Book Review: Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

In the historical fiction novel Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, 15 year old Lina Vilkas, along with her mother Elena and younger brother Jonas (who is 10 years old) are arrested and abducted by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) in 1941 Lithuania. They are stuffed into a tiny train car with many others, but the direct link between them all is unknown. The train car has horrible conditions, and Lina’s father Kostas was taken too, but he and the other men are in a different train. The book narrates the story of Lina, Elena, and Jonas’s journey as prisoners of the NKVD. The entire time, Lina, Elena, and Jonas are trying to find word of where Lina’s father, Kostas, could be.

This book has multiple settings. It begins in Lithuania in 1941, and Lina, Elena, and Jonas are first taken to Siberia and then taken back down to a labor camp in Altai where they are forced to do hard tasks in horrid conditions and minimal food. After that, they are taken on a ship back to Siberia, where they work to build for the NKVD.

The most obvious, main conflict is that Lina, Jonas, Elena, and Kostas have been taken by the NKVD, and so have many others, with no clear connection (in the beginning). This is an external conflict; however, each character also experiences their own internal conflicts. The story is told from Lina’s point of view, and she has many flashbacks of her life in Lithuania. The author very cleverly implements the flashbacks so each time, they get closer and closer to the present until they suddenly fit together like a puzzle and explain what led up to Lina’s family being taken (which I will not spoil!). 

As a 15 year old girl, and a wonderful artist, Lina draws what she sees, especially people, as a means of recording and expressing herself. She is the narrator of the story, and as a teenage girl her descriptions and emotions are very interesting to readers. Lina’s internal conflicts are specific to the mindset of a teenage girl, and it ranges from missing her father to being protective over her younger brother.

I think that the most influential character in the book is Lina’s mother, Elena, who is the rock for her children. Without Elena, Jonas and Lina would lose hope and motivation very quickly, and may even be separated from each other. Elena wonderfully symbolizes the theme of motherly protection, and it’s a delightful theme to see in such a story. The way she handles everything with kindness, but at the same time stays strong and does not tolerate anything unfair against her children is amazing. Her importance is especially seen since the entire mood of the book is a reflection of her. Lina is the narrator, and she often uses her mother’s facial expressions or posture while describing conditions. This shows the influence and love Lina has for her mother.

My favorite character in the book is Elena, since she is very protective, emotionally strong, and kind to those around her. I really loved the way Elena’s disposition shapes the novel, since Elena has such an impact on her daughter, Lina, who is the narrator. 

Jonas is a 10 year old boy, and is shown at the beginning of the novel to be obedient, sincere, and innocent. Young boys are famously known for being playful and mischievous. The horridness that people suffered during the time of the novel is very starkly shown through Jonas, since he is a young boy stripped of his childhood and being captured and forced into the workcamps. His presence makes the conditions of the book much more sad.

There was one event in the novel that may seem small but was very significant. In the train car, one of the people trapped in the same car as Lina was a boy named Andrius. During the train ride he found an oval stone with quartz and other crystals inside. At first, Andrius kept it, but then gifted it to Lina, who gifted it to Jonas, and the stone cycles through characters like this. It is always given as a gift because the person who is giving it wants the other person to feel better. The stone symbolizes luck and lifts the spirits of the captured people as soon as it is found. If the stone had never been found, the characters’ morale would have hurtled at a downward slope. The stone gave short, simple happiness, and throughout the story happiness and hope is what keeps the characters going. 

I would personally give this book a 10/10. This book was very interesting, and I finished it very quickly. It had wonderful characters, character development, and suspense. It incorporated themes of motherly love, the importance of family, and youthfulness. I usually do not like historical fiction books, but this book was very amazing and informative. The best part was that it did not seem distant and simply informative; the characters seemed so relatable in age and their emotions were easy to empathize with, making the book very powerful. People who enjoy mystery, suspense, the theme of family, and history would love this book. I think that this book is especially powerful, and a person who just likes one of the previously mentioned qualities would definitely enjoy this book.

-Ayati M.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

“Keep a fire burning; a fire is what saves you.”

Such is the number one rule in Margot’s household, set by her mother before she could even walk. 17-year-old Margot lives with her emotionally distant mother in a small town where it is difficult to find peace and solitude. They constantly struggle to get along, butting heads at the smallest of issues while ignoring the largest insecurities plaguing them. However, nothing compares to the biggest secret held from Margot; the girl has no idea where she came from, and her mother gives no clues or mention to any extended family. Eventually, several discoveries lead her down a new path, leaving home to gain independence and seek out the truth behind her mysterious origins.

