Contest Winner: Turning Tail by Michael Tucker

She was the cutest hitchhiker he had ever had the good fortune to pick up. He glanced over at the soft figure sitting next to him, trying hard to hide the hungry gleam in his eyes. If they kept cruising down Highway 91 at this rate, they would be there in two hours. Soon enough, they would be dancing barefoot by the light of the moon with the rest of the tribe.  He had an extra ticket and Lunar Vibe was already shaping up to be the party of the summer. And now he had someone with whom to share the experience.  And damn, what a someone. What an amazing stroke of luck. Those soft, glistening eyes and full lips; that little girl, freckled nose and those luscious curves, all too apparent in perfectly fitted jeans.  And the total cherry on top was that this piece of perfection just happened to climb into a car with this schmuck, who knew he would remain a gentlemen despite the horny, hungry wolf clambering about in his head; that is unless of course, he was given an invitation to do otherwise.

His mind drifted to the legendary aphrodisiac he had in the glove box. He had bought it from the toothless, old lady peddling herbs at a rest stop a few nights ago. He could still hear her laughing as she told him that it would turn him into a real animal, my  boy. A real animal…

For now, it was just the two of them barreling down this crazy road to nowhere and hopefully into each other’s arms. They had the whole weekend in front of them and it was going to be super fucking epic. Maybe, just maybe she would climb into his tent later tonight. Maybe it would get just chilly enough for her to cuddle up close to him. And then, maybe….but he couldn’t think about that now.

One hundred miles left of driving and there would be just enough time to set up camp by lantern and then it would be time for a few cold ones and live music until sunrise. He couldn’t wait. Sweet anticipation ran up against the nag of a full bladder.  He really had to pee.  He turned the volume dial to the right; mellow ,psychedelic , noodly jams filled the car. Moonlight lit up the highway with its cold and indifferent light. He tried not to stare at her too much. He resisted the urge to put his hand on her thigh. Maybe later, when they would be settled comfortably in his tent…

She stared out the window, watching the shadows shift and morph on the rows of trees as they blurred by. She imagined the glowing eyes of night creatures staring back at her through the branches: creepy, hunting night creatures.   A huge moon blazed up ahead. Its light played tricks with her eyes.

How long had she been running and where would it all end? Three weeks of going from town to town and she was already exhausted. She felt like prey running for her life in some kind of ridiculously drawn out chase scene from some goddamned National Geographic documentary. The kind where she covered her eyes to avoid seeing  what was going to happen to the poor gazelle in the next  frame. She just knew that it was going to be red and bloody and would inevitably involve a shot of the small animal, its eyes dead  and glazed over as the lion ate its flesh. She knew full well that no one ever walks away from

Big Johnny when she had stolen the money from him. Nobody ever makes a fool of Big Johnny and lives to talk about it, but she had made it this far. And the camera was not going to be cutting to a shot of that fat bastard licking his chops anytime soon. Not if she could help it. She was not on the menu.

He stomped on the gas. 85mph and things were beginning to get desperate. Pressing needs and animal instincts. Major bladder discomfort. He was hungry, ravenous in fact. And dog tired of being in the car. There was no sign of civilization. They hadn’t seen a vehicle in at least an hour. Just a huge moon and a sky full of stars. Miles bled into miles of empty, open road. Finally, just up ahead there was a gas station. He pulled into the empty Exxon parking lot.

“Need anything?”

“No thanks man. I’m good.” She leaned back in her seat.

“You sure?  Be back in a jiffy.”

She watched his red hoodie disappear through the front doors and into the harsh, fluorescent lighting of the mini mart. Bats dove and devoured insects under giant pole lights as the moon bore silent witness. The eerie zaps of bugs being fried by merciless, ultraviolet lanterns punctuated the midnight silence with a surreal rhythm. She took a deep breath, made sure he was totally out of sight and began to rifle through the glove box. She checked to make sure the small handgun was still tucked safely in the waistband of her jeans, hoping  she wouldn’t have to use it. She didn’t want to have to do this – not to him. He seemed like a nice enough dude, but the rules of survival said otherwise. Out of money. Out of luck. Out of options. Business is business. There had to be some cash or valuables here somewhere.  No dice. Just an empty wallet, a few cd’s, and an old wrinkled envelope. On the front of the envelope, the following words were printed on a yellowed  label:




for the



Inside the envelope was a small amount of plant matter, dried, shriveled and twisted. Well, this was intriguing. She was certainly no stranger to plant-fueled, psychonautic adventures, and there was something oddly appealing about this root. It felt strangely pleasant in her hands just like the  subliminally pleasant vibrations she felt when she knew she had chosen the right crystal in one of the New Age shops she frequented. Curiously enough, she could hear a disembodied voice in her head speaking in the raspy tones of an apparently ancient crone, “Go on dear, try me. Try me and your life will never be the same again . What do you have to lose? No more running from town to town. No more living in fear and dread. It’ll make you feel like a real animal… “

She held the root in her hand for a moment.  ‘Da fuck kind of Alice in Wonderland shit is this?  A trippy, talking root? Yeah, right. Next thing you know I’ll be shrinking and growing and meeting Cheshire Cats and smoking weed with giant caterpillars. The gnarled old plant buzzed warmly in her palm.  Startled to see his red hoodie already halfway back to the car, she slammed the glove box shut.

