something bad was about to happen. 
Three hours had passed, and we finally went back to the house.  When Grandpa put the key in the lock, the door opened very fragilely.  He held the door open for me, and I as I walked in, I screamed.  Loud.  “Grandma! What are you doing here?  Where were you!?”  I was so overjoyed to see her, yet so angry at the same time because she left. 
“He yelled at me.”  The voice that came out of her was of a pathetic nature.  Her arms were crossed so that the aged skin folded at the crease of her elbow and at her knuckles.  Her eyes became narrow and her shoulders hunched forward slightly.  This is where I wanted to so badly yell at her, but I knew she wouldn’t know what happened.
 “Where did you go?” I politely asked.
“To the mall.” That’s all she would say.  Just little fragments of sentences to show off how stubborn she really was.  I knew that she couldn’t have gone to the “mall” because it was just impossible.  The “mall,” to grandma, was Wal-Mart.  She love that place so much because it had everything for her.  So when she wants to shop at the “mall,” we drive her to there.  Wal-Mart was obvious way too far away, so I knew that she had already forgot.  I tried to shake off the frustration that was weighing me down because I knew it wouldn’t get any better.  This…this thing Grandma had was . . . well, it was like hell. 
I called my mom at her office and told her the news.  No words came through the receiver, just a long, endless sigh.  It was hard to understand at times, because I knew my mom loved her, yet at times like these, she couldn’t bring herself to love her.  I tried to explain to her how Grandma was.  I guess my mom couldn’t take me seriously because I was her kid.  Who would sit and listen to their daughter ramble on about a mother/daughter relationship? I mean, my relationship with her wasn’t even considered a real relationship.  We didn’t talk about boys or sex like my other friends, but rather about the current reality show that was playing.  I desperately wanted more from our relationship, but I knew it wouldn’t happen.  I tried to pretend that Grandma would replace the missing conversations that I longed to have, but it only became a dream that never happened. 
As I focused back in, I felt Grandma’s face close to mine.  Those precious blue eyes were tightening and the fragile skin under her eyes was growing dark.  “How was your day, sweetheart?”
I couldn’t believe it.  She forgot.  Everything that had happened was gone.  The hours of worry she put me through didn’t matter.  I tried to ignore the throbbing pain growing up my throat, the kind of pain you get when you’re about to cry, but try so hard to hold it back because we don’t cry in front of anyone.  My eyes quivered and my tongue started to bleed because it was trapped under my stainless-steel teeth.  I had to leave.  I needed to be alone, so I got up.  I finally understood how my mother felt after all those years. 
I left my phone in the living room.  I didn’t want to think about the new text message I could be receiving about how “he broke up with her” and “can you believe that?!”  I left my grandma alone.  After all, she wouldn’t remember.  It wasn’t cold out, but the rain made me feel even worse.  The wet, damp environment was soggy, so I stayed inside.
The basement door creaked when it was pushed opened and small gray paint chips fell off.  I took the first step on the wooden platform.  This feeling rushed over my body.  The potent scent stuck instantly on every thread of my worn out jeans and in my graphic tee.  The steps downward continued.  I remembered my past.  When I was little, I would pretend to be on an adventure to find the treasure.  It had been years since I’ve been down there, years since I’ve let my imagination free. 
I was standing at the bottom now, cans of soups in front of me, jars of peanut butter and pickles to my right, and clothes hanging on a rope line to my left.  As I turned left, I pushed the aqua nightgown aside and uncovered the washer and dryer.  A small shimmer reflected off the single light bulb that illuminated the room.  I worked my way through more clothes to discover a small table and an iron chair with flower designs.  I shook my head in disbelief.  There was a small glass of water, still sweating, with partially melted bits of ice cubes in it.  It was a glass that had been poured maybe three hours ago.  So there I stood, my pale lips started to move and they began to form into a small grin.  I gathered the glass on the table, turned slowly and made my way up the wooden stairs. 
Step by step, I just thought about the day.  Why her? Why did Grandma have to be like that?  I still couldn’t grasp why it happened, but it did.  Knowing that she had herself a little space in the basement to hide amused me.  When she got angry or just didn’t want to deal with life, she could leave.  She knew that her husband couldn’t walk up and down the steps, but she can’t remember my name sometimes.  That’s where it hurts.  When you’re little, you’re allowed to pout and run away from the world because you don’t know what else to do.  This is the stage that my grandma has fallen back into.  At times I’m envious of the ways that her problems go away so easily.  For me, a pimple on my face is a problem.  That will be there for three days on top of all the other drama that high school kids come up with.  Grandma wasn’t like that. 
