Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Award-winning Fiction Post #5

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Lillian is in 10th grade.


Baxter the Great
by Lillian Hughes

“Hey, Ben,” Aaron says quickly, as he speeds away.

I jump at his sudden appearance and shout after him, “You know, we could ride together if you traded that bike in for a skateboard.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, faintly.

The best part about living where I live is school is right around the corner. The worst part is that the entrance is on the far side, so I have to travel about twice as far as I should. Which, actually, isn’t so bad when you’re on a skateboard. I almost eat it as the sidewalk dips down into a driveway-style curb, but I save myself and turn the corner. I secure my board to the bike rack and roll the last number on the combo lock up one. Aaron is at the other end, scrambling all his numbers.

“A nice way to save yourself some time,” I say, “is to just change one number, man.”

“It’s also a nice way to get your board stolen.” Aaron counters, finishing his scrambleizing with an elegant toss of his massive dreads. I pity the guy who has to sit behind him.

“You seen Jeff lately?” I ask.

“Nope. He was gone yesterday.”

“Yeah, where do you think he went?”

“Probably ditched.”

“Nah, I thought about that, but I really think Jeff is one of those guys who is all talk and no sizzle. Or whatever.”

“You want to make a bet?” Aaron smiles, his teeth especially white against his dark skin.

“Why don’t we ask him?” I say, as a familiar husky laugh erupts from somewhere in the hall.

We shove our way past all the other kids and find Jeff parked comfortably in the middle of the hallway with everyone else flowing around him like a rock in a river. Next to him, immediately recognizable by his impressively flaming red hair, is none other than Baxter the Great.

“Hey, hey, Brandon," Aaron deepens his voice and smacks him a little. Brandon smacks him back, saying some other form of hello.

I high-five low-five Jeff and say, “Where were you, man? I know you don’t get sick. Did you ditch or something?”

“Yeah,” Jeff opens his eyes wider so their grayish green color is fully visible. “Totally ditched. Know how come?”

I know he won’t let me answer, so I wait for him to say exactly ‘how come..

“Report cards.” He nods, apparently proud of himself.

“Report cards,” I repeat flatly, making sure I heard correctly.

“You idiot,” Aaron says, laughing. “You can’t avoid report cards.”

“Uuh, yaah I cahn, I just did,” Jeff taunts, crossing his arms.

“No you can’t,” I say. “They’re posted online, dummy. Your parents can check whenever they want.”

“And more importantly,” Aaron says, “they come out today, not yesterday.”

Jeff’s face falls into a look of pure annoyance, then it brightens and he says, “Okay. See you on Monday.” He starts to follow the general flow of the other kids, but Brandon catches him by the hood and pulls him back.

“No, you don’t. You got to be here today or the teachers will suspect something.”

“I’ll just say I was sick,” Jeff says, attempting to bat Brandon’s arm away.

“Seriously? Who gives report cards on a Thursday?” I laugh, still hung up on that.

“You won’t get into college, man,” Brandon says, spinning Jeff around to face him.

“OH NO!” Jeff yells so loud, some people turn to stare, stupidly. “Not college! Oh, what will I do? Oh deary, deary, don’t worry, Brandy, I got this. I don’t care about grades, man, I got all I need right here. Right now.”

“But right now won’t be here in three years,” Brandon says. “Don’t you want to move out of your parents’ house at some point?”

Jeff shrugs. “So I’ll be a plumber. I don’t care.”

Brandon looks annoyed, so I change the subject. “Hey, did you finish Ms. Keaton’s assignment?”

Aaron groans loudly. “Uh. Barely. I was up until three last night. I had basketball practice so I didn’t get to homework until six.”

“Luckily we didn’t have a meet yesterday,” I say.

“Wait, I forgot, what sport do you play?” Brandon asks.

“Hockey,” I say. “You play anything?”

He shrugs. “I used to play soccer when I was little, but the work load is too much now. I’m not doing it anymore.”

“Ooooh,” Jeff says. “See, that’s why you always kick butt in PE.”

“Only when it’s soccer,” Brandon corrects quickly, holding up a shushing finger. “I stink at everything else.”

“Hey, we… we all do,” Jeff says pausing to let the bell finish ringing. “Buh-bye.”

“Bye, Brandon, bye Aaron,” I call. Jeff comes with me and we head to our first class, which is approximately the farthest classroom away from everything else, so we have plenty of time to talk about everything and nothing.

I think it’s kind of not at all funny how time wanders off when you’re not in the least bit excited about something yet to come.

Basically, one minute I’m talking to Jeff on my way to first period, the next I’m staring at him on the field, watching him flick his sweaty black bangs out of his eyes. “Come on, Ben,” he says, smiling and looking at my feet. “Let me go.”

“We will not let you go,” I say, glancing at the yellow flags clipped around his waist.

“Let me go,” he says again.

“We will not let you go,” I say, looking back up to his face in the hopes of seeing some glint of mischief that would betray his next move. Wow, I feel so poetic.

“LET ME GOOOOOOO,” Jeff erupts into a high-pitched singing voice and scuttles around me while my guard is down. Shoot, he’ll dodge the rest of the defenders, easily. Sure enough, he zig-zags so quickly I can hardly keep up watching. He curves around into the safe zone where a few other yellow flags are standing looking motiveless.

I watch and wait as he stretches playfully, scoops up the football from the middle of the box marked off by cones, and promptly zooms straight down the field.

“Get him!” I shout, lining myself up to try and take him down. Brandon and a few more guys herd him off to the left, so I run sideways to keep up.

Jeff runs right at me, not even caring to slow down, but I stand, ready for almost anything. He leaps sideways at the last second, but I was ready for that, too, so I spin and claw at his shirt, trying to rip off the flags. He looks at me through the gap between his arm and the football pressed to his side, and smacks my hand away.

“HEY!” I call, slowing down as we passed the mid yard line. “Flag guarding! That’s a flag guard! Don’t call it a score--”

One of the teachers blows his whistle and I make a noise like a gorilla finally giving up.

