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.

What Lies Beneath

By Nicole Papa (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

There was a war coming.

Threading through the branches of the forest, lurking in the underbrush of the ground where queer creatures linger, whispers drift. Slithering underneath fingernails and beneath window sills, the raw anticipation seeped deep within her bones. She waited for it.

Each day that passed with no disturbance, each time the sun rose and fell without fault the anticipation grew until she was hungry for it. When dusk fell, glimmering stars and dark skies, Iris Bennet was reminded how each day could be her last. The creatures in the Forest watched her as she went each day, always checking behind as though a cloaked Grim Reaper would be trailing behind her and counting every foot step. The leaves began to descend, rich autumn colors coating the soil and leaving the trees barren. Even as November arrived with a startling cold, a chill lacing through her hair and seeping into the marrow of her bones, she knew.

There was a war coming.

The evil expected to arrive with it tore at the witch’s chest, leaving her with clamped eyes shut and scratches on her arms, harsh tremors that ran down her spine and kept her awake for days. There would be no coming back from this. There would be no surviving. A war was approaching.

A rustle of leaves a few feet ahead of the girl broke her out of her merciless trance, snapping her head up to meet the face of a polychromatic figure.

Her voice was airy, dream-like.“Focus on the present, Iris.”

It was strange for someone to speak to the girl without a hint of fear, but the fairies were hereditarily innocent, kind beings. It was almost refreshing.

Iris’s teeth were clenched so hard she thought they may crack. She released them, an immediate ache in her jaw pulsing. “That’s a bit difficult, Amaris.”

Amaris smiled slightly. “You don’t even attempt.”

Iris swallowed the words that threatened to spill out of her mouth, her bitter retaliation.  Though she said nothing. The fairies held a childlike innocence Iris could not bear to tamper with, it was virtually immoral.

Iris’s eyes flitted back to the treehouse the fairy before her lived in, accompanied by the rest who inhabited the branches. Streaks of different colors dashed across the sky as fairies chased one another. Amaris kept her eyes on Iris. “Be careful.”

Despite the persistent fear that resided in Iris’s chest, a ghost of a smile played on her lips. “You as well, Amaris.”

Refusing to fall back into her inevitable spiral, Iris inhaled quickly through her teeth. Even with her wand tucked safely into the sleeve of the girl’s jacket, she felt uncomfortably exposed in the woods. The simple set of winter fabrics couldn’t keep the bitterness from lacing through her hair. Iris wasn’t sure if it was from the eery silence that pounded at her ears or simply from the dewy frost that coated the grass under her boots.

Savorsnake Forest was and had always been forbidden in her world. No witch or wizard was allowed, only the peculiar creatures that inhabited it. Even the occasional troll, as infuriatingly arrogant as they could be, did not dare to enter. It was merely just dangerous. They let her wander freely for one reason: she was a dead man anyway.

Buvnu Exu,” she muttered quietly once she was at a distance with a simple flick of her wrist intact with the wand.

Instantly, the map began to fill with ink, fading in paths and locations marked with the names of places in Savorsnake. Seeing as she just passed House of All Fairies, Iris decided she was on the right track. Despite the witch making the trek before, Savorsnake was constantly changing: trees were re-rooted, grass was re-planted, colonies of creatures were moved all in an effort to trap anyone who entered. Without the map her father had left behind, she would have been lost in the ever changing nature years ago.

But one thing always stayed where it was.

The Door.

Iris never gave it a name. On the map, it was simply ‘Door.’ It needed no further explanation; Iris knew exactly what it was. It was where the war would stop before it began.

The dirt beneath her feet was cemented into her skin, years of familiarity wrapping around her skeleton. Her adolescence lived in this forest, days of sneaking in as a child merely a fantasy now. A life before her family turned against her, waging war when she refused to join them in Dark Wizardry. A life before everyone she once knew waited for her to perish at the hands of her own blood. Her childhood was buried into the earth, layer and layer of past years suffocating it until it was nonexistent.

After a few miles of the quiet but otherwise comforting chatter of The Forest, the snapping of twig caused Iris to snap her head up, her wand simultaneously armed in her hand. A broad-chested centaur watched her quizzically, his head tilted with a small smile playing on his lips.

“What a curious thing to have,” he drawled. “A map, for this forest.”

Iris stayed still. “What do you want?”

The beast chuckled, crossing his arms and leaning against the bark of a tree beside him. “Witches aren’t allowed in here.” Though his voice held no sense of threat, the words alone caused Iris’s heart to spike. It was no secret that many mythical Savorsnake creatures felt a hostility towards witches and wizards-this was their territory. She began to wonder if he knew who she was, though it was ludicrous-they all did.

“Are you going to stop me?”

He continued to stare at her, making Iris grip the wand in her hand tighter, raising it at him. Even with a few feet between them, the wand would inflict more damage than any physical weapon could. Her voice sounded stronger than she felt, the weight of the wand in her hand providing much needed confidence. “Are you?”

“Calm down, witch. I was wondering what you were doing. My family-they’ve seen you wandering around the grounds. They’re hoping you aren’t here to kill us.”

Iris let her hand relax only slightly, the wand lowering a few inches. “I was finding my way somewhere.”

The centaur looked behind him when a rustle in the leaves caught the pair’s attention. Iris swallowed roughly, glancing back at Arkin. “I’m to go. A witch isn’t welcome here.”

Arkin took a second to respond, tearing his eyes away from the disturbance. “Clearly. My family is angry.”

Iris kept her eyes on him, flexing her fingers while a faint panic arose in her chest.

Arkin’s ever-present sarcastic smile dropped, his upper lip curling. It was a drastic contrast to before, and Iris involuntarily took a step back. He muttered something under his breath, inaudible to Iris though he seemed to be talking to someone.

“You know what to do!” A voice boomed from behind Arkin. Out of the trees, a larger centaur appeared, his skin as dark as the fur on the bottom of his body.

Arkin shook his head, his lip twitching. “It is not necessary, Cedar.”

“Not necessary?” The other centaur growled, completely ignoring Iris’s presence.

“Has she hurt me? Hurt you?” Arkin spit.

“You’re oblivious. Foolish-”

Iris planted her feet, wetting her lips. “I haven’t done that,” she interrupted, causing Cedar to turn to her. His nostrils flared. “And I won’t. I mean no harm. Truly.”

“You’re lucky you haven’t been killed yet, girl.” Cedar bit. “Not just by us. You know how Savorsnake creatures feel about your kind. How they feel about your family.”

“I do.” she reasoned. “But I’m not them. You know about the war. You all do.”

Cedar’s eyes tightened as a silence filled the air around them, the subdued sound of the forest echoing around them. Recognition glittered in his eyes.

“Go.”

Iris did not glance at either as they trotted away, their hooves kicking up dirt as they went. Arkin glanced back, but said nothing.

Wordlessly, she continued the journey into nightfall, but it all sounded underwater in her head as she fell deeper into the spiral. Finally, when she reached The Door the mist that invariably coated the forest floor twinkled. She blinked quickly while the closer she stepped to the door, a faded, ugly looking thing. A fog hovered around the ground, thicker than before. The illuminance of it was breathtaking, glowing softly and obscuring her feet from view within it’s curls of gas. Iris turned, the glowing mist around her feet reflecting off of her eyes.

She paused just as she reached out to open it, realizing it was already cracked open. A thin stream of light cast out, enlightening a thin slice of her face.

Discreetly hitching her wand closer to her fingers, she nudged the door further open. More light spread on her face, while sending the glimmer of the haze in waves around her. Iris stilled as she watched The Door push backward, a descending staircase fading into darkness. Mist began to pour down the passageway, flowing down freely before blending into the shadows.

It was the trepidation that hummed in her fingertips, igniting a burning hatred in her chest that clawed at her ribs. She knew it then, her eyes unfocused and trained on the gloom before her. Her family was down there.

And there was a war coming.

Lying deep beneath the door she had taken shelter in, exceeding beyond any expectations, something was brewing beneath her toes, embedded into the world. Dusk had fell, and this would be her last.

And with a final terrified, trembling exhale, she entered.

There was a war beneath. And it would end the world.

What Lies Beneath

By Alyssa Barlow (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

8,9,10…. READY OR NOT

I ran wildly, darting through the bushes,  searching for the perfect place to hide. I looked over my shoulder, running like a track star, SMACK. I flopped onto my back and grabbed my head,it was  pounding, like someone banging on a door while trick or treating. Shakily, I push myself upward, legs extended in front of me. I’ve been here before; I was only 4 years old the last time, exploring the woods with my Father. That was before, when Daddy was still with us and my family had plenty of money, new toys, cars, and fancy dinners. Now Mama and I barely make it from paycheck to paycheck.

Something was different, the once towering dark brown door, now stands only up to my chest, its color now faded into tan.

“Elena” a voice whispers.

“Hello?”

It sounded like my dads voice, but I know that’s impossible, he can’t just come back. I crouch down, grasping the worn stick handle and slowly pull it open. All is silent, like the people during the national anthem. Peeking my head around the door, curiously looking in, I see nothing but darkness. So dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face, but still; I enter.

On my hands and knees, I crawl in. The door slams, and a cold breeze blows its way up my shirt, sending a chill up my spine.

“Creepy.”

I crawl about the length of a minivan when suddenly I see a faint light in the distance. Crawling faster and faster, until I reach the light. I stand up, looking all around me, it looks like the same old forest I was just in.

“Elena!”this time the voice yells

I whip my head around, searching for the voice. No one.

“I guess I must have imagined it,” I say.

Continuing walking forward, going deeper and deeper down the grassy path, a dense fog starts to swirl around me. Its grey color, ominously filling the forest starts to make it hard to see. I stumble along the path until I come across a small bridge, where a guard post stands.

“Hey!”

I jump, whipping my head around. A gnome like man with goat horns stares at me, his deep red eyes piercing into me.

“What are you doing here?” he says to me.

“I-I don’t know I just opened the door and ended up here.”

The gnome man’s eyes widen.

“Only certain people get through the door, so what is it you’re wishing for?”

“Wishing for? What are you talking about?”

“Just cross the bridge and it’ll take you right to Luke, he’ll give you what you wish for, tell him Cain sent you.”

He lifts the gate, I slowly shuffle across the bridge, legs heavily dragging behind me, finally I reach another grassy path. Continuing down the path, the fog continues to thicken,  and I can barely see a foot in front of me. After walking for what seemed like hours, I reach the end of the path, and the fog starts to thin. Towering above me is a huge wooden structure, with a drop floorboard right in the center, a giant flight of steps leads to its entrance. It looks to be an old gallows. Hesitantly, I start to make my way up the stairs, looking around me after walking up each step.

“So! I’m guessing you’ve come here for me huh?”

The booming voice terrifies me, causing me to trip and fall up the steps, I shoot my eyes upward. Leaning against the one side of the structure with his arms crossed, stands a man, about 7 feet tall, covered from head to toe in a black soot. He had thick goat horns, with red eyes that glowed, contrasting to his dark, dirty face.

“Uhhh are you Luke? Cain sent me.”

“In the flesh” he laughs. “Don’t call me Luke though, call me Lucifer. What brings you here?”

“I really don’t know, I came in through the door, Cain said something about a wish?”

“Oh, I see, what is it you wish for?”

“Well, I want my dad back, and I want my family to have money again.”

He pauses for a couple moments, biting on his nails and staring at me, nothing but silence. He lets out a sigh.

“I might be able to do that. But, under one condition; you have to give me something in return.”

“Anything, name anything and I’ll do it.” I say eagerly.

“Your soul and your friends.”

“What? How am I supposed to just give that to you? I can’t do that.”

He uncrosses his arms and sighs, his lips purse together and he shakes his head looking at the ground. He turns around slowly, “I guess you don’t want to see him again”

“No ,I do, I do.” I pause for a moment. Tears start to flood my eyes, and my chest burns like a fire as he walks away,

“Lucifer!” I yell to him. He continues walking.

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it,” I yell desperately, running up the steps. He whips his head around revealing a devilish smile.

“Great! Your wish is granted, go on home” he says to me excitedly. I turn to walk down the stairs, hesitantly walking down each step. That’s really it?

“Oh, and Elena,” Lucifer calls out

“Yes?” I question. Turning my head around slowly, with a puzzled look on my face.

“There’s no trade backs.”

