Young women have established themselves as the future writers of their generations during the inaugural Coachella Valley Repertory (CVRep) 2020 Student Writing Competition.CVRep Picks Student Writing Competition Winners

Female students from both the middle school and high school categories garnered the top three place finishings, earning cash prizes from $100 to $500.

Participants were tasked with submitting a monologue, short story, scene or other creative writing piece during the entry period of May 15 until July 30. Forty students took part in the competition.

Writing submissions were judged by Georgeana Mimms, a distinguished member of the CVRep Conservatory faculty, author Hal Gershowitz (Remember This Dream, Heirs of Eden), and retired journalist Bruce Fessier (The Desert Sun).

Students in public, a private or home school setting were eligible and were categorized by their age. Category 1 – ages 11 and 12 ; Category 2 – ages 13 to 15, and Category 3 – ages 16 to 18.

During the virtual awards ceremony, plaques and cash prizes were awarded to three winners in each category: $500 for first place, $25 for second, and $100 for third.

CVRep executive board member Peggy Jacobs envisioned and sponsored the contest, which was designed to inspire the Coachella Valley’s future authors and playwrights to submit their creative best.

Below are the first through third winning entries in each category.

Category I: ages 11 and 12

FIRST PLACE: Holly Trubee, Palm Desert Charter Middle School

On the bus to Celima Bay, Paige nervously tapped her feet. It was her first time going to a summer camp and she didn't feel prepared at all. The bus was driving closer to the camp, where Paige could see a large blue lake. Soon the bus rolled past an arch that had the words "Camp Celima" carved into it.

The excited voices of kids on the bus surrounded her. Counselors waved towards them as they veered towards the wooden cabins. The campers exited the bus and stepped onto the ground covered in twigs. Then, they entered the registration area. A long line formed, which Paige seemed to be at the end of. After a while, she walked up to the small table where the owner of the camp sat.

"Name?" the middle-aged woman with dark brown hair asked. "Paige Eastin," she responded timidly.

Holly Trubee

"You're in Fox Cabin. It's over there," she said, pointing at a large cabin to her left.

Paige slowly walked toward the cabin, each footstep echoing in her head. The door made the name of the cabin clear, with "Fox Cabin" gently marked in the wood. She opened the door and stepped inside. Two girls which Paige guessed were around her age sat inside on the beds. One had dark, curly hair and the other light blonde.

"Hi!" said the dark haired girl. "Hi," Paige responded.

"I'm Izzie and this is Lane," she said as Lane waved to her. "I'm Paige."

"Welcome to Fox Cabin. I've been in this cabin for two years already. Our counselors, Jane and Avery, should be here soon."

"Okay," Paige responded, setting her stuff down on the last empty bed. "I love your bag!" Izzie exclaimed.

"Oh, thanks," she replied, glancing down at her black and white bag.

"I'm so excited for summer camp this year! On the first day, we have hot dogs and smores by the fire pit," Izzie said, overjoyed. "I'm excited for all the camp activities. The pamphlet said there's going to be horseback riding and swimming:'

"There'll be plenty of time for those activities later," said a friendly voice from behind them. Paige looked over to see a tall, blonde girl who was a few years older than them. Paige guessed that she was one of the counselors."Today is all about settling in and getting to know each other:' she added.

''I'm Avery, by the way. I'm the head counselor of Fox Cabin. This is Jane," she said pointing to a brown-haired girl next to her. "She's our counselor-in-training. What are your names?"

''I'm Izzie!"

"I'm Paige:'

"I'm Lane," a quiet voice said from next to her.

"Nice to meet you all!" she said, smiling. "These three weeks are going to be great!"

The bright blue sky slowly faded into a pink, signaling that it was time for dinner. Avery led the girls outside to the center of the camp where there was a fire pit. There were cozy, blue chairs surrounding it. The girls from Fox Cabin took their food and joined them.Three girls from a few seats over stared at them and whispered to each other, pointing at Izzie, Lane, and Paige.

"Who's that?" Paige asked Izzie. "Butterfly Cabin," she groaned. "They're snobs who think they're better than everyone else," zzie said viciously, making sure the girls had heard her.

The girls glared at her and sat in different seats, farther away from them. "Are they always that mean?'' Paige asked her.

"Yeah. They won't cause too much trouble, though. They just gossip about other people," Izzie rolled her eyes.

Paige took a marshmallow from a bag that the counselors had provided and put it on one of the sticks. She placed it into the fire and started to roast it until it turned golden-brown.

"Camp here is really fun. You're going to love it," Izzie told Paige before babbling on about her favorite activities at camp, describing each with a new energy.

When it was finally time for bed, the three girls snuggled into their warm blankets and drifted off to sleep. Paige did not sleep at first. Instead, she reflected on her first day at camp. She decided that it had been a good day, and finally went to sleep. Before the sun was entirely in the sky, the girls were awoken by Avery. She informed them extra loudly that there was a scavenger hunt soon, to get to know their fellow campers. Paige groaned as she tossed her thick covers off of her. She got dressed in a tank top and shorts and joined the rest of her cabin outside. Avery and Jane, along with the rest of the counselors stood on top of the small wooden stage with a megaphone.

"Okay, campers," Avery said through the megaphone. "Each cabin will be given a list of things to find inside the camp. Each camper must participate and try to find their cabin's item on the list. When you find it, bring it back to us. The first group to give us their item wins an extra smore at the next campfire. When I say go, each team will go to their cabin, find their list, and look for the items."

"We've got this, guys," Izzie said enthusiastically. "Ready, set, go!" Avery called.

The girls raced back to their cabin to find a slip of paper taped to the window. Izzie pulled it off and read it ."What does it say?" Paige asked anxiously, shifting her weight between her feet.

"It says, 'There are five flags hidden within the campground; orange for Fox Cabin, yellow for Bumblebee Cabin, green for Snake Cabin, blue for Bluebird Cabin, and purple for Butterfly Cabin:"

"Okay, so all we need to do is find our flag and bring it back to Avery," Paige responded. "That should be easy," Lane agreed.

"Let's go!" Izzie exclaimed, before folding the list and putting it in her pocket.

The three girls raced across camp, searching in every possible place for their orange flag. They seemed to find other flags from different cabins, but not their own. When the girls were finally tired from running around, they sat down on a large rock that was settled neatly within the dense forest and caught their breath.

"I have no idea where our flag is," Izzie began between breaths. "We've checked the cafeteria, the game room, and by the pool."

"Maybe we missed it when we were running," Lane said hopefully.

While the two girls talked, Paige stared past them, into the large bushy trees. She noticed something orange standing out between the shades of green at the top of a tree and immediately knew what it was.

"Guys! I found our flag!" Paige exclaimed, pointing at the tree."Good job!" Izzie cheered before running to the tree. She tried to jump up and grab it, but each of the girls was too short.