Burn Our Bodies Down depicts the journey Margot takes to discover that hidden side of her history, to a town called Phalene. As the story develops, we are introduced to characters within the town, each reacting to Margot’s appearance in an unexpected way. One of my favorite elements of this book is the characterization of Margot and her new friend Tess, foils in ideas and influences. Margot sees the world through the eyes of someone living a tragedy, unable to get a firm grasp on a stable and happy life. Tess, on the other hand, is privileged enough to see the world as a written tragedy, experiencing the horrifying events that unfold as if they were a story and not someone’s real life. She treats her new friend’s dilemma as a mystery to be theorized about, not realizing that her life can too become tragic until it’s too late.

As the story unfolds, tension builds to the point where we can only throw blind guesses at the page, with a final reveal that sent chills down my spine. Themes of responsibility, love, and empathy reign supreme throughout the novel, creating a beautiful coming-of-age story (if you consider horrifying supernatural occurrences to be typical in a teenage experience). Unlike Power’s previous book “Wilder Girls”, I found this book difficult to get into. However, knowing the author’s potential, I luckily stuck with the story as it picked up steam. The final chapters are a whirlwind of shock and excitement that I was grateful to experience, and wholeheartedly recommend the book to any fan of mysteries, thrillers, and emotional dramas.

Bailey L.

Game Review: Eyes

The game eyes is a horror game that has the player navigate through a mansion in hopes to find twenty money bags. If you get the twenty money bags through the door your free, but there is a catch. The house consists of one spirit that wanders around trying to ensure that you do not leave.

There are three floors and to find the money bags you must search in cupboards, drawers, and shelves. 

This game is different from every other game because around the house there are symbols of eyes drawn on the walls and when you collect them they show you what the spirit sees. This can help you tell what floor the spirit is on and if it is safe to leave the room or not. 

When the spirit is within ten feet of you everything around you will start to rattle, you will start to hear heavy breathing, and rats will start coming out of the floorboards. 

Overall the CGI in the game is very well done and looks realistic. The plot and goal of the game are very intriguing. The game is very fun to play especially in the dark and I would recommend this game to anyone who likes jumpscares. 

-Sanjana S.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

A prestigious school. An abandoned island. A deadly disease. Secrets beyond comprehension. These elements present themselves in suspenseful and exciting ways in “Wilder Girls” a science fiction horror novel written by Rory Power. The story follows the Raxter School for Girls, a coveted boarding school off the coast of the United States. The story picks up 18 months after the island had been put under quarantine due to the Tox, a deadly virus that mutates the environment and the people within it. We follow the few survivors of the plague after the teachers and several girls have already succumbed to the Tox. As the story progresses, we discover secrets behind the military’s role in managing the disease, and the true meaning of finding a cure.

Hetty, one of the few survivors, lives within the school, bickering for rations with the other students and taking care of her friends Byatt and Reese. As she looks around at the fellow students, she describes the horrifying effects of the Tox: extra body parts, vines growing out of the body, and shocking spasms that leave each victim even more distraught than before. These girls are sitting ducks, slowly decomposing while waiting for the CDC and the outside world to provide a cure while donating occasional rations. As the months go by, the students and few remaining teachers develop a hierarchy of power in order to keep order and safety on school grounds. A quarantine is set both on the island and the school, only allowing certain students to venture into the dangerously mutated forest. We see bonds broken and formed between young women as they struggle to survive and save those they care most about, making a life in their hopeless situation, surrounded by death and decay.

Themes of sacrifice and selfishness develop through the novel as their situation at Raxter worsens. When Byatt, Hetty’s closest friend and almost sister, goes missing after a flare-up, her and Reese risk the security of their other classmates to go beyond the fence and search for her, uncovering deadly and scarring secrets that reveal the true fate of the island’s residents. Hetty’s careful, loving, and protective nature fails in the final critical moments, revealing her true ambitions as she is forced to decide between the group she loves and the people she cannot live without: Reese and Byatt. Hetty remains one of my favorite literary characters due to what may seem like backwards character development but is actually a revelation of her flawed heroic nature that exists her entire life. “Wilder Girls” does a phenomenal job of displaying the flaws of even the greatest heroes and sacrificers.

