Category Archives: Dreyfoos

Untitled by Brooke Walling

Florida, USA

—–
by Brooke Walling

A skating mishap ruins a Florida afternoon—and a favorite piece of clothing.

My mother was going to kill me; of that much I was positive. I was also completely aware that I was probably wasn’t even going to make it home to face my impending doom.

Splatters of mud and dirt hit my face and slime coated my lower body as I sat there screaming for help, but no one could hear me.

******

My skate pounded the pavement as I skated toward the old wooden bridge. I couldn’t wait to test some of the new tricks that Dominic, Caden, Angie and I had been working. I frowned when I thought of my three friends, as the universe would have it, the one day I don’t have any homework, they would be overloaded.

I wiped the sweat from my brow and glanced at the sun shining above me. For once I wished for a cloud to cover it, even for rain, since we hadn’t had any in a month.

Pressing my skates harder to the ground, I willed my body to move faster so that once I hit the ramp we had built last month, I would go flying. I grinned as I reached the last turn; nothing, not even my cousin’s nanny’s triple chocolate cake, would make me as happy as I was when I was flying though the air with only my skates and gravity to guide me. Excitement and happiness coursed through my veins as I turned the corner, and then in a moment the happiness turned to dread.

The bridge was gone.

I tilted my left foot backwards trying to brake, and for a moment I thought I had. For a moment I thought that for once in my young life Lady Luck was on my side and I wasn’t about to tumble head first into the river outside of my neighborhood.

But Lady Luck was not on my side.

My legs buckled from under me as my skates hit the grass and I fell feet-first down the hill and into the murky water. I closed my eyes and mouth, waiting for the splash, but it never came. I could feel my body sink deeper and deeper into muck and mud, and splatters of it landed on my arms and face.

That was the moment I realized that my mother was going to kill me.

Last week my neighbor had given me a garbage bag filled with old clothes and under all the mini-skirts and tube-tops was a shiny pair of white Brazilian “Butt Lifting” jeans. It had been a dream come true—and my dad’s worst nightmare—when those jeans fit me perfectly, and I mean perfectly.

Putting those jeans on this morning felt like the coming of a new age—I, Brooke Renee Walling, had a pair of Brazilian jeans, and I looked hot. When I got home from the bus stop this afternoon I had been so excited to be able to hang out with my friends that I had forgotten to change out of the jeans before putting my skates on. Now I was sitting thigh-deep in a dried, muddy river and I knew that this would be the first and last time I wore those shiny jeans in public.

I took a few deep breaths trying to slow my heart, which I was sure was beating a mile a minute. I glanced around and picked up my glasses that had landed on the grass near my, uh, predicament.

Placing my hands down on the ground I tried to push myself to my feet and slide out of the mud, only to find that my left skate was stuck, and didn’t plan on going anywhere any time soon.

“Hello!” I screamed. “Can someone help me?”

Silence was the reply. I had hoped that maybe the women I had seen jogging, or the guy I had seen walking his dog, were within hearing distance.

“Help!” I screamed, tears pricking at my eyes, ready to roll down my cheeks. “Please! Help!”

Seconds seemed to become minutes, and watching the hands on my Mickey Mouse watch didn’t do anything to ease the knot forming in the pit of my stomach. I continued to scream for help until my throat turned raw, but no one came.

Looking up at the sky I saw that the sun had started to set and I knew that my parents had to be worried about me. Were they looking for me? And even if they were, would they even know where to look?

“Help!” I hollered, plucking at the grass, on the verge of giving up. My throat was sore, my body ached, and my butt and legs had turned tingly from sitting in the same position for so long.

“Hello?” A voice called. I paused, my breath still, waiting to see if the voice would appear again.

“Hello?”

A smile stretched across my face and I screamed, “Over here! I’m stuck in the riverbed!”

I glanced behind me, a new ache forming in my neck. The man with the dog! He had come to save me!

“Are you okay?” he asked; his clothes were drenched in sweat and the former girly-girl in me wanted to move away from the smell radiating off his body, but at that moment I was too excited at the prospect of freedom that I could handle any scent that the world could throw at me.

“My skate, it’s stuck. I can’t move,” I said, jerking my leg; still my skate refused to break free of whatever was holding it down.

The man turned his head and whistled before calling out, “Buster! Come here boy!”

I could see a giant golden retriever from the corner of my vision and I closed my eyes, silently praying that whatever plan this man had to get me out didn’t involve his dog. Ever since I was little, big dogs had frightened me, since most of the time they were the same size, if not bigger than me.

“Hey, you okay?” Opening my eyes I could see that the sweaty man had slid down the hill and was now kneeling next me, his body just inches from the mud.

I nodded, trying not to look at his dog, which had followed him down the hill and was now sitting just a few feet away from me.

“Don’t mind Buster,” he said smiling. “He not gonna hurt ya.”

I smiled, still keeping my eye on Buster; I’d met plenty of “nice dogs” before.

“I’m gonna hook his leash to your skate and as I pull, I want you to try and move yourself up the hill, okay?” The man tore through the mud till he could feel the edge of my skate and hooked the leash to the loop-hole on the back of my skate.

I nodded, placing my hands on the ground, ready to move.

“Ready?” he hollered, and I threw him a thumbs up.

“Go!”

I shimmed up the hill as fast as I could and I could feel the leash tugging at my skate as it slowly began to move, bringing whatever was holding it down with it.

“What is it?”

Hanging of the edge of my skate was thin plastic string that you would find on a fishing rod and sure enough, there was a little pink princess fishing rod still attached. A little girl must have dropped it in there when the river was full and the fish were still around

Staring at my two skates that were coated in mud and gunk and little pink fishing rod, I started to laugh. I was free! Finally! And my captor was a tiny pink plastic fishing rod.

