Teen Ink: Written in the Dirt: A Collection of Short Stories, Poetry, Art and Photography (Teen Ink Series)

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9780757300509: Teen Ink: Written in the Dirt: A Collection of Short Stories, Poetry, Art and Photography (Teen Ink Series)
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After five successful books, Teen Ink: Written in the Dirt offers a startlingly different collection that presents teens’ innermost thoughts. These teen-authored fictional stories are filled with incredible character development, gripping plots, imagination and, of course, insight into the human condition. Their poems sing, soar and capture the essence of teen life.

Consistent throughout this smash series, teens who have written for Teen Ink magazine candidly share their real voices, while poignant photography and artwork also capture their extraordinary talents and thoughts.

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About the Author:

John and Stephanie H. Meyer are founders of The Young Authors Foundation, which publishes Teen Ink magazine. All royalties from Teen Ink books are donated to this nonprofit foundation to further reading, writing and publishing opportunities for teenagers. Stephanie Meyer, editor of the book and magazine, holds masters' degrees in education and social work. John Meyer, publisher of the magazine, holds an M.B.A. and has published two successful business magazines.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Written in the Dirt
by Timothy Cahill


The light grew brighter, filling my eyes until I could see nothing of my surroundings. Giving my horse a gentle tug, I brought her to a halt and reached down for my canteen. I gulped a mouthful and noticed there was hardly any water remaining. I had never grown used to the infernal heat that permeated everything―heat that stung your eyes, pierced your skin, spurred every sweat pore on your body into overdrive. It was enough to damage a man's wits and destroy his will, which was, of course, exactly the point.

I blinked my eyes hard until the white blur began to dissipate and my vision came back into focus. As I had come to expect, there was not really anything to see; the light-brown dirt stretched on for miles, creating a panoramic spectacle daunting enough to inspire second thoughts about even bothering to survive. Heaving a deep sigh, I glanced down at my empty canteen and swore. I had filled it only a few hours after sunrise, yet had only taken four gulps during the day to finish it. There was evidently a leak. Nothing to panic about, I reminded myself, removing the brown broad-rimmed hat from my head and wiping my brow. According to the directions the fellow at that post office gave me, I should reach a settlement by dark and restock my supplies. I could certainly afford some new equipment. Heading out here was the best business decision I'd ever made.

With this thought, I reached into my saddlebag to pull out the earnings from my stay in the last settlement. Not bad for a single day's work. And one buffoon had even given me what looked like a gold Spanish medallion. I didn't know much about its worth, but, from what I'd heard, they can fetch a pretty penny at a pawn shop. That old sap hadn't been able to see much farther than his nose. He must have judged by the size that it was an ordinary quarter. I admiringly tilted the gold coin in my hand and rolled my eyes over the strange engravings.

'Pardon, mister?' My daydreaming was cut short by what I suspected was an apparition. As the figure on horseback drew nearer, it became apparent that he was quite real.

'Why, mister, you're a doctor, perhaps?'

'Mighty perceptive of you,' I allowed, casually slipping the money back into the saddlebag. 'How'd you figure that one?'
'Praise God in heaven!' the other rider exclaimed, his eyes wide and his demeanor somewhat manic. 'Why, I saw that black bag, looked like the one the doctor back home carries with him, and I just knew! It's nothing short of a miracle, finding you way out here . . .' The man caught himself from rambling and took a deep swallow. 'I've got a serious problem, mister. My li'l girl's so sick I'm afraid she ain't gonna make it another few days.'

'Fortunate that I came along when I did,' I noted with a curt nod, allowing my instincts to return. This, after all, was business. 'Whereabouts is she right now?'
'We sure weren't about to push on all the way to the settlement at Oak Creek, so I put up camp just over them hills,' he jerked his head to the south. 'It's been three days now, and we're mighty low on food, but if we push on, she ain't got a chance. Please, mister?'

I looked him in the eye and nodded grimly. 'No guarantees, sir, but I'll do what I can.' I gave him an encouraging nod, at which point the man spurred his horse, leading me at a speedy gait to the camp.

When we arrived, I noticed that the flaps of the tent were drawn closed. Dismounting with great urgency, the man held his hand out in a halting gesture. 'Better let me go first, mister. In this state, she's liable to scream if she sees a strange face.' He rushed inside, and I could hear him murmuring reassurance in the universal tone parents use to comfort sick children.

I slipped off my own horse, lifted my sleek black bag off its back and stole a glance at the tent. I quickly pulled the sack open and scoured through it until the appropriate vial was on top. This sell should be simpler than most, I told myself confidently.