“Yeah! Alright!” Jeff celebrates, jogging around in a small circle. He drop-kicks the football back over to the safe zone box, but all the kids are walking toward the benches like a bunch of iron shavings to a magnet. “Aw, what?” Jeff looks around. “Is it time to go in?”

“Guess so,” I say, gratefully ripping off my own flags and starting off in that direction. It’s hot.

I look over my shoulder and see Jeff dash over to get the football. Where does he get all this energy? He doesn’t play a sport. Maybe that’s it.

A clipboard is going around in my class’s area, so I sign and get my report card from my teacher. A few quick rips along the indicated dotted lines and all my hard work is ready to stare me in the face, but I don’t open it. I’m a little skeptical. Hm. Nice use of vocab.

I walk back behind the bleachers where the coaches are screaming at all the kids going into the locker rooms not to go in to the locker rooms yet. I take a long drink from the fountain and sit against a support beam, staring at the outside of my progress report.

Brandon wanders over, lazily and sits next to me. “Wha’d you get?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Haven’t looked at mine yet.”

“Do it.”

“Alright.” I open my card, bracing myself. C+, B-, C, B, B, C-. Not too bad. Not as bad as I was expecting. “Ah, see?” I say. “Always assume the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”

“Wow. That was so deep.”

“Wha’d you get?”

“Oh, you know,” he lifts his card a little in a half-hearted gesture. “Whatever. Cs I guess.”

“Uh-oh, here comes Jeff.”

Jeff is brandishing his card wildly, laughing, Aaron behind him, swearing quietly.

“A new record!” Jeff was yelling. “Straight Fs!”

“Seriously?” I ask, shocked.

Jeff stops in front of me. “No. What, are you kidding me? I’m not that hopeless.” He sits down and shows me his grades. “See? Only two Fs. Man, I got to step it up in History.”

“It was that first test,” Aaron says. “It blew everyone out of the water. I got knocked down to a B minus.”

“What,” Jeff elbows Aaron in the leg. “A B minus isn’t good enough for you, four- er- no eyes?”

“Nah,” Aaron tosses his dreads again, still failing to clear the way for his alleged eyes. “I’m fine as long as I’m passing. It’s just that it’s so early in the year, I feel like I should be doing better.”

“What about you, Baxter?” Jeff turns to Brandon.

“What about me, Wood?” Brandon says.

“Wha’d you get on your test?” Jeff leans over and smacks his knees.

“Drool. Happy?” Brandon bats him away. “Shove off.”

“Ooooh,” Jeff smiles, recoiling. “Somebody’s got a little paper in front of them with more Fs than… I don’t know, the F section of a dictionary.”

“Nuh-uh,” Brandon says angrily.

“Come on, I know that look anywhere,” Jeff teases, grabbing for his report.

“Unless it’s one of those switcheroos where it turns out he has all As,” I laugh. “Like in some bad sitcom,” I turn to Brandon. His face is frozen. “You do!” I say, not daring to believe it.

“What?” Jeff snatches Brandon’s card and looks at it with disbelief. “Wow. How?”

Brandon leans back against the post, defeated, and says, “I don’t know. I just do my work. It’s not… it’s not hard. For me.”

Aaron and I crowd around Jeff to see. All As and two A pluses. “Whoa.” I could only dream of grades like that. I had an A once. I’ll never do it again.

“Look at the courses.” Aaron points.

“Chemistry, Honors English...Pre-Calculus??” Jeff looks up and laughs. “Man, get this guy some glasses and a plaid shirt, am I right?”

Brandon just sits there and takes it, as if he knew it was coming.

This seems to make Jeff falter a little. Aaron’s elbow in his ribs helps, too.

“That wasn’t cool, Jeff,” I say, grabbing Brandon’s card and handing it back to him.

“Aw, geez, I was just messing around, Brandy,” Jeff says.

“No, no,” Brandon says. “I get it. This is why I never let you see my grades last year. Besides it being none of your business, I knew you’d probably have some stuff to say about me. Then you’d start looking at me different. Like I was supposed to be part of some other group or something. Like hey, there goes Baxter. He’s too smart. He doesn’t belong.”

I don’t really believe it still, but I gauge that now might be a good time for some comforting stuff. “Hey, no, man. We won’t disown you for being smart. That’s dumb.”

“I think that’s his point,” Aaron says. “And dude, it’s not like anything’s changed. You were always smart. And we always knew you were kinda smart anyway, right?”

“Hm.” Brandon shifts a little. “You two, I’m not so worried about.”

We both look at Jeff between us, who is still looking at the place Brandon’s grades used to be, although he’s lowered his hands now. He looks up, noticing the silence and throws his head around casually, but nervously. “Hey, yeah, no. I--what? Oh, man, no. I won’t tease you. I’ll try not to. No no, but--ah…” he goes quiet for a second, then reorders his thoughts. “Look, dude, I won’t look at you weird. I won’t be all scared off by your Godliness.” He can’t go one second without slipping in a little jab, can he? “And tell you what, no one else will either. Know how come? ‘Cause you’re my friend. No one messes with my buddies, or they’ll have to answer to me. Dig?”

Brandon breaks into a very badly restrained smile and says, “No one says ‘dig’ anymore, dude.”

“We could bring it back,” Jeff says as the whistles blow and the other kids migrate toward the locker room. “We could bring it back. So we cool?”

Brandon stands and looks at the fist Jeff had offered. He bumps it with his own fist. “Yeah, we cool, Wood.” They start off toward the locker rooms.

I stand up too, ignoring the damp butt mark I leave on the hot asphalt. I’ll be glad to get out of the heat. Aaron’s waiting for me, hands behind his back. We walk together and I watch Jeff as he playfully smacks Brandon around, and Brandon, who returns with his own good-natured hits.

“I’m glad we have friends like Jeff,” Aaron says. “It’s a good thing he’s as understanding as he is stupid.”

I laugh. “Hey, Aaron, Jeff may be an idiot, but he’s not stupid.”



Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dragon Tales!

Dewey's Dragon Tales: Teens Read to Tots was a big success! We had seven lovely teen readers--Katrina, Mohammad, Megan, Charlotte, Amanda, Sophia, and Yogini--and they all did a fabulous job. Toddlers were enthralled by the stories, everyone liked their dragon glasses, and parents asked when we would do this again! And everyone, of course, enjoyed the "surprise" visit from Dewey.

