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Weekly Flash Contest #9: Write a mystery story. Think about the arc of your story, and plan out the actions and motives of the characters. Does the reader know something the characters don’t, or is the reader in the dark until the end? Think about how the mystery might unfold for the different characters and for your readers.

Anya Geist, 13
Worcester, MA

The week commencing May 25th (Daily Creativity prompt #46) was our ninth week of flash contests, with another record number of entries. It was also the second contest based on Stone Soup contributor and reader Anya Geist's writing prompt, which meant that we got to work with her again to judge the contest. Anya's prompt inspired a really terrific batch of entries, and all the judges were impressed with the diverse ways in which the entrants approached the idea of writing "a mystery". Thank you, Anya, for wise judging and for setting a great writing challenge!

We are delighted to announce this week's 5 Winners, whose work is published below, and 5 Honorable Mentions. It was a real pleasure to read so much great work. Congratulations, everyone!

 

Winners (work published on this page)

Isabel Bashaw, 10, Enumclaw, WA
Nick Buckley, 12, Needham, MA
Liam Hancock, 12, Danville, CA
Enni Harlan, 13, Los Angeles, CA
Michelle Su, 13, Sudbury, MA

Honorable Mention

“The Stolen Emerald” by Amelia Barth, 10, Elgin, IL
“Summer Sleuths” by Amelia Pozzo, 11, Arnold, MO
“The Checkered Deerstalker” by Mihika Sakharpe, 11, Frisco, TX
“The Missing Jewels”  by Sophia Stravitsch, 10, Katy, TX
“Rattlesnake” by Michela You, 11, Lexington, MA


Isabel Bashaw, 10
Enumclaw, WA

The Mystery of the Missing Junk Food

Isabel Bashaw, 10

RING-A-LING-LING!!!! It was chaotic as the kids rushed into school, the jocks shoving the nerds, and the nerds stumbling out of the way, trying to find all of their belongings. I was hiding behind a tree, hoping no one would see me. I mean, what kid wouldn't try to ditch what was sure to be another boring day at Rocky Ledge Middle School? Unfortunately, Vice Principal Lakewood knew my tricks. She spied me from the school steps, marched over, grabbed me by my arm, and, not bothering to say a word, dragged me into the building. Minutes later, as my teacher droned on about decimals during math class, I passed a note to my friend Holly

I heard our math teacher has not washed in a month. I mean, who would not know, she smells worse than an old pig that just ate a dead rat.
Signed, Ralphie.
P.S. Pass it on.

Holly grinned in her mischievous way, and passed the note to Liam, who tried to stifle a snort as he passed it onto Mike, and then, to my horror, Tattle Tale Rachel snatched it mid-pass between Mike and Emily! She read the note and then leapt to her feet, a pouting look crossing her face as she quickly walked up to Mrs. White.

Showing  her the note, Rachel said snottily, ¨I caught it just as Emily was going to read it.¨ She looked at me smugly, as if she was going to win a medal for catching a trashy note. I saw Mrs. White´s eyes looking up from the note, and throwing it in the trash can by her desk, already overflowing with my notes, she glowered at me and walked slowly to my desk.

¨That's it!¨ she exclaimed. ¨I have had enough of your rotten notes! Detention, Mr. Ralphie, for three hours after school. You will make this classroom sparkle! If you object, the whole school will sparkle and shine because you will clean all of it

Before I knew it, she walked back to her desk and started to talk about mathie stuff again. I sat there, my eyes blank, probably looking stupid as I stared at the teacher. ¨Bad move, Ralphie,” I thought.

Later in the cafeteria I chewed my bologna sandwich as kids watched me, whispering and giggling.

“Sorry about detention,¨ Holly said sympathetically through a mouthful of snickerdoodle cookies (which her mother packs her for dessert every day!). I nodded as a thank you, and then continued eating, my thoughts filled with dread for the coming afternoon.  My dread, like my note, was interrupted  by Rachel.

“Hey Holly! I'll trade you my tofu sandwich for that snickerdoodle cookie!¨ shouted Rachel. Rachel was never going to get that cookie if she didn’t start packing better food to trade. But everyone knew that that would never happen. Her mother didn’t let her eat any junk food at all. I kinda felt bad for her, except for the fact that she got me into trouble and now I have detention. Okay, I didn’t feel that bad for her.

After lunch, as I moved from class to class, my stomach churned with anxiety. Surprisingly, this was the first time I had ever gone to detention. I'm not afraid of what normal people would be afraid of, like having to come home to angry parents, or having to call my Mom on the phone from the principal's office to explain why I’d miss soccer practice. No, I was  worried about. . . Okay, I'll admit it. I’ve always been terribly afraid of the dark. And since it’s November, it gets dark really fast. Our school is already a bit creepy in the daylight.

RING-A-LING-LING!!!  It was finally the end of the day, and normally I’d be running out of school as fast as I could. Before the bell stopped ringing, all the kids grabbed their backpacks and rushed out of school. I slowly started towards the janitor’s closet, right in the corner of the cafeteria. After checking in with Mr. Lucas, I grabbed the mop, dusting rags and disinfectant. I got right to work, cleaning the classroom while Mrs. White watched me from her desk silently, occasionally flipping the pages of a magazine. Finally I finished, and in record time! It looked like I’d get out of here before dark after all! Seeing the clean classroom, Mrs. White said, ¨Since you did such a great job, you can do Mr. Makowsky's  classroom for his seventh graders. And if you do not, detention for tomorrow.¨

After grabbing her purse, Mrs. White was out of there, leaving me alone and quite disappointed. I thought about just going home, but I didn’t want to miss another soccer practice, or have to explain to my parents why I had detention for a second time. So I sighed, carried the cleaning supplies to Mr. Makowsky’s room, and got to work. It took me another hour to finish his room, and by then every room was dark except for the one I was in. I get that our district’s schools are trying to cut costs, but no lights left on at all?! As I hurriedly walked down the hall toward the double front doors, I was startled by strange rattling noises coming from above. Staring at the ceiling, I slowly backed away from the noise. I had to get out of there! But just as I turned toward the doors to sprint outside, I heard a series of thumps and what sounded like a muffled “help.” Now I had to choose. Be smart and safe and go home, or stupidly see why someone would need help in a dark school’s attic. The choice was obvious! But my feet turned back toward the noises, as if mesmerized by what might be lurking above.

Finding the door to the attic ajar, I climbed up the ladder, as softly and silently as possible. As I entered the attic’s gloom, I stood perfectly still to give my eyes time to adjust to the darkness. At first all I could make out were boxes and boxes of I didn’t know what. I opened a box and found it filled to the brim with candy and soda. Huh. Maybe it was the PTO’s concessions stash? Tasty info. to file away for later, I thought. Suddenly I saw movement! I just about died in fright before realizing the movement I saw was another kid! He was looking down, so busy tearing into a pile of candy next to an overturned box that he didn’t see me.  Okay….this was a little weird. But he didn’t look like he needed help. Just candy, evidently. I knew for certain that Rachel Dowd’s Mom, the PTO President, was going to be super duper angry if she found out where the PTO candy was going. Just then I decided to stop snooping, because I am not like the characters on Scooby Doo-I don't go into creepy places, so what the heck was I doing in a dark attic with a strange candy-eating kid? I slowly turned around, snuck quietly down the stairs, swiftly walked to the double doors, and ran all the way home.

