The Claw

by Michael Pixley

 First place, fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

I’m alone and am so terrified. My bones are rattling as if I am in Antarctica and the night chills are overwhelming to my soul. But where I am, it is lukewarm although you couldn’t tell by the pebbles of sweat that sit on my forehead. The bathroom is completely blackened as I lay down in the tub with the curtains closed. It is eerily quiet other than the steady “thumps” that continuously tap the door, hoping to make their way inside. I know that she knows that I’m here. I just pray that she forgets about me. Oh I pray.


As the tears strain to leave my eyes, I cringe at the burning sensation that sits behind my eyelids. I told everyone, “This is an Apocalypse. This is the end of times,” but “Nooo, Alijah, you watch too many late night cartoons,” they say. Now it’s just me, alone, with blood-stained pajamas on and to be honest, I’m truly devastated as these colorful power ranger pj’s were my favorite and are now ruined. If I make it through this, I’ll never look at another Toy Ranger as long as I live. I mean it’s God, I wish those “thumps” would just go away!


This all began the spring of 2020. I remember sitting in my 3rd grade classroom, listening to Ms Clark teach division. Honestly, math isn’t my best subject, let alone division, however, when Ms Clark uses food analogies in her math equations, I find it generally easier to understand. As she cheerfully showed 12 slices of pizza drawn on a whiteboard and began dividing it by half…….I first noticed something. A cough. It was nothing out of the ordinary but it wasn’t the arbitrary cough that piqued my interest, it was what happened after.


Tommy coughed again and again and again…..until blood trickled on his bottom lip. “Tommy, dear, are you okay?” Ms. Clark asked nervously. The whole class looked at Tommy and was wide-eyed as Tommy slid off his chair like rain slides down a window pane and began convulsing profusely. “Oh, my God,” screamed Shanice. The children followed suit with their own outbursts until Tommy suddenly stopped moving. Ms Clark, at his side, ordered my classmate Bryan to go grab the school nurse immediately, while she ran to her desk wistfully to call the principal, Mr. Jones. My mind was numb with anxiety, and awe as I sat still watching the whole spectacle. I’ve never witnessed anything like this before, although my youngest sister experience mini asthma attacks occasionally, they in no way mirror this situation. Several school officials rapidly rushed in the room, attending to Tommy who was now breathing slowly with closed eyes and trembling lips. He was drenched in sweat as if he just got finished playing handball. That was the last time I saw Tommy.


Things got extremely hectic after that day, and I can honestly say, things have never been the same. A week later, Shanice suddenly began missing class, amongst Jessie and Laura. The school informed weary parents that similar sicknesses to Tommy’s were reported in several other children from the same classroom. They were taking precautions by advising students to wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough. Those precautions became futile when different kids (and teachers) throughout the school developed these horrifying symptoms. The superintendent closed the school in hopes to contain whatever germ seemed to be spreading. After a week without school, a news broadcast flashed across the television, shaking the nation.


“A new virus is spreading uncontrollably throughout 15 states and counting, as many are hospitalized with cold sweats, flu like symptoms and a cough that induces blood,” chimes reporter Tasha Gray. “If you inherit these symptoms, please go to your nearest hospital to receive proper treatment before they worsen! And please, cover your mouths as the CDC proposes that the strain is extremely contagious.” I remember my mom’s eyes terrorized with worry as she glared at the screen. She glanced my way, beckoning me to come close to her as she reached out for my arm. “Alijah, baby, I don’t think I’m going to let you or your sisters return to school for the rest of the year. Whatever this is seems dangerous and I won’t let my babies turn ill,” my mom insisted. Little did she know, schools would not reopen. Not only did learning facilities shut down but so did restaurants, swimming pools, amusement parks and even National Sports abruptly halted as the virus took its toll.