On impulse, she put the dried up old root in her mouth. And besides, she wouldn’t mind too terribly if things got wild, after all he was pretty cute. His hand was on the car door.

“Granola bar?” he asked as he got in.

“No thanks, man.” She chewed on the dry root, looking sheepish and trying to act as if her mouth wasn’t full of this vile and bitter and ancient root, this something with a wretched  taste. She sure hoped it would live up to the pitch on the yellowed label.

He drove off, chewing on a granola bar and enjoying the absence of pressure on his bladder. Coyotes laughed and cackled in the distance. His most pressing physical needs having been attended to, it was time to set the tone for later: mood music, sexy, hard and dark, stay awake all night music. The melodic angst of Nine Inch Nails would do nicely. Industrial beats, broken fragments of lost piano melodies and icy synths filled the car. The speakers throbbed with the dirty electro-pulse of “Closer.”

He was sure he could talk her into sharing some of the root with him later, and maybe things would get more than a little bit crazy. They were both lost in the song…

Suddenly, her mind drifted to flashes of a long forgotten nightmare.  She would often dream that she was running through a forest  in a body that was too powerful to be her own while looking though fierce, alien eyes and giving chase to some helpless animal which she would run down. She would then taste its flesh, warm, raw, and bloody: a vegetarian’s nightmare. This macabre memory ended abruptly when she felt a searing pain deep within her skull. There was no warning. Were the effects of the root she had eaten kicking in already? If so, this was going to be a wild ride. Her senses were scrambled. Dizziness. Intense waves of nausea. She was going to be sick. Piercing blindness. The bones in her face were breaking, changing form and size, bending into impossible shapes. She couldn’t keep still. Make it stop make it stop. This couldn’t be happening; this couldn’t be real. The veins in her neck bulged into ropes. She couldn’t breathe. Make it stop make it stop. Her fingernails tore through the ends of her fingers, becoming claws. Hot, burning pain everywhere.  She screamed. Her human voice was gone. She looked through eyes that were ruthless and inhuman, eyes that hunted for prey. Her teeth tore through her gums and became razor-like daggers, tools that were perfect for the shredding, tearing, and eating of flesh. Taste of her own  blood. Lust for more blood.  She howled and inhaled the scent of warm and living meat. Tender flesh of a human. He smelled delicious. Wiry grey and black hairs pushed through her pores and covered her once human skin. Meat of a young male.  Her mouth watered. Her spine stretched; then popped. What painful and shatteringly cruel alchemy of flesh and bone was this? Powerful hunger surged through every fiber of her being. Her shoulders burst into haunches.

He screamed and jerked the wheel. The car skidded off the interstate and came to a sudden, steaming  stop in a ditch. His body made it out of the car on instinct. Holy Fuck. The smell of hot, rank breath. Flash of big white teeth. Disorienting  footfalls. He ran and ran and ran for his life. Into the woods, he ran, heart pounding. His sympathetic nervous system kicked into overdrive. Rustling. Panting. Howl of night creatures. Stab of a side stitch. He wove in and out of the trees, trying desperately to remain in the shadows. He was a tender gazelle trying to escape the teeth of the lion. His two legs were no match for the four legged, hungry beast.

She ran him down beside a birch tree, knocking him to the ground with a single swipe of the claw.  She ripped out his throat and exposed the red and shining purple meat. His flesh was wet, hot and tender, just like it had been in her dream. He simultaneously felt the tortuous pleasure and searing pain of being eaten alive. Total overwhelm.  The savagery of nature.  The ultimate trip. Flood of endorphins and the world went black forever.


She awoke the next morning, shivering, naked and sore with bruises and scrapes. The early light came down in shafts through the trees. The morning silence was broken only by the chatter of birds. She remembered nothing. Her head was pounding, hungover. Had he been a total douchebag -creep who had drugged her and then took advantage of her while she was unconscious?

They never found what little was left of him. Strange white flowers sprang from the spot beside the birch tree where nature eventually absorbed his remains. The moon began to wane in its cycle and somewhere far away, an old lady herbalist laughed and laughed.



Runner-Up: The Land of Orange and Black by Kaitlyn Teach

In the land of orange and black
You must take care to not look back
Flaccid bodies, chagrin smiles
Find the man in the black coat
Take note, and stay a while

Reaper’s sharpened farmer’s scythe
Brings the facts of death to light
Catch his eyes with your own two
He is embarrassed; caught in the act
“Look back!” he says to trick you

Do not listen to his shouts
Never, ever turn about
In this midnight forest clearing
Know your enemies and friends
Here again, see Death’s eyes leering

He moves behind you swiftly now
And causes you to turn around
Nothing good comes from not listening
You thought I lied? Well how
There, now, your moonlit blood is glistening

So, take heed in my warning
Hide your face until the morning
And you will never come back
To the land of orange and black
I promise

Runner-Up: Rest Area? by Jake Kemman

Thanks to everyone who submitted to our Spooky Story/Poem Contest! Here is one our two awesome runners-up! Check back tomorrow to read the other one, and then on Halloween to read the winning entry!

Rest Area?

by Jake Kemman

The whine of old tires over slick concrete pierced through the cacophony of silence surrounding a worn and pitted highway. The air dripped with fog.