* * *

“I know one of you did it! Now 'fess up!!”  growled Mrs. Dowd, leaning over the first row of students. Over a week had passed since my afternoon’s detention and creepy visit to the school’s attic. I didn't have anything against Rachel Dowd, but her mom was way too intense. She had been yelling at us for a while now, and her face was steadily getting redder. Mrs. Dowd abruptly stopped yelling when Mrs. White interrupted.

“Ralphie. I need to speak with you in the hallway. Immediately.”  I silently got out of my seat and walked uneasily outside the classroom and into the hall. Mrs White followed me, closed the door, looked into my eyes and said:

“I have been thinking about who might have snuck the PTO’s candy, Ralphie, and I have come to the conclusion that you were the only student who stayed after school last week unsupervised.” I was shocked. I had not seen this coming. I opened my mouth to protest and explain, but Mrs. White just shushed me and dragged me back into the classroom. Before I had a chance to say anything, she announced:

“Class, Ralphie was the student who stole the candy from the PTO. He will of course apologize to Mrs. Dowd and serve three days of detention.” I was enraged and opened my mouth, sputtering in anger, ready to yell something at Mrs. White. Yes I passed a note that said she smelled bad! Yes that was juvenile and also quite mean (as my mother and father had both made very clear last week), but stealing? No way! Before I could string together a sentence in my defense, Mrs. Dowd was already yelling.

“Three days’ detention? He deserves a week of SUSPENSION for what he did!!! That candy and pop was meant to raise money for our students, not be consumed by some kid angry about having detention!” My eyes got wide. My classmates sat in their seats. No one was laughing, but no one would look at me. This was all just too awful. Suddenly, Rachel jumped to her feet.

“It was me Mom!” she cried, “I stole the candy! OK? Just leave Ralphie alone!” Everyone snapped to attention when they heard that.

Mrs. Dowd whispered, “ It was? Why?” Rachel nodded in embarrassment. “ I couldn't help it. You never let me eat sugary foods, and you had the key to the school attic, and I knew there was candy up there!”

The next thing I knew, a very upset looking Mrs. White said to me, in front of the entire class, “ I am so very sorry I accused you falsely, Ralphie.”

I smiled and replied, “Well I’m sorry I said you smelled bad. Let’s just call it even.”


Nick Buckley, 12
Needham, MA

The First Letter

Nick Buckley, 12

Thump! the boy fell to the kitchen floor screaming “Ahhhhhhhh!”
His butler came rushing in to ask, “What’s wrong?”
Empty! It’s empty” the little boy said with tears coming down his face. “

But who would do such a crime!” the butler said. “Whoever did this should deserve jail time!”
Um, I don’t know sir, but no one can be trusted, not even family.” the boy said.
Then we will have to question everyone.” Butler Ben said, scurrying off to grab Lucy.
Lucy did you steal it?” the boy cried out when his sister walked in.
Evan! No, no, no I would never do something as horrible as that!” Lucy stated.
Really? Don't lie,” the boy said.

Angrily, Lucy exclaimed “I'm not!”
Then where were you between the hours of 6:00AM and 7:00AM?”
Evan, I was sleeping,” she said with a yawn. “We share the same room!”

Tsk...Ok fine you're free to go, but I have my eye on you.”
How about we question your Mother and Father next?” Butler Ben said.
Eventually, they all came down the grand staircase to be questioned by Sir Evan.

Certain that they were guilty, Sir Evan began his questioning.
Okay, what were you doing between the times of 6:00 am and 7:00 am?!” he yelled.
Oh! Sir Evan! Why, we were walking Alfred like normal,” his parents creaked.
King! You will call me King Evan! And you’re lying,” the little boy said while flipping the table.
I hope you’ll show us mercy,” his mom quivered while they were both shivering in the corner.
Evan! Please! We are your parents; we would never do something like that,” his dad continued.
Secretly smirking, Butler Ben knew spoiled Evan could find the culprit if he would just read down instead of across. *

* Read the first letter of each line vertically down the screen. If you are reading on a narrow screen, the lines might wrap, so look for the letters in BOLD to find the solution!

Liam Hancock, 12
Danville, CA

Mystery On Top Of The World

Liam Hancock, 12

“Empty again?”

I shrug, clunking the dull oxygen tank down on Dolly’s stretcher. It’s most definitely empty, but I guess I don’t have the heart to tell her. By the look of this place, she has enough on her mind already.

She flexes her arms, dragging the raw weight of metal towards her desk. “Of course it is,” she says, clicking her tongue. “Just my luck. Who was it this time?”

I clear my throat. “Well, originally it was Oliver carrying it,” I report dutifully. “But when he noticed the levels were low, he gave it to me.”

Dolly snorts. “Sounds just like him to me,” she says. “Well, that’s another refund. Write him up a check for... oh, I don’t know, let’s give it a couple thousand and see where that goes.”

Giddy now, I sit down across from her. I’m always one to snatch the chance to work with Dolly when I can. Even in the midst of a crisis, just like ours right now, she always keeps her cool.

Plus, I get to write the checks.

We started the system a couple weeks back, when the tank scam began. I was always the first to tell her about the issues, so she paid me back by letting me do adult stuff. First it was filing paperwork, and then it was running payments, and then it was writing checks.

“You have proper handwriting anyway,” she liked to tell me. “Nobody will ever know that the Sherpa boy is writing their checks.”

I pull out a sticky piece of paper and a pen from her drawer and get to work. Date, contributor name, and then amount.

“4,000?” I ask meekly, pausing with my hand wavering above the line.

Dolly peeks over the top of the oxygen tank, amused. “That’s a bit generous,” she says.

“We’re not giving any donations. Let’s do 2,000 and that idiot won’t say a word. If you haven’t noticed, math doesn’t seem to be his strong suit.”

I chuckled, etching the number down onto the paper. Outside of Dolly’s small tent office, the wind rips with ferocity. The tarps above our heads crouch with the weight of snow and the weak plastic doors, even perched shut with the help of a couple respectable boulders, shift and creak hazardously.

Dolly looks up, if not briefly, to receive the check. “Nasty weather, eh?”

I nod. It’s always nasty weather up here at Everest Base Camp, but this winter has been especially determined to make sure we knew of it. Temperatures have plummeted to 40 below zero on the average day and the wind is practically skinning us alive. We’ve already had a good deal of hypothermia cases within the expedition. Dolly would know. She’s had to refund each and every one of those who’ve decided to call it.

“We’re wasting more money on this expedition than we’re getting,” she sighs, staring at the check in dismay. “It really is time to call if off, if you ask me.”

“Try telling that to Matthew,” I respond. “He’s the one keeping us all here.”

Dolly laughs. “You think Matthew cares boo about any of this?” She says with exasperation.

I don’t.

Because, of course, we’re talking about Matthew J. Dartmouth. The man who’s never flunked an expedition. I guess he’s still planning to live up to the record, no matter what it costs. He’s nasty, old, and wears a pound too many hair products. Everything about him makes me boil over.

“But,” Dolly says pointedly, interrupting my thoughts. “It also happens to be Matthew that keeps you in this old rodeo. So we just have to put up with him until this all blows over.”

I swallow down my doubts. Dolly’s right. Again. I have to wait this out and hope the old geezer gets swept away by a blizzard before the next expedition. Because I do need to “stay in the rodeo”, more than anybody can understand. Besides my sister, of course.

She knows why.

With an even heavier heart, I bid Dolly farewell and trudge out of her warm tent and take care to shut the door behind me. I’m thinking of Namche. Of course. I can’t get her off the mind. For all I know, she’s already six feet under and I wouldn’t have even been told yet. Word travels sluggishly up on the mountain. Anything could be happening back at home and I’d only find out about it a few weeks after.

