“No,” the man said, before he slammed the door in my face. Anger boiled inside me, like red-hot firey rage but I didn’t do anything. Momma had said not to, but people were being mean. I made a face at the closed door and sprinted back to where my mother and brother were sitting, waiting for me.

“Momma he said no, momma how are we going to eat today?” I asked, worried. My stomach growled. Ever since Papa had left us, we had been so poor. We couldn’t afford food or our house. Now we lived in a cardboard box, but momma always says we have each other and that’s what matters. But the little monster inside of me that I called hunger did not agree. “I want food momma, momma please.”

“Ella, take a breath,” my brother, Max said. “We’ve just got to wait a little longer, OK?”

“I can’t wait a little longer,” I cried, the monster was going to consume me–already my fingers shook, my arms felt weak, my skinny legs had trouble holding me up. And on top of all that, the Hunger Monster roared inside of me–growling and groaning and grumbling. “I’m sorry hunger monster,” I whispered, “I can’t feed you right now.”

I saw my mothers heart break from the outside, so obvious I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like inside. “How dare they say no to a ten year old, what mean people they are.” tears streamed down her face and landed on her tattered skirt. “We just need food, how hard is that for them to give?” She got up and stormed off, leaving a trail of footprints behind her in the dust.

I didn’t know it, but that was the last day I would see my mother. Whether she died the day after, whether she just ran far away because she was ashamed of us, I don’t know. But at ten years old with just my thirteen year old brother to console me and a hunger monster consuming my stomach, it was the saddest day of my entire life.

I got my first job at the age of thirteen in a factory. Of course, I told them I was sixteen, and Max told them he was my dad, and then I had a job where I made pipes. My job involved a lot of fire and steel and while it was fun I worked the night shift and made very little money. I worked with a lot of people who were a lot older than me, many of whom were remarkably creepy, many of whom I hoped I would never see again.  The job wasn’t much but it was something, and in two years Max and I had enough money that we could actually move into an apartment on the outskirts of Philidelphia. Both of us worked all the time, neither of us had been to school since we were five, but we were scraping by and that was all that mattered. I learned to fend for myself–to protect me, at all costs, against large scary men and evil women. I toiled away at my factory job, and I had no friends, no family, nothing. All I had was Max.

Then The Day happened, the day when everything changed. It started with a knock on our door.

“Hello, my name is Meryl. I work for the FBI and I need a um… Ella Smith?” I only heard the words, Max had opened the door, but I quickly scampered into the bathroom and locked the door to the only hiding place in our tiny apartment. “You must be Max. Don’t worry, you guys aren’t in trouble. We just want to talk to your sister and maybe see about… a job opportunity.” at the word job, I unlocked the door to the bathroom a tiny bit, very slowly. There was a long silence. I tucked my knees up to my chest and tried not to breathe, swiping a finger through the short blonde hair that sat in a mop on top of my head.

“El?” Max called, out of the silence. “Ella?”

I panicked. I quickly looked around, flushed the toilet, washed my hands for no reason and walked confidently out of the bathroom… Or as confidently as you can walk if you’re walking out of the bathroom. “Yeah, hi. What’s up?”

I looked out the door and found that there was not one, not two, but twenty-one FBI agents, eleven of them with rifles, all of them with hand guns and twenty with bullet proof vests. The woman in the middle, the only one without a bullet proof vest, was short and pale with black hair and a pinstriped skirt suit. She looked incredibly official and she scared me more than any of the people with guns.

“We need you to come with us,” she said, forcefully. “We hear you’re a fighter and a fantastic liar and I think we have an opening for someone like that.”

Another long silence.

“We want you to go undercover. How well do you speak Spanish?”



