Day in the Life of a Writer | a NaNo Photostory

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I’m a writer! And I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month for the third time — you can learn more about my project here.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to make a photostory showing what my life is like in November. Really, this is just another way to procrastinate writing my novel. I’ve spent about five days putting off writing by working on this photostory instead. But that’s beside the point.

Enjoy!


I wake up on the couch where I’d fallen asleep the night before. A blanket is tangled around my legs and my laptop sits on my chest. Stale food from yesterday’s midnight snack lies on a plate on the floor. I stretch, rubbing the gunk out of my eyes.

What will I do today? I wonder. Maybe I’ll go skateboarding with Tracy or work on my Tumblr blog.

And then: NaNo. The thought crashes down on me and I scrunch up my eyes, like not being able to see will make it go away. It doesn’t.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo from a boy in my English class. “You write a novel in a month, and then you have the rest of the year to edit and think of a new story.” He’d made it sound so easy, as if it wasn’t a big deal. And maybe it wasn’t for him. Apparently, he’s participated — and won — every year since sixth grade. But I’m finding it quite difficult to make myself write everyday. The month is almost over and I’ve still got a few thousand words left.

I moan. I don’t want to write today. Just twenty-four hours to rest my mind and fingers, is that really too much to ask?

Maybe taking a shower will help clear my head. Eyes half closed, I flop off the couch and plod upstairs to the bathroom.

The hot water welcomes me like a hug. Steam rises around me, making dew appear on the tiled shower walls. I’m almost fully relaxed, water drumming on my shoulders, worries washing down the drain, when I begin to count the droplets as they plop against my skin. Five, ten, fifty, a hundred. I imagine that each one is a word I have to write. Soon, all my anxiety about not finishing in time pours back over me.

I shut the water off. I need to get back to my laptop and fictional world.

Wrapped in a towel, I pad into my room and sit on the bed. Water drips off my hair and trickles down my spine, making me shiver.

Write! my brain urges.

Procrastinate, I reply, grabbing my phone from the bedside table and scrolling through social media. The first post I see is by the legendary writer in my class: “Just finished #nanowrimo with a few days to go! #writer #50k” I groan, shoving my phone under the pillow so I won’t be distracted by it. I should be happy for him, but the update just reminds me that I’m falling behind on my own novel.

Coffee might kickstart my creativity. I throw on some clothes, toss my phone and wallet into a bag, and head to the front door. I grab my skateboard from a bin in the hallway before slipping out.

Cruising down the sidewalk on my skateboard, I picture my characters in my head. There’s Taz, an alien with long blue hair who will do anything to help his twin. Zen, his brother, who becomes infatuated with a girl from Earth and crosses the galaxy to find her. And, of course, their best friend, Lulu. She’s brilliant and a bit eccentric, and goes to the new planet with the brothers to keep them out of trouble.

I know and love these characters, so why can’t I get put their thoughts and adventures on the page?

The chilly November morning offers no answer.

I prop my skateboard up on a bike rack and stroll into the cafe, inhaling deeply. The aroma of coffee and cookies is heavenly. A bored girl stands behind the counter, sighing and tapping the surface with her glittery fingernails. She perks up immediately when she spots me. “Hi, I’m Claire, what can I get you?” she recites, smiling.

“Hey.” I study the menu mounted on the wall behind her. The special today is peppermint hot chocolate. That sounds delicious. “Can I have the special?”

“Sure thing!” she beams. “It’ll be just a moment. Can I have a name for the order?”

“Parker.”

“Wow, that’s such a nice name!” she gushes. “It fits you perfectly.” This girl is so friendly, I can’t help but like her already.

“How’s your day been?” Claire asks while she fills a paper cup with cocoa. She sounds genuinely curious.

“Oh. I’m a little stressed,” I confide, fishing a few dollars out of my wallet. “I’ve got to write a lot today for NaNo. Have you heard of it?”

Claire’s eyes light up. “Oh, yeah! They’re doing a NaNo thing today at the library. A lady came over this morning and order a ton of drinks.” She points to a flyer on the wall that promises free coffee and snacks. “You should check it out. I was going to do NaNo this year, too, but I’ve already got work and college taking up all my time.”