By the month of July, the world was brought to its knees. The virus now prototyped as “The Claw” (due mainly to the fact that people who caught the virus reported feeling a “tight constriction” wrapping around their bodies as if it has its claws dug deep in them) was monstrous to say the least. People would get sick, go to the hospital, get better in 3-4 days and leave perfectly fine. Or so it seemed. People who were seemed : “recovering patients,” began doing abnormal things. Some would forget their names all of a sudden and walk aimlessly around not knowing who or where they were. Others would laugh uncontrollably in the middle of their sleep until they stopped breathing and blacked out from a lack of oxygen. But the most interesting were the ones who complained how incredibly hungry they were, eating their whole fridge, even if the items were raw or uncooked. Then they would eat their fingernails, dirt, plants and worst yet, even their own pets.


My mom began working at home (she works on a computer with numbers painted on the screen, (she’s an accountant ((I think))) and constantly monitored Angel, Asha and I hoping that we would never show signs of “The Claw.” One week ago from today, my mom was cooking my favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, when we both heard a loud thud upstairs. “Baby, go check on your sisters, I told them to stop jumping off that bed,” my mom shouted distractedly as she opened the oven. “Ok, mom,” I chuckled. I ran upstairs by two’s and checked Angel’s room first. I could hear voices bouncing off the walls from her Ipad, that was sitting untouched on her purple dresser. “Angel,” I called out. “Where are you?” I heard a soft whimper and walked hastily to Asha’s bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. “Alijah, look,” Angel cried. What I saw made my stomach churn. Asha was laying on her floor, blood running down her eyes and mouth, as her legs were distorted at an odd angle underneath her. “Mom, come quick!” I yelled with panic oozing out of my voice. As my mom entered the room, she let out a shriek as she scooped Asha up and rushed her to the garage. “Both of you, put something on quick and meet me at the car. Let’s GO…GO!” she screamed. Angel and I broke out of our trance and put our clothes on hurriedly and ran to the car to accompany our mom and Asha.


Arriving at the Washington Trauma Center (WTC) was a traumatic experience of it’s own accord. Doctors running around hectically with bloody scrubs and shifting eyes, nurses screaming names over clamoring patients and families huddled together, issuing silent reassurances to each other. The scariest part were the bright yellow space suits. Many hospital officials had them on as they attended to patients. It all looked so surreal. “Please help my baby. PLEASE,” my mother cried; breaking my thoughts and bringing me to reality. Many spacemen rushed to our aid, taking us immediately to an empty room, closing off the sounds of Armageddon. Two days in an insulated, air filtered corridor, Asha amazingly recovered rapidly. The doctors did explain that she was diagnosed with “The Claw” but suffered no major inflictions. With no cure to offer, she was ordered to drink plenty of fluids, eat lightly and rest as much as possible. The doctor advised my mom to bring Asha back if any underlying symptoms returned.


A day later, things were grimm as my mom and Angel grew sick. They both barricaded themselves in their rooms in an effort to prevent me from catching “The Claw.” Yesterday, Asha began giggling in her sleep so much, it became a nuisance. I walked in her room to find her laughing so ridiculously hard, it looked like it hurt. I tried to wake her, but she flailed wildly, kicking and swinging, while laughing at the top of her lungs. She punched me twice on my forehead and just as I grew angry enough to slap her, she abruptly stopped. I called her name repeatedly to no avail and to my unerving dismay, I knew at that instant, I was going to be one sibling less.


I ran to tell my mom about Asha until I heard a weird slurping sound pertruding from Angel’s quiet domain. I stumbled into the door and what I saw nearly knocked every ounce of breath out of my lungs. “Ali…jah, I…..can’t…..stop eating… hungry,” the woman who could no longer be my mother uttered to me as she stuffed handfuls of Angel’s innards into her mouth. What was left of Angel was indescribable. Because I wish I could forget what I saw, I won’t even begin to indulge in that painful memory. My mother rushed to me and grabbed my shirt with blood soaked hands. “Just let me eat one finger my love,” she exhaled. I pushed my mom away with all the might a 10-year old could muster and ran into the hall. I debated on going to my room and hiding in the closet but that’s the first place I’m sure she’d look. I locked eyes on the bathroom door down the hall and immediately sprinted towards it. Once inside, I locked the door and placed the dirty clothes hamper under the knob. I jumped in the tub and laid on my back, as I closed my eyes and prayed I’d wake up from this horrendous nightmare.


