Room 210

Short Story Finalists

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The ten short stories on this page are finalists in the first South Middle School Short Story Contest. The names of the authors will be added after judging is completed.

It is said that in an old Arabian tale, that far into the Arabian Desert a cave is hidden in the largest sand dune to the east, and deep within this cave is a room imbedded with gold. Every person in Arabia knows of this tale, and yet no one has ever tried to find this cave. That will soon change.
Jouhan sits, almost in a trance, as he listens to his grandfather tell him the old Arabian tale of the desert of gold. The story come to an end and all is quiet.
"I will find that cave, grandfather," Jouhan proclaims as the looks out the window.
"Maybe someday Jouhan, but not yet," his grandfather replied. "The desert is a cruel place. You must be stronger, both physically and mentally."
"Then I will get ready."
Ten years pass, and Jouhan is now 19. For the past 10 years, Jouhan has taken over every chore, including walking into the Arabian Desert to get water. He knew most of the desert like the back of his hand.
"You are ready now, if you still wish to fulfill this journey." Jouhan's grandfather talked as Jouhan emptied the water into the trough.
"I will leave in two days. That will give me enough time to gather what I'll need," Jouhan replied.
As the next two days passed, Jouhan collected everything he would need for the long journey. He was confident he would find the cave, yet in the back of his head, there was always the thought that he may never return.
The day of his journey was now here. He had his things ready and said goodbye. As he marched into the desert, he did not look back. He was determined and yet scared to say goodbye, for it might be goodbye forever.
Jouhan marched on with the sun beating down on him. There was no means of shade or shelter to be seen and night was approaching. As he looks around, he sees a desert fox digging a burrow. Jouhan walked on and when the temperature started to drop, he started to dig. By the time a burrow was dug large enough for him, it was completely dark, and probably below zero.
The next morning, Jouhan awoke with an annoying hiss in his ear. As Jouhan slowly turned his head, the tip of a snake's tail slowly came into view. The only thing to do was to run for it. Jouhan slowly got to his knees and then darted to the side. As he did so, the snake lunged. His leg was centimeters from getting bitten. Jouhan continued to run. About a fourth of a mile east of where he had slept, Jouhan finally fell to his knees onto the side of a sand dune. Sand began to fallon his head and bury him. He quickly moved out of the way. He turned and looked back to see a dark cave. He had found the cave.
Jouhan crawled through the cave. He followed a small glitter that he saw in the distance. Jouhan eventually hit a wall. When he did so, a small rock in the ceiling came ajar, and a small beam of light shone through. The whole cave lit up and the walls sparkled. They were covered with gold, just like in the tale.
For the next few days, Jouhan chipped away at the gold with a chisel he had brought and slowly filled his bags with gold. Then once every bag was filled, he returned home.
"I can't believe it! Is that my grandson?" Jouhan's grandfather asked himself as he saw a silhouette in the distance. He hopped up on a horse and brought another one for his grandson. Jouhan was very happy to see his grandfather. He loaded the gold onto both horses and they walked them back to the house.
Years passed and Jouhan stayed as determined toward anything he did as he was when he went on his journey. He also had all them oney he would ever need. The old Arabian tale about the desert of gold continued to be told, but just became a little longer. Jouhan was now a legend.

"Will you be all right, Kelly?" asked Kelly's mom, crying.
"Yeah, Mom, I'll beb just fine. How about you? Kelly's mom nodded her head and whispered, "Yes."
Kelly's father had passed away days before while in the Army. Chris, Kelly's dad, had got called up to fight in the war. When he got the call, he told his little girl that everything would be just fine and he would be home before she knew it.
Months went by with a few letters and a phone call here and there. Kelly was getting anxious to see her dad again. Only a few weeks before his funeral, Kelly had received a letter from her dad. It read:
"Hey baby, how are you doing? Things are getting pretty rough where I'm at right now. I can't wait to see you again. Just remember what I told you before I left. I'll be home before you know it. I have to go now. I will write you back real soon Love ya and miss you bunches. Dad."
Kelly couldn't help but read the note over and over again. She started tearing up only after a few lines. Then she crumbled it up and threw it against the wall.
She was angry with her dad for leaving. He told her that he woudld be there before she knew it. Well, he was there, but not the way that she wanted him to be.
As Kelly got older, she started to realize how important it was that her father risked his life so people that he didn't even know could be safe.
Kelly started crying again as she talked to her son, Michael, telling him about his brave grandfather.

Her eyes opened and shut as she stared up at the rain falling onto her face. Lightning flashed, as the wind blew her dark hair smoothly across her soft, 15-year-old face. The rain disguised her tears as mere raindrops that had fallen from the sky. Her face was no longer the face it used to be. The same sad look graced her face, but this time, the look had matured. It was as if, in one single night, she grew up, even though it was not her time. A storm had arrived, but she neither went inside nor made a motion of any kind. There was nothing left for her back in her house. Nothing but an empty house filled with memories she wished she didn't have. Going back into that house would bring back the most painful of memories, therefore, she had never planned on doing so. She stood there for a while longer, trying to decide what her next move would be. She eventually turned her head for one last look upon the house she grew up in. Then she turned her back to it, ran in the opposite direction and never looked back again.