I ended up taking my grandpa to his heart doctor that day.  I made sure Grandma was settled and couldn’t be harmed.  When we got to the hospital, I let Grandpa out, and as I listened for the sound of the automatic doors open, I picked up my cell phone in its hot pink cover and dialed my mother’s number.  I wanted to talk to her, to tell her what I had discovered and to explain to her the reality show that I was living. 

Cody Crosby, Shawnee,
Sponsoring Teacher: Heather Shatto

Continence had brought her here tonight.   He was an old friend, really, but someone who she had never thought would walk back into her life again.   Even if he had, she never imagined, by any means, that she was worthy of being considered for an extensive visit.  She found herself sitting now.  All was calm for once, and all was quiet as well.  Her cold, bare hands were placed around a very foreign-feeling cup, one as fragile as she and awash with tea and a dash of sugar, the first straight drink had had for as long as she could remember.  By this time, her reminiscing had allowed it to grow cold.  Wispy bits of steam heat no longer flowed forth from it through the cool air, like long, desperate fingers stretching out, grasping at the hems of the garments of redemption.  She sat now, the last bit of her funds gone, cast away toward an innocent means for the first time in the longest time.  She couldn’t remember when she had last sat over a cup of hot tea.  She could hardly remember the last time her lucre went toward anything other than an ornate box of cancer or a vial filled to the very brim with poison, poison with a flavor comparable to that of rich, saccharine candy.  The haze had since ascended, and she was no longer dancing in the arms of sweet inebriation.  The streetlights outside once pulsed around her primal desire, but now she just sat, dejected at the sight of them.  At one time, they meant that the night had finally come.  Arm in arm with the night would be Sir Gala, a man with whom she had grown accustomed to sharing every evening, and soon after, nearly all of her time, but she had grown weary now.  She had grown to where she no longer ached for his touch.  She had fallen out of love, something she had previously never thought a possibility.  What was once her pleasure was now her chore.  She hadn’t the slightest where they might all be now, but she knew they were with him, and as much as she would have liked to, she honestly couldn’t give less than a damn less tonight.  Times had changed.  Just as fast as everything had started, it had come crashing down upon her.  The world was no longer her oyster, but rather the weight on her shoulders.

Maria Hoffman, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

By this point, I knew several things.
Point one: I was insane.  Other than complete stupidity, no other option explained the actions I was about to take.  And since I certainly wasn’t stupid, I had to be crazy.
Two: the boy I was about to meet up with was undeniably attractive, impossibly charismatic and may or may not have been a criminal (I was strongly leaning towards may).  And also the cause of my current lapse of sanity.
Numero trios: the legality of whatever it was that he called me here for was definitely in question.
And to top it all off, he was late. By exactly eighteen minutes. Two more and I would be out of here…
As if on cue, a sleek black sports car screeched around the corner and against the curb.  He stepped out with catlike grace and sauntered my way.  He wore head-to-toe black, just like last time (was that all he owned?) and his dark hair was perfectly messy.  He gave me a disarming smile as he approached and held out his hands placatingly.
  “Before you yell,” he spoke, just as I opened my mouth to chew him out, “I was making some last minute plans.  Nothing for you to worry about, darling.”
“What do you mean? You’re the one dragging me into this. And don’t call me darling!”
“As I recall, darling, you agreed to help me . . .”
“In a fit of temporary insanity!”  I interrupted,  “I cannot be held responsible for whatever I might have agreed to while in that condition.”
He rolled his emerald eyes, “Look, we don’t have time to argue; we’re on a tight schedule.  In the car, now.”
He gestured for me to follow.  Opening the passenger door, he waited for me to enter before slamming it shut and striding to his side.  The interior was all dark, with rich leather seats and tinted windows.  The whole thing smelled of new car and expensive cologne.  Perfectly clear music floated through the car; I couldn’t see any speakers.  Twangy,  guitar-like strumming mingled with a lonesome flute.  A woman’s haunting alto sang in a language I did not recognize.
“It’s Russian,” he said before I could ask.
“Oh. Okay.”
There were several minutes of not-quite-awkward silence.  Another song came on, this time piano, with several voices.
“Are you planning on telling me where we’re going, or do I have to guess?”
He smiled, showing just a hint of teeth, “Lunch.  You’re my date.”
