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New York

Beverly, abandoned by both her parents as a baby, at 13 befriends a raccoon named Bandit and sets out to find her father

I was born in 1950 and a few hours after I was born, my mom died—or so I was told. We were in Ketchum, Idaho. My name is Beverly Henderson. I am part Irish and the rest of me is all American. My father was disappointed when I was born because he wanted a boy.

He put me in an orphanage. I never saw him again, but I have small pictures of him in my head. He was handsome, with brown hair, brown eyes, and tan skin. His skin was so smooth that it made butter feel rough. I lived with him for three years.

At the orphanage, I went to a cheap school, and they fed us cold food, they had rats in the classroom, and I was one of the only girls. The only other girls were Lily and some other girl I never learned the name of. She was quiet as a mouse and graceful as a pigeon. Lily, however, was nice. She was 9 years old at the time. Lily lived with a poor family, and she had one brother, two sisters, and her mom was pregnant with one more.

At the time I was about 10, and I was the smartest in school. Everyone was dumb, and they never really tried to do anything. Lily was the only person who would eat the cold lunch with me, and she was the second smartest person in the school.

I can still remember the day when I set a trap for a rat. Everyone always had some weird junk in their pockets, so I always took it from them. Half the stuff was useless, but the other half helped me build the trap. I built a cage with sticks, a little plate, and a piece of glass. When the rat stepped on the plate, the door closed tightly, leaving the rat stuck in the cage. I used some of my cold lunch as bait and part of a box for the door. The teacher made a bet with me for $3.50. Back then, this was enough to buy a full meal. I set the trap and prayed that I would catch something. I went back to the orphanage and prayed more. I had dinner with the nice lady who worked there, and she gave me a bowl of warm chicken soup.

I went to bed and had a dream that the teacher gave me $10. It was an amazing dream. I bought loads of candy and a violin. I tried playing violin, and it was bad. I’d thought it would be cool. I woke up after I ran into a wall in the dream. In real life, a book fell on my face. The bookshelf above my bed was wobbly.

My roommates avoided me whenever they could. I went to school eager to see the trap, and when I walked into the classroom, which smelled like mold and sadness, a huge furry animal stared at me. I don’t remember exactly what my teacher said, but he was upset when he gave me the money. We put the rat in the woods, and I put my money in my pocket. I needed something to put my money in, so I used a can from the garbage. Lily came to school late, and she told me she wasn’t allowed to go to school anymore. She was moving to California. Her mother and father thought there was more for them there. I was devastated. I had only gone to school with her for a week, but she meant a lot to me.

The next day, Thursday, March 16, 1961, I was late for class. Lily leaving had affected me. I woke up late and when I got there, our school had burned to the ground. I went back to the orphanage and tried to study math by myself. That same day, I went outside to look at the school that had taught me and given me $3.50 and my first friend.

When I was finished reflecting, I went back and saw the orphanage burning to the ground. It collapsed before my eyes. My whole world was falling apart, literally, and I needed something, somewhere to go. My money had been in there along with all my belongings. They were all destroyed. I searched in the ruins and found an animal. It was a small raccoon. Its back left leg was stuck under a piece of a burned-up bed. The small raccoon looked into my eyes, and I let it go. I fed it some raw fish from the trash can of a restaurant, and he loved it. He stayed near me, even when I walked into town.

Since then, adults have taken me to different orphanages, but I have escaped from every single one. I could never imagine living in another orphanage after what happened to the one I lived in. The raccoon usually helped me escape, by stealing the keys, pooping in the owner’s bed to distract them, pretending to have rabies, you name it. I named him Bandit because he was always stealing things and the little mask on his eyes made him look like one. Over the months, he found money for me to pay for food and clothing. We did everything together.

When I first found Bandit, he was the size of my hand. He had since grown to be the size of two basketballs. His tail was big and fluffy, and when I touched it, I thought of a pillow with feathers on the inside and sandpaper on the outside. Bandit was sweet. He would curl up to me in my sleeping bag, he would protect me from other people, and I would protect him from getting stepped on.

The months went by, and I had a problem. I found a familiar man. He was walking into a fancy restaurant with a fancy woman. She was dressed like a rich person, and he was dressed like a rich person. He looked just like my father. I am positive it was him—nobody else’s skin was that tan and smooth, nobody else’s mustache was that perfect, nobody else was that . . . way . . .

The months went by, and I had a problem. I found a familiar man . . . He looked just like my father.

He ate lunch with her, and Bandit stole her keys. I congratulated him and put them on the floor next to her. The outdoor table was lit with one candle in the center of the table. I watched them from another table, and they seemed to be talking about a wedding. My father was wearing a ring and so was she. I left the restaurant, and my father saw me. He saw a raccoon following me and ran after me.

