by PurpleCrow, 8th
The cracked, vinyl seats gave Bran a sense of displeasure as he fidgeted uncomfortably, trying his best to see out of the fly-splattered window. Bran figured there wasn’t much of a view anyways. He looked around the rundown, moldy old bus and gave a sigh of boredom. He wished he could have brought some books to read, but firemen aren’t allowed to entertain themselves, Bran sighed. Not on such a serious mission. The previously bored firemen immediately sobered at the thought of the now deceased continent waiting for the five firemen and their driver to investigate, trying to figure out what happened. The whole world is holding their breath, Bran realized. They’re all depending on us...on me. Isn’t that what you always wanted? Bran suddenly felt a nervous, buzzing feeling in his throat, and abruptly recognized that the bus had stopped, and the sick feeling that he had sensed while the bus scrambled up and over rocks was suddenly replaced with a queasy sense of foreboding, as he and the other sweaty, middle-aged men unsteadily walked along the aisle and tottered down the the three steps off the bus.
Maybe a break will clear my mind, Bran thought gratefully, as he stepped into the freezing air. Though considering the cold weather, he and the others preferred to stay outside, thankful for a chance to tear away from the smell of sweltering men, warmed by the dusty vent in the ceiling of their rickety bus. Despite that, after spending a few minutes wandering around the dull grounds, looking for a spot to chow down, they instead all ended up on a small bench huddled together with their sandwiches squashed between them. Bran took this moment to look around at their rest stop before they continued on their way. They were supposedly at an abandoned oil company, according to the flaking red letters printed on the side of the huge gray building. Bran let his mind wander as he munched on a piece of avocado that had fallen out of his turkey sandwich onto his lap. He wondered vaguely if this place would become a tourist spot after the mission had been accomplished. Perhaps they’ll have a sign that says ‘Bran sat here and ate a turkey sandwich.’ With an amused expression on his face, Bran looked down at his left and imagined a red bold arrow pointing to him, the color matching to the deteriorating oil company sign, probably gone by the time they were finished with the mission. The mission, Bran thought. Suddenly the feeling he had felt half an hour ago came back. Bran remembered when he had first heard about what had happened. It was two years ago…
⧫ ⧫ ⧫
Bran slammed the front door and took off his jacket welcoming the warmth of the fire, and was about to call out “I’m home!” When a small ball of pink and purple came whizzing down the hallway hit him in the stomach with a “Daddy!” and a huge hug. Bran smiled and lifted her up, swung her around, then kissed her on the nose. “Hello, sweetie!” The little girl waited patiently as her father undid his shoes, then took his finger determinedly into her tiny fist and led him into the living room, sat him down, and jumped onto his lap, bouncing up and down. “Daddy, Daddy!” The little girl yelled,“Iz time for yer sick o cock news!”
“Mm-hm,” Bran replied, sliding her off his knee. “But first I have to say hello to yer mummy!” Growling ferociously, he tickled her in the stomach, and she giggled uncontrollably until she managed to get out of his grasp.
“Hey sweetie!” He said as he entered the kitchen to the smell of pot roast, and the sight of his beautiful wife. “How are you?”
Delilah returned him a quick kiss on the cheek, and then ran over to the oven as a timer went off. “A bit tired, but I’m glad it’s a Friday” She smiled, leaning over the oven with a mitt, her reddish brown hair tumbling over her freckled face. “I don’t know if you noticed, but Marigold has got a slight cold, so I kept her home from kindergarten today... she sure seems fine now!” Delilah laughed her tinkly laugh, looking over at their daughter chasing the dog. Bran entered the living room as Marigold caught their dog’s tail, laughing hysterically as the dog tried to get away. “Stop torturing the dog!” Bran exclaimed, sinking into the huge armchair in front of the television. Groaning, Bran stretched his tired muscles, then reached over for the remote, directing it towards the T.V.
“We have very devastating news today, one of a kind, really.” The Australian woman on the T.V. attempted to form her plastic like face into a concerned expression. “According to Danny here, who carries cargo from Europe over to North America, on airplanes, he says, that when he got there, no one was at the landing spot to take the cargo! He thought that was a bit odd, so he investigated a bit. No-one was there!” a picture showed up on the screen, a picture taken from an airplane, that showed the golden gate bridge, with no cars. A pathology department at a hospital, with no workers. A theater with no line. The pictures continued, as the reporter’s voice became a dull sound in the background. Bran watched in a daze. A little voice in the back of his head told him it was fake news, but no matter how hard he tried to shake away the feeling, Bran’s instinct told him they were telling the truth. The feeling grew as he flipped through other channels, each showing the same photos. And here I thought global warming was dangerous, he thought, and with a resigned sigh, he reached over to his right and grabbed a book he had been reading for his college literature class.
One year later…
“So I hear you’re a detective fireman, eh?” The man blew a smoke ring in Bran’s direction. Bran fought the urge to cough. He succeeded on clearing his throat instead. “Yes sir.”
“No need to call me sir, young man. My name is Richard Price, but you can call me Rick.” Rick winked at Bran, then had a coughing fit over by the window. “Anyhow! Down to business, I suppose…”The man sighed ‘Or would you like some coffee first? It is a bit early.” Bran glanced over at the coffee machine, which emit a foul odor and had a spot of something green on the top. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“Of course, of course,” Mr.Price said, knocking over his mug on the way out the door. Bran looked around, unsure whether to follow him or not, then hurried after.
