What Lies Beneath?

By Jordan Kolb (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

As leaves twirled in the sky and flowers danced in the wind, Juliana jogged down the path. Blond locks swayed back and forth as the music blared from her earbuds. Juliana exchanged smiles with every person she greeted.

A black vehicle shadowed Juliana unnoticed. Her music was too loud to hear the wheels snapping branches and crunching leaves. Two muscular figures leapt out of the car. A tall man dressed in black landed beside her, with a hand stretching forward. She released a terrified scream, and her speed increased. Juliana’s feet guided her into the deep woods where she paused in front of a door.

The sun gleamed on the door, with silhouettes of leaves slightly moving. The shouts of the guys echoed throughout the trees, and stampeding footsteps followed. Her blue eyes opened at the door handle as the door flew open. She crawled her way through the tight space behind such a big door.

Darkness and silence took control of the vacant tunnel, no objects or people in sight. Juliana’s breath was heavy and full of relief. Turning on her phone flashlight, all she saw was a narrow path that led to another door. She followed the path and opened the door to be blinded by the sun. Uncovering her eyes, she saw tiny houses scattered across the land. Tiny people roamed the area, focused on their tasks. Her mind paced back and forth. Her eyes ascended into darkness.

As her eyes opened and closed slowly, she found herself inside a house. Jars upon jars lined a shelf with pots and pans piled on the counters. Juliana crawled off a table to look out a window. The hut shook as the door flung open. There stood a creature with pointy ears and a long, white beard. The gnome’s cone-shaped hat shot straight up as he fell into shock.

“It worked!”

“Um, excuse me? Where am I? Who are you? Why am I the size of you? What did you do to me?” Juliana shot question after question at the old gnome.

“Child, take my hand. I will tell you everything.”

Juliana gripped the gnome’s hand, ready for an adventure to an unknown destination. The gnome explained everything to Juliana as they strolled. As questions were answered, Juliana began to wonder if she was dreaming.

“Mister, am I dreaming?”

“You are not. When you ran through the wooden door, you brought yourself into another dimension- a place mankind has never discovered. Since you are the first, I had to put you under a shrinking spell before anyone got a glance of you.”

The village seemed to stretch as they walked the road. Houses were oddly shaped, gnome children played tag, and everyone worked with their own talent. Their names reflected their jobs. The elderly gnome guiding Juliana was known as “Dr. Magic.”

A bunch of “Good mornings” bounced around Juliana’s ears as she walked past the gnomes.

“Everyone here is polite,” Dr. Magic stated.

“Wow. I can tell! It’s nice to hear something like that. My dimension isn’t too polite.”

After crossing a creaky bridge that hosted the troll under it, their walk came to a pause. Juliana’s neck inched up as she glimpsed at a structure standing tall. There, in front of her and Dr. Magic, was a castle. Gliding out of the front door was a gnomette in a long dress. Next to her was another gnome with a golden crown reflecting sunlight.

“Who are they?”

“They are the king and queen of the kingdom. They have kept everyone safe and guarded for forty-three years now.”

The door opened to reveal two guards decked out in silver armor. Marching their way towards Juliana, she gazed in amazement, blinded by the apparel. After they passed, Juliana and Dr. Magic climbed up the stairs to greet the king and queen.

Guiding them inside, the king and queen sat Juliana and Dr. Magic at a table. With a snap of the king’s fingers, food appeared on the table. Told to dig in, everyone began to eat their meals.

“Juliana, what is your role in my kingdom?” the king asked.

“My role? Oh yeah, my role. I, uh, work with the children.”

“Oh really? How have they been in school?”

“Excellent!”

Dr. Magic, chipping his fingernails, tried whispering to Juliana that there was no school, but she decided to ignore him. Knowing there was no school, the king called over one of his servants to tell him to get the guards.

Two guards stormed into the dining hall. As they made their way over to Juliana, she knew this was serious. The guards yanked her chair away from the table and grabbed her arms. They covered her mouth, so her screams were faint. Dr. Magic rushed out of his seat to rescue her, but another guard grasped him back.

The guards forced Juliana into a silver box. The walls seemed to tighten with the rest of the space taken by the bulky guards. The movement made Juliana’s stomach clench. It felt like an eternity passed while they stood in the box, until it came to a stop. The doors slid open to reveal walls taller than a skyscraper. There were thousands of cells.

The two armored guards took Juliana to the end of a hallway where a door laid against a wall. One of the guards opened it, while the other pushed her inside the tiny room. Cold air brought chills down Juliana’s spine as she sat in the shadows. Spider webs decorated the corners of the room, while rodents crawled through holes in the walls.

Moments later, the cell door unlatched and the guards pulled her out. Sitting her down at a conference table, they began to ask her questions.

“Why are you in this dimension, Juliana?” guard 1 asked.

“How do you know my…”

“I asked you a question!”

“I came through a door in the woods; it brought me here.”

Silence increased while the guard’s helmet sat staring at Juliana. Her brain screamed for her to run, but her body remained stiff. Guard 2 eventually inched his way over to Juliana as her breath grew heavy. Their hands reaching for their helmets, they pressed a button to reveal the two stalkers.

* * *

Children were forced to stay inside as officers roamed the park. Missing posters overloaded telephone polls and the internet was crammed with news articles.

