Normally on Sunday morning, I go to my church. There are two church services on Sundays: one a nine o’clock, which is the one I attend, and one at eleven o’clock. I usually volunteer in the café during eleven o’clock service. When I do, I make all the blended drinks – normally. But two weeks ago, as I was leaving first service and getting ready to serve; the woman who runs the café told me, “I’m sorry, but we don’t need you right now because all our blenders are broken.”

I wasn’t the only person she told this to either. Three other volunteers and I simply sat in the café not knowing what to do since we were not needed behind the counter (It is hard to go elsewhere in the church since every ministry is like a job – you have to have some training before you jump in.). My dad volunteers in security; and since he saw I was just sitting there, he invited me to go on patrol with him. By “patrolling” I mean that we drive around a golf cart to check on the rest of the campus, see if people need assistance, or help another security person. It is a cool opportunity to see the church from a different point of view. So when my dad asked me if I wanted to patrol around with him I said, “Of course.”

To which he replied, “Woo-hoo!”

The golf cart looks old. The church logo on the front of it is faded and cracked; the backseats are faded and cracked, as well. The wooden backs of the backseats are faded and cracked, too – faded and cracked seemed to be the theme of the golf cart. Though it is old and looks worn down, it still runs like new. My dad gave me the keys and moved the cones in front of the cart out of the way. It turns on silently and does not go more than ten miles an hour. The pedals can be touchy; but once you get the hang of them, the drive can be smooth.

The other part of patrol is dealing with lots of different people. Security is like a filter for people coming into the church. They make sure dangerous and intrusive people do not get into the sanctuary. What I mean by “intrusive” are people who come to the church just to look for things to steal. Most of these people have been caught before, so security has a picture of them. If they show up and do not attend service, security can check on them. This happened last Sunday.

My dad approached an older man who security knew was not allowed on campus and asked, “Excuse me, sir, is there anything you need help with?”

The man replied, “No, I’m just trying car doors to see if they’re unlocked.”

I was surprised that the man just said it as if everyone is allowed to do that. At that answer, my dad calmly asked the man to leave. Thankfully, he did so without complaint.

Other ways that security acts as a filter is when there are people walking in drinking beer or smoking marijuana. Security tells them that they have to leave while they are using those substances, but are welcome back anytime they are not doing those things. The last person we asked to leave that day was a homeless man. He was very polite and not being disruptive; but unfortunately, he was drinking on the church campus. He was a tall, thin man, probably in his early forties. He had long, white hair and wore a baggy, brown sweat shirt and faded jeans. As he was leaving, he said goodbye and waved. Security does not just ask people to leave, though. If there is an elderly person walking through the parking lot, security gives them a ride to the car or to main sanctuary. Sometimes, security wishes they could filter out rude people, too, but that is not a possibility since it is a church that welcomes as much as is safely possible.

The whole church looks much different when driving around than walking around. When I am just walking around the church, I only notice the tall sanctuary building on my left and a parking lot on the right. But when I go driving with my father, we will sometimes park all the way in the back of the parking lot; and from there, I can see an ocean of cars – all different colors and sizes and shapes. I notice the morning breeze swaying the trees that are scattered throughout the parking lot. When service is over, all the people flooding out of the sanctuary look like happy ants crawling toward their cars. I like the silhouette of the two sanctuaries bookending the courtyard at the other end of the parking lot. Both buildings are tall, tan, and have square windows in the front framed in brushed grey metal. The main sanctuary is on the right, and the café and youth sanctuaries are both in the left building. The courtyard is in between the two buildings and is where everyone hangs out and talks after service. The courtyard floor is made of tan and brown bricks that always make the campus feel warm, no matter the weather.

In the corner of the courtyard is the baptism pool. When baptisms are not happening, three spouts in the center shoot the water up like a fountain. At the far end of the courtyard, on the right, is the children’s area. It is a much smaller, shorter building, but it is longer than either of the sanctuaries. The whole front of the children’s building is floor-to-ceiling windows that let in sunshine and showcase the rainbow mural in the front hallway. The whole church has tan, brown, and grey colors that almost reflect the kind of people inside – warm, polite, and happy to be there.

Usually, I only encounter people inside the church. But for the past three weeks, I have encountered all the people outside and around the church. I have met nice and rude people and driven a seasoned golf cart around. Doing so allows me to appreciate how wonderful my church is. I have enjoyed doing this and have decided that I want to serve in security, too.