A royal blue flash in the highbeams marked the passage of a rusting, tortured sign nearly obscured in the mist.

“Good, it’s here today” noted Custodian Michael, as he turned into the rest plaza.

The little man’s stout figure looked about 50, his eyes to be 25, his ghost white hair, slicked into a short ponytail, to be 70. A creaky smile wormed across his face as he tapped the brake on his squeaky little antique pickup.

It did nothing. But he didn’t seem to be concerned as he coasted off the exit ramp precisely into the 3rd parking space. This was where he always parked.

Custodian Michael took a breath and stepped out onto the surface of the otherwise empty parking area. The air smelled as it always did.


Michael waded through the closeted air towards the tiny information center.

A young man with close cropped hair wearing a state-issued custodial uniform stepped out from behind the information counter when Michael entered. His skin was paler than death.

He looked Michael in the eyes with a pair of gigantic pupils and nodded slowly.

Michael smiled in return, and without a word the pale boy turned and stepped out into the fog. Michael watched him glide down the sidewalk out of sight.

“Must be new…” Michael thought to himself.

An analogue clock behind the counter read 5:30. Michael made a note of that before walking to the custodial closet across the lobby to ensure it was still locked.

It was.

As always.

Nobody knew where the keys were.

Rumor had it that Frankie knew where they were, but Michael doubted it. Frankie was Michael’s closest friend; he knew Frankie would tell him if he knew where the keys were.

Not that it mattered.

The bathrooms were always pristine anyway.

Michael spun and walked to the map dispenser.

It was full.

As always.

Nobody ever took any of the maps.

A sudden whirring sound alerted Michael. He turned quickly to face it, just in time to see a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew fall into the drawer of an antiquated vending machine.

“Oh, It’s just you, Frankie. How long have you been awake?” said Michael.

“You woke me up with your relentless humming!” said the vending machine.

The voice was soft, and charming. Hints of a Carolina twang were noticeable on the ends of his words.

Michael hadn’t realized he was humming again. He usually only hummed when he was feeling especially inquisitive.

“Say, where did you go last night? I came out to see if the new kid was on duty, but the sign was gone and I had to find a place to turn around on the other side of the ridge,” said Michael.

“Just a little bit of sightseeing,” Frankie chuckled.

Michael sighed.

The dented snack machine showed no emotion, but Michael could feel the disembodied voice beaming at him from beyond the gritty folds of reality, just as it had when they first got to know each-other, so long ago. Michael still taught saxophone in the basement of a local community college.

That was before The Reassignments.

Michael sighed again, longer this time.

That dingy little music room in the damp basement of the art building was like a second home. He missed the evening walks down the musty stairwell and past the custodial closet to the stained and battered soundproof chamber at the end of his hall.

He missed his frequent stops at the code-mandated vending machine that lived in the moldy corner next to the heat plant across from his door.

He missed the one sided conversations he would use to pass the time as he would decide on his order; he always took forever.

Michael knew every inch of that machine, every quirk and malfunctioning button, every item; they never changed.

They still haven’t changed.

Michael remembered the day The Reassignments came down; he was slotted among the first to go.

Michael remembered his solemn walk down the musty stairs after the form-printed letter showed up in his post office box, freshly stamped with the seals of the college president and State Inspector’s office.

Michael could do nothing. Nothing but shuffle over to the vending machine, and go about his usual routine, pretending that everything was fine until his travel authorization came through.

He remembered inserting a rumpled dollar bill and blindly dialing a number on the faded keypad. Something he never did.

Nothing happened.

He tried again.


Defeated, he turned and slumped against the dented frame of the machine. It was too much.

“I’m not giving you popcorn until you tell me what’s wrong.”

Michael nearly blacked out when he first heard the voice.

Frankie’s words echoed through the cavernous memories Michael had accumulated over the years. The rolling tongue snapped him back to reality.

He realized Frankie had been off on another rant while he’d been caught living in the past.

“The highway inspector has to learn sometime to stop screwing us over by sending so many new janitors!” Frankie grumbled.

He was serious.

Frankie was never serious.

If Frankie was serious?

Michael never wanted to see a day like that again. His pickup still smelled like bleach from their frantic overnight trip. He laughed, briefly, at how much Frankie hated riding in the back.  “At least he was thorough,” Michael thought. The exasperated inner tone threatened to leak out of his mouth.

Authorities still haven’t found the remains of the campus administrative staff.

“Frankie, the highway inspector doesn’t even know you exist! All he ever sees is a dilapidated vending machine with expired root beer!” said Michael, trying to defuse his friend.

“All he ever sees is another reason to tear us down! You know that can’t happen, Michael!” The anger in Frankie’s tone was not directed at the little man.

Before the conversation could continue, the unmistakable rumble of a late model Mercedes rang like thunder through the soggy air.

“Speak of the devil,” uttered both friends.

Frankie turned eerily silent as a pair of neon blue headlights rolled into view; the fog-refracted light cast a ghostly aura inside the tiny lobby before winking out.

A door slammed, and a short, wide man, barely of Michael’s height, in a tailored suit, hastily made his way to the lobby entrance.

Michael stared at him with a neutral expression.

“WHERE IS THE NEW CUSTODIAN?!” shouted The Inspector.

Since The Inspector took over The Department, Michael had never heard him say anything in a voice that wasn’t loud enough to be heard over the roar of a lumber mill.