If you would like to see an album of photographs, please go to our Facebook page to see what a great time we had.


Friday, December 2, 2016

Adult fiction that appeals to teens

I've been doing a lot of thinking about teen fiction lately; mostly it's been a reflection about the rise of teen fiction as a publishing phenomenon, which happened well after I was a teenager. When I was in high school, we went straight from children's books to adult books (mostly the classics). There were no (or few) books that were written about us or for us, no protagonists who were our age and actually sounded like we sounded or looked like us. We were not particularly entertained by many of these, but they were what we had, so we read them. If we were lucky, we knew a librarian (or another reader) who could steer us towards adult books that might appeal to us.

For teens today, all that has changed. Now there are books of every genre--mystery, horror, realistic fiction, you name it--with teen protagonists on whose lives, loves, or problems the books specifically focus. But even with the wealth of novels for teens, there are still areas of adult literature that can and should be recommended to teens ready to move beyond "their" section in the library, and one of those areas is and has always been science fiction.

Although there are obviously some books in every genre that may not be considered appropriate for teen consumption, science fiction is, in my opinion, the best genre for teens to explore, for a variety of reasons: The focus of science fiction is the future; and when are you more focused on the future yourself than when you are a comparatively new person? Science fiction is speculative fiction, and the question "what if?" is as compelling for teens as it is for adults. And the element of world-building and exploration, in which the characters travel to or through or inhabit somewhere completely different from anything with which we are familiar is equally fascinating to teens.



I discovered science fiction at age 20, when my new husband (now ex) insisted we go to the opening of a movie called Star Wars. I had no interest in waiting in line for four hours to see some "space jockeys" fly around doing whatever, but we were in Westwood and he had the car keys, so I got in line. That movie changed my reading life; I went to the library the following weekend and checked out books by Asimov, Heinlein, and Herbert, and embarked on a fascination with science fiction that has never left me.

Although those names and some of their works could be considered old-fashioned, outdated, and possibly too didactic for modern readers, there are still a certain percentage that hold up, even though they were written in the 1950s about the "far future" of the 2000s. And though some titles are unsuitable for teens, many are just what a teenager in search of a good read is looking for--adventure, excitement, and new experiences. Consider, for instance, two novels not written specifically with teens in mind, but nonetheless beloved: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. There are many more in science fiction where those came from!

For instance: Three by Robert Heinlein that are still compelling (and suitable for middle school readers) are Citizen of the Galaxy, Time for the Stars, and Have Spacesuit--Will Travel. Slightly more mature teens might enjoy The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Revolt in 2100.

Isaac Asimov's trilogy Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation still thrills us with the idea of a galaxy-spanning empire and the small group of scientists who predict its downfall.

Frank Herbert's first three books set on the spice planet of Arrakis--Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune--have a young protagonist who is put into a situation completely out of his depth and taught first to cope and then to rule. (Do NOT watch any of the movies made from this series--colossal failures, all of them, and they'll spoil the books for you for sure!) A contemporary writer whose book, Lock In, we're reading next month in 10-12 Book Club, is John Scalzi.

And as I discovered when I read further, science fiction is not the exclusive purview of men--in fact, some of the finest writers of science fiction are both older and contemporary women authors.

Sheri S. Tepper tells an intriguing tale in tune with our current concerns over the fate of our planet in The Family Tree, which is both enlightening and full of humor and unexpected surprises. Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed posit what it would be like if societies common to earth or those rebelling against its traditions were to be picked up and set down on another planet to thrive or fail in a new environment.

Anne McCaffrey's delightful stories of telepathic dragons are teen-focused in the trilogy of Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. Jo Walton is a comparatively new science fiction writer, perhaps most noteworthy for her mash-up of Plato and sci fi in The Just City and its sequels; and V. E. Schwab wrote one of my favorite sci fi superhero (or antihero?) books ever, Vicious.

Connie Willis, who has won more Hugo and Nebula Awards for her work than any other writer, has just written a new book ideal for older teens and "new adults." In Crosstalk, which is set in a not-too-distant future, a doctor has come up with a "simple outpatient procedure" (yes, it's brain surgery, but don't worry) to increase empathy between romantic partners. After a six-week whirlwind romance with Trent Worth (one of her co-workers at the mobile phone company that employs them to stay one step ahead of their competitor, Apple), Briddey Flannigan is pleased when her boyfriend suggests they undergo the EED procedure together. She is anticipating that a closer emotional connection and enhanced understanding will be the result.

Complicating these plans are her large, needy, and completely boundary-less family members, most of whom disapprove of her intention to get the EED (and some of whom disapprove of Trent as well), and her co-worker, C.B. Schwartz, who is amazingly technophobic for a guy who works for a competitor of Apple, and is worried that Briddey's EED will cause UICs (unintended consequences). Despite all their advice, 
Briddey takes the step and makes a connection--but it's with someone else, and it's definitely not what she expected. Willis takes on our over-connected world of TMI (too much information) and multiplies its perils exponentially in this crazy comedy of errors.

This book was so much fun. T
he concept, the characters, the internal dialogue, and the situations were all so clever, and before the (somewhat) anticipated ending, the plot follows several unexpected red herrings to give us a good mystery on top of our science fiction. You can find this book on the adult "new book" shelves for 7-day check-out.

Although teens now have a huge inventory of books written specifically for them from which to choose, for those whose interests are turning to adult reading, a selection of adult science fiction can be an eye-opening and entertaining transition.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Library closed on Friday!

All branches of Burbank Public Library will be CLOSED on Friday, December 2
for a Library Staff In-Service Day. We will reopen for regular hours on Saturday, December 3.

With OverDrive you can download a free eBook.

With InstantFlix you can watch a PBS documentary, a short film, or a classic cartoon.

FREE with your library card.



While we're reminding you of things, don't forget our Teens Read to Tots event on Saturday, sharing "Dewey's Dragon Tales" with toddlers and their families. Buena Vista Branch, 10:30-12:30.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Award-winning Teen Fiction Post #4

Here is another story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Ashwini is 14 and is in 9th grade.