I hold my head down as the wind suffocates me. My dark hair is practically frozen in place high above my forehead.

It’s been a fairly slow season up on Everest. Most expedition leaders have had the good sense to wait the storms out, or at least until after the tank scandal is all taken care of. That’s because most expedition leaders are smart. I’m afraid that can’t be said confidently in the case of Matthew Dartmouth.

“‘We’re running this business as usual’,” she’d told me he said. “‘And unless you want to write a thousand more checks, I’d suggest we keep the lid clamped tight on this can of beans.’”

I look up towards the mist-wreathed peak of Mt. Everest. Woven across my line of sight are the memorial flags, splashed with colors and shapes and letters of foreign languages that I don’t yet understand. It’s not the mountain that kills the climbers. It’s the climbers who make their own stupid mistakes.

Like ignoring a case like this.

A case where almost all of our oxygen tanks read full when they’re really drained empty. A case where we’ve already got a dozen or two cases of oxygen deprivation on our hands. A case where, if we keep pressing forward, all of us will die.

I’d originally been the first to discover that a good deal of our tanks were bone dry. I’d been testing one out after what had seemed to be a failure near the Khumbu Icefall. One of the climbers, I forget her name now, had been abnormally exhausted after a relatively short day of hiking. Wheezing, panting, coughing. The whole nine yards.

I was usually the one to march tanks back to camp, but this case had me pretty thrown off. We’d hardly gone 10 miles. Plus, the oxygen levels still read FULL even though none was coming out. As I trekked back, I’d fiddled with the tank and kept finding a whole lot wrong with it. We’re talking broken parts, snapped controls, leaks and all that.

My first instinct was to bring it to Matthew, but when I realized he’d most likely do boo for me, I’d taken it to Dolly. That was when we figured out that something was wrong.

Really wrong.

I keep my course through the maze of tents and expedition quarters. The path always changes, because every day one group heads out and another moves right in. I usually figure things out, though. I know base camp like the back of my hand by now. What I see next really does surprise me, though.

“My boy!” comes Matthew J. Dartmouth’s voice from behind. “How is the weather treating you?”

I shrug.

Matthew stalks over. His face is pretty much nonexistent beneath the coat collar and the beanies and the snow glasses. His clothes are puffy and look ridiculously constricting, but he moves with the agility of a black cat after all 12 summits on the mountain.

“The silent treatment, eh?” He thumps a huge hand over my shoulder. “Give me something, anything. Found anything else about the tank... er, setback?”

I look over to Dolly’s tent. She’s going to kill me if I give Matthew any info about the case. It’s supposed to be between the two of us. But still... there’s really no backing out now, with the expedition leader breathing down by back.

“Not that much,” I report. It’s somewhat true. “I think we’ve narrowed the cause down to one thing.”

“And what is that?” Matthew says breathlessly. I can’t yet tell if he’s actually interested in me or if he’s yanking my strings again.

I shift uncomfortably in the snow, wishing we could do this little talk somewhere a bit warmer. “Well... we’re... we... we think it’s sabotage.”

Matthew is silent. I can almost feel his face hardening, though.

“Sabotage?” he repeats.

“Sabotage,” I affirm. “And we have a pretty good list of suspects.”

Matthew shuffles always from me, waving his arms around the half empty camp. “That’s preposterous,” he says. “Look at this. We’re practically the only people in camp. Who’s here to sabotage us?”

“Nobody,” I admit. “But that just means that somebody did it before we even left.”

Matthew shakes his head. “I should’ve been smarter than to assign a Sherpa boy to the case,” he spits. “I asked for you to find out the cause, not play Mr. Sherlock.”

I sigh in frustration. I knew from the moment I spoke up that Matthew would be of no help. I dig my bare feet further into the snow, embracing the stinging cold. I just stare at Matthew, hoping that my simmering glare can burn through those snow glasses.

Matthew pauses, and I can tell he’s still a bit curious. “Well... if we’re at it, who are your suspects?”

I suppress a smile. I’ve been dying to tell someone around camp about the investigation, but Dolly tells me it’s best to keep everybody in the dark until we know everything for certain. And even if it’s greasy, old Matthew Dartmouth, it’s better than nobody.

I dig my hands into my pockets. “Well, for one, we have Jonathan Pines,” I say, knowing this will put me off on the right foot.

“The one and only weasel,” Matthew says, and I can see the grin formulating even behind the heavy snow gear. “I’d be honored to knock that guy off his high horse.”

I bite my tongue, dying to tell Matthew that Jonathan was on our list for other reasons. Jonathan Pines was our largest competitor in expedition companies. He’s not all that bad, really, but he does have a bounty for Matthew’s head. The two are like oil and fire. Put them in the same room together and you’ve got yourself an explosion.

The thing is, Dolly’s got a friend who does admin work for Jonathan’s company. She sent Dolly an audio recording a couple weeks back that we thought gave the entire theft away.

“...something big,” Jonathan’s gravelly voice had filtered through the recording.

“Something that’ll shut his op down in no time... I’m not sure yet. But it has to be real creative.... Are you taking notes, marketing? You’ll be on the hook for driving climbers towards us after Matt’s place falls apart.”

When we had taken the audio to Matthew, he’d warranted an arrest on Jonathan’s part.

Thing is, the police couldn’t find substantial enough evidence to take him in. Dolly had said it was a dead end, at least for Jonathan’s case, but Matthew had ordered us stay on top of it.

“Anyone else?” Matthew asks, although I can tell he hopes not.

“Yes,” I say with hesitance.

Matthew heaves out an irritated puff of breath. “And?”

“Well,” I continue, more cautiously now. “There’s always Oliver Getty.”

“Oliver Getty,” Matthew repeats. “And why on Earth would Oliver want to destroy the expedition he paid for?”

I think back to Dolly’s words when the lead had first come up.

“He might have handed over some good money for this trip,” she had said. “But Oliver could get it all back, even a couple hundred more, if he sued the company.”

I’d first overheard Oliver when I was heading back to the Sherpa camp. He was the only one in his tent, seated at a long fold-out table, so it caught my ears almost immediately when I heard him talking to himself.

“10,000... let’s see...” I had heard him sifting through a thick stack of papers. “That’ll be... oh, dear. Can’t they see that I don’t have nearly enough?”

When I’d come to Dolly with the info, she’d told me she would look through his finances. It would only make sense that Oliver may be in some trouble money wise. He seems to have somewhat of an obscure background. I’ve pondered more than once if he’s wound up with some bad guys and gangs, but his issues seem to be a bit worse than I’ve ever expected.

After Dolly had searched up Oliver’s credentials and payments, she’d come across something that she found a bit strange.

“He’s got no college education,” she’d said, puzzled.

“So?”

“So,” Dolly said pointedly. “It doesn’t seem to make sense that he landed himself a big job in the marketing biz right after his senior year in high school.”

It did seem a bit suspicious, but there were a hundred and one reasons he could’ve snatched himself a good job at Eleanor Marketing and Advertising Enterprises rather than fraud or something.

“But there’s something else,” Dolly had added, turning the computer screen to face me.

“Look at this box here, for the year 2011.”

My eyes had lit up.

“An inheritance, huh?”

Dolly nodded, pointing her painted nail towards the rough printing. “It’s an inheritance, alright,” she’d said, a spark of excitement in her voice. “But the money’s coming from someone that seems to never show up on any other financial records. And, for good measure, I looked up this dude.”

“Harry Grant? The guy who had the money?”

“The one and only.” She had flicked the image over to a mugshot. And on the screen was a scowling, boney-faced man with dark bags sagging under his silvery eyes. “Thing is, Mr. Grant here has got himself into some very bad situations. And by that I mean gangs.”