“I agreed to be your date?”  My voice rose about two octaves.
“I just said that, didn’t I?”
“Okay, then. Why?”
“Several reasons.”  He paused before turning emerald eyes onto me.  “You seemed sufficiently intelligent, and know one knows you.  That’s important.  Plus you’re attractive enough to be one of my dates.”
“I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted.”
“Flattered, darling, definitely.”
“Oh my heck, your such a – a…I don’t think there’s a word in the English language that can express what you are!”
He just gave that not-quite-a-smirk-not-nice-enough-to-be-a-smile.  Maybe a smilk?  A smire?
A rough command interrupted my musings, “Here.”  He tossed me a silver . . .  make-up case?
“Do I want to know?”
He chuckled, low and warm,  “It’s for you, darling.” He gave me a sideways glance. “Put it on.”
I opened the sleek leather case.  It was limited edition; I could tell by the print.  The contents could have easily been worth two hundred, maybe three hundred dollars. Dior, Clinique, Lancôme, Chanel.
“Make it dark, heavy…think Maxim.”
“Oh, ‘cause I totally read that.”  I reached for the car mirror and did as instructed.  Lots of eyeliner and mascara.  All told, it was very Anna Nicole Smith, red lips and all.
“I like it.” Dark amusement colored his voice, “Now reach into the back.”
I groped around blindly and pulled out a shoebox.  Inside lay a shiny (and rather small) pair of stilettos.  They were definitely ankle-breakers, but they’d make my legs like five inches longer. I had a feeling that’s why he chose them.
“Luckily, you have pretty good taste in clothing, darling.  There’s a jacket back there I want you to change into, though.”
I glared at him, but he kept his eyes on the road.  I pulled off my warm, sensible jacket and put on the military-esque Chanel one from the back.  He might have been arrogant and annoying, not to mention criminal, but the boy had taste.  I’d give him that.  Suddenly my dark skinny jeans and lace camisole looked stylish.  Who knew?
“Okay, now for our cover story,” he said, almost cheerfully,  “You can call me Ransom.  We’ve been seeing each other for about six weeks now.  We met at a nightclub.  Uh, what do you want me to call you?”
“Briar’s fine.”
“Okay, then. You’re one of those aspiring model types and I, well, I am in the jewelry business, got it?”
“Model, okay.” I nodded.  “Are you planning on telling me what I’ve gotten myself into yet?  Or why we need a cover story?”
He pulled off the highway into one of the nicest neighborhoods in town.  I’d only ever been here a couple of times, but he seemed to know where we were going.
“ Well, we’re on a date, so it would make sense that we were dating.” He spoke slowly, as if talking to a five year old.  “You are going to be the distraction.  The owner of the restaurant is, shall we say, an old friend.  He’ll want to come over and chat.  I’ll excuse myself to go to the restroom, and I need you to keep him occupied for at least two minutes.  You can handle that, right?”
I nodded.  “What will you really be doing?”
“That’s classified information, darling.”
We pulled up in front of one of those old buildings where the bottom floor is a business and above it are apartments.  This one, however, looked completely modernized.  It had been completely stripped of adornment and painted a matte slate color.  The word ‘Mesh’ was emblazoned down one of the walls.  He parked and opened the door for me. 
As we waked to the entrance, I hung on his left arm, like I imagined a model-girlfriend would, tottering along in the heels that were too small for my feet.  Ransom walked confidently alongside me, still taller in spite of my height boost.
He casually held the thick glass door for me, then slung an arm around my waist as he walked up to the maitre d’. “Reservations for Cunningham.”
“Right this way, sir.”  The man led us to a table near the front.  It was one of those high ones that came with barstools instead of chairs.  Ransom thanked the man, and he left after promising our waiter would be out soon.  True to his word, a petite, blonde girl came out and took our drink orders.  I asked for tea–no lemon, and he ordered some kind of wine.
“So,” he began, placing the dark napkin in his lap, “How have things been?”
I let out an air-headed giggle, falling into my role, “Really good, you know?  Except I have this go-see at Donna Karan like really soon.  I don’t know if I’ll have time to eat.”
He gave me an appreciative look, “Well, we can just leave early.”
He turned in his seat as a man approached our table, “If it isn’t my old friend, Ivanov.”  Something in his eyes changed as he said this; they were no longer slightly teasing--they were harder, feral. “How have you been?”