Those Who Work in Shadow


It was a busy day in the marketplace. People of all shapes and sizes walking to and fro, looked for whatever they needed that day. The marketplace was my favorite place to spend my time – it was always full of life, and the smell of many different foods filled the air. There was always music from street performers, and merchants—, trying to sell their goods to travelers. The market seemed to be the only place unaffected by the Turks. The Turks were the new rulers of Persia, and their power and territory was quickly spreading. The Turks had complete control over Persia, where I lived. They had a strong army, and they were not afraid to demonstrate that to the Persian people. We all hated them, but there was nothing we could do to stop them. One day when I was walking through the marketplace looking for food, a local beggar boy named Armin, whom I often gave food and money, ran up to me. He was frantic. “Mister! Come quickly. Someone just killed two Turkish guards!”

“What? Only a fool would look a Turk in the eye – much less kill one,” I replied.

I was about to walk away, thinking the boy was simply seeking attention, when I noticed many people were rushing in the direction of where the boy was pointing. Some were shouting, and some were whispering and ran the other way. I looked at Armin again. “Lead me to where it happened.”

“This way mister; I know a shortcut.” This shortcut did not seem very short, though. It was mostly our running through alleys and hopping over a few walls. Eventually, we arrived at the scene, but on the other side of the crowd. Sure enough, there were two dead Turks laying at my feet. The crowd quickly started searching the bodies for anything of value. I told Armin to leave. He asked why, and I told him, “It is not good for someone of your age to be around death.”

“I not scared of death!” he shouted.

“Do not argue with me, Armin. Leave this place.” Though he acted tough, I could see he was looking rather pale so near the bodies. The people had just started searching the bodies when more Turkish guards came running up from behind them. Everyone scattered; I started running. That’s when I noticed . . . him. A man sitting on the edge of the building just above me. His face was covered by a white hood, and his white robe resembled a scholar’s. I was mesmerized by this hooded figure. Then I noticed the blood on his sleeves. Before I could start running again, I felt the Turkish guard bash me on the head with a club, and everything went dark.

I awoke in a holding cell in the guard’s barracks, my head aching. I felt confused. One of the guards noticed that I was awake and, without saying a word, he walked up and starting beating me till I lost consciousness again. When I woke up again, I was still in the cell, but I was shackled to a chair now. The same guard was there with me. He slowly approached and asked, “So, you think you can kill two of my men and get away with it?”

“Please, I don—” I couldn’t finish my sentence before he backhanded me.

“Do not lie to me!” he yelled. He walked over, grabbed a torch off the wall, and told me that for every lie I told he would burn me. The torch lit up his face, and I could see that the left half of his own face was burned. There was no hair on that side, and his eye had a glossy fogginess in it. We sat in silence for a few moments before he suddenly pulled out a knife and cut off my ear. It was pain that I can only describe as white. “O! You didn’t expect that did you? Well, you lied to me, so I lied to you. “I know you killed my men. You are one of those Nizari men, aren’t you?”

“The who?” I was distracted by the pain on the side of my head and felt the blood dripping down my neck. I started to sweat and it made my open wound sting even more. I had no idea what to do, all I could do, was sit and wait at the mercy of this man, who wanted nothing more than to bring me harm.

“Do not act dumb with me! You were standing above their bodies, and I found this branded on each of their necks.” He showed me a sketch of what he was talking about: a triangular-shaped symbol that was pointed at the top with the bottom slightly rounded. I did not know from where, but I recognized it. It must have shown on my face that I did because he smirked. “I thought so, you rebel.” Everything went black again.

I awoke hours later. The sun was just starting to rise, and I was in the back of a carriage being taken to my execution. It felt like hours that I sat in that carriage. Then I looked to the side at some buildings and saw Armin. I motioned for him to get away from me, but he pointed to the roof of the carriage and gave a thumbs up. I noticed the silhouette of a man jumping down from the roof. I watched as that one man took down twelve Turkish guards single-handedly. There was only one guard left, the one who had cut off my ear. He and the man from the roof started to fight. Both were very skilled fighters, but the guard was physically stronger. As they dueled, Armin came to the carriage, unlocked the door, and untied my hands. “Let us get out of here while he takes care of the guard!” Armin said while pulling me by the arm. I did not know who “he” was, but I did not get to ask because we started to run. We did not get far before we saw more guards walking nearby, and we had to hide. We were stuck between men dueling for their lives and a small regiment of merciless Turks. Both of the fighting men were evenly matched but looked tired. The man from the roof finally disarmed the guard; and just when he was going to finish him off, a dying guard on the floor stabbed him in the leg, shouteding, “Bahadur, now!”

At that, the other guard stabbed the distracted hooded man. “Bahadur…” I muttered to myself. The man in the hood, the one who saved me, fell dead before Bahadur.

After it was safe, I approached the body. The man’s clothes resembled those of the man who was on the roof the day of my arrest. I stood there for a while, thinking, before I heard a horse fast approaching. Before I could hide, the rider had me by the collar. I expected to be killed; but instead, the mysterious rider let me go. “Turn around and tell me what happened.”

