Experiment Gone Wrong

Sirens blared and white strobe lights emerged from the factory down the block. The TV aired an emergency broadcast. “An experiment gone wrong,” was all I heard before venturing outside and into the chaotic streets. People were falling left and right and no one knew why. A woman on the phone with police yelled, “It’s a rat! It’s spreading a parasite! How can those scientists let this happen? All the damage they’re causing is outrageous! They’ll be getting a call from my lawyer tomorrow!” All of a sudden there was a burning pinch at my ankle. I went cold.

–By Molly Jackson, Class of 2021

Game, Set, Match!

Tennis has always been a big part of my life. Throughout high school, I’ve been a proud member of the girls tennis team, and my passion for the sport has only grown since becoming a senior and making the varsity team. While I’m not the best player on the team, I have my own personal set of skills that work to my advantage, and I have played many good (and bad) matches because of my unique style. However, one of the most memorable games I have ever played was at the Burlington County Open this past autumn, and it shaped the way I play and view tennis. 

On a cool morning in September 2019, the girls tennis team huddled eating warm chocolate chip cookies baked fresh by one of our teammates. The bus was late (again), the freshmen were inside filling our water jug, and Emmanuella and the coach hit a tennis ball against the wall. When it finally arrived, we all bundled into the back and gabbed, each adorned in our uniforms and tennis sweatshirts. The scent of Coach Nevitt’s coffee was aromatic and wafted to the back of the bus, making the atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. Driving to the designated meeting place, Veteran’s Park, took about an hour.

When we arrived, we put our bags down at our traditional tree, near which roughly twenty courts surrounded the official hub for announcements. That’s when we discovered we hadn’t brought any of the necessary materials: new tennis balls, scorecards, and the community water bottles. So we went to a court picked at random and stretched and hit for a while, then gathered to hear the lineups. I was scheduled against Pemberton’s third singles player, Gabby. She was nice but had a competitive side to her, which I had seen at our scrimmage almost a month earlier. We had ten minutes to rally, and Gabby opened up a new canister of balls. The lid popped off with a click, and she handed me one of the fluorescent-colored spheres.

The rally started off fairly normally, with regular playing followed by practicing our serves, but then her coaches came over. They stood at the far end of the fence, so they could watch both her and their first doubles’ matches. Their loud, laughing voices rang across the courts. At first their presence didn’t faze me, but my perspective changed when the match actually started.

I lost the first point after getting to deuce, but I knew I could bring it back because my serves are decent, but my returns allow me to win points. The game went back and forth for a while, with the score 4-3 in my favor, when a Pemberton coach walked to our side of the fence to watch.

“It’s all about the serve, Gabby. That’s what I like to see,” he said, shouting loud enough to make birds scatter. She was serving after tying the game, 4-4. I began losing my patience with his every cheer and clap mocking the skills I had worked so hard to develop. However, I was determined to not let him get to me, and by focusing my energy on the game, I succeeded in gaining back the upper hand. As we switched sides, the second coach and some of her teammates who had already lost their matches came to watch our match.

“Take those risks, Gabby!” Her coach was irritated with the current score, 7-6 in my favor, since my opponent had lost two points in a row. By now, my coach had come to watch as well, but he remained still and silent, like the calm before the storm. I could tell his blood was boiling over their remarks, but he maintained control.

When the score became 8-9 in Gabby’s favor, my teammates gathered in a wave and sat, talking among themselves, oblivious to my need for concentration. 

“Shh! I’m glad you’re watching my match, but you need to be quiet,” I said.

This next point would determine the entire match, and I did not want to risk it all. Unfortunately for Pemberton, I won the point. We were told the match would end with a tie-breaker, first to seven with a two-point difference. As I drank my water I tried to steady myself , but my hands shook. Two hours had passed since the tournament had begun, and my body was starting to shut down. Forcing myself to continue, I took my place, ball in hand.

A hush fell over the crowd as I tossed the ball high and started the first point with a serve. A nice rally commenced, until the ball was hit into the net. The winning side cheered for their girl, and the two switched sides. The tie breaker was tense, with loud cheers from Pemberton, and more subtle cheers from Palmyra. It was the last point, and back to my serve. I hit the ball, but Gabby returned it fast, a powerful hit to the opposite side of the court. Somehow, I was faster. Without much thought, I decided to take a risk. Cross-court returns with a backhand are almost never a good idea because too many things can go wrong. However, in that moment, the stars aligned. Gabby wasn’t expecting the angled shot and attempted to get it over, but her body placement wasn’t right. I met her at the net where I shook her hand, a thrilling match finally over. My body weary, I picked up my equipment and left the courts.