So I look back up to meet Matthew’s gaze. “So?” he asks flatly. “What do gangs have anything to do with wrecking a expedition?”

“Gangs have everything to do with wrecking an expedition,” I respond, slightly annoyed. “After some other research, we figured out that Oliver totally wrecked that inheritance on fancy cars and watches and accessories. And, well... and spending a whole lot on this expedition itself. And, because it seems to always be the case, it looks like if he doesn’t pay his debts he’s in some deep trouble with Mr. Grant’s buddies. So what better way to pay than get some money out of a failed expedition?”

“You meaning suing?” Matthew says, sounding concerned.

“I mean suing.”

Matthew quickly forces his tough face back on. “Maybe so,” he says. “But as of now, it seems to me that Jonathan is our best suspect. And... if you’re going to continue on this “investigation” of yours, I’d suggest you’d get on his case.”

“Dolly won’t let me.”

“Then I can deal with Dolly myself,” he says primly. “Now why don’t good boys get back to camp?”

I nod to him and press on wordlessly through the wind. I expect he’ll be headed towards the expedition headquarters, but when I turn around, Matthew is walking across the small memorial plaza into Dolly’s tent.

Strange.

It’s getting late. I can’t expect Dolly to still be there at such a late hour, and if she isn’t, Matthew has no place in her office. Silently, I duck behind another rocky memorial and watch him continue inside.

Dolly will be close by in the admin tent if I need her, so I’m not too worried about tracking Matthew’s moves. Granted, she’d kill me if she knew what I’m doing, so it’s best to keep my mouth shut until it’s really needed.

I move to another memorial closer to Dolly’s tent, keeping low to the ground. I know Matthew will be looking back to make sure I’m heading back home, but I’m confident that that the foul weather will mask my presence. I can scarcely see an inch in front of my face anyway. I seriously doubt he can make out my silouhette so far back.

Matthew tries the door, but the boulders inside hold fast. He shoves a little harder and the doors give way begrudgingly. I have to say I’m surprise Dolly doesn’t keep a lock on her office, but then I realize that she really doesn’t, at least up until now. Usually, base camp is filled to near bursting with yammering foreigners and Everest hopefuls, but the nasty season has done the job of keeping them away. Like Matthew had said, we’re pretty much the only ones up here. There’s really nobody who seems like the thieving kind, at least during this winter.

So what could Matthew possibly need?

Of course, it could be something as simple as paperwork, or maybe a couple checks to hand out to fed up clients. But for some reason I don’t feel that way. Maybe it’s just his furtive glances as he slips through the doors or how he makes sure to kick snow over his deep boot marks.

I look around to see if anyone else is watching. Of course not. It’s getting dark, and getting dark means getting cold. Really cold.

Matthew dodges into the tent. Not quite as careful now, I retrace my steps to Dolly’s tent, relying on the dull light from inside to guide me. The night sky is inky and rich with stars, and the snow falls stealthily in drifts from it’s heart.

I guess the good thing about snow is that it’s pretty much impossible to hear somebody when they’re sneaking around. The cold powder masks my bare feet as I press my ears up against the tent’s outside tarp. There’s actually a small window composed of clear plastic sheets on the wall beside me, but Matthew will catch me in an instant if I try to look inside. My ears will have to make do. I strain to block out the roaring gale at my back, even as the snow strikes me across the neck.

I hear Matthew muttering silently, something about the cold outside. What is it with people talking to themselves up here?

But then comes the other voice.

“Shut it,” Dolly whispers from inside. “This shouldn’t be long.”

I try leaning in further, but I keep my weight on the other foot. If I try my luck any more than I have, the tent will collapse and my cover will be blown.

Matthew scoots out a chair and sighs heavily. “Aren’t you just adorable?”

“It’s freezing, dark, and snowy,” Dolly snaps. “What did you expect me to act like? So like I said, keep your face shut for once, and let me do the talking.”

Matthew is silent.

Dolly clicks something into her computer. “The boy just left,” she says. “Wrote Oliver a check for me.”

“I know,” Matthew responds. “Saw him on the way. He rattled off a whole list of suspects. Thinks he makes a fine Sherlock Holmes.”

Dolly sighs. “He’s not bad for a 13 year old kid,” she says with obvious reluctance.

“But... but I’m just glad we don’t have somebody a little more seasoned on the case.”

I gulp. They’re talking about me, of course.

And something sounds a bit off.

I’m glad we don’t have somebody a little more seasoned on the case, she’d said. What was that supposed to mean? It almost sounds like...

“We can be grateful for that,” he agrees. “I think we’ve just about gotten away with this one.”

I shudder, stumbling. It takes all I’ve got not to ram directly into the tarp. There’s obviously a lot of grey area here, but somehow I know that I’ve got the perpetrators of the tank scandal right there in front of me.

But why?

Dolly?

Matthew?

I find it hard to believe that Matthew would want to wreck his own mission and... and, Dolly? Well, I guess I thought I could trust her.

All of a sudden, two big hands grab me around the waist and hoist me off of the ground. I don’t bother trying to scream. The wind will mask my voice. Instead, I shimmy and kick the kidnapper’s knees. He doesn’t flinch. I next try hammering him with my fists, but he just wrenches my arms back until I can’t feel them anymore.

Knowing that there’s no fight to be had, I try making out his face. As expected, it’s shrouded in snow and covered up with snow glasses and coat necks. But, for some reason, I feel like I’ve seen him somewhere...

Something white catches my eye, fretting like a ghostly dove in the heavy wind. It’s a paper... no, maybe a receipt? I narrow my eyes and try to get a better look. It’s rapidly fading into the dark night.

And finally, I find the writing.

PAYMENT OVERDUE.

Payment overdue? Who in this expensive expedition–

“Oliver?” I gasp.

Oliver looks down at me, if not for a second, but says nothing. He’s stopped right in front of the doors to Dolly’s office. I can tell he’s hesitating. If he let’s go with one hand to knock or open the door, I’ll probably make a run for it. He can’t kick the door open with the boulders blocking it. So, he opts to try knocking with his snow boots.

Dolly opens the door, and almost immediately her face drains of color.

“I found the kid outside,” Oliver reports dutifully. “He was...”

Dolly clamps her spindly hands over Oliver’s mouth. “That’s all you need to say,” she whispers threateningly. “You can take him back to Sherpa camp and...”

“Ah,” comes Matthew’s voice from inside. “So the boy has decided to join us, has he?”

Dolly’s face falls, but her eyes remain locked into mine.

“I’m sorry,” she mouths.

Matthew pushes his chair away to join Dolly in by open doors. I drop my gaze to the snowy ground, but he brings up a giant hand to yank my head up by the hair. “What’ve you heard?” He growls.

I gulp. “You did it,” is all I decide to say.

Matthew stares at me for a while, trying to figure out what to do with me. Dolly holds her breath with angst beside him. Oliver still holds me at bay, his hands on my shoulders.

“Oliver,” he says in a quavering voice. “I want you to carry this boy a couple yards out... and leave him there. Nobody will have to know.”

I look to Dolly, scared.

She looks back, sorry.

Oliver nods wordlessly and hoists me over his shoulder. It’s not until he begins striding away that I start to feel panicky.

“Stop!” I scream. “Please! Help! Stop it!”

I know my attempts to fight will be fruitless, but I try anyway. I pull and yank and yell, but Oliver continues on. The wind is picking up, and with it the blizzard conditions. I shiver violently, teeth chattering and grinding together.