I turned to see who the rider was. He was tall, in formal robes with a blue turban and a white beard on a white horse. He had a sword on his waist and a cape on his back. I told him everything I saw.

When I finished, he pondered what I had said for a moment, then looked at me and asked, “What is your name, young man?”

“Arash, sir. What is yours?”

“That does not matter now; all you need to know, Arash, is that I have a noble cause and a job opening. This job will allow you to get revenge for this man here, your ear, and against all Turks. Are you interested?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, I shouted, “Yes!” And we were off.

We traveled far up a mountain to a castle called Alamut. There, in that castle on the mountain, I was trained. Trained in the art of death. How to kill silently, move quickly, and how to turn invisible to the guards. I was taught how to bargain with merchants, bribe for information, and how to strategically plan for anything. I trained hard at Alamut for several months. It was hard and dangerous, but I was determined to be a part of the cause that would end the Turkish rule. I still did not know the name of the man in charge of Alamut; but nevertheless, I admired him. He was strong in his beliefs and morals; he was loyal and a born leader.

One day, after a sparring match with another trainee, the man in charge approached me. He told me I was ready. Before I could ask what I was ready for, he said, “My name is Hassan Bin Sabbah, and you are ready to become one of us. But to do that you must have an initiation.”

“What must I do, Master Sabbah?”

“You must kill a man. Not just any man – I do not allow mindless killing. A specific target. His name is Ahmadil ibn Ibrahim al-Kurdi.”

“Why must he be killed?” I asked.

Sabbah replied, “He is a Muslim Leader that must be stopped. If you want to prove your loyalty, eliminate him. Then you will be rewarded.”

“I understand.”

“Do not worry. This is your first time, so we will send help with you.” Sabbah waved over two other members and we set off on our mission.

I was nervous that I couldn’t go through with it, but then I reflected on the words Sabbah told me before we left: “Listen, Arash, this man’s death will bring us all closer to ridding ourselves of the Turks.” He had given me an easily-concealed blade that was dipped in poison. I was also equipped with a hood.

We reached the city where Ahmadil was. The three of us positioned ourselves around Ahmadil and his guards while they walked the streets of the city so that we could attack from the left, right, and behind. As I was turning the corner, I saw a guard with a burn on the left side of his face. I silently slipped my blade into to his back and whispered, “Always remember to pillage before you burn.” He died with shock on his face. I looked up to see my two companions were ready to strike Ahmadil. I moved into position, and we attacked. My two comrades jumped out first, but the Turks seemed to have been expecting us. The guards quickly killed both of my comrades, and I froze for a moment as I watched two skilled fighters fall so easily. But then I remembered my purpose and sprung through, burying my blade into Ahmadil’s back. The crowd gasped. I knew I had to leave quickly. I scaled a wall and jumped from roof to roof. I could hear men shouting below and arrows flying past me. The chase went on for a bit, but I prevailed, found my horse, and made my way back to Alamut. It took me twice as long to return since I was going uphill, and alone. When I arrived back at Alamut, I felt different. I felt less like a boy and more like a man. Sabbah must have noticed, and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You are now a man, for you have the blood of a man on your hands.”

At that moment, I heard a door open behind me. It was the man from the roof who had killed the two guards in the market. I gasped, and he chuckled. “I am sorry that you took the fall for my actions, but others will take a fall from yours now that you are one of us.”

“One of us?” I asked. He then presented me with red and white robes similar to his. On top of the robes were two hidden blades and a ring. The ring had the triangular symbol.

He looked me in the eyes and spoke seriously. “Wear that symbol with pride. It shows who you are.”

“And who exactly am I now?”

“You, my dear boy . . . are an Assassin.”





I always thought caves were pretty interesting. They are large stone holes in the ground made so many years ago; inside are tons of secrets and creepy stuff.

I say creepy because most of the time caves are dark, and animals hide in them. And in movies, caves are always portrayed as the secret den to a monster of some sort.

I do respect caves, though; I feel like they need their own space. What I mean is that I never want to be a spelunker or anything like that; the whole idea of squeezing through super tight spaces made of a one thousand pound boulders? No way. I freak out if my shoes are too tight. So I know I could never do that. That is why caves can be creepy. They hold so much mystery and history (that rhymed).

So I think caves are awesome and are beautiful, but I also definitely think they can be creepy.

