Author: Nicholas Sanchez

His feet hurt.

Sure, everything else wasn’t doing too great either but his feet hurt worst of all.

And why wouldn’t they? As he wandered through the ruins of his once beloved city, his bare feet endured perpetual pains of sharp glass, rough concrete, and piercing pieces of rubble.

With the sounds of gunfire drawing nearer and nearer, the young boy began to hurry. He didn’t have any particular destination in mind but he kept going nonetheless. He realized long ago that he wasn’t necessarily looking for an escape; he was merely trying to stay alive.

His breathing became ragged and heavy as he stumbled through the various pieces of debris and climbed through the crumbling houses, trying to avoid stepping on the especially sharp pieces of rock. He could see a warm mist escape his mouth with every pant and after a short while began to feel a growing pain in his right side. Disregarding the pain his body felt and ignoring the tortuous fire growing in his feet, he continued to run through the ruins.

His foot-eye coordination failed him for a fraction of a second but he nonetheless landed hard on a deformed rock that was sharp, ragged, and bent his foot in a weird way upon contact. With a cry of pain and a moment of panic, the boy fell to the ground clutching his right foot. As he lay there among the rubble, the sounds of gunfire considerably quieter than they had been a few minutes ago, he began to feel a warm liquid run over his hands. He raised his head and looked at his foot and saw his hands were almost completely covered in blood.

He raised himself up to a sitting position to examine his foot further. Slowly, he removed his right hand from his wound and applied even more pressure with his left hand. Being careful not to aggravate the wound or make a mistake, the boy carefully grabbed a fistful of the fabric that used to be a shirt and ripped a large piece off. He then began to wrap his foot as best he could using this makeshift gauze. With the small yet painful wound closed up as best as possible, the boy sat back to examine his feet.

Both were covered in so much dirt that they were almost as black as the pair of shoes he was wearing on the day of the attack. This instance of falling and cutting his foot was not the first time he’d experienced such a thing. His feet were covered in scabs and scars that only formed over the past few days. Both feet were so dry and dirty and scabby that small aggravations were enough to tear open the skin and unleash onslaughts of blood.

It took a while for the boy to realize he had started to cry. It took him even longer to realize why it was that he was crying. He wasn’t crying for his parents, wherever they may have been, or for his destroyed home or for his fallen friends or for his destroyed city or for the terrible fighting that was happening all around him at this very moment. No, he was crying for the loss of those little black shoes. They had been a brand new pair that he was wearing for the second time on the day of the attack. They were small and hard and were made of leather; they were a gift from his father, which was in it of itself a rare occurrence.

The boy knew that if only he still had them, then his feet would be protected from the merciless battleground and he would be without this constant pain and suffering that made him wish to run up to a soldier, grab his gun, and shoot off his own feet.

Thinking of his shoes, the boy began thinking of the day of the attack, which had only been a mere three days ago.

He had been in his house with his family as they all prepared for supper. He and his mother had just come back from the market purchasing ingredients so he still had on his new pair of black shoes. He had preparing the dining area, his mother had been making the final preparations for supper, and his father had almost returned home from his work.

Just as he was setting the final dining spot, however, he felt a rumble coming from somewhere. He didn’t hear anything, he didn’t see anything, but he knew something was wrong nonetheless, a strong feeling in his gut told him so.

Suddenly a far-off vibration could be heard and it grew louder and louder until the sky instantaneously opened up into a chorus of mechanical screams and roars. The boy dropped the plate he was holding, ignored the loud crash and subsequent rain of broken glass, and ran outside. He looked up at the late, blue-yellow sky and saw multiple bomber planes race across the airy expanse.

Just then, he saw one of the bombers drop what looked to be a large black egg onto a neighborhood that was a few miles away from his own. The neighborhood lit up in a column of fire and smoke and the force of the explosion tore across the landscape and pelted the boy with such fury that his hat flew off his head.

Somewhere far off, the boy heard his mother scream his name. He heard her rush outside and run to his side. He felt her shaking his body and trying to pull her with him. However, he paid her no mind as his full attention was focused on the scene unfolding before him. Dozens of bomber planes jetted over his city and dropped bomb after bomb after bomb. Houses exploded, churches flew into the sky in balls of fire, parks and ponds were covered in layers of soot and smoke. His vision was getting blurry and for a moment the boy worried that he was about to pass out or even die. It took him a second to realize his eyes were overflowing with tears.

His mother finally succeeded in pulling him away and then commenced a terrifying period of 48 hours in which he and his mother attempted to make their way to the capital building of the city which had a secure bunker deep beneath the ground.

They travelled inseparably for the first day, running through alleyways, over rooftops, and across busy streets with their heads ducked and their knees bent. He never let go of his mother’s hand through it all.

That is, until, they met up with another group of survivors that was also making its way to the capital. At one point, when trying to cross an open street, the de facto leader of the group, an aging man with a patchy, white beard, ordered the members to cross the group one pair at a time. Before his mother could protest, another woman grabbed her hand, ripped her free of the boy, and dragged her across the battlefield. His mother cried the whole way across the street and began wailing hysterically as soon as they reached the other side. The boy also felt a moment of dread and unease but the leader’s reassuring hand in his own helped to calm his nerves.

However, just as they were about to make a break for the other side, a flurry of bullets began erupting from each side of the street and multiple bombs and grenades exploded all over the street. Deeming the street now impassible, the leader yelled across the street for the remaining members to head to the capital building where he and the boy would rendezvous with them there.

The boy’s mother would have raced across the street at that moment if not for some man holding her back and dragging her around the alley corner. After seeing his crying mother disappear from sight, the boy began to sob there in the alleyway as the sounds of war raged around him. The leader got down on his knees to look in the boy’s face and did all he could to assuage the young child before finally grabbing his hand and whisking him away.

From there the two of them travelled across the ruined city together. For almost 18 hours, the boy and the leader travelled in the shadows and under cover hoping to make it to the capital unharmed. And they would have, had it not been for an incredible stroke of bad luck and the leader’s selflessness.