I read this book for the first time in summer 2019, and found it a fascinating story that I stayed up all night to finish reading. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys dystopian YA fiction, horror, or any story with dynamic and complex characters that showcase true universal themes.

-Bailey L.

Wilder Girls by Rory Power is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book vs. Movie: “The Shining”

I have spent the last couple weeks making my way through Stephen King’s The Shining a horror literature classic that my dad gave me for Christmas. As I was reading the book, my parents asked me about some familiar and iconic movie scenes and how I enjoyed reading them. After finishing the book and not coming across those scenes, I realized that there were some stark contrasts between the novel and Stanley Kubrick’s re-imagined classic. Thus, I decided to do research and have conversations with my dad about the differences between the two entertainment sources, and analyze their impact on their respective audiences.

Several subtle differences to the atmosphere have occurred to properly terrify audiences according to the type of media consumed. For instance, Danny’s interaction with the “wolf-man” is replaced with Wendy’s vision of a man in a bear suit in the movie. While both concepts are frightening in description and convey similar themes, the “wolf-man” is more cartoonish and sudden, showing the experience as one would expect from a terrified child’s mind. However, the movie interpretation is more unnerving than a typical jumpscare, showcased in a quick zoom shot that cannot be as successfully accomplished in a literary style. These differences in interpretation thus offer a similar effect using entirely different scare techniques, both appropriate for the interpretation and entertainment style it’s present in. Additional scenes, such as Danny turning a corner to find himself faced with the twins and the blood-filled elevator, are not present in the book due to their unnerving and sudden appearances, something that cannot be done through King’s detailed descriptive writing. The strongest and most important setting difference between the book and the movie is the animal-shaped hedges, replaced in the move by a maze. This has a profound effect on the plot, and is known as one of the most memorable features of the film’s Overlook hotel.

Concept and character differences make up an even more influential part of the contrast between the two versions. In King’s book, it is made abundantly clear that while Jack has his demons to deal with regardless of his position, the hotel is genuinely haunted and a large factor in his eventual descent into madness. This is shown through his son Danny, and the kid’s ability to sense the ghosts of the Overlook through what the cook Halloran calls “The Shine”. In the movie, however, Danny’s power is less intense, and we are forced to question if Jack is truly seeing things and going crazy due to his own guilt and violent tendencies. One of my least favorite aspects of Kubrick’s adaptation is his treatment of Wendy Torrance, the leading lady of the story. In the novel, Wendy is much more powerful and independent, able to defend herself and her son from Jack. She even goes as far as to use a tiny shaving razor to defend herself, showing her resourcefulness when faced with impossible odds.

Because a story is always most well known for its plot, it is important to take note of the plot differences between the two media forms. In the book, the story ends with Halloran trudging through the snow to rescue Danny, taking the mother and son away on a snowmobile as the Overlook explodes with Jack inside. However, the movie takes a more eerie and suspenseful approach, all while killing off Halloran once he steps inside the hotel. Jack chases Danny through the hedge maze, and he eventually escapes, leaving Jack to freeze to death in his madness. The movie closes with an image from a 1920’s scrapbook picture, Jack being seen at the center of the party, symbolizing how Jack has become one of the eternal ghosts of the Overlook. Due to plot differences, this haunting final image does not present itself in the novel. Additional plot differences such as Jack’s weapon (an axe in the movie and a mallet in the novel) and the fate of Jack’s play are changed for the sake of forwarding the plot, allowing for characters to meet certain fates or build up to truly terrifying moments.

The Shining as a whole is a brilliant story filled with terrors, dread, and undeniably interesting characters. Both materials have stood the test of time and lived up to their reputation. As a literature fan, I am impartial to King’s original story due to its fascinating writing style and descriptions of themes and slow dread building to the plot’s climax. However, I also give credit to Kubrick’s film for its ability to terrify audiences in its own way. While not exactly holding true to the source material and thus an inadequate adaptation, it carves its own path in horror media as a phenomenally crafted film with its own story to tell.

-Bailey L.