⧫ ⧫ ⧫
The bus went over a big bump in the road, almost knocking Bran from his perch on the edge of his seat. As they stopped, Bran looked around at the vast wasteland, unused after two whole years. Bran watched the others slowly file out before he got up and joined them. He knew the rules. Everyone is to keep their walkie-talkies with them at all times, and if they were to discover something out of place, to notify the others their location immediately. As they went over the rules one more time, Bran noted that the animals hadn’t disappeared, as a rat scurried by. They had all had many vaccines beforehand, as to not catch any plague the bugs and animals would be carrying around. Bran at the time was distasteful towards this decision, as his mother had raised him to be connected to nature, and not deal with with “all that fake crap those so called doctors stick in you to get money”. Bran was now very grateful he hadn’t heeded her advice for once, as he stepped carefully around a beat up rat about the size of a chihuahua coughing up blood. A second later it was dead.
Bran continued to wander, looking in different houses and peeking through the windows of hospitals. The last thing Bran would do is show his fear, but inside, he wanted to run screaming back home to Ireland, and have his memory erased. When he was little, he had a reoccurring dream. His father had just shown him The Twilight Zone, a series of episodes recording strange phenomenons and encounters that didn’t have any real meaning. Most kids his age were afraid of the dark, or ‘the monster under their bed’ and such, but not Bran. No, Bran wasn’t afraid of these things. The first episode in The Twilight Zone was a man who had gone delirious because he was the last person on earth. In the end, he found out that it was just a mental test. Bran, in his nightmare, would dream the same dream. Except he would never get to the end, where the guy finds out the whole thing is just fake. He would keep wandering, until he almost died from madness. Bran shook his head. Don’t be ridiculous, he thought to himself. There are still people back home, it’s just in North America, not the whole world.
He had just walked out of a hospital when he noticed a little shack that defined itself against the towering buildings surrounding it. He curiosity got the best of him, and he walked towards it. He approached the half torn off door and stepped inside. He was observing the rusty teapot on the blackened stove when he heard a rustling noise in the other room. Bran stiffened, then, softening his steps, he peeked around the cracked doorway. First, seeing a bed, but nothing suspicious, he started to relax. But as he started forward, his heart started pounding so loudly he thought that the girl standing there would hear it. A young, teenage girl stood there with her back to him, her matted hair sticking to her scalp. She was wearing a tattered, what might have once been a beautiful, white dress, grayed from dirt and grime. She was holding a piece of paper and looking down at it in a wistful way. Bran fingered his walkie-talkie nervously, then picked it up, preparing to press the little red button. He started moving slowly out of the doorway, unknown to the small marble that had made its way underneath his foot. He fell slowly, not even aware of the girl turning around, not aware of her looking down on him until she was there. He looked up at her, examining her face that was so young, but with eyes that were so old.
“I’m sorry,” she exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks. “I didn’t-I didn’t mean to do it-I didn’t want to, I swear!” She started advancing on him “ I knew it would be bad, I knew it wasn’t right, but I had to!”
At this point she was a foot away from Bran, and he wasn’t quite sure whether to be scared or concerned.
“What did you do?”
But Bran’s words were lost, and the young girl didn't seem to hear his question.
“And now I have to do it to you-and your friends.” As she got closer, she also became calmer.
“I’m sorry…. I’m sorry.”
by Daisy A., 11th
In World War I, veterans who fought bravely in the war came back to America only to discover that they couldn’t find employment nor could they afford to pursue their education. The social and economic aspects of their lives took a toll on them due to a lack of resources in combination with the effects of the Great Depression. World War I veterans received little to no compensation for their service, and “the return of millions of veterans from World War II gave Congress a chance at redemption” (US Department of Veterans Affairs). The G.I. bill otherwise known as the Service Readjustment Act is “a piece of sweeping legislation aimed at helping World War II veterans [ . . . ] prosper after the war” that was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 (Blakemore). This bill was proposed to address the unjust circumstances veterans faced after serving in the military and to “help veterans assimilate into civilian life.” Although its intentions were good, the G.I. Bill was ultimately more harmful than helpful once enacted because it perpetuated racist ideals and was overall ineffective.
The policy was helpful in that it helped millions of veterans assimilate to civilian life. According to the article Born of Controversy: The G.I. Bill of Rights which was published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the G.I. Bill “backed nearly 2.4 million home loans for World War II veterans. The bill helped White Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years.” This shows the G.I. Bill allowed veterans to prosper financially, giving them the financial resources to assimilate to civilian life. The G.I. Bill also allowed veterans to successfully pursue an education as shown through the data collected which indicates, “in the peak year of 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions. By the time the original G.I. Bill ended on July 25, 1956, 7.8 million of 16 million World War II veterans had participated in an education or training program” (US Department of Veterans Affairs). This indicates the program was successful in helping veterans prosper educationally which benefited them since a higher education tends to yield a financially stable life. The G.I. Bill was able to provide millions of veterans with a financially stable life, compensating for the time they spent in the war, unlike the poorer circumstances returning veterans faced in World War I.
The G.I. Bill was harmful in that it provided no resources to Black men, and instead worsened their social and economic standing in society. Black veterans were disproportionately denied access to resources that the G.I. Bill provided White veterans. According to the article How the G.I. Bill's Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans written by Erin Blakemore, “Though the bill helped White Americans prosper and accumulate wealth in the postwar years, it didn’t deliver on that promise for veterans of color.” The bill “did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, [however,] it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million black veterans”(Blakemore). In order to access the benefits the G.I. Bill gave, honorable discharge was required, and since Black veterans weren’t awarded honorable discharge, they couldn’t access these benefits. “Veterans who did qualify could not find facilities that delivered on the bill’s promise [and] simple intimidation kept others from enjoying G.I. Bill benefits” (Blakemore). The inability of veterans of color to access the G.I. Bill benefits “help[ed] drive growing gaps in wealth, education and civil rights between white and black Americans” (Blakemore). The G.I. Bill, which was supposed to address the injustice that occurred in World War I, created another injustice, one that highlighted the racial inequalities in America and perpetuated those racist ideals; in other words, it legalized racism.