I turn back around, still confused on what happened. My excitement to see my Dad overcomes my confusion.  I run back the way I came, through the thick fog and over the bridge, all the way back to the tunnel. I crawl back through the pitch black and shove the door open. Through the midst of my running, I see blue and red lights flashing through the trees. I start to make my way over

“I think that girl Elena was with them, everyone be on the look out for her”

After hearing that, I’m thinking my best bet is to run. So, I dash through the forest towards my front door, my legs so weak they felt like jello. A new mercedes benz sat in the driveway. “God I hope this worked” I thought, as I fling open the door

“Dad!” I sprint and jump into his arms, giving him a giant bear hug.

He was wearing his expensive Michael Kors watch, the one that mama and I had sold last summer.

“Honey, where were you? The cops have been looking for you since yesterday,” he scolds.

“What? I was only in the woods an hour, why do the cops want me?” confusion washes over my face.

“Something happened to your friends, you’re the main suspect.”

“Why me?”

“You’re the person who saw them last.”

BANG BANG BANG

The door sounds as if it’s going to snap off the hinges. My dad and I both shoot our eyes towards the door, my heart starts to beat so fast it feels it’s going to come out of my chest.

“Elena! This is the police, you need to come out.”

What Lies Beneath

By Elizabeth Mercier (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Tucked away in what appeared to be a simple minded little girl, visions of what could be flashed across Riley’s eyes. Though she usually spent the day with her nose hidden away behind the hardcover of a story, her mother told her they had something to do that morning. Riley could never get absorbed in the abnormally large books that engulfed her mother’s shelf, so she grabbed a few off of her own. She followed Mother to the car and settled herself in, getting comfortable and beginning the first story for the car ride ahead. Riley got lost in her books instead of daydreaming or falling asleep like most children her age. She loved the idea of taking each character’s place in space, underwater, or in Neverland. When the little girl looked up again, the sky was dark and everything outside of the window was unrecognizable.

The car jolted to a stop, and Mother stepped out, encouraging her daughter to follow. When Riley did, she didn’t want anything more than to find herself back in the comfortable surroundings of the car. Mother kept speeding up, winding around trees and not seeming to care that her perfect shoes were now covered in mud and wet grass. It looked as if Mother was aimlessly guiding her through the unfamiliar surroundings, until she stopped at something that looked like a shed. The only difference between this door and any ordinary shed was that this door lead through the dirt and past what Riley could see.

Riley watched courisly as her mother used all of her strength to pry open the rotting door. In the same condition as the shed, questionably unsafe steps lead to what laid beneath it. Like a lost puppy, the child followed her mother, cautiously watching every step she took.

“Mommy, what is this? Where are you taking us?” she asked, her voice shaking and quiet.

“I can’t tell you yet, honey. This will help you; help us all.” Mother replied gently.

The two emerged into a world of green and beauty. The ground beneath them seemed to have never  been touched by human feet, and sunlight flickered through the immense branches hovering above.  A sense of relief and love filled Riley’s chest, making her surroundings feel safe even if they were unknown. The earth around her was as perfect and dreamy as the stories she loved getting lost in, and the darkness of the previous woods disappeared. When Riley looked back to find her mother, she was gone. Being alone in a perfect world didn’t bother or frighten her, she was happy to be left to her own devices.

Weaving in and out of the mass amount of trees, she stumbled upon findings she didn’t understand. There were walls made of straw that didn’t seem to have anything on the other side or a purpose. Riley stayed at the wall for less than a few minutes before continuing to saunter among the woods again. This time, she came across faceless figures, walking seemingly with a purpose. Like the world around her, the figures didn’t frighten Riley, instead intrigued her.

“Have you seen my mother?” Riley asked each one. None stopped to answer her, they only continued down the invisible path to an unknown destination. In defeat, the little girl settled herself under a tree, losing the motivation she previously had. Before her appeared creatures such as gnomes, fairies, and groups of what looked like miniature people to Riley emerging from the trunk. They were quite small compared to the figures she had seen before. Similar to the stories she had read before, the creatures introduced themselves kindly and played games with her. They span in circles and played games of pretend, growing tired, and bored quickly like most little girls tend to do.

When her eyes closed and opened again, the former untouched ground beneath her morphed to a rugged, gray carpet. Looking to her left, the faceless figures now were sitting comfortably in chairs, one of them being her own mother. In her hands, she held the same small creatures, but they were now stuffed with cotton and had glass eyes. Posters filled the wall next to her, with words like “mental health” and “self help” spread neatly across them. There was a glass window on the other wall, and Riley wondered what or who might be on the other side, relating it to the straw wall she was just near. “Why was it there?” she asked herself. It seemed familiar to her.

“Riley Madison? Hi, I’m Dr. Williams, I can take you now,” claimed an older woman, emerging from a door in the corner. Mother stood up and walked towards the doctor, leaving muddy footprints behind her, encouraging little Riley to follow in them.

What Lies Beneath?

By Vivian Long (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

I darted through the woods, blood dripping from my arms. Sensing the men behind me, I glanced over my shoulder. Catching sight of them in my peripheral vision, I turned back around only to trip over a tree root and fall flat on my face. I rushed to regain my footing, wincing at the pain in my ankle. Thankfully, the door and the staircase leading up to it were drawing nearer. The guards were almost in arms reach of me so I pushed myself harder and sprinted faster than before. Taking the winding steps two by two, I reached out to grab the door handle and…

Sitting up straight, I gasped for breath. My head throbbed as I tried to comprehend why I kept having this god awful nightmare. Wiping my eyes, I groaned and rolled over, not wanting to get out of bed. As I pushed myself up into a standing position, flinching at the cold feel of the floor on my feet., sunshine streamed into my window causing my eyes to squint. Moving to my closet with the speed of a snail, I had no clue what I was going to wear today. I was skimming through my shirts when a loud ring! startled me. I looked around, trying to find my phone and grabbed it in the nick of time. I flipped it open in a hurry and sighed out a hello.

“Hey, babe,” the voice said smoothly.

“Mmh, hi Wells,” I grumbled.

“I’ll be at your house in a few,” he said. “Are you ready?”  

“Son of a-! I’m getting ready right now. I just woke up late. Sorry, gotta go! Byeee,” I yelled hurriedly through the phone.

“Okay…Goodb-” he tried to say. His voice getting cut off when I clicked the red end call button.

I dashed to my dresser and picked out a pair of black jeans, pulling them on in a flash. Dashing over to the mirror, I examined my outfit. Black on black would made anyone look like an angsty teenager, but it was the easiest kind of outfit to put together. My dark hair flowed over my shoulders like waves in the ocean while my face on the other hand looked like a racoon who had not slept in twenty years. I racked my hands through my hair, wiped under my eyes, grabbed my bookbag, and ran out the door. Running down the stairs, I could hear the car pull up, so I sprinted outside.

Wells’ new, red Toyota Corolla sparkled in the bright sun, the reflection causing me to squint. He rolled down the window and flipped me the bird. I rolled my eyes in annoyance at him, then threw my head back in laughter, giving him the same finger. Wells flashed me his ever so charming smile and I yanked his car door open.

“Be careful with my car, love,” he said. “It cost a lot.”

“You mean that it cost your parents a lot of money,” I teased.

“Shut up,” he chuckled. “How are you feeling today?”

“Horrible. I had the strangest dream last night. It felt so real and I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Don’t worry about it. It was a dream. It can’t have been that important, right?” he laughed, as we pulled into the school parking lot.

“Yeah, I guess. It just felt so real.” I said as I drifted off into though.

I had been having this dream since I was around nine or ten, but had never told anyone about it, not even Wells. The dream always began with me falling, then ending up in a large forest right in front of a wooden door. The door was could change between big and small, almost like a camera moving in and out of focus. The door always intrigued me although in the dream I never find out what is behind the door.

“Ronnie!” Wells yelled.

“What? What? Sorry…What happened?” I said hastily.

“You kind of just drifted off. I’ve been sitting here for the past five minutes trying to get your attention.” Wells said, the concern showing on his face.

“I’m fine. Seriously, I’m fine,” I chuckled. “Let’s go, I don’t wanna be late again.”

“Okay, okay. You’re just acting strange. I’m worried,” he said hopping out of the car and running around to open the door for me. Together we marched up to the school doors and entered hell.

When the day finally ended, I raced out of the building to meet up with Wells at his car. Five minutes passed, then ten. I grew antsy and bored, pacing back and forth in annoyance and worry. Looking down at my phone, I realized that he had texted to say he could no longer drive me home. The annoyance lingered for a few more minutes before I began trudging home. About ten minutes into walking, I felt a presence behind me, but saw no one there. Person behind me or not, an eerie feeling was now surrounding me from all sides, so I picked up my speed to a slight jog. My breath began to quicken as I became more and more paranoid with every step.

I sighed in relief as my house slowly crept into view. My heartbeat was finally slowing down when out of nowhere I was grabbed from behind and dragged around the side of my house. A black gloved hand was covering my mouth as I attempted to scream for help. My ankles scraped across the wet grass, now soaked in lumpy mud. The longer I struggled against this masked person, the more I grew tired and weaker. We were now in the backyard and he was pulling me towards a partially covered wooden door that I had never seen in real life, but brought back all too many familiar memories. He struggled to push me through this door, the opening barely big enough for my body to fit through. The masked figure with one final push managed to hurtle my body into the dark hole. He pulled off his hood and threw his head back in a chuckle. All I saw as I was falling into the abyss was his charming smile fading away as I fell deeper and deeper.

I jolted, feeling grass and roots beneath me. I looked around, surveying my surroundings and realizing I was surrounded by trees on all sides. For a second I thought that maybe I had hit my head a little too hard on the way down, but my mind finally registered where I was.

My dream. I was in my dream, my mind told me, but I just could not wrap my head around how any of this was real.

I hoped that this would not end how all my other dreams had, being chased by guards constantly. I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down. Putting my anxiety aside, I began to walk not knowing where I was going or how I could find the door that brought me here. A few minutes had passed when I heard an all too familiar rumbling sound. I sensed that there was danger, but tried to play it off as something that was all in my head.

Men suddenly began spilling out of the forest from all around me. Charging at me with their swords and shields, I began to sprint towards the closest clearing, which was a number of yards away from me. I darted between men and trees as fast I could. If this was in fact real life then there was a chance that I could die, and I did not want that to happen. After making it to the clearing, men in toe, I had no clue where to run next. Thankfully, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the sun reflecting off of an object. A doorknob.

I raced towards it, hoping that it was the right door that could take me away from all this madness. The men, being almost in arm’s reach of me, caused me to speed up and charge for the long staircase. Taking the stairs two by two, I prayed that I was going to make it to the door in time.

I reached out for the doorknob, almost having it in my grasp, knowing that this time I was not going to wake up.

What Lies Beneath?

By Hannah Kirkell (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Seven years ago, I almost destroyed the world as you now know it. Here’s how.

A dream is simply a fantasy your brain projects, right? You mentally galavant with pirates, or fend off ninjas while being chased by monsters, or go to school without your pants, and all the while your body lies motionless in a coma- like state, as if dead. So, in short, a dream is not any variation of reality; they’re just as they are: dreams. Hopes. Fears. They never have been, are not, and never will be substantive.

Well… I’m going to tell you a secret. My dreams aren’t reality- no, that’s just too simple. Reality is my dreams.

In my dreaming state, I have the capability to do whatever I want.

I could, for example, study for my math test, and when I wake up, I will have retained the outcome of my study session, and still be well rested. This is, obviously, an extraordinary gift. With only a few guidelines, I practically have the world at my disposal. I can’t kill anyone, I can’t change anything (this will tell why), and I can’t tell anyone. Other than that, I am an artist and the world is my canvas.

It wasn’t always like this, however. I didn’t receive this gift until I was about 13 or 14. The day I discovered my powers was the day I unleashed the horrors of hell and ruptured the known universe. In short, I opened a portal to another dimension- one containing mythical monsters, demons, terrible people, and the lake of fire. I remember thinking ‘this is just a dream; why not?’, and I was correct. Up until that point it was just a dream. After waking up, finding the world in chaos, and surviving a day that rivaled Judgement Day in the forms of death and destruction, I reentered my dreams to find myself in the same hell-like world I had struggled through that day. I knew I had about nine hours to right my wrongs: this is how it happened.

In my dream, I was standing in front of the same semi circular wooden door I had opened the previous night, but something was off. It took me a moment to realize that instead of being closed tightly and bolted with hundreds of locks, it was slightly ajar. The door was protruding from a muddy hill, constructed somewhat crudely with planks. There was a small opening right in the middle, barred off so that only a little light pierced the darkness. This tiny ray of sunlight had illuminated the inky blackness, allowing me to see a 7 by 4 oval that glowed with a faint violet color.