"What do we do?" Lane asked quietly."I don't know." Paige responded nervously. "One of us could climb it." Izzie stated.

"I don't know..." Lane began. "It looks kind of high."

"Lane's right. It's too dangerous," Paige agreed. ''I'll climb it, then," Izzie suggested calmly.

"Are sure?" Lane asked timidly, but was unheard by Izzie, who was already climbing the tree.

She pulled herself up with branches, not noticing the large distance between her and the ground. She finally reached the top and grabbed the flag. She looked down at her friends, waving the flag.

"All right. Come down now," Lane said nervously. "I'll be fine, Lane." Izzie climbed down the tree, not as carefully as Lane had hoped. When she was about eight feet from the ground, she lost her footing and slipped down from the tree, screaming and flailing her limbs wildly the whole way down. When she finally hit the ground, Paige and Lane rushed over to her.

"Are you okay?" Paige asked anxiously. "I'm fine, but my ankle really hurts. I think it might be sprained," she groaned, gripping the flag tightly in her hand.

"Someone should take the flag back," Lane suggested. ''I'll do it," Paige said. Izzie handed her the flag. Paige ran off, determined to be the winning cabin. When she finally reached the counselors, she approached one with red hair and showed her the flag.

"We found the flag," she said while panting. "You're in Fox Cabin, right?" the counselor asked.

"Where are your cabin-mates?" "Oh, they aren't here. They- I'm sorry. In order to win, all of the campers in the cabin must turn in the flag together."

Paige opened her mouth furiously to complain, then decided to find Izzie and Lane instead.

When she found them, they asked why she still had the flag. She told them what the counselor had told her. Lane and Paige helped Izzie limp back to the counselors. When they finally reached them, they found that all the other cabins were already back.

"Okay, everyone. The winners are Butterfly Cabin!" Avery announced on her megaphone.

The girls from Butterfly Cabin cheered loudly, which annoyed them. Butterfly Cabin shot them dirty looks as the counselors congratulated them.

When the girls were back in their cabin, they told Jane and Avery what happened. Avery escorted Izzie to the nurse while Jane stayed with Paige and Lane.

"It really wasn't fair! Izzie was hurt, so she couldn't walk there!" Paige complained.

"Sorry guys, it's camp rules." Jane told them.

"There's nothing we can do now," Lane moped. "Yeah, I guess you're right," Paige agreed.

After a while, Izzie and Avery walked inside the cabin. Izzie had a small cast on her leg and a few scratches."She's going to be in a cast for a week or two," Avery informed the girls as Izzie sat down in a comfortable lounge chair. The girls didn't even speak , but only looked at their feet.

The sun slowly set, so the girls headed off to dinner. Izzie walked slowly because of her cast. Later, Paige sifted through her mashed potatoes with her spark, not eating any of it.

"It's not that bad," Izzie said optimistically. "At least I didn't break any bones."

"You're right, Izzie," Paige said with a smile. "There's no point in feeling sorry for ourselves."

Lane, Paige, and Izzie sleepily returned to their beds. "Okay, everyone. We're going to tell you a scary story." Avery told them before sitting down on her bed.

She shined a flashlight below her face and spoke in a low voice as she told the story. "Once upon a time," she began in a slow, menacing voice, "there was a man named Woody Stokes. Woody was a lumberjack. Every day he would cut down trees. One day, Woody was hired to cut down trees to build Camp Celima Bay. Unfortunately for him, it was the foggiest day of the year. Woody could barely see anything. He swung his axe, but didn't hit the tree. He hit his hand!"

Avery yelled, making the three girls scream.

"Unfortunately for him, he was standing right next to the lake, so when his tragic accident occurred, he fell right into the lake and drowned. People went searching for him, but his body was never found."

Avery took a dramatic pause. "Now every time there's a fog at this camp, you may hear Woody's scream echoing through the forest to get revenge at Camp Celima."

Paige pulled the covers close to her face, trying not to scream. "Good night," Avery said.

Paige lay down in bed for an hour, but couldn't fall asleep. She thought she was being a baby for being scared of a silly story, but she noticed that Lane and lzzie had not fallen asleep yet. Instead, their eyes lay open and flickered across the room. At last, her thoughts slowed and the fright that once kept her up turned into a peaceful sleep.

As Paige slowly opened her eyes to a new day at camp, she noticed that the two larger beds that belonged to her counselors were empty, the blankets tossed to the side. Paige anxiously woke Izzie and Lane up. They escaped their beds, wondering whatto do.

"Where do you think they are?" Lane asked with wide eyes. "I don't know," Izzie shook her head.

"We should look for them," Paige suggested. The other girls agreed. They set off and searched the camp in hopes of finding their counselors.

The girls checked other cabins, but couldn't find their counselors. They checked the lake, the pool, the cafeteria and everywhere else they could think of, but couldn't find Jane and Avery.At last, the girls returned to their cabin, feeling hopeless. "Where could they be?" Lane asked with wide eyes.

"Maybe they were kidnapped or something," Izzie said quietly. The group sat inside the cabin, wondering what to do. Finally, they decided to look for them elsewhere.

As they opened the cabin door, they found white smoke-like fog entering the cabin. They stepped back and screamed as a tall man walked inside. He wore a long blue coat, He looked odd, but she couldn't see any details behind the long hood he wore. Paige looked at his short arms, and saw that he was missing a hand. She pointed it out to her friends, causing them all to scream.CVRep Picks Student Writing Competition Winners

The group screamed so loud that their throats became sore. The man stepped closer and closer, reaching his only hand out menacingly. Then the man started to laugh. But the laugh didn't sound like it was coming from an old man, it sounded like a giggle from a teenage girl.

Paige flicked the lights on, revealing Woody as a girl with long blonde hair. "Avery?" Izzie exclaimed.

The man that they thought was Woody was really Avery. Jane entered the room, laughing. "What's going on?" Paige asked angrily.

"It's just a prank! There's no Woody Stokes!" Avery cried, laughing hysterically.

"But, what about the fog?" Thomas asked.

"We used a fog machine," Jane told them, between giggles. The three girls sat down on their beds and sulked.

"Don't feel bad," Avery told them. "Our counselors pulled the same prank on us one year." Although Avery comforted them, they were still upset.

"I hate being tricked," Izzie told them, her arms crossed. "Me too," Paige agreed.

Days passed and their glumness went away. They took part in camp activities, such as horseback riding and swimming, which Paige was exceptionally excited about. Another day drifted into dawn. Paige was full from a nice dinner of mac and cheese, which was her favorite.

When it was nighttime, the girls got ready for bed. Paige slipped into her striped pajamas and settled into bed."Where are Jane and Avery?'' Lane asked.

"They're coming back from dinner. They had to help clean up," Izzie said.

