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Flash Contest #19: Write a backwards story: Our Winners and their Work!

Flash contest #19: Write a backwards story

The week commencing August 3 (Daily Creativity Prompt #96) was our nineteenth week of flash contests, with a prompt that asked our entrants to write a story that goes backwards. The entries we received covered a broad range of topics, from family to animals to weather to space travel to time travel to friendship, and much more, even including a few poems. We greatly enjoyed reading all of the entries we received, and loved how the plots of the stories were slowly revealed as they traveled backwards. Well done to all of our entrants for taking on the difficult task of telling a story backwards, and particular congratulations to our Winners and Honorable Mentions, listed below. Read on past the list of winners to experience the Winners’ work for yourselves.

Winners

The Project by Katie Bergsieker, 12 (Denver, CO)
Surprise by Scarlet He, 9 (Scarsdale, NY)
Once and For All by Joyce Hong, 10 (Oakville, ON)
This Day Has Come Too Soon by Ella Pierce, 12 (Hudson, WI)
Sea of Souls by Daniel Wei, 13 (Weddington, NC)

Honorable Mentions

Jewish Friend, Backwards End by Becca Jacobson, 11 (Montclair, NJ)
Falling by Vaishnavi Kumbala, 12 (Metairie, LA)
The Irrefusable Offer by Kyler Min, 9 (Vienna, VA)
On Top of the World by Mihika Sakharpe, 11 (Frisco, TX)
Last Thoughts by Ismini Vasiloglou, 11 (Atlanta, GA/Athens, Greece)


Katie Bergsieker, 12
Denver, CO

The Project

Katie Bergsieker, 12

“Sophie! Thank goodness you’re here! Look!” my best friend Kylie cries, pointing.

I follow her finger. She is pointing to a boy that has my hair color, eyes, skin tone, and more. He looks almost identical to me.

“Stephen?” I breathe, unbelieving.

“I’m told that I belong to the McGrafty family? I was taken by a van while playing with my sister, you see…” His voice is deeper than I expected.

“Stephen,” I say as he pauses for breath. “I am your sister.”

My eyes, and his, fill with tears.

I should start from the beginning. And my beginning actually starts with a very perturbed me.

 

No. “I’m not going to the carnival, Mom,” I say, exasperated.

“I know, but honey, can’t you take a break?” Mom says. “You know that you don’t have to be working on your… ahem… project every second of the day, right?”

“I do, actually,” I mumble. “I can’t go to the carnival because… oh, Kylie invited me to come over to her house.” That wasn’t true, but Mom couldn’t have guessed. I spend a ton of time with my BFF, Kylie. At least I did, before I got sucked into my important project.

Mom raises one eyebrow. “Fine. I’ll go to the carnival with George, then. Have fun with Kylie. Do you need me to drive you?”

“No, I can walk,” I reply. “Kylie lives a block away, so what’s the point of driving, anyway?”

“Okay,” Mom says, turning to pick up my baby brother George. “Be back by six. And what is your “project”, again?”

Mom always asks about the project. Now it’s my turn to raise my eyebrow. “Mom, I told you already. I’m not going to tell you!” I swore to secrecy that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I’m not about to break that promise now.

Mom, as usual, takes forever to pack all of George’s things before finally heading out the garage door. “Bye, Sophie!” she calls over an upset, screaming George who doesn’t want to go into his stroller.

Instead of going to Kylie’s house right away (I didn’t say that I was going to, did I?), I plop down in front of our computer. I open up a new browser and type: Sophie McGrafty. My name. The internet gives me many articles that I can type on. They’re all the same as usual though.

Sophie McGrafty looking for missing twin. Twin missing. Where is Sophie McGrafty’s twin? Explorers search for thirteen year old girl’s twin. No twin found for Sophie McGrafty, 13.

I should explain. Five years ago, when searching in my mom and dad’s closet, I found a shoebox.

There was a birth certificate inside. Stephen King McGrafty, it said. Born February 2. My birthday. Digging around in the shoebox some more, I had found a faded newspaper article. Stephen McGrafty, 2, reported missing, it said.

I scanned the article. ‘Two year old Stephen McGrafty was playing with his twin sister, Sophie, when a van drove up to their house. Sophie ran into the house, but Stephen stayed, hypnotized by the beautiful dog in the van’s window. By the time Sophie’s parents realized Stephen wasn’t home for dinner, the van, and Stephen, were gone. The search continues, and if you see this van, please call 123-HELP.’