“Good, my friend.” The man spoke with a strong Russian accent.  Somehow I felt it matched his appearance: dusty, cropped hair and pale eyes.  “I see you’re in good company.”  There was a strange tension in the air, but I couldn’t place it.
“Briar, meet Nikolai Ivanov, the owner of this fine establishment.”
I smiled coyly, “Very pleased to meet you.” I shook his thick, calloused hand.
At this moment, Ransom excused himself and headed to the back for the restrooms.
I began to chat Mr. Ivanov up, telling him about my blossoming modeling career and how excited I was about the casting call this afternoon.  Every now and then, his eyes would wander to the back, and I’d twirl a finger in my hair or subtly touch his arm to draw his attention back to moi.  I was starting to enjoy the feeling of adrenaline rushing through my veins when Ransom walked back to the table, drying his hands on his coat.
“Babe, what time did you say your go-see was?” he asked.
“Omigod!” I stood up, almost tripping over my heels, “It’s in like half an hour, I’m going to be late! Omigod, I can’t miss this!”  To my extreme pleasure, I managed to make my eyes water.
“Hush, Babe.  I’ll get you there,” he soothed, taking hold of my hand.  “Here, this will cover everything.” He threw a couple of fifties down on the table, than dragged me for the door, “Nice talking to you, Ivanov.”
As soon as we were in the car, we peeled off, going twice the speed limit.  I hurriedly buckled my seatbelt as we swerved onto the highway.
“Darling, you were wonderful!” His green eyes practically gleamed with excitement.  “That went better than I ever could’ve imagined!  I wish I could see his face when he discovers it’s gone….” He leaned back in his seat and sighed contently.
“What’s gone?”  I was rather tired of being in the dark.
He gave me a calculating look, immediately back to his old self.  “I suppose you deserve to know something.”  He paused (just to irritate me, I’m sure).  “Nikolai and I used to be business associates.  However, about a year ago, he thought it would be more profitable for him if I was out of the picture.  That didn’t work out the way he planned, but it definitely ended our relationship.  So I felt I was justified in reclaiming some valuables he had in his possession.  Without me, he never would have had them in the first place.”
I laughed at his reasoning, somehow not bothered by his less-then-legal behavior.  I guess it felt like it just fit with the rest of his alluring personality.
“Don’t worry about your safety either, Darling.  I’ll make sure there’s no way he can get at you.”  Somehow, I knew he was telling the truth. 
Before I knew it, we pulled up in front of my dorms, about ten blocks from where we had met.  I had never mentioned my address.
I raised an eyebrow and he grinned, “Don’t question it, darling. Just love it.”
I laughed at his arrogance and climbed out of the car.  I began to take off the designer jacket, but he told me to keep it all – coat, make-up, shoes. “After all, what am I going to do with them?”
Before I shut the door, I asked the one thing I had been wondering all afternoon, “What’s your real name?”
Ransom just gave me that half-grin half-smirk of his, “That, darling, will have to wait until next time.”

The Jewel-Thief
Rachel Heider, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

His fingers manipulated the combination as his ears listened intently for the clicks that, to him, signified victory.  In his whole person, there was an air of waiting, of expectancy.  Part of him felt that at any moment, someone would come around the corner, surprising him at his rather unlawful activity.  When he had married Victoria, he had never thought that such an action would land him here.  But married her he had, and he must deal with the consequences.  She had seemed so sweet, so innocent before .  .  .  he shook his head as if the physical motion could clear his mind.  Who knew that behind such a beautiful façade there lurked a wife more shrewish than the one so famously tamed? 
In an attempt to quiet her constant nagging and whining, he had spent more than his pocketbook contained.  At the time, the gradual loss of money in exchange for peace and quiet had seemed a reasonable if not quite wise deal.  But finally his money had all but run out, and now they were forced to choose between eating or paying the creditors.  Never before had a Stewart man failed to honor a bill or pay a debt.  He would sure as hell not be the first.   Even death would be preferable to such a fate.  And that was the reason for his nocturnal activity.  The jewels that were in the safe would be enough to cover his most pressing debts, he reckoned.  He would worry about the rest later. 
He turned from his work to scan the room with his eyes.  The pockets of darkness in the corners that his light couldn’t penetrate made him feel as if unseen eyes were watching his every move.  He felt that probing, mysterious eyes were glaring at him from behind thick curtains.  He shuddered, trying to regain a grip on himself.  And why must furniture look so grotesque and horrible in the dark? He wondered.   It was positively unnerving.  Stopping this was vital, such thoughts only hindered him. 