Free food? I’m definitely going to stop by the library on my way home. It’s just a block away. “Yeah, thanks, I’ll do that,” I say, taking my cocoa. I raise the cup to my lips. Chocolatey, minty goodness fills my mouth. “Have a good day, Claire.”

The library is quiet, as always, and nearly empty. There’s just a girl browsing and a middle-aged woman on the couch with a notebook in her lap. A writer, I guess, here for the refreshments. A plastic cup rests on the cushion beside her, and a repulsive plaid bag leans against the couch by her feet.

I cross the room, the thick carpet swallowing the sound of my footsteps. There’s a table with plates, cups, and a box of teabags by the shabby couch. To my dismay, all that’s left is a bruised apple and a half-eaten granola bar. I wrinkle my nose. There’s no reason to stick around.

“You, girl,” calls the woman on the couch. She has bangs cropped too short, unflattering coke bottle glasses, and a vibrant, busy sweater. She looks just like the kind of person who would write a 50k novel by hand and make you feel bad about doing yours on a computer.

“Me?” I take a step toward her. What I want to do is get out before she can begin her rant on how technology has ruined my generation, but I need to be polite.

“Are you a writer?” She blinks at me, her glasses magnifying her eyes to nearly twice their normal size.

“Yes, ma’am.” I angle my body toward the door, hoping she’ll get the hint and let me go.

“How far along are you?” she presses, leaning forward. Talk about nosy. “I’ve already reached my word count, but I haven’t finished the plot yet.”

 I’m too embarrassed to say that I’ve only written ten thousand. But if I suck it up and tell her, perhaps she’ll leave me alone. “10k,” I mumble.

When she scowls, she looks almost as ugly as the red schnauzer bag on the floor. “Hmm. You’re not going to make it, honey. It would take a miracle.”

I bite my tongue to keep from announcing that my goal is only 15k, so I’m actually not that far off. Instead, I nod, give her a forced smile, and get the heck out of that place.

At home, I stash my skateboard in the garage and curl up on the couch. I wake up the laptop and stare at the screen, at the blinking cursor that mocks me silently every time I let it sit there. Not today, cursor. My eyes skim over what I wrote last night before dozing off. The alien trio has just flown away from their home on the moon Titan.

What was I thinking? I cringe at a particularly poorly worded sentence, jamming the backspace button. Great, so now I’m even further from my goal than before I sat down.

I need a break.

While I’m wandering around the house, I spot Nevaeh’s guitar resting on Caroline’s duvet. Sometimes she’ll come up here and play a song for Caroline, to get her opinion on it. Nevaeh is really good, like some kind of child prodigy. I wish I could play guitar like she can.

Well, I tell myself, no time like the present. I sit on the edge of Caroline’s bed and settle the guitar into my lap. My fingers press the strings against the frets, plucking out a tune. It’s twangy and sharp and headache-inducing.

My mind drifts off, reminding me of everything I should be doing instead of messing with Nevaeh’s guitar. Chores. Homework. NaNo. I don’t want to do any of those, but I’m definitely going to save writing for last.

I decide to do homework first, so I don’t have to stress about it when I return to writing. I drag my backpack up to Caroline’s room, which I’ve dubbed homebase. Chewing on the end of a pencil, I spread my papers out in front of me and tackle the first problem.

Thirty minutes later, I’m nearly bored to tears. But anything, including homework, is better than facing that cursor, blinking at me like a smug cat.

Two girls decked out in flamboyant ballgowns swirl into the room, springing onto the bed. Their bouncing makes the guitar leap around with them.

“Parker!” Ellie and Emily sing together. “Come play with us outside!”

I climb to my feet, glad that my sisters interrupted me before I could get started on chemistry. “Sure! But outside? Won’t you be cold?”

“Nope! We’ve got cloaks and fire powers!” Ellie giggles, as if that explains everything. Her strawberry curls bob around her as she jumps. “Come on, Parker. We’re princesses, you’re the knight, and you’ve got to come kill a dragon before it kidnaps us!”

Emily and Ellie dash for the stairs, their voluminous skirts flying out behind them.

The “dragon” turns out to be Alaska, Saige’s mare. With an old-fashioned shawl around my shoulders, a toy sword in my hand, and childlike excitement in my heart, I pretend to fight off the dragon/horse. Emily and Ellie huddle on the ground behind me, fake crying, while Alaska watches us with curious eyes. She looks like a scientist observing a new species.