'She's feeling a littler calmer now, mister,' the man noted, leaning out of the tent. 'You can come in.'
I gripped the bag firmly in my hand and walked in, ducking under the propped-up flap. It was fairly dark inside, the only light coming from a freshly lit candle. The dwelling was plain, with a small blanket doubled over on the ground to serve as a bed. On it rested an angelic little girl, no more than six or seven. Her face looked pale, and I could hear rough, guttural wheezing with every breath. The poor thing was lying on her back, staring forlornly at the top of the tent, her eyes open but her expression blank. She grasped a rather large, tattered shirt that was serving as a blanket, and she occasionally shivered. The sight was almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. Almost.

'This been going on for long?' I asked the father, with a professional edge to my voice. 'Days? Weeks?'
'Well, we been stopped here just a little while . . . couple a days,' he replied hesitantly. 'She hadn't been doing very well early on either, but it just got worse,' he added.

I nodded confidently and placed my hand on her forehead. Drawing it back quickly, I proceeded to lean over the young girl and peered deeply into her eyes. She appeared to be conscious of her surroundings, but seemed confused by her condition. Needless to say, so was I. Not that it really mattered. 'Well, sir, these are less than ideal circumstances for a complete diagnosis, but I'd be inclined to call it an advanced case of Dutch Fever.'

'Is it . . . serious?' he asked, gulping. His eyes were wide and full of hope. Gotta love the easy jobs, I told myself with an inward grin. Most of 'em are buying things they won't ever need: boot clips, glove strings, saddle cream, and so on. But if they need it, well, there isn't even a challenge. Truthfully, you could fool most of the people I do business with by telling them the word 'gullible' was written in the dirt.

'I won't lie to you, sir,' I said, my mouth locked in a solemn line and my eyebrows narrowing. 'It's a tough illness to fight off, but I've got something here that's had some success over in Cireves County.' I reached into the black bag, careful not to open it all the way, and pulled out the vial of purple liquid. 'Now, hers is a pretty tough case, so I'm gonna give you this whole vial. You give her a mouthful every two to three hours, and I bet she starts clearin' up in a few days.'
He clasped his hands around the container of homemade cough syrup and looked up at me with intense gratitude. 'Oh, thank you, mister. You truly are a godsend!' He blinked hard and gulped once more. 'We ain't got much money. How much do I owe you for this?'

'It's a pretty costly bit of medicine,' I remarked with a frown, subtly eyeing the humble surroundings, 'but I wouldn't want to drive you broke now. How much can you afford?' Always let the poor give what they can. If they've got it, they'll hand over more than the rich will ever consider.

'Why, I left my money out in my saddlebag!' he exclaimed. 'Was 'fraid the camp would be robbed while I was looking for help. Hang on there.' As he scurried out of the cabin, I looked down one last time at the young girl. Placing my hand on her forehead again, I couldn't help but hope the darn cough syrup did something to help. Her body seemed to have stabilized a bit since I had first come in; the wheezing had disappeared entirely. Perhaps she had drifted to sleep.
'Here you are, mister,' the man said, clasping my hand against his to pass over the coins in his palm. I smiled graciously and slipped them into my pocket. Noble men don't count their earnings in front of others.

'It's a pleasure I was able to help someone way out here,' I said, patting the fellow's shoulder. 'It's a good thing I came along when I did.' I let out a contented sigh to signify that my work was complete, nodded to the concerned father and strode quickly back to my horse. Taking a glance at the sun, I smiled at the thought that I might yet reach the settlement by nightfall.

* * *

'Pretty shabby canteen you're carrying there, fella.' The comment was made by a street merchant as I dismounted in front of the local inn. 'I could sell you a nicer one for a quarter,' he added enticingly, handing me his product.

The price was a tad steep, but I needed the canteen. 'Sure,' I agreed with a nod. 'Just picked myself up some cash.' I reached into my pocket and groped around for a quarter. Finding one, I handed it to the peddler and wrapped the canteen strap around my neck. 'Good day, sir.'

'Now, hold on there,' he demanded, pulling my shoulder back with a jerk. 'I ain't never seen any money like this. This ain't no good.'
Giving him a scowl, I snatched the quarter back and held it up to the light. What the . . . ? In my hand I held a gold Spanish medallion. 'Now hold on,' I said aloud, confused. 'This was from my saddlebag when . . .' I stopped in mid-sentence as the realization struck me like a rock between the eyes. I didn't even need to check my saddlebag to know that it was empty.

Noble men don't count their earnings in front of other men, but I had been counting my money that afternoon, and there had been someone watching. It had all been perfect. Too perfect. The man entered the tent first. He went outside to get his money. A sick little girl who wasn't too sick after all.
There was no use going back to the camp. Con men move quickly. I should know. One thing's for sure, though: I'm not ever again telling anyone that the word 'gullible' is written in the dirt.

Eggplant Parm
by Melissa Sowin


On the night of the blizzard,
I'm locked in my house
with my mother and her boyfriend.
I used to cry at the sight of his curly brown hair,
but now I am making dinner with a man for the first time:

Just me and him―
My smile real as we cook eggplant parmesan:
First, protecting sliced eggplant
with a coat of flour.
Then, letting the slices sizzle in oil
until they are golden brown on the bottom.