“Are you okay?” the guy asked, staring at me as I continued to laugh.

I nodded, tears forming from my eyes. “Yeah,” I said chuckling. “I’m okay.”

The guy took one more look at me, asked if I was okay to get home, and when I nodded he continued along the path, Buster following in his wake.

I took one glance at the ruined skates and took them off, knowing that the walk home would be a lot easier without them still on my feet.

The normally five-minute skate took ten minutes and as I approached my house I could hear my dad screaming for me.

“Dad!” I screamed, and a second later I saw him turning to corner with Dominic, Caden, and Angie right behind him. They all froze when they saw me, muddy clothes and gunk filled skate, and the look on their faces was enough to tell me that they all had the same question on their mind.

“They took the bridge down.”

The Greatest Show on Earth by Stephanie Stevens

Singer Island, Florida, USA

The Greatest Show on Earth
by Stephanie Stevens

Lighting up the sky on Independence Day.

“Hey, Dad! Smile!”

I held my camera up in his direction and he gave me a goofy grin in return. Laughing, I snapped the photo and hit him in the arm before plopping next to him on the cushioned outdoor loveseat. My hair flew all over the place as the wind whipped around the balcony of my aunt’s newly purchased fourteenth-floor apartment. We looked out at the beach of Singer Island, a small island, crowded with towering apartment buildings that only people with a copious amount of money can afford, just off the coast of the mainland. Next to us sat my grandfather who seemed to be enjoying the rough breeze, and my uncle was next to him in a separate chair. We all sat chatting aimlessly, passing the time until the night fell; that’s when the party really began.
My mom, aunt and grandma were all inside in the kitchen nitpicking over the food, probably concerned that we didn’t have enough (when, as usual, we had enough to feed twenty). My aunt had gotten the best barbeque around, and two silver trays of sauce basted chicken along with plates of corn bread, mashed potatoes and mac-n-cheese were laid out buffet style.

Most of the night seemed to go by very slowly, if I’m honest. We ate and laughed and had a good time, but I was looking forward to the later hours too much to really soak in the fun. After dinner, I had to continue waiting, now the main event only two hours away. The sky had grown darker, the moon beginning to glow above us. There were no clouds in sight, and boats dotted the water.

By eight-thirty, my brother and I gathered on a balcony on the opposite side of the apartment, now looking over the calm intercoastal, rows and rows of houses lining the land on the other side. There was one small island between Singer Island and the mainland, and a boat had pulled up to it; we couldn’t see anybody once they got off the vessel, let alone what they were doing. Then, a bright red ball flew into the air, reached the highest altitude it could reach and then exploded into a sphere, the red spark now multiplied into at least a hundred. My brother pushed himself against the railing, trying to get as close as he could without falling over.

“Mom, Mom, did you see it?” he shouted into the apartment where my mom was still sitting and chatting.

“How could I have seen it if I’m in here?” she snapped.

“Well, come on! The fireworks are starting!”

“That’s just a guy by himself,” I said, resting my arms on the railing next to him. “The real fireworks don’t start for another half-hour.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they start at the same time every year.”

There was a moment before he answered back, trying to think of a retort. When nothing came to him, he settled with “Oh.”

My brother and I were the only ones outside for the majority of the half-hour, the only ones willing to sit out in the hair whipping ocean-propelled wind for that long. But as nine o’clock grew closer, the rest of the family wandered out, many of them with alcoholic drinks in their hands; they tried to camouflage them in red plastic cups, but they weren’t fooling me.
The air had finally cooled down with the sun gone from the sky for a few hours by then, and the happy chatter started once more. However, most of our attention was not focused on that, but on the mainland. The Fourth of July was the one of the biggest, if not the biggest, celebration of the year, and everyone who could get their hands on them tried their skills in setting off fireworks. But, we weren’t waiting for the small, backyard shows. We were tirelessly waiting for the big shows, the ones created by country clubs and people with a lot of money.

Then, straight ahead of us, a monstrous blue and green firework launched off the ground and exploded high in the air. I flinched, waiting for the loud bang to accompany the flash, but I heard nothing. Because we were so far away, the sound took a few seconds to reach us, and by the time it did, it was barely louder than someone clapping their hands.

A few seconds after the first ball of sparks, a myriad followed; shows began all down the coast, and the air quickly became saturated with smoke. Flashes of light and color exploded every second; my eyes were having a difficult time finding a constant focus. Whenever there was a pause in one show, another set off their next round.

As the night went on, the fireworks began to evolve from the classic spheres to intricate designs and shapes such as smiley faces, palm trees and stars.
“How do they do that?” asked my brother, his eyes never leaving the sky.
“I have no idea.”

While the whole day had seemed to last for weeks, this one hour seemed to span only a few minutes. When the finales erupted, forty explosives were sent up at once. They created a masterpiece in the sky, all the colors melding together to produce a piece of abstract art. The last few sparks finally dissipated, and the sky was now fogged over, the moon blurred by a cloud of smoke. The smell, however, was faint and I was very thankful for that.

In the next few minutes, parties of family members left for their own homes, and mine was one of the first (my sister was four at the time). As we drove away, the street lights reflecting off the car windows, I could just faintly make out one last, yellow firework jumping into the sky.

Summer Love by Hannah Beth Ragland

Richmond, Virginia

Summer Love
by Hannah Beth Ragland

A raging river mirrors the unfamiliar emotions of first love.

I was twelve when I moved from Richmond, Virginia to the awful hot mess of sunny South Florida, and sixteen the first time I went back to visit.

They say things move slowly in the great American South, a pace set by farm animals and the steady movement of the sun. They are wrong.