''I'm so tired," Paige said. "Let's just go to sleep:'

"Goodnight," Lane murmured, as she flicked off the lights.

As Paige shut her eyes, she heard a loud, blood curdling scream from outside. "Did you hear that?" she asked her friends.

They both nodded, looking frightened."I bet they're just pranking us again," Izzie pointed out matter-of-factly.

They exited the cabin and stepped into a thick fog that was surrounding the camp. It creeped out from the large, foreboding lake.

"Ha ha," Paige called out sarcastically. "We know it's just a fog machine."

The girls walked further into the camp. Paige couldn't see in front of her, so she tripped on something and fell into the dirt. When she got up, she brushed the dirt off and glanced at her feet. She found that she had tripped on the fog machine.

"See, I told you they were pranking us," Izzie scowled, before noticing that Paige was staring at the fog machine, which sat close to her feet. Paige's face was pale with shock.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

"It's unplugged," Paige uttered in a hushed voice.

"Let's go back to the cabin," Lane whispered, her voice breaking. "I don't like this."

Then, a dark shadow emerged from the misty fog and came towards them.

"Who is that?" Lane asked, fearfully, taking a step back.

"Do you think it's-" Paige began. As if Izzie read her mind, she interrupted her. "No. It can't be Woody. He's made up, remember?" lzzie told her.

The girls slowly stepped back, but the man had gotten too close to them. They were frozen in shock. His face was gray and he had a long white beard . The dark glint in his eyes seemed to stare at the girls. Paige looked at his side and saw that there was a stump where his hand should be. His wrinkled, grey face, curled into a smile. Paige had a feeling that this wasn't a prank.

"W -who are you?" Paige asked in a hushed voice.

"I am Woody Stokes and I'm here for my revenge."

SECOND PLACE: Cidni Hordista, Palm Desert Charter Middle School

Numb

My day was off to such a great start. Kind of. I woke up to see fluffy hair rolling over my face and a really slimy tongue. What a great wake up call. My dog Benjie licks my face trying to wake me up. He pants with his huge doggy eyes as if he's trying to say hurry up so I can eat. I get up and walk over to my closet which looks like it's been hit by a tornado. I throw some clothes onto my bed so I can choose, not really caring if they were dirty or not. I ended up choosing a plain black tee with a pair of jeans. I run over to my bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror. Uh, I look horrible. My olived colored skin really deserved a relaxing, soothing bath and my brown hair really needed to get combed. I quickly changed into my outfit, grabbed my backpack and ran downstairs.

Cidni Hordista

When I got down, I saw my dad flipping pancakes like a professional. His pancakes are the best.

"Good Morning KK!" He greets. He quickly finishes off the pancakes and sets them on plates. "Breakfast is served, your highness."

He says as he makes a gesture with his hands, as if he were a waiter. I laugh. He gives me a hug and passes me some orange juice. I look up to see my mom coming downstairs in her work outfit with a box.

"Good morning Kalani," she says. "Good morning mom."

" So, your mom and I have a little early birthday surprise for you that we want you to open right now," dad announced.

"Now? Why not wait for tomorrow?" I ask.

"Well, we've been waiting for you to open it for a very long time and I think it's best for you to have it right now." mom says. I look at them suspiciously. My mom hands me the golden box she was holding.

"Here, open it." mom said. I tear open the box and pull out 2 pieces of rectangle shaped paper.

"Wait, are these the tickets to your show tomorrow?" I shriek. "Yes, they are," mom says.

"Their front row seats so you can watch me up close. There's an extra one if you wanted to invite Bianca too," dad explains. I run over to them and give them one big hug. "Thanks," I said.

Our hug was disrupted by a set of heavy footsteps and loud yawning. I turn to see my brother Daven, walking down the staricase. He looked like he just had the craziest sleep ever. His long brown hair covering his face with bags under his eyes.

"What just happened?" he asked.

"Daven, don't tell me you stayed up watching Netflix again," mom questioned. I try to keep my laugh in. He looked ridiculous.

"Well, I did. It was worth it. I finally got to watch the last season of-"

"Okay, I don't care. Just, get some more sleep next time. Last time I checked, responsible football players don't stay up all night watching TV," mom interrupted. My dad walks over to him and rummages through his hair.

"Good morning champ, get some breakfast." He hands Daven his plate and grabs a glass of orange juice for him too. We all have a seat at the table and dive into our pancakes. Just when we were having a great time, mom stands up and takes her dish over to the sink.

"Sorry, I have a meeting in 20 minutes, I better get going," she explains. She gives us each a hug and walks over to the door.

"Wait, mom, are you going to come to the concert too?" I ask. She looks at meand sighs.

"I'm sorry Kaylen, I have a meeting at that time and your dad got 2 tickets only anyway. We can spend time before the concert if I have time." She grabs the keys and walks out of the house.

"Does she ever have any time to do anything else?," I complain.

"KK, your mom is a very busy woman. She has a company to run 24/7 and I have shows and concerts. Your mom and I are really busy. You have to understand that KK. But look on the bright side, you're invited to my concert so we get to spend some more time together!"

I was supposed to feel excited because it's like a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I didn't really feel that excited. It's always mom with her meetings, dad with his shows, and Daven with his football games. I got up and threw away my leftover pancakes, which I didn't feel like finishing anymore, and packed my lunch. I didn't want to go overload with my lunch today because they were serving slushies today at school since it was friday. Middle school food is 100 times better than elementary school's food.

"By the way Kalani, Daven's driving you to school today," he holds up his finger, telling me to wait before I start rambling how annoying Daven is when he's driving," he needs to be at the high school early for football practice so he's just going to drive you instead. I have to get to the set to continue rehearsal." he explains.

I jab my lunch in my bag and attempt to wait calmly at the couch. I look around at the house. It's white plastered walls and ceilings, its modern furniture scattered across the tiled floors. The grand staircase with the golden chandelier hanging. I wanted it to fall on me. Maybe that would make my mom pay more attention to me. My dad bought this house for us on my parents' 13th wedding anniversary a few months ago. All my mom got for him was this bracelet that had our last name Luthor embroidered onto it. It was pretty, but obviously not as big as dad's gift. I was really hoping for a change in my family once we moved in. Do the things normal families would do like cook in the kitchen, or play outside, or maybe even stay up all night watching movies together. My thoughts were interrupted by Daven's yelling.

"Come on Kaylen, we better get going. I'm going to be late for practice because of you." he says.

"Well, I really hope you do," I muttered. We said bye to my dad and climbed into his car. It smells like sweat. Disgusting.

"Please clean up your car," I pleaded. He looks at me as if I told him to clean up all the plastic in the ocean. I roll my eyes. He backs up out of the garage, bumping into the trash bins.

"Wow, you're the best driver ever," I say sarcastically.