When Dreams Are True
by Ashwini Dhamodharan

Chennai = the capital/ largest city in the Indian state of Tamilnadu. This story takes place in a slum in Chennai.

Tamil = a south Indian language spoken in the state Tamilnadu

Appa = "Dad" in Tamil

Amma = "Mom" in Tamil



It’s funny how many worlds there are in one city. Take Chennai, India for example. There is a world with tall apartments and two-story houses. A world with fancy restaurants serving foreign food like pizza, burgers, and noodles. A world where there are grand malls with products so expensive that a family can live off that money for months.

And then there’s my world--tiny huts all crowded into a slum. A world where a few rupees make a big difference. A world where men, like my father, lie drunk in the local Tasmac, the government liquor shop. A world where uncleanliness is no stranger. Welcome to my world.




Every weekend, we watch a popular Tamil movie on the bulky, box-shaped TV the government gave to every household for free. Often it stars popular actors like Vijay, Surya, or Rajinikanth. I like how different the movies are from reality. It’s fun to have a break from real life.

I’ve wondered what it would be like if my life was like the movies I watch. I would be invincibly strong and smart. I would probably live in a mansion, filthy rich, or in a comfortable apartment. There would be no money problems. My father would have a college degree or a well-paying job. My grandfather would receive proper treatment from a private hospital. My mother and grandmother would wear silk saris. My three-year-old sister would have her own room with teddy bears and toys. I would finally learn to speak proper English…

But my imagination is far from reality. In the real world, I am a weak boy, only 12 years old. We live in a tiny, one-roomed hut with a bathroom outside, near the threshold. We struggle to make enough money to live on. My father, the only person who works in the family, makes a living lifting and carrying sacks. My mother and grandmother wear well-worn saris and only buy new ones once a year. My grandfather is bedridden, unable to afford the expensive treatment he needs. And I am in an ancient public school, studying subjects like science, math and Tamil, but no English.

After school, I rush to finish all my homework and studies so I can hang out with the others boys. We love cricket. We play cricket for hours. We talk about cricket players and the latest films.

When I get home, mother serves me idly, dosa, or rice with sambar. My mother is the best cook in the world. When it is time for bed, my grandmother narrates stories, usually about Hindu mythology. I love to hear them. I would go to bed, dreaming about Rama, a banished prince who saved his kidnapped wife with an army of monkeys, or the Pandavas, five brothers who went to war against their hundred cousins.

Around that time, my father would arrive. Usually, my father makes a stop at the Tasmac before coming home. When my father arrives drunk, we all leave him alone, unwilling to trigger his irrational anger due to intoxication. My grandmother always says to me, “Don’t waste your time and money on bad habits like drinking. Instead, invest that time for your future.”

My way to do that is to dream.


Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam once said, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” And so I dream. I dream that I am a mythological character like Arjuna, the wielder of the Gandiva bow, or Hanuman, the monkey who was able to lift the Dronagirl mountain to bring sanjeevani to Lanka. I dream about being rich. I dream about being a superhero like Spiderman. Most of all, I dream of going to college and becoming successful in my future career.

…………………………………………………

“Varun, wake up. At this rate, you’re going to be late to school.” My mother shook me awake. It was a typical Monday morning. I was groggy from studying for a test.

I did my regular ‘get ready for school’ routine: use the bathroom, brush my teeth, drink coffee, take a bath, pray to the gods, eat my breakfast, and do last-minute studying.

“Damn that drunkard. Probably sleeping on the streets again,” my mother muttered to herself. Then she turned to me. “Varun, if you see that father of yours, can you give him a piece of my mind and send him here.”

“I’ll keep an eye out for him,” I said, setting off to school. Though it was rare, there were times when my father passed out on the sidewalk, drunk. I would have to fetch him the next morning.

I walked through the streets of Chennai, busy with cars, buses, and motorcycles. I was walking through the streets imagining how life would be if my dad didn’t drink alcohol when I noticed the crowd blocking my path. As I was getting closer to the crowd, I could hear the conversation of those who gathered around.

“Someone call the ambulance! A drunken man who was lying in the street got run over by a car!”

“Too late, he’s already dead.”

For some reason apprehensive thoughts started filling my mind. My heart started to pump faster. What were the chances the dead man was my father? To me it seemed like there was no way my father could be dead. Yes, I convinced myself, it could just be a random drunkard. I decided to take a glimpse at the man just to prove to myself there was nothing to be worried about. Taking a breath, I squeezed myself through the crowd.

It was like my world had come to an end. For a moment I couldn’t think or move. I was frozen in a state of shock. The corpse was covered with blood. The leg had been completely run over. But that face, that beard was undoubtedly my dad.

“Appa!” I screamed, running to his body. “Appa, wake up. Appa ,wake up.”

I kept shaking him, as if I could wake him up. I was blinded by a flood of tears. My hands, my school uniform, they were all covered with blood, but I didn’t care. I could hear the whispering of the crowd but I couldn’t focus on them. The only thing I could think of was my dad.

The passing seconds seemed like eternity. I was crying like a fool unable to think about anything but my dad.

“Varun,” I heard my dad calling in my mind, “Varun, go call your mom.”

My dad’s voice was so soothing, so alive, and I wasn’t sure if the voice was real or just my imagination. But I decided to listen to the voice and found myself sprinting towards my hut. I ignored the weight of my heavy backpack and worn-out sandals. I ignored the piles of trash and the puddles of sewage. None of those mattered now.

“Amma,” I screamed, gasping for air. My mother was cutting vegetables. My sister and my grandparents were asleep.

My mother was alarmed at the sight of my bloody clothes.

“Varun, what happened? What happened?” she kept asking, her eye wide open with alarm.

“Appa is… Appa is…” I couldn’t think of any right words. I grabbed my mother’s hand and pulled her to my father’s body.

My mother was paralyzed when she saw Father’s corpse. I noticed streams of tears flowing from her eyes, glistening in the bright sun. She brushed them away.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

It was a sunny day for a funeral. I could hear the old ladies were beating their breast and wailing, “Aaaiioooo. Aaaiioooo.”

