Repeat

The night sky of Daechi seems empty and abandoned as the moon shines alone without any stars or clouds around. Putting my phone on silent mode, I close all the notebooks scattered around the desk and slowly collapse into my bed. I reach for my earphones hanging weak and shuffle play my playlist full of smooth R&Bs from Heize. Another sleepless night passes by, and another sun rises up on top of my head who lost track of time. Myself tangled up with the earphone cables, wake up with my Mom calling, “Donghoya.”
The living room is full of the scent of mom’s boiling kimchi-jjigae from the day before and steam comes out from the bathroom as my sister comes out from her shower. Brown wood floor tiles of the house are warmed by the sunlight and mom calls me and my sister to the breakfast table as we are in a hurry. As the clock hands point 7:50, we quickly empty our bowl, carry our bags, and ride the elevator mom would hold on for us with a hoodie on our hand just like every morning. My sister would hop on the green bus to her school while I walk to school in the middle of all the students wearing the different uniforms. With my earphones playing the same playlist from last night, I walk the steep uphill road to school. After arriving at the gate, teachers standing having their slippers and toe socks on wait for the students while the weary walks of others are seen all over the uphill road. After a short lookback, I nod to the teacher and slide into school a few minutes before tardy just like usual. Remaining quiet.
The classroom is calm and quiet as everyone is daydreaming, staring at the ceiling or sleeping before the first teacher of the day comes into class. The sunlight coming through the window would warm the surface of the lockers placed in the edge of the classroom and the scent of the old heater on the ceiling would fill the classroom. After the first class within sleepers from all dimensions, the dan-im teacher would come in and write down “자습 (Self-Study)” on the green chalk board at the front. After a big sigh, sleepers continue to sleep, and the ones who aren’t sleepy would start folding up pages of their textbook failing to concentrate, while only about ten people would actually study or do their homework from hagwons. School passes just like that and nobody would seem to be lively.
The view of the sunrise turned into sunset and the school field would be shadowed by the building while some boys play soccer with their school uniform still on. I step out the opened gate of the school and head to the main street of Daechi where all the hagwons are lined up. The streets are more lightened up by the light boards of hagwons of all different subjects than the street lights. Gap between buildings would bring out the smell of adults burning their cigarettes blowing out their own clouds filled with distress of the day, while honking from the parents and taxi drivers on the road could be faintly heard through the music coming out from my earphones.
The way to Hagwon would always be loud and crowded making the memories of the days of immature bend through my eyes as an illusion. It’s been years of walking along with my real ones since and it has been years floundering to swim out of those yearnings. The days after have always been a repetition of reminiscence and studying while my wide shoulders felt cold and daunted every single weared out sunrise. Lost in the memories of a 14 year old, my friends would always wait on the school field for some hooping and as I step into the field, they would say,
“Dongho! Man we were waiting for decades!” and I would reply,
“Sorry bro, I had to clean up the classroom, I got you for the game.”
Every after school would pass by like that and as the sunset, we would go back to our houses and mom would have a small frown on her face saying,
“Dongho! You got to come back home earlier, I already have the dinner set for you there,” whisking off the sand dust off my hoodie. Then I would replay,
“Sorry Mom, had to win the game,” with a small smile in my face wishing this repetition of days to never end. However, the end of it came too early, as I moved to Gangnam for my highschool and that was the start of another repetition, but a totally different one. I lost my nickname, as the word “Hak-Saeng(Student)” became my new name I was called by outside the house. My after schools would always be full of Hagwons of different subjects and the only time I would see my mom would be in the early morning and late at night.
After all the studying from school and hagwon, Heize’s sweet voice and the smooth rhythm of the snare hitting at the threes. At the time of 11:30, no more honkings of the street could be heard and taxis would turn off their lights at their top. Only a few houses still have their lights on and still the sky of Daechi would be empty with the moon shining lonely. As I open the door lock, my mom would be lying down on the sofa looking sleepy and would say, “Su-go-het-da(Great Job Today)” and I would reply back,
“Thanks mom, go have some sleep you seem really tired.”
Then my mom would turn off the lights in the house and enter her bedroom where dad would be sleeping already after he came back from work. After a short shower, the warm steam coming out from the bathroom would cover up the hollowness of the living room and then I would repeat myself from the day before.

The Seal Rescue

There I was, sitting on my couch at home with my Siberian Husky named Jumbo. He is about 60 pounds and 3 years old. We live in San Francisco. I was petting Jumbo and suddenly the phone rang. It was the “Agency.” It is located in Bettles, Alaska. The person on the other side was Dylan, my partner. He said, “Emery, we need you now. The Agency intercepted a call from The Black Jacket and a fur company who asked him to kill a family of Saimaa Ringed Seals. We need you to get here as fast as possible to help save the seals. We have already booked you a helicopter. It is waiting for you at the airstrip.”

“I’ll be right there,” I said.

“You’re a lifesaver, literally,” said Dylan

I immediately went upstairs and packed my bags. I hurried back down stairs, put Jumbo on a harness, and went out to my Jeep Wrangler. I let Jumbo hop into the back seat, while I put my suitcase in the trunk. I got into the car and we were off to the airstrip.

The airstrip was quite close, so it didn’t take too long to get there. Once we got there, I found the helicopter waiting on the helipad and parked our Jeep next to it. I took our stuff out of the car and put it into the helicopter. Then Jumbo and I got in. We were off to Alaska.

Once we landed, Dylan came out to greet us. He then took Jumbo into the Agency to see the other sled dogs. Meanwhile, I walked into the Agency and went into my quarters. Once I put my stuff down the General, Carter Vay, called a meeting to welcome me and tell everyone what was going on. Once everyone was there Carter said, “Everyone, please welcome back Emery Ahmed.” Everybody applauded.