Juliana was reported missing an hour after she crawled through the door. Once her parents noticed she never came home from her jog, they dialed every number they got a hold of to find their daughter.

A police officer strolled down a path in the park, when he came across a car piled with leaves. After forcing the leaves off the car, he found out that this was the vehicle they needed to find: the black automobile that the stalkers owned.

Eventually, the officer came across a wooden door. Sunlight peaked its way through leaves to shine on the worn wood. His walkie-talkie was overcrowded with calls that he chose to ignore. He stepped through the doorway and vanished into the shadows.

What Lies Beneath?

By Teagan Williams (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Emme was just born when her brother disappeared. She couldn’t comprehend the anxiety her parents developed when they almost lost her to the mess of saltwater and riptides.

“Hey, wait! Get back here!” Her ears were oblivious, and her mind was set on a bucket full of water. The edge of the water wasn’t deep enough, so she inched out farther. The bucket still came up half empty, so out she went. Her knees were cold first, then her hips. Every step out felt more dangerous, yet it was liberating. Her adrenaline rocketed, and she bolted towards the break of the waves.

The bucket flew from her hand, saltwater overcame her taste buds, a whistle blew three times, and then, there was silence except for her own heartbeat.

The tranquility settled like concrete but didn’t last quite as long. Everything was slow, and Emme’s eyes defied opening. Unexpectedly, her body began descending deeper and faster every moment. Her back led the way, and if she had opened her eyes she would have seen her limbs stretching above her, but she kept them pinched shut.

Before her breath could be completely taken away, Emme plummeted onto a hammock of seaweed. One eye at a time, she noticed her surroundings. She laid facing up at something that was impossible to exist.

Above her was the ocean she had just come from, full of fish and salt. There was no bottom, however, only a floating layer of water. She took it in for a moment before fear struck. The trap of seaweed released her, then reshaped itself. When she landed on the ground, her sight was captured by a boy who looked to be a couple of years younger. She noticed his hair, golden like her own, that fell to his shoulders in curls, and his messy, pirate-like outfit.

Her lip quivered, and she refused to look away from the boy, who was watching the seaweed reconstruct. Finally, he turned to her.

She opened her lips slightly, but he interrupted, “Follow me.” The boy began crouching, but he moved quickly. Emme sat still for a moment, then chased after him.

“Where are we going?” she called out but was interrupted by a finger to the boy’s lips.

“Just follow me,” he repeated, then continued on. He brought her through some unfamiliar bushes until they sat at the top of a hill. In sight stood a sand castle larger than one Emme could ever imagine sculpting on her own. A faded, wooden door was mounted in the castle, barely matching the grainy walls. Nevertheless, the door caught Emme’s eye.

Emme drew her attention away from the castle and asked, “Who are you? Where am I?”

“Oh, you just fell into this world. I did once, and I was scared too. I’m happy now…I really do love it here.” His sight remained set on his home while he asked, “Hey, wanna go inside?”

Fixing her vision back on the castle, she said nothing. Her cheeks grew and her head lifted: the fantasy overruled the fright.

“I’ll take that as a yes. I’m Kayden, by the way!”

“Kayden?” she repeated. He nodded, and she followed with, “Oh, I’m Emme.”

“Cool. Now, c’mon!” He took off again, and she trailed after him. They approached the door and let it creak open slowly.

“Wait here.” Kayden snuck inside for a moment, then reached his hand out and waved Emme in.

“Mama, I found a girl! Emme, come, come on!” he beckoned.

“Kay, what are you talking about?” Mama had a gentle voice, yet she looked like she could throw a boulder if she had to.

Emme hesitated again at the sound of Kayden’s name, this time recognizing the nickname.

“This girl! I just found her at the bottom of the portal, Mama.”

Mama shook her head at the boy, kneeling down to face the girl. Emme’s shoulders hunched, and her palms grew moist as the woman confronted her.

“You poor thing,” her tone expressed. She drew Emme into a cradling hug. “Are you okay? You didn’t injure yourself, did you?”

“I want to go home,” she whispered. She wasn’t crying, but her chest heaved as if she was. Her words became stuttered, and everything that had just occurred became sickening.

“It’s alright, dear, it’s okay. Come with me, you need to eat. You like fish? Come, let’s eat and get some rest.” Emme wondered how it was already so late in the day, but she didn’t mention it. Anyways, it was relieving to get to lay in a bed and close her eyes.

She woke in a cold sweat while the sky above the ocean still appeared dark. Her stomach turned with the absence of her parents, and she knew she had to find a way back to them. She escaped from the castle, leaving the heavy, creaking door ajar. Despite what she thought she remembered, Emme couldn’t find the way back to the place she had come from. Everything around her was different, more threatening at night. The magical world had changed into a dangerous and cold nightmare.

She came across a large field and heard gallops in the distance. They frightened her, but by the time they were close, she couldn’t run away. She fell to the ground and began soaking her cheeks and lips. Unprepared, the girl was swept to the side in time to watch the stampede happen. At first glance, they were wild horses found on large beach dunes. But these were no ordinary horses, though they were wild. Their heads lacked luscious manes but rather consisted of men’s chests and heads. The centaurs rushed past, giving no notice to the girl curled in Mama’s arms.