I think the G.I. Bill was ultimately more harmful than helpful because it exacerbated the existing racism in the US and didn’t prove to be as effective as some would like us to think. The G.I. Bill discriminated against Black veterans, so they couldn’t receive the benefits that were advertised. This government issued policy contributed to the racially polarized environment in the US whose effects can still be seen to this day. Although the dominant narrative is that the US has become more racially progressive, matters such as police brutality demonstrate this is not the full story. White police officers kill black males and are not punished. This is an example of how the government systems prioritize White needs over black needs, just as they did in the G.I. Bill. Not only did the G.I. Bill perpetuate racism, it was also ineffective to White veterans. According to the article Homeless Veterans Living with PTSD written by Amy Morin, “the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless [because] many of these veterans with PTSD didn't receive adequate treatment to help them deal with the traumatic events they witnessed in the military.”
The lack of adequate treatment caused veterans to struggle to maintain jobs, rendering the G.I. Bill’s efforts to provide veterans with financial stability useless. While the G.I. Bill may have worked to provide White veterans with financial and educational resources, it failed to address the root problem to why they struggled readjusting to civilian life which was trauma. Veterans experience a lot of trauma and it doesn’t matter how much money or education they receive; if they are struggling to cope with their trauma, the education and money they received from the G.I. Bill will not help them at all. The G.I. Bill proved to be ineffective and rather than helping veterans, it divided them amongst race. It didn’t benefit either group since it didn’t address the root issue both groups had which was trauma; therefore, it was more harmful than helpful. Regardless of its failure, this policy can serve as an example of how drafting federal legislation requires policymakers to consider how the policy will impact everyone, whether everyone will have access to it, and if the policy is addressing the root problem.
by Random, 8th
The family was sitting at the dinner table quietly, Beverly was nervous to confront her father of his unjust rules. You see, Beverly’s father had a set of rules, he had the basics like do your chores, go to sleep at 10:00, eat all your food, etc. But her father also had a set of rules that were quite unusual, for instance, no going outside at all, don’t converse with strangers whatsoever, and no watching television or looking out of windows. Sadly because of these rules Beverly had never set a foot outside because her father said there were dangerous animals, the only friend Beverly had was her father because he was the only other person in the house, and she had never had a clue what the outside world was like because her windows were painted black, and she had no TV because her dad said knowing about the outside world would lead her to insanity. All of these rules were set because Beverly had lost her mother at a very young age, Beverly was the only family her father had left. He did not want to lose her, not unless she lost him first. Beverly knew how selfish this was and for that very reason, she was preparing to confront her father as he quietly ate his soup. As her father was about to take a spoonful of his soup Beverly slammed her hand on the table surface. Her hand stung a bit from the sudden interaction but she ignored it. As expected Beverly's father looked up at his daughter with shock.
“What is the meaning of this?” He asked with concern in his voice.
“I am tired of your nonsense!” Beverly answered
“Your rules! They are stupid and because of them I have never met another human in my life!” Beverly’s voice cracked and she had tears threatening to spill over her eyes.
Beverly’s father could see the rage in her face and the hurt in her voice. Although he felt bad for his daughter it did not matter to him, he thought it was best for her.
“I do not care about how you feel about my rules, I have rules for a reason.” He said calmly to his daughter. Beverly could not believe what she was hearing, all this time she thought she was her father’s friend but now she could see that she was his prisoner. Beverly ran to her room without saying another word to her father, she didn’t even want to look at him. He did not run after her, he didn’t care he just continued to eat his dinner.
In her room Beverly laid on the bed crying into her mattress’s sheets, staining them with her tears. She dragged her body off her bed and positioned herself to sit in front of her mirror, what she saw scared her. She saw a girl with short curly hair and red puffy eyes. Beverly knew what she was feeling, she was feeling sad, angry, and frustrated and yet her face did not replicate that. Her face showed no expression at all, she knew that that was dangerous. She knew that she could not continue to live the way she was living, she had to leave. So that was what she did. Beverly grabbed two backpacks from her closet and shoved as many clothes as she could in both bags. As she did this she kept a close watch on the door and listened to the noises around her, she didn’t want her dad to walk in and stop her from leaving. When she was done packing, she put the backpacks under her bed and waited until midnight to leave. Beverly slid into bed and turned her body away from the door. She watched as the minutes on her alarm clock changed until finally, she read twelve from the bright green numbers. Beverly quietly slipped out of her bed and grabbed the bags she had hid from under her bed.
Beverly had no windows in her room so she had to sneak into the living room. She tried her best to quietly tiptoe into the living room, but the old floorboards of her house creaked beneath her feet causing her to cringe. When she finally made her way to the window she carefully slid her hands on the windows handle. She had to use most of her strength to open the window that had never let her see the light of day not once in her life. As the window slowly opened, old black paint that had surfaced at the bottom of the window sill had fallen to Beverly’s feet. The more Beverly opened the window, the more fresh air had found its way to Beverly’s lungs. When the window was finally opened a quarter of the way Beverly tossed her backpack outside. But as she did this she heard a noise come from her father’s room, not long after, that the light of his room turned on.
Beverly tried her best to open the window a little more for her to go through as she panicked. Once the window was open enough for her to slide through she began to crawl through the window. She grabbed on to the other side of the window to help her, she could hear her father yawn from his room as he opened the door. Beverly had fallen onto the cold and moist dirt with scattered leaves as her father entered the hallway. When he felt the cold air on his arms he immediately looked to the direction in which it was coming from. His eyes widened to the size of tennis balls when he saw his daughter outside in the world he had been “protecting” her from. Beverly quickly grabbed her backpack and ran the opposite direction of the house as she saw her dad rush to the door. She ran and tried her best to process what she was doing, she tried to process the fact that she had run away from the home she had not been outside in years.