I said, “Thank you.”

Someone asked, “Why is he here, sir?”

Carter said, “Up until now only myself, Dylan, and Emery knew about this, but since Emery is here now I thought I would tell all of you. He is here because we intercepted a call from The Black Jacket and one of his friends that runs the Major Fur Trading Center, which said the fur trader wanted him to kill a family of Saimaa Ringed Seals.”

Everybody gasped.

“Yeah I know. It’s terrible. That’s why we called Emery to come and stop this madness,” said Carter

I then asked,” So, do you guys know anything about what the seals look like or where they are? Also, do you guys know how many seals are in the family?”

“Luckily, we know in a general area where they are and what they look similar to.” Carter then said,”Okay everybody else other than Dylan, Maria, and Emery, get back to work. Maria is the person who is in charge of taking care of Jumbo when he comes and is the head chief for all the caretakers of the other sled dogs. Carter then said,”Maria, go and get the sled ready in 30 minutes.”

“Yes sir,” she replied. She then walked down the hallway to get the sled ready.

Once everybody had begun working again Carter said, ”The coordinates are 64.2008° N, 149.4937° W and the seals are brown with spots of white on their chests. Also, there is one mom seal and two pup seals.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“The sled should be ready, so go ahead and we’ll catch up,” said Carter.

“Goodbye and safe travels,” Cater, Dylan, and Maria all said together.

“Goodbye,” I said. I was off to protect the seals.

It didn’t take me that long to get to the coordinates. I stopped the sled and got off of it. I then looked around for the seals and found them. After that, I walked up to them and lured them to the sled with arctic cod, which they love. Once I had them on the sled, I secured them with some cloth towels. Then we started back to the Agency.

We were on our way back to the Agency, when I looked behind me and I saw a huge avalanche chasing us. I made the dogs run faster, but it wasn’t enough. It eventually caught up to us and crushed us. It first pulled me off the sled and buried up to my chest. I tried to snag the lines for the dogs, but I couldn’t see or move. After about 10 minutes, the avalanche had passed and the snow settled back down. I yelled out with the last of my energy to Jumbo,”Jumbo, can you hear me. I hope you’re okay.” I started to cry. I thought I might die because my legs were being crushed, but luckily Jumbo somehow found me and started to dig me out of the snow.

After that, The Black Jacket, somehow found us. He quickly swept up the seals and ran back to his sled. I did my best to stop him, but I was still partially stuck in the snow. Out of nowhere a bird flew overhead and pooped on his head. It started to ooze down his head and onto his face. He then started screaming and accidentally dropped the seals.

Jumbo had finished digging me out of the thick, cold snow and I made a mad dash to the seals, picked them up, and carried them back to the sled. Then I slid away and never saw The Black Jacket again. Once we got back to the Agency everyone congratulated me. I was so tired I almost collapsed onto the floor, but I had one last important thing to do.

“I’ll be right back,” I told everybody. I then hopped onto the sled and slid to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is located near the Arctic Village. After a couple of days, I told everyone that I had to go home. I returned to San Francisco and that is where I am till this very day.

Fighting Back

“What’s this? Is this supposed to be your school bag? It’s so ugly! I thought you stole this from my grandma,” said Bridget, grabbing Ida’s backpack from her hands and dumping out the contents. Ida’s eyes filled with tears as her phone fell out and hit the pavement. Bridget stepped on her phone, which resulted in a loud crack and laughter from her friends.
“Oops. Sorry, I didn’t realize that was your phone. Iphone 3’s are just so small, you know?” Bridget sneered, picking up the phone and handing it to Ida, who tried desperately to turn it on. It was no use, for the screen remained shattered and black.
Ida stood up, anger coursing through her. She squeezed her phone, making the screen crack even more.
“You have to pay for a replacement,” she said, shoving the phone into Bridget’s face. Bridget laughed, and her entourage started laughing as well.
“It was an accident,” Bridget scoffed. “If you can’t see that, then you’re clearly blind. Come on, let’s go girls.”
Ida watched as they started sauntering away from her. She dropped her broken phone, and then ran after Bridget, grabbing the back of her shirt.
“Pay for it or I’m telling the teacher,” Ida warned, making Bridget turn around and wrench free of her grip.
“Who do you think you are, threatening me?” Bridget asked, and before Ida could react, Bridget swung her fist right into Ida’s nose. Ida staggered back, clasping her nose protectively. When she looked at them, they were covered with blood.
Bridget wound up again, and Ida watched, astonished, as someone grabbed her fist. Bridget turned around, a look of shock on her face.
“Why don’t you mess with someone your own size for once?” said a girl that Ida didn’t know.
Bridget looked at her, mouth agape, before chuckling. She swung at the girl, but the girl dodged, and so Bridget fell forwards.
Bridget chuckled coldy and then stood up. She tried to push the other girl forward, but found herself being pushed instead.
“Is that all you got?” the girl asked. Bridget was fuming, her face red with anger, driving her hardest punch at the girl. The girl grabbed Bridget’s arm and collar, stepped to the left, and gracefully sweeped Bridget’s legs out from beneath her. Bridget hit the ground, hard, and then started moaning from the pain.
Ida watched as the girl just walked away without saying anything. “W-wait!” she called and then ran after her.
“What was that back there? How’d you stop her?” Ida asked the stranger, still in shock.
“Judo,” the girl said simply.
“W-well… can you teach it to me?” Ida asked.
“No,” the girl stated, walking away. Ida sighed, not wanting to annoy the girl by going after her again.
Ida went to class, but she couldn’t focus. She kept thinking back to what the girl had told her. Judo was what had saved her from more of Bridget’s punches. Ida decided that she had to learn it.
During lunch Ida went into the library and used a computer to look up the nearest martial arts place, which was a mile away from school. She scheduled a private lesson for that afternoon and then smiled. Finally, she would stop being bullied.
When the last bell finally rang, Ida was the first one out of the door, and she ran all the way to the dojo. When she got there she still had a few minutes before her lesson started, so she just watched the class inside.
The instructor was teaching them another sweeping technique, and Ida watched, entranced, as he wrapped his arms around someone’s middle with his knees bent, straightened his legs, and then brought the person down onto the ground. Was this the judo that the girl had been talking about? If it was, Ida definitely wanted to learn it.
When her lesson started, it was surprisingly simple. Ida thought that they would start out with a complicated takedown, but the instructor taught her how to punch, kick, and fall correctly. Ida almost forgot to ask about judo takedowns, but she remembered just before she was about to leave.
“Will I get to learn any judo next time?” she asked hopefully. The instructor smiled at her.
“Maybe, if you practice your falling,” the instructor said, and Ida nodded. That night, she explained to her parents how she wanted to do martial arts, and to her surprise, they supported her. She practiced falling in her room until her arms were an apple red. When she went to her lesson the next day, the instructor taught her the easiest judo takedown that he knew, and after almost an hour of struggling, she finally got it down at the end of the class.
“Can you teach me how to block someone’s punches next class?” she asked the instructor, who said that they could, but only if she practiced her takedown.
And so, the lessons went on. Ida learned how to defend herself against punches, kicks, and kidnappers. After a month, she felt more confident and sure in her abilities to defend herself, even though she had only learned simple techniques. So when Bridget approached her at lunch, she wasn’t even scared.
“You. You’re the one who caused me to get a concussion. You’re gonna pay for that,” Bridget said, grabbing Ida’s wrist and trying to drag her off. Ida pulled her hand out of Bridget’s grasp easily, remembering one of her earliest lessons.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Ida said, and Bridget looked at her, shocked.
“How dare you not listen to me? Come here,” Bridget said, grabbing Ida’s hand again. Ida didn’t even hesitate. She grabbed Bridget’s left shoulder, stepped to the side, and then swept her legs out from under her, just like the girl had done a month prior.
“Don’t mess with me again,” Ida said and then walked off. She smiled as she walked. She was glad that she had learned martial arts.