Michael shrugged a response, knowing it would aggravate the stocky inspector.


“He left?” said Michael, purposefully quiet.


“I got here a little early, and I guess he took it that meant he could leave. So he left.”


Michael shrugged again, softer this time.

The Inspector flushed red with anger. Having hated Michael with a passion since before their first meeting, he searched briefly around the room for something to pick on.

He found nothing.

It was pristine.

As always.

Nothing was ever dirty.


Unfazed, Michael shrugged a third time.

The Inspector, disgusted, turned toward the vending machine nestled in the corner.

He fumbled awkwardly in his wallet for a $20 bill and presented it to the old machine. Despite the information sticker that claimed otherwise, it gladly vacuumed up the crisp note like a hungry dog.

The Inspector dialed for a bag of potato chips and leaned against the machine, trying to remember the breathing exercises his doctor had recommended.

Michael smiled as the bag stopped just short of the ledge, and $19.00 in change failed to accumulate.

The Inspector furiously pressed the coin return lever.

Nothing happened.

He slapped the side of the box with a meaty hand.


He shook the machine on its stubby legs.


He repeatedly slammed a fist against the glass partition.

It cracked.

The sound rang like a gunshot through the moist air. Michael’s previously raucous laughter immediately ceased. His face turned to slate.

“You… Shouldn’t… Have… Done… That…” Michael whispered.

The Inspector had lost any remaining vestiges of inner calm. He turned to face Michael, jamming a pudgy finger in the solemn face of the custodian.



He stormed out, unconcerned with the damage he had caused.

A car door slammed, and the ghostly headlights resumed their shine.

Michael turned to face Frankie, ready to plead with him to find a different solution.

It was too late.

The lights in the display case flickered angrily, the previously serene white now a crimson scream.

The machine shuddered, Frankie’s voice no longer emanating from within. The pencil-thin LCD display above the coin slot scrolled furiously, it’s welcoming message gone.

“N0T AG@1N!!1! NEV3R @GA1N!!1!”

Michael turned back to the front windows and stared into the fog. The shadowy outline of a Mercedes teetered on the edge of invisibility.

Michael walked to the front door and flipped the lock.

He never locked the door.

There was never any reason.

The Inspector eased out of his double-parked space, mist billowing and dancing around him. He was oblivious in his rage.

A massive shape disturbed the fog behind the silver Mercedes, eyes glowing acidic green.

Michael knew it all too well.

The Inspector tore off through the parking lot, the mists of anger clouding his already poor vision. The towering quadruped bounded after him, a flash of rippling muscle and bared teeth. The mountains surrounding the little parking lot echoed with the yowling of a thousand wounded lions.

It didn’t take the brief sound of a warbling car alarm, or the screams of rending metal for Michael to know: The Inspector never found the exit ramp.

The Burning Boy by Zon Fatima

[[Winner of the 2016 Hub City Teen Writers Contest]]

The burning boy had been on the news for years now.  Every morning, right after I grab a banana from our sorry excuse for a fruit basket and right before I slip into my ratty sneakers to walk four and a half blocks to school, I make sure to glance at the TV.  My grandmother always sits on the left end of the love seat facing the rickety old television set, walker set out before her and shoes placed inches away, right off the rug.  God bless her soul, should she ever decide to move and allow me to see the whole TV from the door without blocking the bottom right corner.  But, I’m never too worried about her.  For the past four years, all of America has only been worried about the burning boy.

This morning, Anderson Cooper straightened his papers and takes a shuddering breath as he looks into the camera.  Everyone always gets a little nervous when they talk about the burning boy.  “Four years ago, second grader Wallace Trevor was burned alive in a car accident that killed both of his parents and his younger brother.”

My fingers tighten around the banana.  An old, familiar chill, one that was born four years ago, the night Wallace’s burnt body was on the news for the first time, crawls up my back and houses itself into my neck.

“With third degree burns on 75% of his body, Wallace shouldn’t have made it alive through the accident, according to Dr. Courtier,” Anderson continued. “Miraculously, however, he was able to survive Hundreds of operations and countless hours of excruciating pain later, here we are, on January 16th, 2017, witnessing Wallace step foot out of the hospital for the first time in four years.”

Like that, I forget all about school.  I forget that if I’m late one more time, I’ll be cited for detention.  I forget that I have a surprise birthday party for a teacher that I have to attend.  I forget it all as I step around the couch to sit beside my grandmother and my eyes fixate on Wallace on the TV screen.

I like his shirt, is the first thing that comes to mind, as my eyes glaze over his Avengers shirt and shift to the rest of him.  He stands on the front steps of the children’s hospital, holding the hand of his 22-year-old sister, the only family he has left.  And they look so happy.  His sister has tears in her eyes.  She’s a round women, wearing a matching shirt and a long, black skirt with frills that should’ve been left in the last decade but at the moment, no one cares.  We’re all happy for her, happy for her and her brother.  Wallace Trevor, the burning boy.