Tabitha's eyes were barely open when she heard her mother yelling for her to hurry up and get ready. She lay there for a moment thinking about just staying in bed, but ultimately, she realized that, sooner or later, she would have to get up. So she stumbled out of bed with a groan and began getting ready for another dreaded day. Tabitha looked outside and saw that it was going to be a dreary, rainy day. She sighed and wondered what the day would bring.
She finally got dressed slowly and went into the kitchen to have breakfast, but the sleepiness was still in her eyes. She saw the door in the kitchen shut and looked outside to see her father preparing to get into his car with a handful of envelopes. Her mom came in, as she sat down to eat her cereal she had just poured, and seemed upset with her behavior, although she had done nothing wrong.
"Why must you act this way all the time? I need your help cleaning up and yet you sit there eating and acting like you are the head of the household!' said her mother in a rage.
Her mother was not a large woman, though her fierce personality might leave you to believe so. She was in fact a rather small, petite woman, with short blonde hair that was curled at the end, and soft brown eyes. Sort of like a mom you might see on television or something.
"Mom, I was just..." started Tabitha, trying to defend herself.
"Don't give me excuses! I don;t want to hear them rightn ow! Where is your father?" yelled her mother, abruptly changing the subject.
"I saw him leaving. I think he went to the post office to mail some bills or something," replied Tabitha.
"He's just NOW leaving to mail those? I told him to mail those weeks ago! What if our electricity or water is shut off?"
"I'm sure it's going to be fine, Mom. He's always late mailing them and that's never happened before," said Tabitha, trying to be helpful.
"Well, maybe you don't know everything that goes on, now do you?" asked her mother.
"I.." Tabitha began.
"No, you don't. You don't know anything about paying bills or having a job. You don't do anything! Sometimes I wonder why I even let you stay here," screamed her mother, sighing and rolling her eyes.
Right after her last words were spoken, Tabitha's mother began searching through the drawers and cabinets frantically. Tabitha had no idea what she was doing, but decided not to question her, for fear she might yell at her again.
"Where did I put htat? Hmmm..." Tabitha's mom mumbled under her breath.
Tabitha got up to rinse her bowl in the sink and sat back down to wait for her father to return, so he could take her to school. She did not have long to wait, for soon after that her father came bursting through the door and in an angry gesture he slamed it shut behind him. Unlike her mother, Tabitha's father was quite a large man with a stern face, dark hair, and wide, green eyes that always looked as though they knew something you didn't.
"Are you ready yet?" Tabitha's father asked her.
"Almost. I just need to grab my backpack," replied Tabitha.
"I was supposed to be at work 15 minutes ago. How am I supposed to get there on time?" her father asked furiously.
"Well, why don't you try paying our bills on time?" asked her mother, glaring at Tabitha's father.
"I'm sorry I've upset you, Miss Responsibility, but I've been busy with work. You know, something you don't have to do at your pathetic secretary job," retorted her father.
"What is that supposed to mean? You think I don't contribute around here?"
"Well, what exactly would you call contributing? Apparently, we have different definitions of the word."
"I would call it working my tail off every day, just so I can come home to cook, clean, and wait on you hand and foot."
"HA! You want to know about working your tail off? Try my job for a day! You wouldn't make it to lunch."
After all this arguing, Tabitha just tuned it all out. It was beginning to be too much for her. The same thing went on every day at her house. She got up, she and her mother fought, her mother and father fought, she went to school, came home, she and her mother fought, then her mother and father fought. It never changed. Life was becoming so predictable for Tabitha that she could almost guess what each parent was going to say next in each argument because they often argued about the same thing more than once. Sometimes she thought about running away, but that solution could never be a reality. She had absolutely nowhere to go. No one to turn to in times of need. No one except her parents, who were normally too busy arguing with each other to even notice that she sometimes needed to be helped and comforted.
"SLAP!" came the sound of her father's hand striking her mother's face and Tabitha was shocked back out of her dream world and into reality.
"Father! What are you doing?" Tabitha yelled, as she got up from the table.
"Sit back down!" her father yelled and slapped Tabitha across her face, too. Tabitha stumbled backward into the chair she had just been sitting in. Her eyes filled with tears, as the shock of what had just happened sunk in. Her father had actually hit her. Not only her, but her mother, too. Her mother was cowering over in a corner with silent tears streaming down her face. Tabitha's father was still standing there with his hand raised in the air, as if ready to strike at anyone's sudden movement. He was much larger than Tabitha and her mother and their small bodies were nothing to him. He towered over them like a bear, ready to attack.
"Now, I have to get to work immediately, so you'd better get in the car before I leave you both here," said her father.
Tabitha's mother stood and straightened herself up quickly. Her mother was not easily shut down. She would always get up and keep going no mater what the circumstances and with her father, there were many bad circumstances.
Finally, Tabitha, her mother, and father got into the car and her father set off. No one said anything. Tabitha still had tears that were forming in her eyes, but she was holding them in. She focused on things outside the car, so that she would be distracted and wouldn't have to think. She wanted to pretend like she was strong and that she could handle this, but she's had enough.
As she got out of the car, she simply said, "I can't take all of this fighting! I wish I lived somewhere else. I hate you both!" She ran off towards her school before her parents could say anything more.
Tabitha was late for school, but she did not care. That was the least of her worries. She was still fuming over what she had just said to her parents. She knew she would probably have to pay for it after school, but it didn't matter to her at that particular moment.
School was just the same as it had always been. Except today, Tabitha's mind kept drifting. Even more so than usual. Something just didn't seem right. She had begun feeling bad for what she had said when she got out of the car. She had only said it in anger and her parents had said many things in anger, so she felt she deserved the right to say whatever she wanted.
After school, Tabitha got on the bus, like she always did, and headed for home. A light rain had begun to fall and she enjoyed listening to the tiny pellets of rain as they hit the bus. However, for some reason, she was very anxious to get home, even though she knew there were consequences ahead of her for what she had said that morning.
Tabitha arrived at home and threw her stuff in her room, as usual. She turned on the television in the living room and waited with anticipation for her parents to get home. She waited and waited, and waited some more, but time seemed to be going so slowly. Either that or it was just very late and for some reason her parents weren't home yet. It began to get very dark and Tabitha's worries increased, as did her desire to know where her parents were.
She looked up quickly because she saw a car coming down the street. She jumped to go to the door, when she noticed that the car was not her parents'. Then she realized that it was, in fact, a police car. Tabitha swallowed hard and tried to think happy thoughts, as she heard a knock on the door. She slowly trudged over to answer the door. There were two officers standing there, an older-looking one and a much younger one, with grim faces.
"What's going on?" she demanded immediately before they could say anything.
"You're Tabitha, I presume?" asked the older officer.
"Yes, but would you just please tell me what is going on? Tabitha demanded again.
"May we come in first?" asked the younger, rather overweight officer.
"Yes, but quickly. I must know what has happened," replied Tabitha.
"The young, overweight officer then said, "There has been an accident."
"What do you mean?" began Tabitha. "What kind of an accident?"
"Well, you see," began the older officer, "your parents were involved in a terrible car accident and, well..."
"Well, what?" asked Tabitha.
Tabitha's eyes darted back and forth between them and she became more impatient. The officers looked mournfully at each other and Tabitha knew what was coming. She didn't want to accept it. In her head, she kept denying it over and over again, but she could not put off the truth any longer. It was inevitable, the words would be spoken at some point, but she did not want them to be.
"Just tell me already," Tabitha said.
"They didn't make it. I'm sorry," said the overweight officer.
Tabitha jammed her eyes shut, hoping that her eyelids would prove to be a dam and hold all her tears in. This technique did not work, so she just let the tears flow.
In her head, she was saying, "Why didn't I tell them that I loved them? Why? Why? Why?"
These questions could never be answered. She then stood up and, without warning, ran out the door. She didn't stop running either for quite some distance in the rain that had begun to fall more rapidly.
Lightning flashed many times and Tabitha eventually stopped at a point where her house was still in view. She then looked up into the sky and let the rain fall onto her face as she said a silent prayer, before glancing back at the house one last time.