Once the game is over, the two princesses safely returned to their castle, I face my responsibilities once again. I finish my homework, clean my room, the bathroom, and then the entire first floor. Then I try to make myself a pizza, accidentally setting it on fire in the oven. I have a bowl of cereal instead. I distract myself with tasks all day, but the nagging voice in my head remains, begging me to write.


 Eventually, I’ve procrastinated as long as I can, and I find myself returning to the laptop. I give myself a pep talk: You can do this, Parker. Just a few hundred words. Meet today’s word count. It can be absolutely horrible. All you have to do is write. 

OK. I wake up the laptop, fingers poised above the keys. Write, write, write. And then I do, and the angels are singing. A word appears on the page: The. 

I wipe the sweat off my forehead, exhausted. I deserve another break.


So I just wrote nearly 2k. That’s great, but it probably should have been for my novel, not my blog. Oh well.

Have a good day!

xo

Loren

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The Haunted House | Photostory

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It was the night of the greatest Halloween party of the year. Our entire family had been invited, and in the hours before it started, the house was buzzing with activity. The bathroom was crowded with girls doing their makeup and face paint. Shouts of “Has anyone seen my shoes/hat/wings?!” rose above the cacophony every other minute. The excitement made the air electric.

When I say that the entire family had been invited, I really mean almost the entire family. Nevaeh was the only one who hadn’t received one of the pumpkin-shaped invitations. The kid was so quiet at school that the girl who was hosting the party probably didn’t know she existed.

I couldn’t very well leave Nevaeh at home by herself while practically everyone else in the entire school was at the party. So while the rest of our sisters bounded out of the house in their getups, I hung back. We could find something fun to do together. I didn’t really want to go to the party, anyway.

We surfed the web for Halloween activities and decided to go to a haunted house. I’m into creepy stuff — ghosts and zombies and that sort of thing — so it was kind of a no-brainer.

After paying and signing waivers, Nevaeh and I hung out in the brightly lit lobby, waiting for the haunted house guide to appear and lead us on the tour. The Ghostbusters theme played from speakers mounted on the wall. We sucked on peppermints from the bowl on the desk.

A door slammed open on the other side of the lobby, letting out a group of shrieking kids. A young woman followed the screamers and walked over to us. “I’m the guide,” she said, giving us a rehearsed smile. “Are you my next group?”

“We are. Nice costume, by the way. Very scary.”

She laughed, drumming her fingernails on the cardboard sign draped around her neck. Your grades were scrawled on it in black marker. “Thanks. It’s in honor of my report card.”

The woman told us to call her Kate and beckoned us into the haunted house. Dry ice curled around our feet. Nevaeh shuffled closer to me in the dim light.

We rounded a corner and my sister gasped. Dangling from the wall and ceiling were severed hands and a decapitated body. They spun slowly, scraping against the wall.

“This used to be a jail,” Kate whispered in a low, husky voice. “Those bodies? They belong to executed prisoners. Some people believe that their souls still haunt this place.”

A sudden gust of wind made the hanging body parts twirl on their strings.

Kate led us down the hall, where a spirit drifted into view. A beautiful snowy gown was draped over her bony body. When the shadowy form tilted its head in our direction, we could see that instead of eyes, there were just deep black holes in its face.

“Parker!’ Nevaeh choked, grabbing at my hand.

“That is Lady Amelia. She died on her wedding day, along with her soon-to-be husband. She wanders the earth at night, murmuring the vows to herself, longing to be reunited with her lover’s soul.”

The ghost of Lady Amelia floated toward us, hand outstretched. She vanished just before her wriggling fingers found my face.

With Lady Amelia gone, the hall was clear, and we followed Kate down it. Spiderwebs hung over our heads; bloodcurdling yelps could be heard from other victims of the haunted house.

Something was in the hallway with us: scuttling, scratching sounds could be heard around our feet. Three wispy white objects darted in front of us and disappeared into the gloom, giggling.

By my side, Nevaeh was so tense that if anything surprised her, I bet she would jump as high as a cartoon character.