Matthew is already turning away to head back into Dolly’s office. He’s halfway through the door, though, when he realizes that she’s ditched him.

Dolly sprints across the deep snow, but her heavy boots slow her pace. She waves her hands high above her head, yelling, “Stop right there, Oliver! Stop!”

Oliver looks back at her and picks up his pace, sure to kick some snow up to blind her view of me. The wind carries the white powder directly into Dolly’s face, but she presses on.

Oliver’s running now, his face twisted with angst.

And just then, everything comes together.

Oliver’s got some strange dealings with this Harry Grant inheritance, and if he used a whole lot of the money on Matthew’s expedition, it would only make sense that the two would be tied up together. To save his own butt from the gang, Matthew would have hosted himself an expedition that would have usually been cancelled. He was planning to give the money all to Oliver and behind it out of the situation, but Dolly must’ve seen a chance for profit after looking over Oliver’s payments. She joined in to help Matthew grab some money before giving it all away. Of course, she’d told Matthew that she must get some of the cash for her services, as well.

I realize that I’ve gone limp over Oliver’s shoulder. I’ve figured it all out. I’ve solved the crime.

Now, my next fiasco is getting out of here.

I look up to check Dolly’s progress. She was pretty much going nowhere fast. If I want to escape Oliver’s grasp, I’ll have to do it on my own. I know that punching and squirming isn’t getting me anywhere. In fact, Oliver’s grasp tightens around my waist as I do.

Instead, I wait for the right moment and drive my foot square into his behind. Oliver recoils in pain and falls into the snow. I step over his squirming body and pound across the tundra. I can hear Dolly cheering in relief behind me, but I can tell that the threat is still overhead.

When I look back, I can see Matthew barreling past Dolly, knocking her to the knees on route. He’s much more smart footed than I’d expected previously, being old and all. But I don’t give it a second thought—I pick up my pace and continue sprinting away from the lights of base camp.

I’m only a bit concerned about where the heck I’m going, but what I’m really concerned about is Matthew’s steady pace. If I’m lucky, he’ll find some sort of icy crevasse to fall into, but I can’t be too reliant on that chance. Hoping that the snow will help throw him off, I zig and zag across the open ice field, still not quite sure where I’m going. All I can pray for is that I don’t run into the Khumbu Icefall, a crevasse that’s hundreds of feet deep, before I can find safety.

Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky.

The icy air drifts into my face as I approach the crevasse. The rich blue ice radiates cold out of it’s core. I try not to break my pace, but it’s becoming more difficult as the ice breaks up beneath my feet. Before I can gauge my situation, I’m staring down into the deep pit.

I look back to check Matthew’s location, and breathe a sigh of relief when I find that I’m alone. I collapse down into the snow and stare up into the sky.

So maybe I’ve figured out who’s done the crime, but why drain the tanks? I wonder why on earth Matthew would put the life of both his clients and his company on the line for Oliver’s bidding. Possibly it meant that from the money Oliver would get from Dolly’s checks he would be able to pay off the thugs for his spending up Harry Grant’s inheritance. That would obviously save Matthew’s butt, although I can’t see how he’d get any money out of it all.

Flustered, I breathe in the cold mountain air and turn around.

My heart skips a beat.

Somehow, Oliver has found his way back here, and Matthew is close on his tail. There’s nowhere for me to run. Desperately, I look over the crevasse.

One of the sherpas seems to have left out a ladder, laying with both ends across the crevasse, for use when our expedition heads out tomorrow. I know what I have to do.

I crawl towards the ladder and shimmy out onto the first rung. Below me, the crevasse reaches down into oblivion, the darkness eating up any last shard of ice I could ever see otherwise. The freezing air presses suffocatingly against my already numb face.

I clutch the side of the ladder with dear life and swing under, so my back is facing the neverending drop. The sides are slick with snow, and my fingers slip and slide as I continue further and further across. My spine tingles, knowing that these rungs are all that separate me from death.

And then the ladder starts shaking. I cling even harder, bringing my head up to see Matthew standing on the edge of the crevasse. He’s inching the end of the ladder further and further away from it’s resting place on the ice.

Screeeech.

I try moving faster, pressing my chest closer to the rungs and pushing with dear life.

Matthew shoves even harder now, and I loose traction with my feet and they slip from their place. I freeze, terrified. Now only my hands keep me from falling.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Matthew calls. “You can turn yourself in, Sherpa boy. Promise to keep your mouth shut. We can spare your life.”

I block out his words. I’d rather die trying to save others than live trying to save myself.

Anguished, Matthew rattles the ladder once more. I try swinging my legs back up, but I can’t get enough momentum. It’s like I’m stuck on a set of life or death monkey bars.

And then Matthew’s side falls off of the ice. I feel the ladder heave and groan on my side, and no sooner does it begin to fall, conking me so hard in the head that my vision swims.

I reach out for a crag in the ice, maybe, or something to catch my fall.

I come up empty.

The world darkens around me, and the last thing I see before everything fades is Matthew and Oliver, staring at me as I fall down, down into the Khumbu Icefall.

 

I wake up with a throbbing shoulder. I’m staring up at a tent tarp. A dull light filters through a clear plastic sheet window. I can tell that the blizzard hasn’t yet relented outside, which comforts me, if not a little. At least I haven’t been knocked out long enough for seasons to change, or even the nasty storm to blow out.

My throat is warm and my tongue is wet with the taste of herbal tea. So someone has been feeding and giving me something to drink. I’m not too groggy to puzzle that one out. But what really screws me up is who and... and, well, how? More than a hundred times have the other sherpas made sure to tell of our friends who’ve fallen into Khumbu. Nobody comes out. Ever. So how could I possibly...

“You’re awake,” Dolly says softly, and only then do I notice that she’s sitting on a stool beside me. “And alive, in that case.”

“Hardly,” I respond, but it comes out more a croak than an actual word.

She leans back, face twisted with regret. “I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says, more to herself than me. “If I’d known what it would come to...”

“It’s okay,” I say, more audibly now.

Dolly stares at me. “I thought you weren’t going to make it,” she says. “You were in a bad way when we brought you in.”

“But... how did you get me out?”

“I grabbed your arm,” she says flatly. “You’re lucky you landed on that outcropping or there’s no doubt in my mind we’d have never found you. I’d thought it was too late. Oliver and Matthew wouldn’t let me save you. I had to wait for the other guys in camp to take them in before I could pull you out.”

I close my eyes, winded from my near miss with death.

“Even better,” Dolly continues. “All you have is a bump on the head.”

She sifts through my hair to rub some sort of ointment onto it. “Dolly?” I ask tentatively.

“Yes?”

I hesitate. “It was all because of the gang, wasn’t it? And Harry Grant’s inheritance?”

Dolly takes a moment to look into my eyes. “Yes. And?”

“Well... I guess I just want to know why you’d ever join them.”

Dolly tries to avoid my gaze. “Some things needed to be done,” she says sadly. “I knew that Matthew was going to run this company into the ground with this expedition. That never changed. But when you found the lead on Oliver, I couldn’t help but see a chance for profit in this whole debt thing. So I helped craft the tank scandal, and when Oliver sued us, he’d get the money to pay his debts.”

“And then he’d have an even larger debt to pay to Matthew?” I assume, mystified.

“I just wanted the best for this company,” Dolly continues. “What I didn’t want is for Oliver to find you spying and get you nearly killed.”

I’m silent for a moment. “Where are they now?” I ask. “Oliver and Matthew?”

“Jail,” Dolly responds flatly. “And I’m afraid that’s the best place they can be, after everything they did to you.”