When making their way slowly through an alleyway, one of the doors in the alleyway suddenly burst open and there stood a fully armed soldier. The soldier spotted the boy and the leader and began shouting commands in a language that was unknown to the boy. Without hesitation the leader rushed to the soldier and began wrestling him for control of the soldier’s rifle. Screaming through gritted teeth, the leader ordered the boy to run away and make it to the capital building and back to his mother. The boy still stood there, though, distraught as he thought of the possibility of losing yet another person. With tears in his eyes, he decided to stay by the leader’s side at all costs. The leader then looked back over his shoulder a second time, met the boy’s eyes with his own, and screamed at the top of his lungs for the boy to get away.

Terrified, hurt, and heartbroken, the boy ran. He ran and ran without thought. He ran even after he heard the sound of the fatal gunshot ricochet off the alley walls. He ran even after he heard the soldier bark orders at him as he gave chase. He ran even though he had yet to completely acknowledge the fact that he was now all alone.

The boy eventually lost his pursuer and collapsed against the wall of a house he had wandered into. As he sat there, trying to catch his breath as the sun’s dying light slowly moved across the opposite wall, it was then, at that moment, that the boy realized that at some point throughout all the chaos and mayhem, he had lost his little black shoes.

The boy did eventually make it to the capital building…or at least, where it once stood. In its place was a mountain of rubble that rose high above the boy’s head. He collapsed in front of the rubble as he realized, without a trace of doubt, that he’d never see his mother again; that all those people who did make it to the underground bunker were gone forever; that there was no hope left for the city or for its inhabitants; that he would be alone for the rest of his life.

There he broke. He collapsed to the ground and rolled around and around, sobbing. His face became a wet, sticky mess and he screamed so loudly that every breath hurt and every convulsion racked his insides until his stomach and sides were sore and cramping.

After he ceased his crying, he continued to lie there, in a paradoxical sort of undisturbed peace and calm, until night fell and the sounds of fighting began to draw nearer. That was when he began his barefoot wanderings.

After reminiscing on the past few days and after crying over the memories, the boy slowly rose from the rubble and began walking once more. He tested the makeshift bandage on his foot tentatively and was pleased to see it held.

He began walking again. Once more, he had no idea where exactly he was heading but he continued traveling nonetheless.

He limped along an alleyway when a door opening from the alley burst open and there stood a fully armed soldier. After looking around the alley, the soldier locked eyes with the boy and the two of them froze. After what felt like an hour had passed, the boy broke his trance and unleashed a terrified scream and turned around and ran for where he had come from.

Before he could get away, however, he felt a powerful hand envelope itself around him and pull him back.

“Wait, wait, kid, calm down.”

The boy resisted the soldier’s grip and fought against his pull.

“Kid, relax, I don’t want to hurt you.”

Unsure of the language the soldier was speaking but able to understand his tone, the boy ceased his struggles and looked at the soldier. The soldier was dressed differently than the one who had killed the leader; the color and design of his uniform were different.

Then the soldier removed his hat and sunglasses and smiled at the boy. His eyes were a beautiful blue that twinkled in a way the sun couldn’t and the boy melted in his arms. He burst into tears and collapsed into the soldier’s arms. The soldier slung his rifle over his shoulder and picked up the war-torn boy in his arms. He brought his radio to his mouth and spoke into it but the boy paid him no mind. He simply lay there in the soldier’s arms as the exhaustion and heartache escaped from his body and soul.

At some point the boy fell asleep and the soldier carried him to his convoy and back to his base camp. There he delivered the boy to the refugee center and personally clothed him in a new, clean set of clothes. While folding away the boy’s old, torn rags, the boy awoke in a start. He began to panic and looked around the tent bewildered and afraid, he began to hyperventilate and cry until the soldier went to his bedside.

“Woah, woah, woah, calm down, it’s okay. You’re safe now.” The soldier smiled again and once more his eyes lit up.

The boy calmed down and overcame his initial distraught.  Then his eyes began to wander around the tent he found himself in.  Cots lined the lengths of the tent, a few filled with people who looked as bad as the boy felt.  While still looking around, the soldier spoke up.

“So tell me, what’s your name, kid?”

The boy looked at the soldier, confused.

The soldier cleared his throat and made sure to enunciate slowly. “What is your name?”

Again, the boy gave no response.

The soldier sighed and turned and called over a medic who spoke the native language. The medic translated the soldier’s question for the boy.

The boy looked from the medic then back to the soldier.

“Mohamed.”

The soldier smiled and reached from behind him.

“Well, Mohamed, I was waiting for you to wake up before I gave this to you. Now I’m not sure it’s an exact fit but I made the best measurements I could. But after seeing the condition of your feet, I thought you’d appreciate these.”

Mohamed cocked his head to the side in confusion but before the medic could translate, the soldier brought his hands forward, each one holding one half of the soldier’s gift.

A brand new pair of clean, white shoes.

The sky is gray; the sun is just barely peeking over the horizon. There is a cold bite in the air; icy winds whip throughout the campus. A light fog lingers in the hallways and some of the school’s night-lights are still on. Solitary footsteps echo off the empty walls as a group of 27 students meet in B-9 for the Academic Decathlon.

For these students, waking up before dawn and arriving at school before teachers was normal; all throughout the 2014-2015 school year they would make the same journey to class every single early morning. Their advisor, Mrs. Menter-Hartman, specifically selected each of these students to represent Corona High School at the 2015 Riverside County Academic Decathlon.