Richmond is sex and drugs. Richmond is nestled in the heart of Virginia, a hub of emotions, activity, and burning pavement. The city is vibrant, built of bricks and rich in history. Though I live in Florida permanently, Virginia was the city I grew up in. It’s home.

Things moved quickly. My plane touched down in the city, and an hour later I was in a junk car on the highway with men I hadn’t seen since elementary school. They had been boys when I left, short and awkward with chubby faces, but since I moved to Florida they had transformed into men.

Though we hadn’t spoken in years, the air was comfortable and odd. I had never expected these men – almost strangers – to catch wind of my arrival and call me up. “Richmond is dull in the summer,” they explained to me. “We expect a girl from Florida might spice things up.” They said “Florida” like it was a magic spell.

They were harmless and sweet. Jordan was driving, flicking ash out the window from a glowing cigarette, and playing my favorite song on the radio. I sat in the passenger seat staring at the glowing skyscrapers around us and the black night sky behind them. God, I had missed the feeling of the city.

Cody was also in the car, sprawled out on the seat behind us and slurring loudly into his phone. They reminded me of my friends back home, and I felt warm with the sudden realization that there are cool kids to spend time with anywhere. That night I slept warmly in an unfamiliar bed.

The week progressed. Every morning they would pick me up, a whole posse of funny and exciting men. Jordan, Cody, Andrew, Mitch. They were wildfire. We went to basement shows and pool parties. We bought milkshakes at midnight, and laughed at everything we saw. I was staying with my grandparents, which gave me a long leash and a lot of time to explore.

One afternoon I was surprised to find that Jordan picked me up alone, without his usual gang. “I thought we could hang out…just the two of us.” He smiled. That made me nervous.

Despite the burn of my better senses, I climbed into the front seat of his dangerously aged car and laughed as we headed downtown.

I was unaccustomed to men and their advances. I was still too young to have experience, but I knew that I liked Jordan. He was safe and kind and harmless. I could sense that his intentions, however strange to me, were pure and good. If we were to spend a great amount of time alone he would not take advantage of my innocence and naïve purity, rather, he would patiently follow my lead.

This thought was of some comfort as we went through the nightly ritual. It was strange without Cody and Andrew and Mitch to follow. Jordan and I drove to our favorite spot, a smoky haven tucked beyond a field and on the edge of a trickling creek. Here the grass flowed like an independent creature, and the trees swayed with such sweet music that it felt as if the entire world was truly good. Jordan told me stories here, of his friends and his life and the dullness of a city so much smaller than his dreams. I wanted to kiss him, but I was afraid.

Afterwards we hiked back to his car and returned to driving. “Where are we going?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. Instead he smiled and shook his head as we tore through the downtown streets.

After a few moments, Jordan turned off the main road and down a much smaller street which I had never been on before. It was darker here, and we crossed a narrow bridge which I realized was stretching over the river. Then we turned to an even smaller road, one that was unpaved and unlit. The moon was hidden by a canopy of wild oak trees, and we were the only car for miles.

The road ran parallel to the James River, a rushing and violent rapid that had been the central attraction of the city all the many years before. Richmond was still a hub of trade, except that it could be dangerous to bring ships along its roaring waters in modern times.

Jordan stepped harshly on the gas. We went forty, fifty, sixty mph down the small dirt road, and the trees above us blurred together to form a tunnel of darkness and untamed nature. I laughed without meaning to, and then I couldn’t stop myself. Jordan was laughing too.

At last he pulled to the side and turned his car off. “Come on,” he beckoned. “This is my favorite spot in all of Richmond.”

We were standing on the edge of the river. All along the banks were massive boulders which spread out to the center of the rapids. I knew that oftentimes kayakers would brave these waters in a search for an adrenalin rush, and sometimes on a warm spring day thrill-seeking lovers would climb out across the rocks to have a picnic in the midst of nature at her strongest.

Jordan jumped out onto the closest rock with his legs, so much longer and more graceful than my own. I stayed timidly on shore, but he reached out his hand. “Come on,” he said. “It’s safe, I promise.”

Barefooted, I struggled to follow him across the maze of precarious boulders. It took us nearly ten minutes to make it to the center of the wide river.

There, right in the heart of the rapids, was a large, flat stone perhaps the size of my bedroom. Each shore seemed miles away from us, and we were in complete isolation. In the distance was the skyline of Richmond, my favorite city in the world. I could see its glowing skyscrapers, suspended train tracks, busy people running through busier streets all trying to make it somewhere faster. The sky above us was bright with stars and a round full moon that seemed to bless us. It was unreal to be resting on a rock in the center of the rapids with a boy who I hadn’t known a week ago. And yet, there we were.

There was stillness in the air. Jordan and I lay flat, side by side, with the river roaring around us. Our arms were almost touching, and yet there seemed to be a mile between us. At last, he spoke. “What are you thinking about?”

“I don’t know… I’m thinking about you, I guess. What are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about you. Because you’re laying right next to me. And…and I think you’re cute.”

“I think you’re cute too…”

Then a great pause grew between us. Jordan lifted himself up and moved closer to me. Before I could comprehend the magnitude of the situation, his lips were on mine and his tongue was speaking a language I could not understand. My brain went into panic mode.

They say that during a real kiss you think nothing – it is absolute elation, a complete lack of human suffering. If that is the truth then I have never been really kissed.

While Jordan explored my mouth with his own, I thought wildly. I thought of him, a stranger intruding my sacred space. I thought of our bodies, two miniscule specks in the middle of an untamable river. Most importantly, I thought of my home in Florida, and I remembered that I would have to leave soon, and I thought of how much I now loved him.