I sit still in the bed, my mind racing. “And... and you?” I ask. “Where are you going?”

Dolly takes a moment to observe the bump on my head to make sure the ointment is working it’s magic. She pats some hair back over it. “See? Good as new.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

She walks over to the sink and rinses her fingers, taking extra time to make sure each and every finger is soaked well before turning back to face me. “I’m going home,” she says. I look for sadness in her voice, but if there is any, she hides it well. “It’s for the best. But...”

“But?”

Dolly sits heavily back down onto her stool. “But you are going home, too.” She puts her hand over my lap. “Your parents sent for you as soon as they heard about this all.”

My heart sinks. How would they have known already?

“We radioed into the city,” Dolly explains. “They got back to us much faster than expected.”

I lean back into the pillow.

“I know this was your first expedition,” Dolly tries sympathetically. “You deserve so much better, but it’ll just safer if we all go our own ways.”

I nod in understanding, but my head is airy and throbbing with pain. I need to know one last thing. “Is... is my sister... alive?”

“Your sister is fine,” Dolly reports, obviously glad to give me the good news. “With the money you made up here, your family was able to get her a doctor. The measles are gone. She’s good as new.”

I try making out some words, but with relief flooding over me, so does sleep. I only manage to smile before the darkness spreads over me once more.

TWO YEARS LATER

The sweet perfume of roses floods my nose. Beneath my bare feet, the soil is rich and muddy and my nails are painted murky brown. I’m chasing Namche through the village garden, grinning as she zigs and zags through the bazaars.

“You’re like lighting!” I shout to her, and she really is. Chasing my little sister could be a sport itself.

Ever since the Base Camp Disaster, Namche had taken up running and our game of tag in the garden was pretty much a ritual for her. Of course, the village people aren’t huge fans of our fun, but only once or twice have we knocked over a stack of kindle or let out a flock of chickens into the street.

I scan the cobblestones, hoping to find my little sister in the crowds. It’s been an especially busy season, and hundreds of thousands of expeditions have marched through our city since the permits opened up. I don’t mind. I’m glad that the snowy seasons are far behind us, because the blizzards always bring back terrible memories.

And when Namche runs wildly through the streets, I can’t help remember how I had done the same trying to escape Matthew’s grasp. But most of the time, I’m just glad it all happened to me and not her.

As for Matthew, Oliver, and Dolly? Well, Matthew is facing a lifetime sentence back in the US, which I believe serves him right for everything he did from wrecking the tanks to trying to drop me into the Khumbu Icefall. Oliver got out of his sentence a couple years ago, but I’m not sure what became of him after that. I think he got himself all tied up with some bad people again, but maybe I’ll never know.

Dolly served even less time, but most of her sentence was community service, which she was glad to do. She comes up every once in a while to visit me in the garden, but I never let Mom or Dad know. They’ll never forgive her for her part to play in the tank scheme. But I don’t mind much anymore. Of course things will never be quite the same between us, but I’m trying to put the Base Camp Disaster behind me, and with that is any hate I ever had for Dolly before.

I jog towards a bale of sandbags that Namche is attempting to scale and wrap my arms around her chest and lift her into the air.

“Got you!” I growl, laughing.

Namche giggles and reaches down to hug me playfully. “Oh no!” She squeals, fidgeting.

“The monster’s caught me!”

Gently, I lower her to the ground. “You’re right, the monsters really will catch us if we’re not on time for dinner,” I say. “Mom and Dad will be expecting us.”

I can tell Namche is disappointed we can’t play another round, but her hunger seems to win her over. Besides, I’m not sure if I can run any longer. There’s a stitch running up my side and my breaths are heavy. Running may be Namche’s forte but it’s never quite been mine.

We trudge up the precarious wooden board stairs towards our small shack. Namche practically bounces the entire way up, while I can hardly force my sore legs up each step.

I swing open the door, hoping for the aroma of dinner to meet my nose, but no such luck. Rather, Mom and Dad are sitting at the dining table with a small envelope resting between them.

Immediately I can tell something’s up.

“Let’s get this over with quickly,” I sigh, pulling up a chair at the table. Namche rushes into her bedroom, not looking back. I’m glad we don’t have to talk about whatever is happening in front of her. “What is it?”

Wordlessly, Mom slides the envelope towards me.

My eyes pause at her gaze before dropping down to read the printing.

Concerning the Sherpa Bazaar family,

I fold out the paper.

We at the Matthew J. Dartmouth Adventure Company have interest in the help of your son for our next Mt. Everest expedition. Because of the unfortunate circumstances of our last expedition in which your son was so wrongfully abused by past company officials, we are coming to you with an offer of $400 a day on this certain expedition. All food, lodging, and other necessities will be entirely funded by the Matthew J. Dartmouth Adventure Company. We can entirely assure you, as well, that your son will be extremely well cared for and protected as an employee of honor. Please do consider joining our expedition, and there won’t be a day that you regret it!
–Freddie Harrison
CEO, Matthew J. Dartmouth Adventure Company

I look up to my parents, horrified.

“I... I just...”

Mom reaches a hand out and places it over mine.

“There’s more,” she whispers. “On the back, I mean.”

Puzzled, I flip over the paper, trying to erase the company logo from my mind as soon as I can. But sure enough, there it is. Scribbly, inky handwriting dances down the page on a slanted angle. I’d recognize the writing any day.

“Not you,” I whisper, closing my eyes before daring to read.

Hey Mr. Sherpa Boy, how’s life been down there? I really am hoping you and your sister are doing well. You deserve it. I’m sorry I haven’t come up in a while; things got a bit complicated after my community service. The adventure company wants me back at any costs, for what reasons I don’t know. (They really should change their name though, shouldn’t they?). Trust me, I don’t ever plan on going back. A friend of mine mailed this into me before the company got it to you, so I just wanted to talk to you over paper if I couldn’t in person.
Don’t, under any circumstances, take this job. I smell something fishy here. It’s best for you to stay put and let them forget that you ever existed. I don’t care about money or wealth, I just want you to be safe. Don’t take the job. Please.
–Dolly

I put the paper back down on the table, wondering what Matthew’s company wants from me now. Of course I’m not going to take the job. Nobody in the right mind ever would, not after all that has happened. But that can’t necessarily stop me from finding out what’s going on.

“You’re not going to take it, are you?”

I meet Dad square in the eye. “No,” I assure him. “Not in a million years.”

He adjusts uncomfortably in his chair. “Then what’s that look in your eyes for?”

I smile.


Enni Harlan, 13
Los Angeles, CA

The Attic

Enni Harlan, 13

“There are three ways to solve this problem,” Mr. Wilson said to his seventh grade class through Zoom, the platform that they were using to Facetime. His crackly voice sounded even worse than usual with the internet going in and out for the students. “The first is probably the most efficient…”

Twelve year old June Parker sighed, leaning back in her chair as she continued to glue her eyes on Mr. Wilson’s face, which appeared in a small box on her computer screen. Her school had been shut down a few weeks ago in order to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Like many other schools, June’s school was giving online courses which the students had to attend. The other students in her class looked as bored as ever–some weren’t even sitting upright, but instead were sprawled out on their beds carelessly.

June began to fiddle with a long strand of brown hair which had strayed from her neat ponytail. Her mind began to wander elsewhere. She was just starting to wonder what they might be having for dinner that night when Mr. Wilson’s sharp voice aroused her from her thoughts.

“June? What did you get for question 12?”

June glanced down at her homework, which they were going over since several classmates had been struggling with the topic. “X equals 5,” she said in a bored tone.