"Hey, I just got my license, okay? Chill out, it's going to be fine. This thing can handle anything." Mom got him a white Audi for his birthday last week and he already scratched it from hitting a pole.

Yeah right, I thought.

We arrive at my school and he pulls into the drop area where I see Bianca waiting for me at a tree.

"Thanks," I said. He nods and quickly drives out of the parking lot . I ran over to Bianca.

"Hey Kalani!" She greets me with a hug and we start walking towards our firstclass.

"I got some really exciting news!" I announce.

"Really? That's something. What is it?" I stuff my hand into the side pocket of my bag and pull out the tickets. I hand them to her and her eyes widen with shock.

"Oh my gosh, tickets to your dad's concert? Wait, are you inviting me?" I nod in reply.

"Oh my gosh, I don't know what to say. Everyone is going to be so jealous of us," she says. I laugh at her.

"Well, it's my dad. So obviously they won't be that surprised. But the tickets cost a fortune too," I explain. The final bell rang and we went to our first class. "This is the best birthday present ever," she said.

The day went by really quickly, with Bianca and I sipping our berry slushies like we were on the beach or something. For some reason, a lot of the kids knew it was my birthday and they gave me gifts. At the end of the day, my dad picked us up since he got released early after his rehearsal for the concert.

"Hey Bianca, Hey KK," he greeted. "Hey Dad, can we stop by the mall real quick?" I pleaded. He looked at me with concern.

"Again?"

"I know, but me and Bianca don't have anything to wear to the concert and we really want to wear something good. Please?" I looked at Bianca for support. She just shrugged.

"Don't look at me, I'm not the one asking," she said. I looked back at dad.

"Fine," he sighed, "But I'll pick you up in about two hours, okay?" I smiled.

"Okay." In just a few minutes, we were already in the parking lot. We climbed out of the car and ran through the doors like we owned the place. There were people holding bags, walking with their kids, and having coffee. I wish that was my family.

"Hey, you okay?" Bianca asked.

"Yeah, I'm okay," I replied, "Maybe we should stop by Macy's, or maybe Urban outfitters, or maybe Pacsun! Oh, maybe we can stop by Nordstrom, I heard they are having a sale. I also have a gift card for-"

"Wow girl, slow down, slow down. One store at a time," Bianca interrupted. She grabbed my hand and we ran into Nordstrom like two teenagers, waiting to tire out their arms with shopping bags.CVRep Picks Student Writing Competition Winners

By 4:00, me and Bianca had at least a dozen bags. My dad pulled up in his Range Rover and looked at us with his eyes open. We quickly piled up into the car.

"So, I'm guessing those are not all for the concert," he said. "Well, we stopped by a few stores just for fun." I said.We drove back home while my dad was on a call with his boss about the whole concert set-up tomorrow, so we couldn't really talk to him about anything.

When we got home, my mom got home early from work cooking our dinner. That's surprising. "Hey mom," I greeted.

"Hey KK, dinner's going to be ready in a few minutes. Bianca, do you want to call your mom and tell her that you're at our house already?" she asks.

"Sure, I'll call her." We ran up the stairs, passing by Daven's room which smelled like dirty socks. We trample into my room and quickly start trying on our clothes that we bought. It took us over half an hour just to try on all of our clothes. My mom finally called us down for dinner. She made the only thing she could actually cook which was pasta and chicken. I decided not to eat downstairs just for tonight since Bianca was over, so we ate in my room while watching Outer Banks on Netflix.

By 11:00 pm, we were so tired from such a long, exhausting day. We sneaked out of my bedroom window to look out at the stars. Bianca wanted to become an astronomer when she grew up. She's always telling me about all the constellations and different stars in the universe. As for me, I don't know what I'm going to be yet. I never really thought about it. Maybe something like my dad, or run a business like my mom.

I glanced at Bianca and saw that she was crying. I've never seen Bianca cry. She was always the tough girl."Hey, you okay? What's wrong?" I asked. I rubbed her back to try and comfort her.

"Um, kind of. I was thinking about when my dad died. It was the worst thing that ever happened. I didn't have anyone to rely on for help, or for love and comfort. I wanted to crawl up into a hole and stay there forever. But I knew my dad didn't want me to give up. So I come out here and look up at the stars, hoping that he's watching his little girl, trying to become like him." she sobbed. I couldn't help myself but cry. I always get so emotional when someone tells me about their life.

"But I've dealt with it," she said grabbing my hand, "I just want you to know, spend as much time with your family as you can." She walked back inside, and threw her blanket over her body, and let her head sink into her pillow. I walked over to my bed and glanced at a picture of my family on my nightstand. We were at Disneyland for my 6th birthday. I set it down, climbed into my bed, and cried myself to sleep, just thinking about what Bianca said.

The next morning at 11, I was awoken by Bianca, who was already dressed in her outfit, fixed hair, and looked stunning. Gosh, that girl has to teach me her ways. She helped me get ready since we didn't want to be late. I put on my new tie-back green floral blouse that I got from Urban Outfitters and a pair of designer jeans from Nordstorm. I topped it off with my necklace from Pacsun and my Nike air forces. Bianca put my hair up into this high ponytail and slapped on a light face of make-up. I looked in my mirror and saw a whole different person. Maybe Bianca should consider being a make-up artist or a hairdresser when she's older. We ran downstairs to see Daven on the couch eating a bag of chips.

"Wow Kaylen, you look good." he surprisingly said. "Why, thank you," I replied.

"Ha, just kidding," he snickered. "Of course you are."

"Oh, by the way, happy birthday," he said. I looked at Bianca and we laughed. We were so busy we forgot it was even my birthday!

"Where's mom?" I ask.

"She's at work," he replied, munching on his chips. I sighed. "Oh," I said sadly.

We ran outside to see Bianca's mom waiting for us in the driveway. We scrambled into the car, in such a hurry. This is going to be the best day ever!

A few hours and stops later, we arrived. It was like we were at the Grammy's or something. There were hundreds of people coming to watch. Some people recognized me and asked for a picture. The stage was outdoors, but it was surrounded by a ton of smaller buildings. We thanked Bianca's mom and looked at the line. It probably took up two blocks. We were about to walk over to the end of the line, when a tall black thing blocked us. I looked up to see a muscular looking man, wearing a tux and an earpiece. He looked like those bodyguards in movies.

"Are you Kaylen Luthor and Bianca Vasquez?" He asks in a deep voice.

"Um, yes we are. Who are you?" I ask.

'Tm Frank, your bodyguard. Your dad asked for me to escort you inside. Can I see you tickets?"

"Wait," Bianca interrupted," you mean, you get to protect us from bad people, and people that want pictures with us and get us whatever we want?" He nodded slowly, as if he was considering the last option. I pulled out the tickets from my purse and handed them to him. He scanned them and told us to follow him in. We walked around to the back and saw the whole behind the scenes area. There was a tech crew running around and tons of crew members checking the stage. I saw my dad near the back of the room, getting his hair done. We walked over to him, trying to avoid the frantic crew.