(from left to right) Zachary Devereux, Nicholas Sanchez, Carlos Barron, Vicky Le, Mrs. Menter-Hartman, Christian Vargas, Nazibah Chowdhury, Nicholas Stabile, Garrett Wilson, Alejandro Escalante
(from left to right) Zachary Devereux, Nicholas Sanchez, Carlos Barron, Vicky Le, Mrs. Menter-Hartman, Christian Vargas, Nazibah Chowdhury, Nicholas Stabile, Garrett Wilson, Alejandro Escalante
(from left to right) Front Row: Sahill Patel, Alejandro Escalante, Nazibah Chowdhury, Madelaine Nguyen, Destiny (FIND LAST NAME), Mrs. Menter-Hartman, Vicky Le, Stacy Jo.  Second Row: Eddie (FIND LAST NAME), Daniel Corona, Nicholas Sanchez, Nicholas Stabile, Garrett Wilson, Zachary Devereux, Alfredo Reza.  Back Row: Yasha (FIND LAST NAME), Kevin Jackson, Rahim Lateef (?), Christian Vargas, Carlos Barron
(from left to right) FRONT ROW: Sahill Patel, Alejandro Escalante, Nazibah Chowdhury, Madelaine Nguyen, Destiny Aguirre, Mrs. Menter-Hartman, Vicky Le, Stacy Jo. SECOND ROW: Eddie Romo Daniel Corona, Nicholas Sanchez, Nicholas Stabile, Garrett Wilson, Zachary Devereux, Alfredo Reza. BACK ROW: Yasha Panahi Pour, Kevin Jackson, Rahim Latif Christian Vargas, Carlos Barron
(from left to right) Front Row: Sahill Patel, Madelaine Nguyen, Destiny (FIND LAST NAME), Nazibah Chowdhury.  Second Row: Alejandro Escalante, Stacy Jo, Vicky Le, Garrett Wilson.  Third Row: Eddie (FIND LAST NAME), Alfredo Reza, Nicholas Sanchez, Daniel Corona.  Fourth Row: Yasha (FIND LAST NAME), Nicholas Stabile, Christian Vargas, Carloss Barron.  Fifth Row: Raheem Lateef (?), Zachary Devereux.  Top Row: Mrs. Menter-Hartman.
(from left to right) FRONT ROW: Sahill Patel, Madelaine Nguyen, Destiny Aguirre,, Nazibah Chowdhury. SECOND ROW: Alejandro Escalante, Stacy Jo, Vicky Le, Garrett Wilson. THIRD ROW: Eddie Romo, Alfredo Reza, Nicholas Sanchez, Daniel Corona. FOURTH ROW: Yasha Panahi Pour,, Nicholas Stabile, Christian Vargas, Carloss Barron. FIFTH ROW: Raheem Latif, Zachary Devereux. TOP ROW: Mrs. Menter-Hartman.

The Academic Decathlon is an annual competition in which students gather to compete in a multitude of events. Each year, the Academic Decathlon adopts a new topic to be the focus of that year’s competition. For the 2015 competition, the topic was “New Alternatives in Energy: Ingenuity and Innovation.”

The first leg of the competition took place on the last Saturday of January. On that day, the students dressed in their best attire, wrote an essay that pertained to this year’s topic, gave a prepared, four-minute speech concerning anything the student desired, and then delivered an impromptu speech based on prepared topics. The second leg of the decathlon was held on the first Saturday of February, and it was then that the students sat in the auditorium of Heritage High School and were tested on the Math, Literature, Science, Music, Art, Social Studies, and Economics, after those tests—and after a much-deserved break—all of the teams (nineteen in total, with Corona represented by two teams) gathered in Heritage High School’s gymnasium to partake in the Super Quiz..

The Super Quiz is an event in which students are shown a projected question related to any one of the subject areas and are given seven seconds to answer each question. The Super Quiz is divided into three divisions (as are each school’s team) according to Grade Point Averages. Varsity students have a GPA between 0 and 2.999, Scholastic students have a GPA between 3 and 3.749, and Honors students have a GPA between 3.75 and 4.00 or above. For the Super Quiz, all students competed only against others that were of their same division and their scores were categorized accordingly.

After a total of 36 questions, the Super Quiz was over. Students, teachers, parents, and administrators soon thereafter gathered in Heritage High School’s theater for the awards ceremony.

The night didn’t appear to be going in Corona’s favor. The majority of the medals that were awarded for each specific competition and for each GPA division were won by either Hemet High School (the reining champions), West Valley High School (last year’s runners up), or to Elsinore High School (who came in third place last year). By the end of the awards ceremony, Corona’s two teams (Red and Gold) had only accumulated two medals, Nazibah Chowdhury (senior) from Red Team and Madelaine Nguyen (junior) from Gold Team each won gold medals for their superb essays. Due to Corona’s blatant lack of awards, it appeared as though their top-five aspirations were not meant to be. It was generally agreed upon by Corona’s students that a fifth place finish would be ideal and would be the most realistic finish.

However, that was not the case.

Beaumont High School finished as the fifth best team in the county. As Beaumont cheered down the aisle and climbed the stage to collect their trophy, the Panthers were disheartened. Watching the students of Beaumont raise their trophy over their heads was akin to watching the Panthers’ hopes and aspirations ground into dust before their eyes. As the students of Corona hung their heads in shame and thought of the somber tension that would surely follow on the bus ride home, the host of the awards ceremony, once again alone on stage, stood at his podium, leaned closer to the microphone, and uttered words that would forever thereafter ring in the ears of the Panthers.

“And the fourth place team for the 2015 Riverside County Academic Decathlon is Corona High School Red Team.”

In a state of shock and disbelief, the Panthers of Corona’s Red team made their way to the stage and raised a trophy of their own so high above their heads it almost seemed prepared to pierce the boundaries of the heavens.

Even though the typical trifecta of schools dominated the top three (West Valley claimed first, Elsinore trailed at second, and Hemet fell from grace to a third place finish), all of Corona’s Panthers, from both the Red team and the Gold team, rejoiced at their unprecedented success. Because even though it was Corona’s Red Team that won fourth place, the students from the Gold Team were just as influential in Corona’s success. It is for that reason that the trophy belongs not to just the Red Team, nor to just Mrs. Menter-Hartman, but to all the students and teachers and faculty who were a part of Corona High School’s Academic Decathlon program.

Reflecting on Corona’s success, senior Vicky Le, who was in her fourth and final year in the Academic Decathlon, stated that “[Winning fourth place] was a huge surprise but a very good one. I was happy to know that all of the hard work we had put into this throughout the year had paid off in the best way possible. I’m happy we were able to be so successful in my last year competing and I know that Corona will only improve in the years to come.”