“Miss! There’s an animal following you!” He yelled in those exact words. He threw a fork at Bandit, and Bandit jumped up and down screaming at the fork. I picked him up and ran away. Many people saw me and were talking about stuff I didn’t hear. I walked with Bandit for about two minutes until I put him down and we sat on the floor for five minutes until I saw a big truck that said “Animal Control” on the side. A man got out, shut the door, and grabbed a long stick with a loop of wire at the end. He wrapped it around Bandit’s neck and Bandit screamed like he did before.

I started yelling, “Let him go! Let him go! He’s mine!”

The man kept pulling him and pushed me away and said, “Stay back miss, these wild animals are vicious, and they will bite, so stay back.” He glared at me and was choking Bandit. I grabbed his arm and yanked him onto the floor. I took Bandit as the man rolled on the floor, trying to catch his breath. I ran away holding Bandit and hid in an alley behind a dumpster. Bandit was wheezing but I kept him quiet. The man got back in the truck and left holding his fingers and with a bloody lip.

I walked with Bandit to . . . well, I don’t know where I was trying to go, but I got to a beautiful place. There was a small pond in the middle and there were about six floors of incredibly crafted rooms. I remember every detail of the statues that lined the outside of the roof. Each lion statue was roaring and had a luscious mane that looked as if you could brush it and it would move. I shoved Bandit into my shirt, and I walked up to the man at the front desk. He was reading a newspaper about a girl who stole a raccoon and ran off, but also about how she broke a man’s fingers. I was in the papers. They wanted me for theft and assault. Wow, a 13-year-old girl wanted for protecting an animal . . .

Bandit stayed still in my shirt and made me look fatter. I walked up to the man, and he immediately put down the paper and said, “Hello, ma’am, what kind of room would you like to have?”

I responded, “Well . . . what rooms are available?” The man obviously knew I was a child but was desperate for some customers.

“All the rooms are available! We have absolutely no customers!” He exclaimed with joy. I was confused about why he was happy, but it put me in a better mood. “Wait, never mind, there is one suite that is not available. Someone booked it online, and they are paying a high price for it. Our rooms are usually free, but he really wants this.” The man talked a lot and I wondered how he kept thinking of things to say. I don’t remember what he said next, but it was something about why a fire truck is red. Then he said, “Sorry about that. As you can see, I am a bit long-winded and my name is Jerald, but please call me Jerald.” Again, I was more confused. He had now been talking to me for about five minutes, and Bandit was beginning to squirm. I interrupted Jerald and told him to lead me to a room.

“Um . . . sorry to interrupt, but will you please show me to a room?”

“Of course. That is my job, after all.” One second passed. “So, the room I am thinking of is one of our three master suites. It has a spiral staircase, some bookshelves, two large beds, two kitchens, an office, and a hot tub.” As we went up the elevator, he had not one question about the huge lump in my shirt. He could just jibber jabber till the cows came home.

Sadly, Jerald is not with us anymore. I would love to just hear him talk again. I used to think that he was annoying, but now I see what a wonderful person he was. He left this world to save me.

Anyway, back to the story: he took me up to a suite with all the stuff he talked about. At the same time, I felt Bandit’s claws digging into my stomach. We had arrived at the suite, and it was the best thing I had ever seen at the time. As soon as I walked in, there was a very big couch with a TV. To the right, there was a fireplace and a desk with a phone and the room service menu. The ceiling was about 50 feet up, and the staircase, which was like a spiral of ebony wood, led to three doors. The room to the right had a kitchen, the one in the middle had a couch, a TV, and a large bed. The room to the left had a very big bed and a big bathroom. Downstairs, there was a big library and an office. In another small hallway, there was a kitchen and a dining room. There was more in this free hotel room than in any other place I had been. Jerald had left, and Bandit started curling up on a pillow. I patted his back and lay on the couch. It was so comfortable, I fell asleep almost instantly.

I dreamt of my father sitting on a blanket in the park having a picnic with me. He had a small mustache with a single grey hair, and he was wearing beige cargo shorts. I felt his hand on my shoulder and opened my eyes. Bandit was hiding under the kitchen table, and I just lay there, wanting to have the dream again. His hand was still there, I thought I was crazy, but his hand was still on my shoulder. I looked over the back of the couch, and there he was, his grin warmer than ever. There is no way to express my feelings at that time. My eyes filled with tears, and he began to become a blur of colors.

“Pinch me,” I whispered in a shaky voice.

He said, “It’s me.” A tear trickled down my tense face. “I’m sorry for leaving you.” I instantly jumped up and hugged him to death. He was here! My father, whom I hadn’t seen in 10 years, was hugging me.

To most, or to you, this might be strange, and you are maybe about to stop reading this story, but imagine your father coming home after 10 years. You only have small pictures in your head of your father. Imagine your only home burning to the ground. Imagine your only friend being taken away from you. Imagine you are an orphan, and you have nowhere to go, and no place to call home. For me, life was a struggle at 13. Fourteen to 26 were no better.