"Hey KK," he said as he gave me a hug, "Here, I got you and Bianca some waffles for breakfast if you're hungry." he passes us plates stacked with waffles topped with syrup.

"Thanks" I replied.

''I'm on in 5 minutes. Maybe Frank can show you to your seats." he nodded to our bodyguard. He walked us through another door, leading to the stage. The seats were filled with people. It was going to be a full house. We sat at our seats which I noticed were different from the rest of the others . They were velvet colored, more cushioned and bigger. Lucky us.

My dad was going to be on any second now. I looked around at the crowd. There were so many people, that others had to stand in the back or just sit on the floor. People were jumping up and down and screaming. My dad walked out on stage and it just got louder. He smiled and waved his hand to silence them.

"Thank you all for coming," he started, "before we start, I just want to say that it's my daughter's 13th birthday and I would like us all to sing for her tonight!" He looked at me and laughed.

My mouth just hung open. Bianca squealed and grabbed myhand. When they were singing I felt like the whole world was singing for me. It felt so good.

When the song was finished, I climbed up the stage and gave my dad a big hug. "I love you KK," he whispered."I love you too dad."

The concert went by really fast. My dad was on his last song called Binded. He wrote it about our family a couple of months ago. We were waving our arms in the air, flowing with the song. By the time, it was done, the crowd went wild, screaming and clapping.

"Thank you, have a good night," he said, then he grabbed the mic stand and walked off stage. The crowd started to part. Bianca's mom texted that she was here to pick her up. We thanked Frank and ran over to the parking lot and saw Bianca's car.

"Thank you so much for a great time, it was the best," she said. I pulled her into a big hug. She climbed into her car and drove off. When I ran back into the stadium, I heard a loud boom. It startled everybody around me. We didn't know what it was, and I just kept running. Suddenly, there was a louder crash nearby. I turned around and saw one of the buildings caught on fire. I ran faster toward the stage. I had to tell dad. But I didn't make it. Because everything went black.

I can't see anything. I can't feel anything. I felt trapped, like I'm being crushed by the whole world. I open my eyes to see people running in all different directions. I couldn't see what was on top of me, but it was big. It was too heavy to push and I was so tired. I try pulling my legs instead of pushing it and they eventually pull free. I'm able to see better. I look down at my legs.

My pants are cut wide open to reveal more than a dozen cuts. I look around to see the stage and the buildings burning. I start to worry if Dad's okay. I want to get up and find him but my whole body is pulling me back with pain shocking through me. I drag myself, trying to avoid the stampede of people. I see bodies everywhere. Some are still struggling. Some completely still. Then, I see him.

He's buried among wooden boards from a collapsed building. I crawl over to him. I shake him to try to see if he's awake. He's still. I try to move him so he's on his back. Burns streaked across his face. Bruises all over his body. A splintered board sliced through his arm.

"Dad," I cried. He doesn't move. I tried again. "Dad, please wake up," I shake him more.

"Dad, are you still here? Dad, you need to get up!" My lungs were screaming.Finally, his eyes open and he gasps for air.

"Honey, are you okay?" He chokes. I nod in reply, bringing his hands to my cheeks. He tries to get up, but he screams in pain.

"Dad, are you alright? Let's take you outside. Come on we need to go, the building's going to fall. We need to get out of here," I say, fighting back tears.

"I'm sorry, I can't," he mumbles. I shake my head. I try to pull him up but he stops me.

"Honey listen to me, I can't anymore. You need to go, I'll be alright."

"Dad, what are you talking about? Come on, we need to get out of here."

He takes my hands and squeezes them tight. "Please KK, you need to go, okay? Please tell mom and Daven that I love them. I love you with all my heart. I trust you."

I just sit there, confused. Why is he not getting up? "Dad what are you talking about? I-" "You need to go. Here take this" He hands me his bracelet. The bracelet that Mom gave him for their 13th anniversary.

"Dad I can't. I can't lose you. Please hold on." There was another loud boom and the ground started to rumble more. The building started to shake.

"Don't worry about me. Now go." He says, letting go of my hands. And motioning metogo.

"I can't leave you," I cry. Letting my tears roll down my cheeks as he wipes them off. Then, the building starts to fall apart. He grabs my hands once more and whispers,

"Aw, sweetie, I'll always be with you. I know we will see each other soon. In a better place. I love you." He cries. And with that, he lets go.

"Nooo!!" I sobbed. The building was almost completely gone. I run as fast as my legs can take me out of the building and watch in horror as it crashes down. I stared at the bracelet and cried.

"No." I cry "No, this cannot be happening." A set of arms from nowhere grabs me and carries me, away from dad.

"No, my dad's still in there!" I scream as I try to pull his arms off of me.

"I'm sorry, but we need to evacuate this area immediately." He says, as he puts me on a bed and wheels me to a clear area with other people.

The cries for help, the screams of pain, and the sighs of relief all crowd around while I'm wheeled in the ambulance. I'm starting to get out of breath. Then, everything goes black.

When I wake up, I see there are people crying with their families. Some are looking for theirs. I look down at the cuts on my legs which look a little better, but I feel so numb, like all the blood just drained out of my body. Anger, grief, sadness, all boiling up in me. Knowing that the most important person to me, died in my arms.

"Uhhhh," I scream at myself. I spent almost 20 minutes in my closet looking for an outfit. I look around at my dirty closet and just grab this random t-shirt and a pair of leggings to cover up my cuts, which were almost healed.

"This will have to do for now," I say. I look down to see I picked. It's my baby blue tee that Dad gave to me a couple months ago from Pacsun and my favorite black leggings. I try not to cry. It's been three days since the incident. It was a bombing. Thankfully, they found the person who caused it. My mom decided to let me skip school yesterday, but I'm going today. I slip my clothes on, and run to the bathroom to get ready. I comb my hair, and quickly do my morning routine. I go ahead and grab my backpack and run downstairs . I can see my mom in the bathroom getting ready for work.

"Hey mom," I said. I grab an acai bowl, some toast and get to work on my breakfast.

"Hey KK," My mom replies. " I have a meeting in 30 minutes and I can't be late, so Daven is going to drive you." She ran over to the door and grabbed her keys.

"Oh. Okay." I say as I finish up my breakfast and rinse my dishes. I didn't complain since I don't want to stress my mom before she left for work. "It's going to be fine KK, you know. He still needs time to settle in and have time to think about it." she says, trying not to choke up." Well, bye KK, have fun at school today. I love you," she gives me a hug and closes the door behind her. I sigh. Benjie runs over to me and licks my face.

