May 2016



The Onion

By: Brenna Smith

 

This papery, smooth, imperfect layer

Cannot be the true one. I take it in my hand

And peel away every bit. It comes off,

Like bad habits,

In irregular pieces-

A little at a time.

 

Now here is a moist

And shiny layer; I want to believe it

Is the true one. But wait-

Beneath it dwells

Another- just the same, smaller.

 

Everything

Grows gradually smaller

As you approach the

Truth.

 

And here I have it,

At last

The last one.

 

A white, somewhat round thing, with the appearance of a seed, but fruitless.

Doubtless it was buried so deep to hide the shame of uselessness.

 

You cannot put an onion back together.

 

Brenna Smith is a writer, musician, and high school student from Tyler, Texas. She enjoys studying foreign languages, cooking Asian food, writing stories and poems on her 1917 Corona typewriter, performing competitively on the flute and piano, spending time with her family, and reading and discussing good books. She is currently writing the first draft of a novel she began in November 2015. 



Cartly

By: Sophia Bryant

I haven’t stood in this spot in exactly 13 years, 6 months, and 21 days–my birthday 13 years ago–the day I was taken to England.

My name is Clara Anderson. I am 20 years old and I’ve always been way taller than anyone else I knew. I grew up in Cartly Island, a small Scottish island with only about 15 people living there. I lived in a foster home there, with eight other kids plus Ms. Lucy, the director of the home. Ms. Lucy was nice to everyone and never would get mad or angry about anything.

It was my 7th birthday and we were all tired from the small party we had just had so we all went to sleep, thinking that tomorrow would be a normal day just like all the rest. But that was the night our childhoods were ruined. That was the night that my life came tumbling down.

No one knew what happened to Ms. Lucy after that night, and with me only being a 7-year-old, I thought it was all my fault because it was my birthday. And over all of these years, I had started to believe it was true. I think about Cartly every single day. This all sounds like a story in a book, but it’s not just the story of my terrible childhood.

After 13 years, I finally was allowed to come back, after begging and begging my “parents”. I was so excited to finally be here again–so eager to find Ms. Lucy and everyone else I had known as a child. Mackenzie, my best friend from the foster home, had come with me. We were staring at the sea surrounding us, my long dirty blond hair blowing in the wind.

“What are we going to do first?” Mackenzie said being a very chatty person.

“Should we go find Ms. Lucy or explore the island?”

“I say we go find a room to stay in first, and then we can make plans.” I responded.

“Sounds like a plan!”

“Then let’s go.”

We walked to the center of the island where the town was, hoping maybe someone would remember us. When we got there every building, person, and thing reminded me of what had happened to us, the 2 men, the ship, every last We found the inn, the only place with rooms on the whole island.

Mackenzie and I had only been in here once, the night that the fire started in the kitchen. (It hadn’t hurt anyone or damaged anything). We walked in and the lady running the front desk screamed, “I can’t believe my eyes! Is that you Mackenzie? And what was your name?” This was Lisa, known for being the loudest person in all of Cartly.

“It’s Clara ma’am. We would like to stay in a room.”

“Well by all means. I’ll have to tell Lucy the great news.”

Mackenzie spoke up. “Do you mean Ms. Lucy?” she said enthusiastically.

“No, no, I’m talking about Lucy Stuart, the old manager of the fish shop. Who is this Ms. Lucy you are talking about?”

“Ms. Lucy, the headmistress of the foster home.”

“I think you must be mistaken. The headmistress is Mrs. McCleary. There never has been any other Lucy’s on this island except for old Lucy Stuart. I think you might just be confused. How about a visit to Lucy’s room?”

“No, you’re wrong. Ms. Lucy was the leader of the foster home. She was as real as you and me.” I said. By the look in Mackenzie’s eyes, I could tell how nerve-racking this felt for us both, having just been told that the person who had taken care of us and loved us didn’t even exist. We followed Lisa and walked up the stairs.

We walked past the three rooms, one of which we had stayed in all those years ago. When we got to the door where Lucy Stuart was staying, Lisa knocked on the door and waited patiently. It seemed to take forever for it to open, but when it did, my heart started to beat very fast.

