Why Animals Shouldn’t be in Zoos

This is a persuasive speech written by myself for speech competitions. I got 2nd place in Districts and went to State with this piece.

You, like everyone else this year, are probably tired of COVID-19.  You’re probably tired of masks, restrictions, and social distancing.  But most of all, you’re probably exhausted by quarantine.  Two weeks isolated with no one but your family to keep you company?  It sounds like the absolute worst nightmare, right?  Now imagine swimming in circles, in a glass box, for your whole life.  Imagine treading in circles in a fenced-in enclosure until you die.  And that is a real nightmare.  Sadly, that’s the reality for marine animals and land animals, in both aquariums and regular zoos.  Animals are an essential part of our world, and it’s our responsibility to protect them, not to capture them and flag it as “conservation”.  We’ll look specifically at three of these animals: orcas, mountain gorillas, and African elephants.  Animals such as these should not be confined to zoos to be gawked at or made to perform tricks for human pleasure.

Orcas, perhaps out of all three of the animals, suffer the most.  According to the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation, at least 150 orcas have been taken into captivity since 1961.  Though SeaWorld has not captured a wild orca for 35 years, they have been breeding them in captivity.  Even when they are born in captivity, orcas all carry a natural instinct to swim far and dive deep, up to 1,000 feet, which is not possible in the current 35-foot deep pools they presently inhabit.  Although SeaWorld has proposed to build larger pools, about 50 feet deep, this is still not big enough for these wild animals.  If that doesn’t convince you, the web article “Why SeaWorld’s Tanks Will NEVER Be Enough” states, “In the last 10 years, seven orcas owned by SeaWorld have died at an average age of less than 13, whereas orcas in the wild have an average life expectancy of 30 to 50 years—and some can even live to be more than 100.”

Maybe it was because of the cramped pool size, or maybe it was just in his natural instincts as a predator.  Whatever the reason, on February 24th of 2010, Dawn Brancheau, a trainer at SeaWorld, was killed by an orca, Tilikum, during the show.  When Brancheau turned her back, Tilikum grabbed her by her arm and pulled her into the water, swinging her around in his mouth.  Guests watching the show were quickly ushered out of the area and workers tried to corral Tilikum, but by the time they were able to retrieve Brancheau, she was dead.  An autopsy conducted by Doctor Joshua Stephany on February 25th determined her cause of death was due to drowning and traumatic injuries.  Tilikum had also been involved in the deaths of two other individuals before Brancheau, one a trainer, the other a trespasser.  This is yet another reason that animals such as orcas should not be kept and made to display themselves unwillingly.

It is not only sea life that suffers from being in captivity.  On March 19, 2012, at the Buffalo Zoo a 400-pound male silverback gorilla named Koga escaped.  He took advantage of an unlocked door and slipped into a small area behind his living space, used only by zoo personnel.  A keeper who had cared for the gorilla since he arrived at the zoo in 2007 was bitten on her hand and on her calf, in what officials said was an act of excitement rather than aggression.  Police sent in the SWAT team to secure the area while a veterinarian used a handheld blow gun to sedate Koga.  There have been many escapes in zoos by gorillas, which shows just how risky it is to coop up these potentially dangerous animals.  Even though gorilla enclosures are guarded with layers of safety glass, on April 17th of 2015 a gorilla at the Henry Doorly Zoo managed to break the first of the three layers of protective glass enclosing their exhibit.  Officials say that this is not unusual.  Gorillas pound on the glass to assert their dominance and because of the sound it makes.

Although the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums claims that zoos are great places to show people about the natural world and the need for conservation, many species in captivity are not thriving.  Many captive gorillas are obese because they consume more food and do less exercise than they would in the wild.  According to SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment website, in their natural habitat, a single troop, or group of gorillas, can have a home range of around 10 square miles.  In the Henry Doorly Zoo, the Hubbard Gorilla Valley is an enclosure of about three acres, equivalent to approximately four-thousandths square miles.  That is about four-hundredths percent of their home range in the wild.  This would be comparable to going from living in your house to only living in your bathroom.

The March 5, 2018 Atlantic article, “Something Mysterious Is Killing Captive Gorillas” states: “Although heart disease is nearly absent in wild populations, it’s the leading killer of captive male gorillas around the world.  Roughly 70% of adult male gorillas in North America have heart disease, and may die prematurely as a result.”  The article goes on to detail the story of Mokolo, an adult male gorilla who suffers from heart disease.  “Specifically fibrosing cardiomyopathy, a condition that turns red, healthy heart muscle into bands of white scar tissue too rigid to pump blood.”  The article states that the mysterious killer may not be the gorilla’s hearts, but their guts.  In the wild, gorillas can spend up to 70% of their time foraging for high-fiber plants, whereas gorillas in captivity on the “biscuit diet” can devour their food in just 30 minutes.  This might contribute to a behavior called regurgitation and reingestion, in which animals intentionally bring up their food and eat it a second time.  I know with complete certainty this information is true, because I have seen a gorilla do this before.  This behavior has never been recorded in wild gorillas, but has in nearly two-thirds of captive gorillas.

In addition to sea life and primates suffering in captivity, large migrating land mammals also are being restricted to confining cages that are allegedly “authentic” when compared to their natural habitat.  Elephants in Kenya move around the country year-round, following the rains, searching for grass and water sources.  African elephants are one of many species that migrate annually, and during one of the driest seasons they were estimated to travel a total of 100 kilometers, about 62 miles, says SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.  Associating a line of travel to the square footage of a zoo enclosure is not really a fair comparison, but placing migrating animals in cages that are the tiniest of fractions opposed to their normal range is not exactly fair either.

According to the Henry Doorly Zoo website, the elephant zoo enclosure, including the indoor family quarters, is about the area of six football fields.  However, because elephants migrate, their territory is estimated to extend up to approximately 4,247 square miles, or about 2,055,548 football fields.  The Henry Doorly Zoo enclosure then is four-ten thousandths percent of their normal territory.  I had to find all these measurements myself, through a long process of calculations that tested my math skills.  Don’t be alarmed, I won’t bore you with all these numbers, but I was frustrated that the Henry Doorly Zoo didn’t tell me exactly how much room the elephants have.  Since the dimensions are hard to visualize, here’s a comparison.  According to their website, the Conestoga Mall in Grand Island is 545,000 square feet.  Four-ten thousandths percent of that is 218 square feet.  Imagine living in the Conestoga Mall, able to roam about with more space than you could dream of.  Now imagine going from that to only living in your bedroom. Honestly, that doesn’t really sound too bad, but here’s the catch: your mother, your father, your aunt, your cousin, your brother, and your sister are all living in your bedroom with you.  Unfortunately, that’s what it’s like for the seven elephants that are living in the Henry Doorly Zoo enclosure.  They are being confined to places so tiny it’s hardly comprehensible.  Keeping in mind all the numbers I told you, Henry Doorly Zoo provides the best indoor space for elephants in all of North America.  Now think of the zoo in Topeka, Kansas which was ranked number one on a list of the top ten worst zoos in America in 2017, according to In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization.  Over the span of two weeks, I called the Topeka Zoo to get their take on the situation.  After a series of emails and two phone calls, I was finally able to speak with the animal care supervisor, Shanna Simpson.  After a 30-minute conversation, I can say that the Topeka Zoo does have the best interest of their animals in mind; however, after a lengthy email conversation with Judy Carman, a worker of In Defense of Animals, I have come to the conclusion that their facilities do not support their good intentions, for their elephant enclosure is a mere three-quarters of an acre, or a little more than one-half of a football field.

While I agree that zoos are a wonderful way for normal people to be in the presence of extraordinary animals and learn more about them, it shouldn’t be at the expense of these animals’ lives and health.  There’s a difference between human entertainers, who can make the choice to perform, and animal entertainers, who can’t talk and agree willingly to be on display.  Zoos are nothing more than pretty and well-advertised cages.  Animals like orcas, mountain gorillas, and African elephants should not be confined to zoos, but we should instead find solutions that will improve the animal’s living conditions and help people experience the wonder they bring about.  We need to meet them halfway, since they can’t speak for themselves.

Thank you for reading!

Alex Parker


Follow Ariana Patch, a young teenager whose freshman year was interrupted by a strange new virus that’s taking over the world in my short story, “COVID-19”.