It all seemed wrong. The traditional funeral music started playing. People started to dance. The horns and the drum blared. My mother seemed like she didn’t care, like nothing happened. It was so infuriating.

I was weary and done with this life. The night seemed so quiet, like I was all alone. It was hard to believe that a few hours ago, my father’s funeral took place. I went to the bathroom, angry with everyone: myself, my mother, my father, the world.

A huge sob startled me. There was someone crying in the bathroom. I knocked hard on the metal door.

“Coming,” a voice called. It was my mother who came out of the bathroom. She had obviously been crying and had wiped all her tears off.

I’ve thought of my mother as a strong and brave woman. She cooked for all of us, she took care of everyone, she did all the household chores. But at this moment, I was blown away by her strength. Mother was in much more pain than anyone else, yet she always showed a strong face before everyone. She didn’t want us to worry.

My mother's face was so sad and composed that I wanted to run up to her and tell her to cry her heart out. Instead, I walked up to her, and laid down with my head on her lap, as if it were a pillow. I was feeling something I couldn’t describe with words--it was like my mother was going to protect me. I fell asleep feeling safe, something I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I went to school the next day, despite my mother’s protest. I want a diversion from all these problems and I didn’t want my studies to be affected.

Before I left for schoo., I asked my mother, "Amma, how will we survive?”

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll find a job today.”

……………………………………………...…………………………….

“Amma, the milk is barely enough for four,” I observed as my grandmother made our daily coffee. My mother’s new job is in a tiny old factory, where the hours are long and the pay is low. My grandmother does most of my mother’s household chores now, but Mother still comes home exhausted.

“That’s all we can afford. You should drink the coffee. I’ll do fine without it,” my mother offered.

I struggled at school that day. I could not focus on my class work. Instead I thought of the family situation. At this rate we were going to starve. I had to to do something.

I toyed with my pencil. Should I take a job? Should I give up my education, my future? or should I ignore everything and focus on my studies?

That afternoon, the funeral musicians came, demanding payment for Father’s funeral. My mother sent them off with a cup of coffee.

I lay on my mother’s lap. She played with my hair.

“Amma, are we so poor?” I asked, staring at the ceiling with the blue paint chipping away.

“Yes,” my mother said in a lifeless tone, “yes, we are poor.”

I had never thought of getting a job at this age. There were some other boys who dropped out of school, but not me. I wanted to focus on my studies. But at this moment, I decided if my family were to survive, I had to get one.

“Amma, I don't want to go to school anymore. I don't like it,” I lied. "I want to take a job.”

“No, I want you to get an education and have the chance in life that the generations before you never got. I want you to be a father your children can be proud of. I don't want you to end up like me,” she calmly explained.

“You can't force me to go to school,” I said, hoping to convince my mother it was useless to argue with me.

“I’ll just drag you if I have to,” she threatened.

I had hit my limits. I was confused, tired, and most of all I was angry with the unfair world. It was my mother I took it out on.

“I hate school! I hate my life and I hate you! I hate you! You want everyone to listen to you and be your slave. But we aren't. I'm going to get a job. I'm twelve years old now. I can make decisions for myself!”

I walked away, not willing to face my mother. Deep down I felt guilty for overreacting, but my reaction was justified.

My mother was my motivator. Her goal had always been my goal. But now, her real goal was to keep us alive.

……...………………………………………………………………...

I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead. Even though a month had passed since I had been employed, it was tiring to lift the heavy sacks across the market. The other boys have been doing this forever. Some of don't even have a family to go back to.

They never got the chance to study and go on to make their own path in life. I, on the other hand, had that chance but I threw it away.

Every day, I see the students in their uniforms walking home. A pang of jealousy hits me. Sometimes I wish I had never taken a job, but then I think about my laughing sister, my hard-working mother, and my tired grandparents, and I start working harder than before.

…………………………………………………………..



My uncle once gave me a trunk, a small, worn-out thing that is sometimes used as a chair. Inside the trunk, all my valuables are safely hidden. I have the only key to open it. Deep down in my sea of treasure lies my greatest treasure of all: my school textbooks.

When no one is looking, I take them out of the trunk, sneak outside and study like crazy. I dream of going back to class even more bright than when I left. But I know I won't go back to school.

Today I made a goal of finishing two pages of the chapter. At this rate, I am ahead of my former class. I went home from work thinking about atoms.

My mother was waiting for me at the door. It was obvious I wasn't forgiven for yelling at my mother. My mother hadn't actually spoken to me since I yelled at her. It was driving me insane with guilt.

“Do you truly not want to go to school?” my mother asked when I got inside.

“Yes,” I replied, uncomfortable with the lie. The delicious aroma of my grandmother’s sambar was floating around the house. I became hungrier than before.

“Varun, answer me honestly: Do you really like not going to school?” she asked again. A hint of suspicion arose in my mind but I brushed it away.

“Yes,” I replied again, nervously .

“Then why were you reading this yesterday? I saw you sneaking out to read your school books!” she said, taking out the textbook I had hidden in my trunk.

Maybe I was just overwhelmed by all the secrets my heart had been holding, but I decide no more holding back my feelings. I would just be honest. A stream of tears began sliding down my face. My mother wrapped her warm arms around me.

“You’ve grown so much since your father died. That heart of yours is as strong as a full grown man. You’ve given up your dreams so this family can survive. It's all my fault. I'm a failure of a mother.” My mother’s voice broke into sobs.

For a while, we were just sobbing. My mother’s arms were protecting me from the outside world.

After she calmed down a bit, Mother said “Tomorrow, you are going to re-enroll in school. Nothing is more important to me than my two children’s future and dreams. We may struggle now, but someday you'll have a good job with a nice salary and I don't care how hard I have to work to achieve that.”

That night, after eating some delicious dosa and sambar, I went to bed dreaming about my future. I was going to survive this cruel world. I was going to make my mother proud.



###


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Holiday Hours

Burbank Public Library Holiday Hours:

Wednesday:
EARLY CLOSING, 6:00 p.m. at all branches
Thursday and Friday:
CLOSED for Thanksgiving
Saturday and thereafter:
OPEN, regular hours


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Award Winning Teen Fiction Post #3

Here is the third story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. M. S. is in 11th grade.