Sunset Valley

Today I saw an eagle soaring high above the billowing clouds. I couldn’t help but think it was trying to tell me something. The way its wings majestically flapped and swept through the cold air reminded me of how small I was in this crowded world. From up there, the eagle could surely see as far away as one can only hope and dream. In the everlasting light of the day to come, I wished I was an eagle flying high above all my problems, never looking back and only forward.
I had started digging up the tightly packed soil in my barron backyard in hopes of making a suitable garden to grow vegetables. A plot of dirt with a few dead weeds seemed like a good spot to explore. The dirt was dry and loosely packed which made it easy to start digging. After what seemed like an eternity, a tiny clank echoed beneath my stubby shovel. Curiously, I dug around hoping to find this mysterious treasure. Low and behold, a coin was situated in the soil. It wasn’t like anything I had seen before. Engraved in the middle was a small blue orb as smooth as porcelain with a cloudy tint to it. While further examining this peculiar and ancient seeming coin, I found there to be no date or writing whatsoever. As this discovery continued to baffle me, I could feel the presence of an onlooker peering over my bony shoulder.
“Looking for something?” His voice was comforting and strong and evoked a feeling of compassion inside me that only a scarce few had mustered in my presence before.
“Yes, I, uh, I mean, no” I stuttered whilst heat radiated from my red forehead.
Shiness was my currency but around this person, I felt different. It was as if I had known this person since the day I was born. It was a feeling I had never felt before.
“‘I’m here because that coin summoned me, I will grant you two wishes.” The genie smiled as he displayed his mysterious powers. He looked almost human, besides from a slight hover off the ground and no ears. For a situation as crazy as this, I was as tame as the eagle had been when soaring high in the morning sky. He intrigued me more than the mysterious coin. “Before I ask for my second wish I want to know who you are and where you come from,” I announced curiously. He reminded me of a time not so long ago where I had been a boy always seeking adventure in a town with nothing other than the occasional tumbleweed.
“As you wish, I come from a long line of genies. My ancestors were powerful and bestowed traits only gods possess. Genies are as old as time and as sought after as gold. People have been searching for genies ever since we first started granting wishes. As to where I’m from, my home is not of this world. It is called Sunset Valley because of the natural beauty. Rays of golden light flowed through the sky during the day and majestic stars of yellow sprinkled the night sky. Streams of blue cascaded down the jagged mountain tops and forests littered the green plains. The landscape was filled with vibrant life and lovely views only fit for a king. The water always glistened as the animals would gather for a drink and the wind always whistled an upbeat tune. My world was small but welcoming and full of the essence of life. It was both a haven and home to many. I do miss that beautiful place. Now I’m far from home and all alone traveling from place to place. I never really wanted to be a Genie. It wasn’t my thing, so make sure to explore what life has to offer, for it can grant you more than a wish can. I miss my family and friends. Seeing them is not possible in this line of work as I am too busy.”
I could see the sadness in his eyes and the emotion in his voice. It was as if he had lost apart of him that makes someone whole. The part of you that connects your dreams and aspirations to your heart and soul. I saw that he was living a life he did not want to live. I felt bad for him. He shouldn’t have to be someone he doesn’t want to be. While thinking of all the luxuries and items I could’ve had, I thought of how much better it would feel to help someone else. After all, the genie was nice enough to explain his life to me, a random boy from nowhere. If he could help me get through a day of nothingness, I should be able to help him. My parents always say that helping out others is more rewarding than helping out yourself. I knew what I had to do.
“Thank you for telling me about yourself. It opened my eyes to a world beyond my own imagination.” The beautiful coin started to glow a candescent shade of blue. The light was as bright as a star and as dazzling as the moon.
I handed the magical coin back to the genie and he gave a genuine smile as if no one had ever done that sort of thing before. It felt good to be good. In his last moment, he uttered a teary-eyed “thank you” before slowly withering away back to his home far far away. He left as soon as he had arrived but that day he taught me to do what I want to do and enjoy life before it’s too late and swallows you into existence. One day I hope I see him again and visit Sunset Valley for myself. Once upon a time, a genie told me to make sure to explore what life has to offer, for it can grant you more than a wish can.