Now, I didn’t need the grated window. The opening allowed me to see just fine, but now the portal was gone. In its place, a small piece of paper, blackened along the edges, lay on the hard earth. After mentally wrestling with myself, I threw caution to the wind, yanked the door open wide enough for me to enter comfortably, and strode in confidently. I immediately smacked my head on the drooping ceiling. Courage failing, I scooped up the note, flung myself backwards, and slammed the door closed with a resounding BANG! Soundwaves echoed in my head and seemed to resound over the sloping hills, rolling over mountains into the valleys below.

Still clutching the scrap of paper, I willed myself to shoot heavenward, wanting to get out of the spooky forest and away from the door. Long hair ruffling in the wind and wind stinging my eyes, I shot towards a large clearing with a lake off to the side. I touched down in front of a wooden outpost, running to diminish my stored momentum. I took refuge from the oncoming storm clouds inside the lookout post, climbing the ladder and flinging myself down against a splinter-filled wall. Above me, the rain pitter-pattered and made whooshing noises as it slid down the slanted roof. Finally gathering the nerve, I glanced down at the note.

Three words were branded onto the aged paper: Look behind you. My heartbeat quickened as I threw a quick glance over my shoulder. Lurking behind me was a humanoid figure, one that heavily resembled a frog. Tiny white flecks marred his dark blue membrane, and his eyes burned with a cold fury. In those eyes I saw sacrifices, beings of straw being burned alive. Yelping, I leapt the 25 feet to the ground below. All memories of being in control were absent- terror streamed in like water into the titanic. Somehow, my feet brought me back to that ominous door. I darted inside it, flinging it shut and collapsing onto the dirt, out of breath. Menacing laughter echoed outside the thick door, serving as a barrier between me and my impending doom.

Shadows danced about the dark room as the monstrosity paced back and forth, beckoning me out. I attempted to steady my breathing and calm my racing nerves, but to no prevail. I didn’t have much time left- maybe an hour? Hour and a half? After that, any changes would be solidified for another day until my brain released me back into my dreams. So basically, if I was unable to take immediate action, I was as goo as dead. Somehow, I would have to slay the beast. Ignoring my mental screams of protest, I threw open the door and made a run for it. Legs screaming in agony, I pushed on. The frog-man was so close, I could feel his static breathing on my neck.

I ran over a wooden bridge, wind stinging my eyes and preventing me from seeing the blockade until it was almost too late. Throwing my legs forward and my torso back, I slid under the wooden barricade and came up running. I continued to flee for my life, until my path was blocked on all sides. The only escape was a wooden covered bridge. As the frog-man drew nearer, I decided that creepy bridges were better than death. Entering the enclosed bridge, I knew that this was it- my final stand; a hail-mary. I altered the gravitational pull and turned the never-ending bridge into a vortex (a jail-like black hole that would hold the beast captive). I turned around… The beast sprung at me… I leaned my shoulders back, causing my body to plunge downward.

I was falling

Falling

Falling

The last thing I remember was the scream of outrage, and claws sinking into my left calf.

My body shot upright, eyes flew open. I was back in reality. Fearfully, I glanced out my bedroom window, and was greeted with a surprising sight- rolling hills with dying grass, red and orange leaves, and an algae-filled pond. “Oh, God…” I muttered. I had done it.

What Lies Beneath?

By Jada White (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

To delay the inevitable lecture she would receive from the strangers she called Mom and Dad, Lily did what any sane teenager would do. She went for a walk through the woods with her best friend Savannah. Ever since she could remember she and her parents just didn’t see eye to eye. Everything turned into an argument. When she got caught cheating on an English test and received a call home she knew they would over react. Savannah tried to prevent Lily from making yet another idiotic mistake. She expressed that arriving home late would only make matters worse, but everything she said went in one ear and out the other. There was nothing she could do but follow along behind her friend as she entered the dark shadows surrounding the woods.

Lily had been in the forest a million times which is why she was so confused when she discovered a path she’d never seen before. Without saying a word she led Savannah down the path and into a small clearing. Before her stood a green wall made of grass, twigs, and trees. In the center was a heavy wooden door twice the size of both girls. They glanced at each other as the sound of music and laughter flowed out from under the door. Without giving it a second thought Lily grabbed the handle and pulled. Once the door was open they were shocked by the abrupt silence. Not a single soul was behind the door. All there was to see was a field of grass too tall to see over and a little garden gnome.

“Welcome!” called the gnome, frightening the girls, “I am Daniel. Who are you?”

“Savannah and Lily,” they said after taking a moment to catch their breath. “What happened to the people we heard? What is this place?”

“They all went to dinner. I can take you after I give you a tour!” said Daniel avoiding their last question.

As Daniel turned and walked into the grass the girls whispered arguing about whether to follow or turn back. Their curiosity overpowered their suspicion and they ran to catch up. Behind them the only exit that they knew of slid shut with an audible click.

Savannah and Lily walked for what felt like hours behind the little gnome. They couldn’t help but look around for signs of other people. Every once in awhile a noise in the distance would catch their attention. They would look for the source but be unable to tell which direction it came from. Eventually, they emerged from the grass and were shocked by what they saw. Ten foot tall wood structures rose from the ground, one faintly resembled a person and the other, some kind of animal. Weeds had started to climb up the legs of both structures and the only metal swing was broken and rusty.

“Welcome to Tyler Park,” said the gnome enthusiastically.

“Shouldn’t there be children here?” asked Lily. “Where is everyone?”

“Dinner!” said Daniel slightly annoyed.

A familiar voice that both Savannah and Lily recognized cut through the air. Back at the path leading to the big wooden door their parents were calling them. The girls made eye contact then began to look around. For the first time they noticed how dark it was outside.

“Maybe we should go home,” Savannah suggested as she stared up at a bright white crescent.

“Nonsense!” replied Daniel. “Stay for Dinner. I’ll take you there now.”

Before the girls could protest he walked back into the grass. This time they exited in front of  a circular clearing. On the outside edges were glowing lanterns. There was a round table in the middle and tiny wooden chairs surrounding. Five identical copies of Daniel stared back at the girls.

“We should leave. Now!” Savannah whispered to Lily.

“I don’t think so,” said Daniel.

Lost

By Lindsay Ferguson (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

It was about 200 years ago when I took my first steps into the door that lead to the biggest change in my life. I didn’t believe in magic or ghost stories back then, but now it seems I live in one.

The door I entered was small and embedded in the side of a hill. It was made of wood, with a rustic curved roof and a stick for a handle. I found it while on a leisurely stroll through the woods behind my high school, my usual stomping ground. I had thought it belonged to a child, so I followed my adventurous instincts and took it upon myself to go in and investigate. Upon entering, I saw nothing but chilling blackness, the kind that will forever haunt my soul. Every ounce of color and light was sucked up into the void until I, myself, was a part of the bleak darkness too. I struggled to find a way out of the bone chilling abyss for a minute or so, then I saw a miniscule speck of light. I began to drift towards it until I got sucked completely into the light and fell out in a colorful wooded area, the likes of which I had never known.

Everything was kissed with starlight. Every leaf on every tree dazzled and sparkled in the sun. From the soil in the ground to the clear blue sky, shimmering starlight speckled all that could be seen. I was in awe. A door full of perpetual blackness lead to a world of wonder. I looked around and saw that the door had vanished. This, however, did not frighten me because I was in such a beautiful place, and I grew eager to explore it. I stood up off the ground which I had fallen on, and began to stroll into the woods of glowing wonder.

For many miles of walking I saw nothing strange, just vast stretches of the sparkling diamond-like woodland covering all the eye could see. Then, all at once it seemed, night fell upon me. I found a lovely tree to sleep under, and blissfully drifted off in the world of starlight. Sadly, my blissful sleep only lasted a few hours until I was awoken into a new world of terror.

When I stirred and began to look around for the cause of my awakening, I saw that I was not in the same place I had fallen asleep. I was in the center of a field, surrounded by large statues made of rope and straw. Around me sat thousands of tiny gnomes. The gnomes could move and speak, though it was a language my ears did not recognize. My stomach turned to butterflies and my hands grew clammy. The gnomes had restrained me using various ropes and chains. When they saw that I was awake, they ran to me and in unison carried me up to one of the straw structures. They bound me to one and began to chant a ritual. I fiercely fought to escape but it was to no avail. It was then that I knew my life would never be the same.

All at once, a beam of light shone down on me from the heavens, and the gnome chant grew louder. I fought as hard as I could to free myself from my restraints and still had no luck. Then, my whole body began to tingle and shake. I was transforming into something unknown.

Then I blacked out.

When I awoke, I saw my old body lying before me. I looked down at my hands and saw that they were smaller and my surroundings seemed much bigger than before. Then I realized the terrifying truth, my old body had been sacrificed and my soul was in the body of a gnome. Emotions overtook me. I was doomed to live out my infinite days in the world of magic kissed by twinkling starlight.

At present, I am stuck as a mischievous gnome with nothing but ill intent. I constantly place doors around the human world to lure children in and turn them into gnomes. We gnomes do this as sacrifices to the gnome god in the hopes of receiving blessings in return. I miss my old home. Starlight no longer dazzles me, it makes me yearn for my old life. The languages of the gnomes no longer puzzle me, they just make me long for the diverse languages of home. Everyone I have ever loved has probably died and forgotten about me. After all, how could they know where to look? As I capture more children each day, I wonder how their families will react. Will they think their children ran away, were kidnapped, are dead? Will they ever think to look behind the rustic small door hidden in the side of a hill? Will they even consider the possibility that their kids are trapped in a world of starlight? Who knows, maybe we all did get kidnapped, ran away, or are dead. Maybe this is just some twisted version of the afterlife or our mental escape from the horrible reality we may live in.

Maybe we gnomes are all just lost souls trapped in a world of starlight.

What Lies Beneath?

By Lola Ibrahim (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

The gates ridged edges cut my palms. I reach the top and let myself down, my foot slips. I take a second on the ground and try to collect my thoughts well enough to get up and keep running. My camera bangs against my chest in rhythm to my steps.

“Stop!” The park guard exclaims. I hesitate, frantically searching for a place to shield myself. I find a mass of partially dead trees and various other scraps. Deciding to sacrifice my hoodie I dive into the heap, my black hair gets caught in numerous twigs.

Beams of light shine through the bush in scattered, misshapen, patterns. I lean from side to side trying to dodge the rays. My breathing stops; I hear him inching closer. I can only pray he doesn’t spot me. He leaves, that’s my cue to start investigating; I photograph a bridge made of intertwining branches. I question how something so beautiful could be created by an average human. I look up at the sky and on my right to the setting sun.

I move closer, the leaves crunch under my tacky rain boots. There’s a small door under the bridge. “I know there’s something weird about this place” I whisper. My hand timidly reaches for the little knob and I open the door. I squint through the window trying to find anything in that tiny house. But I can’t pick anything up in the darkness. I depart in seek for more mysterious treasures. “Ow!” I yell. My shriek of pain gets cut off by my hand, as if to suppress my already exerted scream.

I look down to a gnome in a frightened expression. The top of its hat is broken off, and the gnome appears like it’s experiencing some sort of pain. It feels oddly warm despite the winds of November. I lightly apply pressure to it’s abdomen and it moves. I gasp and drop the creature, it hits the ground and scurries away.

It runs along a dirt path and I follow closely behind. The gnome leads me to small village of living gnomes. They live in small houses like normal people sleeping, eating, and walking around. It’s like a whole other world down there. I snap some pictures, they acknowledge my presence but keep doing whatever they were doing previous to my entry.

I catch a eerie blue glow out the corner of my eye. I turn and walk towards it, I arrive at trees hovering over a worn door. It looks like the trees are shading the door, protecting it from harm. A thick piece of wood plays the role of a door handle. I’m no match to the size of the gray door, I stand on my tippy-toes trying to see through the metal gate. Hoping to find the cause of the light. I lay my hand on the handle feeling the crevices of the grain.

The door fiercely swings open, a cold hand grabs my wrist and pulls me inside. My mouth’s covered with a cloth, I try to scream but can’t manage more then a muffled yell. “Stop” he says, calmly “ leave from here”. I punch him trying to loosen his grip. I can’t get a good look at him, his black, hooded, cloak covers his face. I struggle fighting him, I still can’t see his face as we wrestle each other. It’s all a hazy blur of blue and black, I try to piece together what’s happening but everything’s moving so fast it’s impossible.

He picks me up and throws me outside, I fall, out of breath. I feel for my camera, patting my chest in panic. I desperately hunt for my Nikon, I feel the ground for any trace of the device. I rustle the orange leafs, but there’s no luck.

I get up and brush myself off, the door that was once there is gone. All that’s left was my camera shattered to pieces. Everything had managed to disappear including my only evidence.