She tried to process the fact that she was outside, that she was running on dirt as twigs snapped beneath her feet. Beverly was so consumed by the many thoughts racing through her head that she didn’t notice she was running in the direction of a hill. She tripped on a root that had grown above ground and tumbled down the steep surface. When she came to a stop, she noticed the many cuts and forming bruises throughout her body. She even managed to rip her jeans above both her knee caps, there was blood that stained the surrounding area. Beverly looked up to see where she was, she saw a road in the middle of many, MANY trees. The road was straight and empty, it continued as far as Beverly’s eyes could see and beyond. She debated whether she should go left or right but she was overwhelmed with all the different emotions filling her body. She decided to sit down and let her sadness and anger consume her. Beverly cried for hours she was afraid, she knew she couldn’t go back home but she had not one clue what the outside world was like nor did she know where to go.
When Beverly found that she had no more tears left to pour from her eyes she got up from the tree she had been sitting on and once again looked out onto the road. Her gut told her to go right, but she went left instead. She must have been walking for hours because her eyes became heavy and her legs grew an ache. She was about to go to sleep by a nearby tree when suddenly she saw two bright lights. Beverly had read about things like these in the books she kept at home, she recognized it as a car. She moved to the side of the road as the car came to a stop in front of her. The window of the vehicle was rolled down and Beverly saw there was a woman in the driver's seat. The woman had a warm smile and kind eyes.
“Hi sweetie, what are you doing in the middle of the road all on your own?” She asked with the smile still on her face.
“I um - I,” Beverly stumbled over her words as she thought of what she was going to say. She knew she couldn’t tell a stranger the truth.
“It’s ok, do you need a ride into the city?” When the woman said these words Beverly figured that she could find someplace to stay in the city. It couldn’t be that hard, could it? She simply nodded at the as an answer.
“Well then hop in,” the woman said as she nudged at the passenger seat. Beverly walked around the car and opened the door to the passenger seat, she climbed into the chair and closed the door. The woman started to drive down the road as Beverly bounced in her seat, after all, she had never been in a car before.
“I’m Silvia by the way,” the woman said to Beverly.
“Nice to meet you Silvia, I’m Beverly,” she said.
“That’s a nice name.”
“Thank you,” Beverly said with a small voice, this was the most conversation she had ever had with anyone. She slowly drifted into sleep using the seatbelt to support her head. The two girls rode off into the city, but neither knew that the other had hopes to start their new life there. Neither knew that they were just two misfits who had been wronged by the people they loved, two people who would grow to care for each other and create an unbreakable bond.
by I'm Good, 8th
I have dimples
But I always forget to smile
I can read music
But can’t play it
I know a lot of words
But can’t put them in the right order
I love the stories in video games
But can’t get through them without giving up
I have full lips
But no one wants to kiss me
I wear lots of black
But eyeliner makes me uncomfortable
I can speak loudly
But I don’t know what people want me to say
I dream of stories
But can never make them come to life
I want friends
But people are bored by me
I have curls
But no patience to brush them
I get good grades
But give up sanity for them
I love history
But can never remember the dates things happened
I have a family
But I can’t always connect to them
I am half a person
A setup without the punchline
I know I’m lucky to have what I do
But why couldn’t I have
two halves of a soul?
by Teen, 11th
The usually bright walls of Montgomery High School seemed more sad than usual. In Grace's eyes, the pictures hanging up were barely hanging on, like she was. Her red and puffy eyes were slightly hidden by her long straight hair, hanging in front of her face. Everything just seemed to be going wrong. The bell rang, followed quickly by the emergence of hundreds of lively kids running into the hallways. Yet no one noticed Grace. This was not an uncommon occurrence. A tall guy looks down at her, yet passes quickly, seeming to forget the timeless romance he once shared with her. It was all of two hours ago that he ended it, leaving Grace all alone. That relationship had cost her all of her close friends, and now she no longer had the guy she loved. Not even her teachers could care at all about her. Despite her grades dropping from A's to C's and D's, her motivation was not questioned. They just didn't care enough to talk to her about it. The hallway seemed to close in on Grace as she moved to her classroom, each step suffocating her until she was unable to move, talk, yell for help, or breathe. She thought, "If I died right here, no one would care. The school would just be worried that there could be a bloodstain on the floor." The stream of tears refused to stop flooding from her eyes as she saw the classroom door. She stopped for a second, wiping her wet cheeks. Entering the room, she could hear the whispers. As she approached her desk, the one located in the back right corner by the window, she couldn't help but sob. She looked him right in the eyes, Max, who had hurt her more than anyone else in the world. His desk was right next to hers because he had wanted to sit with her, "forever" he told her. While her eyes were locked in his, the pain from her cut in the bathroom overcame Grace. She fell. He screamed. The blood stained the floor.
note from writer: "All of my writing is fiction, yet sometimes based on people’s experiences in my high school. Thanks for checking in, and I am feeling great at school."
by J.R. 8th
A soft ding rang as the elevator doors slid open, revealing a huddled group of five well-dressed young men. An older man wearing a navy suit jacket and a light-brown tie walked in and pressed the button for the fourth floor, then leaned into the corner adjacent to the crowd. His hair was a sharp, dark-brown hue, and he had a briefly grown mustache running along his upper lip like a caterpillar. The walls were made of glistening steel, reflecting the man and the group perfectly. One of the young men, a blonde with a cigarette dangling from his lips, turned to the newcomer and said, “Hey, sir - do you have a light? My friends here seem to have forgotten theirs.” He nudged one of the men with his elbow.