Of course, I didn’t remember any of this happening. I don’t even remember Stephen. Mom and Dad never talk about him. When I looked at this article, I made it my vow to try to find Stephen. After all, it was totally my fault. What kind of twin leaves their sibling behind when a creepy van pulls up in front of their house?

I’m getting close. The other day, I found an article saying that a couple in Utah, only a few hours away from our house in Colorado, have a kid that they found on the side of the street. They picked him up and named him Bob. And another article said that someone named Bob Dah could be the Stephen McGrafty that we had been looking for this whole time. So I am on my search for Bob Dah.

But first I have to walk over to Kylie’s house. For real. I need to ask her for a favor. I lace up my sneakers and head out.

When I get to Kylie’s house, I see paparazzi, police cars, vans, and more parked outside. I push my way through and see my best friend sitting in the back corner.

I look and see a boy identical to me. Stephen.

Our eyes fill. That’s where we are right now, still crying our eyes out.


Scarlet He, 9
Scarsdale, NY

Surprise

Scarlet He, 9

After all, they had a fun party . . .

Birthday chocolate lava cake with sparklers, smiling faces, joyful music, and lots of presents...

“Surprise!” his friends shouted, holding presents and a big box.

He trudged to the door of his house, nearly crying. After waiting for another few minutes, he gave up. It seemed like no one had gotten the invitation, or maybe they just didn’t want to come. It seemed like he had prepared for nothing.

Maybe they are getting something very special for me, Roman thought hopefully.

He waited and waited. No one had arrived yet. It was 2 p.m. already. He sat down, sighing, and put his head on the table.

He put some streamers up, cleaned the dust away from the tables, spread multicolored sheets onto the tables, and placed little toys. There was a counter, and a bin labeled “Presents” sat on it.

The room was half-cleaned, with white walls and a wooden floor. The couch was a little dusty, but clean enough to sit on. There was a bookcase in the back of the room, a bed on one side, and a desk on the other.

He finally arrived at his house, bags full of decorations in hand, panting from running.

He ran for a long time and stopped a couple of times.

School finally dismissed, and he started running home, as fast as a cheetah.

He was turning nine. It was Roman’s birthday today!


Joyce Hong, 10
Oakville, ON

Once and For All

Joyce Hong, 10

“WHAT did you do?”

Malinda gave her aunt a tight smile but it was more of a grimace. “Well, we’re here, aren’t we? We’re A-L-I-V-E.” She grinned more naturally, and shook her ginger-brown locks out of her face.

Aunt Jemima peered at them through her cat-eye glasses, her mouth set in a persistent scowl. “Yes, you two are alive, but you’ve done enough. Malinda, you’re grounded for a month. This may be extended if you go on any more of your little adventures. I’ll let your parents decide on your punishment, Damian.”

As her aunt turned to her best friend, Malinda vigorously shook her head at Damian behind her back. Clearing his throat uneasily, Damian said matter-of-factly, “Ms. Jemima, maybe we should tell you what actually happened, because I don’t think we should have punishments-” Malinda groaned inwardly, but sighed.

“You’ll tell me the whole story?” Aunt Jemima confirmed, glancing at them. Reluctantly, Malinda nodded, while Damian just smiled “You have to promise me that you’ll tell me everything.”

“I promise,” vowed Malinda reflexively.

“I shall do so, O Ms. Jemima,” Damian grinned. “Now let us begin our wonderfully woven tale…”

↜♡↝

Malinda stepped into the house. “Aunt Jemima, I lost Damian.”

Her aunt swiveled around to stare at her. “Malinda! We’ve been looking for you since the day before yesterday, where have you been?” She glared at Malinda, who gave her an apologetic glance.

“Aunt, I LOST DAMIAN, we have to find him! He’s my best friend and he can’t be-” Malinda's mind whirled and she buried her face in her hands. “There has been a lot of stuff happening lately, I should have expected this.”

“It’s going to be fine,” Aunt Jemima said, her voice not unkind. “Look, I’ll help you find your fr- Damian, alright? Where was the last place you’ve seen him? We can just call the p-”

“The police can’t know about this,” Malinda instantly instructed. “They can’t know. They can’t, just can’t.”

Aunt Jemima sighed. “Alright, calm down, Malinda. I’m sure we’ll find Damian soon, or maybe he’ll find us. You know how he is.”

As if by magic her words had activated, a grimy but mischievously grinning Damian rolled into the room through the door.

