I am trapped inside of a box. There are no windows or doors, no furniture, there is nothing inside of this box except sight and smell and sound and touch. I am lonely, in the box. The box is hard to get out of, and no objects can get in. Only sight, sound, smell. Only a bright light, an unusual cough, a wet dog, shaking its fur. Every break in the pattern, a pause in the parade, every small thing that is out of place gets inside of the box. Every honking car, every discolored leaf, is amplified times a thousand, and I can hear things a mile away that no one else can–but I can’t tell if it’s one mile away or right in front of my face. Sights, sounds, smells sometimes blur together until I can’t distinguish one from the next. There is no depth perception, in the box. There is only what happens and what doesn’t.

Stuff doesn’t come out of the box very well either. Words are thick and slur together. It’s hard to form sentences, thoughts. Concentration comes harder, but I have to concentrate on things because otherwise I’d never be able to do anything. The box would stop me, so I. Need. To. Concentrate. It helps me beat the box out of my way. The box will never die, but I am going to get out. I’m only nine, after all. Grown-ups are all normal, so I think that by the time I’ve grown up I’ll be out of the box.

Momma tells me the box has a name. She tells me it makes me worse, that I’m not like everyone else. Momma doesn’t like me. Momma’s never told me she loves me, just because I’m different. She tells my brother and sister all the time that she loves them. I wish she would try to listen to me, but when she does I can never get words out. The box isn’t a part of me. If I can concentrate, hard enough, I can beat the box out of my way and show momma that there is a good side to her little boy, too–not just a boy that’s fighting an invisible enemy. But I can’t tell her. The box stops me. I want to make her proud, but it’s hard when I don’t know anything. I’m not smart or strong. I can’t learn because I have trouble seeing and hearing, and if I did learn, how would I tell anyone? The box stops that from happening. The box is my enemy. But I will defeat it.

Some days the box makes me not able to say what I want and no one ever understands me. On those days I just scream. It doesn’t help. I don’t know if anything helps.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get out. Please help me.



My hands shook from cold. The breath I blew froze as soon as it hit the freezing cold air. I sat, frozen, unmoving, hearing my heart pound inside of my chest. Seconds grew, stretched, passed. I squinted through the trees, trying to make something, anything out, but the glare from the snow seemed to blind me. My stomach growled. How much longer? I wondered. Hopefully not too long. I gripped the long, sharp spear that I had made out of a stick and a rock in one hand, a silvery kitchen knife in the other. There. I saw it. A deer, about twenty yards away. Alone. Head up, listening. I held my breath and slowly began to move my spear. In one fluid motion, I threw the spear and jumped down from the tree I was sitting in. I heard a thunk as the spear hit the deer, and I dropped into the snow and rolled, covering my deerskin coat in white powder. I had hit the deer in the chest. It limped, staggered, and I slit its throat with a knife. We were eating tonight!

When I got back from the hunt, cheers erupted. A group of about twenty boys and girls between the ages of eight and thirty gathered around, staring at my prized possession. I grinned.

“I got one.” I said. The cheers erupted again and I smiled. I handed it off to Sophia, a twelve-year-old who pulled her brown hair back and began to gut and carve the deer. Tai, a boy who couldn’t have been past the age of ten, flicked a lighter and started us a nice fire. Our lone thirty-year-old blew the flames, many helped Sophia hack legs off of the deer, trying to get as much useable meat as we could. Everyone pitched in when I made a kill, everyone except for me. I sat at the edge of the campfire while our crew–no, my crew–talked and chatted and gutted a deer. Not the best of lives, but a happy one. I slowly pulled out a rag and cleaned the blood off of my spear, and then began sharpening the spear head with a knife.

“Hey,” I heard, next to me. The newest member of our crew, eighteen-year-old Brett, was walking up to me. Though he was new, he had already proved useful. Before he had been forced to join us, he had been quite the thief. “I wanted to say thank you,” he said, running a hand through his hair. Dark brown, like mine. But that was where the similarities ended and the differences began. Like most of the people in my crew, Brett was older than me–by two years. I don’t know how I got picked as the leader, but it happened. Maybe because I was good at hunting, or because I was reasonable, or maybe because I was so young; easy to manipulate. Only sixteen and leading a group of twenty people, I was bound to need some help. “I didn’t have a lot before… you know, I ran away. And at first, it was hard. I mean living on your own… it’s difficult, and dangerous, and I would’ve died if you hadn’t picked me up. So thank you. Thank you for that.” He sat next to me, a deer hoof in his hand, carving it with a knife. I’m not sure what he intended to use the hoof for, but we tried to salvage everything we could out of every animal we killed–even squirrels and chipmunks.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “Do you mind if I ask… what’s your, like, backstory? Where did you come from?” I was always tentative asking this question, but normally it was something that they actually wanted to talk about.