Gold Team Captain Stacy Jo, a senior, commented on how both Gold and Red team performed: “I’m just really glad that everyone got the chance to experience something so amazing and unique. Although we didn’t place, I feel as if the gold team really bonded over the year and especially through competing. I’m also really proud of Maddie for winning first place! I’m also so proud of Red Team for winning fourth place, and it’s great that their talents were able to shine brightly. Rather than separating the team into Gold and Red, we’re just Corona High School’s academic decathlon. We’re one team and practically one giant, nerdy family. I’m glad that I was blessed with Acadec and my fellow teammates this year!”

Words like these show just how much of a close-knit group this zero period class is. On a typical day, after the studying and competing is done, these students can be seen conversing and laughing and enjoying one another’s company. At the end of the day, these students come to this early morning class every day not so much for the thrill of competition or for the allurement of trophies, but more for the community that has been created in B-9. Corona’s Academic Decathlon is more than a club and far more than just a class, it’s a microcosm wherein students from all ages, all grade levels, all cliques, and all backgrounds come together to work together, to compete together, to persevere together. Not only has this organization found much success in the county competition, but it has also allowed for some of the school’s brightest students to gather together in an organization they can thrive in.

The sunflowers swing from side to side,
doing a giddy little jive.
The wind blows the swaying green,
None the same the flowers swing.

To eyes of those none the wiser
know not who’s behind the flowers fire;
put easily in a hypnotic trance.

The sunflowers swing from side to side,
doing a giddy little jive.
The dance forming to he winds new trend,
every fluttering leaf and bending stem.

Try as they might to stand stiff and tall,
all circum to the wind and fall.
Like a surfer on an ocean wave,
Choosing to ride out the force a giant made.

The sunflowers swing from side to side,
doing a giddy little jive.
Then Autumn sweeps through the fields,
Marking each flower with its own brown brand

A process all call natural
and although this is factual.
What outside force killed the fun?
Or were the flowers the ones who had it done.

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My truck rolls down this lonely dirt road once more.  I’d believed—or rather, I’d hoped—I’d never have to make this pilgrimage again, but the dreams were too torturous to ignore.  My dreams of her were too powerful for me to ignore.  Just the thought of her would give me a terrible anxiety.  Even now my knuckles flash white as the grip of my steering wheel crunches under my palms.

The feeble headlights of my pickup venture vainly into the darkness that embraces this world, never reaching more than half a dozen feet or so.  The moon provides little light, it’s cowering behind a sea of dark, stormy clouds.

According to the weatherman, a storm should be on the rise soon.  Hell for all I know this storm may come to fruition tonight.  Why else would the moon be hiding?  Well, I suppose it could be hiding because it’s disgusted by me and by my actions.

I know that I, too, would hide from what I had done if I could.  Unfortunately, one is not allowed to forget nor ignore what one has done.

A painter can never erase their more revolting piece of art from the inside of their eyelids.

A composer can never stop the ringing of their worst piece of music that echoes off the walls of their inner consciousness.

A person condemned is not allowed to ignore their victim that walks around their head all night long and through their dreams.

As these thoughts cross my mind, my truck jitters up and down due to the irregularity of the road.  The road is very badly unkempt; it’s littered with rocks and dirt mounds that make for difficult driving.  Luckily, not many people venture down this road anyway.  It’s reserved specifically for those who have something to hide.

Or for those who seek what has been hidden.

The uncomfortable drive reminds me of the first time I ventured down this path.  It was not a path I was familiar with but was instead one I happened to stumble upon whilst racing through the dark on that fateful night.  With a precious piece of cargo rocking in my back seat, I raced down this road hoping to escape my fate.  Though I now see that fate had not forgotten me and had instead collaborated with my beloved in order to bring me back.

Well sweetheart, I’ll be there soon enough.

I snap back to the present, aware now that I must be approaching my destination.  I have no actual way of knowing this, simply intuition; a strong, otherworldly intuition.  One that is leading me to the location that was never marked but was never truly forgotten.  It is leading me to the place where my dark deeds were quite literally buried away; where my beloved is.

Where Susan is.

Oh lovely Susan, your death truly was awesome.  I mean that in the awe-invoking sense of the word.  I regret, however, that you left your eyes closed in your final moment.  After all, that was the whole point wasn’t it?  To see what you felt in your final moments was my primary motivation.  I wanted to obtain a clue as to what awaits us all.

Were you scared, Susan?

Were you angry, Susan?

Were you sad, Susan?

My dear, sweet Susan, don’t think, though, that I’m saying your death was in vain for in no way was it.  You did help me attain self-purification.  I had been struggling internally for quite some time now and you provided me with the outlet that released some of this turmoil and for that I thank you.  However, I still wish to know.

Were you calm, Susan?

Were you happy, Susan?

Were you accepting of your fate, Susan?

But now you won’t leave me Susan.  You invade my mind in the darkest hours of the night and roam around and never leave my inner eye’s sight.  Why?  Why would you do such a thing?  What did I do to deserve your wrath?  Why won’t you let me be?  Do you have something to tell me Susan?  Perhaps you wish to tell me what it was you saw in your final moments?  What was it, Susan?

Did it surprise you, Susan?

Did it shock you, Susan?

Did it enlighten you, Susan?

Regardless, you have drawn me back to you, Susan.  I hope you’re happy.

I snap back to reality and notice I am no longer moving.  Having reached my destination, I set the gear into park and kill the truck’s lights and engine.  Instantaneously, the darkness overpowers any and all light that lingered.  The roof lights of the truck flicker on once the truck is truly dead.  As I sit here in the cold glow of the lights, I wonder what I must look like from the outside, how I must look like to Susan.  A small man sitting alone in his vehicle with a feeble light cast over him; a rather pathetic light attempting to fight off the darkness that threatens to overwhelm the universe.  And this man, basking in the small light of this vehicle, is just sitting there and accepting the darkness, almost daring it to come at him.

Must be an odd sight.