The Shining by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book Review: The Moonstone by William Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone eBook by Wilkie Collins - 1230001902938 | Rakuten Kobo United  States

As a writer of the British Empire at the peak of the colonial era, Collins is immersed in the influence of colonialism and orientalism thinking mode. His image of the Eastern people inevitably shows the superiority of the subjects of the metropolitan country and the obvious racist attitude towards the colonial people. However, many factors in The Moonstone, such as the selection of time setting, plot arrangement, characterization and so on, can also be interpreted completely in the opposite way: Collins raises certain doubts and challenges to the colonial mentality. Collins’s choice of India as the setting is closely related to the Indian mercenary riots of 1857. The rioting started when the British authorities used butter and lard as lubricants for bullet clips that needed to be chewed through the mouth, and the mercenaries were mostly Hindus or Muslims. To them, touching the oil on these clips meant blasphemy against religion. Angry soldiers rioted, killing not only the British boss but also the innocent. Most of the reports in the British media distorted the facts of the case, and for a time, the name “bloodthirsty Indian” was constantly heard. Collins and Dickens collaborated on an article called “The Perils of Certain English Prisoners,” which exposed the insidious, cunning, and hypocrisy of colored people and praised the qualities of British soldiers. The Moonstone was written on the tenth anniversary of the riots, and newspapers and magazines are full of memories, memorials or reflections on the events. By this time, many British people had come to understand the truth and felt that the British authorities had been wrong to disregard the Indian soldiers’ religious beliefs, and Collins’s views had changed subtly. In the novel, his view of the relationship between Britain and India is no longer a simple tribute to the British empire, but an indirect expression of his deep reflection. The plot arrangement and characterization of the novel also reveal Collins’ questioning and criticism of the so-called noble morality of the colonists.

Several of the Englishmen involved in the jewel were from the upper middle class, but the cruelty and greed of Colonel Herncastle, who first grabbed the jewel, goes without saying, and the image of Abel White, the real black hand in the jewel theft, is ironic. The final collapse of the case exposed Abel White as a hypocritical English gentleman. He is the suitor of Rachel, the heroine. He is of noble birth, well-educated and has a noble career as a lawyer. He attends church regularly and is enthusiastic in organizing and participating in various charitable activities. He was a fine young man of uncommon appearance. He had a round, bright face, a ruddy complexion, and lovely blond hair. However, when the mystery is solved, his double identity is revealed: the bright surface conceals the dark inner heart, he not only leads a dissolved life, but also embezzles the client’s funds. After the financial crisis, in order to avoid ruin, he took the risk of stealing precious stones. It is intriguing that Collins has named such a sanctimonious figure Abel White. The image of an Indian was in stark contrast to Abel White’s imposing appearance. In the eyes of several narrators, the Indians are dark skinned, obtuse, and have a manner reminiscent of snakes. However, they had a clear goal and a firm belief. In order to retrieve the stolen holy moonstone, they broke the religious rules and sacrificed their lives to trace all the way to England, and finally returned the gem to its owner by tenacious perseverance, superhuman patience and shrewd calculation. The explorer concludes the novel by describing a grand Hindu religious ceremony celebrating the return of the jewel. His reverence rose to the page as he spoke of the three men going their separate ways, with the congregation around them making way for them in silence. The moonstone becomes a yardstick to measure the good and evil of human nature and a mirror to reflect the character’s morality.

Reflected in this mirror, the “barbarian” in the eyes of the Europeans became the guardian of virtue, while the English gentleman had forgotten what was virtuous. So when Abel White, the “capable white man”, is murdered by an Indian, the mood conveyed by the novel is not one of indignation, but of sympathy, admiration and relief that justice has been done. The moonstone is a sacred object of Hinduism. This gem is no longer just a physical indicator, but a spiritual and cultural sustenance. The twists and turns of its fate revealed that the economy of the English country estate was closely related to the colony. Events in the colony would eventually spread to the British mainland and cause social unrest in Britain. The moonstone exposes the brutality and greed of the colonists, reflecting their moral corruption and hypocrisy under the guise of religion and civilization. Moreover, through the influence of the gem on the family of the British gentry, the author implies that colonial affairs destroy the traditional social and family hierarchy order: only when the colonial gems leave the British mainland, the British family can restore normal order. Another theme of the novel is to celebrate Rachel’s pursuit of love, even though her pursuit is full of difficulties. She falls in love with Franklin before her birthday party, but on the night of the party, after witnessing him steal the moonstone, she begins to doubt their love. But no matter how sad she was, she chose to sacrifice her reputation for secrecy to protect Franklin. In the novel, there are three Indians who follow in the footsteps of the moonstone, and their task is to keep searching for the moonstone, without fear of sacrifice, even through generations of efforts, until the stone is returned to its original place. Rachel’s sacrifice was in the name of love, and the sacrifice of the three Indians was in the name of faith. The two kinds of sacrifice echoed and supported each other.