Addison had never liked her name. It didn’t reflect who she was or why she was there, sitting in that classroom, staring at that dumb community college math chalkboard for the four hundredth time this week. She pushed her blonde hair away from her green eyes and tried to focus. So the square root of fifteen times twelve to the second power plus…her mind trailed off. It was too much information for her brain to process at this point. “I already took algebra in high school,” she whispered to Meg, the girl sitting next to her. “is there a reason for me to take it again?” Meg frowned at her notebook and displayed the notes she had been taking for Addy to see–it was a simple portrait of the teacher, but in Meg’s hands it had taken the persona of their grumpy, dumpy, frumpy middle-aged teacher with her winged glasses and vivid lipstick. Addy laughed, happy that someone was as fed-up with the class as she was. She popped her lips together and hunched over again, starting to scrawl notes out about the Pythagorean theorem or whatever they were learning about. Her tiny hands and long nails made quick, neat strokes across the page. As she was writing, her hair fell onto her paper again. Annoyed, she pushed it back and kept scrawling, thinking about what she would do after class rather than what she was doing now.
Only an hour later but after what felt like a lifetime, Addy had finally escaped from class. She stood outside, alone, wind brushing at her rosy cheeks, books hugged to her chest. She took long, slow breaths of the fresh, crisp air. The parking lot of the college stretched in front of her, pretty far away, and Addy stood alone in the freezing cold–no one would have accompanied her on a day like this, and she didn’t mind. Another student raced past, trying to escape the cold, windy air outside. From behind Addy, a high-pitched voice rang.
“You’re one crazy girl, you know that?” Meg asked, walking briskly towards Addy. Nine inches shorter than the blonde girl and with insanely curly red hair, Meg looked downright frozen. Meg was flanked by two tall, black-haired boys who Addy knew very well.
“I think she does,” said Trent, a tall boy with black hair whom Meg had become extraordinarily good friends with. “She’s just rubbing it in our faces that we’re wimps that can’t stand the cold weather.”
“It’s ’cause you are,” Addy said, with a grin.
“I’m not a wimp,” blurted KC, Trent’s best friend.
“Oh yeah?” Addy asked, turning around to face them with her arms outstretched, nearly dropping her books in the process, “I’m not the one who ran screaming across a football field being chased by a two year old with a plastic bat.”
“It sounds worse when you say it like that,” KC whined.
“It sounds worse when you say it at all,” Trent countered. “C’mon. Are we all ready to get something to eat? Something about math just makes me hungry.”
“Where’s Jess?” Meg asked the group. “I haven’t seen her all day.”
“Neither have I,” Addy mentioned. “I’ll call her.”
She called Jess’s cell phone, but no one picked up. Addy resigned to calling her sick for today, and guessed she wasn’t going to meet us at the usual place for dinner.
“I can’t get through to her,” Addy told Meg and the others, who were now in a heated debate about the importance of the Hoverboard.
“It’s a freaking skateboard,” KC practically yelled. “It’s like a recipe for breaking an arm.”
“It’s a segway without a handle, KC. Relax a–what, Addy?”
“Jess isn’t picking up. I figure we can just go without her. I don’t think she’ll mind, she’s not like that.”
So they all went out to get something to eat. This was how every day went–routine, classes, food. Friends. Addy longed for a change, but she wasn’t sure what that change was yet. But she could still make it happen.


I was eating cereal when it happened. The ground seemed to shake and the longest of the branches on the trees quivered, but so slightly that I barely noticed. It was quite a scene–me, in my sweatpants, spilling milk all down my shirt while I shoveled shredded wheat into my mouth. But the view outside of my window was better: a giant version of my cereal bowl, full of windows with shapes looking out of them. I ran a hand through my short blonde hair and stared outwards, glaring at the giant thing.
The giant alien spaceship. We’ve all seen pictures of UFOs, right? This was exactly that, a dome shaped roof and a larger dome-shaped bottom, triangular windows and flashing lights. I had two immediate thoughts, one being what’s happening?  But the second thought was a lot more important. I raced to my room, turned on the lights, and sprinted to my top dresser drawer. I rummaged through and then started digging with all my might, throwing papers aside without a care in the world. I couldn’t believe I’d lost it, I couldn’t believe it was gone, I couldn’t have lost it, where did it go?
“James.” a voice came from the doorway, startling me practically out of my skin. I froze, sweating, shaking. My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest.
“We know who you are.”
How did they know?
“You must come with us.”
A true hero at this point would not have surrendered. A true hero, at this point, would have stood up, said ‘no!’ and promptly swallowed the small rock they had stolen from the planet bu-karmankine when they were there on an expedition with NASA way back in 2087. But I am not a true hero, and I couldn’t find what they were looking for. So I began to improvise.
“Right.” I turned around.
When I looked at the alien, I was unsurprised. I had seen the likes of them on bu-karmankine, and they were pretty ugly. They looked like humans, but with twisted faces and long limbs and short torsos and tentacles sticking out of every possible place you can imagine. Actually, don’t imagine, because they are NOT attractive. It’s gross. Anyways, I knew this particular alien. Its name was Carson, and it had led us on our expedition when I had gone to bu-karmankine. He was a general, a soldier, and he had somehow made his way into my room.
“You have what is ours,” he said, in his slightly robotic voice. Instead of trembling in fear, I sat down. And I started laughing.
“I don’t,” I said.
“You are a crook,” the alien said. “Give us what is ours.”
“No.” I answered. It’s true, I am a crook, that’s why I got fired from NASA. But in twenty years… that rock is going to be worth so much. I guess that’s why NASA told none of us to take it. Because it was so valuable. But I did, and now I will be rich.
The alien backwards on its hip, tentacles flared up. “Then you leave us no choice,” and then there was a bag over my head and I couldn’t see. And I passed out.