Brett paused a bit before he spoke. “I think… I think I’m like most of the kids here, you know. My parents weren’t abusive, but they’re alcoholics. They used to fight. They’d be gone for weeks without telling me. When child services was going to pick me up…” Brett shook his head, like he was remembering some terrible things. “I’ve known some people who grew up in orphanages and foster homes, and I didn’t want to be like any of them. So I ran, and you guys found me.”

“If you’re eighteen, why did child services come for you? Aren’t you a technical adult?” I asked.

“Well, when I ran away, I was twelve. I was on my own for a few years–I lived with my aunt for three years in Texas, and then I just kind of got a job and lived in a kind of cardboard box thing. Scrounging, you know. Wasn’t fun.”

I smiled. “Well welcome to the group, Brett. I hear you’ll be quite useful.”

He grinned back. “Thanks.” Then he left. His smile had been so real, so genuine, that I had almost told him the truth. That I was not like him, or the others, that I was not on the run from abusive parents or spouses or child services. I was on the run from my friends, sure. But only because every human being that ever knew me wanted to turn me in to the police.


There isn’t really much to the story, so I’m not sure why I’m telling it. But if you want to know how I got where I was, here it is.

It happened on a Tuesday, while I was working out at the gym like the devastatingly handsome young man that I am. I was eighteen, waiting for something interesting to happen in my life, when they approached me. Two men in black suits who at first I had thought were from Men in Black, but quickly discounted the idea on the fact that I assume that Men in Black does not exist, and aside from that they were wearing gray ties.

“Agent Cooper,” the first agent said, holding out a badge for me to see. “And this is our newest trainee, Agent Miller.” Agent Miller started fumbling around at something inside of his suit, then pulled it out and showed me his badge. He then dropped his badge very professionally and had to stoop over to pick it up. Agent Cooper shook his head.

“Are you William Roberts?” He asked.

“It depends,” I answered, “Are you from Men in Black? Because any scenario in which I get to meet Will Smith–”

“Drop the sarcasm,” Agent Cooper interrupted me with.

“Ah, like your very professional agent Miller!” I said. “Glad to know that y’all are protecting Earth from the aliens.” I rolled my eyes.

“Drop. The. Sarcasm.” Agent Cooper enunciated every single word.

I pretended to fumble with something and then caught it. “Awww, I caught it.” I shrugged and rolled my eyes. “That sucks, doesn’t it?”

Agent Cooper went red in the face, which made me smile. “Mr. Roberts, I’m from the FBI. Your failure to comply can lead to spending a night in jail. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

There was a long pause, somewhere in which I uttered something very vulgar that made Agent Miller jump.

“Fine. What do you want?”

“We would like to offer you this pamphlet,” said Agent Cooper, and then he turned and left.

I threw the pamphlet away later that day.

Long story short, they kept coming up to me and asking me. Again and again. Would you like this job, Mr Roberts? And it was always no, AGENT whomever! And then the day of the job interview came… and I thought sure, why not? It’ll give them a laugh, and me, too.

And that’s how I ended up in that room, looking at a paper that asked me why do you want this job, Will?

Addison 3

Addy prepped. This was all she did now, prepping and waiting. Her friends had long since left her, and here she was alone. In her room. But it was OK this way, or Addy tried to tell herself it was. Genius is never recognized in its own time, and Addy wouldn’t be either. Meg didn’t talk to her anymore since she punched KC over a sandwich. Trent avoided eye contact, and KC… KC didn’t do much of anything anymore. He just sat around. He didn’t talk to Addy anymore, but then again he didn’t talk to anyone else.