They say the greatest things in life can't be bought. For Peter though, that was a different case, for everything he wanted, he bought. Except for the one thing by the name of Gloria.
His wife and true love of whom he lived every second in the day for. Gloria gave him three other things he would pay all the money he had for, which are his children.
Now, Peter was like every normal African-American man. He owned a fancy house with expensive cars. He owned one of the biggest companies in the world. He could buy anything he could dream of, but even with this much, he still held the dearest things close to him.
As he drove to his work one cloudy day in the big city he lived in, he watched as he passed. He passed protesters, but he could not see what they were protesting. He pulled his car over to the closest parking lot and gracefully got out of it, for he was brought up in high class to be so graceful.
He slowly made his way to the men and women outside of a factory. Their clothes were in rags and there were protest signs in their hands. They were homeless, he could tell.
Peter reached out to one of the men at the gate and asked, "Why are you doing this?"
The man snarled and replied, "It's because of you! You people have driven us to teh poverty."
Peter watched as the man turned back around and began yelling again. He shook his head and walked back to his car, thinking of the words he just had heard.
It was late in the evening as Peter drove back to his loving family. He passed the protesters again, but this time, he paid no mind to them.
He pulled up to his driveway as he saw Gloria come out of his house, a smile on her face. Peter got out of the car and slammed the door violently. The words from earlier were still pounding in his head. Gloria noticed this immediately.
"What is wrong, dear? asked Gloria.
Peter simply passed her through the doorway and made his way to the richly furnished dining room. His three children walked into the room, also. They didn't speak.
He looked at his family then again remembered the words. "There were protesters outside the new factory today," he said quietly to his wife. He loudly slammed his hand on the table and exclaimed, "We have got to help our white brothers and sisters."

No one knew. And I was happy they didn't. No one cared. And I must say I was quite happy they didn't. After all, no one has ever known or cared about anything I did. And why should they? Really, why should they? But I was happy, not ashamed, not filled with guilt, but happy, utterly happy.
I guess I should start at the beginning and tell you everything to do with this sinister plot.
First off, hello. My of no importance to you. I assure you that my name bears no part in this story. But, if you must call me anything, call me NAT (this, of course, stands for Nevermind About That).
Now, on with the story now that you know me, even if it is only slightly. I cannot tell you the exact moment which the idea crossed my mind. But, as soon as it did, I knew it was brilliant. No traces left, no evidence, it honestly was the perfect crime. Never in the history of history has something like this happened.
This robbery was unsurpassed in planning. I'd finally done it! The gold of Seltsners Line is no mine. Finally! I shall never be caught unless, of course, I am caught.
So I run! Crossed state lines into Mexico. But those Mexicans are vicious. They bite! And I guess that that tequila they drink aids in their sharp teeth. They can bite! I mean, they are like piranhas.
Needless to say, I was subdued and taken away. I was on a remote island with millions upon millions of them. They challenged me to a shootout. I declined. Bad idea.
I was bound and gagged and was taken back to the U.S. (thank the Lord Almighty).
I was released and almost immediately turned myself in. I was locked into a maximum security prison.
So now I'm here in prison safe. Except my cellmate is a crazy crackie. So, I will depart for now. My cell mate is advancing at an expedient rate. Goodbye! I hope will live to tell of my earlier scheme. Until a later day.