"Aww, little boy. You must be really hungry, aren't you?" He wags his tail as if he was saying yes. I walk over to the pantry and pour some dog food into his bowl. He gobbles it up like he hasn't eaten in days. I walked past a photo of my dad when he was in one of his movie outfits. I always thought of how funny he looked when he was in that. Stop it, I think. Don't cry.

"Kaylen, let's go, I'm gonna be late to practice," Daven says, as he grabs the jug of milk and drinks out of it.''I' m not using that again." I sigh.

We walk out the front door and climb into his car. It smells like sweat. Again. "Can you fix the smell of this car for once?" I ask.

"Maybe." He starts the car and backs up. We sat there in silence, like there's nothing to talk about. I know better than to ask him about how he feels now and if he's okay. Because the truth is, he's not. I know he'll never get over what happened, so I try to change the subject.

"So, when's your next football game?'' I look at him. For a moment I saw tears, but he blinked them away.

"Tomorrow." He stares out of the window. He's always been busy with school, friends, and football. I want to spend more time with him since he needs to recover, but I don't know if he'll let me.

We arrive at my school and he pulls up to the drop off area. "Bye Kaylen, Mom will pick you up today."

"Okay, bye Daven." I shut the door and saw Bianca waiting for me at the tree. I ran over to her and gave her a big hug.

"Oh my gosh, Kaylen! Not so tight. I heard about your dad. I'm so sorry Kaylen, I wish it didn't happen. You okay?" she asked as we walked to class.

"Yeah, I'm okay. How about you?"

"I'm alright," she responds. She was about to say something, but she didn't get to because a ton of people ran up to me. They started talking to me all at once. They were all asking if ''I'm okay" or " we're really sorry about what happened". I try to tell them that I'm okay, but every time that I say it, I'm not okay. That it hurts so bad. I want to run away and cry. I want to be with my Dad.

Thankfully, the bell rang and everybody started parting away. Bianca put her arm around me and tried comforting me.

"Hey, if you need anything, I'm right here, okay?" I nod in reply. The halls were filled with kids talking and laughing. But most of it died down when I walked past them. I could feel all of their eyes on me. I try not to make eye contact and shuffle quickly into my classroom. People start walking in, sitting down. Quieter than usual. Our teacher, Mr. Connor walks over to his desk and puts down all of his stuff. He gives me a quick glance, like he's saying you okay?. I nod in reply. He started class, talking about turning homework by tomorrow and starting a new project that's due next week. I didn't really pay attention because I was thinking about my dad. I played with his bracelet that's on my wrist, still burnt from the fire a little. The day went by really fast. It literally took 15 minutes to get to one class. By the end of the day, I received an armful of thoughtful cards. I'm probably not oing to finish reading them all. I saw my mom outside, waving at me and Bianca.

"Kaylen, my mom says that she has a meeting until 5, so I'm coming to your house today."

"Okay, let's work on whatever project Mr. Connor was talking about?" "You mean the project that we have to write an event from ancient history?" "Oh, nevermind," I laugh. We walk over to my mom's car and Bianca helps me with the cards.

"Hey KK! Hey Bianca, what are those?" She asks.

"There cards for, you know," She looks away. I grabbed her hand and squeezed it tight. "Don't worry mom."

On the drive back home, I read a lot of comments from my social media about my dad, people posting videos and pictures about how an amazing person my dad was. I smile. It felt so good knowing that I wasn't going through this alone. I will miss my dad. But his death has brought my family together even closer. Even though he's not here, I'm sure that's what he wanted. And I will do anything for him. Because he's my Dad and forever will be.

THIRD PLACE: Addison Jackson, Palm Desert Charter Middle School

Bytes That Bite

“In total, nearly six-in-ten black internet users (59%) say they have experienced any form of online harassment compared with 41% of whites and 48% of Hispanics. In terms of the specific behaviors they have faced, notable shares of black internet users say they’ve been called offensive names (38%) or purposefully embarrassed online (34%)” (Duggan).

Technological advancements have furthered our knowledge of our world and the significant amount of individuals occupying it. Nevertheless, it is incorporated in contributing to a platform for racial prejudice that holds jurisdiction over our society, as shown by these affrighting statistics. Social media emboldens racism against African-Americans.CVRep Picks Student Writing Competition Winners

Addison Jackson

By way of a rise in “influencers” engaging in racist behaviors and the biased censorship between discriminatory groups and African-Americans, social networks have become hot-spots for bigotry. Social media uplifts anti-Black behavior.

Despite the fact that 56% of U.S youth possess their own social media accounts (Howard), there has been an upsurge of social media celebrities that participate in racist activities. As stated by a Statista.com survey held between March 22, 2018 and April 10, 2018, “According to the findings, 12 percent of teenagers reported to often encountering racist hate speech while using social media. Overall, 52 percent of respondents stated that they often or sometimes came across racist hate speech on social media” (Clement).

Applying this information, it’s feasible to comprehend that many apps and websites contain a sizable number of people and content that promote this bigotry. TikTok is one example of a prominent platform that is recognized for its intolerant trends. A particular illustration of these fads is the “How's My Form?” challenge, which has produced videos that mock and ridicule Black, Muslim, and Asian people (Magsino). These videos can cause younger children to believe that demeaning African-Americans is something to satirize and may entice them to view intolerance as tolerable.

Notwithstanding, the article offers an explanation for these posts by stating, “Melissa Nance, a Psychiatry researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, explained that pre-teens and teenagers' may actually be more prone to making racist posts given their immature brain development, making TikTok, an app mostly used by Gen-Z, particularly susceptible to such content” (Magsino). Because these individuals that minors view are significantly included in their lives as entertainers and sometimes role models, racial prejudice becomes a notable component of their lives. Primarily, this online activity can impair Black children in a multitude of ways.

Challenging the idea that social media companies are inclusive and supportive of the Black community, there is a racial bias in the flagging of posts. Racist organizations, such as the Traditionalist Worker Party and the Council of Conservative Citizens, have become exploitative and persuasive in their endeavors to obtain members. To elucidate, an account from Journalistsresource.com affirms, “The researchers find that cyber-racism tends to come from two groups: racist organizations and individuals who often act anonymously. Racist organizations tend to use websites to communicate racist messages and ideas. They also communicate via online games located on racist websites. The authors write: ‘Racist groups use these channels to reach, not only general, but also very specific audiences.

For instance, the video games made available to the public from far-right groups’ sites are often used as hidden opportunities to present a more attractive image of racist groups to existing and potential members, particularly targeting a younger audience’” (Bluic). Behavior like this is what alienates African-Americans, beginning at an early age. Derogatory “jokes” online may influence a young child’s later behaviors. Furthermore, these groups aren’t able to vindicate themselves on the web. An article by Shirin Ghaffary at Vox.com proves this by stating, “Tweets written by self-identified African American users were, on average, found to be 1.5 times more likely to be flagged as offensive.