I open the driver’s side door and allow for some of the truck’s light to escape into the night, only to be assimilated by the dark.  I step onto the ground and shut the door.  The light lingers for a moment or two but then soon dies out, leaving me in absolute darkness.  I look up and observe the expanse of clouds that hover above me.  I try to find the moon and see if it has made itself known yet.  I see no sign of that luminous coward save for a few beams of light that trickle through the clouds.  Nevertheless, I trudge on.

I pull out the flashlight sheltered in my pocket and flick it on, bringing a portion of my surroundings out of the dark and into reality.  I walk around to the back of my truck and reach into the back and grope around for my shovel.  I find its familiar grip and pull it out and rest it on my shoulder.  With my flashlight as my guide, I set out.

I walk towards the wall of trees that greets me.  The forest does indeed look menacing.  I don’t think I ever noticed just how menacing, though.  I shake off this feeling of fear and enter.

The air’s bite of cold and stream of wind is bombarding me as I make my way towards Susan.  My internal weatherman warns me that this cold and wind will only worsen.  But, this doesn’t discourage me in the least.  In fact, I anticipated nothing else.  After all, Susan wanted me to suffer, and so she chose this night to bring me to her.

As I walk on, I think again why Susan would bring me back to her.  Is there a final lesson she might want me to learn?  Is there something in her cold, unmoving eyes that could provide me with the enlightenment I sought?   Or does she simply want me to join her in her final resting place?

I’m sorry darling, but I can’t join you.  I’ve still got things to do on this earth.  I hope you understand.

I’m sorry Susan.  I don’t think I ever apologized, but I am sorry.  I’m sorry your time on this earth ended like it did.  I’m sorry no one recognized your passing.  I’m sorry you never got a true send-off into the next world.

Here, I’ll try to make it up to you.

This is a song I learned way back when; it’s meant for those who pass into the next world.  I hope you like it.

Pié Jesu, Pié Jesu, Pié Jesu, Domine.

            You know what, Susan?  Sometimes, as I lay awake at night while you’re running through my mind, causing destruction to my sanity, I sort of regret what I did.

Pié Jesu, Pié Jesu, Donaeis Requiem.

I think of the good times we had, of the memories we created together, and I become sad.  I want more of those, Susan.  I long for your smile, Susan.  I long for your laugh, Susan.  I want you back, Susan.

Pié Jesu, Pié Jesu, Pié Jesu, Domine.

Oh Susan, why did you have to go?  Why did you have to make me angry?  You know I was on the edge Susan.  Why did you have to give me that last, fateful push?

Pié Jesu, Pié Jesu, Donaeis Requiem.

            After all, you of all people should have known how fragile I was; should have known how little of a fuse I had.  Had you simply obeyed me, everything would’ve been fine.

Agnus Dei Quitollis Peccata Mundi.

            It was your fault this became your fate.  You should have remained loyal to me, Susan; you should have stayed by my side, Susan.

Agnus Dei, Donaeis, Donaeis.

            You need to leave me alone, Susan.  After tonight, I command you to leave me be.  Stop walking around my head and just leave me be!

Requiem, Requiem, Requiem.”

There.  That’s the song.  Did you like it, Susan?  I hope you did.

As I walk through this forest that became Susan’s final resting place, my attention wanders and I begin to scrutinize my surroundings.

Tall, strong trees elongate towards the night sky, looking like a barrage of arrows that seek to pierce the moon’s barrier of clouds.  The ground is littered with debris ranging from fallen leaves to the droppings of small animals.  The small amount of moonlight that does make its way past the clouds and past the treetops cast strange, distorted shadows all throughout the forest landscape.  Also noteworthy is the absurd amount of branches that claw at me as I make my way through the forest.  They extend out from the trees and poke at me with their sharp edges and rough wood.  I constantly find myself struggling to overcome them.  Makes me wonder how I was able to navigate my way through here last time when Susan was with me.

As I make my way deeper and deeper into the forest, and farther and farther down the rabbit hole that is my sanity, I begin to imagine strange things.  I imagine that the trees and bushes are mere spectators, watching with anticipation as I make my way towards the finish line.

I imagine that the shadows created by both the feeble moonlight and my pathetic flashlight, are actually the demons that haunt me…or the angels that are supposed to guard me…at this point I can no longer differentiate between the two.

The terrain slowly becomes more and more unstable as I make my way deeper and deeper into the forest.  The dirt is not as solid as it once was and I find myself sliding down small hills while also struggle to ascend others.  However in spite of these obstacles, I have no intention of turning back.  As they say, I’m a mile into the woods without a shovel.

Except, I do have a shovel…funny.

With every step forward, my heartbeat speeds up just a little bit more, my breathing becomes just a little bit more desperate, and my body shakes and quivers just a little bit more.  I didn’t expect for my body to react this way.  I suppose it could be the paradoxical claustrophobia I feel in this giant forest.  Instead of being a mere absence of light, this darkness feels tangible and solid, almost…alive.

Alive…and malicious.

As I continue my pilgrimage, the weather that seemed a mere threat while inside my truck slowly begins to worsen.  The clouds began releasing unto the world below them a light drizzle of rain that continues to worsen.  The wind has also joined the fun and races to and fro, gaining strength.  Luckily, the trees and foliage bear the brunt of this weather but I fear even they too will abandon me and leave me at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Suddenly, the world near the treetops illuminates for an instant…and then a moment later a boom echoes throughout the forest.

Thunder and Lightning…what a pleasant surprise.

I think back to how unfair and unjust Susan is being.  Why did she purposely choose tonight of all nights to finally reel me in?  Surely, I don’t deserve these terrible conditions on top of my already extreme anxiety, right?

I climb yet another hill and upon reaching its crest, notice a light floating about a hundred yards away.  In my heart I know what this means.  With renewed energy at the prospect of this journey finally reaching its end, I quickly traverse the distance remaining until I find myself within arm’s length of the light.

I take a breath and reach out as if to touch the light, but as soon as my fingers would have made contact, it vanishes.  Not in a puff of smoke or a dissolution of particles, but more of a now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t type of vanishing.