   A wind from the west brushed the branches of a great evergreen tree as it headed down into the vast plains of the Gagio Valley. At first glance, most people would see little more than was in plain sight, not the pathways nor the caves hidden from prying eyes among grass and rocks. A smile creased the man's lips, nor the others whom dwelled there. He was not alone, however much his friends believed it. He was not alone. The man turned, eyes flashing gold, and then a searing white. No, he had many friends, hidden in this wilderness. As he let out a wheezing laugh, surely of insanity, the creatures slinked among the shadows, peering out from time to time in curiosity. No, he was not alone, not with wolves to keep him company.
   In the east, the sounds of a party stood in the air. Locked in his apartments, the tall man in the green coat cared little. His thoughts were on tomorrow. What would happen? Why had his friends betrayed him? This was not his doing. Why were they so stubborn? What had turned them in this direction? Smearing the blotches of ink from his cheeks, the man sat down to scribble a letter to his family. It would be a long night, but when morning came, he'd be ready. Clenching his fists until they turned white, the man sat down to begin his work.
   To the north, a banner of red and silver fluttered in the strong breeze, speaking of a storm yet to come. All was at peace, except for the sound of strong hoofbeats on the hard grey stone. There was a sense of anxiety hanging in the air, a feeling of confusion and apprehension. No one was sure what to do, least of all their ruler, the man on the throne thought in frustration. Running his hands through his dark, shaggy hair, he slumped in a defeated fashion. It was over, all they had worked so hard to build. How had it come to this? How had three friends become enemy enough to call out in defiance against each other?
   As Vanelle, Christopher, Koren, and Mason darted down the crowded streets of the city, they laughed and hollered, running into all sorts of people who, in turn, waved their fists angrily at the teenagers. Vanelle slipped on the dusty old road, bursting into tears of laughter as Christopher helped her back to her feet. Raising her skirts to her knees, she continued on her way, smashing right into a man attempting to carry a large red vase in his arms. They all ran, through the city and down into the nastier parts of town. When a scrubby old man grabbed Koran's fancy collar, Mason, being the bold young man he was, punched him right in the nose. Letting out a yelp of pain, the man let go, clutching his nose and staggering back, as the children continued on their way, unfazed by the dangerous incident.
   Still laughing together, the group slowed to a walk, panting as they trudged along into the vast countryside. "I think...we lost 'em," Christopher said  breathlessly.
   "Yep, looks like the fat old man just couldn't keep up!" Mason yelled, as if to mock the baker, more than likely far from earshot now. Christopher shook his head at that, dusting off the woolen old farm jacket he wore. No one liked the baker, but most could just deal with it. His dark eyes turned to Vanelle, who grinned foolishly, speaking as though to royalty.
   "Would the most esteemed Christopher Baleson please produce the feast of which we have so willingly..." A quick glance at Koren and she hurried on. "...barrowed after a long day's work?" fluttering her skirts in a long curtsy.
   Christopher quickly pulled the two loaves of bread from a rolled-up jacket, handing them to Koren, who cringed in distaste. "Father's going to kill me if..."
   Suddenly, everyone froze in the spot, glancing around nervously. What had been laughter and fun turned to utter silence, complete silence. No birds sang or owls hooted. It seemed like someone was watching them from all directions. The only sound was that of leaves rattling in the wind, a wind that seemed to change directions. The sheep and cattle that had been shifting restlessly, began moving north, all of them. Christopher got to his feet, looking from side to side. "What? What's going on?" Mason shook his head, staring intently with those golden eyes. Koren frowned at Vanelle worriedly. She laughed meekly.
  "Look at you three! You worry more than a fish out of water!" When the boys' faces didn't change, Vanelle got to her feet and headed up the hill. "Really, I'll show you! I don't know why you..." Suddenly, she faltered, mouth working in an attempt to say something. A large grey mare cantered up the hill, dragging a golden-haired woman, barely in her 20s, through rocks and mud. The woman grappled with the stirrups, attempting to untangle her foot from the knot of buckles and belts. Seeing the children, she waved her hands desperately, letting out a gasp of pain. Vanelle hurried up to her, grabbing the horse's reins and bringing it to a halt. She was sure the large beast could have dragged her away just as easily, but she held firm nonetheless. Koren and Christopher worked to untangle the terrified woman, while Mason grabbed her shoulders in an attempt to lift her off the ground. Letting out a deep sigh of relief as her ankle came loose, the woman looked up at them gratefully. Wincing, she got to her feeet. "I'm Calena," she uttered between words of thanks. "I...I fell..."
   "We can see that," Mason said with a mischievous grain. "What are you doing here? Hardly anyone comes to Hillcrest country. No reason to..." Letting out a laugh of surprise, Calena looked at the four merrily. "I've been looking to enlist the service of thr...uh, four courageous souls like yourselves!" Giving a sharp glance to Vanelle, as though to blame her for something, the woman continued. "You see, I've been searching some time for...for something I lost many years ago...but I haven't had much luck...You see..." Calena pulled out a wrinkled old map that seemed about to deteriorate in her hands. Pointing to the very center, she made her way down the Pinestone River, then across the Searan Plains, through the Gagio Valley, then finally to Hillcrest itself. "My search is almost complete, but..."
   "But what?" Christopher asked excitedly.
   "Yes, what is it" Koren urged her on, looking as eager as Christopher himself. Vanelle, however, did not look impressed, eyeing the map critically.
   Pointing into the distant sky of fog, Calena crumpled the paper in her hand. "There, just outside the farthest farm from town..." Christopher shaded his eyes, looking for anything. Mason squinted, seeing nothing. After a long moment, Mason headed down the hill, shaking his head, sorely disappointed. Calena didn't seem to notice, still pointing at an empty sky overhead. Suddenly, Vanelle let out a gasp of disbelief. Koren backed away and Mason came to a halt where he stood. There, where an empty sky had been, fog cleared to reveal an enormous mountain, towering above the rest. It was a beautiful sight. Green, turning to grey at the base, turning to white as it reached the snowy peak, where fog hovered just overhead. It seemed you could touch the very clouds if you ever made it up there.
   "It...It must be over 10,000 feet high..." Koren whispered in amazement. "More..." Vanelle replied, leaning her head back in disbelief. "Never in my life have I seen..."
   "You never will again." Calena cut her off. "That mountain holds secrets you know nothing of. What I seek is in there, but with a leg like this, I doubt I could even get to the nearest farm..." Rubbing her ankle in disgust, she continued on, "Just below the white oak tree there is an opening, a cave of sorts. Inside you will find...find this thing so very precious to me. You'll know what it is. Bring it to the town, where I'll be waiting for you."
   "And what makes you think we'll do that? We have our own business to deal with," Mason said, folding his arms and eyeing her suspiciously. "We'll help you to the town, but from there, you're on your own."
   Calena frowned angrily, pulling out a small purse of coins. "If you do this for me, you will be greatly rewarded."
   Though it was a small bag, Mason and the others began to wonder just what coins were in that pouch. Glancing at each other, Christopher stepped forward. "What do you need us to do?"
   Within the hour, they had set out for the mysterious mountain, eyeing its summit doubtfully. Vanelle, through all her protests, was to accompany Calena back to the town, where they would await the boys' return.
   They walked all day, not so much as glancing back, in fear that they'd turn around and head hom. Koren, jumping onto a sturdy stone fence, grabbed up a strong stick, brandishing it in the air wildly. "Off on another grand adventure! Koren, high lord of the land, along with his trusted friend, Christopher, and their arch nemesis, Mason Surmont himself!" Laughing, Koren jumped off the wall waving his "weapon" at Mason.
   "Will you cut that out?" he said, shoving Koren in a joking manner. Though his intent had only been to stop Koren from whacking him in the head, Mason pushed a little too hard, shoving Koren over the fence and into a large briar bush. It took almost half an hour and many sliced fingers to get him untangled from the prickly plant, but Koren suffered greater than Mason and Christopher alike. Scratches covered his pale complexion and a deep gash over his right cheek looked almost swollen. Through all his apologies, Koren still wouldn't speak to Mason, but simply trudged along, making quite an effort not to look at Mason at all.