Mr. Wilson looked satisfied. “Very good. Bridgette, can you answer the last question?”

Bridgette was clearly taken by surprise in being called on. She opened her eyes wide and jolted upright. “Um… what did you just say?”

“What is your answer for question 13?” Mr. Wilson repeated impatiently.

Bridgette scrunched up her forehead. “Well, I actually didn’t get to that question.”

“Oh?”

Bridgette shrugged and smiled apologetically, then turned off her camera and microphone so that all that her classmates and teacher could see was a black box with her name floating in the middle of it.

Mr. Wilson sighed, then looked as if he was very tired. “Alright, class if dismissed. I’ll see you in two days.” He waved at the class before ending the meeting.

June’s computer screen froze for a moment, and then exited from the zoom meeting. A wide grin spread across June’s class as she realized school was over for the day. Right then, June’s mother, Laura, came by. Laura was a middle-aged woman with chestnut brown hair streaked with white that she had piled into a loose bun. She wore a stern look on her face.

“June, are you finished with school?” she asked. Before June had the chance to reply, her mother spoke again. “Come and help me do laundry,” she commanded. June groaned and followed her mother outside of the house, stopping at the door to put on shoes.

“Put on your shoes outside the house! You’re bringing coronavirus germs inside!” Laura hollered, and June jumped.

“Sorry,” she muttered, slipping on her shoes and running outside.

Laundry was a long process, because June’s mother was keen on taking all the precautions recommended in order to stay healthy. She wiped the door to the shared laundromat, the buttons on the washing machine, and every handle she had to touch. June stood impatiently as she waited, clutching the handle of the bag they were using to collect the clean clothes. Finally, they finished and went back into the house.

June, Sebastian, and their mother ate dinner early that day, as usual. As she spooned rice into her mouth, June listened to her brother talk.

“Mom, can we watch a movie today?” Sebastian asked. “Please? I want to watch…”

Laura cut in. “Let’s talk about this after you finish your schoolwork, shall we?” she said with a sharp look, and Sebastian closed his mouth, staring down at his food. Laura was in a bad mood that day, and her son knew better than to bother her more.

“I’m finished with my schoolwork,” June offered, but no one responded. She sighed and fiddled with a long strand of her hair that had escaped her ponytail. Every day was a repeat of the same cycle, like a wheel that rolled on and on and never stopped. Sometimes, she just wished that something exciting would happen.

That evening, June sat at the dining room table, reading a book. At the sound of a loud clunk, she looked up. The sound had come from the kitchen, and she walked briskly over to investigate. It was only her mother setting down a pan, though. Seeing June, Laura gave her a task to complete before she could leave.

“June, what is your brother doing?” she demanded.

“I don’t know,” June replied honestly. “He’s upstairs.”

“Will you please go check on him?”

June grumbled to herself as she trudged reluctantly up the creaky wooden stairs. Her mother was always paranoid that Sebastian was fooling around and not doing his work. June entered the door to her brother’s room and found him, as she expected, doing his schoolwork.

“Hi,” she said, and walked past him to the open window, closing it quickly. “Why is your window open? You’re going to get mosquitos into the house.”

Sebastian grunted in response. He was obviously not listening. June cocked her head towards him, but suddenly spotted something lying high on the shelf of his walk-in closet.

“You still have that magazine?” she exclaimed, and climbed onto a shelf of the closet.

She reached for it, and then spotted something else that was far more intriguing.

June had often explored the walk-in closet when she was younger, and had always been curious as to why there was a piece of wood nailed into part of the ceiling. It was painted white, just like the rest of the closet. Her mother had assumed that it was covering an entrance to the attic. This had captivated June as a young child, and she immediately begged her parents to remove the piece of wood so that they could explore the attic, but Laura had assured her that there would be nothing there but dust, spiders, and possibly rats. However, as June looked up at the closet ceiling at that moment, what she saw was certainly impossible, and yet there it was: the wooden plaque covering the attic entrance was gone, and an emerald colored wooden door with a metal knob was in its place. June gasped and blinked her eyes repeatedly, assuming it was only her imagination, but the door remained there. She peered closer at the mysterious door and discovered that the knob was covered in strange designs. It looked different from any door she had seen in her entire life, as if it were from another country, or another world. Although it was dark in the closet, the emerald door seemed vibrant and luminous on its own.

After recovering from her initial shock, June peeked her head out of the closet, eager to share her discovery. “Sebastian!” she hollered. “Come quick! Something incredible happened!”

Sebastian came walking slowly towards the closet. “What is it?” he asked.

“There was a door to the attic that magically appeared right there! Look!” June pointed excitedly to the ceiling, but when she looked back up, the door was gone. “Wait… what?”

Sebastian laughed. “Okay, June,” he said skeptically. “I don’t see anything, though.”

He left the closet and returned to his desk.

June stared up at the ceiling with disbelief. The wooden plaque was there again, bolted to the wall as usual. Had she just imagined the door? Or was it real, but disappeared as soon as she turned around? June frowned, confused by it all. Her curiosity would not be satisfied until she investigated it alone. She resolved to look again late that night, when everyone was in bed. June hopped down from the shelf that she was perched upon, and walked slowly down the stairs. She was still perplexed about what she saw as she sat back down at the dining room table. “Sebastian’s doing homework,” she called to her mother from the table, and continued to read.

June stared down at her book, but the words seemed more like a blur of ink that had no meaning. She simply couldn’t concentrate on any story but her own. Was she finally about to have the adventure she had been waiting for her entire life, or was she just imagining things?

June sat there, contemplating, for a long while. She only knew one thing for sure: she was going back to the closet to see if there really was a door to the attic. It had seemed so vivid, so real, that June was almost positive that it wasn’t just her imagination. The only thing that was holding her back was her conscience.

“June, it’s 9:30! Go get ready for bed! Why are you staring into space like that?” June jumped up and swiveled her head around to see her mother standing in the doorway of the kitchen.

“Uh, no reason, Mom,” June replied as casually as she could. “Everything is absolutely, totally fine. No need to follow me upstairs, I’m totally fine!” June an overenthusiastic wave as she walked away, keenly aware that her mother’s eyes were fixed suspiciously on her.

“Wait, June,” Laura said sharply.

June gulped and turned around. Before her mother had the chance to say something else, she casually changed the topic. “Hey, Mom, shouldn’t Dad be home right now?” she asked.

“No, he’s working a night shift,” replied her mother. Mr. Park was a Korean-born doctor who had moved to America when he got a scholarship to study medicine. He seemed to always be working at the hospital ever since the pandemic had reached Los Angeles, where the Parks lived.

“Oh,” June said, sounding disappointed. “Okay. I guess I’ll go to bed now.” She darted up the stairs and to her bedroom as quickly as she could. June leaned against the seafoam colored walls of her bedroom, trying to remember where she had last placed her flashlight. She sat down on the white covers of her neatly made bed and opened the cabinet that lay beside it.

June carefully took some of the contents of the cabinet out one by one; a broken camera, an old notebook, a pencil, and a board game. Finally, she found a small black flashlight that she had taken on a camping trip several years ago. June twisted the top to turn it on, and the beam of the flashlight illuminated her room. Good, it still had some battery left. She turned it off and climbed into bed with her day clothes still on and waited for time to pass.