Jordan’s hands reached under my back and up through my shirt. He was unclasping my bra, and I shifted to let him. In this movement the spell fell and our kiss was broken. I pulled away so that I could see his face in full.

Jordan was bright with elation and his eyes glowed victoriously. I tried my best to match his enthusiasm, but I could not. There were too many emotions rushing through me, things that I had never felt before and had no hope to understand. “Are you alright?” he asked, and his face fell a bit. I could hear the disappointment in his voice, and it killed me.

I tried my best to speak, but my voice cracked and my response was hardly audible. Then, without warning, I began to cry.

My tears were like the river: powerful beyond human control. They flowed wildly and freely for a moment while Jordan pleaded for forgiveness. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Please don’t cry; I won’t kiss you again! I’m sorry!”

He really was sorry, and I didn’t want him to be. I was strong enough to tame my tears, and then I smiled. “I’m sorry,” I said, “It was just so much at once.”

Things were calm after that. Jordan kissed me again and again, and then we drove out to a dark field and kissed more, laying beneath the stars and the blinking of the fireflies. We sped home before curfew, and as I pulled out of the car he kissed me one last time.

Jordan and I never kissed again after that. On my last night before leaving for Florida, he came to say goodbye. We stood on the sidewalk in front of my grandparents’ house and hugged. “I want to be your friend,” he told me. “I’m sorry if you thought that I wanted anything else.”

No, I told him I didn’t think anything else of it. I was happy for the experience, and I was happy to have known him. We could be friends; anything else wouldn’t work across the miles that kept us apart. It had been a beautiful and short love affair in the hot sticky summer of Virginia, as quick as a lightning bolt and just as intense.

“I’ll see you next summer,” Jordan called out the window as he drove away. I knew I wouldn’t see him for another year.

For an hour afterwards I sat beneath the stars and cried, mournful and joyous tears that shook me to the core of my being.

The next morning I was on an airplane home, and from the sky I could see the James River. It looked so peaceful, a scarf of water rippling between the small buildings and sprawling forests of a city I had come to call home. I couldn’t even make out the rocks or the rapids from so far up in the air. It was almost as if they hadn’t existed at all, as if Jordan hadn’t kissed me that night, as if I had never even known him.

Reflection by Abigail Miller

Jupiter, Florida

Reflection
by Abigail Miller

A Mean Girl’s tragedy holds a hard lesson for her victim.

This was the day that Karma finally asserted itself.

Spring had sputtered out with the AC as the sweltering summer heat mounted and danced on the pavement. The palm trees stretched their sinewy necks to the sky and people, leathery and scantily clothed, crowded the shimmering Florida shores.

I was not amongst them.

I drank lukewarm Fantas and splayed across the family room couch, flinging myself into a new position every few minutes in hope that it would be more comfortable than the last. I picked up the remote and, greasy hair dangling over the edge of my seat and legs propped up against the wall, turned on the TV.

The screen illuminated with an unblemished, glowing face. I recognized Lila Delorez immediately, but then the picture faded into another, bleaker one. It concentrated on a sallow-skinned girl who was lumped into a hospital bed. I would not have connected the two girls if the similar smirk hadn’t registered with me.

“On Saturday, middle school student Lila Delorez reportedly fell off a boat while she and her friends were cruising the Intracoastal. The boat propeller caught and severed her right leg. It has been amputated from the thigh down, and has had multiple skin grafts. She is currently on her way to a full recovery. Students of the Jupiter Middle School of Technology plan to raise money to help Delorez pay off the bill for her amputation.”

In the picture, the mayor of West Palm Beach leaned on the rail of her bed, grinning. I wonder if a glance into Lila’s past would smudge the politician’s painted-on smile.

“She’s in my prayers, Sherri. Thank you.” The reporter, a perky blonde with silicone lips, smiled at the camera. I turned off the television.

Lila’s glorification made my stomach lurch. She’s in their prayers? Who ever prayed for me or anyone else under Lila’s wrath? But, maybe someone did pray and that’s why this happened to her, or maybe all the fistfights, degrading language and rumors caught up with her at last. It would be wrong to say that she deserved this, but it can’t be said that it was ultimately unfair. After all, she was supposed to be serving a detention that day for “inappropriate class behavior,” which she earned by bad-mouthing our morbidly overweight PE teacher.

Lucky for her, Lila’s reputation didn’t precede her outside of school. At Jupiter Middle, she belonged to a pack of tanned, skinny, dress-code violators. They could pass for the “Plastics” if Mark Steven Waters directed my life like the movie Mean Girls. Unfortunately, I had neither Lindsay Lohan’s luscious hair nor her character’s spunk. Day after monotonous day Lila and her friends cornered and victimized my own group, spitting insults onto our acne-strewn cheeks.
I did try standing up for myself once. I had squared my soldiers, clenched my fists, and told them to leave me be. In response, their laughter had smacked me across the face, leaving it burning red. From then on I stopped remonstrating. I accepted their view of me to be the only view, the truth: I was worthless.

Now, I curled in on myself, resting my head in the valley between my knees. I could hear the screeches erupting from Lila’s throat as it filled with salt water and the clatter of red solo cups hitting the floor, spilling their alcoholic contents as her friends rushed to her aid. In the cacophony, I also heard her voice echo, “Worthless, worthless, worthless.”

In the following weeks I acted as though I had never had the misfortune of meeting Lila. Instead of brooding over her, I dragged myself around the house like a zombie scavenging entertainment rather than brains, until my mom decided to emancipate me from stagnation.
I stuck my head out the window and gulped down the fresh air as we headed to the Downtown mall. In Downtown, people leisurely strolled between the department stores, enjoying quirky events (a band or maybe a baking contest) in the sun and ambling over little bridges, a thin stream of gushing water rolling beneath them. I trailed after my mom as shoe displays and “Sale!” signs lured her into stores.