“Thump….Thump….Thump….Come out sweetheart, mommy’s going to feed you. Aren’t you starving?” Her voice drips with a musical serenade that almost makes me open the door and believe she’s genuinely going to give me some food. Trust me, it’s been a whole day (I think) and my stomach is growling like a mountain lion. My mind is racing in a million directions as I contemplate my options.


I cannot stay entombed in this bathroom forever. I’m sure my mom will eventually walk away. “Thump….Thump….” Please just go away! Who knew “The Claw” would grasp the world with a deathly grip, consuming anyone who enters it’s presence. It has left it’s imprint on society and I don’t know if things will ever be the same. The house phone goes off like an alarm for 3 long, loud rings and then suddenly it’s quiet. An engrossing silence enveloped the house that hasn’t been heard of in hours. She must have finally given up. I edge out of the tub and creep towards the door and gently place my ear to the center of it. Nothing. I guess I’ll take my chances. Before I lose courage, I move the hamper and turn the knob. Light brushes through the hall windows and it looks unnaturally peaceful on this unpredictable morning. I tiptoe pass the rooms and head down the steps. One step creaks and I hold my breath and stand as still as a Michael Angelo statue. Nothing. I continue my journey to the front door and I notice red hand prints smeared up and down the wall adjacent to the entrance. The door is wide open. I step outside without ever spotting my mom and begin running down the street until my legs burn and my chest hurts. I see an ambulance up ahead and paramedics standing outside of it in their flamboyant space gear. As I get closer, I see them placing a woman on the back of the vehicle, strapped to a stretcher. “Hey, that’s my mom,” I yell out. The paramedics look my way and begin to approach cautiously. I’m sure I’m an outrageous site. A little boy with soaked rusted PJ’s in the middle of the street with only socks accompanying my feet.


As the spaceman begins to ask me a question, I hear a horrible sound echo. I can’t even believe my ears. It makes my heart stop in my chest, prickles of goosebumps dance on my arms and sweat trickles down my face. And then I hear it again and I know it’s all over. I’ve met my foe. It is no superficial being. It is an entity that does what it does best. As I cough once again and again and again…..I realize the tight vice grips squeezing and clutching at my body instantly introducing itself as nothing other than…………The Claw!


            The End

            I dedicate this to my 3 beautiful children Alijah, Ariyah and Aliyana. My oldest child Aliyana and I trade endless scary stories and I was so intrigued that I manifested this story through my growing inspirations. I am truly inspired by their creative minds and will continue to implement what I learn from them and place it on paper, in my heart and in my daily stride. Thanks for reading!!


by Gabriella Hernandez-Benitez

Nonfiction, Arlington County Detention Facility/Heard/OAR writing contest, August 2022


Hot summer nights I remember how I use to like spendin em super high and chill not worrying about a damn thing it was always amazing until I came down..thats when I wanted you more and more at first I’d be at war with myself when I didn’t have you at one point I started to fall deeper and deeper in love with you. Not caring about who I was I losin on the way as long as I got my way. It was amazing ride of nod and going up up up no one told me how it was going to be when I didn’t have you oh boy it was like a living a livin hell but that didn’t stop me from doing it over and over