“Yes?” Lucy Stuart said in a rough voice. “Hello Linda, who are these 2 children?” I guess everyone in an old lady's world is a child. She was covered in wrinkles from head to toe and her gray hair was shining in the light. The way she smiled with her whole entire body reminded me of Ms. Lucy, but after all of these years, I couldn’t recall any other feature or trait about Ms. Lucy. I didn't have any photos or drawings.

“It’s Lisa, and this is Mackenzie...and what was your name again?” I guess forgetting names is just a thing in the adult world.

But I decided not to complain and just said, “It’s Clara, nice to meet you."

“Ms. Lucy will do fine.” Mackenzie and I both looked at each other, never forgetting the name we had said so many times years ago.

By the time we had finished talking, it was dark outside, completely ruining our plans to explore. We both decided to go to sleep.

One thing about Cartly, is that very few people actually come here, meaning there are only about three rooms in the inn, and one was filled my Lucy and the other one by Lisa. Mackenzie and I would have to both share the other small room.

We talked for a while both wondering what she had meant by the fact that there never was a Ms. Lucy.

***

We got up bright and early the next morning and went to go talk to Lisa. “Good morning Mackenzie and...” She stuttered for a second, “I'm sorry but I keep forgetting your name.”

“It’s Clara.” I said, “We were just about to go explore the island.”

“Ok, be safe.” She said as we walked out the door.

We had been walking around for about an hour now, everything reminding me of the night more than 13 years ago. My life flashing back, the long boat ride, the houses we were taken to. And then we got there, the old children’s home, looking like it hasn’t even been touched. Now looking at it, I wonder what happened to all of the other children. The only person from the home I had seen in all these years was Mackenzie. We decided to go inside, chills running down my spine.

***

Nothing can explain what just happened I have nowhere to go, every time I close my eyes I can see it.

After what seems like ages I decide to go back to the inn. I can barely walk, breathing hard. When I finally get there Lisa is eating lunch.

“Sweetie, what happened to you?”

I mutter back, “Ms. Lucy. Mackenzie. All of the other children.”

“Honey, what are you talking about? And where is your friend?”

“That’s what I’m telling you. She disappeared. They were all there, and then they just disappeared.”

“Who do you mean by them?”

“All of the children in the home.”

“You and Mackenzie were the only people that ever did live in the children’s home.”

“No there were 6 others,” I said very confused.

“No, only you and Mackenzie.” Said Lisa. “Would you like me to go there with you?”

“No thank you. Not after what just happened.” I said.

“Explain to me what happened.”

“Ok. First, Mackenzie and I walked in. I had turned the other way to look at something, and when I turned back around she was gone. I walked all around the place trying to find her. I walked in the bedroom hoping she would be there, and then I saw them. Ms. Lucy and all of the other children were there.” I started to get very scared “And then they just vanished, leaving Mackenzie standing there. I tried to run for her and ask her what was going on. But then, just like everyone else she vanished.”

I could tell how scared Lisa was, “It was probably just your imagination.”

But we both knew it was not.

 

Sophia Bryant is 12 years old and lives in Louisville, KY.



Gone

By: Malia Spencer

The tree’s branches clawed at the sky, it’s roots old and twisted. The child wept in painful silence. Tears flowed down her cheeks and off her chin, leaving her skin red and mottled. Lyla raised her head to explore the forest canopy as if in search of answers.

She whispered to the sky, so quietly it was only meant to be a secret to the wind. “I wish he’d just go away forever, he ruined everything.” As the words toppled out of her mouth, she sagged against the tree and her eyelids dragged her into a heavy sleep.

The morning radio cracked through the haze and Lyla awoke, her memories groggy and her skin sticky from the tears that had spritzed her face the night before. Streaks of sunlight poured through the blinds and danced on her bed sheets.

She couldn’t remember getting into her bed, or even out from under the tree; it all seemed like a dream when she thought about it. Then she heard the door creak open and her mother’s gentle voice, which pulled her into reality.

“Lyla, please come to the table.” With each word, her mother’s voice shook, and then she hurried from the doorway.