The Record

by M. S.

My red rubber boots splashed in the muddy water as I ran, huffing and grunting. My lungs burned, each breath of air sending an icy knife into the back of my throat. I coughed and slowed down, then remembered why I was running, and started again. Why couldn’t I have long, powerful legs like my brother? That way running would be much easier. But no, I was cursed with short, weak legs, that I was surprised kept running through the busy streets, trying to get away.


I couldn’t take it any more, I had to stop. I had to take a deep breath of air, maybe a few. Then I’d keep going. Those few breaths turned into a dozen breaths, the air not so cold when I inhaled. I looked behind me and was so happy that I nearly cried. No one was there. I had gotten paranoid, thinking someone would be chasing after me, but I guess no one saw what I took. I smiled and held my jacket shut, keeping the prize hidden from everyone. It would be only for her.

I straightened up and started walking again. Now that I wasn’t in a rush, I could walk and enjoy the neighborhood. I had only passed through this part of town a few times, when my mother drove us home this way, but when construction made traffic much worse, Mom found a detour, so we started taking that route, and we still do. But now I could see the area for the first time in years. An intersection was built, and before, there had only been one street.

The further into the neighborhood I walked, the more alive it seemed, even though it was raining a little. Other people were walking around, some with dogs, others with their groups of friends. I passed two girls about my age(10). One glanced over at me and jabbed her friend in the arm until she looked at me. They started giggling and continued to watch me until I quickened my pace and ducked into a store.

Why did all the girls laugh at me? I was trying to be liked. I grew out my hair because all the girls at my school swooned over Matthew Cooke and his hair that fell in his face until he pushed it back. Was it my height? I couldn’t help that, I was lactose intolerant, I couldn’t drink milk to make my bones grow. Maybe it was my clothes. My jacket was my brother’s old one, a dirty blue with rips in the seams. My pants were a little short, but my dull red rubber boots covered my bare ankles.

I adjusted the prize in my jacket so that it wouldn’t slip out, and looked around the store. Maybe there would be something else I could get. It was a knickknack store full of painted stones used as paperweights, small dolls the size of my hands, and some necklaces. Would she like a necklace? These were too big for her neck, and too heavy. I turned around and walked out of the store.

The girls were gone, so it was just me, the prize, and the rain, and of course the occasional passerby. I had to stay on this street for, I didn’t know how long, but when I saw the large hospital, then I would know to stop. The weather began clearing up and I regained much of my energy, so I quickened my pace and jogged down the sidewalk, frequently adjusting the prize in my jacket to keep it hidden.

It got busier the closer to the hospital I got. More cars drove in the streets, more people walked around, in and out of stores. I saw the hospital entrance and all the people walking or running in and out. I ran across the street, tripped over the curb, and landed on my stomach. I scurried onto the sidewalk and pulled out the prize, checking to make sure it wasn’t broken. It wasn’t; so I put it back in my jacket and jogged into the hospital.

It was as cold in the hospital as it was outside, but I decided to ignore the temperature and race to the elevator and press the button repeatedly until the doors opened and I could step inside. It wasn’t too busy in the hospital, so I rode the elevator by myself to the ninth floor. It was quiet in the halls as I walked down them. My footsteps echoed loudly and squeaked with every step I took. I found her room and peered in. She was staring at her hands as she sat in a chair in the corner of her room. She wore a large sweater Mom had knitted, and had a blanket on her lap. She looked up when she heard my boots squeak again.

“Hey, little bro,” she said quietly, and smiled. “You just missed Mom, she went downstairs for coffee.”

“I got you something.” I walked over and opened my jacket, then handed her the prize. Her extremely thin hands grabbed it and turned it over. She smiled and then laughed.


“I bet you were made fun of for getting a New Kids on the Block record.” She smiled.

“I’d rather be a caring brother and have the whole world know, than a cool one.” I said. She handed me the record.

“Play this, please.” She gestured to the record player on the table on the other side of the room. I took the record out of the wrapping and placed it on the player. As the music played I stared at my thin sister. It confused me how girls thought getting skinnier could make them prettier. My sister was perfect, and I wanted her to know that.

“Hey, sis?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you.”

She smiled at me, with her big, kind eyes.

“I love you too.”

###


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Award-Winning Teen Fiction Post #2

Here is the next story from one of our top nine writers in the POV Story Writing Contest. Katrina is 14, and is in 9th grade.



Sacrifices of Siblings

by Katrina Darwich

Blood. That’s all I can see. Blood everywhere, the red liquid splashing across my weapon and the floor. The groans of the undead are all I can hear as they stumble towards me, their red eyes set on my brother and me. Swinging, firing, and swearing all at once-- the air is filled with its hateful noises. The sounds of death. Eventually, I lower my bat, panting and sweating. It had only been two. We’ve handled more before. It was no big deal, just another two corpses. But, just as I turn to say something to Ben, I hear a groan. And out of nowhere, I see another zombie, moving extremely fast for a member of the undead. It doesn’t hobble or stumble, it runs. And it makes me freeze with fear, my feet locked in place. Black saliva trails down its grey chin, chunks of its cheeks missing to reveal the rotting gums and blackened teeth inside its putrid mouth. The tongue looks like a slab of rotting meat, maggots snuggling into the decaying flesh. But before I can react,  it’s upon us. Lumbering swiftly with arms outstretched, mouth open wide like a pit to Hell,  just waiting to consume me.

Just as I open my mouth to scream one last time, putting my hands up to shield myself from the creature’s onslaught, its blank bloody eyes trained on me...I hear a gasp. Opening my eyes slowly,  I tremble at the sight of my brother in front of me. His blade has completely gone through the zombie. Slamming it into the ground,  he steps onto its skull, smashing it under his combat boot. I’m shaking, the fear of sudden death leaking away as relief replaces it. At least, it does until I see the bloody tear on my brother’s arm. Instantly, I realize what he’s done. What he’s risked, and lost,  while trying to save me.