I hear something in the distance and run towards the gate. The park guard is close by, I climb the fence. Sunrise is coming and my mom would have a heart attack if she found out I was missing. Through it all I smile as I run, knowing my article’s getting an “A.”

Four

By Kyri Colson (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

With a flabellate leaf bag wrapped around her shoulders, Silva strolled out of her home onto the cobblestone path before her.

As she walked she quietly hummed a melody Silva had heard the crickets perform the night before. Unlike Silva, the other creatures quietly shuffled down the firefly-lit pathway with gloomy expressions. Silva tried her best to smoothen out the wrinkles in her new dress she had bought on sale at the Caterpillar-Market two weeks ago. She wanted to look as nice as possible when she would meet the queen.

“Bu!”

Her call went unnoticed by a young bullfrog with warted moss skin, and a bright yellow belly. His attention was occupied when he noticed a mindless fly had begun to circle around him. Finally, his long gum-like tongue captured the poor insect, almost hitting Silva’s in the process.

“Must you do that so close to my hair? Nothing can go wrong today!” the young sprite whined, then reached into her bag to pull out a small piece of glass so she could check her appearance. In turn, Bu’s laugh crackled in the night alerting many of their presence.

“Happy Created day Silva! Today’s the day right?” Bu exclaimed, “think about it, little Silvy! The first sprite in years to find a four! Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? I can see it now! You’ll get to meet Queen Claire, now that’ll show the fairies just because they have wings they’re not better than us!”

Silva took one last glance at her home. Her roof was made from dead red maple tree bark and was hand glued together poorly with nearby tree sap. While the windows were made from a leftover bottle glass that she had cleverly stolen from the Human Lands.

“Don’t even think about doubtin’ yourself, Sil. It doesn’t matter what your home looks like. You know it, I know it, and once we find that four everyone else will too!”

“We?”

“Okay,” Bu muttered sheepishly, “I meant you, of course.” Finally, the two of them had approached a wooden crisscross door that stood tall around 7ft above them. In front of it was a small yellow and brown spotted bunny sleeping inside a large toll booth.

“Cornelius?”

Bu quickly slapped his tongue onto the side of the glass and the sound of his slobber immediately woke the rabbit. “Bu?” The rabbit murmured while he rubbed eyes and quickly scrambled to gather his wits. “Thanks for waking me up before Hulga got here. The fairies threatened to shorten my rations for a month if I even blinked too long.” the bunny muttered, and Bu tried his hardest not to snicker when he saw Cornelius’ little nose begin to twitch.

“Don’t worry, Corne, you’ll be able to get some sleep when I find that four leaf clover! I’ll ask Her Majesty if you could have a day off as a reward for my excellent service.” Silva replied with a smug expression.

“Right, well, happy Created Day Silva. I hope you find it.”

Silva saluted her fuzzy friend as Cornelius pressed a large red button on the keyboard inside the toll booth. It triggered its rusty hinges and the door gradually opened.

Cornelius revealed a large field as long as the eye could see.

The sun, had risen from the horizon and created shadows behind those who worked diligently. They were all hunched over with seldom expressions. While fairies of all shapes, colors, and wing spans were seen hovered in the air overseeing these creatures work diligently below them.

Another sprite by the name of Emerald walked behind them. Despite her sickly yellowish skin, she was heavily favored by the queen because of the rest of her beauty. Because of this, she was rewarded with a lavish lifestyle even though she carried no wings on her back.

“Happy Created Day, Silva.” She said, but despite her cheerful words, her tone was a mocking one and caused a sinking feeling in Silva’s stomach. “Thank you.” Silva replied quietly then ducked her head to avoid letting Emerald see the blush blossoming on the apples of her cheeks.

“Good luck on finding that four, Silvy. You’ll need it!” Emerald snickered then walked over to her section to greet the rest of her friends.

Silva’s section was in the middle of the field.

She was completely surrounded by grass, and the tips of these large blades were browning. The harsh wind nipped at Silva arms and caused the clovers to sway. Unfortunately, none of these said clovers were fours. Silva assumed that today would be the last day to search for a four before the ground was covered in a blanket of snow.

The sprite decided not to let her mind wander on the upcoming season as she got to work.

With doll-like knives, she began to cut three leaf clovers at the stem. Then she proceeded to place them on a large wooden wagon.

Silva continued her work even when the clock struck midnight and the fairies began to call, “Nighting!” Yet, their instruction still went deaf to her ears.

When the sprite looked up she realized she was the last one in the field.

The wagon was gone and had long been pulled by the Caterpillars so they could take them to the Planters. The eerie sense of silence began blaring in her ears but it didn’t stop her hands from scavenging to find a four.

That is until she collapsed.

Her fingers were numb from holding her scissors, she had a blaring headache from squinting too much through the night, and her back ached from being so hunched over. Silva looked up to see the last clover in her section standing upright and tall above her. Her vision became blurry with tears of exhaustion.

Silva rubbed at her eyes several times.

“One.

Two. Three…

Four!”

What Lies Beneath?

By Sophia Belgiorno (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

The headline of the newspaper read, “Fourth Local Resident Missing: New Evidence?” They bounced up and down in Mallory’s bike basket. After launching the papers at every house in the neighborhood, she took one copy for herself and read it as she walked her bike home. Her eyes bulged out of her head when she read the article about the new evidence. She could not believe that the police had discovered four strange structures built in a field close to her house. Her jaw dropped when she found out that the structures were about fifteen feet tall and shaped like human bodies. She finally approached her house and darted inside.

“Mom, the cops found these huge things in the field down the street! Can I please go investigate? I’m good at this stuff,” Mallory pleaded.

“I’m sorry, Mallory; it’s too dangerous. Let the cops do their jobs. They’re trained for these kinds of things,” her mother responded. Mallory pouted and stomped up to her room, carrying the newspaper, to continue her research.

After studying every aspect of the structures, Mallory had almost put all of the pieces together. She felt in her gut that the structures were not built by the kidnapper; it would be too risky to take the chance of getting caught. But then, who would have built them? It didn’t add up. Mallory could not hold the weight of her eyelids up any longer. She walked over to her bed and lifted up the plain white pillow resting there. Hidden under it was her favorite colorful pillow that she had been using since she was a baby. She put the white pillow over it so anyone visiting would not know that she slept with a baby pillow.

Just then, the gears in Mallory’s head started turning, and all of the pieces fit together to form a perfect picture. The structures were decoys made to lead the cops off of the kidnapper’s trail. The logical place to look was far away from the field, but not too far. Chills crept down Mallory’s spine as she discovered the place she was thinking of. It was the woods right behind her house. She knew she had to look around, but her mother would never let her with a kidnapper out there. There was no way Mallory could fall asleep with all the information buzzing around in her head, so it was the perfect opportunity to carry out her plan. She jammed boots on her feet and hesitantly climbed out through the bedroom window.

After snooping around in the woods for a while, she realized that she was lost. She ran around, looking for anything familiar. She came along a path and noticed a small door hidden behind some leaves. Curiosity replaced her fear as she crawled through it. The other side did not look any different from the regular woods at first. She explored the area and discovered an oak tree with tiny windows all over it. She took small steps farther and saw a tree with a wooden cage in it. She heard a cracking sound, and her head jerked down to see something running away from her. She bent over and squinted at the object. When it turned its head towards her, she recognized it as a toy gnome. Then she realized, toys do not move on their own, and everything went dark.

As consciousness returned to her, Mallory looked around to see four people huddled together in a corner. She recognized them as the four missing residents. She was in the cage she had seen earlier. In that moment, she knew that her name would be the headline of the next day’s newspapers, but there would be no one to deliver them.

Not-So Sneaky Santa

By Chloey McFadden (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Beads of sweat grew on her forehead, as did the acid in her stomach.

The mess of a woman shoved her unfinished homework into her cluttered drawer. She caused the piles of incomplete college essays to slap the wood floor. Clarinda stomped over heaps of dirty clothes and stormed out of her front door. Her feet charged to the familiar trail she’d walk in the woods to escape reality. The tears were wiped off of her cheeks and she thought her bloodshot eyes were imagining things. A beaten up, wooden door in the middle of grass and trees was staring at Clarinda. What on Earth is that? It’s never been here before. It does look more enticing than that homework though.

Clarinda let her ankle high converse guide her to the elf size entrance. The handle on the right seemed to whisper “open me,” to her. Her hand listened and bent down to pull open the piece of aged wood. A hole of black stared back at her as she entered a foot inwards. Her unsteady balance sent her flying downwards, head first into the portal. Fluffy, soft snow padded her freefall. Clarinda’s eyelashes fluttered a couple of times in astonishment.

Looking around, there were red and white candy canes all over the snowy path. The village ahead was full of brightly lit stone houses, no taller than 8 feet. The houses were covered in green wreaths and lights in every color. She peered down around her shivering chucks. What are those? Dog prints? Where am I?

She dove into the chilly snow and began throwing it around her and dancing in it. Clarinda hadn’t been this stress free since the summertime. After her excitement, the intriguing lights pulled her into the village. Clarinda was welcomed by hundreds of  elves dressed in green and red outfits with pointy hats and shoes. Oh my, how cute! I want one!

“Hi! My name is Jolly the elf! Who’s your favorite reindeer? Mine’s Prancer!”

“Um..hello, I’m Clarinda and there’s reindeer here? I like border collies.”

A concert of gasps exploded around her.

Jolly tugged on Clarinda’s sleeve and dragged her to the biggest red house she’d ever seen. Behind the red brick, sat an elderly man with a beard the color of snow. It held numerous amounts of cookie crumbs and milk droplets. The man greeted Clarinda with open arms and told her he’d love to have her stay to experience his town. She learned his name was Nicholas and he had elves working in a workshop all year long. Clarinda discovered a land of presents, they were all different shapes and sizes, wrapped in varying wrapping papers from Justin Bieber to Elmo. She let her eyes wander, finding a list longer than most highways. It stated Naughty and Nice List on the very top. Okay…no way. I thought this stuff was only in the movies. It’s like I’m 8 years old again.

Lost in her reminiscing thoughts, something smashed at the back of Clarinda’s head and she spun around to see Jolly giggling to himself. Her hands dove into the light snow and she tossed a snowball straight at Jolly. This lasted about an hour, filling both players with joy. The two called a truce over cups of hot chocolate and warm cookies. When the sun was sinking, Clarinda and Jolly began to blister their throats by singing carols.

As the stars appeared above, Clarinda noticed the same door she’d seen earlier in the day. Out of curiosity, she popped through it again. To her disappointment, when she came out she was staring at trees and grass. She twirled in circles, but everywhere she looked there was no door. Her face fell along with her hopes of becoming an elf.  Returning home, her mother was waiting outside with a water gun. She soaked Clarinda’s sweaty face, making both women squeal in laughter. Maybe even if I grow older, I can always be a child at heart. I hope Christmas and winter break from school come quickly this year.

What Lies Beneath?

By Melodie Senwesky (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

No one had ever come out of the forest on the edge of town. In fact, no one ventured near it at all, and legends were whispered about monsters inhabiting it, or some evil too dark to even say its name. Some believed that that was where criminals spent their days to evade the law, and that you had to be either truly brave or truly desperate to go.

Emma was both, or at least that’s what she told herself as she packed her things. She’d had yet another fight with her parents about her plans for the future, and she just couldn’t stand it anymore. She hurriedly balled up items of clothing and shoved whatever she could fit into a bag along with essentials like matches, rope, and a knife. Emma mumbled curses under her breath every time she heard a pot clang or her father’s raised voice from downstairs. If only she was able to pack faster…she couldn’t wait to get away from all this.

Not that she knew exactly where she planned to go once she was ‘away,’ but Emma figured that she might figure it out as she went. She wanted to leave town, she knew that much. Most people in her town were likely to hand her right back to her parents before they’d ever consider taking her in or showing compassion. The only problem was that it was rather hard to actually leave town. The forest surrounded more than half of the town, and on the open side of town, there were guards posted who were far too vigilant to accept a bribe to turn a blind eye.

That left her with one clear choice: the mysterious forest. Its dark entrance stood right at the edge of town, threatening but never allowed to creep closer. The idea of braving the thick tangle of trees was only slightly thrilling to Emma, but what other options did she have?

Decision made, she crept out early one morning, bag on her shoulder, towards the forest. Her escape proved easier than she’d anticipated, since the thin stream of people walking up and down the street around her paid her no special attention. She traveled down the winding wooden path, hardly noting the gorgeous blooms of wildflowers in the field surrounding her in her intense focus. She followed the path to the edge of town and froze at the border. The forest was darker than she’d expected, the leaves seeming to block all rays of sunlight from coming in overhead. The tree limbs drew in dangerously near to the dusty path, which faded to a shadowy nothing only a few meters into the woods.