I look down at the spot where the light hovered above, and I am unsurprised to recognize it as the plot of land that serves as Susan’s final resting place.  I set my flashlight on the ground in such a way that it illuminates the spot where I intend to work, and I set about my digging.

As I dig deeper and deeper into the soft earth, an unprecedented calm blankets over me.  My working muscles release hormones in my body that help to alleviate the anxiety and fear that had been eating away at me for the past few days.  The shadows that had been stalking me throughout my journey recede back into the dark as the fog that engulfed my mind begins to abate.  As the physical labor continues to do its magic on my sanity, I scoff at the irrational fears and worries that plagued me throughout my trek into the forest.

However, despite my mild euphoria, or perhaps because of it, I begin to question once more why I’ve come back to Susan.  What do I have to gain from unearthing her body and looking into her eyes?  After all, it’s not as if I will achieve ultimate enlightenment or unlock the secrets of the universe from simply gazing into the fish eyes of my deceased beloved, so why bother?

As these questions flash through my mind, my shovel falls to the earth and rises up again slower and slower and with more and more hesitancy.  Just as I near the resolution to stop this nonsense and return home, my tool strikes something unnatural.  There’s no doubt as to what it is I have struck, but I still prod the thing a few more times simply to ensure that it is in fact not a mere clot of dirt.  After confirming what I already knew, I toss my shovel aside and fall to my knees and begin removing the remaining earth by hand, any and all thoughts of stopping having left my mind.

As I dust away the dirt and free Susan’s body, my euphoria slowly begins to recede back into the jumble of nerves and glands from whence it came.  The old fear and terror slowly makes its way back into my mind, but my current excitement acts as a temporary buffer for my sanity.  I realize as I uncover more and more of her body just how much I missed Susan and how desperately I wished to see her, alive or not.

The dirt slowly begins to abate and my beloved slowly begins to emerge from the earth.  I see that her beauty has not only been preserved but also improved, as impossible as that seems.  Her skin is almost without flaw of any kind (disregarding that nasty incision across her throat of course), this includes any and all bruises that she may have received during her “transportation.”  Her hair seems as delicate and as beautiful as the seed heads of a dandelion.  Her face, however, is what brings me the most joy.  I worried that so much time underground would cause her beautiful face to deteriorate but it seems to have done just the opposite.  Her white skin gives off the illusion that she is illuminating beauty.  Her pale lips are as tantalizing as the most delicious apples one may ever taste.  Her eyelashes flow from her lids in the most magnificent way.  In short, she’s perfect.

My hands make my way to her face and push away any stray strands of hair that have fallen across her brow.  I lightly caress her lips with my thumbs and lean in and connect my warm lips with hers that are anything but.  I savor her taste.

I eventually pull away and force myself to complete what I have set out to do.  With a heavy heart I slide my palms up her face, towards her eyes.  I place my thumbs on her eyelids and slowly roll them upward.

Finally Susan!  The time is nigh!  You will finally show me what it was you saw in your final moments!  I will discover why it is that you brought me back to you!  I will finally achieve enlight—

“YEEEUUUAAAAAHHHH!!!!”

I cry out in horror and scramble backwards.  I claw my way away from the monstrosity lain out before me.  The rain and wind and thunder and lightning finally take their cue from those from the other world who sought to torture me and unleash their unrestricted fury.  I crawl and crawl and crawl backwards until my back hits a tree and I sit there, weeping and moaning as I cower from that thing that once posed as my beloved.

The rational portion of my mind that remained understood that all I saw were the eyes of the deceased and that I was overreacting.  However, with my sanity crumbling, I cannot seem to hold onto that train of thought as fear and terror and horror—O! the indescribable horror!—devour any and all senses of reason and rationality and any and all perceptions of reality.

I cower at the base of the tree and watch as the…the thing that was once my beloved slowly raises itself up effortlessly until it is sitting straight up and facing me directly.  Its jaw unhinges and its mouth is open in a ghostly, silent scream.  The skin that mere moments ago I perceived as the epitome of beauty has mutated into a pale, dry, revolting thing.  The hair that I praised as perfect now appears to be a dirty cobweb, littered with the scum of the earth.

But the eyes…O! the eyes are worst of all!  They cut straight through my body, soul and sanity and release the demons I imprisoned within the dark recesses of my mind.  The creatures of the darkness materialize from the shadows and make a circle around me, dark ghosts of laughter etched on their faces.  They taunt and jeer at my misery and look ready to devour my very soul.  All the while the corpse sits and stares, undaunted by the rain and wind and hail that rock my body.

I sit and scream with my hands covering my head and my eyes closed as my dark demons begin to close in.  I open my eyes and see a wall of darkness surrounding me, a crushing sensation.

I let out a mighty yell, rush to my feet, bolt through the wall of darkness, and run.  I take no notice that the corpse of Susan was lying undisturbed, as I had left it.

I run deeper and deeper into the forest.  Adrenaline heightens my senses, my night vision increases tenfold and my hearing explodes.  With this sight and hearing, I cannot help but see and hear all my demons that pursue and attack me.  They jump out of trees and up from the ground.  They reach out to me and attempt to grab me and pull me towards them.  They claw at my being and tear long gashes in my clothes.  I take no notice as I barrel through them all and run for my life.  I hear their laughter and jeering as they barrage my body.

Mother Nature also makes her animosities toward me clear.  Lightning continues to explode above the treetops and the sounds of thunder never fail to ricochet down to the forest floor and add to the already deafening amalgamation of horrid sounds. Mother Nature also unleashes an onslaught of rain and wind in the attempt of knocking me aside.  The rain drenches me in a cold, unforgiving fashion.  The hail pelts my body and strikes my face, hands, and back.  The wind whips through my clothes and worsens the gashes forged by my demons; it knocks me round and round.  The combination of all succeeds in knocking me over and into the wet, gross dirt.  I always claw my way up though and continue running.

Everywhere I look I see dark shadows and figures running alongside me.  They laugh and cry out to me while also stabbing me with their branchy claws.  They torment me and grab me and try to pull me back to them.  While battling them with my battered and bruised arms, I relish the sounds of their claws and arms cracking and breaking off.  Still, they are not deterred and continue their assault.