My father and I had dinner. I introduced him to Bandit. Bandit smirked at him, and I tried to keep them apart. Then we turned on the TV and fell asleep on the couch. I woke up in the middle of the night. Bandit was in the kitchen fiddling with the stove. I got up, careful not to wake up my father and watched Bandit while hiding. He seemed to be turning on the stove and had a pile of clothes next to him. He grabbed a worn-out T-shirt and dropped it on top of the orange flame. I gasped. He looked over his shoulder and saw me.

“Ummmm . . . Hi?” I said.

He hissed and showed his white pearly teeth. He pushed a button on the microwave and jumped out the window. I turned off the stove and followed him. I ran to the elevator and pushed “L.” I saw him run away, and I saw Jerald sleeping on a pullout bed. I ran to Bandit and on my way out, I pulled the fire alarm.

*          *          *

Meanwhile, there was a bomb in the microwave, and it would go off in 50 seconds. The T-shirt that Bandit had set aflame was lighting a rug on fire, then the curtains. Beverly’s father got off the couch, put his slippers on, and slowly walked down the many stairs. He thought this was just a drill. He didn’t see the fire spreading across the hotel. Beverly glanced back to the hotel and saw the curtains on fire. She stopped and ran back to the hotel. Ten seconds later, Beverly saw Jerald sleeping, and she slapped him in the face and told him to leave. Jerald saw the building coming down, and he pushed Beverly out of the lobby. The building fell, squashing Jerald. A tear fell from Beverly’s face as she tried to accept the fact that Jerald was gone forever, and he had just saved her life.

*          *          *

Beverly then remembered her father. “Father! Father! Are you ok! Father! Dad!” she yelled. The pauses between each word got longer. Beverly’s voice started to crack as she stared at the hotel. “Da-dd-y!” She ran around the building and saw her father on the ground, covered in ashes and with scratches all over his face. Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse, she saw a burst of flame come toward her, and everything went black . . .

*          *          *

Everything went black. I didn’t know where I was. All I could remember was Bandit blowing up Jerald and my father. I heard sirens and voices. A man’s voice, a woman’s voice, a crying baby, and everything got less and less real. Everything got darker and darker, even though everything was already black. I tried to wake up, but my eyes wouldn’t open, my body wouldn’t move. It stayed that way for what felt like an eternity. Occasionally, there would be a voice, but there was constantly a beeping sound. I couldn’t breathe, but I was alive anyway. All the things around me were calm. Nothing had been “calm” in my life. There had always been some energy and some drama happening. Not here. I was still as a rock and there was no Bandit, no dad, no mom, no help. Why me? I tried to figure that out for the entire time of the blackness.

*          *          *

One random time, my eyes popped open, and I felt more alive than ever. I was ready to go kill Bandit, but I was in a very weird room. I was dressed in a weird sort of white gown with blue dots. My arms felt like twigs, and my left leg felt like nothing. My right leg had also felt like a twig. I ripped the blankets off and ripped off these tubes and wires that were all attached to me. I took one step on the floor and fell. I looked at my left foot and saw nothing. There was no foot. Just a stub with rough skin covering it. A strange man came and as soon as he saw me on the floor, he picked up this thing and talked into it. I couldn’t hear him. There was no voice: he just mouthed some words into a black object with an antenna popping out of it. About four doctors came in and helped me up. I was so confused. I couldn’t hear anything.

Just when she thought things couldn’t get worse; she saw a burst of flame come toward her, and everything went black . . .

I hoped this was a dream. Everything had fallen apart. Literally and figuratively. Bandit had betrayed me, my father was blown up, I lost a foot, I was now deaf, and the only homes in my life had gone up in flames.

The man in a white coat was talking but I couldn’t hear him. I tried saying, “I can’t hear you.” I said it but I didn’t hear it. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I yelled at the man. He looked at a woman dressed the same as him with a worried face. They took out a strange small white, shiny board thing. Then another person came and brought him a black marker. He wrote on the board.

“Hello. My name is Dr. Brown. You were sitting next to a bomb when it went off. You are lucky to be alive.” He let me read it, then he wrote more. “You have lost your left foot. You also appear to have your hearing temporarily blown out.” He erased it again and wrote, “You were also in a coma for 13 years.” As soon as I read the last four words, I was shocked. Thirteen years. Sleeping for 13 years.

I took the board and wrote, “How old am I? What year is it?” in shaky handwriting.

“You were 13 when you went into the coma, so you were in the coma for 13 years. You are 26 years old. The current year is 1976. You are also an orphan. Your mother died last week.”

When he wrote that my mother died last week, I screamed. Bandit had put me in a coma, and my only chance to see my mom was gone.

He erased the board and wrote, “She came in here to see you, and she did a blood test, and you are her daughter. She was also very rich. She had a will and it said that you and your sister will inherit everything.”

Jamison Freis
Jamison Freis, 12
Thousand Oaks, CA

Destan Cevher
Destan Cevher, 7
New York, NY