The older man dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out an old book of matches. “Sure, have at it.”
Looking pretty healthy for a smoker, he thought.
The blonde quickly snatched it and lit his cigarette. The reflection of the match’s flame filled the elevator with an orange-brown hue, only to die out when it was extinguished.
“Thank you, sir.”
He handed the matches back, but the older man said to keep it, and that it was no problem. But it was, for he was quickly sickened by the scent of the expanding smoke.
“I didn’t catch your name,” the blonde said.
“Oh, okay - nice to meet you, Hank.”
Hank leaned back into the wall, and the group began mumbling among themselves again.
For a moment the mumblings of the group ceased, and the elevator was silent. Only the soft taps of their shuffling feet and the puffing exhales of the blond young man could be heard.
As if to break this silence, the blonde turned to the older one and said, “Say, are you here for the interview? With Mr. Donner?” The whole group stared at the older man now, eyes bright with interest. Hank began fiddling with his fingers in his jacket pocket.
“Yes, I am. Do you know him?” He leaned to the side as he scratched at an itch on his back.
The blonde took another sucking puff of his cigarette. “Oh yes, we all do. We’re his... associates.”
“Anything I should know about him? You know, just for safe measure?”
The blonde turned to the group with a smirk, then back at the man.
“He’s an old bastard, that’s for sure - in his seventies, I think. He’s ruthless, so be careful.”
Another of the young men laughed and said, “Yeah, he’s a stickler.”
“He’s got bad bones, osteoporosis or something. Still kicking though,” the blonde mentioned.
The elevator dinged again and came to a stop, and the group moved towards the door.
“This is our floor - good luck with the interview,” the blonde said. Smoke still crawled through his lips as he walked out, floating upwards like a dead man’s spirit.
“Thanks, have a good one.” Hank said. They left, and he stood alone with the whir of the elevator.
He emerged on the next floor, into bustling sounds of an office - clicking typewriters, soft conversations, and the almost rhythmic thump of footsteps. Briefly he thought he heard a humming, maybe even a chanting from below, but he disregarded it. His feet squeaked against the tile floor as he walked out of the elevator and started through the hallway, toward the opening with a notice that stated “OFFICES OF PARACELSUS.” As he turned through it, a matrix of cubicles stretching to the edge of the building was revealed, and the bustling sounds he’d heard grew. Many people - hundreds, maybe - sat hunched over computers, typing wildly as others wound through the rows grasping papers and coffee mugs. At the end of the room a wall with a door and a thin window stood. He walked reluctantly towards this wall through the row of space that divided the cubicles.
The entire room seemed to emit a piney scent.
Like a car’s air freshener, he thought.
He searched for the source of the smell as he traversed the aisle and saw that each desk had a little green pine tree pinned to its side, almost uniformly positioned.
Nearly tripping on a box, he walked up to the desk where a small woman with bright red glasses sat typing. A bronze nameplate was perched on her desk stating SECRETARY.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Hank said. “I’m here to see Mr. Donner. Is he in?”
The woman kept typing, but peered up at him. “Are you here for the interview?” she asked.
“Yes, with Mr. Donner - I’m Hank Wareheim” The woman stopped typing now, and looked up at him with an open smile. “Have a seat Mr. Wareheim.” She watched as Hank went to sit at the small leather bench placed next to the door, then seemed to continue typing. Unbeknownst to Hank, she stared at him as he waited - peering through her glasses, tapping gibberish onto a blank document.
He sat restlessly, fiddling with his bag and checking his watch. He thought he’d been on time - if anything, a bit early. But it had to have been at least 10 minutes, and there was still no sign of Mr. Donner.
He got up and walked to the secretary, leaning in to match her height.
“Excuse me, ma’am? When will Mr. Donner be arriving? I’m a bit tight on time,” he said.
“Oh, he’s already here - over there, in his office.” She pointed to the window in the office’s wall. Inside a short old man stooped over his desk, holding a wrinkled paper and an empty glass.
“Well, is he ready for the interview?” Hank demanded, a bit flustered now.
“Whenever you are. Just go right on in, Mr. Wareheim.” Hank paused, looked at the window with an open mouth, then back to the secretary.
“Well what’ve I been waiting for? Was he ready all this time?” He waved his arms around in the air as he talked, but quickly placed them to his side with embarrassment.
“Just go on in, Mr. Wareheim. He’s waiting for you.” The woman repeated. She looked back down to her keyboard, clicked a few things, then began genuinely typing.
Hank let out a disgruntled growl, then walked to the office door and knocked. He waited for a second, then opened it. The short old man he’d seen through the window stood looming over his desk, sipping from a glass. The room smelled of pungent alcohol, with a slight hint of the air freshener from outside - his desk had a little tree pinned to its side, too. “Ah, you must be Mr. Wareheim,” the man said excitedly.
“You can call me Hank,” Hank said.
“It’s very nice to meet you then, Hank.” The man replied.
He gave Hank a firm hug, and a slap on the back. The bristles of hair on the man’s chin scratched against Hank’s cheek.
“Oh yes, It’s good to meet you, too, Mr. Donner. I’m here for the job you’re offering, the chemist?” Mr. Donner shuffled back to his desk and said, “Of course. You seem like prime material, you know.” He sat down with a thump and grabbed another glass from his desk.
“Sit down, Hank.” He carelessly pointed to the leather seat that sat across from him, spilling some of his drink. “Oh Jesus, look what I’ve done.” He rustled into his pockets and pulled out a red handkerchief, then wiped at the puddle of liquid. A brownish-red splotch was left in the wood of his desk, spreading corrosively. “Sorry about that, Hank. Anyways - what makes you think you’d like this role? It can be hard at times, even painful.”