I have to admit I love gettin high always have since I was 15 years old Xanax and addys were my thing back then and weed of course but fuck what they say weed is a gateaway drug then I got introduced to Perc 30’s M box and Molly I was never going back from there I loved it loved the feeling it gave me. It was like a person to me even though it was nowhere near contact with a human being I know I probably sound crazy but you wouldn’t know till you try it..but everyone has there different reasons to use and abuse drugs mine were to escape reality and forget all the pain you caused and the pain that still lingers inside … me just eatin at me until I eventually heal and get over it but who knows when that’ll be I hope sooner than later..he will forever be my angel the baby boy I lost when I lost myself with “him” but you’ll never be forgotten always in my mind and heart. <3


I damn near lost my mind..when I lost you just wanted to end it all I didn’t care I kept usin until I was completely numb I gave no fucks when I say no fucks I mean no fucks at all I brushed everyone off I just wanted to be alone P+1 I was going thru to much pain to be around even “him” he still stuck around thru it forever grateful for that but then the claws of addiction suddenly touched me and then touched knew how lost that shit got me or even know why you would try it but you did smh. Then you lost yourself I was so mad when I was home and found that out Im honestly tryna do better some of you probably think Id stop there but no I overdosed a total of 4 times some of them were on purpose I was so tired so fucking tired..not gonna hold you but you’d only understand if I told you exactly why but I can’t I can but I’d like to move on from that.


Some of you probably think “Oh she would never” When you be around me and look at me I’m suicidal it comes and goes with bipolar disorder I wanna free my mind cause my mind runs on and on endless thoughts never stoppin unless Im high or stable on meds I wish I could feel happy all the time..but that emotion never lasts sadly when I look back at all the time its been 3 years since I been on the drugs I mentioned it’s been a fucking roller coaster up down up down lost baby so lost I really lost myself now im tryna recover with him or by myself don’t really matter it all starts with me wantin it Im over it all I hope one day I can be strong enough to look at myself and tell myself I don’t need none of this shit I can better than these drugs that once took over it all fromme and hopefully I can stay clean 3 months clean now. but even sometimes I share the room with grim reaper it should be enough to scare away any thoughts of relapse I wish it were that easy but not even conversing days with death can disintegrate the claws of addiction and oh boy how I wish you knew how bad they claw at me..Im just left all alone in the dark bleeding all by myself like a non-stop nightmare but one day I swear I’ll see the light I’ve always been searching for I just really need to free my mind…Sincerely, Gabriela Hernandez benitez

Local Inmates Win Awards for Creative Writing Contest, The Zebra, September 6, 2021

One of our favorite parts about our annual writing contests that we hold with the Alexandria Adult Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Facility is the enthusiasm of our returning judges to be part of this event. Each of them has a strong background in writing, editing, and publishing, and each year they tell me and our authors (during the awards ceremonies) how much they appreciate this honor. Our judge Mary Wadland, Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, gives an insightful and interesting glimpse into what she learned and how she felt reading these inmate’s stories. “The Claw“, the first place fiction winner from the Alexandria Adult Detention Center, “had me on the edge of my seat…”, she write. Me too. Read Mary’s entire feature here.

Fact or Fiction Stalemate

Fact or Fiction Stalemate

by Trulynd W. Hall

Fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, July 2022

 The fireworks display of explosions didn’t help ease my tension while I sat in my cockpit. A stealth attack. Of all the missions his had to be my first. Our enemy this time were the Neo Martian Alliance Corps, NMAC is what they call it. This skirmish took place near the martian moon. I stare out into the open space where the main fleets were battling. I glance around the cockpit of my fractal, recalling when I first got into it.

“Rick! Rick!” A woman in a space suit shouted at me.

“Ah! Sorry Major Carmen.” I replied but anyone would be awestruck upon your witnessing their first Fractal. As the Major chattered on my attention paced back over to the giant robot in the hanger. Fractals, a two story robot used for warfare but that wouldn’t seem likely if you saw it in person. They resemble a giant bean with stubby arms and legs.

“Ehehe.” I giggled to myself at the contrasting design and purpose of the machine.

“Something you want to share officer Rick?” Major darted at me. I stiffen up and shake my head in protest. She turned back around and restarted the briefing. Even with her back turned I could still feel her glaring eyes.