A low click woke him from his reverie.  At last, at long last, he would see whether salvation truly waited for him inside that iron box.  A low whistle, unbidden, slipped through his lips.   Strings of lustrous pearls gleaming milky white in the lamplight draped themselves sensuously.   Blood-red rubies, emeralds that looked like frozen seawater, and stones of every cut and color littered the interior of the safe.  But the undeniable queen of all of these beauties was one huge, clear diamond, the size of a child’s fist, that was nestled into a far corner of the safe.  Even in the dim light, the stone sparkled.  A few rays of light from his lamp caught on it and the corner of the safe was bright from the flames that seemed to appear within the depths of the stone.  With this stone, he could pay off all the debts and then some.  With trembling hands, he grabbed the stone, disregarding the others, and thrust it into his pocket.  Feeling like a man-newly born, he shut the safe, extinguished his light, and felt his way to the door. 
Once he was safely outside, he let his pent-up joy have full rein.  His veins coursing with adrenaline, he ran from sheer joy through the darkened streets.  When he found himself, he was in front of a seedy pawnshop.  In cases such as this, he knew it was customary to wait until the “heat” had died down, but he felt certain that Josef would have little problem handling stolen goods.   The pawnbroker, he knew, had many foreign customers who would only be too happy to take it off his hands.  With such thoughts, he entered the shop.  Assuming a debonair air that, while new to him, fit surprisingly well, he sauntered up to the counter.  “How much,” he asked “can you give me for this?” He drew the stone out of his pocket and laid it reverently on the dingy counter.  Trying to conceal the avaricious gleam that sprang into his eyes, the pawnbroker stared at the jewel.  “I will have to examine it,” he said at long last.  After several minutes, the pawnbroker returned, his face inscrutable.  “I am sorry, sir.” he said.   “You have here a very clever counterfeit.  I cannot offer you anything for such a useless bauble.”
“But it has to be real,” the man stammered, trying to communicate his urgency.
 “I am sorry.   It’s not” said the pawnbroker with finality. 
The man left the shop, his step no longer jaunty.  The door clicked shut behind him.  A few minutes later, the sleepy street was awakened by the echoes of a shot.  Inside the shop, unperturbed, the pawnbroker sat, holding a priceless diamond that was all his own. 

3600 Seconds
Daniele Pierre, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

“You’re late . . . again,”  Laura said as she frustratingly set down the Time magazine she had been flipping through while she waited for her husband. “Dinner’s in the microwave.  I didn’t even bother setting up the table for you this time.”
Brian’s built figure made its way softly to her. His fatigued blue eyes looked towards her with a sincere expression of apology as he delicately setting the bouquet of flowers next to the Winsome wood coffee table.  “Brought these for you, beautiful” Brian said, knowing that even that wouldn’t make up for coming home after another late night at the ER. “Honey, I am so sorry. Mr. Gail came in with another stroke and. . .” Seeing Laura’s refined facial expressions conveying indifference, he decided to change the subject.  “Laura, you should have seen these new interns trying to keep up, the poor things just can’t . . .”
“Save it.  I’m feeling kind of tired anyway.”
“Hey there, you two!” Brian kneeled to the ground as two petite pairs of arms came leaping for his neck.
“Daddy, did you see the star I made for the Christmas tree? Miss Taner said it was her favorite! I’ll show you!  I’ll show you!”
“Dad, did you get the tickets?  Did you?  Did you?  I’m all packed.  See?”  A pair of tiny swim pants and two pairs of Mickey Mouse shirts peeked their way out of a small backpack that clung to the child’s arm.
“Billy, we’re not leaving for another two days, you goofball.  Why don’t you show me the new movie you picked out today?” Brian picked up his little boy and held him up over his shoulders, following the lead of his daughter into the living room.
Out of the corner of her eye, Laura caught sight of the blue tint on her phone that gave evidence of a new text message. Laura caught her breath.  She didn’t need to open the phone to know who it was, and she knew very well what this meant. Dangerous excitement rushed through her body as she slowly grabbed for her phone. Flipping it open, the black letters invited Laura to the known routine, “Come over in fifteen.”  Glancing up, hoping her invitation had been unnoticed, she quickly and discreetly made her escape out of the living room.
“Eh, Hun? Aren’t you going to join us? We’re about to pop in Happy Feet.  You always said it was your favorite.” Brian suggested, looking up at Laura with a pleading look, an expression that told her to please not leave him again. For a second, Laura thought he might have finally caught on.  She thought that after some time, even he would know that his neglect and carelessness would take a toll.