We walked in sinister silence for awhile, bracing ourselves before turning every corner. I had begun to relax when a young girl in a dirty nightie stepped in our way. A holey sweater was wrapped tightly around her. She gazed at us with dull eyes, unblinking.

Nevaeh glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. Her mouth drooped into a nervous frown.

The girl pulled the sweater away from her side, revealing a huge wound in her side. The thin fabric of her pajamas was damp and red. She shivered. Cocked her head. “Please help me,” she croaked.

 We had to press ourselves against the cool, rough stones of the wall to get past. She watched us go with a gloomy expression.

Not even a minute after escaping the bleeding child, another fright appeared. A figure was hiding in a dark alcove, crouched over something white and still on the floor. The silhouette of a person looked over its shoulder as we passed, revealing a pale, angular face and blood-stained chin. It gave us a menacing grin with too many sharp teeth.

The white thing by its feet whimpered. I could now see that the shape was a tiny white dog with blood spurting out of a wound to its neck.

Past the vampire and its meal was a room with bones, feathers, and tribal masks hanging on the walls. A witch sat hunched over a cauldron from which came flashes of green, orange, and purple light. Pots, bowls, and woven baskets littered the space around the hag. They were filled with crystals, insects, critters, eyeballs, and other unpleasant things.

A desperate croak came from a frog dangling between the witch’s knobby, gnarled fingers. She dropped it into the cauldron and the mixture swallowed the struggling creature, belching and releasing an unsavory smell.

The witch’s cat snarled at us as we passed through.

 

I felt Nevaeh’s hand slip into mine. She was shaking.

She must be really terrified, I realized. Aloud, I whispered, “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon. Just keep holding my hand. Close your eyes if you have to.”

She nodded and tightened her grip. Her wide eyes flitted around the room. They glinted in the flashing colored lights.

Kate halted. She pointed to two girls who were standing with their backs to us. “Jenna and Elise were best friends hanging out at a Halloween party. They spent the night gossiping, dancing, and drinking punch. But it turned out to be the worst — and last — party of their lives.”

The girls whipped around and lunged at us. Their faces were sallow and their flesh was beginning to peel in some place. They moaned as the rushed toward us.

“Jenna and Elise were turned into zombies that night!” Kate exclaimed, stepping to the side as the undead girls careened down the hall.

Nevaeh screamed. She pushed past Kate and the zombies and sprinted for the door that would lead back into the haunted house’s lobby.

I raced after my sister and found her sitting on one of the stiff canvas couches, breathing hard. I slid onto the cushion next to her and draped my arm around her, squeezing her shoulder comfortingly.

“I’m sorry for making you go through that,” I said, staring at the ground. “I like scary things, but I see now that you’re not into that. I’m really sorry if I ruined your Halloween.”

She took a deep, steadying breath. “It’s ok, Parker. It was fun, actually.” She gave me a hesitant smile. “So thanks for making me go. It was better than going to that party, anyway. At least we’re not going to end up like Jenna and Elise.”

I laughed. “Yeah. Good thing I know how to cure zombification. We might need it, when our sisters get home.”


 

Happy Halloween from the HHOAG girls!

xo

Loren

The Pranks {a Photostory}

Hello, friends. Here’s a warning for anyone who may have forgotten: the date is April 1st. So watch your back.

Today, my dolls will be acting out some pranks that took place at my co-op one year (my friends and I may or may not have been involved in said pranks). Enjoy. :)


The Cup

(Featuring two dolls sloppily dressed as boys.)

(This one may have been exaggerated a bit.)

In the empty classroom, an upside down plastic cup waited on a scuffed table. A note was taped to it, which read, in large, thick letters, DO NOT OPEN. Beneath that was added, . . . unless you are prepared to deal with what is inside.

An ominous feeling settled over the room. The walls seemed to whisper, What’s inside? What’s inside?

A light flickered on, bathing the area in harsh yellow light as the teacher marched to the front of the room. A gaggle of chattering boys and girls surged into the room, grabbing seats and dropping their backpacks to the tile floor.

Once everyone was settled, the teacher, Mrs. Dull — a slight woman with stringy hair and old-fashioned garb — coughed to get their attention.

“Welcome to Logic class. Please get out a notebook and pencil, and take notes about today’s topic: probability,” she droned on in a flat voice. Then her watery blue eyes caught sight of the cup on the table, and she made a tsking noise with her tongue. “Trash! In my classroom! Would you throw it away, dear?” she asked the student closest to the garbage.