While my mom, toting bulky bags, and I lumbered down the walkway, someone behind us called out, “Lila!” I froze up. I told myself that it couldn’t be her; it couldn’t be, though the consolation didn’t lessen my urge to flee. Thinking that the greeting was directed at me, my mom turned, beaming and waving in the other direction.

“Are, those friends of yours, dear?” she asked. Two of Lila’s friends walked on either side of Lila’s wheel chair like guards. Before I could see any recognition in their eyes, I tugged at my mother’s elbow and hurried towards an exit. Protesting, my mom bombarded me with questions as I rushed her to the car. Humiliation colored my face and red splotches blossomed around my eyes like roses in the summer. When she saw that I was blubbering, she silently got in the car and pulled out of the parking lot.

The turmoil inside began to subside and I started reflecting on how childish I was. What was I really running from? I leaned against the curve of the car door and gazed into the side-view mirror.

Lila wasn’t the perfect human; no, far from it, but neither was I. She must have been worn thin by so much drama in middle school and now by the tragedy of losing her leg. My brows furrowed as I gazed at my reflection. I gradually forgave Lila and wished the best for her, and after I did so, I looked in the mirror and finally saw someone of worth.

Coming Home by Cristina Martinez

Loxahatchee, Florida, USA

Coming Home
by Cristina Martinez

The start of a good life in Florida.

We drove on concrete lined with chunks of rock, bouncing the car every which way. I craned my neck, trying to get a glimpse of this wooded world. The trees lined the roadside, stretching to reach past the few telephone poles. Gaping holes separated woods and road, filled with empty space, cushioned by high, mangled grass. The air seemed choke-worthy. My parents kept the windows of our minivan up as we sped past this strange town, so different then what home was. Home was a suburban community with neighbors less than ten feet away, a kidney shaped community pool, a pre-school whose school colors were checkered forest green. Here, land stretched wide, exposing fields with roaming cattle and orange groves.

During summers, the orange blossoms will bloom, drenching the town of Loxahatchee in a sweet fragrance.

The roads were long and crumbling, but seemed to never end. The curves of the road were beautifully placed, so whichever way you drove, you had a spectacle to watch as the sun reached its peak. The heat cradled my cheeks and face, even from behind the plexiglass window. As we headed towards an elongated turn, we passed by a plaza which consisted of one Winn-Dixie, an Italian restaurant, a hair cutter, and a hardware store. This was the first glimpse of humanity I had seen for miles.

We passed cars with tires taller then I was at the time. Trucks of all sizes, with bumpers bright orange, caked with mud. Dogs ran loose in the beds of some trucks, their bright orange and green colors slapping against their large round heads. We turned onto a street, drove up to a large light beige house, with large cement planters lining either side of the front yard, an island of weeds and large plants decorating the center of the property. The white, peeling metal fence creaked open and we drove on a gravel parkway and parked our car in front of the large garage.

We went round the large house to a hazy netting laying over the entire back porch. We saw two men sitting in rocking chairs, two tan dogs lying at their feet.

One of the men held an ashtray on his armrest, and would send a puff of choking smoke every few minutes. I would hold my breath just when he was about to let out another cloud of toxic smoke. My eyes stung from the white air.

The two men took us on a tour of the house, showing us each room, each floor tile, everything. The only places we didn’t explore were the attics, which had two entrances, which was fine by me. Mama and Papa had been talking every now and then, asking questions like, how does the air conditioning hold up in the summer and winter times, and if it was hard living so far away from everything. I came to the conclusion that the two men were pleasant enough.

We then came to a room, big, but not as big as the room right next to it.

“Cristina, this will be your room if we buy this house,” Mama said, taking in the all-white tile room.

“But I like the other room,” I say, thinking about the wonderfully shaped crescent window and the soft, warm carpet flooring.

Papa pointed out that, since the room is a bit larger, it will be Nikki’s room.

Ugh. The beauty of the older sister.

The two men next led us to the front door, the tour was over.

Mama and Papa said “goodbye” and “thank you for letting us into your home.” We all piled back into the faded blue minivan and began to drive. I don’t remember where we were headed, but I looked back at the house. The house raised on a pile of green grass which will yellow and harden in the summers.

Whose koi pond in the back will be overrun by moss and other plants.

Where I would learn to ride a bike, eventually.

Where I would crash my bike for the first time.

Where my dad would teach me to ride our four-wheeler and to shoot.

Where I would go through my first four-wheeler accident.

My first kiss.

Possibilities have always been a strange thing to me. Different paths lead to different opportunities, leading to different circumstances, finishing at a choice. This house, this house was a possibility, and over the years, I have fallen in love with the simple pleasures, such as my house, the woods beside my yard, the quiet which comes from being apart from society.

And I know I am finally home!

My Life on the Bus Route by Mikeshia Lewin

West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

My Life on the Bus Route
by Mikeshia Lewin

Riding the bus and dreaming of a car…

In elementary school, riding the school bus was natural to me. Wake up, eat breakfast, wait patiently with the other children, board the bus and find a seat. With little to no complaints, I followed that routine for nine faithful years.

Sitting on the bus during my junior year, I noticed the thinning senior population on my bus. They had gotten the memo: leave the bus behind. As I saw them pick up their backpacks from the snack-strewn floor for the last time, I thought, “Next year I’ll never have to sit on this roach-infested bus again.” I figured if I worked enough I would have half of the money necessary for a decent buggy.

It was summer, and I faced the realities of a law-abiding company. I didn’t work the hectic hours my peers endured in fast food joints. My measly check was hardly enough to buy a box of pizza, let alone a car. However, I was determined. My reputation depended on it. Searching county-wide, I would eagerly write down the phone number of a prospective car and jot down the price. It was hard to shake down my mother for money when I didn’t have a legal license to reverse a car, but I figured that looking at prices was the first step to becoming an independent young adult.