Addy’s grades had gone down. She stopped brushing her hair weeks ago, her teeth soon followed, she barely showered or even slept or ate. Everything took too much time away from what she was doing. She was becoming a superhero, and she had made herself an arsenal. She had a suit–leather with a silk cape and high boots. It was uncomfortable, but she looked good. No, not good, she looked powerful and capable of making a change. Of course people were worried about her, but they didn’t have to know she was stockpiling machine guns and grenades. They didn’t have to know that she always carried knives now, that she was finally practicing again after having earned her black belt three years ago. They didn’t have to know how many people she planned to kill, all they needed to know was that after she was done, the world would change. Addy had a plan. And it was a good plan, a great plan to save the world. A plan that could save the world, at least, if everything worked out. Addy was confident in most of the stuff she was working on, but there were a few loose ends to tie up. She could save the world from people with evil intentions, who killed without sight or purpose. Like the people who had killed her dad long ago–a teacher, murdered in a school shooting. Addy could take those people out of the world and discourage new ones from popping up and if she could do that wasn’t it a crime to not do it? To not take this chance to change the world?

Addy went to school the next day a little confused–kind of smelly, wrinkled and looking sickly. She sat at her desk, which now was on the opposite side of the room as KC, Trent and Meg, and sat down, rifling through her books. She didn’t need those people any more. She looked up at the person who was sitting next to her. He was new, she’d never met him before, but he was definitely cute and for the first time in months, Addy forgot about her plan. “Hey,” the guy said, holding out his hand, “I’m Max.”

Ella 2

“A job?” I asked, trying not to let my voice crack. It did.

“Yes, honey, a job,” the woman said, rolling her eyes, “a good paying job, too, better than the one you have in that factory. It’s a win-win here, and I have about a thousand documents to sign, so could we PLEASE hurry up here, hun, just a yes or a no.” the woman clicked her tongue and adjusted her winged glasses.

“I… uh…” not working in the factory with the creepy dudes any more was an obvious win for me. But trading that in for twenty armor-clad swat agents? I didn’t think so. “I think–”

“She’ll take it,” Max answered.

“What?” I asked him. I had been about to decline the job. Why did he want me to take it?

“El, you speak Spanish fluently. You can defend yourself. You’re smart and sharp like mom. And you’ll get some money, El, and that’s what a person like you deserves. To make money and be awesome. I would take it, if I were you.” Even after he stopped talking I still stared at him, trying to look directly into his soul. He stared right back.

The woman, who had been staring at Max as well, decided that this was the time for more information. “May I mention that it’s not a guaranteed job. You’ll have to pass an Initiation, which is just a written and physical test. But then yes, if you pass, you’ll have the job.”


About a half hour later, I sat at a round white desk with three other people–most of whom looked older than me. There was a girl with brown hair who looked as ripped as any dude I’ve ever seen, a lanky guy with bright orange hair and glasses, and the real competition–a twenty-year-old freshly-graduated-with-a-criminology-degree man whom I later learned was named Will. He had dark black hair and stark green eyes. I was going to crush him.

“You will see in front of you there are four sheets of paper. This is the first written test,” said the same woman who had burst into my house unannounced. “You have half an hour. Please use the number two pencils in front of you only, no pens or anything. And above all, no cheating, because I. Will. See. You.” she made eye contact with each one of us as she said the last four words. I cringed a bit in my seat. “Go.”

The other three turned their papers over instantly, but I hesitated, unsure. Looking back on it, I’m not sure what I was unsure of, but it was important enough that I had a split second of hesitation before grabbing it and flipping it over. On it, there was one simple question.

Why do you want this job, Ella?

It had my name on it and everything. I looked at my competition, writing furiously on their white papers, and then looked back at my own. Why did I want this job? What about it seemed to appeal to me? I mean sure, I hadn’t really signed up for it, but I did want this job and I wanted to crush the competition to a pulp. I could have said no at any point. I could have backed out, but I didn’t. What was keeping me here?

I waited for inspiration. And waited. And waited. I tapped my pencil on the table, which appeared to be plastic. I didn’t know why I wanted this job. Why on Earth did I stay?

I glanced at the clock on the wall, a round thing with a black border. Fifteen minutes left. What would I write?