“No one came to save me?” He demanded. “Do you know how hard it is to escape from a weird kidnapper guy? Uh, never mind, it wasn’t that hard. I just said Aftershocks and voila, I could get out again! Great stuff!” Then, he caught a glimpse of Aunt Jemima. “Oh. Did you tell her yet?”

“No. No, I didn’t tell her yet, D-A-M-I-A-N.” Malinda frowned, narrowing her eyes at him. “What were you thinking?”

It aggravated her further when he just blithely responded, “I wasn’t.”

↜♡↝

“That is a terrible point to start at, but alright,” Aunt Jemima muttered under her breath.

“I already know about this, I was there. But how did you ‘lose’ Damian? There is no context in the things you’re describing right now, Malinda.

“I’m getting to that,” Malinda said impatiently, sighing. She wondered why she’d ever agreed to this. Damian, of course, she thought, whenever I’m wound in some uncomfortable situation it’s always Damian. “It will all make sense later. Damian was busy being kidnapped, except we were already on our way back home by then.”

Damian raised his smile wearily. “These were just aftershocks.”

↜♡↝

Damian found it hard to breathe.

“Arghhhh,” He gurgled as a burly, anonymous captor held an iron grip on his arm. “Aftershocks, aftershocks. AFTERSHOOOOOOCKS!”

Slowly, the pressure on his arm ceased ever so slightly. In an unfamiliar language, his captors conversed between themselves, and Damian saw the faint outline of a figure nod at him, and his arm was released.

Sighing with relief, Damian dipped his porkpie hat at the shadowy figures and skipped towards the bright lights where he was sure he would find Malinda. She couldn’t be too worried, after all, he was one for playing tricks.

Bitterly, he wondered whether she’d worried at all.

↜♡↝

“That was not a better place to start,” quipped Aunt Jemima thinly.

“I’m trying to make sure you understand everything and get the details,” Malinda said, exasperated. “Thanks, Damian for that. So you just used to codeword and you were released?” This was her first time hearing about this as well.

Damian nodded. “Aftershocks. I’ve never been so glad we broke into a-”

Aunt Jemima blinked. “Wait, backtrack here, what codeword?”

“You’ll see,” Malinda said slowly, and exchanged a grin with Damian.

↜♡↝

“I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Aw, Malinda, when will you learn to be a tad more adventurous? Nothing seems like a good idea to you. It’s almost as if I don’t have good ideas.” Damian wheedled, his dark, feathery hair floating into the air as he leapt forward towards Malinda’s home.

Malinda wrinkled her nose as he became a speck in the distance. “That’s true. You know how my aunt would get if we told her anything. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.”

A man treaded by. His voice was soft when he said, “I told them, I had to.” Jared, Malinda thought. He told them.

“You have a real habit of spelling out words. You should get that ch-” His cheery voice was cut off as he was whisked off into the night. Damian gasped as all air left his lungs. Something was happening, and Malinda was too far away to do anything.

Malinda gaped at the place where her friend had been just moments ago. “DAMIAN!” She screamed. A thundering symphony of footsteps pounded in her ears as she sprinted across the stone pavement.

Looking around wildly, she tried to figure out where Damian was at the moment. Examining the ground carefully, she tried to look for any trail of where he was.

Nothing.

Nada.

Malinda gave the darkness of the night around her a furtive look, then glanced back at her home. Sighing, she started to tread in the building’s direction.

↜♡↝

“Who’s Jared? Also, can I point out here that that piece of information was absolutely unnecessary?” Aunt Jemima asked. “We already knew that you came to me for help and also that he was kidnapped.”

Malinda sighed and rolled her eyes. “Aunt, it’s to tie the story together so everything makes sense.”

Damian muttered something that sounded like, “What she said.” Or maybe it was, “But his shed”. Either way, Malinda ignored it and folded her hands over the table, looking very regal for someone whose friend had recently been kidnapped. “Can we continue?”

“You can, but may you?” Aunt Jemima wondered.

Malinda rolled her eyes again. “May we continue?”

“Of course,” Aunt Jemima said smugly.

↜♡↝

“Do you have any idea for an alibi?” Malinda fretted, running her hands through her brown hair.

Damian leaned back on the train, unceremoniously placing his feet under the seat in front of them. “Nothing. We’ll decide on it when we get to your place. Did I mention, I’m loving these cobalt blue train seats. It’s a lovely color, Malinda, don’t you think Blue. I’m a bigger fan of yellow. Not on train seats though, ew…”

Malinda knew that he was trying to lighten the mood and take her mind off their worries, but his voice died away as she focused on other things. She began counting the things that they’d done throughout the day.