“Stephanie actually just called to tell me that I left some papers behind she needed to wrap up the case, so I’m going back to the office and finishing up some documents. And you two!  Mommy loves you and will take you out for ice cream tomorrow, just like she promised. Just make sure you’re in bed when I come back!” Softly kissing her two children on the cheek, Laura acknowledged to herself that they were the only reason she hadn’t left already. She looked into their innocent eyes, which were the color of an emerald gem, a beautiful mix of their father’s soft blues and their mother‘s dark green. For a second, Laura contemplated staying and watching the movie with them, to forget about her needs and enjoy the little time she had with her family united.  The thought was quickly dismissed the second she glanced over at her husband, who already lay asleep on the recliner.  The kids would follow in a matter of minutes, and Laura would have to stand the loneliness by herself again, trapped in the feelings of emptiness that had swallowed her vows and turned her to dark desires.
Making her way slowly to the door, she was bothered to find her husband had awakened, and he halted her escape. “Babe, where are you going?” Brian now held her by the waist, holding her hips tight, not wanting her to leave, knowing she had offered a lie earlier. He pulled back a strand of her hair that was laid purposely in the way of her eyes, to shield them from making contact with his. When he lifted up her delicate chin with his overworked fingers, she had no other choice but to look back at him.  She almost wanted to feel something, something inside of her that would justify reasons to stay with him. Yet she looked back and felt nothing. No love, no guilt, no desire.  His soft gaze searched her eyes, incapable of finding truth or answers.  An empty gap lay between them, one that would never properly fill. Knowing this, Laura looked down as she muttered, “I already told you,” and she left him feeling like he was trapped in a void as she walked out the door.
All of her life, she had dreamt of the perfect romance fairytale-- the one day she would be swept up by the perfect man who wanted nothing more than to make her happy; the man who would make her laugh restlessly from his witty jokes; the man who everyone wanted to be around, charismatic, good looking, and unquestionably desirable. That’s who she thought Brian was.  She never thought she would get bored, or that his demanding work would take so much time away from her. When he did make time for her, she quickly became irritated. His clever remarks that once made her swoon now bored and annoyed her. Those rare occasions when they spent alone became forced and unenjoyable   There was no desire, excitement or passion between them. Now she found herself making the usual excuses (it’s his fault--anyways, if he really cared, he would notice). Sure, sometimes she felt bad about it, but what no one knew couldn’t hurt anyone.  She gave too much of herself to other people to deprive herself from what she needed.
Coming up to Collin’s door, she made her way in the way she usually did.  Below the rug laid the small key. The familiar surroundings slowly lowered her inhibitions.  The smells of red spice and cool blue instantly placed her in a quagmire--an entrapment she could not escape.  She was no longer the hectic, frantic lawyer everyone had mistaken her for.  She was no longer the neglected and unnoticed wife she had felt like for the past ten years. But most importantly, she was no longer withheld from the type of love she needed.
They had met each other at a bar. After a late night at the office, drinking Jose Cuervo was Laura’s well-known remedy. Collin had caught eye of her slender, curved figure from his table.  Her long legs hung from the side of the bar stool, and her high heel flapping against her foot, playfully supported on the edge of her toes. Collin took her relax motions as an invitation and walked smoothly towards her. He bought her another drink, the cliché motion, he knew, but he didn’t want to waste another second to approach her. After a few drinks, the room glided in a smooth contraction against Laura’s eyes.  For that moment in time, Collin’s dark complexion and strongly build figure captivated her in a whimsical sin. His sapphire blue eyes gazed at her intensely, giving her a sharp rush as she helplessly gave in to him for the first time. 
Feeling the desire he expressed to her every time he pressed up against her gave Laura electrifying chills.  The feelings Collin gave to her surged through her body like a healing remedy.  Just for a minute, she lost all worry, all problems, and all stress.  The way he looked at her, the penetrating stare he gave her every time he satisfied her, melted her instantaneously. The way he touched her was much more gentle and pleasing than Brian’s touch had ever been.  Even if the feelings were artificial between Laura and Collin, their actions said it all.  Their frequent encounters became a helpless addiction. A quick exchange of desires was all that Laura needed--a quick alternative to her life of meeting demands, of coldness, and of obscurity.