“Well, I’ve always admired what you and Paracelsus do here. Pharmaceutics has always been a goal of mine - it saves lives, gives people what they need to go on. You’re really out to help people, and that’s something I’d like to be a part of,” Hank said.
Mr. Donner took another sip of his drink, and looked at Hank for a moment. “That’s very inspiring, Hank, and I like your attitude - but the recipients of our products demand a certain quality, and I need to ensure that standard is met with your role. Remind me of your academic background?”
“I spent three years at UC Davis earning my doctorate degree, then another four years at UCSF to get my Pharm.D.”
“Oh, very good, Hank.” Mr. Donner laid back in his chair, fiddling with his empty glass. “What was that like?”
“I really enjoy being at San Francisco. The things I’ve learned to do here are amazing, and the lessons are very interesting - and I love the city. I think I’ve really thrived.”
“That’s good to hear. I love it too - been here all my life.” Mr. Donner reached for a bottle from underneath his desk, clinking it down and opening it. “Say, can I get you anything to drink? I’ve got a lot to choose from.” He began pouring him a glass.
Mr. Donner pulled a small vial of red powder from his coat pocket and popped open its cap, then poured the substance into the glass. It very slowly diluted into the drink, changing its hue from a light-orange to a dark red.
“What’s that stuff?” Hank asked. Mr. Donner screwed the cap back on and placed it in his pocket.
“It’s one of our newest products, Hank. One of the things you’ll be helping to create. Would you like some?” He held out the glass to Hank, and the corners of his mouth curled up into a smile. “It’s really quite good for you. It makes you ever so young, and keeps you that way for as long as you like.” A swirl of inky red twisted around in the drink, cloudy and unappealing.
“I’d really rather not, Mr. Donner, I shouldn’t drink this early - I’ve got some things to deal with after this. But how does that work, if you don’t mind me asking?” Mr. Donner paused for a moment.
“I think you’d really enjoy it. After all, how can you be a part of this if you can’t even try the things we produce?” He shook the glass a little bit, swirling the drink around.
“Well, I don’t even know what it is. How does it do that, make you young?” Hank pressed.
Mr. Donner laughed, then perched his hand on his knee, still holding the glass. “I don’t know a thing or two about it myself, you’ll have to ask the boys down in the third floor - if you get the chance, that is. They’re the ones I’ve bugged about getting the stuff for myself. I just know it’s very sacred, very effective. Fixes up your bones, smooths your skin. It’s very important to my clients, and to me.” He swallowed the glass of liquid down in a single gulp, then grabbed the bottle and another vial. “I’m getting to be quite an old man. I’ll be eighty-eight by next month. It's been so long since I’ve had that thrill of youth - something I miss very much. But this stuff - and the other products we have - just gives me a chill, a spirit unlike any other. It’s beautiful.” The old man began looking off into the picture hung behind Hank’s head - a painting of an orchard, with an old Ford truck driving by. He seemed entranced by it, almost within it. But as Hank shuffled around in his chair, he quickly turned back to him.
“Are you sure you don’t want any for yourself? It comes straight from our best men.”
Hank’s knee began to restlessly bounce against the floor, and he turned to look through the window. “Well, if you truly insist. You make it sound so great, how could I not?” he said with a smile. He leaned in to Mr. Donner, and carefully held the glass.
“That’s it, good choice,” Mr. Donner muttered. His drink was poured, and Hank chugged it down, slapping the glass back onto the desk. He almost immediately began to cough, and he brought the back of his hand to his mouth.
“Oh, that tastes horrible. Why is it so salty?” he choked.
Mr. Donner chortled as he placed the vial back into his pocket. “It’s bad, isn’t it? You get used to it - maybe yours will be better. My people would be delighted to get a better flavor.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” Hank said. He ran his tongue along his teeth in an attempt to rid them of the taste.
Mr. Donner placed the bottle to the side, and pulled himself up straight in his chair.
“Well then, Hank - tell me a bit more about yourself. How have you been physically?”
“Physically?” Hank asked in confusion.
“Yes. Physically - you know, fitness-wise. Do you exercise regularly?”
“I suppose I’ve done well - I’ve passed all of my highschool fitness tests, and try to get exercise pretty frequently.”
“Good, very good. Any diseases?”
“Um, none that I know of right now. I hope I don’t have any.”
“Do you have a family history of diseases?”
Hank looked at Mr. Donner with discomfort. “With all due respect, how is that important?” Hank said.
Mr. Donner leaned toward him a bit. “I don’t want you to contaminate the product, Hank. It may seem strange right now, but you’ll understand soon enough. A lot depends on this.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Hank said.
“Just answer the question, Hank. If you want this, you’ll answer it.”
Hank began to smell something putrid, but only very briefly - the scent of the air fresheners seemed to overpower it. “I honestly don't know that well - I have an uncle who’s diabetic, but other than that we’re pretty much disease-free.”
“Very, very good, Hank. So far, I think you’d be a prime addition to our company. I do have one more question for you before we make a decision, though,” Mr. Donner said. In the background, the humming noise that Hank had heard in the hall grew, and a thumping sound came in regular intervals from below.
“Really, only one more? It’s barely been five minutes,” Hank replied.
“Oh yes, we’ve got to make these interviews quick so we can get you all set. We only need this basic info, then you’re off to making more of our product.”
Mr. Donner pulled open a drawer in his desk, and took out a small slip of paper. He held it up and began reading it aloud: “Are you willing to do whatever you can to get this role, and, if you do, are you willing to shed your blood in the name of Paracelsus?” He set the paper down, and meticulously placed his glasses back where they originally were. “Sorry, the boys said I have to read it exactly as it is, just as a formality.”