Researchers then applied this test data into a larger algorithmic model run using natural language processing on 56 million tweets and saw that these biases were only further reinforced.” Significantly ignored issues like this keep us from the ideal nonpartisan future we anticipate. To be frank, why can’t these corporations practice what they preach?

In spite of all that was previously mentioned, certain individuals do not acknowledge the truth. The conclusion of these people is that social media is an equitable and secure environment for the African-American community. To express this outlook, Twitter’s help blog declares that it’s prohibited to attack people based on their race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. (Hateful Conduct Policy). When compared to the statistics provided earlier, Twitter is actively contradicting themselves. Putting on a mask of aid for African-Americans and then censoring them covertly is deceptive to their users. Unity can’t be constructed on falsehood.

Sometimes confidentially, sometimes blatantly, the promotion of racism against the Black community is prominent in the world of social media. Due to the racial prejudice in online censorship and media stars participating in bigoted behavior, African-American youth develop low self-esteem.

One way to eradicate this injustice is by participating in local events to be educated about the people in the community. In addition, donating to anti-bullying organizations like STOMP Out Bullying.org and No Bully.org along with mental health organizations including the Black Mental Health Alliance and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can assist the African-American victims and lead the abusers in the proper path. Lastly, dedicating time to report any instance of hate speech on social networks and standing with the victim can make an impact. It’s the platform's responsibility to protect all of their users. Though it is an arduous battle to fight, making our world whole merits every second of it.

Category II: Ages 13 to 15

FIRST PLACE: Kira Entzminger, Desert Ridge Academy

Thinking Pen

I've always lived in the darkness. I ain't allowed outside, even though I like to be. Mammo seems to think I'll "Join the Blazes" whatever that means. She worries about me. Everyone does. The last time I was outside, four years ago, I watched my school perish. Burn straight to the ground. Along with everyone in it. I stood and watched. I felt the heat of the flames and heard the screams of my schoolmates. I didn't help them. Mammo took me inside, said I ain't allowed out, anymore. I live in the darkness of a lockdown.

My brother suddenly burst through the door and flopped down on the couch. The noise from the outside scared me so much that I choked on the pen I was chewing on.

Kira Entzminger

"Ya alright, Chord?" He asked, as I coughed and pulled the pen out of my mouth. He smelled like cigarettes and dirt and burning flesh.

"Fine," I gasped, and put the pen back in my mouth. I sprang up, realizing who I was talking to. "How's the outside?"

"It ain't good. Nothin's workin'." He sighed, and rubbed his temples."Well, what're ya tryin' to do? 'Cause from what I just heard, it's nothin'!" I always get frustrated with my brother and his clan. They act like they're doing something, but I don't think they are."I told ya before, dude. We're doin' all we can." He closed his eyes and continued to massage the sides of his head.

"Dain' what, Groove? Attackin' it? Ya can't exactly attack inanimate things like ya think ya can." I looked down at my book of poems and sighed heavily."Hey, we're doin' more than you are." He said calmly.

Groove's a real calm person. He's never yelled at me. He ain't ever upset at anyone or anything. I'm always angry or upset at everything. We're polar opposites. It's kinda hard to believe that we're brothers. Maybe I'm always on edge and ·galled' (Mammo sometimes says that) because I'm basically on lockdown, while my brother who's only three years older than me is allowed to "fight" on the Outside.

"But, seriously, dude! Ya guys gotta do somethin'!" "We can't do much more than we're doin' now, Chord.""Oh, yeah? Which is what? Tell me exactly what you're doin' to help the outside not be chaotic." I asked, being tired of my brother's tranquility.

"We are... We're...We're. Uhh..." "Exactly. YOU don't even know what you're doin'! I bet you and your clan are tryin' to frackin'...calmly negotiate with it!!"

"Why don't ya lay off, huh? I'm tired." He yawned, and settled into the couch. It was real late. I don't blame him for being tired.

I cursed at him silently, then cursed at myself for being a jerk. I hate that I'm cooped up. I hate that Groove ain't cooped up. I hate that they're doing nothing to deal with the outside world. I stuck the pen back in my mouth, and started reading "The Raven", my favorite poem.

The pen I chew on is a nice pen. I mean, when I ain't choking on it. It's got teeth marks that are so piled up, they scratched the silver paint off of the pen itself. You could hardly read the label, it's so scratched. I think it once said, "VW Garriot". I've got no clue what it means.

Groove brought it home one night. He gave it to me, "just in case I don't come back", as he put it. I like the pen. It's my favorite. It's my thinking pen.

"Nah-uh! Dude, ya should know better than anyone: No smokin' in the house." I stood up from the desk, and pointed the pen at him, noticing that he had lit a smoke indoors.

"You and me both know Mammo don't care, no more, Dude." He puffed on the cigarette, releasing the air through his nose.

He was right, and I didn't like it. Mammo didn't care about anything. I think she's in a deeper darkness than me. But it's more of a psychological darkness that Mamma's in, not like mine, where I'm sitting in literal darkness all day. It's like Edgar Allen Poe. Though, I think anxiety took over Mammo. Not grief. Mamma's currently in a 'buffering' state. That's how I put it so I don't break down. And Groove knew this.

I looked down at my bare feet and picked at my fingers. "I know she don't care." "Hey, I'm sorry. 1-1 know ya don't like to talk about it. I don't know why 1- -"

"It's fine." I lied.

He looked at me sympathetically, and said, "Nah, ya ain't fine. You're a sucky liar." His statement ended with a laugh.

I noticed him scratching the side of his face and I changed the subject, pushing his head to the side. "What happened to your face, Man?"

"I dunno. But it's been itchin' like crazy." He kept on clawing at the raw light-pink skin near his ear."What, did ya walk through a fire today?" I examined the wound. I found out why he smelled like burning flesh."Yup. pretty much. Ow!"

"Sorry." I was picking at the weird burn mark, just prodding at the scaly patches of raw skin. I kneeled down next to him to get a closer look. I stuck the pen in my mouth and chewed on it.

Burns fascinate me. They have ever since this started because they're the only wounds us Nowheres could get. We're called 'Nowheres' because we literally live in the middle of nowhere. It's what the Anywheres, Everywheres, and the Timely-wheres (who we call Bad-timely-wheres) call us. It used to be an insult, but now it's just what we call each other, when we ain't too busy calling each other 'No-one-cares-a-wheres'. That's what we call the jerky Nowheres, and also our comrades. Ya know, just to spite them.

"Is it bad?" He asked, trying to look at it from the side.

"Nah. You've had worse." I thought back to his arm a few years back. That was bad.

Took me a couple hours to fix him up. Took him a few weeks to heal. "Do we got anymore Aloe?" He kinda jerked his head a little as the blood seeped through the burn in tiny bubbles when he said "aloe". I watched them form and drip slowly down his face, moving the pen to the right side of my mouth. "Stupid Fire." He said, then continued to curse at the flame that got him.