Forcing a polite smile, the student lurched to his feet and swept the cup off the table. Moving to the trashcan, he popped the lid, and froze. He had spotted the note. He read it aloud in a puzzled voice, peering into the empty cup.

Suddenly, he whipped around and stared at the boy who was in the seat next to his, eyes wide. He let out a horrified yelp.

“Dude!” he hollered. “It’s on your head!” Rushing to his friend’s side, he began to beat wildly at his head.

A shrill shriek tore from his friend’s lips. Panicking, he slapped himself repeatedly in the face, screaming all the while. “Get it off! Get it off!”

The first boy swiped at his friend and curled his hand into a fist. “Got it!” he exclaimed. Shoving his hand into his friend’s face, he uncurled his fingers to reveal . . .

Nothing.

Students covered their mouths with their hands, snickering. It was a prank, and the boy had fallen for it perfectly. Too bad none of them had recorded it.


The Cookies

(Featuring only one doll dressed as a boy.)

(Much less exaggerated.)

Huddled in a corner of the vacant classroom, I put the finishing touches on my prank. I spooned a dollop of sour cream onto an Oreo cookie, then squished the two sides together. The sour cream oozed out between the cookies. I slipped the prank Oreos into a plastic bag and hurried out of the empty room, searching for a victim.

I spotted a boy leaning against the far wall, deep in thought. Maybe I could get him to taste the Oreos.

I crossed the room and gave him a slight smile. “Want a cookie?” I offered one to him.

After staring at it for a moment, the boy mumbled, “Sure,” and took it from me.

Tentatively, he took a small bite. His face scrunched up in confusion as the flavor of sour cream overwhelmed his senses. Then he shrugged and popped the whole thing into his mouth.

I stared at him in shock. He was actually eating it?!

“It’s not that bad,” he told me, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. “Do you have any more?”

I fished the Oreo-filled plastic bag out of my backpack and handed it to him. “There. You can have all of them.”

Later that day, as I was walking to the next class, the boy jogged up beside me. There was a strange grin on his face.

After a moment, he announced, “I put those cookies in your backpack.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “No, you didn’t. I saw you eating them.”

“Don’t believe me? OK, then. But those cookies are going to be sitting in your bag for an hour, and then it’ll smell like sour cream.”

I tried to tell myself that he was joking. A prank for a prank. But just as I reached my next class, I decided I should probably go check my bag for sour cream Oreos. I sprinted for the door, only to find the boy standing there, grinning and blocking my way. I attempted to skirt around him, but he caught me from behind. Laughing, we pretended to fight: I struggled for the doorway while he strained to keep me in the room. That went on until the teacher started the class, and we raced to our seats.

As soon as the class ended, I dashed to where I had left my backpack. It lay open, with a half-eaten sour cream Oreo stuffed inside.


So that was fun, I guess. I think there’s still some sour cream on the inside of my backpack. I’m not sure, though, since I haven’t used it since last year.

Anyway, happy April Fool’s Day. Hopefully you’ve played some cool pranks on your family today. If not, the day’s not over yet — you’ve still got time. You should check out Samantha’s post “April Fools Pranks 👿” for some good ideas.

-Loren

Holding on to Hope

GOTY 2016 Lea Clark American Girl

I was taking a walk one warm summer afternoon, with my dog Pete trotting by my side. Deep in thought, memories of my lost family swirled through my mind. The last time I had been with my mom, dad, and my older brother Zac was in . . . January? That sounded right. Mom and Dad took me to Brazil to visit Zac, who was living with some locals in the Amazon as part of his college experience. When our trip was over, my parents decided to stay a little longer and enjoy themselves, on a no-kids vacation. They had put me on a plane back to America, but I had somehow boarded the wrong flight. Instead of landing in St. Louis, Missouri, I had ended up here. Half a year later, I was still waiting for Mom and Dad to find me.

I glanced at Pete. He had a bandage tied around his front leg. When I first found him, the dog had had an awful limp. He still had that limp, but it was getting better.

“Pete,” I asked my pet, “are my parents still looking for me? Or have they given up? Because I’ve almost lost all hope.”