Sandpaper

Machines surround me, monitoring every signal my body sends. I am surprised the machines have not alerted the nurses to my elevated heart beat, a never-ending drum echoing loudly in my ear. The chocolate pudding that the nurse brought me to take with my meds nauseates me. The stinging smell of sanitizer brings tears to my eyes. The bare walls offer nothing to focus on, offering no distractions. The only comforting sound is the murmur of my mom talking to my doctor.
Stage 2 Leukemia cancer really sucks. 15 years of my life was pretty ordinary until one month ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t think being tired, occasional nose bleeds were a big deal, but my mom insisted we go. 3 doctors later, I had cancer. We both were in shock. Days after we found out, we robotically did as the doctors told us. Life has been pretty hard for us since we found out, only doctor visits and cancer research. Cancer is all consuming, mentally and physically. Even when I try to escape it and have a quiet moment, it invades my thoughts like a thick fog. EVERYTHING changes. I want my normal, boring life back. Go to school, come home, watch TV, do homework. Go unnoticed walking down the street. I am good at blending in, even going as far as always wearing neutral colors to not stand out. Thanks to cancer, I am now always the center of attention. I have been unable to find an escape. Even though cancer is attacking my body, right now I feel that the emotional attack has been far worse.
I am nostalgic for the routine of school, wondering if anyone noticed, I’ve been absent. Loner Amelia, that is what I called myself. I used to think of myself as the calm in a storm, the smooth side of sandpaper. There are no friends to visit me in the hospital. This thought hangs over me leaving gray shadows that haunt me. I am not sure why. This is what I have always wanted, right? To go unnoticed by the kids from school.
I feel content when my mom visits me in the hospital, my best friend. She is always there for me. I know I can beat cancer, but I think she doesn’t want to admit that she worries that cancer will beat me.
The hospital is quiet on my floor. I sometimes hear the doctors walking around. There are other kids on my floor that have cancer, but I have not talked to any of them. Right now, I can hear two of these kids talking through the walls in the next room. Laughter. Suddenly my stomach starts to feel weird, It must be time to take my meds. I usually take them with chocolate pudding. It’s too hard to swallow them with water.
Mom didn’t come, she was working a double shift. The quiet is really starting to get to me. Cancer has a reputation for bringing silence and now I feel like I need to, WANT to, fight the silence, not seek it as I used to. Silence is not something I am ready to accept.
In the 2 weeks that I have been in the hospital my cancer hasn’t gotten worse but it also hasn’t gotten better. The days pass slowly. I wish that my mom could have spent more time with me this week, she has been working a lot to get money. Under normal circumstances it is hard for her to raise me alone. I don’t long for my father who I have never known.
Finally, my mom came to the hospital. The cafeteria is noisy. You hear families talking, some of them crying. Sighing, I look at my mom and notice dark circles under her eyes.
“How has it been in the hospital?” she asks.
“Good, I wish you could stop by more to see me,” I replied.
She gave me a gentle smile, but there is no shine in her eyes. I wish that I could tell her it was all going to be okay, but I am not sure that I could be convincing and I simply did not have the energy. Clearly, I am not the only one that cancer is emotionally attacking.
I now refer to time as “the snail”. Another 3 days have passed. All I have done is sit in my bed and think of all the bad things that can happen to me. At night I dream about how life would be without cancer and how much better it would be. My mom would still be happy. In my dreams, I am different. I see a girl who is wearing bright colors, surrounded by friends. I often wake up confused, but the face in the dreams is always mine. My dreams become my hope and I feel myself gather strength
“God will not give you more than you can handle,” I reflect on a saying often heard from my grandmother. I did not fully understand the meaning until now. 6 weeks of being in the hospital and we are finally starting to see good results from my cancer treatments. My mom has been able to visit me more, I see the relief in her eyes. The doctors think that there is a good chance that I will beat it and that I will be going home soon. I know that I will beat cancer.
I realized that I no longer wanted to be loner Amelia. I need a friend that you can lean on and be there for. You want to be the rough side of sandpaper not the smooth side, you want people to notice you when you walk down the street and say hi to them. You want to be the bright colors on a paint pallet, unlike the plain hospital walls. I am thankful to cancer for teaching me this, but now emotionally and soon physically, ready to kick cancer’s butt!

Porcelain

Porcelain, a perfection of flawless, colorless, smooth, unvaried, uniform material. That is what they call us, The Porcelains. They polished us, perfected our imperfections, smoothed out our dents, and thereby erased our identities. They have taken the word “imperfect” and changed it to “perfect” simply by erasing the word “im” and all the negative fragments of English that sink to the bottom of this globe. But in reality, erasing the imperfect is not all that easy. People who live under a shroud of perfection, don’t bother to look beyond the boundaries of their perfect lives, ignoring that there once was a past with all who inhabited it, and have now unexplainably disappeared into the shadows, without a trace. But there are always a few who look outside the shroud and into the ugliness to find concealed knowledge within. I am one of them.