March 17, 2020

Today is Tuesday, the first day we are out of school because of the Coronavirus pandemic.  Yesterday, our principal held an assembly to tell us that we were getting out of school for two weeks.  Since it’s only been one day, I’m not feeling confined in any way.  It feels like any other weekend, so I’m not tired of being at home yet.  That might get old soon, though.  I won’t really be able to see anyone but my family and I won’t have too many mental exercises to do, except for the “enrichment activities” our teachers have assigned us.  I’m actually grateful for those, as they will keep me sane during these two weeks.

The world is getting crazy now, it’s baffling to observe everyone from this perspective.  According to the Nebraska Department of Education website, 102 public schools have shut down, and 58 private schools have also shut down.  People are freaking out, and I don’t think for a reasonable cause.  Yes, this virus is dangerous, especially for older people, people with underlying health conditions, and newborns.  But I don’t think this is a reason to panic.  COVID-19 is very similar to influenza.

According to the World Health PDF, both viruses are a respiratory disease.  They are both transmitted through contact.  They are different because influenza typically lasts about 3 days, while COVID-19 can last from 5 to 6 days.  This means influenza spreads faster.  We don’t have a vaccine for COVID-19, while we do have one for influenza.

Notice how I mentioned that COVID-19 is a respiratory disease.  The symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath, which is very similar to influenza.  People are buying so much toilet paper that people who actually have a need for toilet paper have to travel large distances to find it in stores.  There are shortages in most stores of toilet paper, even though COVID-19 does not cause diarrhea.  I understand the need to have it if you are quarantined, but hoarding it is ridiculous.  Other items, like hand sanitizer, are rational to buy, but not in such huge quantities.  My dad and I went to get dry ice from this man and he told us that an elderly couple came into his store and bought over $800 worth of groceries.  They did not have children or grandchildren.  Another elderly woman came in and bought over $100 worth of only toilet paper.

The COVID-19 virus is driving our world into a panic and my only hope is that people will realize that they are blowing this out of proportion.  I hope that this will pass quickly and that people will regain some sense.

Ariana Patch

March 18, 2020

Day two of isolation is going well for me.  We had a crazy morning, as we received a box of chickens, turkeys, and ducks.  We had to move them and get them settled and everything, and the activity was good for me.  I have been working on schoolwork for a while now, and I interviewed my mom for a Geography assignment.

It’s kind of hard to stay on our property and not go anywhere, even though I don’t like going anywhere mostly.  It’s also hard being cooped up with only my family, although I love them.  I have been FaceTiming my friends to stay sane.

Coronavirus is actually worse than I’d originally thought.  Apparently, someone can be a carrier of the Coronavirus and not have the symptoms.  So, if they walk around and spread the disease, someone who catches it from them could feel the symptoms.  You are also contagious for four days before you feel the symptoms, if you feel them at all.  Coronavirus is dangerous to elderly, and when the virus got into a nursing home it killed about 40 people.  It’s so dangerous, although I could have had it.

About two weeks ago, I was out of school for a week with a cough, sore throat, lost voice, and a fever.  I thought it was influenza, but since I never got tested for it, I could have had the Coronavirus.

I don’t know what else to say, other than I don’t like being out of school.  I wish that we could just continue, because so many things are suspended or cancelled.  Like track, FCCLA, FBLA, FFA, prom, and everything.

Ariana Patch

March 19, 2020

This is day three of the isolation because of the Coronavirus.  Today my mother was going to take us to Norfolk to Hobby Lobby to get crafting supplies to keep us occupied.  But, she is going to leave us here so we aren’t exposed to the virus.  It’s getting a little frustrating, having to stay at home and not leave.  I miss going out in public and seeing my friends.  There’s nothing going on here, especially since we live in the country and are kind of out of the loop.  I haven’t had much contact with my friends from Edmund, yet.  After a week I’ll probably try to reach out and talk.  I have been talking to Bella and my friends from Neely, but not much.

It’s not very easy to write for 20 minutes about this.

I heard that there were a few earthquakes in Utah that were about 5.7 magnitude.  I don’t know how bad that is, as I’ve never experienced an earthquake.  I’ve seen the pictures of destruction.  I’m just glad I live in Nebraska where we don’t get earthquakes or tsunamis or hurricanes.  It’s nice to live in such a landlocked state, sometimes.

My family is starting to get irritated with each other, especially my sisters and I.  I don’t know how to fix that, except to spend time away from them and try to give everyone space.  Kind of hard to do when we live in such a small house.

Ariana Patch

March 20, 2020

Day four of the Coronavirus quarantine is hitting hard.  I’m starting to feel less like a person and less like myself.  I haven’t done anything today, I just can’t find the energy.  Everyone is saying on Tik Tok and Instagram that they’re going to try and “glow-up” during these two weeks, but I don’t know how they do it.  I can’t do anything.

I was originally happy about the quarantine, since I was getting kind of overwhelmed by school.  But now I see that this isn’t good for my mental health and it’s really starting to affect me.  Even though our homework is minimal, I’m getting stressed about the science homework because it doesn’t explain the concept at all and I can’t ask my teacher for help.  I don’t know what to do.  I know it’s only day four, but this isn’t at all fun like we all thought it would be.

I know I’m supposed to write for 20 minutes, but I can barely summon the energy to write this much.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t today.  I’ll try to be more productive tomorrow.

Ariana Patch

March 21, 2020

Day five of the quarantine was definitely better than yesterday.  I didn’t do much today, and I’m just now starting my homework, but it was better.  I don’t feel like I’m going to cry every second of every hour.  Now, I just feel numb.  This quarantine is not doing me any good, but I feel like I’m unhurtable now.  My defense is numbness, which is better than devastating pain.

My list of regrets that the Coronavirus exists is endless, but at the top of the list is for the graduating class of 2020.  They are getting their childhood cut off, it seems like.  We don’t know if school will get cancelled completely, but if they do things will be horrible for this year’s seniors.  They won’t get to walk down the aisle, or hug their best friends, or give their closest ones flowers.  They won’t get to go to one last prom.  Instead of getting ready for prom with their friend group, they will be stuck inside their houses, looking on their phones, and knowing what could have happened.  They won’t get to say goodbye to all the underclassmen who look up to them, who they’ll be leaving behind.  They won’t get to finish their education this year, and they’ll be behind on college applications.  They won’t get to see their favorite teachers again, and though of course they can see them, it won’t be the same.  It will be an unfinished goodbye.

So, if anyone from the graduating class of 2020 is reading this, I’m sorry.  We underclassmen won’t know how hard this is for you, and how difficult this will be for you.  But, this will pass, just like everything else.  You are expected to be young adults now, and I believe that you can achieve that.  I know that most of you already are.  So, from an underclassman, thank you and I’m sorry.

Ariana Patch

March 22, 2020

Day six of the Coronavirus quarantine is going better than day four.  I did something productive today; I cleaned my room.  It does make me feel better, even just a little.  Of course, I still don’t feel right.  When I’m trying to fall asleep is the worst time, when my thoughts are free to roam as they please.  During the day I try to keep somewhat busy by reading or cleaning or spending time with our various animals.  I’ve finished five books and have started on a sixth so far.  I only have five left, which is worrying me.  What will I do when they’re finished?

I’ve been thinking about inviting someone over, but it’s a difficult situation.  Basically, the girl’s family does not like my dad, mostly because of his profession.  The situation kind of made me think of Romeo & Juliet’s story.  Two kids who can’t be together because of their family.  Of course, this is a lot different, but not that much.  I’m sure Mrs. Harlowe will be happy I remembered at least a part of that awful story.

The only ways I’ve stayed sane throughout this week is because of my Neely friends, books, and music.  My family, obviously, has made me less lonely, but that can only take me so far, holed up with the same people for two weeks.  I’m so fortunate to have a really good family, or this quarantine would be a thousand times worse.

I’m so sad for all the activities that have been cancelled or “suspended”.  I am most disappointed for FCCLA State STAR.  I got first in Districts with a gold medal and I was working on a mental health week for my school to beef up my presentation a little.  I’m so sad that I had that taken away from me.  I could have done so well, but now I feel like a jerk whenever I say that to anyone.