“Ben…that looks bad.” I whisper, staring at him fearfully. He shakes his head, ripping the navy blue sweater off to really examine it. And I’m right. It is bad. The bite punctured the skin,  and blood is trailing down his bare arm. A thick, black liquid seems to mix with the blood, and it smells like rot. Like Them. I grit my teeth to keep from vomiting as I examine the teeth marks. The most unnerving part about it is they’re human teeth marks. Bits of flesh are missing from where it took a bite, but he managed to save his arteries from being punctured. At least, that’s what I hope. We move past the slain corpses around us, avoiding the grisly remains of our fight. Ben’s arm is already reacting to the bite, the skin turning grey around the marks as it begins rotting away, even as we speak.

“You need to wrap that thing up. Here, I think I have some rubbing alcohol left, maybe we can…” but as I pull off  my backpack, beginning to rummage through the salvaged contents for something of use, Ben speaks, for the first time since he’s been bitten.

“That isn’t going to help.” My sweat goes cold at his words. Wiping my hands,  I set down my bloodied baseball bat, picking through my supplies unconsciously, and running my fingers through my shaggy black hair.

“Of course it will, come on Ben; maybe if we nip the infection in the bud,  we can…” He sighs.

“It isn’t going to help.” He repeats, a little more firmly this time. My mouth goes dry. I know he’s right, it isn’t going to help. It never helps. Whether we pour a little or the entire bottle of rubbing alcohol. It won’t do much. But that won’t stop me from trying.

“Well, then what should we do? You can’t fight without that arm,  and if we’re ambushed I’m going to need help!” I demand, my voice going higher than I want it to. Ben reaches for his belt with his left hand, pulling out one of the guns we managed to find. It's practically a relic, one of those revolvers you see  in old western movies. But, as a 16-  and a 13-year-old, you don’t have much access to guns. Even during the bloody end of the world. I watch with wide eyes as he examines the weapon like it’s a new video game, only to extend it to me.

“Go on. Do it.” Instantly, I know what he means. I recoil, my heart racing with fear,  as if he  has offered me a groaning zombie head instead of a simple gun.

“NO! No, no, no. Come on,  Ben, we…we have other options. I was exaggerating,  it isn’t even that bad!” I shout, only to lower my voice. They’ll hear us if I’m too loud. His hazel eyes stay calm, but on the inside, I know he’s freaking out too. He’s never been expressive when it comes to panic. Even when our parents put impossible deadlines on him for homework or stuff like that he didn’t freak out. I never dealt well with stress or panic at all. And I kind of hate him for handling situations better than I do.

“Aden, you know as well as I do that it won’t do us much good to look  for another option. I haven’t got much time as it is.” My throat burns as he puts  the gun in my hand, wrapping my fingers around it. The metal is still hot from his warmth. Warmth I know will be fading fast.

“Remember how I taught you,  all right?” he murmurs, helping me hold it correctly. I bite my lip to the point of blood as he sinks to his knees before me, staring at me expectantly.

“Right here,  buddy. Right here.” I almost can’t bear  it as he puts  his finger to the center of his forehead. Angry determination fills me.

“No…No,  I’m not going to shoot you,  Ben! Get up, get up and help me look for something to help you! Anything!” I snarl, replacing my fear with anger. He presses that same finger to his lips, reminding me of how he’d do that when I was younger. When I’d wail because I hurt myself or because I had a bad nightmare. That single finger to his lips. Hush. I bit back the urge to break that finger or to scream at him to stop treating me like a child. Even though both of us ached to return to those simpler times, when we didn’t have to kill to survive in this miserable world.


“Don’t argue,  Aden. It isn’t going to do us much good. You’re just wasting the time I have left,” he whispered wearily. I glance at his arm, discovering that he’s right again. It’s spreading fast. The saliva must have gotten to the blood. Half his arm is an ugly grey, hanging limply at his side, like the arm of  a ragdoll. I can barely look at it before bile begins to rise to my throat. Yanking my eyes away,  I focus on his face, still as comforting as ever. The face I stared up at for guidance or advice when our parents weren’t around. Which was most of our lives.

“Ben…I’m not going to shoot you,” I say with finality.

“And what’ll happen if you don’t? You know,  Aden, you know exactly what will happen if you don’t,” he retorts hotly. I shut my eyes as I remember exactly what he means. About trying to save his girlfriend. And how she’d been bitten.

“Do you want to go through what I did,  Aden? Do you want to shoot me when you have no other choice? When I’m a drooling, flesh-eating monster and I’m trying to kill you? Is that what you want?!” he demands, voice sharpening on the stones of anger. Memories of Riley, sitting beside him, her leg lifeless from the bite and tears streaming down her face from the pain. Ben is strong not to admit how much it hurts. It made Riley scream all night. In the end, I remember him taking the gun as she crawled towards us, eyes dead of life and mouth hanging open as she sought her prey. He’d pushed me behind him so I hadn’t seen him take the shot, but the sound still rang in my ears. The sound of death, final and instant. But the worst part had been when he’d begun to cry. Ben had crumbled to his knees, the gun loose in his hands. Sobs and inhuman wails tore from his throat, so excruciating that I nearly had to cover my ears. His gasp of pain snaps me back to reality.

“Ben, are you all right?” He glares up at me, hazel greeting spring green.

“What do you think?” I nearly laugh at his sarcasm-- if it wasn’t for the situation,  of course. “Aden, I love you. And if you love me, you’ll pull that trigger. Understand? It’s the only way.” Grim reality spits in my face and I hold up the gun, staring into it quietly.

“Do you love me,  Aden? Do you love me?” I can barely look at him,

“Y…Yes. I do.” I whisper, shocked that he dares to turn it against me like that.

“Then do it. Shoot me before there’s no more of me left. Save me.”

“Ben, please…” He grabs at the gun, gritting his teeth as he presses it to his forehead.

“Fine, you know what? I’ll do it myself!” he snarls, sucking in a deep breath as he closes his eyes. I yell as his fingers grow tight on the trigger, yanking it out of his hand as fast as I can.

“NO,  BEN! You aren’t going to do this to me, not now. Not after, not after all we’ve been through.” Though I know he doesn’t want me to, I begin to rant. “We’ve gone through Hell together,  Ben, and I’m not going to let you sink to another level of it without me!” His soft hazel eyes brighten and he smiles.