“I’m sorry,” she whimpered, “I wanted to go home.”

“Well, that surely wasn’t the way home,” Mama chuckled to herself, then continued, “Poor Emme, getting home isn’t so easy. The portal only opens at the first high tide after the next full moon. Then, you’ll have the opportunity to return to your family, though it is dangerous, and you only get one chance.  Sweetie, I’m sure you might learn to love it here. Kay did, so maybe you should stay.”

This news didn’t fascinate Emme, but she understood. After all, the idea of spending some more time with Kayden wasn’t such a bad thing.

Nearly a month passed, faster than time was allowed to pass, and Mama was right. Emme loved it there. She could go anywhere, be anyone, and do anything. She and Kayden became best friends, though she still didn’t know why she felt as if she knew him. Maybe it was because their personalities were just so similar.

Returning home seemed less desirable every day. She was enjoying this life so much, but the time was coming soon. On the day the portal opened, Mama and Kayden went with Emme to the entrance.

“It’s now or never, sweetheart. You can stay here; it’s safer here,” Mama begged her.

She paused and peered at Kayden. Her head tilted to him, then she ran to his arms and collapsed in them.

“I don’t wanna leave you, Kayden.”

“You miss your family, and I know you can make it. I love you. You’re like a sister to me,” he spoke dimly, so Mama couldn’t make out his contrary to her own opinion or the tremble in his tone. His fingers dug into her back, and he buried his face in her shoulder.

“Bye, Emme. Come back to me one day.”

Emme held his shoulders and pushed him away, crying, “I can’t leave, I won’t leave. Mama can take care of us, and it’ll be okay. Right?”

Kayden only shook his head then looked up. She dried her face and followed his gaze at the gallons of water above them. They seemed like they could collapse on them at any moment, ruining the sand castle and freeing every person who was trapped there. Emme saw the sun gleaming upon ripples of salt water.

“Okay.” She climbed onto that seaweed hammock and closed her eyes, “Goodbye, Mama.” She only nodded in Kayden’s direction. This wasn’t goodbye for them; she knew that.

The water hit her skin harshly, but she didn’t jerk. Mama had told her she had to stay as still as possible and keep her eyes shut. Her chest lifted higher through the riptide. Never open your eyes, remember. Don’t open them until you’re safe, the voice of Mama repeated itself. She thought these words over again until she went unconscious.

“Emme! Emme! Wake up, Emme please, baby.”

Her eyes fluttered open, and she grinned. Above her was her family, looking the same way they had the day she had left them. “Mommy, I missed you!” She fell into a bear hug, surrounded by both parents.

“Oh, Emme, we thought we’d lost you like we did Kay. Oh, you’re okay, we’re okay.”

A revelation hit her, and she bawled, “Mommy, Kay’s okay, you know. He’s okay, too!”

“What? Oh, I know, he’s in a better place now.” She assured her of this, but Emme knew she didn’t understand. She didn’t understand about Kayden, though she was right. He was in a good place now, and so was she.

What Lies Beneath?

By Madison Laird (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

It started as a nightmare.

Sirens blasted, and my ears began to feel as if they were bleeding. I rushed off to the bunker alone and terrified, Aunt Mildred was away on holiday.  I whipped the door open and flung myself to the bottom. Terrified of what would happen, I pushed the mud with my feet and grinded my teeth. I began to get dizzy and toppled over.

I woke up with mud splattered across my face. “This is a newly bought dress,” I moaned. I stood up and started to sway. One step at a time I made it to the door. I gently pushed it and looked down at my feet to see pointy garden decorations. They appeared to be shaking their fists at me. I knelt down, getting my knees even dirtier, apologizing to the gnomes.

“Hi there, Miss.” Startled, I realized he wasn’t shaking his fist but waving.

He started to ramble in a squeaky voice. “Oh joy I can’t believe you’re here, you’re finally here! Oh just wait- you have a lot in store for you. You will have to meet Nixy, Oh joy.” The red gnome jumped up and down.

Concerned and confused, I looked around, “Who’s Nixy?”

“Nixy’s a fairy, and she’ll explain everything.” He pulled on my sleeve.

I hesitated. “Do you have a name?”

“Oh yes, sorry, I’m Rally, nice to meet you.”

“I’m Felicity, but people call me Sissy.”  “ Yup I know.” He pulled my sleeve once more and led me away.

I followed him on a small, rocky, mossy path. He led me to an area surrounded by trees.

“Nixy,” he called loudly.  A fly popped out of a speckled mushroom.

“Nixy, Felicity is here.”  I noticed that the fly was in fact a fairy.

“She’s here to save us from the trolls.”

“What did you say?”  I stumbled back. “I didn’t sign up to exterminate any trolls.” Nixy flew up to me, her glistening wings fluttered behind her.

“Oh, but you have to dear.  It’s your destiny,” she said as she swirled back down to the mushroom.

I shook my head, “I won’t fit.” She flew back up, poured an orange goo on me, and watched as I struggled to understand. I started to shake and sparkle and the next thing I knew,  I too was Nixy’s size. She smiled and waved me into an adorable little house.

Rally, Nixy and I sat at her table.