Track I’m not too sad about, since I quit.  I quit because it made me feel worthless every night when I’d get home and know that I wasn’t the best, that I was the worst.  It’s hard for me to accept not being the best, because I excel at a lot of things without trying.  I know I could’ve done better if I tried harder, but I don’t think I could handle all of those people.  I would have been so happy with just a Edmund track team, but with Orchard and Clearwater, it was hard to be around so many people, who were constantly judging me.

District music I was excited for, as well.  I had a beautiful song and I had really thought I stood a chance to go to State.

District speech is one of the biggest let-downs.  True, I probably wouldn’t have made it to State, but I was excited to give my humorous speech.  I had a bunch of new ideas, I could do it without the script, and I was good at it.  I am not as sad for our OID or my serious, which didn’t turn out like I wanted it to.  I will not be doing that next year.

Pierce honor band I was also excited for, since I got 2nd chair.  I’ve never placed so high, and this was going to be my fourth year going.  I could have said that I’d gone all four years, but now I can’t.  I can say that I made it, however, so I am not too sad.  But I am still greatly disappointed.

There’s a lot I’m missing out on because of this Coronavirus, but I can’t afford to be so sad about it, because I’m very fortunate.

Ariana Patch

March 23, 2020

Today is day seven of the quarantine.  I can’t believe it’s been a week.  Today Mr. Appleby called and told us that school is cancelled through the end of the school year.  I was in shock, and when I called my Neely friends about it, they informed me that they also closed.  I don’t know how we’re going to do classes, because we have to have credits to graduate to the next year.  But there’s also kids who don’t have WiFi at home, or their parents didn’t finish school and can’t help their children with their homework.  I don’t know what they are going to do and the uncertainty is killing me.

This quarantine started out as a joke.  People saying, “Oh, see you next school year!”  But now the rest of our freshman year is officially cancelled.  I didn’t get to say goodbye to all those seniors, who I look up to as an underclassman.  I didn’t know that Monday would be my last day as a freshman, and now I’m a sophomore, technically.

After I got the news, I got into a FaceTime call with my Neely friends and we all cried for about half an hour.  A few kids didn’t care that it was over.  But my senior friends were the most upset, and we were all upset for them.  They got all of their “lasts” ripped away from them and it isn’t fair.

Ariana Patch

March 24, 2020

Day eight of the quarantine passed with a lot of good things in the day, I guess.  I cleaned out the hay in the lean-to for an hour while listening to music, so it wasn’t a very bad chore to do.  It was very windy, but inside the lean-to it was warm and just a slight breeze was blowing.

I FaceTimed Bella for a good amount of time and we worked on our writing for a long time.

There’s not much to say about how I’m feeling, other than defeated.  I’m sad that the school year ended like this, but I can’t do anything about it.  I’m not looking forward to whatever they decide to do with “online classes”, because that sounds miserable.  Anyway, I don’t feel broken-hearted anymore, but I’m still sad.

This quarantine has had so much effect on everyone and I’ll be the first to say that it’s not in a good way.  For anyone in the future reading this “journal”, don’t take school for granted.  Everyone wanted out for a while, but it’s not at all what we thought it would be.

Ariana Patch

March 25, 2020

Day nine of the Coronavirus quarantine was a lot better than any of the other days.  I spent most of my time FaceTiming Bella while we were working on homework or our writing exercises.  I had a lot of fun with her, but I really wish she lived closer to me.  I’d kill to be able to just walk over to each other’s houses everyday.  Of course, we couldn’t do that with the quarantine, but still.  It’d be nice to have someone here.

I feel a lot better today.  I think I’m finally adjusting to the quarantine.  I’m still sad, obviously, about everything that’s been cancelled and how much of freshman year I missed.  I’m not excited for “online schooling” or whatever they end up planning to do.  I just think that’s going to be chaotic because there will be students who don’t do anything.  I would hate to have to go on a group FaceTime (or whatever they call it) with my classmates.  THAT would be chaotic.  I can’t imagine any of the boys getting up to go to school online.  Any day that that happens, a pig will fly.

Anyway, I have to go to bed.  I’m trying to straighten up my sleep schedule again, but it’s a slow process.  This quarantine definitely messed that up, along with a million other things.

Ariana Patch

March 26, 2020

Day ten of the quarantine was pretty normal, by all standards.  I only FaceTimed Bella for a little while.  I’m getting used to being quarantined now, even though I have been feeling increasingly lonely for a relationship lately.  I wish I had a relationship to count on a go back to.  I really want to be loved right now, but in my state that’s not possible.  Every boy here is inconsiderate, ignorant, and basic.  They all don’t treat anyone right, especially their family.  They don’t care about school, they don’t care about anyone’s feelings.  I honestly hate it here sometimes.  But other times I’m glad I live here.

Anyway, I am getting used to quarantine.  I didn’t go to the store with my mother and sister today and I was fine with being alone in my room all day.

I’ve been trying to “glow up” over quarantine, like everyone else is doing.  I have started to do more skin care and exercising with my friend over FaceTime.  I have been trying to take better care of my hair and sleep more.  I know it probably won’t increase my looks by sophomore year, but I’m tired of feeling like I have to dress to cover myself up because I don’t feel pretty.  I’m ready for a change.

Ariana Patch

March 27, 2020

Day eleven of the Coronavirus quarantine passed with nothing special happening.  I didn’t go out today, I cleaned my room twice, I did a lot of skin care and everything.  I now like doing the dishes at night because I’m so bored.  There’s nothing to do here, and I don’t even know what else to write.  There isn’t anything going on here.

Ariana Patch

March 28, 2020

Day twelve of the Coronavirus quarantine was exactly like all the others, so I don’t see a reason to write about it.

Ariana Patch

March 29, 2020

Day thirteen of the Coronavirus quarantine was better because I was busy the entire day.  My family and I cleaned out loads of logs and sticks from the heifer pen and we worked for over 7 hours.  Afterwards, it was nice to see our progress, as it was so much cleaner.  There’s nothing else to say about today, so I’ll leave it at that.

Ariana Patch

March 30, 2020

It’s been fourteen days, two weeks, since the beginning of the quarantine.  Every day is exactly like the other, and I don’t feel like I need to write about that.  I’m done journaling for now.

Ariana Patch

Monday, April 20, 2020; 8:12 P.M.

Four days ago, I finally accepted myself.  Unlike I’d thought, it wasn’t a slow process of working to accept all my flaws one by one.  It was like a light switch being turned on.  Suddenly, I realized that I was beautiful and had value and had worth to add into the world.  It was all because of my best friend.  I was texting her one night at exactly 8:06 P.M. on April 16, 2020, a Thursday.  We were talking before that, but I told her that the one thing that the Coronavirus had done for me had made me accept my flaws.  And instantly, in that moment, I accepted everything about myself.

Now, I’m not naïve.  I know I have flaws and I’m not perfect.  I’m going to have bad days and I will question and doubt myself, still.  But it’s not the self-consuming self-hate that I used to have.  If you had asked me five days ago if I was happy with my life, I would’ve said no.  But now, I would say yes.  Of course, I’m still a moody teenager going through tough times (high school) and I’m entitled to be a little moody.  But I’m not depressed and anxious all the time.  I won’t worry about what to say to my friends or anyone.  I’m not as lonely for a relationship anymore, and I know that I can wait until I find someone who fits me.

My best friend is the only reason that I realized this, at all.  Without her I wouldn’t be the person I am today.  I wouldn’t think that I had any worth or that I was truly loved by anyone.  She will always have a place in my heart and nothing can or will ever take that away from her.

At first, quarantine was not good for me, at all.  My mental health was declining from zero contact with my friends and classmates and I was stuck inside with my family for weeks.  But after exactly one month since the beginning of quarantine (March 16th) I am finally myself.  And I realized that’s okay.  After two years of depression, anxiety, crying myself to sleep and trying to stop myself from cutting my skin or trying to kill myself, I’m done with it all.  I’m ready to start my life.

Ariana Patch

Thank you for reading!

Alex Parker

Fatally Late

WARNING: Graphic content.  May be sensitive for some readers.

For a writing prompt, I was challenged to write a story in second person, with the phrase, “You check the time. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late.”  This story is graphic, so please read with caution.  Thank you!

When Elijah asked you out, you smiled.  You had been playing with his feelings for a few months, just for fun.  You knew that you wouldn’t ever seriously date him, but one date couldn’t hurt, could it?  You agreed and he asked if you would meet him at the mall at ten minutes after ten.  The time seemed very specific and strange to you, but you didn’t think too much of it.  You consented to meet him then, knowing full well that you wouldn’t arrive at the right time.