While my team cheered, the Pemberton coaches came down on her hard, practically yelling at the poor girl for not taking more risks, but I knew she had. We both did everything in our power to win that match, but only one victor could arise.

“That was so intense! You played great! We’re so proud of you,” my teammates said. I was glowing with joy at what I had accomplished, yet exhausted from the effort.

“I’m third singles, Palmyra versus Pemberton. I won 9-9, with a 7-5 tie breaker,” I reported to a match official, who then told me I could have a short break before the second round. In that second round, I was pinned against someone who was in a higher seed-ranking than Palmyra, and I lost pretty quickly, but I didn’t care. I was overjoyed to have even made it as far as I had, and I remember smiling throughout the rest of the day because of it.

I think back to that match often, and I consider that win to be one of my biggest accomplishments. It’s not necessarily that Pemberton was a fierce competitor, or that making it past the first round was that big of an achievement, but I’m proud of myself for all that I did because I know what it was like to be on the court that fateful day. Overall, the tournament didn’t affect my tennis career or determine anything special, but the memory of it will always linger in my mind because it helped me gain confidence in myself and my skills, which I have channeled in a positive way to other aspects of my life.

And for that, I am grateful. 

— By Alyssa Rimanthe Schweiger, Class of 2020

I’m John, I’m probably dead now

My name is John. I’m short and 38. The disease broke out roughly two weeks ago and everyone’s becoming corpses. Apparently the rats are the catalysts. They have black fur, big claws, and bloodshot eyes. I found an apartment building yesterday. I’ve taken shelter there, but one thing happened. This morning when I woke up, I noticed that I had cuts and scratches all over my legs. I’m pretty sure it was the rats. I’ll probably die soon, so I want to give you some tips. Sleep with one eye open and kill every single one of those lousy rats.

By Dean Fort, Class of 2023

Method to Madness

He bursts through the door with such force the whole apartment building shakes. How could she? How could his wife of ten years just go, with nothing said but a meager note on the table? In the months past, some awful things had happened, but this stings deep. He reads the note. It is all meaningless to him. He rips down all her pictures, tosses her clothes to the ground, and breaks the mirror that hangs in their room. It shatters on the ground, and a box of her things scatters on the ratty carpet. Makeup, nail polish, trinkets like cards and jewelry spill among the glass. He looks at his reflection in the shards. His suit, long blond hair, then the makeup. He grabs it and starts yelling to himself, rubbing creams and lipstick on his wrinkled face. 

She said you were crazy! She said you were slipping into madness! Your jokes would be the end of you. He mumbles to himself, grabbing green polish. Well, well, well, how’s this for crazy? 

He stands, then studies his reflection. A smiling clown stares back at him. This sends him into hysteria. A pale white face, darkened eyes, green hair, and a bright red smile make him laugh at the top of his lungs. He looks crazy, and he loves it.

Your boss, your family, and your wife were all right! You’re insane! But, maybe all of Gotham should know! His voice echoes back to him. Perhaps start with the casino! 

He grabs a few items, but the deck of cards from the box of her possessions catches his eye. The joker card sits on top. He giggles at the irony. As he selects a few “tools” for the casino, he picks up the deck and looks at the bizarrely dressed man on top. After a few seconds, he slips the card into his coat pocket.

“Well,” the crazy man says out loud. “They always said you were a joker.”

–By Calli Carr, Class of 2024

The Great Chicken Catastrophe

Back in April 2019, my birthday fell on a Thursday. I was a counselor at Majoda Stables spring break horse camp, and at lunch a group of us chatted about how cute baby chickens are and maybe getting some.

“We should get some,” I suggested nonchalantly.

“Are you serious?” My friend Anna raised an eyebrow.

I shrugged. “Yea, why not? It’ll be fun to raise some.”

My co-worker Vera, otherwise known as the barn manager, supported the idea. Moments later, I found myself calling my boss, Diane, asking  if I could go buy some baby chickens for my eighteenth birthday. All the kids went silent so they could try to hear her answer through the phone. When I ended the call, every person was nearly about to fall off the edge of their seats. I kept them in suspense for a good while until a smile spread across my cheeks.

“It’s a go,” I said, and the crowd went crazy. Without a moment to spare, my friends Anna, Paige, Claire, and I climbed into my car and we headed to the local Agway which had week- old baby chicks. 

We picked out six adorable babies and brought them to their new home in  no time. Majoda Stables’ chicken population more than doubled from four to ten in one hour. I named our new six chicken babies Nugget, Postey, Frankie, Snow White, Mobamba, and Little Peep. 

Today, four of my beloved babies live on only in my heart and memories. 

Just as fast as the chicken population grew, it fell. It all started when we gained three more chickens in June. Diane’s  daughter Beth had a flock of a dozen chickens herself, but when a fox broke into their coop she was left with three. 