He’s 11 years old now.  His arms are wiry and the small patch of black hair he has is matted with sweat as he stands in the Orleans heat.  For four years, the stories of all his operations were everywhere and now, everyone can see their results.  To say he looks good would be putting it nicely.  Grafts had to be taken from any salvageable parts of his body to create and plaster the skin over his burns.  Doctors flew in from all over the world to give this boy at least a semblance of the handsome face he once had.  But that’s all it really is, a semblance, and not the best one.  Tight, shiny skin is stretched over his face and his arms, the only naked parts of his body to the cameras at the moment.  Over the years, some people could barely stand the sight of him because in full honesty, it was alien, to look like that.  “If this is a price for his life,” his sister said defensively into the cameras one day two years ago when the rest of America was asking if she was happy with how her brother was looking after all the surgeries, “then, I will pay it over and over and over again.”

Rectangular glasses are perches on Wallace’s’ nose. With one hand tight in his sister’s, he smiles, stretching the new skin on his face, and shies behind her frilly skirt. And like that, tears spring up in my eyes.  My trembling hand finds my mouth and I press down to keep from sobbing. Four years we were all rooting for this boy to live. Four years we only saw blurry pictures of the operating room.  Four years we lived off of a photography of him on his sixth birthday to pass the time. And here we all are, watching our alien hero standing on the steps of an Orleans hospital, shy and wiry and eleven years old with a brand new set of skin. And I promise you, cross my heart and hope to die, that right now, he’s the most beautiful boy on the face of the planet.

So what if I might have to pass on the opportunity of going to college to take care of my grandmother?  So what if my father lives in the Hamptons now and left us in this old townhouse in Baltimore after the divorce? So what if I can barely keep a C in Calculus? So what? So what? So what?

Right now, I’m looking at Wallace Trevor, a boy I don’t know, a boy whose story is reverberating through the chests of everyone in the world, a boy I’ve been stealing fleeting glances at on the TV for four years, and I’m seeing him smile and hid behind his sister and looking absolutely alien, and right now, I’m the happiest person in the world.

The Hospital Man by Alyson Flora

[[First Runner-Up in the 2016 Hub City Teen Writers Contest]]

Lungs ache. Eyes squeeze shut. From the fourth bedroom on the right, a fit of coughing erupts, echoing down the hall and across the ears of the orphanage. Beneath her sleepy tangle of sheets, a young Julianne stirs at the sharpness of the noise. She is only two rooms away, and miraculously, the only girl of nine woken. She suspects that the boys in the next room over have not been woken either, despite their greater proximity to the sound. Maybe the others have simply gotten used to the constant buzz of hacking and groaning, or maybe they’re just too tired to care. She yearns for the day that she too can sleep through the bitter breach of silence.


Suddenly, a new noise arises. A commotion of sorts. Muffled voices, shuffling feet. The floorboards moan throughout the building. She waits for the all too familiar sound, and soon enough, it comes. A rhythmic rapping against splintered wood. The metallic click of an unlocked door. Heavy steps into the house. Julianne quietly shakes off the linens that hold her to the bed, and sneaks toward her bedroom door. It is poorly fitted to the frame, and allows her a small opening, out which she can peer into the hall. Lining her eye up with the luminescent gap, she spies the source of the footsteps. Lead by Miss Marie, the makeshift mother of all the children, a large man is marching up the hall. She recognizes him as the hospital man. Miss Marie says that he takes the children to the hospital when they get too sick to stay at the orphanage. Julianne decided long ago that if she ever had to go to the hospital, she’d request that a less-scary man take her, preferably one that wasn’t at least twice her height. As Miss Marie and the hospital man make it to the last room on the right, the thought strikes Julianne that one of her friends is about to leave the orphanage. The children who go to the hospital never seem to return. Miss Marie had once explained that they go to a new home once they’re all better again. She was happy to hear this at the time, but now, the permanence of her friends departure seems to finally sink in. She simply must go and say goodbye.


Slipping down the carpeted hall undetected, Julianne heads to the room that the hospital man has just entered. The door reads infirmary. She sighs, wondering why adults must use such terribly large words for such easily phrased things. It is simply a sick-people room. Easy as that. Pressing against the door, Julianne walks confidently into the room. But perhaps a bit too confidently, as she walks straight into none other than the gigantic hospital man himself.


“This ain’t no place for a child miss.” His gravelly voice declares through his nest of a beard. Julianne springs back in shock.


“I… I sure am sorry sir,” she replies, voice shaking, “I only wanted to say goodbye, if you could just show me where…” But suddenly, she sees him. The child departing to the hospital, asleep in the hospital man’s arms. A freckled little boy by the name of Henry. He’s only been in the orphanage for a little while, but Julianne can’t help but feel as if she’s known him all her life. “Sir…” she continues, “do you think you could wake him just long enough for a goodbye?” He says nothing, simply glancing back as Miss Marie, who has been standing silently behind him for the entire ordeal.


“Go to bed, Julianne.” Miss Marie says, voice faltering as she speaks.


“But Miss Marie, I just-”


“I said go to bed Julianne! Now!” Miss Marie has never raised her voice like that, at least not at Julianne. But despite the sheer volume of the command, Julianne can’t help but feel that the underlying tone was something other than anger. She doesn’t dare look deeper.


“Yes ma’am. Goodbye Sir, Goodbye Henry.” The hospital man nods solemnly in response, and Miss Marie simply turns away.


As Julianne walks back to her room, a whisper catches her attention. The voice is calling her name. It’s coming from the boy’s room. Turning back to be sure Miss Marie isn’t watching, she follows the calls into the bedroom. As she enters, she finds fifteen pairs of wide eyes staring back at her.