What am I doing? she asked herself. She nearly turned back toward the security of home, but something stubborn in her head wouldn’t let her take that first backwards step. Clenching her jaw, she turned to face the woods and walked head-on into the unknown. Her first thought once she was past the border was how dark it truly was. Her hands were outstretched, and she was navigating only through the soft crunch of dry leaves under her feet and sheer dumb luck. It felt like she wasn’t actually moving anywhere, until abruptly she was bathed in blinding sunlight. She blinked several times to clear the dark spots from her vision, only to realize that clearly she’d ended up very far from where she was a moment ago.

She was standing in a wide clearing, surrounded by trees that had silver bark and golden leaves. The forest around her seemed much less threatening and even the sunlight somehow felt warmer. Across the clearing stood a small, round blue door that appeared to be built into the tree behind it. As Emma stepped closer, she saw there were tiny tree-stump chairs and a table out front and couldn’t help but crouch down beside it to examine it more closely. It seemed to be built for someone smaller than herself, faeries perhaps? Had she stepped through some kind of door or…portal to end up in this strange place?

Everything was quiet and peaceful in these woods… It made her want to just sit quietly and listen to the sounds of the outdoors. Emma still had no idea how or why she’d ended up here, but she finally thought she understood why no one ever returned home from this place.

What Lies Beneath?

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

The wind carried her towards her house, in the distance she could still hear the padding of its feet. The rustle of the straw and her petrified expression gave away enough evidence that she was in danger. She charged in, taking a quick glance out the front window. All she saw was the door that hid in the prairie, slamming shut with no trace of anyone being there. Slowly, she creaked the front door open again, only to reveal a three foot tall gnome. As the girl reached for the decoration, its eyes began to glow, seconds later everything went black.

The crisp autumn breeze blew an array of colors into the little girl’s rosey cheeks. She chased the leaves into the wall of faded green rows and came to the crimson colored cedar bridge. The unreachable rails stood above her as she clung to the intertwined twigs for support. Pushing the green strands out of the way, she saw a dirt path and began to follow. A great big oak stood in her path and a mailbox to her right. A crumpled paper clung to the inside of the postbox as a gust swarmed through the field. Uncrumpling the paper she began to read, “What lies beneath? Take a look inside the book, stay awhile and you’ll find a smile. It’s ever so greeting, but you should be fleeting.” As she removed the paper from her face, a door appeared in the side of a hill, right next to the towering tree.

Placing the dirt crusted paper back into the mailbox, she slowly crept towards the door. Her gaze was set upon the carved handle that stuck out of the door frame. Yet out of the corner of her eye, she could just make out what had recently been etched into the tree. “Go back or it shall attack!” The swiftly carved lettering frightened her, she cast her gaze back to the ancient door. The peephole began to glow, almost pulling her in, she reached for the handle and opened the door.

She clung to the concrete walls and even though it was summer, they were ice cold and sent shivers down her spine. In the distance, the echoes of girly whispers broke out; she continued to follow the spiral staircase into the depth. As she turned the final corner a squeal came from an all too bright room, she closed her eyes and took a step forward. The sound of leaves falling brought her back into the moment, seconds later she was trapped by pink flecks of pixie dust. The noise was not the autumn leaves, but the flapping of wings that had come out to play with her. A small, green, luminescent girl floated over to her and asked, “Would you like to play a game with us?”

With a nod of her head the fluttering of wings stopped and the pixies began to change. Frightened the little girl took off back towards the staircase, on the very first step sat a storybook. The Gnomes was opened to page one and there was a circle of pixies surrounding a child. As she charged past the book, the page flipped, to show how the pixies were a disguise. The young girl clambered up the steps, little glass men right behind her. As she took one final step before reaching the door, the gnomes transformed into a straw figure. She swung open the door and raced through the prairie.

What Lies Beneath?

By Bailey Ellixson (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Her wrists burned when her father, Axel, shoved her into her lair, where she spent most of her time. Esther, her mom, stood by the small wooden door, smiling. Together the parents shouted, “We love you, Annabelle!” and after a loud bang and the click of a lock, the room became dark.

Annabelle’s bony legs bent as she squatted next to the locked door. Her mind allowed her to picture what it looked like from the outside, although she wasn’t lucky enough to see it from that perspective. The wooden slab had a twig for a doorknob. Thick pieces of wood met at all four corners and worked as a barrier to protect the innocent girl, as did the trees that surrounded it. When she snapped back to reality, the only thing that was visible was a small ray of sunshine that peeked through the peephole. Tears dripped down her face, one at a time, as she thought about her situation. When she rolled onto her side, Annabelle’s eyes squeezed shut and her fists tightened. The frigid ground caused her to shake. Instead of falling asleep, her eyes widened.

Peering through the door’s peep hole, Annabelle closely watched a small group of wooden creatures from the garden as they shook and came to life in the twilight. After staring at them with her mouth open, she vigorously pounded her dainty hands against the wooden door. She screamed, “Help! If you help me, I promise I will give you all a better life!” The gnomes turned to each other, raising their white eyebrows. After whispering to one another, their stiff bodies turned to face Annabelle. A small, squeaky voice informed her that they would accept the offer. The rest moved their heads up and down in unison. Annabelle’s smile made the creatures giggle. Her shaking arm pointed towards the tree in which the key was hidden.

The gnomes jumped on top of each other, stacking themselves high enough to reach the rusty lock that forced Annabelle to stay inside. Their small feet crushed the dead leaves beneath their shiny boots. The highest gnome used all of his arm muscle to insert the delicate key into its hole. He scrunched his face and fixed his hat and the lock fell rapidly to the ground. The door flew open, bouncing back into Annabelle’s face, and she winced. Her bare knees touched the cold ground, and the gnomes piled on top of her. A pink hue covered her cheeks as she stood up. Her silver heels poked into the muddy forest ground while she ran.

“Slow down!” the gnomes yelled. “We can’t keep up!” All they could see was the silver jewelry bouncing up and down on Annabelle’s ankle.

When the miniature creatures caught up, Annabelle’s hands covered her knees and the sun glistened off of her damp forehead. The gnomes copied her position.

“I don’t know where we are. I spend most of my time locked away,” Annabelle admitted.

“We’ve never ventured this far either,” cried a gnome. A blank stare came across each face. Annabelle’s neck snapped when a familiar sound came from the vacant woods. The group ducked down and looked in the direction of the noise. The stomping became louder every second until it was unbearable. Light brown leaves rustled as the gnomes hid in bushes. Annabelle’s height kept her from hiding with them, so she stood still with her eyebrows raised.

“Annabelle!” screamed a stern voice. Her jaw dropped and the loud stomps started again. A gnome peeked out, and realized they were left in the wilderness alone.

What Lies Beneath?

By Becca Sweigart (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

The little boy was wandering through the woods all alone.  He saw a lady dressed in all silver and he decided to follow her. She went to a wood building, the door had a handle made from a tree branch and had a screen in it. When he followed the lady in the building it was small and pitch black. It smelled like wet, musty, old wood. The door slammed behind him. Once the door shut, a whole world appeared in front of him.

The lady asked “What is your name?”

“Alex,” he replied.

The lady, who’s named Maggie, informed Alex that he was in the year 3000. He did not fit in here.

Maggie told Alex, “We need to get you cleaned up young man. That’s not the way to walk around here.”

“Why? What I’m wearing is perfectly okay,” Alex stated.

“Well you stand out because you are really young, your clothes are not up to standards, and you smell,” Maggie replied.

“This is what I have been wearing for almost a year and it is acceptable where I come from.” Once Alex was cleaned up and dressed, he and Maggie went into the new world and started exploring.

Alex became frightened at what he saw; people were floating in the air all around him. The people had on silver pants, shirts, or dresses. Girls’ hair was pulled back in buns and the guys had nice combed hair. Everything was in place, everyone looked the same. Soon Alex’s feet started to lift off the ground.  He tried grabbing the grass but there was none. This place was strange and scary. Alex knew he did not belong here.

As they started floating around he saw that all the houses looked exactly the same. Each house was two stories and they were purple. He noticed that there wasn’t any grass, never once did he see a tree or flower, and there was not a pond or creek in sight. Alex wanted to go home where his feet were on the ground, houses looked different, and where grass and tree existed.

Years passed, and Alex still was scared of living here. Every year the houses would all change color at the same time, the people would change the color of their clothes. Nobody celebrated a holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years. Not one person asked Alex where his parents were even though he was the only kid that walked around without parents and lived on his own.

Alex was now 26, he had grown used to all the new things around him, they weren’t scary anymore. He found a girl who he married. They now have a child together and another on the way. His wife Loren was at work and he had the baby, so they went for a walk on the edge of town. As they were walking around Alex saw leaves, something he thought he would never see again. He came upon a door, quickly realizing it was the same door he walked through 20 years ago that brought him to this crazy world.  Alex walked through the door and was back to the little six year old boy. Nothing had changed in the 20 years he was gone. It was like time stood still.

Now, Alex wanted to go back home to his family, but when he walked through the door again everything was gone. The place he spent 20 years of his life in, where his family was. Alex ran around the woods looking for another door that would take him back to his home. Unfortunately he found nothing. So he tried one last time. He ran to the old wood door and opened it. Yet again, nothing was there. Alex started crying and punching the ground, screaming “why?” over and over again. He wished he had never walked back through that door. Alex did not know how much he missed in this world. He knew he would never be able to forget about his wife and daughter.

Alex was now 26 and wondered if going through that door was a picture of his future in the real world. He got married and his wife’s name was Loren, they had a daughter with a son on the way.

That door in the woods twenty years ago changed his life. Not only did Alex get to be 26 twice, but he got to see what his future would be like. They did not float around or wear silver clothes. They still had water, trees, grass, and the houses all looked different. But for the most part everything remained the same from how he grew up to how he met his wife at a concert.

He would not change a thing and still went through the door to bring him back home.

He’d then experience it again, twenty years later.

The Escape to Forever Land

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

Come here little child, into this world of light and harmony where you are always protected. Stray from the path of the corrupt and open the door. Yes, that wooden door to which you gave no second glance. The sunlight trickles down on it and the light brown wood appears golden. It sits, slanting into the hill surrounding it, still waiting for its old timber mouth to be opened and for someone to be engulfed into its stomach. Leave behind the world you once knew and come into ours. Where there was once darkness in your life, there is now only light.

* * * *

Charlotte opened the door. The cold wooden handle seemed to tremble under her touch in anticipation, but why, she did not know.

Maybe I should go back to Mommy, she thought, but the faintest sliver of violet behind the door piqued the five year olds interest immediately. Behind the door a magnificent violet color shone, blinding Charlotte, but also bringing a comforting warmth upon her.

“Come here Charlotte,” a soft female voice behind the door sang out to her. The child could not resist. The voice was too sweet and by this point her curiosity made her blind to the situation.

Charlotte took one more look behind her, regarding the world she was about to leave and thinking. She nodded to herself, well it will only be for a little while and I don’t want to go back to Mommy right now after she drank that bad smelling juice. She’ll find me before dinner time. With that, she walked into the light.

A lengthy oak stairwell was placed behind the door leading down to the unknown. Charlotte gave no second thought and proceeded to skip down the stairs with a grin on her freckled face. All Charlotte could do was smile and hum gently to herself.

“Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down,” she hummed over and over again as she proceeded her way down, finally reaching the bottom.

She carefully stepped onto the purple, pillow-like grass, fearing the first touch of it on her feet as though it would be fire. Her eyes wandered around the mystical forest that surrounded her. Grass went on for as far as the eyes could see and trees– spotted with violets on their branches– were aiming at incredible heights in the sky with little animals scurrying around them. The fragrance of the air was so sweet and the hint of honey tickled her nose. The soft sea-breeze wind seemed to be humming her favorite tune and Charlotte smiled in pleasure. This place was so unlike the siren-filled, trashy neighborhood she was used to.

“Oh, Charlotte it’s about time you got here darling!” The same soothing voice exclaimed, but she was no were in sight. Charlotte spun around and around, seeing nothing but the beauty that swathed her.

“Where are you?” Charlotte cried out.

“In front of you silly,” the voice chuckled. Charlotte stopped moving and looked right in front of her at the small being that hung in the air before her. The woman was not over seven inches and everything about her screamed small from her tiny pointy nose to her delicate tiny hands, but oh was she gorgeous; her very essence glowed. Her blood-red hair hung beyond the point of her backside and she wore a sprinkled ember green dress, matching the color of her eyes. What caught Charlotte’s eyes the most was the fact the little woman had wings like that of a butterfly. They reached far over the point of the woman’s head and they were colored a bright crystal blue.