The horror and mystery reflected in The Moonstone is one of the important features of Gothic literature. Readers are always in the process of guessing the murderer, guessing wrong, continuing to guess and guessing wrong. Only by reading the ending did we discover who the real killer was. In The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins has a remarkably precise command of time and space, one of the basic abilities that most mystery novels have. In terms of narrative structure, the novel is just like drama and film shooting, which is divided into prologue, first part, second part and epilogue. In the second part, there are six stories to tell. The time of the narrative remains the same, and the gems are stolen one by one — the truth comes out, but after the jewel is stolen, the events in the second part are told separately by the six men, as if the police were looking for clues and inquiring about relevant personnel, and the parts of the six men’s separate stories seem to be independent. The overlap of time and the intersection of space weave an impenetrable web. Narration, flashbacks and interludes in space and time make the plot messy and complex, close and scattered, and the readers’ mood is controlled by the author. There are traps in Wilkie Collins’s narrative that draw the reader’s mind in mysterious and conspiring directions, yet he is so grounded in the goodness of human nature that, just when you want to believe in it, another well-reasoned accident pulls back a plot that has gone far. Finally, you seem to know how the gem came back to India, and you seem not to know. This kind of looming narrative is extraordinarily precise in its transformation of narrative vision. In the dialogue of the characters, the defects of the previous character are written back or made up, and the whole picture is reflected afterwards where random incident causes an uncontrollable scene.

-Coreen C.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Hound of the Baskervilles - Kindle edition by Conan Doyle, Arthur .  Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

As in Doyle’s previous work, the narrator of The Hound of the Baskervilles is Watson, who, as Holmes’s close companion, becomes an important participant in the case. Most of the novel is presented in the form of Watson’s memoirs, which also means that Watson belongs to the narrator outside the story, that is, has a higher level of authority over the story he narrates. It’s not the equivalent of an omniscient narrative, but when he tells a story, he knows the ins and outs of events. The narrator knows everything, but in telling the story he deliberately hides some of the facts until the end. Watson, for example, knew that the hound’s legend had been deliberately distorted by Stapleton, but he did not reveal this until the climax of the novel.

By setting up suspense, this design delays the satisfaction that readers get from knowing the truth and encourages them to continue reading. Watson was involved in the investigation of the whole affair. The first-person narration can increase the reader’s sense of identity and feel the development of the story from the perspective of the narrator. As the previous narration has laid the foundation for this inexplicable fear, it is easier for the reader to identify with the narrator and feel the great pressure from unknown dangers. Although the reader believes that the novel will follow the usual formula of the detective and that the danger will be relieved at the last moment, the tension caused by the text will not be lessened due to the strong emotional identity between the narrator and the reader.

On the one hand, it is convenient for the author to hide important information so as to attract readers. At the same time, it makes readers identify with emotions, and then reaches the purpose of attracting readers by setting suspense. Rather than telling the story chronologically, Doyle reshuffles the events to give the text a variety of features. For example, when Watson and his party are about to leave for Dartmoor, Holmes compares the moor to a stage where a tragedy is about to take place. He was clearly referring to something that had not yet happened, a statement that could be called a flashback. In this way, Doyle tells the reader that a play is about to begin.

Prenarration is rarely seen in western narrative texts, but Doyle is adept at it and draws the reader’s attention to the upcoming story. In addition to a few previews, the novel also contains long flashback. One function of flashbacks is to provide context for current events, such as when Dr. Mortimer talks to Dr. Watson about a woman whose initials are L. L., and Mortimer tells him the woman’s identity and recounts her harrowing experience. This background can give the reader a clue to the truth. However, due to the disordered timing of narration, it is also a challenge for the reader to piece together the information scattered throughout the text. But it is this non-linear narrative that makes the story confusing and adds to the sense of suspense.