1. Stole train tickets.

2.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Malinda decided not to think anymore about this. Slowly, she drifted into a sleep. A voice called to her, “Malinda, rest might as well be the most important thing right now.”

Malinda didn’t know what the voice meant by that, but went to sleep.

↜♡↝

“So you mean that you actually went and swiped someone’s train tickets?” Aunt Jemima demanded, blinking quickly enough that her eyelashes were a blur.

Damian looked guilt-free, but Malinda wasn’t Damian. She remorsefully looked at her aunt. “Yes. Well, I left a few coins in their pockets. Definitely not equal to the amount of money for a train ticket, but at least they get some money.”

“Why were you even on a train anyway? Did you really go that far from here?” After a moment, Aunt Jemima sighed. “You’re going to tell me to be patient and wait again, alright, that’s what I’ll do.”

Malinda gave her a small smile. “Thanks. Now, how we came to be on that train? Where were we before? Everything will be explained.”

↜♡↝

“We have no money…”

Damian’s singing caught Malinda off guard. She whipped around, shushing him. “It’s bad enough that we don’t, if we’re going to steal some we don’t want the whole world to know that we don’t.”

He shrugged in sympathy. “Fine, we’ll be all quiet like you want us to be.” He grinned. “Hey, why are we stealing money, anyway?”

“Because we have none, and WE HAVE TO GO HOME,” Malinda said, rolling her eyes.

“I mean, why don’t we just swipe the ticket?” Damian responded innocently, and reached out through the bustling crowd, and plucked out a train ticket. “Lovely. It’s really that easy, isn’t it?”

Malinda fumed. “I have a guilty conscience, I’m not just going to-”

“WE HAVE TO GO HOME,” Damian said in a strikingly similar voice as Malinda’s.

She sighed. “Fine. But I’m putting a few of our coins in the next person’s pocket.” She crept over to a couple sitting on a bench, chatting about something, and extracted the woman’s train ticket which matched Damian’s. Malinda dropped a few coins into the pocket, and blended in with the crowd until she saw Damian checking his ticket and entering the train.

Malinda chased after him, handing her ticket to the person. She squeezed onto a seat beside Damian. “Try to look like you belong.”

“I always belong,” Damian said seriously.

“Do you?” Malinda asked. “So far, you’ve ran away, broken into a-”

“Shhhh-”

“Lied to me-”

“Hush-”

“Stole someone’s t-”

“STOP. Someone’s going to hear something.” Damian hissed, and a tall, familiar man in a suit whisked by, tapping his name tag on his jacket, and Malinda swore that he winked.

↜♡↝

“Who was that random guy who winked at you?” Aunt Jemima wondered.

Malinda exchanged a glance with Damian. “He’s a guy that we met in the high security base place that we broke into yesterday. He works there, he helped us escape.”

“Or we’d be dead meat by now,” piped up Damian.

“That was a very vivid description that I would not like to think about right now,” Malinda muttered under her breath. “But yeah.”

Aunt Jemima peered at them with an expression of pure disbelief. “You broke into a high security base? How? Why? What’s-” Malinda shot her a look and she silenced.

↜♡↝

“Malinda, I’m sorry, but I lied.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about.” Malinda’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean, you lied? What did you lie about?” A sickening feeling appeared in her stomach as Damian’s gaze grew somber.

“There’s no cure.”

“WHAT?” Malinda gaped at him. “You mean you’re going to die of this sickness thing that you’ve been telling me about?”

“THERE’S NO SICKNESS!” Damian shouted. “There’s no sickness and there’s no cure. It was all a lie and you have every right to yell at me and stop being my friend. I thought it was better that you knew instead of finding out the hard way.”

Malinda stared at him. “This is the hard way.”

“Things could be worse.” Damian commented, blinking.

“Why didn’t you tell me? You mean we ran away for nothing?”

“You don’t do anything unless you think it’s reasonable!” Damian snapped. “I wanted to have some fun and get away from stuff. Everything. My parents, and school and rules and everything and you have to admit, you enjoy it. You’re just like me.”

“I have a moral compass. I don’t play pranks on my friends or lie to them-”

“You’re doing that now.”

“We should just go home.” Malinda’s mind whirled.

Damian snorted stonily. “Home is far, far away from where we are right now. We’re going to have to go on a train and we don’t have the money to get any tickets.” Malinda could tell he was waiting for something.