“Then send me off to heaven with a bullet. I don’t think God will mind.” All the venom in his voice from before seems to disappear, and I’m left with the brother I know so well. The gun weighs a ton in my fingers, crushing them with the weight of the world. But I know it’s only my fear that makes it so heavy. His words send angry tears into my eyes.

“Don’t do this Ben. Don’t make me pull this trigger,” I plead. He clutches at his arm, grimacing.

“I’m not making you do anything,  Aden. I need you to do something. But you can always just hand it to me and walk away.” He’s so calm, so calm I nearly hold up the gun and shoot. I just…I just want to see some emotion from him again. Fear, anger whatever! I need to see some emotion from him! I…need to know he is as frightened as I am.

“I’m not going to walk away and let you die like this,  Ben! What kind of brother would I be then?!” I demand, wiping at my eyes with my dirty sweater. I don’t want him to see any tears.

“A scared one.” He mumbles simply. That only infuriates me further.

“Of course I’m scared! Aren’t you!? Everyone stuck in this miserable place is scared! Everyone suffering through this Hell is scared out of their wits!!!” A burst of bravery surges through me suddenly, mixing with the toxic elixir of anger and fear in my blood. The concoction is almost as deadly as the one surging through Ben’s veins right now. Shakily I raise the gun and rest the muzzle on his forehead. His eyes drift shut and he exhales softly, face tilted upwards as he awaits his fate. The fate he wasn’t supposed to have. The fate that was supposed to be mine.

“This is to protect you Aden. I’m only doing this to protect you.” I grind my teeth and press the muzzle harder against his forehead, parting the matted brown hair that dangles there.

“No. That isn’t your job. That’s never been your job; you don’t need to protect me!” I nearly scream, my voice echoing through the empty car lot. Echoing through the empty world, a husk of what it used to be. His eyes open lazily and I find one clouding with blood. I really do vomit then, seeing the pupil completely black, his entire eye jerking in the socket as if trying to get out. He doesn’t say anything as I heave onto the asphalt, the splattering sounds only making my nausea worse. By the time I’m dry heaving on bile, his pupil has shrunk to half the size, this little black dot in a red sea. I nearly vomit again. But my body remembers there’s nothing left in my stomach to heave. It’s only once I’m wiping the bile from my mouth that he speaks.

“It’s always been my job to protect you,” he murmurs, voice ragged. The infection’s growing worse: The bite is an ugly red compared to the ashen grey of his arm. The marks are swollen and pus oozes down his skin. His other arm is grey too, and I know if I were to tear open his green, stained polo shirt, I’d see a chest to match the cloudy sky. I cringe at the sight and return my gaze to his face. His face, the face I’ve  known for so long. The face of the only family I have  left. And I know, once I pull that trigger, I’ll  be alone, completely and utterly alone. I can’t help it now, my eyes burn with tears and I can’t stop them from falling. Giving a sharp sob,  I break down, all the bottled emotion from all that has happened. Our parents' death, having to scavenge through wreckage to survive,spending every waking moment wondering,  ‘Is this how I’m going to die?’

“I can’t, I CAN’T I CAN’T I CAN’T!!!!” I scream at the top of my lungs, falling to my knees, the gun clutched in my left hand. Sobbing brokenly,  I just can’t look at him, becauase I know that every moment I stand there, holding a gun to his head without pulling that trigger is another moment he suffers his hideous transformation. Another moment living with the last of his humanity. The least I could do is save what is left. Pain burns in my chest and I press my forehead to the bloodstained ground, tears mixing with the coppery liquid.

“If you die…then why should I stay alive? Why…why should I go on living…alone?” I choke out brokenly, face hot with tears and blood and vomit. Ben gives a gasping groan and I remember he’s the one truly in pain here.

“Aden, please, shoot me. Shoot me! SHOOT ME NOW!!!” I’ve gotten my wish, getting emotion out of him. It doesn’t make me feel any better,  though, it only frightens me. His tone is hoarse and desperate, a strangled cry for help. A strangled plea for me to save him. Looking up,  my eyes widen as icy fear grips at my chest. His face is grey, one eye completely red and blank, the pupil gone. The other is barely hanging on, blood creeping in thin steaks into his eye. The wound reeks of death and he groans loudly, head lolling about as if it is too heavy for his neck. Gritting my teeth,  I press the gun to his forehead again, bracing myself, bracing myself for the gunshot. For the blood. For the death that will  fill his face, emptying it of all life. Just as I gather my courage, the last of it, he looks up at me, blood seeping from one dead eye, tears from the other.

“I love you,  Aden,” he breathes, the blood leaving a crimson trail on his cheek. I give another sob. Seeing my brother, the only family I have left, so weak has shattered my soul. The world falls away at that. The guttural groans of new undead coming towards us, the hush of the wind against the dead trees,  and my own hiccupping sobs seem to quiet and fade away. All I can hear are those four words:  ‘I love you,  Aden.’ I had never thought this was how Ben would die. If anything, I thought it would have been me, crying and bitten, barely hanging on to life. But, even if it meant taking his life, Ben would protect me. He would protect me past death if he had to. He loves me that much. And that is something I’d taken for granted for so long; too long.

“I…I love you too.” I whisper, only to look away, my heart racing and my fingers so sweaty the gun nearly slips as I tighten my grip, knuckles white. My mouth is hot and arid, my breath coming out in short wheezes. Every limb of mine trembles, my eyes stinging with the next onslaught of tears. Not the tears of fear and anger like I’d shed before, but tears of the grieving. And, before my courage gives up on me, before I begin thinking about braving this hellhole alone,  I take one last look into his eye, the only part of him that is still human. That shockingly hazel eye that I’d looked up to my entire life. The only part of him I still recognize; and I slowly pull the trigger.

I love you,  Ben.


###


The featured artwork is from Rob Sacchetto's Zombie Portraits and is a depiction of Glen from the TV show The Walking Dead. We thank him for letting us use it. Please don't copy it; Rob is an artist, and makes his living from selling his art.