Animal Prison


“Prison,” “jail,” “holding cell,” “cage,” – these are terms for holding someone or something in a small area against his or her will. Most of the time when these terms are used, they are referring to literal confinements for criminal humans or, they are sometimes used in a joking way to express one’s dislike of a place or situation. But what if these terms should be taken more seriously when people go to places intended to bring joy? Places meant for educational purposes for younger generations but that actually bring great sadness to older ones. The places that can bring sadness are zoos. Zoos are generally thought of as the best place to take young kids for them to see wild or foreign animals up close and learn something about them. But what if the behavior displayed by a captive animal is not how the animal really acts? What if the animal is suffering? What if the “habitat” at the zoo looks a lot more like a prison to the animal? Most zoo settings are unfit for the animals kept there, and people are beginning to look for alternatives to the traditional zoo setting that would still allow people to be entertained and educated about animals in a way that is more human and less intrusive to the animals themselves. Zoos are unfit for animals, people need to learn about animals, but with alternatives so animals are comfortable.

One aspect of zoos that is unacceptable is the size of the enclosures in relationship to the size of the animal kept inside it. During a recent visit to the San Diego Zoo, I saw firsthand that the elephant exhibit is the size of two-and-a-half basketball courts. This would be all right for one medium-sized elephant – but there were three of them in the exhibit. Half of the enclosure’s space was taken up by a pool for bathing, and the other half was for sleeping. A prison cell has just enough room for two inmates with half the cell used for sleeping and the other half for using the bathroom – see a resemblance? It is not just the elephants that have a small enclosure: monkeys are kept in small cages the size of a medium tank at the aquarium; tigers live in areas the size of a restaurant kitchen. One of the worst exhibits at the San Diego Zoo was the polar bear exhibit. A polar bear. Native to Antarctica – the coldest place on earth in sunny, coastal San Diego. The size of the enclosures in combination with the local climate of the zoo takes a toll on the animals.

Not only are the enclosures and climate an issue, but zoos can be negligent in their care of the animals. The Toledo, oh, bear incident is one example of this. In 2015, Toldeo Zoo employees allowed Medusa, an eighteen year-old sloth bear, to starve to death in her enclosure over the course of a month. She was thought to be pregnant. The curator of large mammals at the Toledo Zoo, Tim French, mistakenly thought that the sloth bear species was one of the bear species that entered a near-hibernation state when pregnant. The fact is that sloth bears, even when pregnant, require weekly rations of food and water to survive. Medusa was given a short-term supply of food and water and then locked in her enclosure and left unchecked from 17 November to 4 December when she was discovered dead (“Rare Bear”). The zoo could have run a simple test to confirm if the bear was indeed pregnant; and even if it was, it was not their place to force the bear into hibernation. How do the zoo officials think bears do it in the wild? Do they think pregnant bears wander into town and wait for someone to lock it up in their garage? No. Bears instinctively know what to do, and the officials did not take the time or pay enough attention to make sure the bear was pregnant or for her to naturally hibernate. Instead, the innocent, helpless bear slowly starved to death with no water or light. This is why many people have a hard time believing zoos are capable of taking care of wild and rare animals.

Though zoos can be negligent and have small enclosures, some still argue that they can be educational. Some people say that zoos can be very good destinations for educational fieldtrips because

a zoo’s paramount purpose is to promote wildlife conservation. A zoo exists to

educate. Research happens, recreation happens, but above all is the intent to

educate. The educational potential is at its greatest with a professional educator

designing a learning activity to use at the zoo. The zoo is a great tool and it’s at its

best when a real artisan is using it, a classroom teacher who has designed focused

activities connected to a long-term curriculum. (Ettlin)

There is an opportunity for teachers to utilize the zoo as an educational outing, but the trade-off is not in the animals’ favor. Zoos can be educational to the extent that people may be able to see and hear the animal – but they are not really seeing the true behavior of the animal. People may see and hear the elephant, but they will never see it swim, walk with its herd, or be happy. But what if there was an alternative? But there is an alternative.

There is a compromising solution that would allow people to see animals up close, and still let the animals roam free. Instead of “zoos,” “animal conservations” within driving distance of populated areas could offer a realistic answer. There could be a tram for people to ride through the conservation to witness the animals and they see how act when they have the ability to move about. This would allow animals to hibernate naturally, get proper exercise, and be allowed to hide away if they wanted to. The San Diego Safari Park (formally the San Diego Wild Animal Park) is a model for this type of venue.



Zoos can be educational when utilized by an active teacher, but they can cause damage, trauma, and even death to the animals. Animal conservations similar to the San Diego Safari Park are alternatives to these current animal prisons. In the movie Planet of Apes, the human protagonist is held captive in a cage by an advanced ape with human-like intelligence. The man shouts at the chimp that it is cruel and barbaric to keep him captive and that if the chimp was so intelligent it would not have to keep the man in a cage. Though people should not view animals as their equals, people should not mistreat them either. As author George Eliot says, “Animals are such agreeable friends―they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms” (Massey). People have a responsibility to utilize all resources to learn about the world they live in without harming the world at the same time.