“What’s your name and why do you have wings?” Charlotte giggled. “I don’t have them and neither does Mommy.”

“My name is Meredith and it’s just the way of my people. This is how we were born. You and I are two different kinds of beings, Charlotte, but that’s okay. We are going to be the best of friends.”

“Oh, I’d like that. Then I could tell Mary-Lewis and Mary-Beth that I’m friends with a person who has wings and they don’t. Maybe then they wouldn’t call me mean names and lock me in the girl’s bathroom.”

“Oh Charlotte,” the little woman said. “Here no one will be mean to you. Only happiness will torment you, my darling, from here on out. Okay? Now take my hand we are going on an adventure.”

The girl took her hand and on touch she instantly shrunk like the women. She giggled in the happiness of being tiny and thought, wow, if only the Marys’ could see me now. The little woman held tight onto Charlotte and they flew deeper into the world of magic.

Throughout the whole flight Charlotte smiled and hummed. The woman took her on a tour of the little majestic world. They saw things Charlotte only dreamed of. Charlotte and the woman flew through small villages that were placed on the body of trees and homes to friendly gnomes that had miniature unicorns and griffins as pets. The pets joined them in the air and rubbed up against Charlotte, caressing her. Together they visited a large pond that radiated with life in and around it. It was a majestic pond that was a light purple color and was so clear the bottom could be seen.

Little fish and nymphs swam in its beauty and trees covered the pond, shielding it off from everything else.

“Hey, Charlotte, wanna do something fun?” Meredith said.

Charlotte nodded even though she was already having the time of her life. With the acceptance, the woman let go of Charlotte’s hand and dropped her in the pond.

Water enclosed around Charlotte, but she was not panicked. The touch reminded her of the strong male arms that used to embrace her. So unlike the harsh touches of her mother after a few drinks. The water was at such a perfect temperature and brought such a calming sensation to the little girl. Her clothes clung to her tiny body and fish swam to her and tickled her nose. Finally, coming up for air she looked to the sky, seeing the woman smiling down at her.

“Will you not come down and play too?” Charlotte questioned.

“No, this is all you,” smiled Meredith. “Have fun.”

With that Charlotte played her little heart out for the rest of the afternoon in the pond, smiling and humming the whole time.

Later that day, Meredith and Charlotte lay on the soft grass looking out into the vast forest. All was quiet and still in the small utopia and all that could faintly be heard was the humming of Charlotte’s soft song. “Ring around the rosy, pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”

“Is that your favorite song?” The woman said looking over at Charlotte with her wings encasing her tiny body in a cocoon.

Charlotte had to think about that question for a second. She prodded her mind thinking about the answer. “Yes, ever since I can remember I’ve always known it and sung it to myself. I remember a man singing it to me when I was a baby. But those could just be dreams. That’s what Mommy says anyway; that I can’t remember that kind of stuff. But I remember him rocking me in his arms and singing that song all of the time.”

The woman only smiled sadly in response as if she knew something Charlotte did not and looked out into the small world again. “Oh child,” she said in a small voice. “The world is a beautiful place, but beauty is danger. Here you will never have to fear anything and you can come here anytime you want. One day you will be here forever. Would you like that?”

“Oh yes,” Charlotte smiled. “I would love that very much.”

“Then it will be so.” The woman smiled happily and reached over, pulling Charlotte into her embrace. “Now sleep child. We’ll have more fun tomorrow night.”

“But I don’t wanna yet,” though even as she said it the child had begun to drift off. Hums of Ring around the Rosy clouded her mind and warm hands shook her awake.

* * * *

“Charlotte, honey, wake up. You’re talking in your sleep again,” Charlotte’s mom rocked her gently awake.

“Oh Mommy, I had the greatest dream tonight!” Charlotte exclaimed.

“Really, baby girl? The same dream that had the little woman with wings?”

“Yeah, but oh, this time she took me to a pond and we played with fishes. We also talked about the man that we talk about sometimes.”

“Oh really?” A sad look crossed her mother’s face, but left quickly leaving no trace it was ever there. Her mom lay next to her on her small bed. “Want to tell me the whole story?”

Charlotte took a deep breath not knowing where to begin and smiled, excited to recount the night she had in the mystical forest. “Well there was a door…”

The Reincarnation Continuum

By Emily Fisher (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

The crash happened so quickly, I barely had time to take a breath before my car flipped.

I’ve always hated the emergency sirens ambulances play. The calls of the ringing in the distance brought a certain reminiscence inside me that sojourned for a while, until I decided the memories overstayed their welcome, and I reach for the cigarettes in the dashboard’s glove-compartment. Menthols had always provided a sense of serenity ever since Mom died. When the paramedics took her from the crash scene years ago, they took a part of me with them. As the paramedics come for me now, I can hear my mother’s voice above all the sirens, serenading me into my last sleep.

The paramedics dragged me out of the car and began attaching me to a gurney and shoving IVs in the arm. Tears blurred my vision, making the carnage indistinct. Not that I wanted to see it anyway, but I watched my 2015 Chevy Malibu twist and burn away through swollen eyes. On the short ride to the hospital, I could feel myself falling in and out of consciousness. The Emergency Room was filled with somber faces and doctors sprinting from room to room.

“She’s losing blood fast, we need to get her into an intensive care unit now!”

Dark crimson stains seeped into the clean white sheets on the hospital bed. A thousand questions and orders were yelled to one another, doctors scurried into my room, their faces scorn. The lights above me began to intensify, burning my eyes. Even as I closed them tightly, the vehement rays burned me, consuming me. A feeling deep in my chest curdled my blood. The light lifted me, and when I awoke, I was in yet another unfamiliar terrain.

Sparse, tall oak trees surrounded me. I left the summer behind me, the leaves have fallen and the autumn air chilled my skin. I stood and began down the path that was cleared. The path looked as though it could go on forever, the twists and turns covered with the shadows of the trees. A calm essence of gardenia flowers filled the air, soothing my worries. I stopped for the slightest second, only for the sound of crunching leaves to reveal I was certainly not alone. I turned, and a man in a suit was sprinting my way. I hurried away, running as fast as I could go, twisting down the path and nearly tripping. A sharp left turn led me to a wooden door. It was connected to what looked like an old wooden shack that was decaying. The handle was the only thing that seemed to be in perfect condition- it didn’t rust and deteriorate like the rest of the house did. Its golden glow gleamed in the sunlight, looking brand new. Before I could enter the house, a hand laid upon my shoulder and turned me.

“Why are you following me? What is your name?” I asked suspiciously.

“I could ask you the same. I have a lot of names that originate from many different people, many different places. My importance fluctuates with whomever you ask. I’ve walked in the shoes of nearly everyone.”

As confusing as he sounded, his voice flowed with formality and grace. He didn’t stutter when he spoke, and his gaze was captivating.

“What is your name?” he asked, his interest struggling to be contained.

“I’m Emily Fisher.”

“Not once you go through the door, you are not Emily anymore. When you pass away, there is no end. There is no paradise or punishment. There is no sin, or any good service that will guarantee you into a city above the clouds where the angels fly and sing songs of prosperity. Hell is just a figment of imagination. Religion is a mere pastime and just another set of rules that someone chooses to follow. There is only reincarnation into life, and lives to be lived.”

“Who am I?”

“You are a part of the reincarnation continuum, as am I and everyone else. Those who enter through the door forget their past lives and accept being reincarnated into a new life. I have experienced many things, and so will you. Betrayal, loss, heartbreak, fame, racism, wealth, tragic lives and beautiful ones too. You have just begun your journey. You will soon be reincarnated into another life. And one day, you shall experience all life has to offer.”

“What will I experience next?”

“You will only know, once you enter the house of reincarnation.”

And with that, he opened the old, wooden door and told me to enter.

What Lies Beneath?

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

“Hello?” called out a quiet, broken voice. It slowly started to hit Aurora that running away didn’t seem as great as before. She knew at home there were dishes to clean, a drunken father on the couch, and screaming brothers, though what was here? The lack of leaves on the massive trees were even more unsettling to her. She was alone, but for once in her life there was no bickering about why mom wasn’t home or why she took all the money. It was just quiet. Aurora didn’t know if she wanted to smile or panic, but she had to sit down, on her feet she seemed to tilt from all of the things she was trying to understand. There was no sun and no moon, the sky just seemed black so she stared into the abyss of the night until her eyes shut. She could fall into a new life, a life that wasn’t her own.

Morning crept into the sky sending shades of purples and pinks into the dead forest. Aurora found it to be incredibly beautiful, but with the sun up things seemed different. The trees looked bigger, uncomfortably bigger. She stood up, brushed off her pants, and turned to take in her surroundings. She turned to the left of her, there was a dandelion, ordinarily that would never be a problem until she was looking up at it as if it were a tree. Aurora began to panic. She wasn’t sure what to do.

A voice came out of nowhere shouting, “We found her! We found her!”

The chanting was followed by another unfamiliar voice “She’s awake, and weird looking”

“Is it a she?” the first voice called back.

“Yes, I’m a girl!” yelled Aurora before seeing what she was yelling at.
From behind a bush two large animals emerged. She knew she should probably run, but before she could even take a step she was lifted into the air. She screamed. She was flying through the air, falling into a patch of flowers. The flowers were laughing. This wasn’t happening. She couldn’t believe this.

“Knock it off,” came another voice unaccompanied by a face

Behind a patch or underbrush, that suddenly seemed like a forest in itself, a creature appeared. Aurora could not positively identify what this thing was right away, but she was pretty sure it was a fairy. It had long paper thin wings that appeared torn or burned and it’s skin was tinted a green with dark charcoal symbols or words, she wasn’t really sure, but it looked branded into the skin. Aurora thought she ought to scream, but her voice was caught in her throat nothing but a squeak came out. She closed her eyes tight as the thing came closer to her.

“What a pretty face,” said the supposed fairy as it traced a cold finger down Aurora’s jaw line. “What a shame would it be if something were to happen to it.”

“Get away from me,” Aurora said in an attempt to sound strong, but her voice was barely a whisper.

The fairy laughed. “Vivian, we have to go,” the creature turned her head to her subject.
“Are you Vivian?” Aurora said.

“Do not speak to me, and walk. We have many things to do,” Vivian said to Aurora.

Aurora didn’t move nor did she open her eyes. Vivian’s face turned red, “Now!” she screamed.

Aurora took a wobbly step forward. “Come on Miss, I’ll help you,” Aurora turned to see who was talking to her. Her knees gave out when she saw a rabbit standing on it’s hind legs, holding out his front paw for her. The rabbit caught her and led her into the forest. The walk seemed long. For what seemed to be hours Aurora just started at her feet. She kept considering if she could run, but where would she go? She couldn’t be more than 6 inches tall, if even that. This problem left her being dragged through a forest with giant trees and giant flowers by a rabbit.

Hours passed and day light drifted away when the traveling stopped. Aurora looked around, and was puzzled due to the fact that they were still in the middle of nowhere and she was tired. Vivian moved her hand back and forth as it wiping a window and a door began to appear.

“Hello Vivian. Welcome home,” said a deep monotone voice.

Startled by a face that rested on the door, Aurora looked back down at her feet.

“Hey, Pete,” Vivian said. “I got another one here. These doofuses say she’s the right girl so we’re gonna head to the chamber.”

“Well, come on in.”

Aurora had so many questions, but was too frightened to ask. Vivian took her to a castle that towered over the other homes and shops of the village. She lead Aurora inside, for the other animals had left. She had found safety in the rabbit and not having him arose more fear.

“This is where the queen lives,” said Vivian.

“Is she your queen?” Aurora asked.

“Yes, and she is yours so I expect you to show respect.”

Aurora felt Vivian had become nicer to her than before, but fear still screamed inside her that she should run.

“Remove your clothes,” Vivian demanded.

“Pardon me?” Aurora’s face flushed red, “What did you just say to me?”

“Take your clothes off.”

“I will not!” screamed Aurora.

“Do it,” said Vivian in a quiet growl. “I could just kill you now.”

Aurora didn’t know if that were true, but she wasn’t going to sit around and find out. She removed her shoes and her socks and laid them in front of Vivian. She took of her jeans and her face turned completely red. She removed her shirt and threw it to the ground.

“You’ll have to get rid of those to,” said Vivian looking at Aurora’s undergarments.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Aurora said, completely completely uncomfortable by the exposure. Vivian did not have the face of someone that was kidding, so Aurora took off the rest of her clothes and used her hands to try and cover herself as much as possible.