I see the emptiness of our individuality, forcibly melted into a mess of chaotic colors drained down the sink of society, leaving us with achromatic homogeneity. What the government supported as an altruistic technology to cure human ailments, quickly spiraled out of control, surfacing the addiction of human nature, creating a flawless human race. Most people have been duped into thinking that perfection is the ultimate goal, but underneath, there lies an irritation, buried in our subconscious, knowing that there are survivors of the past among us. Those of us who dare to dig too deep, fear a decree of certain punishment that would dispose us into The Shadows. The Shadows serve to conceal the unwanted “un-cured” and those who question beyond the surface. I have found answers to some of my questions.

Inside the hidden past, deemed unthinkable by the government, humans had been plagued by the burden of vermin-like illnesses and deformities, diseases that came, present like day and night, as the quest for vaccines and therapeutics lagged behind. As society aged, they learned to accept the flaws of reality for what it was, understanding the natural course of life and appreciating the beauty from within. But with every period of darkness, a spark of light seems to reveal itself, at a time when hope is most needed. From the depths of her biochemistry lab, Dr. Jennifer Doudna, foraged into the biologic past, surfacing a unique CRISPR enzyme that archaic bacteria used to manipulate viral DNA. Initially opening the doors to genetic modulation, curing debilitating conditions like sickle cell disease, Beta thalassemia, and HIV transmission to then flooding our systems with extreme DNA manipulation.

As society and the government grabbed hold of this mechanism, they realized this universal power to manipulate existence, not only ridding illness but also erasing “unwanted flaws”, and the burden of time and death. The cause of all our problems was about to be cleansed of its sin. Once provoked by reachable perfection, that potential transformed from a possibility, to a goal, to a duty, to an addiction. Addiction, a curse Pandora unleashed onto the human race, robs morality, as man sacrifices all to obtain his desire.

From the moment of birth, all children, pure and innocent, are carted away, stolen of their deserved identity. The enzyme removes fragments of natural born variation in the stem cells of developing babies, before inserting them back and allowing them to mature into a perfect creation of mankind. We are The Porcelains. We are raised, drowning in words of “perfect”, “flawless”, “ageless”, “timeless”, a suffocating brainwash transforming us towards a one-track mind of obsession with achieving perfection, a pathologic addiction. But my unlawful thoughts haunt me so, yearning to explain the dystopia that surrounds me. The barrier of rules seems to crumble against the vehement wave of my thoughts. As time grows, questions of unreasonable depth begin to fester, Why is perfection our duty? It is flaws that identify us and give us individuality. As I inquire, I realize that none could answer these questions, lost in their own dreams of a future full of “perfectness”, and in order to bring society back to their senses, I must cause the opposed change. My frustration against the rules that suppress my freedom to communicate begin to blister. I begin to disobey and make an identity for myself by shouting out, as children gazed at me with wide, glazed eyes, like wooden puppets waiting to be taken into the reins of others. Again, and again, I shout the same words, only to be isolated furthermore. But with persistence, the unimaginable happens, my protests begin to thaw the frozen, icy edge of governmental influence. Slowly, I watch as their shock melts into bewilderment, and the beginning of the realization that I was looking to summon, emerges. Now there was reason to be fearful, I knew my time would soon end. I had to act.

Clambering upon the roof of a shallow building, I gaze at the marmalade skies accented with golden sunlight patches, but my eyes soon follow the path of the great shadow that covered the Earth. Our future for the endless pursuit of perfection would only cripple us, and every flaw would be seen as a disease needed to be purified and hidden from the world. I needed to save my species before it was too late, as their intelligence surged ahead of their minds, it could be too late already. Shivering, I search for the public eye to bring them sanctuary with my words. Pushing off the crumbling bricks, I watch as people gather, a blurred sea of sameness. Their blind gaze screams in submission as they had de-evolved from loss of individuality, loss of ingenuity, loss of freedom, and loss of societal progress. We had become conformed under the swell of perfection, controlled by our addiction to it, and controlled by our fear of imperfection. I coughed one last time, “Why perfection?” before being invisibly dragged into the darkness of The Shadows. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the public shaken, as a newfound wave of curiosity washes over them.

Into the Darkness

Run! Cayenne’s mind screamed at her, as she darted around a broken flower pot. She raced past a dumpster, around a chain-link fence. Stay calm, she told herself. You are not afraid. She felt the cold breath of the beast on her trail, the pounding of her heart loud in her ears. Cayenne felt the tide of fear try to swallow her up, to give the enemy strength, but she wouldn’t let it. She sprinted around a corner, and found what looked like a dead end. Backing up into the corner, she turned her head towards the monster.

A wolf stood in the shadows, teeth bared, sharp and piercing. A snarl leaked out of its jaws, making Cayenne’s fur stand on end. She hissed back, but it did no good. She was already scared, her panic making the creature swell, making the teeth sharper, the saliva more venomous. The wolf fed on her fear, stepping closer, making Cayenne press herself against the stone wall, her tail brushing a stone. She heard a soft click, and then the floor fell out from underneath her, and she was falling, falling, falling…

The last thing she saw before the ground devoured her was the scarlet gleam of the mai-coh’s eyes.

* * *

Clank.

Clank.

Clank.

She heard the noise of the chains before she saw them, the hollow bangs echoing ominously through the tunnels. Cayenne lay on the cold stone floor, muscles sore and tired. Her mind felt foggy, like her thoughts were swimming through a thick and sticky pond. Cayenne opened her eyes, pupils adjusting to the dim light.

She was in a dark cavern, chains strung from wall to wall above her. She saw the misty silhouettes of other cats on the thick chains, balanced on the metal. They walked across the links, tails held high for balance.