Suddenly, looking at the price of cars became a complicated process. The configuration of the vehicle was one thing—Japanese or American manufactured? Then I had to consider mileage and stability, two doors or four, Jiffy or Michelin? The thoughts never stopped.

Sooner than I anticipated, school was back in session and I was riding on the bus for the tenth year in a row. It wasn’t too bad. My friends were in similar situations, so we kept one another’s company with dry jokes and early morning sarcasm. But the overstuffed seats laughed at me as I made my way through the narrow aisle. I couldn’t escape its profanity-littered blue pleather. But with time, I came to terms with it. Partially because my friends paid ridiculously high insurance and gas prices, and partially because I was just too broke to care. I’ll keep this mentality for four more years. Life as a struggling college kid will be rough and although I will leave the big yellow bus behind, the grey public transit will be my new buddy.

An Extra Present by Sophie Leneveu

Jupiter, Florida

An Extra Present
by Sophie Leneveu

A Christmas memory of a gift and a lesson.

Your tenth birthday is one of the most important birthdays you will ever have. You’re in the double digits, never to return to the innocent years between zero and nine. But when I opened my eyes on that sunny December morning knowing that I was a bona-fide ten-year-old, leaving the single digits wasn’t what was on my mind. In my mind, the only thing that made turning ten a life-changing event was getting my first bike.

I called it my first bike, but technically my first bike was a silly little pink thing with a basket and tassels and sparkles. I refused to consider such a horror my first real bike, so I told myself that the bike I was getting for my tenth birthday was my proper, big girl bike. I’d picked it out a couple months ago. It was turquoise – my favorite color – and had a pretty sea-green sheen (but definitely NOT sparkles) where it caught the fluorescent Wal-Mart lighting. It didn’t have those stupid tassels hanging from its handles, and its tires were as white as the Christmas snow that never fell in Florida. It was my dream bike, and now it was finally going to be mine.

It was Christmas morning. As a Christmas baby, I always got cheated out of a second day of presents, but I knew that this year my new bike would compensate for that. I threw off the covers of my bed and quickly checked the window to see if it was snowing – of course it wasn’t – and hurried downstairs faster than I’d ever hurried downstairs before. My feet thumped down the steps one after another as I trailed one hand down the banister, and I reached the bottom in just a few seconds.

I was the first one up, as always. Before me stood our white artificial Christmas tree that I’d picked out myself a couple years ago. Now its plastic needles were starting to fall off, but I still loved it because it reminded me of the snow that fell when we lived in North Carolina – that kind of soft but steady snowfall that would cover the trees until there was no green left. Dozens of colorfully wrapped presents lay nestled beneath it, their brightness especially vivid compared to the white of the tree. My gaze swept over them and moved to the best present of all – my new bike, waiting patiently for me with a big silver bow stuck to one handle.

I immediately rushed over to it. It was even more perfect than I remembered; its handles and seat were the same pure white as the tires, and the brand name Schwinn was printed in capital white letters along its side. The turquoise metal with that sea-green sheen glittered as it caught the morning light from a nearby window. I crouched down beside it to study it closer. The brand name was printed at a slant, suggesting that the letters themselves were in swift movement. With the tip of my index finger I traced the first letter, S, the first letter of my own name. The metal was cool and perfectly smooth. I smiled.

Soon the rest of my family was awake. My parents gave me permission to ride my new bike around the neighborhood. With a huge smile and a quick thank you, I hurriedly got changed, strapped on my helmet, and wheeled the bike out the door without even bothering to take off the silver bow. As I walked my new bike down the driveway, my excitement grew. I knew my friends didn’t get anything as amazing as a bike this Christmas. They would be awed, maybe even jealous. I couldn’t help but feel a little proud as I thought of their compliments.

I mounted my bike and rode off towards a friend’s house. I’d only been living in this Florida town for a couple of years, but I already felt right at home; I knew most of the kids who lived nearby, and I could find my way around the neighborhood on my own. The morning air was cool and crisp, a few birds singing their own little carols, and a light breeze gently stirred my hair. But I was way too busy thinking about my new bike to care about those things.

As I approached the house, I started to hear chatter and laughter; all of the neighborhood kids must be playing outside. Shouldn’t most of them still be opening presents? Then, as my friend’s house came into view, I discovered that indeed almost every kid in the neighborhood was playing outside on the street…and every single one of them was riding a shiny new bike.

All I could do was stop and stare, open-mouthed, at what I was seeing. My friend approached me, beaming from ear to ear, riding a purple bike with Schwinn printed on its side in slanted capital white letters.

“Merry Christmas, Sophie!” she greeted me with a bright smile. “I love your bike. You like mine?”

I nodded vaguely, looking around at everyone’s bikes. They all looked fantastic, all just as nice and brand-new as mine. Several kids crowded around me to compliment my bike, but since they each had one of their own, the flattery didn’t feel as special as I thought it would. My friend caught on to my gloomy attitude.

“Why aren’t you excited?” she inquired, perplexed. “I dunno how it happened, but everyone got a bike this year. It’ll be great! We can all ride around together.”

I stared at her and then ducked my head, suddenly feeling ashamed. She was right. Since all of us had bikes, we could all share in the fun. Just riding my bike by myself all the time wouldn’t be any fun at all. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that maybe I shouldn’t have been so prideful in something that was just an object; maybe I should’ve considered the feelings of the people around me instead.