“Go inside. Someone will be back for you soon.”

Aurora went inside the room with her head down. She hoped no one had witnessed that. The room was so much bigger than she had imagined it would be. She sat on a large bed that was covered in beautiful blankets and pillows that welcomed her like a friendly smile. She laid down and wrapped herself in a silk blanket. She started thinking about her brothers, wondering what they are doing right now. She actually missed them. Although her thoughts were quickly interrupted with her body’s call for sleep.

A loud banging on the door jerked Aurora from a deep sleep. She stood up, dragging the blanket in front of her. She pulled back the door where a small green creature dressed in silver armor was waiting for her.

“Well, hello,” she said with a smile trying not to freak out.

“I’m here to take you to the gown room,” said the little slimy creature handing her a soft gold robe.

She nodded her head said stepping outside, and putting on the robe. The little green guy took her to a room filled with elegant, amazing dresses from wall to wall. She ran her fingers along the many fabrics.

“I’m gonna have to get you fitted for a dress, ma’am,” said a man the emerged from a pile of even more dresses.

Aurora felt like she recognized this man, but she didn’t know how. She shoved the feeling aside and let him direct her to a platform for her to stand on. He helped her up and told her to hold out her arms. She did as she was told.

“My name’s Aurora,” she said

“I know who you are,” he said looking up at her face. “My name’s Antonio.”

“How do you know me?”

“You’re the princess,” he said, casually handing her a dress.

“The what?” Aurora asked completely confused. “You have got to be kidding. No, you’re wrong. I already know this is all a dream. You’re all in my head. This isn’t real. I just have to wake up.”

“Go behind there to get changed,” Antonio said pointing to a fold screen.

She did what he said. “What do you mean that I am a princess?” she continued with the questions.

“I’m not the one to explain it to you,” he said. “You will be filled in later, ma’am”

Aurora stepped from behind the curtain. She looked into a mirror to see herself. She was wearing a beautiful, floor length, lavender gown. Her mouth dropped, and all of a sudden pieces of blurry memories, or dreams she couldn’t tell, were flashing through her mind. She didn’t know what it meant or what they were. She grew dizzy and fell to the ground.

She tried opening her eyes and getting up, but there was a throbbing in her head. She could faintly make out voices.

“She’s starting to remember,” it was the guy that had given her the dress.

“Tisk tisk. We can’t have that,” came a female voice that Aurora recognized and she was filled with fear and uncertainty.

“Vivian just let her be. She is harmless.”

“She doesn’t deserve what is truly mine.”

“It isn’t yours,” Antonio screamed.

“Well it should be! What does a child know about running a kingdom?”

“She deserves to be told the truth,” Antonio said in a softer tone.

Aurora’s heart dropped. She laid as still as possible until she heard Vivian storm out of the room. She attempted to get back on her feet.

“Here let me help you,” called Antonio.

“I’m fine,” Aurora said coldly, pulling her arm away, but she lost balance. She fell back down to her knees and finally started crying. “I just want to go home.”

“You have so much to learn. Please let me help you,” Antonio said in a soft voice. Aurora did not argue. She was so tired so he went to help her up.

Aurora was sent back to the room she had first been brought to, and not long after Vivian was at her door. A soft knock came, but she didn’t wait for a response before entering. She held a tray with a glass of water and a small sandwich. Aurora was sitting in bed crying. Vivian came over and sat the tray on a nightstand.

“Oh, poor thing, don’t cry,” she said.

“I just want to go home,” Aurora answered in sobs.

“Here, drink this,” Vivian said handing her a drink.

Aurora took the drink and thanked Vivian. She took a sip and within seconds the glass fell from her hands and she dropped back on to the pillow that rested behind her. Her eyes slipped back into her head as blood trickled down her chin.

Vivian rose from the bed and smiled.

What Lies Beneath?

By Gavin Sekel (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” Jack blurted out. The entire room looked at him. Everyone was meeting in the cafeteria to discuss opening the door.

“Jack, it is broken,” Tom whispered to him. “We’re running out of supplies.” He had been good friends with Jack since they took cover there.

“We don’t know what will be out there,” Jack continued to say to the crowd.

“The books say it should be safe for human life out there now,” a voice came from the people. They had been left books to tell them how to live over the years. “It has been twenty-five years since the bombs dropped.” The crowd began to roar in argument.

“Come with me,” Jack said to Tom as he began to push through the crowd.

“Where are we going?” Tom asked.

“They’re going to open that door no matter what I say. We need to be ready,” Jack answered.

When they made their way back to Jack’s room, Tom waited as his friend flipped up his bed. Underneath was a safe.

“The door will be opened in exactly one hour,” the loudspeaker echoed along the metal walls of the hallway outside the room. “We advise everyone to stay calm and return to your rooms…”

“Take this,” Jack said, handing Tom a revolver. He had one for himself too. “We should find some better weapons once we get out. Tom, it’s going to be dangerous out there.”

“I believe you, Jack. I’ll stick by you,” Tom said. Jack gave him a head nod and the two headed for the vault door.

The hallways were chaotic. People were running to hide in their rooms or to get ready to see the outside world. Tom and Jack waited at the vault door as the hour went by. A large group of people slowly gathered to wait with them.

Jack noticed a young boy standing with his father. He thought about how that kid had never seen the outside world before so he walked over to him and knelt down.

“Here bud,” Jack said to him and handed him a pair of glasses.

“What are these?” the boy asked.

“They’re sun glasses. The outside is going to be brighter than anything you’ve ever seen,” Jack replied.

“Thank you,” the boy said with a smile. He put the glasses on and looked excitedly up at his father.

When the hour was up, three men arrived. Jack knew the one man quite well. His name was Jared. His hands shook as he approached the panel next to the door. He typed in a code and a box on the wall opened. Inside was a red lever that had WARNING written on it. Jared turned to look at all the people waiting and locked eyes with Jack who shook his head. With a deep breath, he pulled the lever down. There was a loud crackling noise in the wall and the door slowly swung open. The sunlight poured in and the whole crowd took a step back. They all held up their hands to cover their eyes.

Jack was the first to climb up through the door. He sniffed at the air and looked down at the soil. It was dry and cracked. The outside rang with noise. Tom stepped out next to him.

“Hello, old friend,” Tom said with a smile. He breathed in the fresh air.

Jack turned back to Jared. “This door needs to be kept shut at all times. We don’t know what’s out here and we don’t want anything getting in. I will knock three times when we get back. Be ready for us,” Jack announced. Jared nodded and closed the door.

“Well, let’s do this,” Tom said. The two men walked through the woods. It was different than they remembered. It held less life. They walked on through the dust and the trees. A feeling came slowly up from inside of both of them. They wondered what knew things would come into their lives.

Jack stopped and noticed something sticking out from the soil. The sun reflected off of it. He bent down and realized it was a sort of knife made from scrap metal and fabric. A shiver spread through his body.

“Jack,” Tom whispered. Jack looked up to see Tom staring off at something. Rising to his feet, he saw what it was. Multiple statues stood twenty feet tall in an opening in the woods. They were made from sticks and hay. A few of them represented humans and another looked like some type of four-legged animal.

“Something must have built those. Just like they made this,” Jack whispered showing Tom the knife. “They almost look like scarecrows. I think we’re the crows.”

At the same time they noticed a house made from scrap wood and metal built in a tree across the opening. It was small. The door was only a few feet tall. They began to notice other houses in the trees as well.

“The world has changed, Tom,” Jack said as they began to back away slowly. “We need to get back to the vault and tell them about this.”

“I agree. We need to figure out what to do about this,” Tom replied.

They began to run back to the vault but stopped after they thought they were a safe distance from the tree houses and statues. Along the way they noticed a few strange animals. One of them looked like a normal rabbit, but it had yellow spots throughout its fur.

“This world holds a lot for us to learn. There’s a lot of opportunity out there. We must be careful though,” Tom said. “We needed to open the door though. You know that don’t you?”

“I know we did. There are just so many things we are going to have to face now,” Jack answered. “We have no idea what’s out here. Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe it’s safe.”

Arriving back at the vault, Jack knocked three times on the door. It remained shut though. He looked at Tom with concern. They couldn’t hear any movement inside.

Once more, he knocked three times.

What Lies Beneath?

By Carly Bondrowski (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Adeline ran from her house until she couldn’t anymore. Everyone there seemed to be fighting. There she was, stranded in the middle of the woods with nowhere left to turn. The door, embedded on the side of a hill, was pulling Adeline in with curiosity. Adeline yanked on the door and she barely pulled it out a centimeter. She tried yanking it again and it pulled open with a loud “WHAM!”. Adeline peeked her head in the door as if she could see something. It seemed to be the same on the inside as it was on the outside so she wandered in. The door slammed behind her. She was locked in and couldn’t get back into the real world anymore. Adeline thought to herself, “No one will miss me anyway, they’re all too busy fighting with each other to realize I am even gone.”

Adeline found one lone path in the woods and began to follow it straight down. She heard the leaves rustle beside her and her eyes widened as her jaw dropped.

“Is someone there? I need to find a way out of here,” Adeline yelled into the woods.

“I don’t know if I can help you with that, but I can help you with a place to stay for the time being,” a voice asked Adeline.

“Why can’t I see you? Are you a ghost? Am I in heaven?” Adeline panicked.

“If you look really closely, you’ll be able to see me. I am right in front of your eyes,” the voice said.

Directly in front of her, Adeline saw a little person. She helped the little person up off the ground and into her hands. This little person had pointed ears, and a pointed hat. She seemed trustworthy because she had no reason to be nice to Adeline other than the kindness of her heart.

“Follow my direction, we’ll be home in no time,” the person said.

As they approached the person’s home, Adeline quickly realized her home would be far too small for her. It was obviously fitted to sleep a tiny person, not a young girl. The size of the fencing was just right for Adeline. It was hollow enough that she could curl into a ball and be comfortable while she slept.

Adeline asked, “What should I call you?”

“Brenda, Brenda will do,” she replied.

“Brenda, do you think I could sleep in the fence around your.. stum- er, I mean, house?”

“Why, yes of course. I noticed you would be too large to sleep in my stump.”

Adeline dropped Brenda off in her stump and she curled into the hollow fencing to sleep for the night. The next morning, Adeline woke up in a panic, unsure of where she was and what was happening. All around her the Earth was shaking. She turned her head to see what was happening and there was a 7-foot tall four-legged animal running towards her. Behind it was a 8-foot tall human looking creature.

Adeline screamed and woke up all the people around her. The people seemed to be annoyed that Adeline woke up the whole village, there was a low mumble with a negative tone. They were used to this kind of thing every morning and since Adeline yelled that way it had brought attention to the people. Now the giant creatures were coming right for Adeline. There was no stopping them now. Adeline began hearing her name being called from far away. It was coming from one of the tall human looking creatures.

“How does this creature know my name?” Adeline thought as it picked her up and ran away with her.

“Help me! Help me! I don’t know what’s happening!” Adeline yelled, wishing Brenda would come save her.

“Adeline! Adeline! Are you going to contribute to this conversation at all?”

Adeline looked up with her brows furrowed and rolled her eyes. She had forgotten all about this fight going on and she had thought about ways to get out of it.

“Whatever, I’m going to bed. I’ve had enough of all this fighting,” Adeline said.

Adeline dreamed that night of the magical place she had thought of that day and wished she could actually escape to there. Unfortunately, every time she went to the woods, the door she imagined was never there. She searched every corner and every path there was and still she found nothing.

Adeline finally decided it was time to give up, when one day she saw it. That exact door, that led to her magical world. As she walked in, she wasn’t sure if she would actually meet the person named Brenda, or sleep in a fence, or get taken by a giant human like creature. Adeline was sure that she would not be coming out of the magical world this time.

She intended on staying there a long, long time.

What Lies Beneath?

By Brandon Saul (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

The teenaged boy’s pale shaky hand reached for the doorknob, but it creaked open itself. He tiptoed into the dark room and the door shut on him. Lights flickered on and there was a dead body on the ground. The boy ran to the door and jiggled the handle. He started to panic and screaming “Help!” and banged on the door with his side.

Soon after he realized it was no use. While looking around the compact room he found what looked to be an elevator switch. The only number there was zero. He hesitated to press it, but he knew it was his only hope. The small room shook as if it was released from hatches. The room dropped and an elevator door opened. The boy took a few steps out. There were lights, shops, and homes everywhere.

“You too, huh?” She grabbed his hand and pulled him along. The boy’s face turned red, his hands started to sweat.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“15, I mean 16, uh… uh… 17.”