“Here’s the plan, so w-” I cut her off quickly and told her, “ I can’t get rid of your troll problem.” Her wings fluttered in annoyance and she said,  “Not with that attitude!” I gave in and began to listen.
“As I was saying, our plan is the three of us go over Drimple Mountain and demolish the whole troll population with this,” she pulled out a bottle of red-orange glitter.

I rolled my eyes. “How could we possibly kill them with glitter?” I pulled back from the table and Nixy looked offended.

“This is a magical troll extinguisher; if you get it to the head chief, we can extinguish them all.”  I hesitated for a brief moment. “Okay.”

After we packed supplies, we headed on the trail up the mountain.  “Are we there yet?”

“No,” Rally said.

“Are we there yet?!” I said again with even more anxiety a few minutes later.

“NO!” I dragged my feet and complained until we reached the top.

“We made it!” I said with great joy.

“Nope,” Rally pointed down the hill.  I sighed and threw myself on the ground. After a whole day’s worth of traveling, we spread out sleeping bags and cooked hot dogs around a campfire.

“Tomorrow, we will reach the village, and that’s where you come in. “The village knows what we look like, but they have never seen you,” Nixy stated. “Every four hours, the chief accepts gifts. If you go, you can get close enough to the chief and sprinkle it all over him.”

“He is the main lifeline to the other trolls,” Rally said.  I nodded and flopped down on my sleeping bag. Thoughts raced through my head. Would I really be able to pull this off?

The next day, I grabbed the glitter bottle and made my way down the mountain. I headed towards the throne room and waited my turn to see the Chief. I knelt down before him and he screamed, “ Peasant! Filthy human peasant! The king shouted with anger.

“No, it’s alright, I come with a special present.”

“Come closer,” he demanded, while looking my filthy dress up and down. I swiftly went as close as possible and sprinkled the glitter all over him.

“I got you glitter.” I dashed off towards the door, but he was too weak to keep up. He fell to his knees and dissipated into thin air.  As I ran back to Nixy and Rally on the borders, I noticed that no other troll was strolling through town.

“I did it,”  I said as I reached them.  We all hugged and they shed tears.

“I’m glad I could help, but I need to get home.”

“No problem,”  Nixy said as she pulled out a bunch of magical glitter.  As it began to trickle from her hand, we said our goodbyes. She threw the glitter in my face, and it was all over.

Lying in a pile of mud, I slowly opened my eyes. Will I ever see Nixy and Rally again? I had too many questions. I stumbled to the door. I felt no breeze or rain so time must have passed. Aunt Mildred sprinted to me from the back door. She lifted me in her arms and twirled me as she said, “ Where have you been? I thought you got swept away.”

“No Aunt Mildred, I just got back from Drimple Mountain.”  Rally and Nixy were just here, but they sent me back.”

“Did you hit your head?” she asked.

“No, there were fairies and gnomes, I swear.”

“Okay,” she said as she brought me inside to lay down on what felt like a cloud of feathers. She went to get me soup and by the time she came back, I had drifted off.

“It wasn’t a fairy tale,” I mumbled.

What Lies Beneath?

By Monika Volz (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Dim light filtered through grubby windows, dust danced in the air, and filth caked the floor as Lan hesitantly entered the structure. She tugged on her long, brown hair with increasing robustness as she observed the shack. A thick layer of dust blanketed every surface and long since abandoned spider webs decorated the corners. The single-roomed structure was filled with random junk every which way with no obvious sense of order. However, in this chaotic mess there it seemed like once it had a disposition: huge murky mirrors lined one wall, a series of old stuffed toys lined the shelves of another, and furniture was spaced in a way to leave room for wandering guests.

Supposedly the place was haunted, though Lan was sure that most of the urban legends were fiction. She couldn’t help but compare the shack to the stories. The place had an odd sort of elegance with a mysterious vibe that seemed to hang in the air, maybe because the shack was so far from her boarding school as deep in the forest as it was. Perhaps because there had been sightings of a glowing light inside when no one was present. As she contemplated her surroundings, she silently thanked the stars that no one dared approach the place. She preferred the silence to people.

She paused in front of one of the largest mirrors fastened to the wall. There were no distinct differences about the mirror compared to the others, nevertheless, she felt drawn to it. The mirror was displayed in a silver frame decorated with intricate patterns of stars, wings, and a vast full moon embellishing the top. The mirror itself was like a pool of pure reflection. Unfortunately, the majesty of the mirror was distracted by the sizeable amount of dust adorning the surface.

As Lan examined the mirror, she noticed that it seemed to reflect an oddly unobstructed area of the parallel wall. Allowing herself to be guided by pure intuition, she pressed her hand onto the mirror, leaving an impression in the dust. Directed by the same outlandish feeling, she turned to face the corresponding wall as if expecting to see a change. After peering at the same spot for a good seven minutes, she felt the premonition fade, and she clenched her hands. Lan mentally scolded herself; she was just too dang gullible! She stalked away in vexation, heading back to the school while cursing herself for believing the place was worth investigating, really just disappointed that she wasn’t special.