I don’t want this job, my paper began, I need it. When I was little my dad left, and my family was poor and alone. We lived in a cardboard box, and all we had was each other. And then my mom left, and all me and my brother Max had was each other. And that was it. That was all we needed, at that time in our lives, to survive, to make it to the next day. But now, my hand started hurting and I flicked my wrist a bitwe need more than that. When you’re a kid, it’s easy to survive on your own because people pity you. But now that we’re grown-up I still held on to the hope that these people didn’t know I was sixteen, not twenty, it’s getting harder. So what I’m telling you is this–I don’t want this job. I want to be at home, with my family, snuggled under a blanket watching reruns of Seinfeld. I want to be going to school and making friends and having fights with my over-protective brother. But that option was ripped away from me by my dad, and my mom. And the only person who has stood by me all this time is my brother Max. I don’t want this job. I’m taking this opportunity because a brother who will stand by his little sister through everything–the time I had pneumonia and we couldn’t afford a hospital trip, the time I punched him because he got fired from his job and we couldn’t eat, the time I was chased by a cop and he had to save me. A brother who can not only withstand and endure that but also never get angry, never raise his voice, and always be back to hug me when I was hungry or angry or confused or sad, a brother like that deserves a better life than the one we got. So I don’t want this job. I’m taking it to repay a debt. I’m taking it to give someone what they deserve. I’m taking it to slap the devil in the face and tell him that he can’t always win and make the good people lose. I’m taking this job for my brother.

That was it. That was all the writing I could muster in those fifteen minutes. Sure it wasn’t the best paper if I wanted to actually get this job, but it was honest and true and from my heart and if they didn’t give me the job then so what? I could always take another job for my brother if I needed. I wasn’t sure it would make up for the pay this job had (the woman had told me at our apartment and holy heck it was a lot of money) but it would be something. Next, for the physical exam.


I watched her sweet chocolate hair swing in the moonlight. Her face was perfect, her eyes were ice blue and burned with intensity like fire. She laughed with me, she pushed me gently on the shoulder. I hadn’t really been listening, I didn’t know what she was talking about. All I could see was how pretty she was right there. In that moment, in that space in time. I captured the moment, and saved it in my head, but it was all but a  fleeting memory much too soon.

“Moments pass, Aaron.” The fire behind her ice-blue eyes had gone, her chocolate hair too, and all that was left was a frail form of her–bald, pale, lifeless and sad. She smiled, but it was weak and dishonest. The doctors called her a fighter, but really all that was happening was that she was dying. There was no fighting going on here. And I couldn’t take it. “We need to save them. Aaron, there is no such thing as a sad moment. But a sad perspective is something we see all too often.” I would have answered her, but I couldn’t. There was nothing to say, because she was wrong, so wrong. This, right here, was a sad moment. The moments for the next three months would be sad, and then, somewhere at the end of three months, she would die and it would be the saddest moment of my entire life. And there was nothing that I could do to stop it. Helplessness and sadness confused my every waking moment. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t eat or sleep or breathe without an intense, stabbing pain that wasn’t anything close to physical. Every time I stood, or drank, or talked, a stabbing pain shot through my heart like someone had shoved their fist inside of my ribcage and was trying to tear out my heart. The doctors told me that all of this was normal, but I didn’t believe that.

“I want to… I want to save you,” I managed. “I want you to come back.” I am a selfish human being. Complaining to my wife with cancer that her cancer was inconveniencing me.

“You can’t, hun,” she remarked. And we sat, by the bedside, holding hands for hours, like we did yesterday and the day before and the day before. This was not a happy moment. There wasn’t any such thing as a happy moment. Not anymore.


When I woke up it was dark, the moonlight showed through the trees outside of the hospital window. Again I woke up, again I hoped that this was all a dream, and I looked down. And it wasn’t. And I was scared and frightened and confused and–
“Mr. Smith.”
I looked around and found one of the doctors tapping me on the shoulder. She was short, dark hair and dark eyes, smiling at me. Who would smile at a time like this? “Yeah, Judy, hi.” Of course I knew the doctors at this hospital, I’d only spent the last three months coming and going to visit my wife.

“I found something.”

“You what?”

“Experimental drug trials? Like the ones you were talking about. I found something that might work. Your wife has stage four thymoma, which metastasized. She doesn’t have very long. However, we think that we might be able to give her a new drug… It sounds kind of dangerous, and it is, but your wife… I mean, she’s not in a good state anyways, and she’s deteriorating quickly. Some of the side effects of this drug can be dangerous, but I know you’ll–”

“Do whatever it takes,” I said.