Just then, an armored cat loomed into Cayenne’s vision. “Get up,” he grunted. “Go on chains. You climb. I watch.” Cayenne nodded, confusion and fear blurring her vision. Why was she supposed to walk on chains? Where did the mai-coh go? And most importantly, how could she escape? She felt sharp pain bloom in her side, and realized that the cat next to her had poked her with the steel-plated tip of his tail.

“Go. Now!” He shouted at her.

Cayenne leapt off the ground, her paws clenching as they landed the icy metal chains. She padded softly across the iron, tail swaying softly in the air. She felt the weight of the earth above her, threatening to collapse any minute, to crush her, strangle her… Her thoughts were brought back into the present by the floor approaching her eyes.

Cayenne’s paws flew out to stop the fall, and she landed softly on the floor. The steel tail flew out in front of her, stabbing her back. Cayenne yelped in pain. “Get back up. Go on the chain.” yelled the commanding voice of the armored cat. Cayenne jumped back up, slipping off the metal and falling.

“I can’t,” She gasped. “Just let me rest…”
“No!” Shouted the scratchy voice. “Get back up,” He growled in her ear.
“I want answers.” Cayenne hissed. “Tell me the truth, and then maybe I’ll climb on the chains.”

The armored cat groaned. “Fine, kit. Get back up in the chains, and I’ll tell you… truth.
“About 780 million moons ago, the first calyx clans came into being. Shadows covered the earth, all light gone from the world. The First Lioness knew that the creatures of the land wouldn’t survive for long without light, for many creatures needed the rays of warmth to retain life. So she grew the calyxes, the cats of blackness, who soon learned to harness the power of the dark and gather it in their souls.
“These calyxes organized themselves into clans (which have since been known as the First Schools). Darkness, which has the most power, then Shadow, Nightfall, Dusk, Eclipse, and Twilight, which has the least power. The tribes of calyxes roamed wild, alone in the forests and plains. They fought often: soon our kind was scarce, scattered across the globe. But the great Ember of Darkness brought the schools back together, and her people of Darkness have ruled us ever since.
“They hold the most power, so even if you’re a Brown-White, you still have more control than even the most trained of the other Oranges. Of course, no royalty would be born a Brown-White, but still. Queen Obsidian serves us as the Black Lioness right now, as she has the most power.”

There the armored cat stopped speaking, his tail slowly drawing circles in the air as he watched Cayenne. She had climbed to the tallest chain, her tail starting to absorb the shadows around her. The cat on the ground chuckled. A natural, he thought. Just like her mother.

Cayenne felt the cold metal under her paws start to clear the fog in her mind, letting her think more clearly. She bounded back down the chains, avoiding the other calyxes around her, dropping back down on the lowest links.

“So… am I a calyx?” She asked the black cat below her.

“Yes.” He said softly. “You’re powerful, too. Well, all Oranges are, but you especially. No surprise… as you’re the princess.”

Cayenne gasped as the words hit her. She stared down at the cat in front of her. “P-p-princess?” She asked. “But why… I mean, I’m just Cayenne.”

“No, you’re Princess Cayenne. But you have to finish training before you get a crown, and let me tell you, the armor is not comfortable.”

Two Years Later

Cayenne padded towards the stage with the crown. Her armor pinched, but she was used to it. She leaped up, fidgeting while the lesser calyxes placed the crown on her fur.

The crowd quieted as a voice blared out from the floor. “And I present to you, her Darkness, the Black Lioness Cayenne!”

The once alley cat runaway was now a queen.

The ¨Perfect¨ Reality

I woke up with a sigh knowing another day would repeat with trying to escape the dreaded world I was caught up in. I reached over my nightstand rummaging through the drawers through all my different random things I had thrown in there to find my newest escape. Pride and Prejudice. Daughter of a country gentleman, and Darcy, a rich aristocrat landowner falling in love. I am drawn to this story because of how everything might seem perfect yet there is always some sort of struggle. This book also seems to connect with me because it’s not like I want to fall in love with someone but more myself, because all though I don´t mind myself I feel different with all my stupid thoughts. Other books such as Harry Potter have an entirely different world. Many of the things we read today have happy endings but something to overcome during the story. That however was just a tale something you could only find deep in the pages of a book. My story however was that I use these stories to take myself out of the society, I’m tired of constantly being bombarded with a small, subtle message that says we should be perfect. I had learned to put up with this standard otherwise I would be on the other side of the social status, yet I never found myself to be very fond of this made up rule that I had made for me.
Quickly I had been awoken from my daydreaming as my alarm went off for the second time while still holding my book. Oh how I dread that noise everyday just like the sound of the busy streets. I lifted my legs off my bed and turned to have them dangle below me as I sat up on the edge of my bed. I had the perfect view of the park just on the other side of where my cobblestone apartment was standing. I could smell the trees from the fourth floor, admiring the view in front of me. Remembering that I had to go to the cafe I got off my bed, I would have loved to sleep in but I know the girls would get mad at me. Why did I care so much if they would get mad? Well I always seem to care about other people but never really care for myself considering I placed myself in the world where I am put to standards which make me overthink and stop worrying about myself. I wish I could just maybe less think of what ¨should be¨ and more of what ¨could be¨. Well It is easier said than done.
I turned to my clock. I was going to be late. I quickly rushed my clothes on and ran out the door making it just in time to the regular meeting spot for my closest friends and I at the little cafe.
¨you’re finally here!¨ I heard from the corner of the small place.
¨we didn’t think you would come¨ another voice from the same table.
¨I wouldn’t miss it!¨ I replied trying to sound as cheery as possible hiding behind the fact that I was still half asleep.
¨We were just talking about my party I’m having¨ said one of the girls.
Ugh another one. What’s wrong with a little party you might say. Don’t get me wrong having a small get together didn’t bother me, however parties with the people I was friends with were like a whole town crowded together. It was as if I was drowning and I had no escape. That was my world. Drowning. I know how melancholy. I seem like I fit in this world but it seems as only an act because at the end of the day, I come home and find the escapes that make me feel like I fit in. It’s not like I don’t feel like I am a bad fit for the people around me, I mean I have for a long time in my life. Every person, to some degree, feels the need to relate to someone around them, but none of them worry or really care to an extent about the things I think about.
¨Are you zoning out again.¨ A little chuckle comes from Chloe’s voice as she says that.
Chloe. How to describe her, she’s someone you envied in high school and thought the world was a big party, so when it came to them, especially like her birthday party in a few days that’s all she would think about. And when she thinks about it it seems as though the rest of the girls follow as well. They continue to talk about the gathering while I check to see the time on my phone.
¨11:00 am¨ I said, not noticing I had read out loud.
¨what about 11:00 am¨ Sophie had responded.
Sophie. For sure I was the closest to her out of all of them. She was sweet and kind, although very quiet when she said something she would say more than needed.
¨Oh nothing, I was just checking the time.¨ I always felt pressured to be perfect by being around perfect people. I mean maybe they weren’t perfect but from some aspect there was absolutely nothing wrong with them and somehow they saw that in me.
Reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, when the world seems so perfect yet it’s so messed up because of the standard. Maybe that’s why I was so messed up but seemed ever so slightly perfect. That’s what my friends saw me as because of the perfect image that I had. It was like a wall I had made for myself, that wall could be broken down at any point. This wall, all though strong, was practically made out of clouds and dreams, and those dreams happen when my head is only on my pillow case. So I go back to reality forgetting all thoughts in my perfect head…