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Feet pounded against the asphalt behind me. I turned around and saw her: Elise Larkin, the newest girl in the family.

She waved cheerfully. “Hi, Eve! Hi, Pete!” She matched her stride to mine, walking along beside me. “Mind if I join you?”

I did mind, actually. I wanted to be alone.

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“Aww, hey, Pete!” Ellie cooed. Pete bounded over to her, yipping delightedly as she rubbed his ears.

I wanted to leave this place. Yes, I had friends: Tracy and Savannah and MJ and Nevaeh and more. But at that moment, all I really wanted was to be with my family, back home in St. Louis. Or at least for Ellie to go away.

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“So, hey, Eve,” Ellie began as we started walking again. “I know we’ve been living together for months, but the weird thing is, I don’t know you very well! I know you’re awesome and adventurous and good at sports and photography, but your past? Nope! I know nothing about that! So would you tell me about your family?”

I froze. “My . . . my family?” It was weird for her to bring that up now, when I’d just been thinking about them.

She nodded. “Yeah. Your family.”

Ellie was the only one who didn’t know about my past. She hadn’t been there in January when I’d shown up at the doorstep and poured out my whole story. There was really no harm in telling her. So I told her a short, to-the-point version of how I’d been separated from my family.

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“Aw, man. That’s sad,” she murmured when I had finished.

Sad. I didn’t want people to describe the story of my life with the word sad. Wonderful, brave, an adventure — those are the kinds of things my life should be described as.

“Well, you know, it’s kind of funny, actually.” Ellie was talking again; I was only half listening. “I don’t really know where I come from. All I remember is that I’m from Florida, and then I was just . . . here. At an airport nearby. There was a nice lady there — she looked a little like you, Eve! — and she gave me directions to this place. I haven’t thought about her in awhile. I wonder how she’s doing . . .?”

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Hope can make you completely irrational. I suddenly whirled on Ellie and grabbed her shoulders. “What did you say?” I demanded. “About the woman at the airport.”

“Uh, she — she looked like you. A little bit.” Ellie’s voice was unsure now. I felt her trembling beneath my grasp.

I pressed on. “Did she say what she was doing there? Was there anyone with her?”

Ellie looked on the verge of tears. “No!” she squeaked. “She was alone! But she did say that she was looking for someone!”

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I released Ellie and collapsed to the ground, feeling deflated. Whimpering, Pete stared at me imploringly, while Ellie stood off to the side, massaging her shoulders.

The woman at the airport . . . she had been searching for someone. Was it my mom? Was she searching for me? And if it was all true, then why hadn’t she found me yet?

“Eve?” Ellie whispered. “Just after I left the airport, there was a loud boom behind me. It might have made the news. Maybe the lady was featured. Do you want to go check?”

I rose unsteadily to my feet. Then I took off like a gunshot, my legs carrying me so fast that Ellie couldn’t keep up.

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Back home, we found the laptop sitting on Ivy’s rainbow comforter. I turned it on, brought up a news website, and looked through the archives. When did Ellie arrive? I asked myself. Early March. Look there. I kept hunting through the old stories until I found one that fit the bill. Right time, right location. The date was March 15th, 2016, and it was about a disturbance at a local airport.

A gun was fired in a local airport this evening. Officials say that only one was injured: a middle-aged woman named Melissa Cortez. She was taken to the hospital, where doctors are unsure if she will survive.

The shooter was caught and arrested.

Melissa Cortez has had a tragic life as of late. Her husband Mike and son Zac were killed in an accident in the Amazon rainforest. Her eleven-year-old daughter Eve went missing as of January 23rd, 2016.

UPDATE, 3/16/2016: Melissa Cortez was not able to recover, and passed away at the hospital. Perhaps she will be reunited with her loved ones in death.

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I felt numb. I thought my heart had stopped. Mom, Dad, and Zac . . . they had been dead for months, and I hadn’t known it. The world was caving in around me.

I shot a look at Ellie, sitting on the floor with Pete in her lap. I resented her. It was so unbelievably unfair that she had been with my mom on the day she died, and I hadn’t.

Even the sight of Ellie made me angry. Cheerful new-girl Elise Larkin, with her fancy strawberry blonde curls and neat little side bangs.