Deep into the night, Lan could not sleep. She tossed, turned, stretched, and even fluffed her pillow, but sleep refused to wrap her in its refreshing restoration. She stared at the ceiling, listening to the rhythmic breathing of her dormmates. Lan tried to clear her mind, but every time she closed her eyes, the image of the shack appeared as if it were ingrained in her eyelids. With a faint growl, she threw off her warm blankets to be hit with a surge of air causing her to shiver. Noiselessly, she turned on her tealight and opened her dresser drawer.

Shoving aside doubts and fears, she pressed on through a deep snow, desperate to relieve her mind. When the shack appeared in her vision, Lan drew in a sharp breath. The same intuition from earlier appeared again, providing courage and renewed spirit to investigate the dim golden light shining from a grubby window.

The moment Lan entered the shack, time seemed to stop. She stood frozen in the doorway, only to move after a swift draft of wind stirred dust into the air. Squinting, Lan struggled to make out anything. From her pocket, she slipped out her tealight, giving precious, though dim, light to the room. Following her footsteps from earlier, Lan stopped before the mirror. She barely gave it a second glance, too busy staring at a shiny trinket that had not been on a table before.

Her hands paused millimeters from the trinket when she realized that there was something different about the mirror. Slowly she turned back to it, her stomach twisting into knots.  She stepped back, raising her tealight. Starting from her handprint, she illuminated parts of the mirror until she laid eyes on another handprint.

Lan sucked in a stupified breath, staring at the imprint before her. It was about the size of a thumbnail, and Lan was sure that it had not been there before. For a few moments, she was convinced someone from her school was pranking her. She was sure this was fake, that once again, Lan had gullibly fallen for another trick, until she looked into her handprint to see a door in the wall behind her.

Lan whirled around and stared at the door waiting for it to disappear like a figment of her imagination. When she finally realized it was indeed real, she plodded forward. Her hand was about to pull the long branch serving as a doorknob when a golden ball of light burst from the metal grate in the middle of the door.

Lan turned following the ball of light with squinting eyes. When her sight eventually adjusted, she was rendered speechless. The entire shack was almost completely different. The walls were made of sparkling gray granite, the furniture was covered in shining silver and gold trinkets and instruments, and the ceiling had transformed into glass. Lan was transfixed at the sight of everything, but her gaze never left the ball of light hovering a few feet above her.

The longer Lan stared at the light, the more details she could make out. A tiny body with two translucent wings attached to it’s back, Lan instantly knew it was a fairy. She wore a leaf-green dress that cascaded down to her knees before turning into sparkles. Her hair, which was as golden as her light, was braided down her back.

The fairy floated down to Lan with a serene expression on her face. As she came face to face with Lan, a shadow seemed to fall across her face, only for a split second, but Lan was able to perceive a deep feeling of anxiety. The shadow was gone as soon as it appeared instantly replaced with a bright smile.

“Hi!” She chirped, her voice high. She eagerly stuck out a tiny hand, not at all put off by Lan’s silence. Stunned, Lan raised her hand to grasp the fairies in a handshake. A soft, slightly ticklish touch brushed Lan’s hand, causing her to giggle. The fairy’s smile brightened by a tenth-fold at Lan’s response.

“I am called One Who Weaves Light, but you can call me Li. What are you called?”

Lan’s mind, still slowly processing current events, was lucid enough to form a response. “I’m Lan, and you can just call me Lan.” She paused for a moment, allowing her scrambling mind to calm the questions raging within her, “Where did you come from? Are there more fairies? What happened to this shack? How did you get here? What’s behind the door? Is this real? Can you do magic? Why did you come to me?” Lan stared at the fairy. Li laughed and flew down to perch on Lan’s shoulder.

“Allow me to explain,” she said as she raised her hands, “ I came from the world of Energy. It is part of your world but works at a higher sound and energy frequency, so we cannot interact you world unless we pass through bridges or doors, such as the one there. There is indeed more fairies, in fact, there is an entire race! Though, we are not the only race that inhabits Energy. Anyway, this is indeed real. Furthermore, I do not do this ‘Magic’ that you speak of.” Lan deflated a little, the glow that appeared on her face dimming slightly.

“But,” Li continued, “I can bend energy and sound, every fairy can. I am trained to bend light energy, but others can bend heat, life, electricity, wind, water, and chemical energy.” Lan emitted a slight squeal, completely taken by every word.

“And as for the last question, l am here to take you to the Winter Ball in Energy.

Lan froze at Li’s last sentence. Excitement threatened to overwhelm her as she processed Li’s words.

“EEEEEEE!!!!” Lan emitted an ear-splitting screech as Li flew over to the door and opened it with a flick of her wrist. Lan felt thrilled as she watched the door open to reveal. . . nothing.

Absolute and utter nothing greeted Lan’s eager eyes. She felt as if her mind was melting as she stared.

“What is THAT!” Lan exclaimed, diverting her gaze. Li frowned for a moment as confusion splayed across her face before being replaced by understanding.

“You cannot see the energy and sound wave frequencies converging to create this doorway. Since you cannot see anything behind it because there’s nothing beyond, you literally see nothing.” Lan nodded her head, unable to get the searing image of nothing out of her brain. “Come,” Li called from next to the door, “Let us depart.” Lan cast one last brief glance at the mirror before following Li.