At the sound of a helicopter flying noisily above her house, June jolted awake. “Oh, no!” she muttered, alarmed that she had unconsciously drifted off to sleep. She glanced at her watch and sighed with relief. It was 1:30 am. She still had plenty of time before morning. Quiet as a mouse, June got out of her bed and opened the door. She grimaced at the creaking noise that her door made, and glanced about nervously. A chorus of snoring greeted her. Satisfied, June crept down the hall to her brother’s room. His door was left slightly open, and she slipped in with ease. Sebastian was a heavy sleeper, and he didn’t even stir as she tiptoed past his bed and towards the closet. June entered the closet and closed the closet door before turning on her flashlight. She climbed up onto a high shelf and squinted up at the ceiling, then smiled. The door to the attic was back.

June sat there for a few moments, simply staring up at the door. Then, as if in a trance, she reached up and grabbed the smooth metal knob. Holding her breath, she turned the knob and pulled the door downwards so that it opened. The space was just large enough for June to squeeze through. She pulled herself upwards into the attic. Only then did she gasp with surprise.

Lit up by the beam of her flashlight, the attic didn’t look like an attic at all, save the slanted ceiling that was obviously the roof. The attic was really one large room, and it looked a lot like a bedroom. There was an old cot tucked away in the corner and a stool in the center of the room. Everything was coated in a thin layer of dust. In dumbfounded silence, June stumbled towards the desk. On the desk lay a journal with the initials L.S. engraved on it. With trembling fingers, June opened the journal. The handwriting was in cursive, but it looked like a child had written it. There were many spelling errors, but June was able to understand what the child was implying in her journal:

“May 9, 1946– My name is Lena, and I am nine years old. My father was a spy during World War II from Germany. When he was caught and killed in England and the war ended, my mother and I were forced to flee Germany for a new life. We took a ship and I ended up here, in America. I was glad I studied English in school. My mother died on that ship, and I had nowhere to go. I stumbled upon this area, which they call Baldwin Hills Village. I was taken in by some nice lady named Ms. Carson, and she’s taking care of me until she finds a proper home for me.

The only problem is that she’s not supposed to be taking care of me. She says if her husband finds out he’ll be angry and send me back to Germany. Or at least that’s what I thought she said. My English isn’t perfect, so I can’t be sure. Anyway, she says for the next few weeks she’ll have to hide me here, in the attic. She gave me a cot to sleep on and this journal to write in. It’ll help me pass the time, she says. So I write here in English to try and exercise my mind during these boring weeks. It’s dreadfully dull, but I’ve got nowhere else to go for the time being.”

June was enraptured. She turned the page quickly and read the next entry, but was disappointed that it was the last full page preserved-- all the other pages were empty! She flipped through the journal again, and then realized that there was one more page that had a few sentences scribbled on it:

“May 15, 1946– I have been gone a few days. This is because I have discovered the impossible. I am leaving this place forever, thanks to my discovery. It is my key to a new life. There is another world, and I have the portal to it…”

At the bottom of the page, there was a small illustration of a snowglobe. June looked down at it and tried to figure out what it meant. Her heart was pounding rapidly. Was there really another world? Could she trust this mysterious journal? Who was this Lena girl, anyway?

June looked around desperately for any other clues. She had never felt so excited and yet terrified in her entire life. That was when she spotted a snowglobe, sitting on the carpeted floor. June picked it up. There was a town in the countryside within the snowglobe. It looked mystical. She shook the snowglobe and watched the tiny flakes of fake snow as they danced towards the ground. June shook it again, amused by the little cottages, the stream, and the forest inside the snowglobe. It all seemed so real.

Suddenly, the snowglobe began to come to life. Birds began to fly within the snowglobe, and it filled with light. As June clutched the snowglobe in alarm, the glass began to feel hotter.

She dropped the snowglobe in her panic and stood there, frozen with terror, as it shattered on the floor. Light filled the room, and June could hear the sound of trumpets. She felt like she was about to faint. The ceiling was gone, and in its place was the sky.

June looked up and saw a bird swooping through the bright blue sky before falling to the ground, unconscious...

June opened her eyes, pushing her out of her eyes. Lying on the ground, she could see the tops of evergreen trees above her. Gentle rays of sunlight danced in through the canopy of trees above. June sat up and looked around. She was sitting in the middle of a forest, but it was unlike any forest she had seen before.

“Where am I?” she murmured. “Is this a dream?”

That was when it all hit her. She had been reading the journal in the attic about another world, and the portal to it–and now here she was, in that very place. June gasped in surprise and jumped to her feet. Her eyes darted about. As far as she could see, there were trees. She began to run through the thicket, wondering how she would ever get home. Tree branches scraped at her as she ran, but she ignored them.

Finally, she reached a clearing. June fell down beside a sparkling stream and realized how thirsty she was. Without thinking, she cupped her hands and scooped some of the freshwater into her watering mouth. The water was sweet and refreshing, and she drank until her thirst was quenched. Then, she collectively stood up and looked around. There were mountains looming in the distance, and even closer was a farm and a small town with quaint stone cottages. June couldn’t help but think that it all looked awfully familiar. Then she realized why. The town she was seeing now was the one she had seen in the snowglobe!

Right as this realization dawned her, the world suddenly became extremely bright. June stumbled back, blinded by the light. She could no longer see the stream, the town, or even the mountains up above. June squeezed her eyes shut, as the light had become painfully bright.

Then, she heard thundering hooves pound against the ground, like a horse running across a field–or maybe a deer.

June squinted her eyes and saw a stag with golden antlers burst into view before disappearing into a cloud of light which made her shut her eyes again. When June opened her eyes, she was back on the floor of the attic. She sat up, confused, and rubbed her eyes. When she regained her senses, she felt a deep sense of disappointment. Had it all been a dream?

June sat up and saw the snowglobe still lying on the ground. It was all in one peace now, and looked most ordinary. June frowned, then realized that the taste of that wondrous water from the stream still lingered in her mouth. A small smile crept over her face as she realized that she now had a secret–a neverending mystery–that would be hers to solve forever.


Michelle Su, 13
Sudbury, MA

The Marvelous Marty

Michelle Su

The Marvelous Marty was a magician—and he was a renowned one, at that. He truly possessed the powers to manipulate time and space with his magic, and his acts were like no other than the viewers had ever seen, according to the show reviews, at least.

Of course, it was a surprise to many when The Marvelous Marty announced that his next show would be his last.

“But why?” a supporter asked. “Why are you quitting?”

“You are the best magician in the world!” another supporter joined in. “Please continue.”

He only bowed his head, and without looking at any of the people or the paparazzi surrounding him, he walked back to his home.

When The Marvelous Marty appeared on the stage of his last show the next morning, the room was quiet and filled with unspoken sadness and confusion.

Forcing a smile and tapping the microphone, The Marvelous Marty opened his mouth to speak, “As you all might know, this show is my last,”

The audience stayed silent, their eyes wide and their ears perked up to listen.

“I want to continue. I do, really. But the truth is that I am losing my magic.”

A few scattered gasps filled the room, but most of the people were too shocked to voice their feelings.

“Yes, I’m losing my magic.”

Before the audience could react further, The Marvelous Marty summoned a rabbit from his hat. He let it hop around the stage, before putting it back in. Then, he cast a spell on the rabbit, almost freezing it in time. A carrot suddenly appeared before the animal, as if unfreezing it from its trance.

The rabbit blinked once more and nibbled on the tip of the carrot as the audience laughed in surprise. But as they turned their attention back to The Marvelous Marty, he was gone. He had disappeared from the stage without leaving a trace.

The Marvelous Marty never reappeared on the stage, and it remains a puzzle to this day. His 50-year-old “missing” flyer is still posted at the bottom of the weekly newspaper.

Had the most famous magician of all time really “lost” his magic? Or, did he get lost in the depths of magic itself?


 

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