“Julie!” someone calls.


“Did you anger Miss Marie?” asks another.


“Shh! She’s right down the hall,” Julianne whispers, “keep it down or she’ll really get angry.” The boys all nod in compliance. Julianne smiles at their willingness to obey, despite the fact that she seems to be the youngest in the room.


“So,” she begins, “ it all started when I saw Miss Marie and the hospital man walking down the hall to the sick-kids room, and-”


“Who on earth is the hospital man?” a voice interrupts, much to Julianne’s disapproval.


“The man who takes all the sick kids to the hospital, obviously.”


“You think Miss Marie can afford to send us to a hospital?” another voice laughs grimly. “She can barely afford to put food on the table!”


“That’s enough, Thomas,” one of the oldest boys interjects, placing a hand on the younger boy’s shoulder. Thomas shrugs it off.


“Are you all just going to stand here and let her believe the fairytales Miss Marie has shoved into her head?” continues Thomas. “How come Julianne doesn’t have to face the truth like the rest of us?”


“She’s young,” the older boy replies, “it’s simply the innocence of a child’s mind.” Julianne’s face drops.


“I’m old enough to know!” she exclaims, drawing a silence from the room. The older boy shakes his head, but Thomas flashes a devious grin.


“If you insist,” he whispers. And before anyone can stop him, he’s at Julianne’s side, hands cupped to whisper into her ear. “There is no hospital, Julianne. That man’s taking them to the morgue.”


Color Blindness by Jaina Peveto

[[Second Runner-Up in the 2016 Hub City Teen Writers Contest]]

Honestly, the fantasies in my head are far more interesting than real life.  Though to be fair, I spend more of my time in them than I do the real world.  Like right now, even as I sit in the orthodontist waiting room, I am also in another land with Sir Connor, my best friend and constant companion. Quite possibly my only friend.

My mother interrupts my musing.  “Are you nervous?” I can hear the tension in her voice.  “Not really,” I say.  As I’ve never seen braces before, I’m not entirely sure what they are.  And it’s rather difficult to fear something when you don’t know what you’re supposed to be afraid of.  “Are you sure?” she insists, and Connor and I both laugh.

“I’m sure, Mom.  Trust me, I’ll be fine.”  I was more nervous during my first appointment, when I wasn’t entirely sure how the orthodontist would react to my vision impairment.  When I was afraid he would treat me like the last one, who had acted as though I was less than human.  I fiddle with my cane as Mom continues rambling.  “I know it’ll be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll grow used to them. And it’s only for a few years at most.”  “You sound more nervous that I am.”

“It’s a mother’s job to worry,” she says.  Feeling rather bad, I hold my hand out. She takes it and gives it a squeeze.  “But I’m sure it will be fine.  Most people have to get braces.”  “I’m sure it will be too,” I say.  We sit in silence for a few minutes, and I let myself draw into Connor’s world.  I hear whispers and feel my mother bristle, but I ignore it all.  I’m used to it.  They follow my everywhere.  After all, a blind blue-haired fourteen-year-old girl is bound to seem out-of-place.  But I have grown accustomed to it, and so I pay no attention until I feel a tap on my shoulder.  “Why is your hair blue if you can’t see it?”  The voice is a young one, maybe five years old. Though it takes me out of Connor’s world, I am not irritated.  I enjoy making up silly reasons for children.  So I lean toward her and lower my voice.  “It’s because that ridiculous dragon made it so.”  “What? How could a dragon turn your hair blue?” She sounds confused.  “It’s a really long story,” I sigh.  I lean back I my chair.  “I’m not sure you’d want to hear it.”  “Oh, yes I do!” Without any warning, I feel her crawl onto my lap.  Mom’s grip on my hand tightens. “Larina…”she says quietly.  But I pull away to hold the young girl.

“If you insist,” I say.  “Last year I was battling a dragon with my good friend Sir Connor the knight.  The nasty thing had stolen all of the chocolate chip cookies in the town, which of course made everyone very upset.  So we got on the back of Connor’s horse and rode to the dragon’s castle.”  “The dragon lived in a castle?” she asks.

“Why, of course it did!  I laugh.  “Where else would a dragon live?  Anyway, we rode to his castle and knocked on the door.  The dragon itself didn’t answer, it was much too busy for that.  But a little girl, maybe five years old, answered instead.  Her voice was soft and sweet like a light breeze, and I instantly took a liking to her.  As did Sir Connor, of course.  She asked what we were there for and I told her of our problem. She seemed greatly troubled, saying the dragon was a good master and he would never dream of doing such a thing without reason.  So she led us inside and we found ourselves in an audience with a dragon.”

“Wow!” she says in awe, and Connor squeezes my hand.  I squeeze his back and continue weaving my tale.

“The dragon’s voice was loud and booming, and Sir Connor informed me he took up half the room.  At first we tried being diplomatic, and carefully explained exactly what the problem was.  The dragon did not seem troubled one bit, claiming the cookies were now rightfully his.  We tried again, but he could not be moved.  I felt Connor stiffen at my side, and before I could react, he was challenging the dragon to a duel! They went at it for a minute until I realized the room was beginning to grow very hot.  I jumped on Connor, avoiding his sword, and saved him from the scorch of the dragon’s flame.  I began to grow angry, and would you like to know what that means?” There’s a pause, and I feel her nod. I lower my voice to a whisper.  “It activates my magic.  All blind people have it, you know.”