“Then we’ll steal some.” The words flew out of her mouth before she thought about it.

Damian’s face broke into a smile. “Admit it! This is fun!”

She sighed. “Fine. But you owe me one- or two- for accompanying you on this crazy vacation that you’ve dreamt up. Our families are probably worried sick, yours, too.” And when he grinned, Malinda knew that everything was going to be fine.

↜♡↝

“So he lied to you about something that I don’t know, something about a sickness because he was tired of…” Aunt Jemima waved her hands in the air, prompting them to continue.

“Life,” supplied Damian.

Aunt Jemima raised an eyebrow at him, and Malinda just half-smiled, saying, “Yeah, he was apparently tired of his life. And somehow he made me dislike life as well.”

Damian squinted at her. “But I needed to convince her to come along first, so I came up with a story. An ingenious one, by the way. It’s great.”

“It’s terrible,” Malinda interrupted. “But it’s an important part of the story nonetheless. But of course, we’ll get to that later. First, we need to escape from a-”

“High security base,” Damian and Malinda chorused together.

“I don’t like where this is going,” Aunt Jemima muttered.

↜♡↝

“I don’t like where this is going,” Malinda whisper-shouted at Damian, who just smiled. He shook the bottle of strange liquid in his hand which bubbled and fizzed strangely as they tiptoed towards the elevator.

“You mean, you don’t like where we’re going? Me neither,” Damian mumbled. “There could be anyone in that elevator, and we’re probably going to get caught.”

Malinda surveyed the clean, neat building they were in, barely believing that people actually lived here. There was not a speck of dust to be seen and the blinding lights on the ceiling seemed unreal and more advanced than the rest of the world.

After a moment of silence, Damian pressed the button beside the elevator. It lit up with a soft lime green glow, and Malinda dove behind a plant so they could get in after anyone who was inside got out. Damian gave her a wide-eyed look, following her and dragging her into a more hidden spot behind a row of small plants and shadowed by shelves and ledges.

Hunching over and trying to keep herself from moving, Malinda squinted into the distance, breathing a sigh of relief as a tall, suited man with slick black hair exited the elevator. He had a name tag hanging from his black suit, and Malinda could just make out the name “Jared O’Moore”.

Damian elbowed her, and he inched along the wall and slipped into the elevator, and Malinda shadowed him. This made it extremely surprising when she froze, turned, and noticed a very bewildered worker also in the elevator. Damian shoved the bottle of medicine into his pocket as the worker latched onto Damian and Malinda, and as the elevator slowed to a stop, marched them out of the elevator.

But suddenly, skidding to a stop in front of them, was a slim figure. Malinda read his name tag. Jared O’Moore. Clearly out of breath from running up two flights of stairs.

“Where are you taking these two?” Jared asked their escort, then shook his head. “Never mind that. These are Fiona’s kids, Laila-” He pointed at Malinda. “And George, remember? I’ll let her know it isn’t take your kids to work day- yet, haha. I bet they’re just lost, I’ll bring them back home, alright?” Without waiting for an answer, Jared smiled at Malinda and Damian, and gestured to follow him.

After descending some stairs, Jared showed them to the exit. “Why are you helping us?” Malinda demanded.

“You’re just kids, running around for some fun. I was in a similar situation when I was a kid, and some guy saved me. His name was Toris, and you-” Jared looked at Damian. “You look just like him, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’re related.”

Damian managed a grin. “We should be going now. Malinda?” She nodded, and they ran into the fresh air.

As soon as they were out of sight of Jared, Damian crushed the bottle of liquid under his heel.

↜♡↝

“But wasn’t that medicine the reason why you guys broke into wherever you guys broke into?” Aunt Jemima wondered, frowning.

Malinda nodded. “You’re right. But that was the cure and-”

“There was no cure, because there was no sickness.” Aunt Jemima finished. “I’m finally starting to get this mess that you’ve gotten into, it actually makes sense.” She shook her head. “A story about two kids breaking into a lab is making sense.”

Damian grinned. “Yeah, but that was how we got out. How we got in was a bit harder, because Jared guy wasn’t there to help us.”

“Jared guy?” Malinda echoed.

Then Aunt Jemima’s eyes widened. “He’s the one that winked at you, right? On the train!”

“Yeah,” Malinda said, puzzled. “You only realized that now? Well, of course you only realized it now, you’ve just said it.” She bit her lip. “Forward with the story, then?”

Damian repeated, “Forward!”