“Well, that’s a bit dramatic - but yes, I’ll do whatever I can for this, and in the name of this company, if it helps me get this job.” Mr. Donner began to smile again, and swiftly picked himself up out of his chair.
“Well, I suppose that’s that - welcome to Paracelsus, Mr. Wareheim. I’ll call up the boys from downstairs and we’ll get you set for the job.”
Someone knocked at the door, and the voice of the young blonde was heard to say, “He ready, Mr. Donner?”
“Look, they’re already here for you, Hank!” Mr. Donner exclaimed.
Hank hoisted himself out his chair, flustered. He demanded, “But Mr. Donner, the job? Right now? I can’t do that now, Mr. Donner, I told you I had things to finish up today. I’m really not ready at all right now!”
Mr. Donner grabbed for the doorknob, his glass and a new vial in hand, the corners of his mouth curling up into an enormous smile.
“For this job, I don’t think you can ever be.”
by Daisy A., 11th
In our everyday lives, we interact with many different people, some that we like and some that we don’t. No matter how harshly we judge someone, we never judge them as harshly as we judge ourselves. In his book, The Voice of Knowledge, Don Miguel Ruiz uses his personal experience to explain how we treat ourselves worse than we treat others, because we listen to the voice of knowledge. Ruiz describes the voice of knowledge as a subconscious voice in our head that is instilled in us when we begin talking. As our knowledge increases, the voice of knowledge gains a larger presence within us. The voice of knowledge consists of the lies we’ve been exposed to: the stereotypes we’ve heard, the insecurities we have, and the societal norms that have been engraved into our lives. The voice of knowledge uses the lies instilled within us to expel the love we have for ourselves, and it uses the vast knowledge we have about ourselves to attack our known insecurities.
When we allow the voice of knowledge into our life, it utilizes the knowledge we have been exposed to, to abuse us. From an early age, we have been exposed to various lies such as false stereotypes and societal norms. I come from a Mexican background, and in Mexican culture, men are significantly valued more than women. Growing up, I was exposed to the narrative that women should stay at home and men should work. I wasn’t taught this; I observed this in my surroundings. My mother was a stay at home mom who cleaned the house and cooked while my father worked. I internalized this lie, and I believed that I wouldn’t be able to have a career because I am a woman. The aspirations I had for my life and the confidence I had in myself diminished, as I realized I would never be able to have what a man does because I am a woman. Ruiz would argue that I am using the word against myself. The word symbolizes our knowledge. He says, “How do you know when you are using the word against yourself? Well, when you are suffering with envy, with anger, with sadness. Suffering of all kinds is the result of misusing the word; it is the result of believing in knowledge contaminated with lies.” (150)
I envied men because they have a choice about what they want to do with their lives, and this envy and suffering was the result of my misuse of the word. Ruiz explains that “when you believe in lies, you are using the power of the word against yourself. When you believe that nobody likes you, that nobody understands you, that you will never make it, you are using the word against yourself” (148). I was using the word against myself in this situation. The fact that I believed this lie influenced not only my thoughts but also my actions. When doing chores at home, I will do most of the cleaning while my brother does nothing, and I will judge myself harsher if I don’t do my chores because I am a woman, and I should clean while men should not, according to the cultural values I have been exposed to. I know I don’t need to conform to this social norm, but the voice of knowledge pushes me towards changing myself to fit this social norm. I allowed the word to control because I don’t love myself enough to value myself over men.
We all have the ability to love, and it comes easily to us when it regards other people, but we have a harder time when it comes to ourselves. Due to the presence of the voice of knowledge has within us, we are unable to love ourselves. We focus on the negative aspects of ourselves and use these as barriers that hinder us from loving ourselves. Ruiz argues, “love and respect are what we should also teach our children, but the only way to teach them love and respect is to love and respect ourselves” (180). He believes the adults in our lives do not love and respect themselves, and they teach their children to not love themselves, which only adds on to their self-hatred. Ruiz proposes a solution that can end the cycle of self-hatred and allow the future generations to grow up with parents that love themselves when he says, “By changing ourselves, by loving ourselves, the message we deliver to our children carries the seeds of love and truth [ … ] Imagine how our children will grow up when we share with them the seeds of love instead of the seeds of fear, judgement, shame, or blame” (181). If my mother would have stood up to the societal norms she was exposed to, I might have learned to love myself enough to go against the voice of knowledge.
The voice of knowledge causes us to develop insecurities which we then use to put ourselves down and de-value our existence. “Every self-opinion, every belief, is made by words,” and these words are contaminated with lies and negativity about ourselves, therefore, insecurities are created (149). We judge ourselves more harshly because we know ourselves the best. When you judge yourself you attack all of your known weaknesses, hitting where it hurts the most. When you attack other people, you are speculating about what their weaknesses are, but when you attack yourself, you know what your weaknesses are. There’s a saying that sometimes the people who are closest to you hurt you the most; this is because they know what you think are your flaws, and this gives them the power to hurt you. Although many people know your flaws and insecurities, no matter how transparent you are with them, the only person who knows who you are is you even if you aren’t able to interpret what that is yet.
I know what I like, what I dislike, my fears, and my dreams. I am always changing and growing, and these aspects of my life change, but the only person who knows when they change is me. It is your instinct to be who you are, but this can be overcrowded with the societal pressures you are exposed to and the voice of knowledge that engraves these pressures deeper into your mind. It can do this because it is always with you. A larger presence is able to have a larger impact on you which is why you impact yourself the most. You know what you are insecure about, and you know what buttons people shouldn’t press. Just as these buttons are off-limits to others, they are also off-limits to you, but the voice of knowledge pushes them anyway. Ruiz argues that the only way to overcome our low self-esteem is to be impeccable with our word. “To be impeccable means that you don’t use your own knowledge against yourself, and you don’t allow the voice in your head to abuse you” (149).