   It took them several more hours to reach the base of the mountain, but when they did, Koren immediately sat down to nurse his wounds. Christopher, on the other hand, stood under a twisting maple, reading the book his father had given him so many years ago, before he was old enough to even read, before he was old enough to understand why his father had grown sick in the winter. Staring grimly at the shimmering pond nearby, Christopher turned the bok over in his hands. It was his dearest possession. It always had been.
   When Mason and Koren started arguing, he just ignored it. Frankly, he didn't like to get involved in pointless skirmishes like that. Nothing good ever came of them. So, he simply leaned against the tree, reading his favorite parts, long since memorized. Koren, turning around in frustration, never saw Christopher sitting right behind him. He never saw the grey book in his friend's hands knocked away by his own shoulder. In the air, Christopher seemed to see it in slow motion, gliding up, higher and higher as he reached for it just a moment too late. A sharp clunk in the water showed all three boys where the book had fallen. They stood, silently staring at the ripples. Each had known how much that book meant to Christopher. A pained look filled his eyes as he plucked it out of the water, pages smeared beyond recognition.
   "Christopher, I'm sorry...I didn't..."
   He didn't have time to finish, for Christopher turned wordlessly and headed up the dusty path of the mountain.
   No one talked for some time, in shock at all their misfortune so far. The tension between the three kept their mouths shut and the setting sun made them even less willing to talk. Crossing over a deep rise, they came to the powdery white tree, twisting almost like the red and white of candy cane. It was strange. The tree was real, that was evident, but somehow it wasn't. It looked, smelled, and felt like a real tree, but something about it appeared not to be of nature. They all eyed it carefully, as if it would leap up and grab them, but the tree stood stiff and strong. They searched, around corner and behind bushes, but nowhere could this cave be found. All of a sudden, Christopher, who had been searching around the tree itself, fell into the ground, shouting in terror as an enormous hole collapsed in around him. Mason and Koren rushed to help him out.
   "Well, we found the cave," Christopher said, flinching uncontrollably.
   "I'm going in," Mason said firmly.
   "Not without us," Koren replied testily.
   When he crouched down into the hole, Christopher was surprised to see light coming from above. That wasn't the most shocking thing, however. A staircase wound upward, heading in the same direction. They climbed it wearily, surprised to find no hidden chambers or ferocious animals guarding their treasure. Instead, all that could be found was a small wooden box in the middle of a room large enough to be the court of a high lord. Edging forward in curiosity, Koren threw back the lid of the tiny chest. Shock filled his eyes, as a bright flash of light illuminated from it. How could something so dazzling come from such a tiny thing" The light soon died away, leaving the empty room unchanged and unharmed in any way.
   "Is that it then? Is that what we came all this way for?"
   "Unbelievable. You've got to be kidding me."
   "A box...A toy, no more! And we thought it would actually be something worthwhile!"
   Throwing the shameful object into his pack, Christopher turned to get out of this place as quickly as possible. Due to this, a long fight ensued over who should carry it and who should take credit for the discovery. At last, they decided to take turns, rotating the box from person to person, but the conflict was all in vain, for when they reached the town at early dawn, Vanelle informed them that Calena had slipped away hours earlier, unexplained and unannounced.
   Throwing the box down in frustration, Koren left, closely followed by Mason. Christopher only stayed for a moment to explain what had happened, then hurried off in disgust. Picking up the box timidly, Vanelle slowly opened it. When nothing happened, she sighed, closing it again.
   Years passed and as the fading of winter and the first signs of spring came around once again, all though of their friendships had disappeared from sight. It had been so long since the three had spoken to each other, Vanelle being their only connection at all. Even that faded with time as a book fades with age. Memories changed to wonder, wonder changed to uncertainty, and uncertainty itself changed to a feeling of hatred and something darker. Each had gone far, just as Calena said they would. Koren took up his father's position as king. Christopher became the leader of Hillcrest's farmlands, which contained a surprising number of "courageous souls" itself. Mason found a new group of unexpected friends. They had all gone in their own directions, barricading themselves from each other. They were not the same people. Soon, that hatred spread. Wolves were not wanted in farmland and peasants should follow no other ruler than their king. The king should respect that of nature, not build further into the animal's land and no farmer should have to give a man food and goods when he's never done a hard day's work in his life.
   And so, anger spread throughout the land, ensnaring all sorts of people. It was the beginning. It was the end. They gathered to march on each other. Three friends had turned to three enemies.
  A cool breeze still filled the morning air as wolves, peasants, and soldiers came from all directions in the Gagio Valley. Hatred filled their eyes and their hearts as they continued on, drawing closer and closer, preparing for battle. They were ready. They had waited long enough. Screams pounded in on all sides as the three parties drew nearer and nearer, their rulers on the front line. Suddenly, a voice unlike any other came screaming down the hill. They were less than a hundred meters away now, still charging forward. The voice continued, shouting words of "Stop!" and "Halt!" as they drew closer...closer...
   Lifting her skirts to her knees, Vanelle ran the hardest she'd ever run, between soldiers, wolves, and peasants. She darted under shields, spears, and pitchforks, around wolves and men alike. Something struck recognition in Koren's, Christopher's and Mason's eyes. They slowed, then stopped, recognizing something familiar that they just couldn't place. "Stop! Stop, I tell you. You're friends. Remember...remember the fun we had? We stole bread from the baker every week. Sometimes, we went out to the river and played from sunup to sundown or out in the rows of corn to play on your farm, Christopher! Remember...remember your farm?" Tears streaked her cheeks as she continued on, but no one noticed, for they were advancing once more.
   "NO!" Vanelle shouted, still glued to the spot. From the pouch at her side, she pulled out that small box still fixed in their minds. She had their attention now, for it was different, something had changed about it. "This morning, an inscription appeared on the side, like it had been burned into the very wood, warm to the touch." She read aloud:
   In this box there stands a curse,
   It dwells on hatred, fear and worse.
   A path is chosen for you to take,
   Past, present, future, and all else break.
   Trust and fellowship are lost to you,
   and thus, what could be has faded, too.
   You've chosen this path, now all is done.
   Here it ends, with the rising sun.
   "End this now! War is not the answer!" For a moment, it seemed that they had listened, that the glaze, which had filled their eyes for so long, flickered, wavering for a second, but no more. To Vanelle's amazement, her three friends, whom she had thought she knew so well, began moving forward once more, challenging each other.
   "Don't you see, Koren? That scar on your face, it's from the briar bush Mason pushed you into You had been trying to fight swords with him. Christopher! Your book, that one you lost that day on the mountain? You said its memories have always stayed with you. You told your friends that the next day. And you, Mason! You were always getting yourself into trouble over nothing, but we always stood by you. Every day was exciting when we were together, all of us, and even though we went through some hard times, that never broke our spirits, we never stopped being friends."
   This time, Vanelle was sure she saw that glaze faded. Koren fingered the scar on his cheek. Christopher looked at his hands, as though holding a book, and Mason watched the wolves behind him in amazement. Vanelle jumped as the box in her hands began to open, slowly but surely. Suddenly, a brilliant flash filled their eyes and was gone as soon as it came. As the glare faded from her eyes, Vanelle saw that all the mist in her friends' eyes was gone. For that matter, all the mist in the eyes of their followers had disappeared as well. The box burned her hands as she looked down to see another inscription being written:
   What was done has been undone.
   What will be is for you.
   Remember this place.
   Its lessons hold true.
   Smiling, she walked away with her friends, talking of old memories they had together. Putting an arm around her, Mason said, "Calena tried to break us apart because she knew we would be too strong united. She just left out one important detail in her plan. Vanelle."
   Laughing, they left that place together, friends once more.