↜♡↝

Damian ran his fingers along the many colorful bottles lining the shelves, trying to find one that looked convincing.

“Hey! Damian! Check this out.”Malinda called from the other side of the room. Her eyes were glued to a computer screen on a laptop at a desk. Damian dropped his search and went over to peer at whatever she’d found.

“It says that there’s a codeword. Aftershocks. If you say it to someone that works here, no matter what, they’ll let you go. If something happens then we’ll need that codeword." Malinda informed him matter-of-factly. “Did you find your cure thing?”

Damian quickly grabbed a bottle from a nearby ledge. “Of course!” He said enthusiastically. “I’m going to get better soon! Now let’s go. What’s the plan to get back?”

“I don’t want to go on the stairs, it seems to open,” Malinda instructed. “So we can go by elevator. Wait until the people inside get out and then go in. Really quickly.” Damian nodded, silently thinking that maybe that wasn’t the best idea.

↜♡↝

“He was right, it wasn’t that good of an idea,” volunteered Aunt Jemima. “But that was the code word, right? Right. I’m understanding everything now, wow. And it was a terrible idea.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Malinda demanded at Damian, who sheepishly shrugged.

“I didn’t have any ideas on what to do,” he protested. “At least you had an idea. If I don’t have an idea we’re going to go with yours anyway. But everything turned out okay in the end, so your idea wasn’t that bad.”

“You’re not wrong,” Malinda mused. “But we should continue on how we got it. You made it sound like we were going to say how we got into the lab in this section, too.”

“Fine, let’s hurry.” Damian sighed, and clapped his hands together. “Legends of the lab,
here we go.”

↜♡↝

“So, how are we going to get in?” Malinda asked.

“We’re going to walk in. It probably isn’t too weird to see two kids in the security footage if we’re disguised as one tall person in a suit, right?” Damian grinned cheekily.

“I hate your logic,” Malinda muttered. “I’m not letting you sit on my shoulders.”

“Yes, you are. Unless you have a better idea? I’m on the brink of death here, bleh.” He mimicked dying, which was not something that you saw every day. Malinda sighed, as a way of giving in.

A few minutes later, arriving in a hooded cloak and sunglasses was a tall man. He did not seem out of the ordinary, since it was Halloween in a week.

“Nice costume!” called a worker, who smiled and waved. She seemed familiar and Damian almost cried out when he realized that it was his aunt.

He peeked from behind the hood, wobbling slightly to the left as Malinda grunted. Damian’s aunt blinked at him with concern. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Damian said in a deep voice, trying to sound like an adult and getting an “okay” result. “Just- toothache. They are terrible, aren’t they?” He chuckled, which sounds a bit like a giggle.

His aunt nodded awkwardly. “Well, I’ll be on my way!”

“Nice seeing you!” Damian shouted at her.

Malinda hobbled forward as Damian whispered directions to her from the map he’d swiped at the entrance. “Left, left, Malinda!” He hissed and at last, they arrived in the storage room. Thankfully, no one was there.

Damian hopped onto the ground and Malinda collapsed on the ground. “I am never doing that again.”

“But we need to get out!” Damian said, reaching around to examine the shelves to imitate someone was trying to find some medicine. He almost grabbed a bottle of bug spray, but decided it looked too much like bug spray. “And what about the cloak and sunglasses?”

“What cloak?” Malinda asked innocently.

Damian turned around and saw that she had tucked it in a drawer. He pretended not to notice, and sighed. “Fine, we’ll go out another way. Now, you try to dream up a plan and I’ll look for medicine. Deal?”

Malinda sounded a lot more cheerful when she said, “Deal.”

↜♡↝

“That was definitely both easier and harder than getting out of that building,” Aunt Jemima said.

“Harder,” Malinda responded instantly, at the same time as Damian said,

“EASIER!” He cried heartily.

“I hate you,” Malinda muttered. Damian just beamed.

“We’re almost at the beginning now,” Damian said. “We got here via rowboat that we…” Aunt Jemima sighed, drawling, “Let me guess. Stole?” Damian gave her a thumbs up and Malinda just grimaced.

“The boat was terrible.” Malinda continued after a pause. “I don’t get seasick but apparently Damian does.”

He waved a hand in the air. “Now let’s continue The Counting of How Many Times Damian Threw Up Throughout This Boat Ride.

↜♡↝

Malinda waited for the man to turn his back, then untied the rope as quickly as she could on the small but invaluable sailboat. Damian pushed the boat a little way off shore and hopped in as Malinda muttered, “It’s only luck that I know how to sail a boat. I don’t understand why you have to be so secretive anyway.”