“That. So I’ll need you to sign…” she handed me exactly eleven pieces of paper clipped to a clip board and I signed every last one of them. Then Judy left and I hugged my wife. “Good-bye, sweetheart,” I whispered, and then kissed her on the head. She stirred a bit, but I was out the door in a flash, tears streaming out of my eyes. I had seen experimental drug trials work in the movies, and I had thought that maybe there was one last chance to bring her back. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I couldn’t help myself as I walked home. I smiled for the first time in months.

Exactly one month later I attended her funeral. Exactly one month later I sobbed into a tissue as my mother-in-law hugged me. My wifes fate was worse than death. She had died at the inattentive, clueless hands of her own husband. She had died the day I signed that paper.

Addison 2

Addy’s long fingernails clicked against the wooden table at the diner where she, Meg, Trent and KC sat. The three others were caught in a conversation, but Addison was watching something else. The news castor was talking about school shootings–statistics, data, what we could see when. Addy’s heart broke watching this. She was nineteen and she didn’t have the courage or the ability to do anything about this problem, and that bothered her. It was like one of those algebra problems with no solution, or where you get an answer like 7=6.
“Addy, come back to the real world.” Meg asked.
A long pause followed. Addy didn’t want to come back to the real world. She wanted to be a superhero–someone who could fly and go away and save all of those people. The starving kids in Africa. The many who had been terrorized by shootings. Car accidents, plane crashes–all Addison could think about in that moment was what she could do about these things.
“I was just… watching the news,” Addy stated, truthfully.
“Awful, isn’t it?” Trent asked. “I mean… wow. I don’t understand how someone could hurt their friends like that.”
KC elbowed him in the ribs with a smile on his face. “They don’t know the bro code.”
“What?” Meg asked.
“The bro code. I’m sure there’s something in the bro code about not shooting your bros in the face,” KC said, smiling. Why was he smiling? Addison was terrified, shocked, confused. What was happening in this world?
“You don’t even know what the bro code is,” said Trent.
“This is true,” KC admitted, “but I can assume.”
KC was pretty attractive. Black hair, dark eyes, and that always-mischeviously-smiling face. Addy had had a crush on him since second grade, but she was an outcast–a weirdo, with no friends, who thought a lot more about death than she did about life. She wasn’t odd on the outside, but on the inside she was something else: not a KC, not a Trent, not a Meg. She was a deeper being. She thought not just about things she couldn’t do and could do, but things she could have done. She thought about trying new things. She furthered herself every single day, and her thoughts and actions and deeds had reflected that in every way. Addy was something else. That’s why KC would never like her, and Addy told herself that that was OK. She had Meg and that was all that she needed.
“Ad, I think we’re going to have to go home early,” Meg said, pointing up above at the darkening sky, “looks like a big storm is coming.”
“Hey, Addison, can I talk to you really quick?” KC asked. What did he want?
“Sure,” Addy answered, and he led her outside.
As soon as they got outside KC blew up at her. “What are you doing?” He asked, teeth bared like an animal. “You used to be so fun. So nice and kind. And now here you are, ruining our day out. You know those annoying friends who never say anything and only think about themselves? Well you’re one of them, Addy! What is happening to you?”
“Nothing,” she practically shouted, she hadn’t realized what she was doing, that it was bothering them. She hadn’t noticed the lull in their conversation.”I’m just… I’m trying to become a better person, and I am. I am a better person.”
A long silence followed, but it wasn’t really silence. KC stared at Addy and shook his head disapprovingly. And that’s when Addy had her revelation. She knew what she had to do. She had to drop them. These people were holding her back, trying to bind her where she was. It had been so long that Addy had thought about doing something to change the world but she couldn’t because of her friends. Her friends that actually hated her.Her friends that had lied blatantly to her face for hours, if not days, if not weeks, if not months, if not years if not their lifetimes. They wanted to hold her back and Addy couldn’t let that happen. She had to get away from them so that she could get out there and change the entire world. She understood, now, why bros would shoot other bros in the face. Because other bros are not actually your bros. They are backstabbing, horrible people who are twisted and want to help no one. They want to hold you back to their standards and forget about the things in you that they don’t like and Addy was sick of that, Addy was done with it.
“I’m better than all of you,” she said, and with that she turned on her heel and marched off without waiting for Meg.