“Yep,” I say.  “But unfortunately it comes with dreadful side effects. Being angry, I did not fully think through my actions. And so I cast a spell that would make the beast the size of a kitten.  But it also turned my hair blue.”

Before I can tell her what happened next, we are interrupted.  “Helen, Dr. Yoon is ready to see you.”  “Well, that’s my sister.  I better go,” the girl says, and she wiggles off my lap. She pauses.  “Did that really happen?”

“Sort of,” I admit.  “Sir Connor is real to me, but maybe not anyone else.  And I dyed my hair blue so people would stop asking about my blindness.”

“Oh.” She considers it.  “You should write a book.”

“A book?” I repeat. “Why?”

“Because you’d be good at it,” she says.  “I know some of my friends would want to hear stories about what it’s like to be blind.”  And she walks away, leaving Mom squeezing one hand and Connor the other.  I am alone with my thoughts once again, and I think maybe not everyone is all that bad.



“Our Hands” (HCTW) by Katelyn Hogue

I groan as I walk home and look down at my nails. The black paint is already chipping off even though I just painted them the other day. I angrily adjust the pack on my back as I continue walking down the sidewalk, my boots crunching the fallen leaves that litter the path. I look up from my nails and notice a crowd of about twenty people gathered outside a house in my neighborhood. I hear them talking before I see what they’re discussing.

“What’s going on?” says some man in the crowd.

“Why’s he up there?” asks a young girl.

I walk up the path and to my horror, I see a boy standing on the rooftop of one of the homes. I know that house, it’s one of the few brick houses I pass on my way to and from school. I can’t tell who the boy is, but he’s standing on the ledge of the roof. My stomach drops, fearing the worst. I join the crowd hoping to get some information about what’s going on.

“Just some guy on the roof. Maybe suicidal,” explains a big bald guy. Thirty seconds later, at least ten more people join to watch. A few call 9-1-1, but most are just talking about the boy and asking question. Glancing at the crowd, I make my way to the back of the house. No one pays attention to me as I leave the group and enter the home. I climb up to the attic and find an open window. Assuming this is how the boy got to the roof, I squeeze through the small square space.

“Luke!” I exclaim, recognizing the boy. “What are you doing up here?” We’re both seniors in high school, and we’re in the same civics class. I would never have guessed he would be doing this. He’s on the football team, girls seem to like him, and our civic teacher can’t stand him because he talks all class period. I mean, I’m the weird girl who wears dark clothes that sits in the back of the class. I’m the one who doesn’t seem to pay attention. If you looked at us both, you would guess I would be the one on the ledge of a roof.

“Tiffany?” He looks a bit puzzled. When I try to walk to him, he warns,

“Don’t come any closer,” The crisp autumn air turns heavy as my fears become reality.

“Okay, Luke. I won’t, but talk to me. What’s wrong?”

He’s not facing me, but he must have been crying because his voice comes out scratchy. “Everything,” he mutters.

“Like what?” I asked, edging my way closer to him.

“Everything! My mom passed away from cancer, dad’s depressed, I don’t have any real friends. I barely feel anything anymore…except the pain.”

“I know how that feels, Luke. The pain. When life’s too real. I get that,” I say to him. I work my way closer until I’m a few feet away from him.

“Stop Tiffany! I’ll jump!” He shouts at me and glares back angrily, but in his eyes I see nothing but depression and desperation. I freeze.

“Luke, I get it, but I know that it gets better. It really does. You just have to push through this. I could help you!”

From down below, I hear the same man from earlier yell, “Jump already!”

Sickened, I beg, “No, Luke, please don’t!” I cry, “This doesn’t have to be the end!”

“No, he’s right,” Luke whispers. My eyes widen as I realize what he’s about to do. My heart aches as he chokes out, “It’s too late,” He leans forward, accepting his fate. Tears stream down my face and before I can even think, I run up, reach out, and rip him back from the ledge by his shirt. With a loud thump we both crash back on the rooftop. I look at his face; He’s not angry… he’s scared. He opens his eyes, looks at me, and sobs deeply. I move to my knees and hug him. He wraps his arms around me and continues to cry on my shoulder.

“It’s going to be okay. I’ll help you,”

“That’s all we say, and we just sit there.”

Eventually, he looks to me, signaling he’s ready to go. I stand up and reach out for his hand. The person in front of me is a young man preparing for adulthood, but all I see is a scared little boy. He reaches out and grabs hold of my hand. Our hands lock together, his rough and shaking, with mine small and soft. For that moment, I think, Luke isn’t the type of guy you think would end up on the roof contemplating ending it all, and I’m not the type of girl you think might end up doing anything important with her life, but I realized people aren’t who they seem to be. I’m not just some girl, I’m… a hero?

I pull him to his feet. Hand in hand, we walk from the roof to the attic door. As we make our way out of the building, the crowd applauds us. The police try to take Luke away, but I don’t let him leave my side. It’s not until I give Luke my number and tell him to call me whenever he needs help, and the police assure me they’re going to get him help that I let go of his hand. As I turn to leave, he grasps my hand again.

“Why?” he asks.