She checked the sails and other parts of the sailboat, and attached the sails before setting them off to sea. Well, into the lake, at least. The owner of the sailboat was too busy talking to whoever he was talking to to notice them, and the wind was on their side.

Damian grabbed the sides of the sailboat as they picked up speed. Malinda swerved to the left, and Damian grabbed a bag from a storage place on the sailboat, and puked into the bag.

“Oh, no, couldn’t you have mentioned something?” Malinda yelled over the wind.

“Sorry, I was too busy not EURGH-”

“Don’t finish that sentence.” Malinda muttered and inched away, yanking on the sails. “It’s pure luck that we’re near the border of this town. It won’t take that long to get there. Hopefully.”

“Eurgh. Puke number seven!” Damian shouted over the breeze. “Oh, never mind, make that eight.”

↜♡↝

“That doesn’t seem good,” Aunt Jemima commented.

“It was terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.” Damian responded, wincing. “I think I can speak for both of us. I lost my lunch and Malinda- she was just near me.”

Malinda closed her eyes. “I will never do that again. Ever. Ever. Ever.”

“Nobody will want to do that again.” Damian’s face contorted into something like pity. “Ms Jemima, we’re at the end of our story now, well, the beginning, really. But I guess that you already know what it’s going to be about.”

“I think I do.” Aunt Jemima said.

Malinda glanced up. “Well, let’s hope that we prove you wrong.”

↜♡↝

Damian charged out the doors of the school. He grinned as Malinda bounded up behind him, then paused, remembering his plan. Mimicking a few coughs and sneezes, he turned to Malinda.

“Listen, I need to say something.”

She stared at him. “I think you are saying something.”

Damian smiled wearily. “I guess so. I have a sort of, well, a sickness. It’s all supposed to be secret and my parents said I shouldn’t have told anyone about it but you should know.”

Malinda blinked. “Well, why don’t you get medicine so you’ll get better? It’s that simple.”

Damian cringed. “The medicine… there are only a few bottles of it and anything could happen before then. It’s out of town and expensive so I can’t really get it. But I was thinking of trying to take some-”

“Without your parents’ permission?” Malinda looked incredulous. Then she sighed. “There’s no talking you out of this. I can tell. Fine. When are we going to leave?”

“We?” Damian echoed, pretending he was surprised and not relieved.

“You don’t think I’m going to let you go alone, do you?” Malinda shook her head. “I’m coming with, and there’s no talking me out of this.” Damian couldn’t believe how easy this had been.

“Now, we’re leaving now. It shouldn’t take long.” Damian said quickly.

Malinda frowned. “You’re lucky we have extra money right now. How are we going to go to the other town, then?”

“Uh,” Damian grinned. “Boat. Sailboat, you said you know how to sail, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.” Malinda responded, narrowing her eyes. “But how are we going to get one?”

“We take one,” Damian said matter-of-factly.

↜♡↝

“I was right,” said Aunt Jemima smugly. “I knew that he faked the sickness so that you guys would go out. Leaving hints everywhere was a big clue.”

Malinda beamed. She and Damian had planned to hint about the beginning of the story throughout the whole story, and apparently they had succeeded. “Damian, you should probably go home now.”

He shrugged. “You’re right. And wow, am I hungry. I am very hungry. I’ll walk back, and if something happens, I’ll just say Aftershocks!” He saluted Malinda and exited the house.

“I guess that’s that.” Malinda said after a moment. “I hope we never go on one of those adventures again.”

Aunt Jemima smirked. “I hope so, too.”

↜♡↝

The man strode through the building, trying to focus on the papers in his hands.

A rustle sounded behind him. He spun around, trying to pinpoint the location of whatever had made the sound. But he came up with nothing, so he just shrugged, dialing a number on his phone.

“Hey, Malinda!” He said into the phone, but he looked up, gaping as two kids around 12 years old snuck out from behind a few potted plants. One of his colleagues, a strict woman named Grace, shouted at them, and the man rushed in front of Grace.

“Grace, don’t worry about these two. They’re just Diana’s kids. She probably forgot that it wasn’t take your kids to work day yet, ha!” The man grinned toothily. “I’ll remind her and bring these two out, okay?” He beckoned to the two kids, and as they descended through the elevator and led them out, they gave him hesitant smiles and disappeared into the distance.