Jessica awoke to the sound of many birds. She did not have to open her eyes, she knew where she was. She began to think about yesterday.
"Why did he have to leave?" she thought. "I did not even get to say goodbye."
Her eyes began to water. Then she heard a very familiar voice. "What is the matter, sweetheart?" asked the voice.
When she opened her eyes, she saw her dad sitting in her computer chair.
"Dad...I thought you...died."
"Well, I did, but the Big Guy let me stay for one more day," Travis said, his finger pointed upward.
"Did you tell Mom? Jessica asked.
"No, just our little secret, ok?" Travis replied. "Did you want to go get some breakfast?'
After breakfast, they went to the mall and Travis bought Jessica a new pair of shoes. Afterwards, they went to Lazer City until lunch.
At lunch, they talked. "Did it hurt when you fell?"
"Well, no. I kind of died instantly."
Jessica almost choked on her sub. "Oh, I'm sorry."
After lunch, they went to see "Dawn of the Dead" then "Starsky and Hutch."
Now it is night and Jessica is in bed. "Dad, I don't want you to leave."
"Well, I will stay as long as I can."
Travis looked at her lovingly. "You had a long day. I have to go now."

Hi, my name is Candie. I am 25 years old and I have been through a lot. I have made many mistakes in my lifetime. I have AIDS and I hope by telling my story people will not make the same mistakes. All of it began when I was in seventh grade. I met this guy who was a year older than me. He was gorgeous! Tan, brown eyes, dark hair, strong. He was HOT!
At the beginning of the year, me and my best friend had a big fight and she tried to turn the entire school against me. So I learned who my real friends were. So I really did not have anyone to talk to and I felt alone and left out a lot of the time. Then I met my two best friends who were and still are, their names are Reilly and Christine. We became closer than ever. Every weekend, we were together. We started hanging out with the eighth grade guys, going to parties and having fun.
One Friday night, Reilly, Christnie, and I got invited to a sophomore party, but we did not have a ride. I will never forget that night. We called around and found a ride with a guy who was going. First, we were talking and having fun, dancing, and being crazy. Then the guy I had been crushing on got our some beer. I did not know what to do. He wanted me to try it so I did. It was disgusting. I told him it was nasty, but then he had some tequila and Jack Daniels. We started mixing the drinks and then taking shots. It was crazy. I don't remember much about that night, but I can tell you this, I was drunk. I remember sitting on this guy's lap kissing him, while another guy was touching me. That happened for a while, then we went into a room. We were still drinking and we went all the way. I was 13 and he was 15. I don't even know who he was. That was probably the stupidest thing I'd ever done. I don't even think we went home that nigh. We stayed with those guys until around noon on Sunday.
On Saturday, we all just hung out. The guy I was with had left and I still don't know his name. We got drunk again on Saturday, but nothing major happened. This became a regular thing. We were the "party girls."
My freshman year was when things started really getting messed up. All our party friends were sophomores that year and so we didn't really know anyone. I started getting really depressed about my feelings toward my appearance. I never felt like I was skinny enough or pretty enough. I started working out A LOT. I tried to cut back on eating and I lost 10 pounds in a week, that's how much I was working out. Christine was the first to notice a change. She started watching how much I ate and how much I went to the gym. She told Reilly and they both told me I was beautiful and I had to stop or my beauty would go with all my weight. I finally got back on my feet, but I still felt left out and away from everything. I was popular, I wasn't poor, and I had good parents. Everyone thought I lived the perfect life, but inside I was fighing a war. I began cutting myself. It was a way to get rid of the pain. I was scared to tell anyone because I was afraid they would think I was crazy.
I started getting high and drunk a lot more than usual. Then one night over spring break we went to a party, a junior and senior party. We were the only freshmen there. We felt so awesome, like nothing in the world could stop us from doing whatever we wanted. We got drunk as usual, but I really don't remember anything else about that night. But a few weeks later, I missed my period, and I was sick like every morning. I started to get really scared. One Friday night, I was at Christine's house with Reilly. I finally told them and Reilly said that she had the same things happening to her. We decided to get pregnancy tests. We were both pregnant! We were 15 years old! I didn't know how I was going to tell my parents. It would kill my mom. Reilly and I thought about abortion, but I could never kill a child. After about three weeks, I told my mom. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. I had to explain everything to her, how I'd lost my virginity when I was 13 and how I got drunk, smoked and everything. I will never forget how disappointed in me she was. Nothing kills me more than disappointment. She threatened to kick me out, but I told her I would accept the consequences of my actions. She decided to let me stay and to help support me financially and with my baby.
When Reilly told her parents, they kicked her out and wanted absolutely nothing to do with her. My mom, being the loving person she is, took her in and promised to help with her child, too. When we went to the doctor, Christine came with us. We found out I was having a girl and Reilly was having a boy. We began thinking of names right off. I thought of a lot of names, but Alexis Rose was the winner. Reilly chose Pacey Michael.
Those nine months were crazy, fun, inspiring, hurtful, and painful. Some people called us sluts, but others were very sweet. We didn't care, we had each other and my mom. When it came time, we both went to the hospital on the same day, and we both wanted to be in the delivery room together. Christine and my mom never left our side. Alexis came easily, well, not easily, but for my size and age, it went very well. Reilly's was difficult. It almost killed her, but he finally came. Pacey wasn't breathing at first, but they got him to. He had to be neonatal intensive car for a day, but he made it through. Alexis is my pride and joy. She is beautiful. She is everything to me and Pacey is just like my son.
About a year later, I started getting really sick. I was throwing up, fevering, and coughing, but I tried to ignore it because I had to go to school and I had to work to support myself and my child. This went on for several weeks and that several weeks turned into months. I was finally so sick I couldn't get out of bed. We decided to take me to the doctor. They thought maybe it was just a bad cold, but then a test showed something funny, so they tested me for the HIV virus. I tested positive. Immediately, they tested Alexis. She tested positive for the HIV virus, too. My whole world turned upside down. My beautiful baby girl was gong to have to die from pain and suffering and it was my fault.
They gave me medicine and I have to be on them 24/7. Alexis was put on medicine, too, and everyone had to wear rubber gloves to change my baby's diaper. It's devastating. I just don't understand how I could have been so stupid.
I decided to make the most out of my life. I tried to live a normal life, but it was hard. I had to take 25 pills in a 24-hour period. When I was 18 and about to graduate, I met this wonderful guy. His name was Brett. We started dating and I told him everything that had happened to me. He insisted that we get married. I told I would give him AIDS, but he told me he didn't care, so I agreed. We got married. Everything was great. He was supportive for about the first three years, then he began hitting me and telling me he hated me and that Lexi was going to die and it was all my fault. He taunted me and made my life miserable. We got divorced and I moved in with Christine and her husband Lane, Reilly and Pacey. Alexis was acting very healthy and the doctor wanted us to go in for our monthly checkup. He looked Lexi over and ran some tests. When he tested Lexi for HIV, she was negative. The virus was gone. I was bawling and my mom passed out. My baby wasn't going to die. She was going to grow up like any other child.
On my 25th birthday, my mom had a heart attack. We rushed her to the hospital. There wasn't much we could do. I stayed with her until she woke up. I thought she never would. Then one night out of nowhere, she looked up at me and said, "Candie, I love you and I am so proud of you" then she was gone. I was left all alone. I couldn't move. I felt sick. I will never forget those beautiful, kind, caring green eyes.
I will be 26 soon. Alexis is 10. I know I will be going very soon.
Please don't let peer pressure let you go through what I have, it's not worth it. Christine and Lane have a daughter named Jade and Pacey has a girlfriend named Danielle and Alexis's best friend is Cassie. Christine promised to take Alexis when I'm gone. I don't know what I would do if I hadn't had them in my life.
I am truly grateful.