“Why what?” I respond, confused.

“Why did you run up there? Why did you save me?”

“Because…” My eyebrows furrow together. Why did I? I didn’t have to, but I never second guessed myself. It was natural. “Because it’s who I am,” I answer softly.

He nods, and with one final glance, I walk away.

“Having No One” (HCTW) by Sabrina Smith

I awoke screaming. Slowly, I calmed down as well I could before starting to cry into my pillow. I had no one. After glancing down at my wrists and the scars and scabs there I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.

I awoke the next morning and changed out of my pajamas and into my usual black outfit, shoving an equally black jacket on over it. Then I went downstairs.

My father, a banker, glanced at me and pursed his lips, but chose not to say anything. My mother took one look at me and did the opposite.

“It’s been two months, Rosie,” she said, sitting across from me at the table. “You can come out of mourning.” I fiddled with my cereal and didn’t say anything. “I know you miss him,” she muttered. “We all do. But we need to move on.”

“I’m going to school,” I said abruptly, grabbing my bag and walking out the door. I didn’t look back at the massive house I’d exited, know mom would be watching. Instead I chose to look to the manicured lawn and the end of the driveway. Just as I arrived, the bus pulled up and the doors opened, allowing me to board.

Everyone greeted me with “Goth Girl!” I ignored it and kept walking to the back of the bus to sit, alone.

We stopped in front of the school a few taunting jeers later and I made my way to the locker I’d previously shared with my twin.

As I opened it I was hit with the realization I would have millions of times over every day: he was dead. I’d left it just the same for that reason. His things sat at the upper half of the locker, as if he was waiting impatiently for me to finish.

I filled my bag with everything I’d need for the day and closed the door.
My classes went by at a snail’s pace, frequented by the voices of those who I used to consider my friends making jabs at me.

My life was changed at lunch.

I sat in the back corner of the cafeteria, at my own table, under the flickering florescent lighting. Just like every other day, I imagined Alex sitting across from me, laughing. I unpacked my lunch. As I took a bite of my apple someone sat down across from me.

“Hello,” said a cheerful voice. “I’m Janet. Who are you?” For a moment I was stunned.

“Rosie,” I stammered. She smiled and began to eat her lunch as if there was nothing wrong. As I looked at her my eyes hurt. Even in the dim light her outfit practically glowed bright pink and green.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said suddenly. She grinned.

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m new here,” she said, answering the question I never asked. “I only just moved from Windor.” I nodded and felt that it was my turn to make some polite conversation.

“What class do you have next?” I asked carefully.

“English with Mr. Hawthorne, I think.” I nodded, neglecting to mention I was in her class.

A week later she had grown on me. She had no idea that I like to take a razorblade to my wrists yet, and I hoped to keep it that way. Despite myself, I didn’t want to lose her.

“Why do they call you Goth Girl?” she asked one day. “Is it because you wear so many dark colors?”

I nodded. She moved on, talking at fifty miles an hour.

That night I made my way to the cemetery at the end of our street. I found Alex’s grave and sat down beside it.

“Hey,” I said. “I brought you something.” I laid a bluebird’s feather on the grave. “I know you couldn’t find one for your collection.

“I have a friend at school,” I continued, making myself more comfortable.
“Janet. I told you about her yesterday, remember? I want to tell her about- you know. I don’t know how, though. What do you think?”

“Rosie?” I started and turned. Janet stood behind me.

“What are you doing here?” we asked at the same time.

“This is where my mother’s buried,” she said, pointing to a plot a few rows down. “Cancer. Just before I moved here. Now it’s your turn, Rosie. Who’s this?” She pointed at my brother’s headstone.

“This is Alex,” I said. “He was my twin.”

“Hey, Alex,” she said softly. “I’m Rosie. It’s wonderful to meet you.”
I swallowed.

“How’d he die?”

“There was an accident. A-A drunk driver came down the road as I was crossing…. Alex was waiting on the other side and saw him. He pushed me out of the way.”

“Oh….. Oh, no. Rosie, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too, about your mom.” She shrugged.

“We knew it was going to happen. It still hurt, but we got to say goodbye, at least.” We were both quiet for a moment.

“Jan, I need to tell you something.”

“What is it?”

“They- They don’t call me Goth Girl because I wear dark clothes. I-I’m suicidal.”

“I know.”

“You do?” I gasped and she nodded.

“I have since the first day I was here.”

“And you- you still came to sit with me?” She nodded again.

I grabbed her in a tight hug. She grinned and hugged me back.

“Thank you.”

I couldn’t help but think that, somewhere, Alex was smiling down on me.
From then on I left the jacket in my closet.

“Grime & Gloom” by Rachel Newby

The dripping of ice
is enough to drive me mad–
a wet cave floor slick

with memories is
nothing to swear by. He does
laugh sometimes, but can

not grin. I dream of
the world outside our stone walls,

built right underneath


purple mountains with

misty air or perhaps a

gangling forest

filled to the brim with
busy insects. My growing

mind is filled with things

I am not sure are
real. All I know are reaching

water streams and the

way his eyes perceive
my figure. I am sure more
coves hold other bits

of me, but he will
never let go of my sun-
lust hands. Some days I

do not know which of
us is guilty of capture.
I always try to

hold him an arm’s length
away, to pretend to find
meaning without him.