You get ready in the morning, wearing a red sundress and black sandals, confident in your looks.  You look in the mirror, contemplating yourself.  Small waist, big hips, curly blonde hair, straight white teeth, and big blue eyes.  You smile at your reflection, content.  You glance at the clock.  It’s exactly ten after ten.  You smile and walk to your car, grabbing your keys and purse on the way out the door.

As you pull into a parking space at the mall, you check the time.  Perfect.  As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late.  You check your makeup and hair in the rear view mirror, fluffing and primping yourself to perfection.  You give the mirror a smile, checking your teeth.  Perfect.

You open the car door and stroll out, heading towards the mall.  You notice a strange sound and glance around you for the source.  When you don’t find one, you shrug and open the mall doors.

Your ears are immediately met with the sound of human pain.  You stare at the scene around you with wide eyes, horrified.  Bodies are laying around the mall, some still moving, others eerily still.  Plants and clothing racks are knocked over, shops in complete chaos.  Blood is coating every surface, the floor, the walls, the couches in the middle of the aisle.  You’ve never seen such a dark color of red.

You can’t seem to move, even though your brain screams at you to run.  You watch, in seemingly slow motion, as a little boy crawls laboriously to his mother, who is lying on the ground, not moving.  Her eyes are wide and staring up at the ceiling.  The boy lays on his mother’s chest and cries, begging for her to wake up.  Close to them is an older couple, crumpled together on the ground.  Neither is moving.  You feel something break inside of you as your eyes follow the stream of blood on the mall floor.

A little girl, no older than seven, wearing a bloodstained yellow dress and blonde braids has spotted you, the only person left standing.  She starts to run towards you, limping and holding her injured arm.

“Please, help!” she screams. “Save me!”

You make no move to help her, as you are still shocked, but you jump when a gunshot echoes all around you.  You cover your ears and close your eyes.  When you open them, you see the body of the little girl lying before you.  You drop to your knees and turn her over.  Her eyes are open, much like the dead mother.

Something shocks you in your body, and you scramble backwards from the girl, pushing her away from you.  You struggle to your feet and run to the closest store, gunshots reverberating behind you.  You tear through the upended racks and shelves of clothes, fighting to get to the back of the shop.  Nothing goes through your mind except terror and the urge to save yourself.  You hear a scream and nearly step on a young woman hiding behind the counter.  You shush her and crouch down with her.  You push her farther into the counter and cover her with your arms, hiding with her.

Minutes or hours pass, you’re not sure which.  You hold the shaking woman tightly, ear straining for any possible sound.  The gunshots seemed to have gone up the stairs, and every new shot makes you jump and the woman in your arms cry out.  You have to constantly shush her and you’ve passed being patient.

Too soon, the gunshots start to come closer until they’re right outside your shop.  The woman is crying so hard you have to press your hand over her mouth.  She cowers in your arms, her eyes shut tight.  Heavy breathing and footsteps start to walk into the store, and you feel a simultaneous wave of calm and panic wash over you.  You cradle the woman, whispering words of peace to her.  You start praying.

“Dear Father, please help us.  Please protect all the people left here and take those who have died up into your kingdom.  Please protect us, please help us.  Please…” you trail off.

You watch a pair of black boots come into your sight.  You look up into a familiar face.

“Elijah?” you ask in astonishment.  At first you are jubilant, certain he’s here to save you and he’s survived the shooter, as well.  Then you notice a gun in his hand, hanging by his side.  The smile melts from your face like frosting.  You look up at him with terror.

He smiles a psychotic smile.  He lifts his gun, and you silently pray to God.  You pray for your family, your friends, the people in the mall, and for Elijah.  All this in less than a second.  The gunshot is louder than you had ever imagined, and it goes through the shaking woman in your arms like she’s made of butter.  You look down at her, watch the blood run from the wound in her head.  She doesn’t shake anymore and you do nothing but hold her close and wait for the next bullet that will end your life.

“You brought this upon yourself,” Elijah whispers, his voice barely loud enough for you to hear. “You played with me, taunted me, you made me do this.  They are the ones who are killing me.  They did this, this isn’t my fault!”

Elijah’s voice has risen to a scream.  You cower, ducking your head and pleading with him, “Elijah, please.  These people are innocent.  If I’m your target, kill me and be done with it.”

Elijah laughs, his smile not reaching his eyes.  They stay angry, piercing you with their psychotic glare. “You really think this is all about you?  These people know nothing of pain and suffering.  They don’t deserve to be here anymore than you do.  You are worthless, just like this filth.”

He kicks the leg of the dead woman that you still hold in your arms.  You pull her closer, knowing that everything is almost over.  You will become another number on a list on the internet for college students to study.  You will become a number told to horrify young high school students to gasp at during school assemblies.  You will become a gravestone that people’s gazes will slide over as they walk past you to visit their own passed loved ones.  You will become nothing.  And you’ve accepted that.

As Elijah lifts his gun to point directly at your head, he says, “This is your fault.”

The gunshot, though expected, made you jump.  Strangely enough you don’t feel any pain.  You don’t see anything spectacular, you don’t feel anything.  You open your eyes to see that you’re still in the mall, clutching the dead woman.  You look in front of you and see Elijah sprawled on the floor.  You hear more footsteps and for the first time, yelling.  A man in a blue uniform comes into view and checks Elijah’s pulse.  He calls something out of the store and receives a response.  He looks around him, and spots you.  Again, he yells towards the opening of the store, then looks back to you.

“Are you alright?” he asks softly, as though not to scare you.

You don’t answer.  You faint.

Blackness overtakes your vision, then a familiar and unwelcome face.  Elijah.  Elijah looking at you, Elijah laughing, Elijah smiling.  Then more haunting images.  Elijah frowning at you after you told him you wanted to be ‘just friends’.  Elijah talking about his parents, who left him in an orphanage.  Elijah frowning at a child hugging its mother.  Elijah talking about the world’s cruelness.  Elijah forcing a smile as he met your parents.

You wake up in the hospital, with your mother and father by your side.  As soon as you turn your head to face them, your mother bursts into tears.  Your father just holds your hand and says nothing, patting your mother on the back.

Trying to talk through her tears, your mother chokes out, “We were so worried about you.”

You say nothing.  You think that if you open your mouth, you might scream.  You just watch your mother cry and your father console her.  After a minute you stare at your father, hoping to answer the question you can’t bear to ask.

He looks at you and says quietly, “Twenty dead and twenty-six injured.”

You close your eyes.  Twenty dead.  The mother, the old couple, the little girl, the shaking woman.  They are just numbers, now.  But to you, their family, their friends, they are much more than that.  Twenty-six injured.  Did the boy make it out or is he one of the twenty?  Do they count you as one of the twenty-six?  As far as you know, you aren’t injured on the outside.  Not in body.  Mind may be a different story.

After a while, your parents are required to leave and doctors and nurses ask you how you are feeling.  You can’t answer them, but respond with shaking or nodding your head.  They are starting to become nervous about your lack of communication.  They’re worried because you won’t eat as much as they put on the plate.  They whisper things you don’t care about enough to listen to and glance over at you when they think you won’t notice.

After a couple of days filled with tests, nurses, doctors, crying family and friends, you are discharged from the hospital.  Since no one trusts you enough to drive yourself, your mother drops you off at your apartment and walks you to your door.  She puts the keys in your hand.

“Do you want to be alone?” she asks, the first time she hasn’t been teary within the last three days.

You look to your mother, looking into her blue eyes that look identical to yours.  You nod, grateful that she would ask.  She nods and without another word walks to the stairs and disappears.  You look back to the apartment door.  You find yourself procrastinating by studying the wood grain.  You try and memorize the lines and highlights of the wood, standing there, as unmoving as a statue.

You look down at the golden key in your hand.  You look at the door handle, taunting you.  Solitude.  The one thing you’ve craved for three days.  Right in your hand.  In what seems to be slow motion, you put the key in the door and turn it until you hear a small click.  You open the door and take a deep breath.