“Malinda, you got all that, right?” The man said into the phone. “I did what Jared did.”

“Of course I got all that, you speak louder than you think you do.”

Damian ended the call, and continued with his day.

When he saw the two kids on the bus, he winked.


Ella Pierce, 12
Hudson, WI

This Day Has Come Too Soon

Ella Pierce, 12

I knew I'd have to do this
Today came far too soon
I'm a baby again
Crying senseless
On mother's lap
But this time
I'm on her grave

Boom
A gunshot
Two
Three
Right where my mom
Once stood

Stay still
I won't shoot

Let her go
Police
She's innocent

I said after
I screeched


Daniel Wei, 13
Weddington, NC

Sea of Souls

Daniel Wei, 13

My whole family is together at last. I sit down on the bench and tell them about my journey, starting from when I first opened my eyes after the long, tortuous trip.

I gasped. I had landed in a coral reef. Beautifully patterned fish swam around everywhere. I stared, wide-eyed as they darted breezily through the water. Sunlight flashed all around. “What is this place?” I queried, mesmerized at the rainbow of corals and the myriad of wildlife.

Suddenly, water swirled up from the bottom with a dissonant gurgling sound. Bubbles started billowing around ominously as I was forcibly sucked into a deep black vortex. My stomach rose into my chest, and everything went dark.

It was midnight black down there, in that abyssal plain. An eerie flash in the distance caught my eye, luring me towards the light. It came from a derelict wooden structure. The building was enormous, reaching high above the twilight zone. It was old as well, with rusty iron doors and seaweed smothering it in every place. I broke out in a cold sweat. Glowing jellyfish floated in and out of it, and I saw a large murky tentacle wrapped around a beam. Suddenly, a creepy chuckle echoed in the dark, and I swam towards the ruins hoping to find someone to help me.

I tentatively swam inside. A chorus of disembodied voices was screaming. I shuddered, noting the array of skulls and bones. Suddenly, the lanterns above turned on.

“Welcome to the Sea of Souls, mortal,” a skeletal voice creaked.

“Wh-wh-why am I here?” I stuttered.

The voice chuckled. “You’re a soul, with the rest of us.”

Then it hit me. The tsunami. It killed everyone in my rural village, sweeping them into the sea.

I remember running into the jungle with my family, trying to escape. It was too late. The water crashed into the trees with a deafening roar. Whole forests of vegetation came down. I clambered onto a log like it was a raft, but alas, it was too late.

And then I flew into the water. The sea rose up, the smell of salt spray hitting my nostrils, leading me to cough. I doggy-paddled furiously, but to no avail. I was dragged under the kelp forest, my cries getting drowned in the vast ocean.

“Mother, Father, where are you? Where is Brother? SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME!”

Our family was very close. It was me, my younger brother, and my parents. While we didn’t have much, we had each other, and that was enough. In the evening, my father would read us all a story from the leatherbound storybook he kept on the nightstand next to my parents’ bed. Now, it all had been washed away. I started to cry, adrift in the world, alone.

“Hey,” the skeletal voice whispered, “It’s ok. I have something to show you.” A dark cloaked figure emerged from the shadows. “I am Nile, King of the Souls.” He beckoned for me to follow with one bony finger. “Come now, child.”

He picked up a shell and muttered something under his breath. A flash of light filled the ruins.

I saw him in the distance. It was my brother. A wide smile was plastered across his face as he ran towards me, arms open. Burying my face in his hair, I sobbed.

“Mama?” he asked, big black eyes wide open.

“I don’t know,” I admitted, tearing up again.

Nile grinned, and motioned for us to follow. I drifted along, carrying my brother’s hand. We passed by a field of tube worms, their red lipsticked mouths puckered open. Hydrothermal vents lined the ocean floor, providing much needed warmth. We traveled for days, it seemed, with no rest. Finally, we arrived at a stone grotto. There was an old bench in front, covered with seaweed.

We walked in. A woman wearing a black veil was crying, “my babies, my poor poor babies,” as a man held her. Then he looked up.

“Wife, look,” my father says. She stares at us, mouth wide open. “The children, they have come,” she whispers over and over again. “How?” my father asks, and I chuckle.

“It’s a long story,” I say.

“Well,” my brother retorts, “we have the rest of our unlives!” Everyone laughs heartily. My brother was always the class clown.

My mother leans forward and kisses the both of us. “Please, tell me the tale,” and I sigh, obliging her, as usual. My mother was, and still is, a beautiful woman who could always get what she wanted.

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