Finishing what she had came for, Laura felt renewed, satisfied at last. As soon as she closed the door to leave, what had happened in the last hour would be tucked far in her consciousness, for no one but herself to know. Stepping out into the real world, Laura felt the familiar dread overtake her, and she shuddered at the idea of going back to the same routine, to the same constricted lifestyle that she had been secretly escaping for so long. The last hour had been suppressed in her past, not affecting her future, but certainly giving her ease to the present.

For $23.50
James Matthew Heider, Lima Central Catholic
Sponsoring Teacher: Joshua Vasquez

Sunlight was just beginning to dawn on the Topeka Loan and Trust, but customers were already hurriedly milling in and out of the bank in the chilly December morning.  It was one of the busiest times of the year and certainly one of the most festive, Helen mused as she withdrew yet another customer’s deposit.  Although she was busy, her mind wouldn’t stay on task, her eyes telling the tale by glancing towards the door marked, Jack Cushing: Manager as if compelled by a magnet.  A smile tugged at the corners of her lips as she forced herself back to the task of counting out bills for customers and sending them off with a cordial “Have a merry Christmas.”  She enjoyed working during the holidays; it was never a chore, and the warm emotion flooding her spirit reminded her that this year, above all others, was special. 
As she returned to her work, the hours flew by, gradually blending into one another until the stream of customers slowed to a trickle and the small hand on the massive wall clock approached the Roman-numeral five.  Suddenly, the bell rang, signaling the arrival of two men.  Helen could tell something was amiss by the way their wild eyes scanned the room, darting back and forth, impossibly quick in their sockets.  Their large ten gallon hats sat asunder on their heads, jauntily perched, as if they were rodeo cowboys.  They strode quickly up to the counter, flashy boots echoing off the marble tiles of the foyer.  The helpful inquiry rising in Helen’s throat died abruptly as she caught a glimpse of metal, the glint of a Colt revolver peering out of the larger man’s holster. 
She stood silent, unmoving, as they approached the counter.  Her fingers fiddled with one another nervously as she surveyed the two.  The larger man was older, unshaven, with a paunch starting to materialize around his midsection.  He had cold grey eyes and a sneering leer to go along with them.  His lips slid back to reveal a set of cracked, yellow teeth as he spit a stream of tobacco on the tile.  The other was harder to read.  His head was hunched, but he had a lean build and a slender, lithe body.  His strides were graceful and precise as contrasted to the other’s heavy and ponderous gait, and he was clean-shaven.  However, his eyes were still averted, focused on a gold watch that was drawn from his pocket. 
Helen cleared her throat, trying to overcome her fear, and managed to stammer, “How may I help . . .” 
Her inquiry was abruptly cut off by the heavy-set man who snapped, “Never mind, missy, just give us the money and everything will be okay.  We sure wouldn’t want to hurt a pretty little thing like you.” He leered as he drew the Colt from his hip and cocked it with a dull metallic click.
 The other man interrupted,   “Never mind,  Wilson.  No need to threaten her.  She is already scared enough…”  His voice trailed off as his eyes rose to hers and then locked with a knowing recognition.  Her breath caught in her throat, but not out of fear.  No, not at all.  He looked slightly older than the last time she had seen him, but those dark eyes still held their liquid, captivating allure.  There was complete silence, neither wanting to say a thing. 
“Well, come on, what’s the hold up?” Wilson’s voice rudely rang out.  Then he began chuckling at his own cleverness.
“Robert,” Helen whispered breathlessly, unable to say anything else.  An uncomfortable cough emanated from Robert’s throat, his eyes still fixed fast on hers. 
“All right, well, give me the bag” he whispered absently, eyes never moving as he mechanically reached back for the coarse burlap sack.  He finally spoke to Helen,  “Just give us what you have here, uh, $300 dollars would suffice…”  She took the bag and examined then contents of her cash box.  The vast amount of customers had rendered the amount of money left in the register to $23.50. 
Nervously, she gathered it into the sack, and explained as she turned around, “I’m sorry but that’s all we have currently.  We were very busy today, and I don’t have the keys to the safe.”
Robert nodded knowingly, but the revelation caused a more violent reaction from Wilson, the words escaping with a bitter anger.  “What do you mean, lady?  You guys gotta  keep more than this up here!”