   One day as I was walking to school with a friend, we saw this freaky house. People said it was haunted and normally, I don't believe in ghots or any haunted houses or none of those weird things going on, but this day was different. While I stared at the house window, I saw a shadow moving, so my friend and I got scared and ran to school.
   At lunch when we were together, I told another friend about what we saw in the morning. He didn't dare to speak a word of it. He said, "I should not be the person to tell you this. This story is too difficult for me to tell. Ask Tayler and maybe he will tell you."
   "So, Tyler, what's all this about the haunted house and The Vegetable Kid?"
   He began the story. "Well, long time ago, there was this scientist experimenting with chemicals andp lants, but one day, it all went wrong. The plants started to react to these toxic chemicals, the house caught on fire because the scientist burned it by mistake while he was protecting himself from the toxic plants. All of the plants died except for one and they never saw the scientist again.
   "One month after that, five kids were dared to go to the house and stay there for four hours. The kids went in and after the four hours had passed, they didn't come out. So the kid who dared the five kids went into the house. When he went into the living room, the saw the bodies of the five little kids, all cut up.
   "When he turned to leave the house, he saw it. It had leaves. It was the Vegetable Kid. The guy ran out of the house and moved out of the town for he was scared of that house."
   Every day before school and after school, I would pass by this haunted vegetable kid house. Every day there was a shadow on the window and from where I was standing, I thought the shadow was trying to speak to me telepathically. It said, "Come in, help me. Be my friend. I'm scared, help, ahhhh" and every now and then I saw or at least I think I saw visions of how his house was burned, how he killed the kids. It was frightening.
   As my friend and I walked toward my house, we saw these kids going inside the vegetable kid house. My friend and I stood there for a while, then we heard a lot of screams. My friend ran away, but I stood there listening to those kids screaming with pain like they were about to die.
   Five minutes passed since the screams were over. I said to myself, "What should I do? Do I run away or go inside and try to kill that vegetable kid. What should I do?" I went to my home and went to sleep. While I was sleeping, I had a weird dream. It showed me going into the vegetable kid house with a lighter and a stick. Then I saw the house in flames.
   When I woke up,I decided to go to the vegetable kid house to destroy him. I found the lighter and the stick while I was going to the house. As I was going inside the house, everyone stared at me. They said, "Don't go or you will die."
   I responded, "Well, that's a chance I'm willing to take."
   The house was dark with a lot of spider webs and it smelled nasty. I went to the room on the right. From what I could see, I say this room was the living room, and there they were...the five little kids' heads lying there on the ground. As I went toward the kids, the smell started growing, as if it came from the room. Now that I was close enough I could smell old rotten broccoli. I could hear noises from behind me. I turned around and there he was. It was the Vegetable Kid.
   As I started to move my hand to my pants pocket, he pushed me. As I was falling, I kicked him. Then his head fell or at least I thought it was his head. I stood up before the vegetable kid, the thing that fell off the vegetable kid was a mask.
   When the vegetable kid stood up, I saw that it was me.