I flip the eggplant over, looking at it as if it
were just born.
Next, he and I spread tomato sauce together,
forming a comfortable padding for freshly
sprinkled parmesan cheese.

When dinner's out of the oven, we sit:
a candlelit table set for three,
garlic bread made by mother,
salad, pasta and the main dish made by us.
Outside: two feet of snow.
Inside: three friends with napkins on our laps,
passing the salad, twirling separate spaghetti strands into
a bond around our steel forks.


Even the Devil Waits in Line
by Axel Arth

I stood in line, waiting for my pizza. It was yet another Saturday night, and I was, as usual, alone. And let me tell you, it wasn't for lack of trying. It was more for lack of someone else trying back.

And it didn't really help that I knew almost all the people who worked at the pizza shop. Whenever I'd made it to the counter, I'd have to put up with the jeers of my fellow jerks from behind the counter. For some reason, I never brought up the fact that they were the ones working on a Saturday night, and I was the one who could be doing something―if I had a life to be doing something with, that is.

But tonight, something different happened. Due to a large storm on its way, everyone was wanting a pizza to kick back with, throwing off my time frame. That, and a party had come in and taken up residence―a party of ten yelling children.

The line was now fifteen minutes long, and the building was getting hot. The sound of screaming children didn't help my mood. It was shaping up to be a night I was going to have to hurt someone, and that someone would most likely be me.

I was almost to the point of choking one of those damn rugrats if they touched me one more time, when I began to mutter to myself, Damn kids, going to break something. Jesus, if only they'd shut their little mouths . . .

And it was then that the stranger in front of me, the one in the ominous trench coat and black fedora, decided to speak to me.
'You know, I don't think He'd be the best person to help you right now,' he said, over his shoulder.

I stood silently, not knowing who he was talking about. He turned to face me and continued. 'Jesus, I mean. He loved children. I've never been able to figure out why, though. Pesky little brats. But, hello and, you are?' he said, extending his hand.

'I'm Axel,' I said, caught off guard by his up-front attitude. This was getting very weird, very fast. 'And you?'
'Well, I have many names. You can call me Lucy.'

'That's an interesting name,' I said, not really wanting to bring up the fact that I knew a kid with that nickname, and he wasn't exactly someone you'd want to be compared to.

He took off his hat, but his short red hair didn't even move. He reached up with one of his gloved hands and stroked his short beard. I began to blush, remembering the small piece of peach fuzz I had growing beneath my chin. And something I'll never forget―his eyes were like black pits, sucking in the light.
He continued, 'You know, there's an easy way out of all of this.'

I braced myself for the worst. This guy was going to start selling me some piece of junk, and I was going to be stuck listening to him until I got my pizza. Trying not to let this show, I said, 'Really? What's that?'

'Simple. Find an exit,' he said with a stupid grin. I let out an uncontrollable laugh, not expecting anything even half as stupid. When everyone in the store stopped looking at me, he continued.

'But, seriously, I can help you out. And for a reasonable price, too.'

Here comes the sale, I thought. 'What can you do? And how much will it cost me?'
'Look over there,' he said, pointing to the parking lot.

My internal monologue continued its rant. A car salesman? Car wax? But I saw something I never expected.

It was another pizza place, just like this one, only different. There I was, sitting in a booth. A girl I had been chasing after was sitting on the other side. We were sharing a pizza. And it looked like we might be sharing a little more than that later. It was amazing. It was exactly what I had been looking for.
My eyes glued to the image, Lucy continued, 'That's just the beginning. It can all be yours. Money, fame, all you have to do is ask.'
This wasn't any jerk trying to sell me car wax. This was Satan. And he was offering me a deal.

'And the price?' I asked, trying to concentrate, but not succeeding. The vision in front of me was filling my brain, making it hard to think.
Lucy let out a big sigh. 'Honestly, you're not a stupid kid. What do you think it is? It's your soul.' I could tell that wasn't the question he'd expected me to ask. 'Sometimes I ask myself why I even bother with you mortals . . .' he muttered.

'So, I give you my soul, and I get everything?'
'Yes, that's the deal.'

The image of the pizza place disappeared, and I felt empty, like I had to have that again.
'How do I seal the deal?' I asked, ready to get this over with.
'Right here,' he said, pulling a contract and a pen from his coat.

I bent down, ready to sign. This was the life I wanted. This was how it should be. It's all I would ever need.
But a thought popped into my head: What fun would that be? Half the fun is the chase. It'd be a lot easier, but not nearly as much fun. Let life come as it may. I straightened. 'I'm sorry, Lucy, but I think I'll pass.'

His grin grew even wider. 'Good. You're the kind of guy I like to see get away from me. And besides, ...

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