The Sun is Also Orange

“The sun is white,” I repeated to the quizzical eyes watching me. Some condescending giggles and furrowed eyebrows then a burst of, “How can you possibly see that? It’s yellow!”
Our class couldn’t accept a different thought. Was I crazy? The sun looks white to me, like a dandelion not yet blown apart, a warm sheet of paper from the printer.
“He’s just messing with you guys.” A few girls rolled their eyes, walking away to play on the grass. The school’s small but it has a nice field and playground with bars to swing and climb. Big lettering on the school building read “Pine Hill Elementary.”
Our 4th grade class all grew up alike only a few blocks apart. This small town- it’s our whole world. Maybe that’s why my peers found someone believing differently to be so unnatural.
A couple more kids dispersed from the crowd, laughing and muttering, “He’s blind.” or “He’s just dumb.” I turned red with shame. I couldn’t explain to them what I saw, for they believed the sun differently, only yellow, nothing else. After a minute, the other boys and girls lost interest in me and started screaming and snatching the biggest and bounciest balls to play with for the remainder of recess.
I ran up to Albert, my best friend, and stole the red ball from his hands.
“What are we playing?” Albert pushed past my shoulder like I wasn’t there.
“I’m playing with Randy.” It felt like a slap to the face.
“Yeah. Go play with a white ball or something- oh wait it doesn’t exist!” Randy snorted at his joke and ran after Albert to the field. By now all the kids were in their groups, leaving me on the blacktop, my heart clenched with a sadness of abandonment and embarrassment. Nobody wanted to play with me anymore.
The ring of the bell summoned us back into the classroom like we were livestock being herded into the barn. I was the last one to file in and sit down.
All our desks were covered in newspaper below a white sheet of paper, accompanied by paints and paintbrushes. The other kids were reading the dated news, or sticking fingers into the clean cup of water.
“Okay quiet please,” Began Mrs. Burton. She’s a short stout woman who likes to yell, attempting to grab our attention before we stained our hands blue, or knocked over the soon dirty water onto the rug. “Quiet! Today we are going to paint a landscape. When you’re finished, bring it up here so I can hang it to dry.”
I started with some grass, spreading emerald paint across the page. Most kids hated painting, but I felt calmed. I glanced at Albert next to me. He started with the sky, using thick and swirly brushes. The brush plunged into the water letting off an explosion of deep blue. He dipped his brush into the yellow paint, looking at me with a sneer.
“See how I’m painting the sun yellow?” He tried to reach over to my page and press the brush into it but I snatched it away.
“ You can’t paint the sun white or else it won’t show up.” I ignored him and spread brown paint to make tree trunks, topping them off with a blob of chartreuse for the leaves. I peeked at the other kids mostly painting the school, with random swirls for the playground, but they all had a yellow sun.
Mrs. Burton stood before me, cleaning up desks. “ Charlie, class is ending soon. Do you need help finishing up?” Realizing I was the last kid still painting I quickly lathered on a coat of blue for the sky. “ No thanks.”
I left a small circle in the top right corner blank. It was my sun. Even if nobody else would know what it was, or their eyebrows knitted together, I knew it was the sun. I looked up again at Mrs. Burton who hovered over my shoulder.
“ Charlie you haven’t painted your sun yet. Is your yellow dirty?” Mrs. Burton reached over to his desk and placed his paints on mine. “Use Albert’s. Good, you left a little circle. Just paint that in and tell me when you’ve finished.” I turned a deep scarlett.
“ But the sun is white.”
She looked at me and laughed. “ No dear, it’s yellow.” She said it slowly as if I didn’t speak her language. My voice rose a few octaves in protest.
“ No it’s not.” By now all the kids were looking straight at me. Some laughed. Mrs. Burton’s eyes widened a little and she took my paintbrush and dipped it right into the paint, and filled in the circle. Whatever calm I had felt fluttered away like a hummingbird.
“ Doesn’t that look better dear?” There was a twinge in her voice. She had the eyes of a deranged cat. I sat stunned in my chair. How dare she change my painting. My sun!
I was fuming when the bell rang, fleeing from the classroom to the sidewalk outside, close to tears. The other kids were close behind. Albert with Randy, laughing at me as I ran down the street. Anger turned to despair. What’s wrong with me? Everybody else saw it the same. Everyone said the sun’s yellow.
An old man that was walking by me stopped me with his cane. I looked up startled, with big and glossy eyes of surprise. He studied me before he spoke, an old tired voice of wisdom.
“Boy, don’t look so sad, when the day is beautiful and the sun shines so orange.” The old man looked at me with a smile on his wrinkly skin. I looked back strangely for a moment, then smiled slightly. Orange? Nobody ever thought it was orange. My smile grew.
I decided then that maybe the sun is yellow, but it’s also orange like a Halloween pumpkin, and white like fresh fallen snow.