It irritated me that he hated fire. I don't understand what's to hate. Maybe we should hate those who hate fire. Maybe I should hate Groove. Maybe I should hate Mammo. Maybe I should hate the world for hating fire. I don't have a reason to hate fire. It fascinates me. It gives me comfort.

"I think we have Aloe," I kinda absent-mindedly answered, spreading his skin apart, making it bleed a little more. I immediately stopped when he winced. Then I stood up, and started toward the kitchen. I was just trying to get my mind off pain and back on recovery. "I'll go look for it." I put the pen in my pocket.

I heard Groove try to muffle a groan from the living room. I think he was scratching at it again.

The fridge was empty when I opened it. "Come on." I said under my breath, searching for the extra Aloe I kept in the back. I didn't find it.

"Do we got some?" He asked as I walked back into the Living room. "No." I answered stiffly. My voice was streaked with clear terror, and I guess my expressions were, too because Groove stopped picking at his fingers and looked up at me from the couch.

"Momma can go get some more." He flicked the cigarette out of his hand and crushed it under his military boot."N-no. She hasn't w-w-walked at all t-t-today." My voice was shaking now, and I tried to hold back tears."I mean, I can go." "No. You're allergic."

Groove's real allergic to the other plants in our greenhouse. The last time he went in, he almost suffocated. Mammo can't stand up if she hasn't walked all day. 1 1 can't go in there. Mammo don't let me. Says that I'll escape through there, and she scares me so much that I don't even like to talk about the greenhouse. She says I'll "Join the Blazes", whatever that means. I've only been in there once. I can't even remember what happened.

I kicked dirt from the ground with my foot and picked at my fingers. "What do we do?" I turned his head to the side again, and saw where he scratched the huge burn. It was secreting blood fast, so I walked into the kitchen to grab a rag. "Glory." I sighed.

When I walked back in, he was trying to see the burn on his face.

"They gave out gasmasks today at work," He smiled and covered his nose and mouth with his hands like a gasmask would. "We could use those," He put his hands down. "Did ya check in the back for an extra jar of Aloe?"

I pushed the rag onto his face and his eye twitched. It does that when he's quietly wincing. "I checked the back. Nothin'." I said, turning to look for the gauze in the desk drawer. He held the rag in his hand. "Did ya check in the cupboard?" He tried to move his eyebrows up, but just ripped the exposed facial tissue and made blood stream down his face. I found the gauze, then set my head on the desk. Thud. "No. I didn't check the cupboard." I felt anger creeping up on me like a shadow, and I took a deep breath.

"Ya should always check the cupboard, dude. Do ya want me to?" He stood up."Yep. That's good." I kept my head on the desk. I won't lash out. I won't lash out. I won't lash out. I whispered to myself.

"Found some!" He called from the kitchen after a few minutes of clicking and shuffling came from the back of the cupboard.

"Great." I unenthusiastically called back, and picked my head up. He walked in with a jar of clear gel-like liquid. "Do ya got the burn stuff?" "Yeah." I pulled a tube of burn cream from the desk drawer.

"Great." He stated happily, plopping back down on the couch.

It took a few minutes (by a few I mean about thirty-five), but I got it done. He looked like a cyborg.

"Heh. I got a Cyborg-no-one-cares-a-where!" I laughed, looking over my brother's face which was covered in a tan gauze that almost blended in with his skin. The whole right side of his face was covered, including his eye and ear.

"Yeah, yeah. Come on. It's late." He dropped to the floor so I could have the couch.

We didn't have bedrooms. Well, we didn't have two bedrooms. We had one, and being gentlemen and such, we gave it to Mammo. I sleep on the couch usually and Groove sleeps on the floor. I don't care where I sleep just as long as I do. The only time Groove sleeps on the couch is when the fire gets him, or when he upsets one of his clan. Sometimes when you're that badly injured ya gotta take the couch, I guess. I don't care.

I laid on the couch, just sprawled out as much as I could be (which wasn't much), gnawing on my thinking pen. I couldn't sleep. When I can't sleep, I just listen to Groove talk in his sleep. It's usually about his day. I don't know who he's talking to in those dreams, but he describes his day in pretty great detail.

And, as I suspected, he don't do anything to help the outside. I cursed at him. Not in a low voice. I don't know if he heard me, but he stopped for a second, then continued to talk about how he played poker and lost four packs of smokes, then won them back along with two more packs because he's a hustler.

I felt my face get hot, and I cursed at him louder. I ended up chewing so hard on my pen that the cap came off and I got ink in my mouth. "Ugh!" I hate the taste of pen ink.Walking to the kitchen, I heard a fire start outside. I quickly got a rag from a drawer, shoved it in my mouth, then put the exploded pen in my pocket. I peered through the window, and saw a huge fire burning the house next door. I tilted my head curiously, and wondered if I could get out.

The window rattled, when I shook the lock on it, and I didn't hear Groove talking in his sleep, anymore. Maybe he's waking up. I thought. He, then, started to talk a little louder. Never mind, then. I gotta get outside. I need to. I'll get out to the Blazes. I'll do it. I continued to mess with the lock. It was a code lock. Alright. Numbers. Numbers. I thought, putting my silver VW Garriot pen into my mouth. I started to flick the numbers up and down until one of them clicked into place. 1 was the first digit to click into place. Yes! Got it. I flicked them around more, and got 3 to stick one space away from 1. The number in between 1 and 3 was 2. Okay. One, two, three thought stupidly. The last one was 4.

Wow. Wow, Mammo. One, two, three, four? Okay. I am deeply disappointed in this family. How am I a part of this family at all? Ahh. So much disappointment. I am disturbed. I just needed a moment to express how terribly disappointed I was in those people I'm related to.

When I was done being judgy I hopped out the window, throwing the rag back into the kitchen. The first thing I did was smell the air. Burning flesh and ash. It was dark. I sighed contentedly. I heard the shrieks of the neighbors. Outside world. I looked around wildly, inching closer to the fire. The blinding colors of the blaze drew me in. I put the pen in my pocket.

I've never felt what a burn feels like. I haven't been out for a long time. I want to feel something other than aggravation for once. I want to feel fire.

I heard the people in the flaming house call for help. I didn't help them. I stopped just before the fire and felt the sensation of "hot" on my face. When I chewed the thinking pen, it began to melt and fall a little. I stuck my hand out and felt the heat bite down hard on my hand. The flesh on my fingers calloused and bubbled and popped when I kept it there for a few seconds. I started to push my whole arm into it, but the flame suddenly went out. The screams of my neighbors stopped.

I watched a house a couple miles away burst into flames. "Wait!" I called after it, and started running, feeling the skin on my right hand stick to the pen when I carried it to run.

I reach