We abuse and judge ourselves more than we judge others. We know ourselves best which allows us to target our known weaknesses, and we act on these targets when we don’t love ourselves. The judgement we carry with us regarding ourselves or others causes unnecessary suffering. Ruiz believes we can live a happier life if we rid ourselves of this pain by expelling the voice of knowledge from our lives and being impeccable with our words. We cannot control people experiencing pain from the loss of someone; but what we can prevent is our choice to hurt ourselves. We need to build up our self-esteem not tear it down, and we can achieve this through love. If we all love ourselves, we will be able to truly love others, and the world will be a better place for this.
by Perla, 8th
I am an immigrant from El Salvador. My name is Perla Hernandez and I am 13 years old. My family came to the United States because we needed a new beginning. Now we have a new beginning in Oakland, California.
When I was younger in El Salvador, my family had a problem. My grandfather had a gun and some people were mad about that because they didn’t have a gun. The guys who had a problem with my grandfather got in a fight will him at a rooster fight. After that fight they killed him. I was so sad about that.
Then my uncle called my dad and he said take your family now because we are in danger. My uncle came for us, and then we went to a hotel. We stayed one night at the hotel and then in the morning we were waiting for two men. We left and were taken to a big house. It had big beds and blankets. The coyote called my family and told us it was time to eat. We said ok and we went to eat. And then, they said go to bed. We followed what they told us to do, but it was raining . We were cold in the morning when they said “wake up, it is time to go.” It was 6:00 a.m. and we got to a bus and the police stopped us on the street. Then we got to another hotel we stayed there two nights and in the morning we washed our clothing. Then they call us because our aunt was calling us to see if we were ok. They told us “you need to stay two nights - you and your family.”
In the morning we went up to a small store. All we had to eat was tomatoes and beans for the whole time. We took a taxi and we got to a blue house. We stayed five days. After the five days we left. A car came for us and we crossed a big river. They helped us to cross the water in a boat. They said “walk this side, don’t stop.” The migration officers saw us and they took our cooler. Then, they checked our hair and we ate. At night a bus came to get us and we took one hour to go to the airport. Then we took another bus and another bus and another bus. When we finally arrived in Oakland, I was so happy to see my family, especially my cousins and my aunt.
The similarities between immigrants in U.S. history and my story are many. We both had to pay to come to the U.S. We both had to learn English and wait for a long time to come. We are both from another country. And immigrants in 1890’s - 1940’s came for better schools, and I did too. The biggest thing all immigrants have the same is we came to this country for a better life. The differences between the immigration station on Angel Island and today’s immigrants now is clear. Immigrants 100 years ago came to Ellis and Angel Island, but I immigrated to San Antonio, Texas. They had to take medical tests, but I didn’t.
Today, people like my mom have to wear ankle bracelets because of their immigrations case, but in 1900s they just keep them on the island like jail. I learned a lot about immigrants now and before. It is so hard to come here and I see how they worked hard and had a difficult time. I think about immigrants 100 years ago and their experience. It was difficult because they were not educated and they didn’t speak any English when they came here. The immigrants from then were totally different from me because they came on a boat, they had to go to Angel and Ellis Island, and they had to take tests. I hope that immigration in this country changes. I also hope that immigration officers, la migra, don’t come for all of us. I hope we can stay together and stay happy in Oakland like we are now.
by Nalli, 10th
When I hear the word home
I think of the small things that I once took for granted thinking they would always be there.
I think of the yellow, orange, and green buildings I grew up in.
Yellow to let the demons out
Orange to haul them back in
Green to start over
The apartment buildings we would have never been able to let go of if it weren’t for the letter giving only six days to leave behind a lifetime.
I knew exactly which floor tiles creaked in the dead of night.
How to turn the knobs in the shower to get just the right temperature.
And the downstairs neighbor who dreamed about growing her own garden but was never able to.
I think of the way the leaves fell from the trees in the fall and flooded the streets like rain.
How when we first stepped foot in that neighborhood my brothers were still using training wheels.
The room with a giant closet I avoided at night just incase there was a ghost living in there.
The hall full of photos of my brothers and I and the Christmas tree mom took down and sold before it was even Christmas.
And how in the Autumn time I would leave my window open so I could listen to the giant trees swaying and creaking in the wind.
My dad walking me to my fifth grade class
Tracing the lines on the fences with my fingers as we walked side by side.
I was too embarrassed by sixth grade
And by seventh grade I walked alone every morning.
Waking up from an after school nap to a dark living room
The sunset peaking through the window
The sounds of my family getting ready for dinner.
Jumping in the creek even though we knew we shouldn’t
Building clubhouses in the field
Stealing the neighbors oranges and never really eating them.
Riding my bike in the driveway
Riding my skateboard in the driveway
Attempting to build a seesaw in the driveway.
Dancing with the thought of never leaving.
Playing soccer in the streets late into the night.
Sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for the sun to rise.
Watching as the neighborhood slowly came to life.
I think of a world that no longer exists.
And how there’s no feeling crueler than nostalgia.
by Summer B. 11th
Each of us is on a journey.
Cocooned in a
mold made by the world
vulnerable to the elements
Hoping to one day
Seeking milk and honey
As we struggle to feed
our starving souls.
Burning bountiful forests
to pack our pretentious pockets.
Building off the backs of others
breaking bonds between
our brothers, as sisters are
silenced and sold to satiate broken beings.
We bind ourselves to
Denying our own
If only we could
dissolve the film!
that filters our perspective
Emerge into a world
outside of ourselves,
and see we’re interconnected.
One blue rock
that lives and breathes
Formed from stardust
And born by storm
Each beat of wing,
suspended in space
Oakland Youth 6th-12th