As she attempted to reason with the man, her voice became monotonous; her mind was elsewhere as her gaze turned to Robert, their eyes never wavering.  He finally broke the deadlock by reaching out to take possession of the burlap sack.  She lifted it up, eager to assist and make it through the ordeal which had taken a profoundly personal turn for her.  Helen’s hand extended, raising the sack above the counter, when a ray of light from the waning evening sun lazily caught the diamond on her finger, casting a brilliant kaleidoscope of color throughout the small cubicle.  Robert’s eye fixed upon it, and he again looked knowingly into Helen’s eyes.  A shadow of something crossed over his face, fleeting but clearly noticeable.  Was it anger?  Sadness?  Hurt?
Helen couldn’t tell, but she knew he hadn’t expected to see the ring.  She was jolted out of her reverie by Wilson’s gruff voice demanding to know where the rest of the money was kept.  Surely she was lying to them, he insisted.  Her mind immediately went to Jack, in his office only a couple hundred feet away, still oblivious to what was taking place in his bank.  She hoped to God that he wouldn’t do something rash and try to play the hero; she couldn’t afford to lose him.  Her heart had already suffered enough in the game of love. 
“I’m sorry, sir, but that is all we have,” she apologized.  Wilson ranted and raved, but all the other tellers’ windows were shut for the evening.  Finally, he turned to leave, Robert moving with him, and then his eye caught the small discreet plate on the nearby office, inscribed with the manager’s name.  Her heart leapt in her throat, knowing full well what Wilson intended to do.  Not only that, but she knew what Jack would do as well also, having armed himself with a shotgun ever since the influx of outlaws had become particularly bad in the state of Kansas. 
A knowing smirk crept into Wilson’s face as he triumphantly proclaimed, “Well, looky here.  A problem pops up, and the solution arises just as quickly.  No one better to take up a problem with than the manager.”  He sauntered over towards the door, Robert trailing him slowly, haltingly.  As he glanced back one last time, Helen silently pleaded with him, making no gestures or motions, only talking with her eyes, begging him to do something--anything.  But his face was impassive and impossible to read, and slowly he turned his head away in what looked to be defeat.  As Wilson turned the knob, Robert lagged behind, making no attempt to take control of the situation, and with that her spirit broke. 
Her view was obscured, and she now feared the worst.  A million thoughts ran through her head.  How?  Why me?  But the one that stood out the most was Robert.  How on earth was he, of all people, back to ruin her life again?  Did he really expect her to wait for eight years while he served his term in the Coffeyville Penitentiary after promising just days before that he was going clean for her?  He couldn’t ever possibly repair the damage he had done, and soon, she knew. he would change her life yet again. 
 It was imminent.  The thuds of a scuffle sounded from the office, voices unintelligible, the struggle muted by the walls.  She fervently prayed, begging and pleading with God to spare her the agony of this horrible situation, but she knew it was futile.  And then, two shots rang out, slicing through the murky haze of voices and thumps, bringing with them cold finality and closure.  Time stood still as she rushed out of her cubicle, oblivious the sheaves of paper and cups of coffee knocked over and spilled.  Colors blurred together as she ran, but her focus on the entryway of the room never wavered.  She flung the door open, wild-eyed and disheveled, fear and apprehension drawn across her face, draining her already pale cheeks of any color they might have previously possessed.  The first thing she saw was the burlap sack strewn across the floor in the entryway.  Her eyes traveled to the middle of the room up to the desk where Jack worked.  She gazed towards the center of the desk and. . .
Gun drawn, he entered the room . . . .lots of shouting, blustering from Wilson.  He looked on passively, his mind only dwelling on one thing.  Never did he anticipate being here--seeing Helen again.  A simple heist for cash to flee Kansas had gone horribly wrong, turning into a poignant trip down memory lane, filling him with agony and unbearable sorrow, but also anger.  And the ring.  He already had known it was too late for him, and that it was inevitable that it would happen, but it still pierced his heart as if it were ready to rend in two.  The regret hurt more than anything else.  Yes, that was the worst of all. 
The shouting grew more intense and violent as Wilson demanded money, and the man stubbornly refused.  A couple of blows were traded back and forth, and then Wilson reached for his belt, struggling to remove the Colt from its holster as he grappled with the man.  Somehow he knew that this was the pinnacle of his life, and that the time for action was now.  Slowly, as if in a daze, he raised the pistol, cocked it, and fired, sending a bullet hurtling into the back of Wilson’s head, and even as the blast from the other man’s shotgun ripped into his torso, he thought of Helen, ignoring the pain, the blood swiftly spreading across his chest.  Finally, as he saw Helen enter the room, he let go, content and at peace with himself he drifted off, succumbing to the sleepy embrace of the haze enveloping his body and soul.