Lyla swung her feet out of bed and stumbled down the hallway. She stopped at Conner’s door, poking her head through the tiny crack to get a glimpse at her older brother. His bed was neatly made and he wasn’t inside, so she lazily moved one tiny foot over the other sliding into the kitchen.

At the table, her mother looked like a storm, her ash hair pulled into a bun. Her face was fresh red from crying and her hands shook as she clutched her black mug of coffee.

Lyla’s father was something new altogether. The man who would twirl Lyla around the kitchen was now a stranger, his playful light snuffed out.

“Mom? Dad?” Lyla spoke quietly, yet her parents still seemed to flinch from her words.

“He’s gone, Lyla.” Her mother’s lips barely moved. Although her voice was quiet, the remark hit Lyla like a tsunami and she swiveled her head in panic, searching for Conner.

“Gone?” The question escaped her lips like a gasp, before tears burst from her eyes and the breath rushed from her lungs. Lyla looked from her mother to father, but neither of them spoke. They just sat there, completely paralyzed by their grief.

Shaking her head, Lyla rose to her feet. Just as her mother’s eyes awoke and she threw a hand out for her daughter, Lyla tore away through the front door, the nip of autumn biting her cheeks. She launched herself out of her comfortable home and into to the wild.

Lyla ran down the dirt driveway, up the hill, and into the skeletal trees of the forest. Her feet smacked against the cool leaves that matted the ground, snapping twigs and crushing pinecones. The wind blew against her nightgown and the cold climbed up her body, but she refused to stop. Branches clawed at patches of her black hair, and the birds squawked in fury. As she propelled herself through the forest, her mind went blank and she could feel her face transforming like her parents’ had.

“Conner! Conner!” Lyla screamed with raw intensity. It charged the air as she reached the old oak. “You stupid thing! You stupid thing, give him back! I didn’t mean it, I want him back!” Lyla pounded her runty fists against the tree until her knuckles sprouted with blood. She raked the tree with child’s claws and continued its beating. She was relentless and her body went numb as she savagely attacked the tree.

Now she couldn’t believe their silly little fight that had caused her to cry herself to sleep. She couldn’t believe any of it. It was all her fault. She had wished him gone. She had done this.

Lyla remembered Conner’s voice and his many, many warnings. At the time, the warnings were confused with wishes. “The tree will give you everything you ever could want, Ly.” Now she understood, and her body shook feverishly with the awakening of the memory.

A cry seeped into her voice. “I’d do anything to have you back,” she whispered, a promise to the wind again. A pearly tear tumbled down her cheek.

As the air grew colder, so did her heart.

 

Malia Spencer is fifteen years old. She lives in Arvada, Colorado.



Hush Little Baby

By: Lena Hartsough

Hush little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

 

And if that mockingbird don’t sing,

Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.

 

And if that diamond ring don’t shine,

Mama’s gonna buy you a jug of wine.

 

And if that jug of wine turns sour,

Mama’s gonna buy you a bag of flour.

 

And if that bag of flour gets spilled,

Mama’s gonna buy you a board that’s drilled.

 

And if that board that’s drilled gets broke,

Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat.

 

And if that billy goat turns mean,

Mama’s gonna buy you something green.

 

And if that something green turns brown,

You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.
 

I lay awake in the dark, staring at the cracked ceiling and trying to ignore the terrifying sounds coming from down the hall. I had been hearing them for the past seven years of my life, but I still found myself shuddering. I sat up, careful not to wake Lisa and Kari, who were on either side of me. Their closeness felt suffocating. I crawled to the edge of the bed, stood up, and walked over to the window. I stared out the tiny rectangle of thick glass at the glowing moon. For the millionth time, I wondered what went on in Mother’s room every night that caused such screams.

A pitter-patter of tiny footsteps made me whirl around, my nightgown swirling. I relaxed as I saw it was only Leo, the youngest inhabitant of our prison-like room. I smiled at the small six-year-old boy, and he grinned back. He held his arms up to me, and pointed at the window. I scooped him up and held him so he could see the moon. He tilted his head against my shoulder. We stood there for quite some time, until he yawned, and I carried him back to the bed he shared with the other six boys. I tucked him in, and he signed, Good night, Sara, before closing his eyes to sleep. I returned to the window, pulling a chair over. I watched the moon and stars as they cycled across the sky.