My recollection ended as my Squad Leader Flash flew up to me in in Fractal.

“Keep your chin up Rick! We won’t fail this mission!” he reassured me. Failing wasn’t much of a threat to be fair. It was almost foolproof.

Phase One, hide in an asteroid belt several kilometers away from the main skirmish. Phase Two, wait for a signal of a fake retreat. Phase Three, use our Claws, special tools used to grab large objects, to hurl asteroids into the NMAC fleet.

After that it’s easy pickings. It’s almost too easy if you ask me. I glance back over to see my Squad Leader flexing his Fractal’s arms. I couldn’t help but laugh seeing him attempt the pose with the stubby arms and one cartoonishly large claw. We got this, I thought to myself until a certain thought rolled into my mind. A thought that created a chain reaction of anxiety.

What if I miss?

What if the main fleet loses?

What if they have a secret squad also?

…What if I mess up?

A flood of anxiety drowned me in doubts. Before I could voice my fears I saw it. A glimmer weaving in and out of the asteroid belt. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, it was too fast to be a Fractal.

“B22T” “Run” B22t” My radio went off with commands from Flash.

“Rick Run!” I heard him clearly this time.

“What’s going on?” I frantically radioed back.

“The mission “B22T failed…”. Flash murmured. Failed? Failed! Before I could process my feelings a volley of lasers rained upon the stealth team. My comrades Fractals were struck with pinpoint precision. I grab my controls and sloppily maneuver behind an asteroid.

“B22T” It’s Rosenthal. “B22T” Flash remarked in horror. A shiver hit my spine. Rosenthal….

“There’s one unit you must not engage with. Rosenthal, piloted by Jack Love, an Ace pilot with over 30 skirmishes under his belt. “Major Carmen said with uneasiness. “His Fractal is a special unit that can easily outpace any normal Fractal. I repeat. Do not Engage!”

The Major’s words echoed throughout my head to the point my lips were mimicking her words.

Do not engage.

My fingers mash my radio buttons as I try to get a reply from one of my comrades. Nothing but silence. I grit my teeth and swallow my grief. I contemplate what to do. I stand no chance against an Ace. Then something caught my eye, one of my allies silent Fractal floating in space like debris. I traced over the robotic cadaver and spotted my chance for at least a single blow on the Ace pilot.

“B22T”. Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? “B22T” an unfamiliar man’s voice hits my radio. The voice was deep yet comforting. I slowly reach for my radio. If I reply he’ll know my position. I contemplate on responding to his call. My eyes dart up to one of my monitors which showed the vitals of my squad. Red was dead and green was alive. All red but me. Witnessing the reality of war made my emotions swirl.

“I CAN HEAR YOU ACE!” I screamed over my radio. Now I have no choice but to confront him. I grab my controls in anger and prepare my attack.

“UUUUUOOOOGGHH” I shout in my cockpit. My Fractal glides out of it’s hiding spot with an asteroid in my claw. Once my vision sees past the asteroid, Rosenthal was already there.

“Found you kid!” The Ace smoothly replied.

Before I knew it my claw arm was blasted off.

“Fooled you Ace!” I exclaimed. A second claw grabs his Fractal, this claw was one I took from my allies Fractal. Now if he dares blast his laser we’ll both go out.

“Remarkable kid.” The Ace sounded shocked if he’s never been in a pinch.

The explosions in the open space continued as I remained stuck to my number 1 threat. It was excruciating sitting here waiting. As my mind drifted off I heard a familiar static.

“B22T”. “Hey kid…I give.” The Ace whispered.

Huh? Was he being serious? He was being serious. All of his weapons were released from his Fractals hands, left to float in space.

“Hopefully that’s proof enough kid.” He begins another broadcast. “This is Jack Love, Rosenthal is out of commission, operation failed.”