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She was so unafraid to speak her mind. I wished she had just kept her mouth shut and had never told me about meeting my mom at the airport.

Anything — even the false hope that my family was still searching for me — was better than this suffocatingly awful knowledge.

 -Loren

The Mermaids of Murky Pond

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Molly McIntire marched down to the pond, muttering to herself. “‘Visit a freshwater lake or pond and identify four animals and plants living there. Take photos of the animals/plants and make a collage which you show to your family, leader, or unit.'”

She had memorized the requirements for American Heritage Girls’ Freshwater and Marine Biology badge. The one she was repeating to herself was the one she was hoping to accomplish that day.

The breeze carried a soft, mesmerizing melody to her ears. Molly rushed down to the pond and clamped her hand over her mouth. She had discovered the source of the music.

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In the shallows were two mermaids. One was lounging in the ankle-deep water, her grand sky-blue tail flopping lazily. The other was perched on a rock, running her fingers through her long, wavy, dark brown hair. The pink mermaid on the rock was the one singing.

An amazed, barely audible sound wheezed out of Molly’s mouth. Mermaids.

The mers’ heads snapped in Molly’s direction. The blue one darted behind some aquatic plants, while the pink one cowered behind a boulder.

“I won’t hurt you! Please come back out!” Molly begged desperately. In the past, she’d met sprites, but never mermaids.

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Slowly, the pink mermaid poked her head above the boulder. She seemed to think that Molly wasn’t a threat, because she said, “I’m Brisa. Who are you, human?”

“Molly McIntire,” she gasped, overjoyed.

Brisa waved at her blue friend, urging her to emerge from behind the pond plant. “Hello, Molly. What brings you to Murky Pond?”

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Molly sat on the rocks next to the mermaids. She could scarcely believe that there were mermaids in the pond — but the fact that they wanted to talk to her was almost too much. She stammered, “I’m, um . . . working on a badge for my s-scouting troop. Freshwater and Marine Biology. I need to take pictures of . . . four animals or plants in a pond.”

“Oh, we can help with that!” chirped the blue one. “I’m Alana, by the way. Brisa, we can help her out, can’t we?”

Brisa nodded. Then she dove into the pond without another word.

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“Oh, no!” Molly cried, peering into the muddy water. “Alana, where did she go?”

“Don’t get your tail in a tizzy. She swims off all the time,” Alana explained.

They waited for her to return, occasionally catching a glimpse of Brisa’s watermelon-pink tail streaking across the pond.

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A minute later, Brisa popped out of the water. Her pink-streaked hair lay flat against her head, water dripping from the ends. She pointed to the far end of the pond. “Quick, Molly!” she exclaimed. “I stirred up the fish. They’re near the surface. You can get a picture!”

Molly pulled the camera out of her AHG vest’s inside pocket. She scampered over to the fish, who were gulping air bubbles on the surface, and took a picture. She glanced down at her camera screen to view the photograph:

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“Perfect, thank you!” Molly beamed. “Now I only need three more pictures.”

“Frog!” Alana squealed, flopping through the shallows after the amphibian. “Don’t you worry,” she panted, “I’ll catch ‘im . . .”

Brisa caught a floating, flower-like plant with the tip of her tail and pushed it toward Molly. “How about this?”

Molly took a picture, just as Alana held a slimy mud-brown frog triumphantly above her head. She photographed that, too, a moment before it squirmed out of Alana’s grasp.

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“Just one more picture! What else is there to photograph in this pond?” Molly asked.

The girl and the mermaids sat in silence, thinking. Three minutes had passed before Alana edged over to Brisa and whispered something to her. A shocked expression flashed over her face, but Alana stared at her pleadingly. Reluctantly, Brisa sighed and nodded.

Alana faced Molly and suggested hesitantly, “How about us?”

Molly’s jaw dropped. “You?” she spluttered. “But — but what if someone finds out that you live in my pond? What if they come and take you away? What if –“

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“It’s OK!” Alana urged. “We want to help you. If anyone finds out that we’re here, run to tell us and we’ll move on. Somehow,” she said with a small smile.

Molly took a deep breath. “Thank you so much,” she gushed. “Thank you, thank you!”

Brisa and Alana posed, and the camera clicked.

Molly thanked them again, waved, and headed back to the house. She looked at the picture on the camera’s screen and smiled.

