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.”

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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.