“So am I,” she replied.

They approached a small house covered in flowers. They went inside and an old lady approached the boy. “What’s your name, kid?” she asked.

“Damon.”

She turned her head and said to the girl “So he had the same fate as you Serah?”

She replied “Yes.” Then the old lady insisted that she show him to the town’s garden. On their walk Serah explained how she’s been down there for almost two months. Also, that most of the people have lived here most of their lives. They have no way of escaping because the key to the exit is kept by the ruler. They reached the garden.

Serah said “Food has been low recently; we’re all bound to die soon if the ruler keeps taking from us.

Damon became awfully scared, he didn’t want to die.

He said “Why don’t we sneak into the ruler’s home?”

“Many have tried, but the guards kill everyone, it’s nearly impossible.” Damon sighed, “But we’ll die either way so we could try.”

She agreed and they went back to consult the old lady about their plan. Although she thought it was crazy, she agreed they should try. The old lady dug into a closet and pulled out two military outfits.

“These should help protect you if you get hit; supposedly they belonged to my dad.”

The two kids put on the baggy, dark green and light green outfits. Serah was practically tripping over herself so she had to fold them at the ends. The two walked out the door and marched towards the ruler.

There was a protest going on outside the ruler’s house about the food shortage.

Serah said “This should make it easier.”

Damon nodded. They found the furthest vent on the house and crawled inside. They came upon their first entrance. Serah smushed her eyeballs against the vent to check the surroundings. The vent collapsed and she went head first into the floor. Damon jumped down and helped her up and noticed she had a big bump on her forehead.

“Let me lead.” He pressed his ear up to the door to make sure it was clear. He looked at Serah in the eyes as a signal to run. He opened the door and they ran to the ruler’s bedroom at the end of the hallway. There was a safe with a lock on it. Serah took a bobby pin out of her hair and snapped it in half. She pick locked the safe.

Serah snatched the key and said, “There are no vents we can reach, we’ll have to rush by everyone at the front door.”

Damon nodded and they exited the house. Guards from all over pointed their guns to them.

“Halt.”

They ran past them while being fired at. Damon got hit twice in the back, but they managed to make it to the old lady. Serah grabbed her hand, trying to take her with them.

“I’ll only slow you down, please go!”

Damon picked Serah up and ran to the small elevator. He quickly pressed the zero and it started going up. Damon, losing his breath gave out a sigh of relief, and asked “Do you know why there is a dead body here?”

“Probably someone who mistakenly came in here like us, but never pressed the button.”

The elevator hit the top and the dead body moved. Serah unlocked the door and opened it. There was a gun fire followed by a thump. Serah turned to see that Damon was lying face down on the floor. She paused in fear, but then ran away and shut the door behind her.

The lights flickered off.

What Lies Beneath?

Payten Piccioni (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Ignoring her boyfriend’s remarks of how it was childish, she began to grasp the handle of the wooden door before her. It had creaked open at her touch and Cara, one who lived for adventures, walked inside noticing a whole new world. The door shut behind her and locked her boyfriend on the other side. Barely noticing, Cara’s eyes lit up, a smile broke onto her face, excitement coursed through her veins to the orange sky and pink poppy fields. A two feet tall boy wearing a red pointed hat, a blue collared shirt, and pointy toed shoes stood in front of her.

“Follow me, I’ll show you around,” he stated.

She agreed and the two winded their way through shrubbery covered trails and eventually came to a weathered worn bridge with a tiny house built underneath.

“This is where I stop and you have to continue on alone,” he whispered.

Turning around to ask why, she noticed, he had disappeared. Before Cara could put a foot onto the bridge, a fat, spikey haired, pointed nose troll came swaying over to her. She shoved past and the troll dropped to the ground rolling on his stomach. Once over the bridge, her eyes bulged and her eyebrows raised. There were hundreds of moss covered huts stuck between trees, doors ajar, fog covering the ground, but not a soul in sight. Seeing articles of tiny clothing askew on the ground, she realized the gnomes used to live here and did not leave willingly. She twisted further through the village and saw bigger homes that were the size of sheds. The doors were closed and she still saw no one. Opening the door to a wooden little hut, she noticed she could not see anything in front of her.

“You made a mistake walking in here, foolish girl,” a man replied.

A bright flash of light appeared, causing her to lift her arm up to her eyes to block out the light. Slowly she moved her arm down from her face, squinting, and could now see the man. He had a pointed blue hat covered in stars with a long gown to match. The inside of the house was filled with test tubes, erlenmeyer flasks, and different colored liquids in each.

“What the –”.

“Be quiet, you fool,” he seethed.

With his remark, her mouth had glued shut, words muffled. Grabbing at her face, trembling, she locked eyes with the man. Looking away, Cara observed a gnome poison recipe in a potion book. The man mixed different solutions together and put them all in one large basin. Chanting in Latin, he disappeared. While her heart pounded in her ears, her head throbbed, and her legs hammered the ground, as she exited the house, over the troll’s bridge, and back to the gnome’s new village. As she kept running, she hit her head on a branch and darkness overtook her thoughts.

Her eyes snapped open and she was on the other side of the door. Jumping to her feet, Cara called out to her boyfriend.

He strutted over to her and questioned, “What’s on the other side?”

“No time to say, we have to go back and help the gnomes defeat the wizard to stay alive. How long have I been gone?,” she questioned.

“Calm down, you’re talking crazy Cara. You’ve been gone for a couple minutes.”

“That’s not possible I was in there for at least an hour. I talked to a gnome, a wizard, and pushed past a troll.” she exclaims.

“No, I would have called the cops if you had been gone that long. It’s been about two minutes, babe.”

“No,” she mumbled in disbelief.

“Let’s get you home. You should rest.”

Looking behind her, she saw the door start to disappear. Wiggling herself around in his arms, she pushed against him in an attempt to get back to the door.

“The door! it’s disappearing! I have to save the gnomes!”

Her boyfriend, dragged her away and reassured her that the door would be there the next day.

It wasn’t.

What Lies Beneath?

By Sarah Greenleaf (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)

Beyond a wooden door hidden in the crest of a hill, a young dwarf sat twiddling his thumbs while scattering the gravel with weightless kicks. This particular dwarf went by the name Rockson. He was more of a coward than your average scaredy cat, which made his father, King Dwarfmaster, very disappointed. Today, he was going to prove the whole kingdom wrong. A meeting was held in the Hall of Legends, so Rockson figured this would be the perfect time to shine. With a sharpened stick in his hand, he tightened his grip and got ready to show his worth. On the count of three, he leaped out to surprise the others.

“Good god, don’t ever do that, kid.” a dwarf spoke from the crowd. Insults were thrown at him from across the room including,“You’re such a buffoon. A loser to your entire family.” Rockson’s face was so wet with tears, you would think he dunked his face in the ocean. His father came to his rescue, ordering everyone out of the room. The king looked down at his feet, his hands clenched in fists.

“What were you thinking?” his father spoke, gritting his teeth.

“I-I’m sorry father, I just wanted people to be proud of me,” Rockson stuttered. He wiped the tears from his face and looked up at his father. “I just wanted you to be proud.”

“Well son, I’m sorry, but now I’m even angrier,” he admitted, looking into his son’s teary eyes.

“If you want to prove yourself, then I order you to go to the Sinister Forest and bring me back the head of the Dark Creature,” his father exclaimed. Rockson knew who this was, one of the most feared creatures in the east. Rockson thought about this quest for a minute, and then nodded his head.

“I accept the quest, Father,” he said.

“You better make me proud, or I will not hesitate to banish you,” he threatened. Rockson gulped nervously and quickly ran back to this room to gather his necessities. Rockson exited the door, and headed down the trail.

After thirty minutes, he finally made it to a corner. With a sigh of relief, he hummed down the trail and made his way to the forest. Goosebumps arose onto his skin, causing him to shiver. Rockson slid his sword out of its holder, and got ready to attack anything in his way. A rustle erupted from the bushes in front of him, causing Rockson to jolt and slip on the mud. He fell down with a thud. Then, a deer leaped from the bushes over his head and left Rockson to lay in pain.

“Ugh, stupid deer.” Rockson groaned. A throbbing pulse came from his abdomen, causing him to squirm in agony. Lifting his jacket, he saw a stick jabbed into his stomach. A scream of pain was fighting to come out, but Rockson knew if he did, the creatures would come to tear him to shreds. He breathed heavily in and out, gripping his hand around the stick. He had only one choice if he were to continue, and that was to rip out the stick.

“Okay Rockson, you can do this, on the count of three,” he reassured himself.

“One,” he said. His grip became tighter around the end of the stick.

“Two,” he counted. His other hand picked up a rag from his pack, and shoved it in his mouth.

“Three.” He screamed. Rockson yanked the stick out, a ripping pain running up his stomach. Tears brimmed in his eyes, his face scrunching up from the pain and multiple groans erupted from his mouth. He quickly grabbed the rag from his mouth and placed it over the wound. All of a sudden, Rockson’s vision went blurry, and the world before him faded black.

 

Rockson woke up in a hut with incense filling his nostrils. He coughed and then a lady appeared from behind a screen.

“Hello there,” the lady greeted. She brought over a cup filled with fresh water.

“Drink up, you have a long way ahead of you,” she reminded him. He abruptly got out of bed, but a stabbing pulse in his stomach made him fall back.

“Be careful with that wound of yours, it still needs time to heal,” she told him.

“Well, how much time?” Rockson asked.

“Three days,” she replied.

“Three days!” he shouted in disbelief.

“Well you can’t defeat the Dark Creature in your state. You’d be dead before you could even scratch him” she stated. He sighed in annoyance, hoping that if he rested enough, he’d be better by tomorrow. Rockson laid his head on the pillow and rested his eyes for the troublesome days to come.

 

When he woke again, his stomach still felt sore, but he got up to get used to his surroundings. He peeked through the screen from where Penny had went. He saw her talking to a man, but he was much taller and muscular, with sideburns bigger than the moon.

“Listen, I don’t care if he’s innocent. I saw him in the Sinister Forest,” the man said.

“But he’s injured, Sarge. You can’t go in there and execute him,” Penny exclaimed with anger.

“Maybe he shouldn’t have been trying to kill me,” the man named Sarge shouted. He left in a flash and Penny started pacing around the room, while anxiously biting her fingernails. Without thinking twice, Rockson vaulted over the bed and barreled through the door. He winced from the pain in his stomach and fell down the stairs. Pushing up with his arms, he got back to his feet, and clutched his wound. Rockson ran into the thick of the woods, and he climbed into a tree hole to wait out the night.

 

In the morning, Rockson awoke to his stomach growling. While starting the fire, he scanned the area to see if any creatures lay nearby for him to devour. In the brush, he spotted a rabbit. Taking his sword in hand, he threw it towards the rabbit and claimed his meal. After cooking, his stomach continued to growl. “Huh, that’s strange. I just ate minutes ago.” Rockson exclaimed. However, it seemed that the noise had come from something behind him. He turned to see that a towering wolf-like creature stood over him.

“The Dark Creature.” Rockson mumbled.

“Why yes indeed it is I, the Dark Creature,” the Dark Creature stated. “Unfortunately, I think we both know where this leads to.”

“I guess so, but I’m almost certain I will be taking your head home.” Rockson said.

“Ha ha, I guess we’ll see little one,” the Dark Creature chuckled. The Dark Creature unsheathed his claws and snarled allowing the drool in his snout to drip to the mossy ground. They both intensely stared at one another, before Rockson lunged from his position and thrusted his sword at the creature’s stomach. The Dark Creature gripped the sword before it impacted and threw it to the ground with a supernatural force.

“Oh, it seems you have to fight unarmed now. How unfortunate.” the Dark Creature taunted.

Rockson bared his own snaggled teeth and sprinted towards the creature. The creature effortlessly put out his hand and casually gripped it onto Rockson’s head. Rockson now being frustrated thought of the only way to escape his grip. With all of his force, he stomped his foot down onto the creature’s foot. Howling in pain, the Dark Creature fell back on the ground causing the ground to shake. Rockson reacquired his sword, and kneeled over his prize.

“Oh, it seems you have to have your head sliced off. How unfortunate.” Rockson mocked him. He jabbed his sword into the creature’s neck, and began slowly cutting through the flesh.

“Just….tell….them……I’m……sorry for…..being…..me.” the Dark Creature coughed. The Dark Creature heaved in and out before taking his finals breaths of life.

“Well, I’m sorry, too,” Rockson sighed.

Placing the wolf-like creature’s head in his pack, he headed back to his kingdom to be honored with celebration., even if he felt the weight of guilt resting on his shoulders.