The apartment looks exactly how you left it.  Your dining room table with a small stack of mail on it.  The only chair pulled slightly out.  The pillows on the couch askew.  The popcorn bowl still on the table in the living room.  The kitchen still a mess.  You walk, almost ghostlike, to your bedroom.  The blankets are still a cyclone, the decorative pillow still on the floor.  You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and stare at your reflection.  Just three days ago, you looked alive.  Now your abdomen looks shrunken, your cheeks hollowed.  Your mouth refuses to twist into a smile and your hair is bedraggled.  But the biggest difference is your eyes.  Your eyes are still big and blue, but now they are wide with fear.  You collapse on the bed and start to sob.

For the first time since it happened, you allow yourself to think about the shooting.  You sob in anger, betrayal, sadness, and guilt.  How didn’t you know that Elijah could act that way?  Surely there were signs, but you just missed them?  How could you be that stupid?

Who were those people that you saw dead or injured on the floor?  What kind of lives did they live?  What did they do for fun?  Who was their family and friends?  How would they grieve them?

And the most important question, why didn’t you save them?

You had the opportunity to save the little girl, didn’t you?  That’s what she screamed as she ran towards you.  ‘Save me!’ she had cried.  And she had died at your feet.  The little boy crying at his mother.  Couldn’t you have saved him?  Or was he even dead?  And what about the shaking woman that you had held in your arms as she died?  You didn’t even move to save her when Elijah shot her.  You should have done something, right?  You had your phone in your purse.  It wouldn’t have taken much to call the police and maybe save a few more lives.  If you had just thought it through instead of trying to save your own skin, maybe a few more people could have had a second chance.

And what about Elijah?  What had prompted him to shoot an entire mall?  Why had he wanted you there to see it?  Did he want to traumatize you?  To have revenge?  Of course, these questions can never be answered.  Elijah is dead.  And now you have to live with everything you could have prevented.

Elijah’s last words and questions plagued you the whole night, and you cried yourself out until you could fall asleep.  Amazingly, no dreams or nightmares haunted you, and you woke up in the afternoon to a knock on your door.  You get up in a daze and open the door.  Your mother is standing there, holding her purse.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says.  She steps towards you for a hug, but you back away, still wary.  She clears her throat. “The police have asked to interview you about . . . everything.  Would you be ready for that?”

You take a deep breath.  Are you ready for this?  You think about the shooting and Elijah.  You think about the twenty dead and the twenty-six injured.  You think about the boy, the mother, the little girl, the old couple, the shaking woman.  You think of the new orphans, the new widows or widowers, the new childless parents.  You think of the fallen, and the ones lucky enough to survive.  You look up at your mother and nod.  You can’t change what happened to those people, but you can bring justice and awareness to the world.

You walk out to your mother’s car.  Before she gets in, you hug her for just a second.  You quickly get into the passenger’s seat.  Out the window, you see your mother wipe away tears in her eyes.  Elijah’s face flashes through your mind, making your vision clear even more.  You drive to the police station and walk in, ready to face the world for the crimes it committed.

Thank you for reading!

Alex Parker

Two White Graves

As I snuck into my girlfriend’s apartment that evening, I was a little more than a little nervous.  I had been thinking about this night for more than a month, planning out every single detail.  Everything had to be perfect.  A few days beforehand, I could hardly eat.  Wild thoughts raced through my head when I was trying to sleep at night.  What if she says no?  What if she doesn’t feel the same as I do?  Will she break up with me?  Will my heart ever heal again if she does?

For I was planning on proposing to her that night.

Asena and I met when we were in 8th grade, when she moved to my town.  I had always noticed her, how could I not?  Even in 8th grade, I knew she was beautiful.  Her long auburn hair hung to her waist when she left it down.  Her eyes were harsh and calculating when she was on edge, but when she was comfortable they were warm and light.  She hardly spoke to anyone, only to her best friend, Via.  Even in class, she didn’t like to speak.  Everyone knew she was smart, but she just didn’t let on much.  Everyone in our class noticed her, but I doubt anyone noticed her as much as I did.

Despite my attraction to Asena, we didn’t really start talking until high school started. Over that summer, she had changed, grown into herself.  She was more beautiful than ever.  I was still too afraid to talk to her, for fear she would shut me down.  But it was my love for music that gave me an excuse to talk to her.

Music had always been one of my hobbies, but it became an obsession when I started high school.  Most of my money was spent on music, and nearly all of my time was dedicated to it, as well.  I would lay on my bed and listen to music for hours on end, basking in the harmonies created by the voices and instruments of the song.  Music was my best friend, something I could always rely on, no matter what.

I took choir class for the first time in my first year of high school.  I had only considered it because my elementary school teacher had told me I had a good voice.  I couldn’t be sure, as I had never really sang in front of her.  In elementary, you don’t care that much about music.  You never actually sing, either.  During rehearsals you yell and talk to your friends, then mumble the words during the concert and hope that you don’t get a lecture by your teacher afterward.  Despite all of my doubts, I was eager to start.

Asena was also in choir, and I noticed her voice in the very first class.  Her voice was angelic, high and low at the same time.  I summed up all of my courage and asked her about her preferences in music.  After that, we started hanging out.  We’d go over to my house and listen to some new music I’d found or something she had just discovered.  When she concentrated on the music, it looked like she was trying to set fire to the carpet with her eyes.  When I looked at Asena during those times, it felt like my heart was going to set on fire, too.

We didn’t start dating until the summer before sophomore year, when we’d started to spend the most time together.  We went to the park together almost every day, as friends, to just listen to the sounds and feel the breeze.  But the best time that summer was when I took her to her first concert.  As soon as I saw the ads, I started saving up.  Asena’s favorite band, Careless Rain, was playing in a city close to us.  I knew that she had never been to a concert, and I also knew that she would have the time of her life.

When I finally presented her with the tickets, she just looked at them for a long moment.  My heart was beating so loudly that I was sure she could hear it.  After a few seconds, I worried that she would just throw them away or something.  Before I knew what was happening, she leapt at me and hugged me, for the first time, so tight it was hard to breathe.  But I didn’t care.

She was chatty as we drove to the concert, bubbling over with excitement.  Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I couldn’t stop smiling.  As the first song started, Asena closed her eyes.  She didn’t move, she hardly even breathed.  She was completely lost in the music, and I was completely lost in her.  I don’t think she even noticed how hard she was grinning.  When the first song ended, she looked at me with bright eyes and an even brighter smile.

“Thank you,” she said to me, and hugged me, more gently than that first time.  I hugged her back hesitantly.

She let go of me, and lost herself in the music again, swaying and dancing and singing.  I couldn’t stop staring at her, thinking that this is where she truly belonged.  When the concert was over, I drove her home.  I walked her up to her front door, but she didn’t open it and go inside, like usual.  She stood in front of me, holding my eyes with her bright blue ones.  She took tiny steps toward me, until we were almost touching.  I couldn’t move.  She stretched her hand out to my head to pull me closer, and we kissed.

We became a couple soon after that night.  Asena had been hiding much of her personal life from me.  After we started dating, she told me more about her family than I would have ever guessed.  Her father had left her family when Asena was only three years old.  Her mother had a drinking problem for most of Asena’s childhood, although she was getting better.

Asena also told me that she had been depressed for a time period of about three years.  She told me that she would go home and cry for hours, tortured by her thoughts that wouldn’t leave her alone.  I had been so angry at her stubbornness.  I wondered why she didn’t get help, though I knew she was too proud to admit that she couldn’t handle it alone.

After we graduated high school, we went to the same college, quite by accident.  I had been looking at Martinez University for a long time, because of its excellent music program.  I could learn about the music industry, mostly about digital music production.  I decided to get a degree in media planning in marketing.

Asena went to Martinez University to also learn about music, mostly vocal and instrumental music, and get a degree in psychology and journalism.  She had always wanted to help young people overcome mental issues like anxiety and depression.  Though she never said it out loud, I also knew she wanted to make sure no one felt like she did.  She would be perfect for her job, either as a psychologist or a journalist.  Between the two of us, we had quite a few scholarships.

Although I was nervous before starting, college was actually an amazing time in my life.  I had so many great opportunities and met a lot of new people.  My dorm roommate, Derik, was one of the best people I’ve ever met.  He was laid back enough to where he didn’t worry me, but driven enough to get things done.  Asena’s roommate, Renna, helped Asena overcome some of her shyness in front of large groups of people, which I would always be grateful for.