Ethereal

My finger traced down the icy window of the bus, following the path of snowflakes that had melted into water droplets, racing down the glass. I buried my face in my coat sleeve as another kid in the front of the bus blurted out a homophobic slur at me. I can’t wait to move to New York when I’m older and escape the small, dull town of Granville, Ohio. I came out as gay earlier this year, but I don’t have a boyfriend or anything, since I’m the only out gay kid at our high school. I peered over at the seat a few rows in front of me. There he was. Colin. Sitting in the front with the popular kids. His golden hair shimmered in the light, his sapphire eyes radiating a warm and welcoming essence around him. Sadly, my fantasy was interrupted by the shrillness of Miss. Smith.
“Now, everyone get off the bus in an orderly fashion! This is your junior year ski trip, and I want everyone on their best behavior!” The teacher shouted.
10 minutes later, we arrived by our dorm rooms. There were emerald green pine trees engulfing everything. The snow was so pristine and fragile, it all seemed like a fairytale.
“Max, you are going to be in a dorm with Violet,” barked Miss Smith.
Shortly after, I opened my dorm door to see Violet sitting on one of the beds.
“Hey bestie!” She smiled. I chuckled.
Later that evening, the sun was starting to set, and everyone was winding down.
”So, have you talked to Colin lately?” Violet gigged. She was the only person who knew I liked him.
“Not a word,” I sighed, painting his face in my mind.
Violet gasped.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You should go out to the forest! I bet you Colins out there!”
”No way!” I shouted. “It’s freezing outside and he’s probably not even there! Besides, I can’t get caught sneaking off campus.”
Violet beamed “It’s always worth a shot!”
“Fine!” I laughed, jokingly slipping on a beige cardigan as I unlocked the dorm door. Not wanting Miss Smith to hear me, I carefully pushed open the glass door leading to outside. My fingers inched back up into my sleeves as the frigid air stung my skin. The sky was golden, and an aura of shades of pinks and blues shot out from the sun into the night sky. I came out here as a joke, but a realization suddenly hit me. I was alone. I felt like at that moment, I didn’t have anyone that loved me or supported me. I looked up at the grove of pine trees and felt hot tears streaming down my cheeks. I silently wept, feeling hopeless and foolish for even going on the ski trip in the first place. Then, I felt a slight tapping on my shoulder.
“Is everything alright, Max?” A voice echoed behind me.
I squeezed my eyes shut it’s tight as I could, quickly trying to dry my eyes. I slowly turned around to see him. His rosy cheeks glowed in the light of the sunset.
“C-Colin?” I stuttered.
“Yeah?” He replied softly.
“Everything‘s fine.” Since you’re here, I wanted to add.
His warm body was leaning against mine on the tree. It felt like a movie scene, until I started blushing and we quickly backed away.
“Um… I was wondering if you’d want to go over by the lanterns with me?”
“Sure,” I said, trying to resist the urge to smile.
We walked over to the benches. Snow covered the ground in a delicate blanket. The sun was still setting, but not all the way, so you could see fragments of the sunset but can faintly view the stars. But best of all, there were hundreds of lanterns surrounding us, all hung up on a little twine string in the air. They had a magical glow. We stood on the snowy hill, no one said a word. Then, I felt his pinky latch onto mine. It felt like the moment lasted forever. I turned to look at Colin. We locked eyes. An indescribable and intense feeling came over me. I slowly leaned my head in, and our lips touched. It was delicate, like a feather. Ethereal. I wanted it to last for an eternity. Gently, we both pulled away. I felt lost in the stare of his turquoise eyes. Suddenly, a wave of awe and love struck me. It was unreal. Night had fallen, and the lights in the dorms were all shut off. We held hands at the top of the hill, we could see galaxies of indigo and mauve.
“Well,” he said. “It’s getting kind of late.”
“Yeah.”
“I’ll walk you back to your dorm room,” Colin offered, smiling.
When we arrived back at my dorm, we said our goodbyes and he gave me a little kiss on the cheek.
“Goodnight Max!” He whispered.
I shut my dorm door and screamed into my pillow, not wanting to wake up violet.
“I can’t believe that really just happened!” I thought. I fell back onto the bed, exhausted, but I couldn’t get Colin out of my mind. Eventually, I fell asleep, vaguely tasting his vanilla chapstick on my lips.
The next morning I was boarding the bus. The trip has gone by so fast. On the way down the aisle, I held hands with Colin. Kids stared. Their jaws dropped. Some people cheered us on, others shouted derogatory names. That used to bother me, but now it didn’t. We had each other, and that was all I needed. We found a seat in the back, and sat down together. We held onto each other’s pinkies. None of the kids’ words mattered. I didn’t care what anyone thought or said or did. It was just the two of us, being a true selves. Our happy, shameless, and destined selves. Love who you want, and never let anyone make you feel ashamed of that.