A couple of my other friends came to meet us, and the four of us set off together for a few rounds around the neighborhood on our shiny new Christmas bikes. I felt the cool, crisp morning air on my face, heard the birds singing their own little carols, and smiled as a light breeze gently stirred my hair.

Wipeout by Alexis Kaufman

Park City, Utah, USA

Wipeout
by Alexis Kaufman

A father-daughter ride followed by a taste of mortality.

Pedal, brake, breathe! Dust rises to our eyes as we ride down the mountainside. The sun is just beginning to peek over the summit, spilling its warm honey over the valley. My fingers are already numb from squeezing the handlebars so much, and my legs burn as if my biking pants are lined with hot coals. “Don’t fall behind, Alexis. I know it’s hard to keep up with a pro.” My dad looks back at me with his all too familiar victory smile. I can feel my eyelids press into the back of my skull as the sight of a tight curve decorated with jagged rocks and thorny shrubbery triggers adrenaline-riddled tremors in my heart.

Dad swiftly shoots around the bend and navigates effortlessly through the earthen sea of icebergs that are sure to devastate my hull or, in this case, my front wheel tire. Sweat drips down my forehead and collects in my tear ducts. My eyes sting from the warm saline and dry wind as I lift myself a bit up off my seat. I pray that I make it through with all my limbs still attached. Maybe three, four seconds pass and success! My arms find the strength to turn the handles to the right and I shoot through the narrow trail’s turn.

My face, now, displays the same shining victory smile that my dad so generously ridiculed me with. Within another second, all the breath rushes out from my lungs as a sudden steepness overpowers me. Unfortunately, I had not noticed the sudden decline, a sheerness that somehow sneaks up in front of me and initiates my ultimate plunge. I feel my tongue jump to the back of my throat as I take a nosedive down the mountain trail. I fly over my handlebars and like a stone being released from a slingshot I rocket toward the ground. Touchdown! Actually, it is more of a splashdown, a flailing crash. My back slams into the ground as I watch my legs pass over the front of my face. The dirt flies up into the sky and washes over me like a merciless tidal wave. It is utterly humiliating. I hear the thundering laughter erupt from my dad and soon enough his amusement is distilled into tears. He finally catches his breath and manages to ask if I am okay. “Yeah. I’m swell. Thanks for the sympathy.” And then the laughter continues.

It is only about one month later that I get the call. It is mom, she is sobbing as she softly whispers into the receiver a sentence that I had to ask her to repeat just to ensure I had heard her correctly. “Dad. In the Emergency Room. Heart Attack.” The feeling of falling down the mountainside on my bike jumps back into my throat. The quakes in my heart measure at least a 9.0 on the Richter scale. I quickly grab my keys and jump into the car. Soon enough, I am hurrying down a cold hospital wing searching for Room 7.

After interrogating one of the nurses, I finally find the room, but I cannot find the courage to even touch the doorknob. A few more seconds pass and somehow my hand turns the handle and I am standing inside an icy, small, windowless room as the monotonous beep of a heart monitor fills the silence. I pull back the paper thin curtain and freeze. My dad lays still while layers of wires and tubing connect him to the various machines and IV drip. “Lifeless” is not a sufficient description for what I see when I look into his eyes. He is so pale that I can see the ribbons of cerulean flowing through his arms and hands. He says nothing when he notices me, he doesn’t have the strength. And there is no sign that this man before me, this stranger, had ever smiled.

That day as I sat beside my father in the emergency room, I realized something. I learned that those moments of competition, of fast pastime sport like mountain biking, were quickly being thrown into the past. Time was corrupting both of us, and as I grew stronger and faster and better, my father’s vigor was being leeched. What came to pass on that day was a much greater appreciation for my strong father. And a simple, soft I love you does not make up for the years of encouragement, guidance, and smiles.

Untitled by Autumn Homer

Florida, USA

—–
by Autumn Homer

A Florida hurricane brings destruction—and a surprise.

We were standing in the eye of the storm. My family and I walked outside to assess the damage. The skies were a blurry grey and the air was so thick it instantly clung to your skin the second you stepped outside. The wreckage wasn’t too bad so far, just a few roof shingles scattered here and there. The Royal Poinciana tree in my front yard got the worst of it. A strike of lightning had hit the enormous tree right in the middle causing the tree to split in half and left the whole trunk black and ashy. The wind started to pick up again; the storm was getting stronger and stronger with every passing second. The winds started to howl again, and the blurry gray sky quickly morphed into massive black cumulous clouds. We hurried back inside as fast as we could.

I watched from my hurricane-proof glass windows as the trees bent in unnatural ways, and my wooden fence was destroyed, one picket blown away at a time. I found it really interesting to watch this natural phenomenon take place right outside my home. Most people were prisoners in their homes with plywood nailed across their windows, not allowing any light to enter the house. Not me—with my special glass windows I was free to watch the whole thing.

The electric didn’t last long; within a few minutes we were out of power, leaving my sister and I only each other and our imaginations to keep us occupied. We played board games, videotaped each other as newscasters with a violent storm in the background, and cuddled when the thunder was loud and scary. Within a few hours the storm was over; all that was left was the damage all over the state.

My house was lucky; we lost power for about a week, but that was it. I even gained something from this hurricane that was devastating for many others. It was the day after the storm had hit; my family and I were sitting inside the house with broken air-conditioning trying to stay cool when we saw my neighbor, Ricky, squirting a hose up into the palm tree in my backyard. We had no idea what on earth he was doing, so we all walked outside into the humid air and asked him what he was doing. “Look up there, do you see the cockatiel?” Ricky asked. I gazed up at the top of the palm tree and saw a small gray and yellow bird with rosy red cheeks tilting its head down at me.