After college, Asena and I each bought an apartment, even though I was secretly planning to propose by this time.  Asena got a job at the local newspaper, and she was making pretty good money.  Her employers loved the way she wrote, how she related to every person who read her articles.  I also got a job working as a media planner.

Which leads me here, where the story began.  Sneaking into my girlfriend’s apartment, laying everything out with shaking hands.

Before, I had no idea what to do for my proposal for Asena.  I had toyed with the idea of putting out rose petals, but decided that was too cliché and not really my style.  Instead, I used dozens of bouquets that she had pointed out to me when we visited her favorite flower shop.  The flowers were beautiful, but in a quiet sort of way.  Once the flowers were laid out, all thanks to Renna, I set out the speakers in the hallway.  I was planning on playing, “Like an Angel” by Careless Rain, as it was Asena’s favorite song.

The rest of the setup was a blur, I’m surprised I made it through without collapsing from nerves.  Renna was the one who made everything go correctly.

“Can I see the ring before I go?” Renna asked me.

I wordlessly pulled out the small box, and handed it to her.  She gasped when she opened it.  I admit, it was a beautiful ring.  It was silver, the top molded into a rose-like shape.  In the center of the flower, a beautiful diamond rested.  The sides were twisted with the tiniest of diamonds on them.  Asena would love it.

The clearest memory I have was when I heard the front door’s knob turning, and I knew that it was Asena.  I rushed to the bedroom, knowing that my heart could be broken, that I could be hurt beyond repair.  I pushed “play” on my phone, and heard the quiet music start.  In my mind, I imagined Asena seeing the white envelope, taking out the letter and reading it with the intense concentration I loved to see in her eyes.

As the doorknob turned slowly, my heart jumped into my throat.  What seemed like a slow electric shock traveled up from my heart to my head, clouding my vision over for a few seconds.  I tried to swallow, though my mouth was dry.

Asena walked into the room and stopped in her tracks when she saw me.  We stared at each other for a solid ten seconds.  I then came to my senses and slid off the bed to stand before her.  I looked into her blue eyes and forgot what I was supposed to say.  So I improvised.

“Asena,” I said in a quiet voice. “I love you.  You know that.  Though I don’t think I can say it enough times to express how much, I can try.  I love you more than you can possibly imagine, and  I still can’t believe that I’m lucky enough to call you mine.  But you’re not completely mine, yet.”

I sank to one knee and pulled out the small velvet box.  I opened it slowly, revealing the beautiful ring.

“Asena Jackleen Linz,” I said, still staring into her eyes. “Will you marry me?”

For a moment, Asena just stared at me.  Then, to my surprise, she also dropped onto one knee.

“Will,” she said in her low, melodious voice. “I love you, too.  I have for a long time, and you’ve proven to me again and again that you love me.  I will always be yours, no matter what.”

She put her hands on my frozen ones around the small box.

“William Daniel Thomason,” she said. “Will you marry me?”

I stared at her in shock, wondering how a person could surprise me so much.

“Of course, Asena,” I said, my eyes never leaving hers, mesmerized. “I love you.”

She smiled, tears starting to form in her eyes. “And I love you.  Yes, I will marry you.”

I slid the beautiful ring on her finger, hands shaking slightly.  She watched me, then looked back up at me.  I kissed her, hardly believing my luck, my heart still pounding.

She pulled back, sighed, and hugged me tightly.

“Oh, Will,” she said, her voice breaking. “Meira won the bet.”

For a moment, I didn’t say anything.  I was sure that I’d heard wrong.

“Come again?” I asked, pulling away to look her in the eyes.

She smiled the saddest smile I’ve ever seen. “Meira, my sister.  She won the bet.”

I blinked, frowning, my brain reeling.  A sister?  In the nearly ten years I’d known Asena, she’d never mentioned a sister.

“I didn’t know you had a sister,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“I didn’t,” she said, further confusing me.  Until I heard her continue, “I had two.”

Soon after these bewildering confessions, Asena led me out of the apartment to her car and drove us out of town.  She wouldn’t tell me where she was taking me, only that I’d understand soon.  We came to a small piece of land surrounded by a white fence, with many trees around it.  I finally understood when I saw the headstones, the flowers, the words written on each stone.

Asena got out, and started walking towards the middle of the graveyard without waiting for me.  I caught up to her and held her hand.  She squeezed my hand, as though reassuring herself I was really there.  She walked down about ten rows, then turned right and continued for five more stones.  She stopped in front of two graves, side by side.

One grave read,

Here lies

Vanya Mirella Linz

Birth; December 10, 2004

Death; December 16, 2011

A loving sister and daughter

The other grave read,

Here lies

Meira Evette Linz

Birth; June 13, 2000

Death; December 16, 2011

A loving sister and daughter

I was shocked.  How could Asena not tell me that she had two deceased sisters?  That seemed, to me, like something that you should mention to your significant other.

I was too occupied with the wild thoughts chasing each other around in my head to notice that Asena had fallen onto her knees, her face in her hands.  I sank down beside her and wrapped my arms around her.  She gasped and took her hands away from her face.  She touched Vanya’s grave, then Meira’s, tracing the letters of their names.  Tears were falling down her face like a rain shower.  She didn’t seem to notice.

“Meira and Vanya were my sisters,” Asena started to explain shakily. “They both died in a car crash when my mother was driving.  I always knew that it was the reason my mother was an alcoholic.  To try and chase away the blame.”

She paused to wipe away her tears, and I pulled her closer.

“Before she died, Meira and I would always argue and debate whether I would get married and have children.  I told her I wouldn’t, so she said she would bet me $10 that I would get married.  I agreed.  I told her that even if she died, I would put $10 on her grave.  Of course, I never dreamed she would die so young.”

She took a deep breath and said, “The worst day of my life was their funeral. The preacher saying things that were so vague it didn’t mean anything. My mother wasn’t even able to walk up to their caskets. I remember seeing them in their caskets. They didn’t even look real.”

My own eyes started to form tears, and I blinked them away. My heart almost burst out of sympathy.

“Asena,” I said, speaking for the first time since entering the graveyard. “How could you not tell me something as important as this?”

My voice was not harsh or angry, but Asena flinched. “I didn’t want people looking at me like I was a kicked puppy.  The poor girl with two dead sisters, an alcoholic mom, and a dad that wasn’t in the picture?  People would think that I was a recipe for disaster.  I meant to tell you once we started dating, so many times.  But I could never get the words out.  You’re the first person I’ve ever told about them.  It’s so hard to talk about, even now.”

She turned her eyes away from the graves to look at me beseechingly. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you, Will.”

I looked into her eyes and saw a raw pain, the kind of pain that doesn’t fade with time and doesn’t go away even if you try to ignore it.  The pain that she’s carried around for about seven years.

“Asena, I know this has been hard for you.  I forgive you.  But they would be proud of you.  I know they would,” I said, meaning every word.

“Thank you, Will,” she said, leaning into me. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

We sat there for a long time after that, just sitting there, not even talking.  Before we left, Asena took a ten dollar bill out of her pocket and set it on the ground in front of Meira’s grave.  She covered it with a large stone so it wouldn’t blow away.  When we got back to Asena’s apartment, we laid on the couch together for the whole night.  We didn’t sleep and we didn’t speak.

About a year later, much planning, a lot of money, and a lot of stress, the wedding was finally starting.  I was so nervous, especially when Renna evicted me from the room so she could dress Asena up.  Who ever thought of the rule that the groom can’t see the bride before the wedding?  They should be sued.

When I saw Asena walking down the aisle, my nerves disappeared.  I knew that my life was starting, and that it was going to be wonderful.  All because of that beautiful, smiling woman walking towards me, in a pure white wedding dress.  I knew, and I was right.  My life has never been better.

Thank you for reading!

Alex Parker

Dusk Till Dawn

WARNING; This is a graphic story.  May be sensitive to some readers.

I got the idea for this story off of juliafox038711‘s Tik Tok, who made a POV (point of view) video using audio from the song, “Dusk Till Dawn” by Zayn Malik.

I can’t believe her.

Does she remember the night she stayed over a few months ago?  She told me she was depressed and having some really bad days.  I made her promise that she wouldn’t do anything to herself.  I promised myself I wouldn’t let anything happen to her.  She’s my best friend and has stayed with me for almost ten years.  I went through some really hard times, and she saved my life, twice.  I owe her everything.

And now she’s going to kill herself.