Shaking woke me. Lola’s face was inches from mine when I opened my eyes. I made a face at her, and she giggled noiselessly. I could see the stump where her tongue used to be. You fell asleep at the window again, Sara, she signed.

I shrugged, and signed back, You know it happens almost every night.

She nodded in agreement. I sat up fully, rubbing my cheek where it had pressed into the hard wall, and looked around the room. Everyone was waking up, stretching and yawning. I shivered, partly from the deep chill of the room and partly from the sight of all those tongueless mouths. Fourteen children, none of whom did anything to deserve this, were now trapped in a room and mute. Why? What did Mother do in her room with the samples of blood she took from each of us every day? Was there something special about us, or did she just pick us off the streets? And why did we need to be mutilated? I shook my head; thinking like that could be dangerous. I could get in trouble with Mother if she found out I was questioning her.

Speak of the devil.

The door slammed open and Mother flounced in, carrying a heavily-laden tray with our breakfasts on it. “Good morning, children!” she sang, starting to pass out our food. When she reached me, she set my plate of toast, eggs, and bacon in my lap, and pinched my cheek. “Were we sleeping by the window again, Sara?”

I nodded. I love the moon, I signed, and Mother nodded in agreement.

“It was beautiful last night!” she exclaimed, before moving on to pass Lola her breakfast. Once she had given us all food, she took out the little box with fourteen syringes in it, and asked us to line up. We obeyed, and she took exactly five milliliters of blood from each of us. Then she gave us small band-aids and left, without saying a word.

We weren’t surprised by the strange order; Mother always told us to have fun. We didn’t understand how we could have fun in a small room with no furnishings but the beds, two chairs, and a large stack of books, but we made the most of it. We played acting games and charades, we poured over new sign language books, we read the other books Mother allowed us over and over again. I can’t say it was a terrible life, but it was a boring one, and one full of confusion and slight fear. We were always afraid that if we managed to somehow make a noise we would get punished. We had all witnessed her anger; the first day Leo was with us he had started crying and tried to run when Mother tried to take his blood. She had lost her temper and screamed at us all for forty-five minutes. We had ended that breakfast with bruises and a greater fear of the unknown woman who told us to call her “Mother”.

She was beautiful, I mused as we ate our breakfast. There was never a hair out of place, and she had icy blue eyes. She was tall and poised, and she was even kind to us most of the time. But there was the slight madness in her eyes, no matter how sane Mother seemed. We knew she left the house during the day, and came back to her room at night. But we had no idea what she was doing.

Distracted as I was, I didn’t notice Shawn’s signs until Leo tugged on my sleeve. I glanced up in time to catch him sign pretending to be nice all the time. He seemed disgusted. I turned to Leo with a look that said, what’s happening? He shrugged, seeming just as confused as me, but he signed, Shawn thinks it’s stupid that Mother pretends all the time.

I frowned, and returned my attention to the conversation that Shawn had started. He was a rather hot-headed boy of nine, but even he wouldn’t be stupid enough to mention that in front of Mother. Lisa was disagreeing with Shawn.

She is not pretending, Lisa signed. She wouldn’t lie to us. She’s nice!

Shawn sneered. You think she is nice even when you see what happens when we disobey her? Are you crazy?

Everyone started signing at once, and I waved my arms through the air. When they had stopped, I signed, Everyone calm down. We may not know what Mother does, but we know that she is probably insane. I don’t really think there is anything we can do, so we should stop thinking about it and just live like we have been.

Rich shook his head. You think you are the best and always in charge just because you’re the oldest, Sara, he signed. I’m only a year younger, and I say we should find a way to escape.

I clenched my teeth and leaned back into the worn back of my chair as the flurry of angry signs started again. Arguments like these happened at least once a month. A few times, some of the kids had been convinced that we should try to escape, but they always chickened out at the last second. I had learned to just wait them out.

All of a sudden, Leo and Caroline started tugging hard on my sleeves. I stared at them, confused, to find them pointing at our tiny window. I followed their intent gazes and saw a small bird pecking at the glass. I waved my arms for a second time, and when I had their attention, pointed in the same direction as our youngest two. Everyone crowded around, and I sucked in a breath, worried that they’d scare the creature away. The bird only cocked its head at us, however, and chirped. At least, I think it chirped. I couldn’t hear it through the glass.