Flashbacks also delay the revelation of the truth, allowing the reader to keep curiosity to the last minute. In this case, although the criminal has been punished, the motive of the crime remains unknown. It is not until the last chapter that Holmes reveals Stapleton’s plot in his Baker Street flat. Such flashbacks fill in the information gap in the previous text and maintain the tension of the text to the maximum extent. It can be said that the use of foretelling and flashbacks makes the novel more attractive.

-Coreen C.

Alex Rider Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

The first Alex Rider book is defiantly one to remember. Stormbreaker is about a boy named Alex Rider whose uncle was supposedly a banker. But when Alex discovers his uncle didn’t die from a car crash, and his uncle actually worked for a spy agency, his life gets flipped upside down!

The Alex Rider series is consists of 12 lengthy novels plus a prequel, so Alex Rider will keep you entertained for hours every day! These books will keep you on your toes through every page. Every once in a while, I had to flip the page to check what was going to happen because the suspense was killing me! Anthony Horowitz does an amazing job creating a protagonist that we can love and crazy adventures for our hero to do. If you thought that the bad guy in Stormbreaker was scary, you will be surprised how escalated the villain’s get. Alex Rider has all of the true qualities of a hero, bravery, courage, being smart, and of course, sarcasm. If you didn’t like Stormbreaker (I doubt you won’t like it) Anthony Horowitz has written many other book series, so make sure to check those out!

-Brandon D.

Everything For Her by Alexa Riley

I can say that I enjoyed this book very much!

To me, the awesome thing about this book is that though it was meant to be a romance, it was also a suspense book as well! Don’t believe me? Then let’s see what it’s about!

Mallory was an orphan as a child in lived in an orphanage. Despite all of that, she got a full scholorship to the college of her dreams, and right as she was set to graduate, she got an internship at one of the most prestigious office’s in the world. To say she is happy in an understatement, she is absolutely enthralled.

“From the beginning, I knew that she would be my greatest achievement, so the day I let her go, I set down a path for her.
A path to me. No one knows it’s been me behind the curtain, pulling the strings. I’ve constructed everything in our lives so that at the perfect moment, I could have her. The time has come.”

Now onto Miles part of the story (or, as he is known at the beginning of the book as the secretive “Oz”). The quote pretty much explains it all. He is very obsessive of Mallory and she hasn’t even met him. He met her when she was about to graduate high school and he was about the graduate college. He has watched her since then and has (as stated above) set down a path for her that will lead her to him. Now that she works in his office, that time has come.

As you can foresee, Mallory eventually meets Miles and they bond instantly (well…I guess she does, he already knows her, ya know?). As his secrets come out (no, nothing earth shattering), she isn’t sure she wants to be with Miles.

“I sit in front of her door all night. And all day Sunday. And all night Sunday.”

But guys, as creepy as all of that must have just sounded, when you read the book it really isn’t. Just believe me, when you read the book you will fall in love with Miles because he honestly says/does the sweetest things. I mean, the man loves his mother to pieces and treats her like a queen, what more can we ask for? Plus, he does mean well, he just doesn’t want to lose someone that means alot to him (love at first sight is what we’ll call this).

The end of this book is hoenstly one of the sweetest/best things I have read. I just made me so happy for them!

“The first time I saw you, I thought I’d woken up in the land of Oz, It was like seeing color for the first time.

That all seems like alot to take in I know, and I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll leave out all of the important plot twists that will literally blow your mind. Just read.this.book.

-Skylar N.

Everything for Her by Alexa Riley is available for download from Overdrive

Writing Prompts

Prompt: A fair has come to town with a strange funhouse. Inside is a mirror that shows the viewer that last thing they will see before they die.

“Come on, Cam!” He shouted. “It’ll be fun.” I should’ve known he wanted to come here. The annual fair was his favorite place to go. I just didn’t think he’d drag me here on our 7 month anniversary.

“Why don’t I just wait out here while you go in?” I laughed, trying not to ruin his mood. I really didn’t want to spend ten minutes in a mirror maze that’ll leave me with a headache as soon as I come out.

He used his infamous puppy dog eyes on me. “Please…You know it’s no fun if I go alone.”

I sighed. I really didn’t want to be the kill of his excitement. I smiled and followed Jay through the doors, preparing myself for the vertigo. The space behind the door opened up into a hallway of mirrors with dark lighting and a door at the end. I started to walk towards it when I realized it was only a reflection of the original one, bouncing off the other mirrors. Other than that, there wasn’t much excitement in here. About to ask if we could go, I was interrupted by a sigh.