I had never seen one before, but I thought it was really cool such an exotic looking bird was in my yard, instead of the typical cardinals and blue jays. Ricky then started to shimmy up the palm tree, and in one swift motion he reached his arm out and grabbed the small cockatiel. He then started yelling profane language, because the bird kept biting him. He shimmied a little then jumped down, from quite an impressive height, with the bird still in his hand. He then walked over to me smiling and asked “Do you want a bird?” At first my mom just laughed no, still in awe at what she had just witnessed. The second my sister and I heard this, my mom didn’t really have a choice, we weren’t going to stop begging until she changed her answer. Ricky told us he had an extra cage and some food he could lend us.

So he hopped over the fence, bird still in hand, and came back with a wire bird cage. He placed the cockatiel inside, poured some food into the little plastic container and let it get situated in its new home. We named the bird Nibbles and a few weeks later we even bought him a playmate named Tipsy because she would always hang upside down. Since then we’ve had many different types of birds, from love birds to finches and parakeets. That storm was the beginning of a big addition to the family.

The Misadventures of Jillian and Josie: Scooter Mayhem by Josie Graham

West Palm Beach, Florida

The Misadventures of Jillian and Josie: Scooter Mayhem
by Josie Graham

Two little girls get out of their grandfather’s sight—and into trouble.

It’s a wonder we didn’t get kidnapped.

I remember thinking it was a beautiful day: a blue canvas sky with the sun melting on it like a pat of butter in a hot frying pan. But then again, I was a pretty optimistic child. In reality, it was brutal. It was more like a hot asphalt day that really should have been spent inside. Did I care, though? No. My older sister, Jillian, wanted to ride scooters, so gosh-darnit, I wanted to go too.

Jillian led the way down our grandparents’ driveway. We waved to our grandpa, who we called “Gran,” as we rolled down the sidewalk. As always, I wasn’t watching where we were going. I left that up to Jillian. I watched the concrete below me streak white and brown and black, saw the houses turn to multicolored smudges as we made our way to who knows where. There were some bumps in the concrete—places where one slab was higher than the piece next to it—but we sailed over those with ease. I remember smiling. I wanted to go fast.

Finally we arrived at our destination. At last I gained the common sense to look where we were. I gasped. For some reason, Jillian had led us to the school at the end of our grandparents’ neighborhood. The voice of our grandma, “Meemaw” we called her, switched on in my head. “You can ride your scooters wherever you want, but don’t go farther than the end of our street, okay?” she said in her faint Arkansas-drawl. Jillian and I nodded at the same time, the only difference being that I actually meant my nod of understanding. Jillian, as she would prove time and time again in the future, would do whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.

“Jillian, we’re not supposed to be here…” I started to say. Jillian looked at me with one of her are-you-really-that-stupid faces, just one look in her signature Death Glare collection. But she changed her attitude as soon as she saw me turn the slightest bit back toward Meemaw and Gran’s house.

“No one will know. Look! It’s fun!” She started to ride up and down the driveway of the school, which was on a small incline. I remember likening it to a roller coaster, even though the driveway wasn’t steep at all. But soon enough, I joined her in zooming up and down the driveway.

After a while, Jillian became bored. I was still content with the mini-roller coaster, but I automatically stopped when she did.

“What’s next?” I asked.

“Let’s just go back,” she said. She headed down the driveway one more time.

“Okay,” I said as I followed her back down to the sidewalk.

For some reason it felt as if we went faster going back to the house. I had to actually watch where I was going so that I wouldn’t crash-land into a neighbor’s car. Suddenly I heard Jillian scream, and the next thing I knew she was on the ground and her scooter was in somebody’s lawn. I had to jump off my scooter in order to not run over her. She was holding her knee and blood seemed to be pouring out. I thought it had been split open to the bone, when really it was just a scrape with rocks in it. I kneeled next to her and asked what I should do.

“Go get Gran,” she said with what I thought was her last breath. “Hurry!”

Suddenly I had a mission, and I would not let my sister down. It hadn’t occurred to me that Jillian could very well be abducted by the guy across the street who was mowing the lawn. I had to get Gran. If it was her last, dying wish, I would get our grandfather to carry her to safety.

With all of this adrenaline and newfound heroism racing in my little kid mind, I practically flew back to the house. I focused on Gran in the distance. He seemed to be 20 houses away, when really he was just seven or so down the road.

I remember hearing the loud crack of the scooter’s front wheel hitting that same lip in the concrete that Jillian and I so easily went over before. Now I really was flying. At the time, I figured I must have flown through the air in quite a dramatic arc, but in actuality I only flew forward a few feet. I slid for what seemed like forever on the concrete. My right thigh hurt like the devil. I turned over to see that there was a large scrape with rocks and sand embedded in it. Ah, a battle wound for the heroic soldier on a mission! I remembered Jillian’s last dying wish and got back on my feet. I picked up my scooter and limped the rest of the way to the house, which was remarkably closer now. I yelled for Gran and he came walking over. He picked me up and carried me inside. He didn’t say a word. He never was, and still isn’t, one to fuss over small things like a cut or scrape. He set me down on a chair and my battle nurse, Meemaw, came over to treat my wound. She was a bit more frantic. She rubbed some very cold hydrogen peroxide on my thigh as she said something about how Gran should have been watching us. Meanwhile, the “inattentive” Gran got Jillian off the street and brought her inside. Meemaw was treating Jillian when she asked us what happened. I immediately gushed the story like the good kid I was. “And here we are now,” I finished.

I look over at Jillian. I don’t know why. Maybe I wanted her to compliment me on my storytelling skills, or maybe I just wanted a “thank you, o heroic soldier.” Whatever I wanted, I got the total opposite of it when she fixed me with her oh-so-dangerous Death Stare and she said, “Josie, no one was supposed to know!”