“The foxes are really all over the place this year.” Beth sighed as she released her chickens into their temporary home among ours.

Diane shook her head. “We’ve never really had any problems with foxes around here.”

After hearing that, a feeling of doom fell over me. Diane had jinxed us, and there wasn’t enough wood in the world to knock on to undo the bad luck.

When night came, Beth’s chickens didn’t know where to sleep or hide from any passing predators of the dark, unlike our ten chickens. At Majoda Stables, our chickens were 100% free range. We had never had a fox problem because our chickens learned early on where to stay safe at night, even though we never had a coop for them. But with a fox around, safe places for chickens became scarce.  

Unfortunately, two of Beth’s chickens fell victim to a fox almost immediately, but then a few more nights passed and there were no missing chickens come morning. We thought the chickens were safe. We even decided to name Beth’s last remaining chicken Gissmo, and Gissmo started to fit in very nicely with the group.

The murders continued with Frankie and Snow White. They were identical white chickens, so we never knew which one was which. One morning soon after, only one of the white chickens remained. We debated which chicken it was, but couldn’t decide and eventually we agreed to just call her Frank Snow. 

After that, the murderous fox seemed to have moved on, until one morning I couldn’t find Mobamba. Then we lost my favorite little rooster, Nugget, followed by Cinderella’s vanishing.

“Has anyone seen Cinderella,” Vera asked.

I thought for a second. “No, she’s probably on some adventure up the hill. She does that sometimes.” I tried to sound as reassuring as possible. 

We were all in denial.

Cinderella never did return from her adventure and little Peep was next in line. We knew right away since we didn’t hear his obnoxious crowing anymore. About a week later, we lost Amy, Raven, and Gissmo, leaving us with only Penny, Frank Snow, and Postey. 

At the beginning of August, Diane approached me. “You like to build stuff, right?”

“Yea, I enjoy it.”

“ How would you like to build a chicken coop?” She pursed her lips.

I nodded my head enthusiastically, accepting her task. I started my construction right away. There were no blueprints or plans drawn up. I just had a vision of the coop in my head and made it a reality. In order to save as much money as possible, I used reclaimed wood for more than half of the project: Wood from pallets left for the trash, wood lying around the barn with no purpose, pieces from an old nesting shed that wasn’t in use, and wood that the local tractor supply let me take from the trashed wood pile behind the store. All this was used to put this little chicken house together. I did have to purchase a few pieces of plywood for the roof, along with simple objects like screws and metal brackets from Lowes. My friend’s dad had some leftover shingles that I gladly took to use for the roof. 

I designed the coop with two front windows with chicken wire small enough keep out any and all snakes. I cut the front wall of the coop in half horizontally so the top half opens up, allowing me to climb in to clean and collect any eggs. To finish, I painted it a traditional barn red and white.  

October 18, 2019, the coop was declared officially complete and ready for chickens. That same night, we brought two Houdan chickens, one Ohiki hen and her two babies, and ten unhatched eggs to their new home. This was my first time ever building something of that scale, but with the help of my friends Luna and Claire, no chicken at Majoda Stables will ever have to worry about the predators of the night.

The lives of our previous chickens will forever be remembered and will keep pushing me further to keep my dear chickens safe so no catastrophe like the one in the summer of 2019 will ever occur again. 

— By Jason Young, Class of 2020

JUSTICE

They renounce her name,

As though they ever owned it,

calling her emotional, liar, attention-seeker,

Asking for it.

As though they would know how to listen

if she spoke.

As though she is not just a woman

weeping for the innocent.

Prejudice turns his back,

teeth filled to the brim with excuses

and laughter. His grin calls her 

    punchline.

She calls home

But the line is no longer in service.

By Marlena Clement, Class of 2019

The Work Thief

All hail the work thief:

The one first in the gym and last to leave.

The one whose thirst for knowledge is forever unquenched

and whose hunger for self-improvement is insatiable.

The boy who loathes laziness.

The girl whose paradise is found in the sweat of track practice.

So all hail the work thieves in the world, endlessly crunching extra hours.

For these are the people who will ask for no credit.

By Bishop Coleman, Class of 2021

Me, Myself, and I

My real name is Alexis Briana Ware.

Yesterday my name was little girl, wasted potential, disrespectful child, not good enough friend, and insecure oddball.

Today my name is alpha female, unstoppable cannon, thick queen, the best friend you could have, and God’s beloved daughter.

Tomorrow my name will be Mrs. My Husband’s Last Name, most influential public figure, Mama, lovely wife, and Legend. 

Secretly I know my name is rejection, insecure, fear, and empty-hearted.

My name once was Dora.

By Alexis B. Ware, Class of 2020