As Lan traveled through the tunnel, she felt pure energy melt into her skin, and a range of sound frequencies bounced in her brain. She felt like screaming and crying while laughing and smiling at the same time. Lan distantly heard Li’s laugh before she emerged in a huge courtyard.

Pillars of pure white stone framed a huge garden carpeted by plush gray-green grass. A large fountain depicting two humanoid figures stood in the center. For a moment, Lan wondered what was off with the scene when she realized that everything was colossal.

Lan turned to Li and asked, “Why is everything so big?”

“Because we live with many other creatures. The Winter Ball is of the Fairies but so popular that only the Giant’s castle is large enough to host it. Come, follow me. We must prepare.”

* * * * * *

Several hours later, Lan stood in a huge outdoor ballroom. The stone floor coated in ice reflected the glamour worn by guests. The walls were decorated with smooth pillars of pale blue ice that spiraled towards the sky. A sea of mythical creatures conversed, danced, and generally enjoyed themselves as the seven Fairy Leaders sat above them in their tiny floating thrones.

By Lan’s side was Li as well as two of Li’s friends: Mista, a nymph, and Juniper, a dryad. The three chatted as they walked about, leaving Lan to silently observe the ball.

Lan felt slightly unsettled, but as she twirled slightly causing her sparkling outfit to glimmer, she felt pleasure overwhelm her.  Lan wore the most beautiful dress she had ever seen: a simple, elegant, silver dress that brushed the ground as she strolled. Her hair was braided down her back and she wore a necklace made of real ice and snow. She was suddenly ripped from her thoughts as the seven Fairy Leaders flew down to address the crowd.

“Welcome,” announced the Fairy Leader of Electricity, “ to the Winter Ba-” she was suddenly cut off by a blood-curdling scream. The guests surrounding Lan scattered every which way. An innocent gnome groaned in agony as he clutched an arrow that was lodged in his calf.

Lan stood frozen as she stared across the riot, her eyes meeting those of a mysterious cloaked figure. Her eyes were bright with adrenaline and fear as she met his icy blue orbs. Her gaze dropped to the midnight bow clutched in his hand, an arrow pointed straight at her face.

“Let this human be an example of the fate that befalls those who do not belong in Energy. That humans are unworthy to roam these legendary lands.” his raspy voice called across the room. Without a hint of hesitation, he released the arrow. She watched dumbfounded and threw her hands up to protect her face. Unexpectedly, the mirror from the shack appeared in front of her, the glass rippling like water as the arrow entered another dimension.

The figure lowered his bow in shock, “You cannot-are not human.” Lan stalked forward, keeping the mirror in front of her. As she passed guests she caught snippets of whispers.

“…been replaced..”

“….new guardian . . . “

“ . . . mirror?”

“. . . . where is the guard?”

“. . . .who is she?“

She stood before him, her eyes boring into his. He seemed unable to move, muscles straining against an invisible power. With the force of her fury, Lan shoved the mirror into the man. She watched as he disappeared inside, appearing on the flipside pounding fists against a now-hard surface. Sweat dripped from her brow, and with a groan, her concentration broke, the mirror disappears.

For a single moment, the world was completely frozen before, with a mighty roar, the crowd advanced on her. Shouts and curses bounced through the air; Lan stumbled back. With a faint ‘poof!’ Li appeared on her shoulder.

“What the heck just happened?!” Lan yelled at Li, desperate to be heard over the crowd.

Lan felt Li pace on her shoulder and could feel her hands twisting as fast as Li’s racing mind.

“l think,” Li said directly into her ear, “l think that you are a-a Portal Keeper.” At Lan’s confused glace, Li continued, “A Portal Keeper is one who watches over a specific Portal or Gate into Energy. Usually, this is found by a ceremony, or a creature is drawn to a Portal.”

“Like l was drawn to the mirror in the shack?” questioned Lan.

“Exactly,” Li nodded, “And once bonded to a portal, there are specific, well, powers granted to the Keeper to protect themselves and the portal. You have bonded to Speculum, or the mirror in the shack, one of the most powerful portals there is. lt has been Keeper-less for over a decade.”

“Why, and what happened to the old Keeper?” asked Lan.

“He was decapitated. It was a rebel movement by the Trolls to keep the human world and Energy separate. Obviously, it failed, but no one has been able to pass through Speculum since. That is until you called on it. l was guarding Speculum when a human handprint appeared. When I pressed my hand to the mirror, a door appeared, and well. . . “ Li trailed off as Lan’s back hit an arch. She swirled her head back and forth desperately searching for an escape.

Just as the riot was about to reach her, a massive bolt of lightning split the sky. The crowd paused, cowering and silent, as the Fairy Leaders approached. To say the Leaders were impressive was an understatement. Each Fairy displayed their skill; Leader of Heat’s hair was fire, Life rode a massive eagle, Electricity had lightning spurt from her fingers, Wind’s hair blew in an invisible breeze, Water was wearing a dress of mist in an endless cascade, and Chemical’s skin changed color.

“It seems,” Wind’s voice boomed through the room, “that not only have we been blessed to enjoy the Winter Ball, but also the Return of Speculum Keeper!” The crowd cheered. The Leaders turned to Lan, beckoning her forward.

“What,” Wind asked smiling encouragingly, “are you called Keeper?”

“Lan.”