I slumped down in my seat, my body loosened and my mind cleared. Major Carmen called in to my praise my efforts. I released Rosenthal and after a moment of silence we turn away from each other and fly away.

History of Mammals

History of Mammals

by Trulynd W. Hall

First place, Fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, July 2022

 *This is a work of fictional history. Any similarities are a coincidence.

The bell rung and the class was rumbling from chatter between the students. A door embedded in a larger door swung open. The miniscule hairy professor struts across the room toward a small ladder near the chalkboard, an antiquated relic of the past yet the professor liked old things. His ebony claws reached for the chalk. He tapped it five times, a habit of his, a peculiar one at that. But that habit always gathered the class’ attention. They watch as he brings his small koalan body up to the podium.

“Part two ladies and gentlemen.” His voice smoothly lets out. “Can anyone care to recap us quicky on last class’ session?” A large claw raises it’s hand up before the question is concluded. His mane was glorious and fangs magnificent. Yet despite his intrepid out look his voice was frail followed by his large magnifying glasses he wore on his face.

“Ah Yes Charlie, always an eager one, do tell.” The professor opens his hand toward the “king of the jungle” student. Charlie stands proudly with notebook in claw.

“2028, scientist a G.E.M. labs, laboratory of genetics engineering modifications successfully transplant a human brain fragment in an injured dog shot in the head. Next week the dog displayed high levels of intelligence. Even deeper understanding of human speech. Such as the clear ability to discern shapes taught to it. This day was deemed Adam, the first of what we know now as Mammals. A prototype of what we see in our everyday lives. Adam-” the professor raises his hand to stop Charlie’s eager recital.

“And what were Adam’s progeny used for?” He scans the room. “Miss Granger? Do you know?” The sunset fur of Granger stood up as her white tipped tail stiffened. She gives a weary smile with her canines exposed.

“Police dogs Professor Hitch.” The answer came from a pinstriped fellow in the back of the class. His head resting on his arms as if bored of the subject.

“Thank you Zack and Miss Granger.” He tapped on the podium. “Stay focused.” Granger gave a small up sound and lifted her pen.

“Let’s move forward, 2033, who were the next mammals on the line for G.E.M. labs?” Hitch asked opening the question to the class.

“Felines.” Growled a mozzarella rodent in the front. Charlie felt the animosity in the air and covered his face with his notebook.

“Correct Mister Mario.” Hitch replied in a calming manner. “Domestic animals with high IQ became the hot trend of the 2030s. Why have a pet that can’t understand you?” The professor looked down and looked at his class with a solemn expression. “But then what happened that changed history forever?” A voice descended from on high.

“Alder Sterling stole G.E.M.s research.” The girl with the longest neck said. Hitch motioned her to continue. “Gladly Professor!” She replied gleefully. Since her stature was that of the tallest, attention was drawn to her every time she spoke. But she loved it.

“2044 was the emergence of all wild mammals.” She glances around to see if others are looking at her. Indeed they were. “Alongside intelligence, mammals were given more human qualities, inside and out.” She rolls her fingers that were supposed to be hooves. Some of the class react in response by moving their human-like hands and feet.

“Sterling was a disgruntled G.E.M. scientist who wanted to test on more animals instead of chase military or domestic profits. He went to Africa and began testing there with a small team.” She bite back the next sentence.

“That’s a good deal of backstory Miss Roxie,” the professor says with empathy. “Alder Sterling killed many African animals with his tests. A shame that such a revolutionary mind committed such cruel acts.” Hitch jumps down from his podium and grabs his chalk.

“Which leads us to today’s topic.” Hitch says while climbing his ladder and marking the green canvas. “The first Mammalian war, the first of many unfortunately.” Hitch returns to his podium book in hand. “We start on page 87.” He once again scans the room and opens his hand toward a student. “Mister Jones, why don’t you start?”

Jones’ hairless hands, short hair on his head and small body reacts by lifting his textbook.

“Sure thing Professor Hitch.”