I looked into her window, and I saw her in her bedroom, crying.  I wondered what was wrong.  I didn’t think too much of it, as Morada was prone to have crushes on boys who didn’t love her back.  She would cry endlessly over them, sobbing her heart out on my shoulder.  Then ten minutes later, she would jump up with fire in her eyes and say,

“We don’t need anyone, Ida.  We have each other,” she would then look at me with a fierce pride. “That’s all we need.”

I believed her, every time.  So, this time, I waited for about ten minutes.  Of course she couldn’t jump up and say to me that we had each other, but she would stop after a while, right?

But no.  After a half hour, she was still crying, full steam.  There was no sign of her stopping.  I was starting to get kind of worried, so I walked up to her room, my footsteps making no sound.  I went through the door and found Morada on the floor, still sobbing, her cries echoing in the room.  She didn’t even glance at me.

I dropped down beside her instantly and put my arms around her shoulders.  They went unnoticed by her, of course.  She was so distressed, I didn’t know what to do.  She stopped crying suddenly and sat bolt upright.  Her eyes were so bloodshot, her mascara running in rivers.  Her short, black hair was stuck up all over the place, but she didn’t care.

She looked around her room intently, then got up shakily.  I stood up as well, thinking that this is where she would return to her normal self.  But she didn’t.  She walked slowly to her drawer and pulled out a long silver knife.

I almost exploded right then and there.  I screamed, a sound that I’d never heard before, something so raw, so animal that it scared me.  I ran to Morada and knocked the knife out of her hands.  It clattered to the ground and skittered across the floor like a spider, making a noise like nails on a chalkboard as it slid across the tile into the darkness under her bed.  The metal glinted from some unknown light source, taunting me.

I turned back around to Morada, and I found her staring with her mouth wide open in a scream, not making any sound.  She was staring at the place she last saw me fade in and out of the real world.  In my rage, I had been able to become real again, much to my astonishment.  I had been able to move the knife, which I shouldn’t have been able to do.

For you see, I’ve been dead for five months.

I hadn’t taken my teenage years well, and the pressure was too much to deal with.  I had jumped out of a seven-story building and killed myself.  I saw the news reports after, and regretted my decision.  My family and Morada were forced on to news channels and had to talk about my life and my death.  They had to reveal the suicide letters I had written for each and every one of them.  If I could go back, I wouldn’t have killed myself.  It was so hard on my family and Morada.  It was absolutely heartbreaking for me to watch from my otherworldly perspective.  The worst part was that I couldn’t do anything to help them.  It was the worst form of torture, but I suppose I deserve that punishment for what I did to them.

I don’t know what you call this afterlife that I’m living in.  It doesn’t feel like hell, and it definitely isn’t heaven.  I just float between these two worlds, and I feel numb, like my existence doesn’t have any effect on anyone or anything.  I stay close to my family and Morada and watch over them, not able to touch them or move things.  Not able to help them at all.  Until tonight.

I moved things and reappeared to Morada tonight and I don’t know why or how.

I am jolted from my memories into the present when Morada stands up.  She walks purposefully to her closet and I follow, determined to watch her carefully.  She leans down and  takes out another knife.  I cry out, and try to knock the knife out of her hand again, positive I can manage it.  But it doesn’t budge.  Morada looks at the knife like she’s waiting for it to say something.  Maybe it does, because she cuts a deep line in her arm before I can try to take the knife from her again.

I don’t say anything this time; I can’t.  I just stare at all the blood pooling down from Morada’s arm.  She doesn’t flinch at all, just cuts herself again.  The carpet is crimson with her blood.  Finally, I come to my senses and grab the knife and throw it out of the window.

Morada doesn’t react, but watches the knife out the window.  It clatters on the fire escape stairs.  Morada doesn’t look up until the silence hits again.  All we can hear is a few fading sirens and cars in the distance. After a few moments, Morada speaks in a quiet voice.

“Ida, I want this.”

I freeze.  Is she talking to me?

“Ida, I can’t stay here,” she whispers.  “My mom is an alcoholic, my dad is a drug addict, my brother is in jail, and I’ve been doing so badly on all my schoolwork because I’m so distracted all the time.  People bullied me, you know.  When you weren’t around.  They were scared of you, but they knew I was an easy target.  But now, it’s even worse because you’re not around.  Before, I thought I could handle all of that, because you were right here with me.”

A single tear runs down Morada’s face, apparently unnoticed by her.

I’m in shock.  I’ve never heard about any of this.  I didn’t even know that Morada had a brother.  We never hung out at Morada’s house, but I never thought anything of it.  I’ve never been inside her room.  Was this why?

“But then you died.  I cried for a week.  Did you know that?  Did you know what you did to me?” her voice raises almost to a shout, then she chokes.  She lets the tears run silently down her face for a few seconds before she swallows and continues.

“I know you’re there.  I don’t know how.  I can’t tell what you are or where you are but I know you’re there.  I saw you.  I know you can hear me.  So, if you think that I shouldn’t do this, make a sound.”

“Morada, no!” I scream.

She looks towards me and her eyes narrow.

“Say something,” she says, and folds her arms like she used to when we got into arguments.  How stupid those things we fought about seem now.

I try and grasp both her arms, trying to shake some sense into her.  Luck is not my side this time, because my hands go right through her.

“Morada, I watch over you.  I know I killed myself and I hurt you and I’m sorry,” I plead, transparent tears running down my ghostly face.  “I haven’t forgiven myself for what I did to you.  Please, don’t do this.  I’ll hold you when things go wrong.  I’ll be with you from dusk till dawn.”

Morada watches me, or watches the wall behind me, with such intensity that I start to beg with her.

“Please, Morada!” I shout and cry at her, trying with all my heart and soul to touch her, to make her feel some of the anguish I’m feeling. “Don’t do this, I’ll be with you.  From dusk till dawn; I promise!”

“I knew it,” she says in the most disappointed tone I’ve ever heard before.  She unfolds her arms and walks to her window.

I follow, trying to hold her back, screaming and crying and begging her to stop.  But I can’t touch her.  My hands go right through her body and nothing stops her from walking towards her window.

“Baby, I’m right here!” I wail, my lungs protesting.

She crouches at the ledge, and says a few words that I don’t catch because I am crying and yelling so loudly.

She jumps.  I launch myself out of the window after her, and float down to the ground.  I try to catch her, but just like before, I can’t touch her.  She falls right through my arms onto the ground with a sickening crash.  I turn my face to the ground, in shock.  I can’t move.  All I can think about is Morada’s eyes, wide open, glazed over and staring at me like she’s accusing me.  I drop to the ground next to her and bow my head.  I failed.  I tried so hard to save her, and I failed.  She’s dead.

I touch her body gently.  I imagine that she is still warm, though of course I can’t feel her.  I’m still as cold as ice.  I grab her around her waist and pull her onto my lap off of the dirty concrete.  Her bones crack and move under her skin and her blood seeps into my clothes.  This shouldn’t be possible, but then again not many things that happened tonight should have been possible.  I rest my forehead against her chest and imagine her warmth.  Soon, I feel a real heat blowing gently across my face.  I slowly bring my head up to look at Morada’s bruised and bloodied face.

A glowing white substance is leaking from her.

It forms into a pristine replica of the broken girl on the ground before me.  It starts at the feet and glows brighter and brighter until a ghostly Morada is standing in front of me.  She stares at her own fractured body, then turns her eyes to me.  She stares blankly at me for a few moments, then a shock of recognition runs through her.

“Ida?” she says, disbelieving.

I glare at her.  “I was there the whole time.”

Morada’s white hands come up and cover her mouth, her expression one of complete surprise and regret.

“How could you do this to me?” I whisper, looking down at Morada’s body.

“Ida, I’m-”


I stop shouting, breathing hard and look back down at her body.

Opaque tears start to leak out of Morada’s eyes. “I’m sorry, I just-”

She sighs and looks down at her body, too.  “I couldn’t stay here, Ida.  This world is such a messed up place without you.”

I’m not done being angry yet, but I know that I can’t stay mad at Morada. “Listen, I’m mad at you.  I’m hurt, I’m disappointed, and- 

Morada flinches, waiting for me to say something.

“I’m a hypocrite.”

Morada looks up hopefully, but warily.

“I made the same mistake.  I regret my choice each and every second.  But we have to live with our sins now.” I say softly.