Kevin Hunter was usually a pretty good guy, born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, with both of his loving parents. He received A's, and occasional B's throughout school and after finishing high school, he went to medical school for his PhD, where he found Wendy Hall, who he married. Soon after graduating from college. He was the ideal student, son, husband, and father of a beautiful son, until something unbelievable happened to them all.

"Hurry up, John. You're going to be late for school again!" Kevin said to his seven-year-old son. John raced down the stairs while putting on a light jacket and also some socks. "Hold on a minute, dad," John yelled. "I have to get my shoes on" After the two stopped in the kitchen for a quick glass of orange juice, John grabbed his backpack and his father grabbed his suitcase from the counter.
Then they both ran out the door and as Kevin was locking it, the Riverton Elementary School bus pulled up. "Bye, son," Kevin yelled to the closing bus doors. He sighed and, under his breath, whispered, "see you tomorrow."
Kevin ducked into his BMW convertible and backed out of the Hunters' driveway, heading toward his workplace. Conier and Associates. He had a very busy day ahead of him, checking auto insurance companies' profiles, statistics, and other information.
John, however, had a rather relaxing, yet exciting agenda at his elementary school. Riverton Elementary had a field trip planned for that day, a trip which it had every year, to the Columbus Zoo, the biggest zoo in Kansas. John could not sleep, he was so excited, that he slept in a little. He is lucky to have Kevin as a father to make sure he is ready every morning.
By the time they were both back hom, Wendy was sitting in the kitchen, eating leftover carrotcake from John's seventh birthday two days earlier. "Hey guys," she said. "So Johnny, how was the trip?"
"Oh, mom, it was so cool! I even got to pet a little baby monkey! Oh, oh, and all the parrots were so colorful, but they sure were noisy."
"Calm down, son," Kevin said, as he let out a little chuckle. He leaned over and whispered to his wife, "He told me on the way home. Now it's your turn."
"Tell me about it, Johnny, while I finish this cake."
"Okay, Mom," John said, and his excited voice faded off as Kevin walked into the living room, sat down on the sofa, and clicked to channel six.
"The police department reported today that it is getting close to catching the suspect in the seven house fires, which were all started with a match and kerosene," a voice on the news said in a deep, low tone. "If you have seen a man with dark hair, brown eyes, about six foot one and 163 pounds, please report it to the police department or this news station. In other news, this week's food drive was a great success."
Kevin turned off the television. "Hey, honey, they almost caught that guy who was behind all those house fires."
"Really?" Wendy asked. "It's about time they did. Hey, Kev, you think you could help me with dinner? I need you to cook these pork chops."
These were the last words to come out of her mouth as they smelled the kerosene and heard it being poured around the outside of the house, and with one strike of a match their whole world came to an end.

When a loved one dies, they stay in your heart forever and you soon forget about their death, but when someone you have never known before, and you suddenly care about, dies, you will never forget.

(I hope you enjoyed my story and I hope I have touched you all, even if in a very strange way.)