“Shoot. I think my hat fell off outside.”

I turned back to him and laughed. Relieved that I had an excuse to leave, I replied, “Let’s get it then.”

“No, you stay here and enjoy it. I’ll be right back.” Before I could answer, Jay was already out the door. I rolled my eyes and made my way to the exit. No way I was staying here by myself.

I reached for the handle on the door and was met with a hard surface. I tried again and the door handle wasn’t there. I looked up at the reflection I had thought was real. Unbelievable. I turned around and walked down the hallway, seeing my figure follow me with my peripheral vision. When I got to end, the door did the same thing. No handle. Just a reflection. I groaned in frustration. How did I get so turned around?

I looked at my surroundings, trying to find the way I had come in. All I could see was my own confused face staring back at me. It filled the room, ceiling to floor. Then suddenly the lights went out. Just great.

“Hello?” I called out. “There’s someone in here. Could you turn the lights back on please?”

The hallway immediately filled with light once again, but the reflections were gone. In fact all that was around me was the wood of the walls, except for the screen at the end of the hallway. Walking to it, a movie starting playing. It didn’t seem like a movie that I had seen before.

The screen went into focus and I saw the funhouse. The same one I was in with it’s wooden door, leading into this hallway. I saw the carousel across from it and even Jay walking towards the entrance just like before when he beckoned me inside.

What the hell was going on here?

The image flashed forward to night. Jay was driving his beat up truck on the freeway towards home. Our favorite band was playing on the radio, and we both sang along. We screamed the lyrics with the windows rolled down and the wind whipping my hair. I smiled at how happy we looked.

But then the camera zoomed in on the speedometer the pin moved from 70 to 75…85…100…

“Stop!” I screamed at the video. But we just kept on singing. As the car moved faster, our voices got louder, louder than the cars around us, louder than the revving engine, louder than the honk of the upcoming truck as we crashed into it.

“No!” Tears filled my eyes, and I pounded on the screen. I wanted out of this hallway. I threw myself at the wall and felt the jab as the doorknob poked my side. The door! I twisted it and was met with the sun and the carousel and most importantly Jay, who was waiting just outside the door. Alive.

I flung myself into his arms. “You’re okay!” I hugged him tight so he couldn’t move away. Thankfully, he wrapped his arms around me, reassuring me that he was real.

“Of course I’m okay.” He laughed. “What’re you so worried about?”

I looked up at him through the water in my eyes. “You died. I died.”

He wiped at my face to clear it. “What are you talking about, sweetie? Everything’s fine.” He smiled and I couldn’t help but smile back.

“How long was I in there?” I asked, hoping for an answer.

“Only a second. I was coming right back in when you came out.”

I noticed the hat on his head. “But that’s impossible.”

“Are you okay?” He asked, brushing the hair from my eyes.

I shook my head. “It was so real,” I whispered.

He kissed my head. “It’s okay now, Cam. The sun’s setting already. How about I just take you home?” I nodded and let him lead me to the fair’s exit. “And don’t worry, it’ll be faster if I take the freeway.” He winked.

Prompt: An extra hour occurs at midnight but only a handful of people can experience it. It is called the Dark Hour.

When the minute hand landed on the daunting 12, the chimes were cut short as the second hand stopped. Silence rang through the still house. No one was moving, no one was breathing, for time was frozen. It was a time when the unknown could venture undetected. Alone in the world, they could roam with no humans in their way. That is except for the chosen.

These few people were able to experience the extra hour given to them. Some viewed it as a blessing, others a curse. When the creatures came out for leisure, they didn’t take kindly to the ones who disturbed them. If someone was awake, they’d know.

So when Brian opened his eyes that night for his first Hour, he had no idea the things he would never be able to unsee. The abrupt stop of the clock awoke him, and his eyes snapped open to the chill of lifelessness. He could feel it in his bones; immediately he knew what it was.

Slowly, he shuffled his feet to the floor and was surprised at his silent steps when the floor didn’t creak. All there was was quiet. Nothing moved out of place. His discreet footsteps took him to the screen at back door where he expected to find the trees rustled by wind but there was none. Life was like a picture, a completely unmoving portrait.

Until the first monster ripped through the illusion and made its presence known with a roar.

-Sabrina C., 11th Grade