I run through them all. I run and run and run.  I run as though I can somehow outrun and outlive my demons hunting me.  I run as though I’m running towards some sort of salvation.  I run as though my demise weren’t inevitable.

The darkness is becoming more and more powerful and my body can’t cope.  The adrenaline and energy that gave me the strength to escape these monsters thus far begins to wane.  I find it more and more difficult to fend off these dark beings.

Just then, I see an opening in the forest and light from beyond.  With a renewed purpose, I make a final push for the light.  I burst through out from the tree line and onto a large, lush meadow.  The grass grows past my ankles and is decorated with flowers, all white, many of them dandelions.  I now see that the aforementioned light turned out to be moonlight.  I look up and see the moon has finally emerged from its seclusion, a tiny window in the clouds reveals the large, celestial body.  The luminous coward waited until my destruction was certain to make its presence known.

Nevertheless, I continue running.  I don’t stop because I know what awaits me if I do.

I notice that the meadow begins taking an upward slope, and I find myself running up a hill that dominates the meadow.  I think nothing of it; in fact, I think of little else save for the fate that would result from the darkness consuming me.

I reach the top of the hill and see a blur of light about twenty feet away from me.  Though I sense a terrible fate awaiting me, my body betrays me and thrusts me towards the light.

I reach the light and collapse onto my knees in front of it, my strength gone.

The light is Susan.

She has succeeded.

Oh, Susan!  Darling, forgive me!  I never intended for any of this to happen, believe me!  I still love you, Susan; I never stopped.  I’m sorry Susan!  I truly am!  Just make my suffering come to an end!  I beg of thee, make it stop!  Come, Susan!  Bring what you may!

I open up my arms to Susan’s ghostly being and say her name aloud.

“Oh, Susan…”

She looks at me, and smiles.  She too opens her arms and slowly the light radiating from her shimmering form expands outward.  Out of the corner of my eyes I see my demonic pursuers surrounding Susan and me at the top of this hill.  They watch us, completely stoic.  Once Susan’s light touches them, they dissipate and merge with the light, making it that much brighter.  I wait for the end to come and for whatever waits on the other side.  I can feel my bodily sensations disappearing as I myself accept my fate and prepare to join the nothingness.

However, once Susan’s light finally reaches me, I immediately realize that her light is nothing benign.  It is a dark light, and it’s a painful light.  The light brings a burning, dominating sensation that causes me unprecedented pain.  I scream aloud and scream for mercy.  I stare in horror at the smiling face of Susan as the light continues to overwhelm me.

I stare in horror at the apparition before me.  It looks nothing like the Susan I once knew.  I now realize that whatever does await me is nothing good.  I suppose now I must atone for what I have done.

I let out a final cry.  My screams fade to nothing as I am consumed by Susan’s darkness.

 

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In the early hours of the morning of March 8th, 2014, 227 passengers and 12 crew members boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Of those 239 people, 154 were Chinese, 50 were Malaysian (including the crew members), seven were Indonesian, six were Australian, five were Indian, four were French, three were American, two were Ukrainian, two were New Zealanders, two were Canadian, and there was one Austrian, one Russian, one Italian, as well as a person from the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, none of those people have been heard from since little over an hour after takeoff. At approximately 1:30 AM local time communications with the plane and the transponder signal were lost and the plane all but disappeared. Soon thereafter, the search began.

As of March 17th, 2014, 26 countries have joined the search Flight 370 yielding little to no success. Malaysia, Australia, China, India, Japan, Russia, France, the U.S., Vietnam, and many others have been searching in an area that encompasses most of the Indian Ocean as well as many parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Theories of what happened to Flight 370 range from electronic malfunctions, to terrorist attacks.

Some experts theorize that perhaps the pilot slipped off the radar on purpose. It was thought that the pilot may have intentionally plotted a course that would lead the plane through terrain that would effectively conceal the plane from radar. The theory goes that the plane flew low to the ground—5,000 feet or less—through mountainous terrain and thus evaded radar detection. Why the pilot would do such a thing is a mystery and that question is perhaps the theory’s major flaw.

However, as with all frightening events, many people were quick to jump on the idea that terrorists had seized the plane and flew it off course. This is supported by the fact that two of the aforementioned passengers (the Austrian and the Italian) were actually from Iran and had possession of stolen passports. Though Interpol later investigated the two men (seemingly unassociated with one another) and deemed the possibility of terrorist involvement unlikely (both men seemed to be seeking foreign asylum), it should be noted how quickly our society was to believe terrorism was once again on the rise. One little hint of suspicion and uncertainty and millions scream terrorism and attack, even if both are illogical.

There are many, though, who believe that the plane did not disappeared but rather believe that the plane is no more. It was thought that the plane simply crashed into the ocean or maybe exploded in the air above empty waters. Both ideas, however, have proved to be inconclusive as no debris or oil (that would undoubtedly spilled from a sunken plane) has been found as of yet. The countries in charge of the search have even gone so far as seeking help from citizens by setting up websites that display satellite images of the watery areas it is suspected the plane may have crashed into. And while it is heartening to see so many people genuinely caring about the welfare of the passengers and their loved ones, the results are inconclusive.

And then, of course, there are the conspiracy theorists who claim the disappearance of Flight 370 was orchestrated by some of the governments who are members of the search party. These theorists point out that the mainstream media has concerned itself primarily with the flight and its disappearance, even though the news stations do little more than merely speculate as no conclusive evidence has been unveiled. These theorists claim that the disappearance is being used as nothing more than a distraction for people so that they will ignore the more severe ongoing problems of the world such as the Ukrainian/Crimean/Russian crisis which may very well lead to war and/or another Cold War with Russia.

Yet despite all these pessimistic and vague theories, perhaps the most disconcerting fact about this whole ordeal is the fact that all these superpowers are at such a complete loss in such a crisis. Such a force of nations united under a common cause has not been assembled in who-knows how long, and yet it can do nothing to solve the current dilemma. 26 of the world’s most powerful nations cannot, with all their combined resources, find one single airplane.