Evan jumped up and down, then ran to our small bookshelf and pulled out our big book of avian species. He flipped through it, then ran back to us. He pointed at a page, and I raised an eyebrow. A mockingbird, I signed to the rest.

Dylan opened his mouth and laughed in our silent way. How ironic, he signed.

Barbara frowned. It’s mocking us, she signed.

I guess that is its job, Iona mused. To mock people.

Evan shook his head, setting down the heavy book so he could sign. It is called a mockingbird because it can mock, or imitate, some birds, insects, and amphibians.

Nerd, Philip signed, ruffling Evan’s hair fondly. Evan slapped his hand away in mock anger.

It’s pretty, Caroline signed, eyes fixed on the creature.

We all nodded, but I couldn’t help but remember the line from the lullaby Mother sang us every night. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. What would come next? A diamond ring? I grinned at the thought.

After that, the mockingbird came back every day and pecked at our window. Freddy came up with a sign name for the bird, combining the signs for free and bird. We talked about it often, us older ones wondering why it kept coming back when we couldn’t feed it or do anything else for it.

One night, I went over to the window as I had the day before we first saw the mockingbird, to look at the moon. I watched the bright, white light until I began to drift off, but was snapped back to wakefulness by the now familiar tapping. I was confused. Mockingbirds aren't nocturnal. But I peered out the window into the dark night anyway, and sure enough, saw the small, pale brown shape staring at me with a little black eye that reflected the moon. Why are you here, Freebird? I signed, not caring that it was a dumb animal that couldn’t understand me. You are diurnal.

It stared at me, and jabbed at the window. Doesn’t that hurt? I asked.

It didn’t answer. I shrugged, and laid my head back down on my arms. We examined each other, the bird still pecking away, then a loud screech from Mother’s room startled it, and it hopped backwards. It looked at me in a way that seemed almost reproachful. It spread its wings and took off, spiraling off in a slow, teasing flight, up towards the crescent moon.

It’s not fair, I thought. If I could still speak, I would be whining. Why can’t we fly? Why can’t we soar up towards the moon and freedom just like the mockingbird? It’s not fair. None of us deserve this.

I went to sleep with tears on my face that night.

“—You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town,” Mother cooed, gently covering Leo and the other boys with their blanket. The younger children had already fallen asleep. Mother pressed a moist kiss to Leo’s forehead, and tiptoed out of the room. I watched her, heard the door shut, and closed my eyes. 3…2…1… The screaming from Mother’s room started. I sighed.

Freebird had been visiting for nearly a month. It had always been able to leave just in the nick of time before Mother came in, and it now came almost every night as well as the day, knowing it wouldn’t be heard by Mother over the sounds. Several hours into the night, it would show up by our window and start its relentless tapping. Tonight was no different, except the taps seemed more urgent.

I got out of bed and crept over to the window, staring at the small bird. It paused for a moment, and fluttered into the air, flying in frantic circles. I stared at it. Had all the knocking finally made it go mad?

Then I froze. Silence had fallen. There were no screams from Mother’s room. Leo sat up, staring at me with wide eyes. The quiet had woken him. The others began stirring as well. Accustomed as we were to the noise, we could not sleep without it. Freebird began beating its wings against the glass, and I started to shake. Footsteps pounded down the hallway, and the door slammed open. Mother stormed in. This was not the Mother that sang “Hush Little Baby” to us. This was the Mother that punished us, the Mother whose insanity shone out through her eyes with nothing to block it.

“Come on, children,” she said in a crazed, reedy voice. “We’re going on a little field trip!” She giggled. When none of us moved, her smile faded. “Now!”

I stood up, taking one last glance at Freebird. It was beside itself. The rest followed me, clambering out of bed. We stood in front of Mother, who lead us out of the room and down the hallway. The door was open. We all knew what it was. Mother’s room. She took my hand and tugged me inside. The others followed.

 

Lena Viola Hartsough is fourteen years old. She lives in San Francisco.