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-Loren

Isabelle’s Vlogging Dilemma

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“Hi, girls, Sleeping Beauty here!” I grinned into the phone that I’d borrowed from Tracy. (Well, maybe “borrowed” isn’t the best word for it. My older sister didn’t really know that I was using her phone.) I was making a video for my YouTube channel. “Before we get started with today’s video, just look at these cute boots! I got them for Christmas.” I titled the iPhone so that the camera was aimed at my feet. The boots were tan with fringes, and there was a strip of Aztec patterned fabric around the top.

“Anyway, I want you guys to meet my family. So let me just find someone to talk to . . .” I spun in a circle, looking around for one of my sisters.

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Nevaeh was walking down the hall. Her Siamese cat, Lyric, rubbed against her legs and purred. I angled the camera at Nevaeh and waved. “Hey, T Swift!” To the camera, I said, “This is one of my sisters, she’s twelve, and totally amaze at playing the guitar. T Swift, would you play a song on your guitar for me? I’m trying to make a video for my YouTube channel.”

Nevaeh snorted in disbelief. “Iz –“

“Sleeping Beauty!” I interjected. “That’s my, um, screen name.”

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She rolled her eyes. “Right, Sleeping Beauty. You have a YouTube channel?” Nevaeh scooped up her cat and cuddled her in her arms.

I nodded happily. “Yep! I post, like, makeup tutorials, dance routines, fashion help, Saigie guest stars sometimes . . .”

Nevaeh continued down the hallway. “Well, sorry, but I’m helping Poison Ivy.” She seemed to have caught onto my nicknames-as-screen names idea. “She wants to take pictures of Lyric. I said I’d help her.” Nevaeh stroked her cat’s head and brushed past me.

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“Oh, that’s OK!” I trotted down the hall after her. “I’ll just wait for you to finish. Ooh, and I can ask Poison Ivy to give my viewers some tips on photography!”

Nevaeh sighed heavily. “Uh, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Poison Ivy just wants some pictures. She’s not prepared to give a lecture on photography . . .”

The front door creaked open. Eve had left the house to go adventuring several hours ago; she must have returned. Nevaeh let go of Lyric and raced toward the door.

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Eve was standing beside it, taking off her coat. Nevaeh rushed up to her and pleaded in a whisper, “Please get me out of here!”

Though she was trying to speak softly, I still heard her.

Eve clearly had no idea what was going on, and why Nevaeh was desperate to get away from me (I really didn’t know, either). But she took Nevaeh’s side and announced loudly, “Oh, no — I think I left my watch in the forest! Nevaeh, would you help me find it?”

Before they could scamper out the door, I pointed at Eve’s wrist. “Um, your watch is right there, Cricket.”

She smacked her forehead gently. “Wow, would you look at that! So it is. I can be so stupid . . .”

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Eve turned to Nevaeh. “Hey, want to go watch a movie? Finding Dory is playing today.”

Nevaeh smiled and let out a relieved sigh. She grabbed her purse from a hook on the wall while Eve shrugged into her denim coat. “That sounds great,” she said.

Finding Dory? I’d been waiting for that movie to come out for years! “Awesome!” I exclaimed. “I’ll come with you; I can buy the popcorn. And after the movie, you guys can help me vlog a review!”

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From the collection of purses hanging on the wall, I picked a handmade leather one. To the camera on Tracy’s phone, I explained, “I can’t seem to find my favorite gold purse, so this leather one will have to do instead. It’s still pretty cute!”

Before I could follow Nevaeh and Eve to the movie theater, they slipped out the door and closed it behind them.

“Sorry!” came Nevaeh’s voice from outside. “But this a sister bonding thing.”

Then they were gone.

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I slumped against the door and fought back tears. Why did no one want to be with me? I was just trying to make one stinking YouTube video.

“So here I am, without a good vlog, alone,” I muttered dejectedly to the camera. I blew a halfhearted kiss, the way I ended all of my videos. “Sleeping Beauty out.”

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SIBLINGS ARE ANNOYING. THAT’S WHAT THIS PHOTOSTORY IS ABOUT.

Also, probably, how annoyed my family and friends get when I shout “I’m going to blog about this!” whenever something cool happens.

-Loren