“Keeper Lan,” announced Wind as she turned to the crowd, “Welcome to Energy!!”

Li lightly patted Lan’s ear as she echoed, “Keeper Lan,” with a grin.

What Lies Beneath?

By Savannah Lewis (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Ashley, Emily, and Sophia were jogging deeper into the dark, off woods. As they entered the heart of the woods, they began to see small, shiny objects. They passed a tree with tiny gnomes, windows and doors all around it. When they continued to walk past the tree, the gnomes’ eyes followed them. Emily’s eyebrows rose when she saw them. Sophia looked around at all the trees as she wondered about the tiny objects. They continued on when Ashley was startled by something in the distance that had not been there before. When they approached it, they could see it was a door in the ground.

“Let’s open it!” Ashley exclaimed with excitement.

“Are you crazy?” Sophia asked.

“Just a little, just to see what is inside,” Emily pleaded.

Opening the secret door just a crack, their jaws dropped. They were amazed with what they had walked into. Inside was a different world that didn’t look like theirs. The girls would have never thought that it would be real. Ashley took a step like it was her first time walking, and  the other girls followed. Standing there with their eyes wide and their feet still, they thought of what this new world could be. Roaming deeper, they saw a miniature bridge to walk across with a door on the side. They paid no mind until a gnome made its way out of it. He had a long, gray beard, a pointy red hat, and loose overalls. His face looked fake as it shined in the light.  Emily then noticed with a stunned look on her face that there were more gnomes under the bridge. Ashley and Emily smiled, knowing they had finally found an adventure, but Sophia had a sickening feeling in her stomach to move ahead because something was going to happen, and it wasn’t going to be good.

“I think we should go back.”

“Why?” questioned Emily and Ashley at the same time.

“Do you not find it strange that we just found a random door in the woods and we walk into it to find a whole new world with tiny gnomes everywhere?” Sophia said angrily.

However, Ashley and Emily didn’t listen. They continued to walk and  check out everything around them as Sophia dragged herself behind them. Once they had quickly walked over the bridge, they wanted to find more gnomes. They saw a medium-sized house that was round with a triangle at the top. Getting closer to the house, they saw windows on it. Ashley squinted to see from afar. She saw four  gnomes walking around inside the cozy home, cooking and watching television. As they walked past the house, they saw something they wished they never saw.

Their hearts skipped a beat. Sophia felt dread sink into her stomach. There were gnomes all around. It had to be over 500, standing around human figures made of straw. Half the gnomes picked up sticks that were on fire and set the figures up into flames. Emily screamed as loud as an air horn, and all the gnomes turned around. They started to bolt towards the girls. They sprinted past the gnomes’  house, over the tiny bridge, and to the door they had entered from. Ashley tried to push the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Sophia grabbed Ashley and ripped her from the door. She then kicked down the door, and they started to run. They forgot to shut the door behind them, so all the gnomes got oeut and into the human world. The girls ran as fast as they could until they found somewhere to hide. Emily ran over to a treehouse that they had built when they were last in the woods. They made it so they could play in it, but they instead used it as a safe house.

“Over here!” yelled Emily from  the treehouse.

“We can hide here! Hurry!” Ashley said breathlessly.

They made their way into the treehouse and all laid on their stomachs to hide.

“Shhh, be quiet.” Sophia whispered.

An hour later, the girls were still hiding. The gnomes began to get frustrated. They stomped their feet and marched back to the entrance of their world, right past the treehouse. When the girls saw the gnomes walk by them, they held their breaths and made no movements. Even the smallest movement could snatch the sight of a gnome and draw attention to them. The cluster of  gnomes was almost out of sight, but then Emily had the urge to sneeze.

“Hold it in; they are almost gone,” said Sophia.

“I can’t hold it in,” Emily said, her face scrunched up.

“Be quiet; they’re almost gone,” Ashley noted.

As the last gnome walked by, Emily let out her sneeze, and  the gnomes did not hear a peep. When the gnomes were finally gone, the girls made their way out of the treehouse and out of the woods. They walked past the entrance of the strange looking door. They then took a can of red spray paint from the ground and wrote, “DO NOT OPEN OR YOU WILL REGRET IT,” on the door. After they were done painting the door, they walked back on the pathway home.

“We should have never gone in that doorway,” stated Sophia.

“You’re right; we should have never came here in the first place,” added Emily.

“At least we know what could happen in these woods,” Ashley said with a straight face.

“These woods are a dangerous place; let’s hope we find a good dimension next time.”

The Door

By Kaylie Hunt (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

DO NOT ENTER. This is what the sign said that my mother put on the slanting door in my backyard when we moved in a few months ago. In addition to the sign, there was a chain with a lock on it. I asked her again why I’m not allowed to open the door. She gave me an irritated look and the same old answer: “Because I said so.” I never understood what the big deal was, it was just a door, right? It always felt like she was hiding something from me. Whatever it was, I wasn’t going to let her get away with it. After she gave me that same repeated answer, I turned away and stormed up the steps. I was going to get inside that door.

My mother drove off to work that evening in her beat up Jeep. This was my chance; I just had to find the key. The first place I checked was the bowl of keys we kept on the kitchen table. All I found were misplaced keys that had no use. Then, after no luck in the kitchen, I went upstairs to my mother’s room.