She smiles a heartbroken smile.

She hugs me and I hug her back, crystal tears leaking out of my own eyes.


Thank you so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed this story!

Yours in writing,

Alex Parker

Mengele Twin; Serious Prose

This is a serious prose speech that I copied the words from a YouTube video, which is linked below.


“We got down from the cattle car.  People were selected to live or to die.  People crying, pushing, shoving, dogs barking, and I actually turned around in trying to figure out what is the place?  And as I turned around, I realized that my father and my two older sisters were gone. Never saw them again. We were holding onto Mother for dear life.

A Nazi was running in the middle of that selection platform yelling in German, ‘Twins, twins.’  He noticed us and demanded to know if we were twins. And my mother asked, ‘Is that good?’ And the Nazi said, ‘Yes.’  My mother said yes. At that moment, another Nazi came, pulled my mother to the right, we were pulled to the left, we were crying, she was crying.  And all I ever remember is seeing my mother’s arms stretched out in despair as she was pulled away. I never even said goodbye to her, but I did not understand that this would be the last time that we would see her, and all that took 30 minutes from the time we got down from the cattle car and my whole family was gone.  Only Miriam and I were left, holding hands and crying.

We were Mengele twins, which we found out later on what that meant.”

Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam were born in Transylvania, Romania in 1934.  In May 1944, she and her family arrived at Auschwitz. Towards the end of her video, which is available to see on YouTube, Eva says that she discovers the power of forgiveness.  Many Holocaust survivors felt guilty after the war was over, feeling like they didn’t deserve to live while so many others died. Some were consumed by hate, hating survivors that forgave Nazis, hating the Nazis, hating their god for bringing all this hardship upon them.  But as Helen Waterford said, “I had learned only too well that hate is a boomerang that only destroys the sender.” Forgiveness is truly an incredible power.

“Mengele would count us every morning.  I was used in two types of experiments. Monday, Wednesday, Friday they would put me naked in a room with my twin sister and many other twins, up to eight hours a day.  They would measure every part of my body, compare it to my twin sister, and then compare it to charts. On alternate days, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, they would take us to a blood lab.  They would tie both my arms to restrict the blood flow, take a lot of blood from my left arm, and give me a minimum of five injections in the right arm. The content of those injections, we didn’t know then, nor do we know today.  After one of those injections, I became very ill with a very high fever. My legs and arms were swollen and very painful. I was trembling as the August sun was burning my skin. And I had huge red spots covering my body. The next visit to the blood lab, they didn’t tie my arms.  Instead of that, measure my fever. And I was immediately taken to the hospital. The hospital was another barrack, but it was filled with people who looked to me more dead than alive. Next morning, Mengele came in with four other doctors. Never, ever examined me, looked at my fever chart, and then he declared, ‘Too bad.  She’s so young. She has only two weeks to live.’

For the following two weeks, I have only one clear memory.  Crawling on the barracks floor, because I no longer could walk.  And crawling to reach a faucet with water at the other end of the barrack, and as I was crawling, I would fade out, in and out of consciousness, telling myself I must survive, I must survive.  After two weeks, my fever broke. It took me another three weeks before my fever charts showed normal. Miriam . . . When I got back she was sitting on the bed, staring into space. When I ask her, ‘What happened to you?’ she said ‘I cannot talk about it.  I will not talk about it.’ And we didn’t talk about Auschwitz until 1985.”

“When I ask her in 1985, ‘Miriam, what happened to you while I was in the hospital?’  She said, ‘I was under Nazi doctor supervision 24 hours a day.’ It was the same two weeks that Mengele said I would die.

So I said to her, ‘What happened to you after the two weeks were up?’  She said she was taken back to the labs, injected with many injections that made her feel very sick.  As we found out years later, when she grew up, got married in Israel, expected her first child, she developed severe kidney infections that did not respond to any antibiotic.  Second pregnancy in ‘63, the infection got so bad that the Israeli doctor studied her, and they found out that Miriam’s kidneys never grew larger than the size of a 10-year-old child’s.  So I begged Miriam not to have any more children, because every pregnancy was a life crisis. But she had a third child, and after the third child was born, her kidneys started to deteriorate, and by 1987, they failed.  At which time I donated my left kidney. I had two kidneys and one sister, so it was an easy choice. But a year later, she developed cancerous polyps in the bladder.

The doctors kept asking me to find our Auschwitz files.  We never found our files. We never found out what was injected into our bodies, and Miriam died June 6, 1993.

Months after Miriam died, I received a telephone call from a professor at Boston, who said he had heard me speak and he would like me to go to Boston and speak.  And when I came there, it would be nice if I could bring a Nazi doctor. I was stunned at such a question, and then I thought about it, I remembered that the last project that Miriam and I worked together before she died was in 1992.  It was a documentary done by a German television about the Mengele twins, and in that documentary, there was a Nazi doctor from Auschwitz. And I figured if he was alive in ‘92, he might be alive in ‘93. So I got his telephone number, I called him and invited him to Boston.  He told me he was not willing to go to Boston, but he was willing to meet with me at his house in Germany.”

“ I didn’t plan to ask him any of these questions, but suddenly, I am asking him, ‘You were in Auschwitz.  Did you ever walk by a gas chamber? Did you ever go inside the gas chamber? Do you know how the gas chamber operated?’  He said, ‘Mm-hm, mm-hm.’

He said, ‘This is the nightmare that I live with every single day of my life.’  And went on describing the operation of the gas chamber. He was stationed outside, looking through a peephole while the gas was coming down and people were dying.  When everybody was dead, and nobody moved, he knew that they were dead, and he signed one death certificate. No names, just the number of people that were murdered.  

I asked him to go with me to Auschwitz in 1995, when we would observe 50 years since the liberation of the camp.  Because I wanted him to sign a document, just what he told me, but I wanted it signed at the ruins of the gas chamber in Auschwitz.  He agreed immediately. I will have an original document signed by a Nazi. And if I ever met a revisionist who said the Holocaust didn’t happen, I could take that document and shove it in their face.

I wanted to thank this Nazi doctor for his willingness to document the gas chamber operation.  I didn’t know how to thank a Nazi. I didn’t tell anybody about it, because even to me it sounded strange.  I didn’t want anybody to change my mind. After 10 months, one morning I woke up. And the following simple idea popped into my head.  How about a letter of forgiveness from me to Dr. Munch? I knew immediately that he would like it, and that was a meaningful gift. An Auschwitz survivor gives him a letter of forgiveness, to a Nazi doctor.  But what I discovered for myself was life-changing. I discovered that I had the power to forgive. No one could give me that power, no one could take it away. It was all mine to use in any way I wished. And that became an interesting thing, because as a victim of almost 50 years, I never thought that I had any power over my life.

Now, I began writing a letter, and I didn’t know how to write a letter of forgiveness.  And it took me four months to write it. And then I thought somebody might read it, for my diction in English is good, but my spelling is not.  I wanted my former English professor to correct my spelling, so I called her. We met three times. And the third time, she said to me, ‘Now, Eve, very nice.  You forgive this Dr. Munch. Your problem is not with Dr. Munch. Your problem is with Dr. Mengele.’ I was not quite ready to forgive Mengele. She said to me, ‘Okay.  I have been meeting with you, correcting your letters. Now I want you to do me a favor. When you go home tonight, pretend that Mengele is in the room, and you are telling him that you forgive him.  Cause I want to find out how would it make you feel if you could do that.’ Interesting idea, I thought.

And when I got home, actually, I did something else.  I picked up a dictionary and wrote down 20 nasty words, which I read clear and loud to that make-believe Mengele in the room.  And at the end I said, ‘In spite of all that, I forgive you.’ Made me feel very good. That I, the little guinea pig of 50 years, even had the power over the Angel of Death of Auschwitz.

So that was the way we arrived in Auschwitz.  Dr. Munch came with his son, daughter, and granddaughter.  I took my son and my daughter. I read my declaration of amnesty.  And I signed it. Dr. Munch signed his document. I felt, free, free from Auschwitz, free from Mengele.

So now that I have forgiven him, I knew that most of the survivors denounced me, and they denounce me today also.  But what is my forgiveness? I like it. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, self-empowerment. All victims all hurt, feel hopeless, feel helpless, feel powerless.  I want everybody to remember that we cannot change what happened. That is the tragic part. But we can change how we relate to it.