After all, that is the main issue here: where the plane is. It does not matter why it disappeared, it does not matter whodunit, it does not matter if this was an accident, an attack, or a conspiracy, what matters is that answers are found and that, hopefully, the passengers and crew members of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are found and safely returned to their loved ones.

Unfortunately, the sad fact of the matter is that valuable time is slipping by and the plane has yet to be located. If the plane did indeed explode, then what hope is there of finding evidence now? If the plane did indeed sink, then would we still be able to discover its whereabouts by now? If the plane was in fact hijacked, then does that not mean the perpetrators could very well be home free by now? And why have our leaders been unable to find any substantial evidence in such a long period of time?

If our leaders wish to maintain the faith we have in them, then they need to get their act together and prove to us that they can handle any situation that may come our way, including finding a missing airplane.

However, as of Monday March 24th, 2014, Malaysia Airlines have announced that the plane did indeed crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The Prime Minister of Malaysia said on Monday that,

“…it is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the Southern Indian Ocean.”

So now it seems as though they are no longer searching for survivors but corpses.

However, the Prime Minister and his allies are still only speculating. This answer was simply the result of a much more intense process of elimination. They still do not have an exact location. They still do not have substantial evidence. And they still have no legitimate answers.

Whether or not the plane did indeed crash, it does appear to be as if 26 of the world’s most powerful nations have simply given up. Which deeply detriments the assurance of security and protection our leaders claim we have.

In the end this tragic even has evinced some of the incompetence of our leaders and of the technology which is meant to make our world safer and better. It is an extremely disconcerting and saddening matter which we can only hope shall never be repeated.

And we thought Waldo was difficult to find.

Note: Featured image source: The Guardian

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20140219-214208While most Panthers sleep in and arrive at school no later than 7:30 a.m. (or at least, they should), a small group of students gather at B9 at 6:45 in the morning. These Panthers are no ordinary Panthers, they were specially chosen by Lynette Menter-Hartman, an AP/History teacher who doubles as the Acadec advisor, in order to be a part of Corona High’s Academic Decathlon; which was, for the first time ever, offered as a zero period. Also for the first time ever, Corona High was to enter two teams into the competition: the Red Team, Corona’s main team, and the Gold Team, Corona’s secondary team.

 

All during first semester, these decathletes spent every morning studying seven different subjects about the Academic Decathlon topic for this year: World War One. The decathletes studied the history, literature, art, music, mathematics, science, and even the economics of that era. Not only that, the decathletes also had to prepare to deliver two speeches, write an essay, and be interviewed by a panel of judges. Needless to say, the decathletes put in a lot of time and effort for their cause.

 

January 25th, 2014 was the first day of the competition and the day the decathletes delivered their speeches, wrote their essays, and sat through their interviews. Afterwards, each and every Panther felt as though they had performed excellently; each of them felt as though they had made a great impact on their judges and had exceeded their expectations.

 

The following week, the decathletes crammed like crazy in preparation for the upcoming Saturday; the second day of competing which would truly determine the results of the Riverside County Academic Decathlon Competition.

 

On Saturday, February 1st the subject testing began at around 8:00 a.m. and ended at around noon. Decathletes from all over the county took all seven of tests, fifty questions each (except the math test; that had only 35 questions) back-to-back. The tests were strenuous; the decathletes themselves were exhausted, but they still retained their optimism.  And that optimism got them through the Super Quiz that took place after the subject tests.

 

This “Super Quiz” tested each division of each team (Varsity, Scholastic, and Honors) on 12 questions about any and all of the seven subjects, but giving the decathletes only 7 seconds to answer each one. While the Corona High teams did not do the best, they did do considerably well. Once the testing was finally over, the decathletes took pictures, shared some laughs, and celebrated a job well-done. Then, at around 4:30 p.m., the awards ceremony began.

 

At the awards assembly, the students who performed achieved the highest individual scores were given individual medals and the teams who achieved the highest score overall were rewarded with trophies. The ceremony started out well for the Panthers; two decathletes from Corona received the first medals of the night for their success in the Math portion of the testing and that made it seem as though Panthers would be receiving medals here and there throughout the evening.

 

However, it was not to be.  Aside from the medals, given to the top scorer of each division of each team, only one more Panther received a medal that night; Vicky Le received a bronze medal for her essay. The majority of the medals were given out to students from Elsinore High School, West Valley High School, and, the big winner of the night, Hemet High School.

 

While the students of those three schools no doubt earned each medal they received, the Panthers felt as though they earned more than three medals and half a dozen consolation prizes. In the end, Corona’s top team, the Red Team, placed 7th whereas Corona’s second team, the Gold Team, placed 15th; in total there were 18 teams. Walking out of the theatre room where the ceremony took place, the Panthers were disappointed.

 

However, despite these less-than-satisfactory results, there was a silver lining. The Panthers may not have won this year, but that defeat only motivated them to work harder next year. They have realized their faults and recognized their opponents’ strengths.

 

Many of this year’s decathletes were brand new to the whole experience and had never experienced the bitter taste of defeat. Now that they have however, they know they must dedicate more time, effort, and passion than ever before if they hope to come out on top next year.

 

Junior Vicky Le, who is the current president of Corona High’s Academic Decathlon and has been a decathlete since her freshman year, had this to say about the results:

 

“AcaDec has definitely been a growing experience. The results of the competition were not exactly what we expected but we improved from last year! It has given us momentum to strive for the best next year. I am so proud to be a part of this nerd family, and a part of the rebirth of Academic Decathlon at Corona High!”

 

While they may accept this defeat, Vicky and her fellow decathletes will never forget. The results this year have only intensified the decathletes’ goal of bringing home Corona High’s first Academic Decathlon trophy.

 

In the end, can this defeat really be considered a loss? Or can it be seen as a wake-up call which will prompt the Panthers to work harder? Perhaps the writer Zig Ziglar said it best when he said, “If you learn from defeat, you have not really lost.”