Jackpot.

It was sitting there in the top drawer of her jewelry box. It looked brand new. I grabbed it and rushed out to the backyard. Finally, this was my chance. After months of waiting, the mystery behind this door would be unraveled.

Slowly, I put it into the lock that was dangling from the handle of the door. My already-sweaty hands were getting shaky and my heart was beating fast. I had to go through with it; I turned the key. The lock fell off the chain and onto the ground, and the door creaked open. I only saw darkness. That couldn’t be right. She was hiding me from darkness? Walking through the door, each step I took got smaller and smaller. I had to push through. I had to see what was in there.

After a few more steps, I spotted a bright, orange light further ahead. It looked like a way out of this long, eerie path. I started to pick up the pace. The light seemed to get closer and closer within every step. I finally reached the light. I looked around. In front of me, there was a giant tree with little windows and doors. Out of the blue, I got smacked in the leg. I glanced down. There was a gnome peering up at me.

“Where am I?” I asked the gnome.

“Well, right now it appears that you’ve stepped right on top of my house”.

I lifted up my foot to see that I crushed one of the tiny buildings on the ground. I carefully took a few steps forward, making sure I didn’t step on anything else. The gnome-like creature began to grow. When he stopped, he was much taller than me, with sharp teeth and claws for hands. My heartbeat increased; I had to get back home.

The gnome began to chase after me with a look of pure vengeance in his eyes. I wanted to get back home, where I was safe, but the gnome was chasing me away from the door. The further we got, the less I saw it. I needed to figure out a way to turn the chase around. I jumped behind a tree and started to run the opposite way, I was getting closer. Then, I felt claws tug on my arm.

“Let me GO!” I screamed loud enough for the whole forest to hear me. He picked me up and wrapped his hand around my whole body. His grip was tight; it felt like my circulation was being cut off.

“Now you’re mine,” he declared.

* * *

Three years have passed. I am now a prisoner of the gnome, tied to a railing in his basement. I haven’t seen my mother since she left for work that evening. I should have listened to her. I never should have opened that door.

What Lies Beneath?

By Madison DeLellis (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

The piles of destruction say it all. Through that rickety, dull door, vacant homes, broken-down cars, and ashes that were left of the crumbling buildings remain. Broken glass and empty promises scatter on the ground. The shards serve as a constant reminder of what once was.

There was a time when the sky was brighter. The leaves were greener. Laughter filled the air. There was a time when there was love. Connection. Eventually, everyone was accepted as a whole, no matter their size or gender or color. It did not matter if they desired men or women, or both. The structures they lived in were not just houses, but homes.

The people before us were educated and worked hard. Thousands of books and journals were found, recorded in a variety of languages and forms. The people were able to tell stories and learn from these printed words. The literature and poetry that filled the pages were shared as an emotional art.

They had different kinds of jobs, involving skills that individuals possessed on their own. Some wrote, and some criticized. Some acted, and others directed. Some sold, and some bought. Others were lawyers, doctors, construction workers, advertisers, or politicians. It was an arranged bouquet of careers.

Two days from their seven day week were for relaxation and entertainment. Electrifying live music made teenagers feel alive. Amusement parks and coloring books drew the attention of the children. They went to the movies, shopped, attended theater, and gathered to watch sports games. Everyone had something they loved, a passion that ran throughout the blood of every being.

Some people chose other ways to occupy their time. In the decaying city streets, syringes and burnt metal spoons were found. Crushed beer cans and liquor bottles piled in all areas of the site. Nicotine stained their teeth and fingers yellow. That was just the beginning of their downfall.

War corrupted the lives of many. Atomic bombs hurled from the sky, with explosions prompting inevitable death. Empty gun shells populated every country for the sake of their flag. Rifles and other deadly machinery were practically still smoking from the pain they caused. Crime fueled their world. Children were ripped from their mothers’ arms. Possessions were stolen. Rape and murder were a constant worry of every citizen. People sold lethal drugs, neverminding the impact if it meant receiving that green paper.

Oh, how that green paper dictated their lives. They never traveled anywhere without it. They suffered through blood, sweat, and tears to get it. They needed it to support their families and to waste on power-hungry industries that plowed nature to fill the fresh air with smoke. Animals and vast mountains perished from the previously thriving natural world. Now, the green paper flutters meaninglessly in the air.

Tiny, rectangular devices are attached to the hip of every corpse. Within them was the key to the species’s ruin. Millions of pieces of that green paper were spent on the electronics, and in just a matter of years, the circuits and wires dominated every last one of them. There was a sense of escaping from reality when the touchscreen glowed in their faces. The society refused to long for connection and unity, or ground-breaking novels, or concerts, or the very essence of what made life beautiful. Their sole purpose became the satisfaction of watching the number below their posts increase. Numbers were the reason they awoke every morning.

There is no singular concept that destroyed all of humanity. Perhaps it was the disastrous combination of war, crime, drugs, and selfishness. Perhaps the deterioration of nature and rise of social media was the convict. But we would never know; we only know the aftermath. The rotting people carpeted the planet, once living with a soul, once full of love and peace. As we walk back through the door, we return to reality, promising to learn from the dreadful past and downfall of the residents before.