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"When you look long into an abyss, the abyss looks into you. ~ Nietzsche

Table of Contents:

ab initio ~ the beginning 2

Introduction: Am I still alive? 4

Profile: Grace Stebbins 5

Disappearance 6
Short Story ~ Grace Stebbins

Profile: Mirani Shukla 7

Confusion 8
Short Story ~ Mirani Shukla

Profile: Charlotte Byrne 10

The Hunt Against Time 11
Short Story ~ Charlotte Byrne

Introduction: Am I still alive?

This is a collection of stories written by some of Australia's finest young writers. These three adolescent girls
were approached by Penguin Books in 2014 to create a collection for youth. Mirani Shukla, Charlotte Byrne
and Grace Stebbins have created a series of short fiction that displays intensive mystery and drama. These
stories explore human state of mind through the loss of consciousness. With unresolved plot lines, this
collection will leave you with more unanswerable questions than ever before. Though the words of teenage
writers, a wide range of emotions are conveyed. These stories are set in different perspectives, with each
protagonist being addressed as the victim. And although these are fiction, always remember: somewhere,
somehow, an innocent person could more than easily become that protagonist.

Grace Stebbins

Grace was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. She graduated
from Melbourne University with a bachelor of professional writing
and two degree, one in Fine Arts and the other in Travel studies.
Grace has received a number of awards including Young Writer of
the year 2016, Public Speaker of Victoria and Rising talent Victoria
2017. Grace released her first novel with over 2 million copies sold
worldwide. She travelled the world documenting events and later
released the documentary Travel the World, which aired on SBS and
was nominated for rising talent. Grace is currently working on a
number of thriller short stories to add to her current collection.


My body hurls forward. My arms lunge out in front like a puppet on a string. My phone flies out of my
fingertips, gliding through the air and smashing into millions of tiny fragments, piercing my flesh. There was
a reminiscent ringing, echoing throughout my head.

The jolt was so abrupt - it felt like slow motion. Gravity took control and sent us tumbling. I could feel
weight against my chest, strapped so tight I could barely breathe. Shatters of smashed glass hurl through the
air and cut flesh. The ringing turns into a loud buzzing, but equally as deafening as before. Slowly I regain
vision. Blurs of shapes and motions appear. Suddenly, I see a bright light directly in front of me. Gleaming,
causing me to squint. I see a figure in the distance. They are slowly striding towards the vehicle. Motions
and visions is all I can make out.

I turn to assess the damage, and to see if he survived.
All of a sudden, a bright light smacks my vision and everything goes blank.

Am I still alive?

My vision reappears as I try to recover. Im still strapped into the seat and that bloody buzzing sound still
echoing. I realize its coming from the dashboard. Its an alarm. How long have I been out? I survey the
scene. Shatters of glass lie beneath the leather seats. The cardboard boxes of veggies that were propped up
safely in the backseat have been smashed, and are scattered around the car. I turn once again and still, he lies
there motionless, neck flopped and arms daggling, like a ragdoll at the steering wheel. I cant feel my arms
or legs. I attempt to wriggle my fingers, but no movement occurs. I try to shuffle my feet but they are firmly
placed to the ground. I feel a strange soothing sensation beginning in my chest. It makes its way across my
arms and down past my stomach, down towards my legs.

My body feels as if its levitating above the seat, but thats not possible. Im sitting right here. I start to hear
Groaning and I can feel movement beside me. I turn to see the ragdoll body starts to awaken. First, his hands
begin to wriggle, then his head slowly lifts up, followed by his shoulders. He turns his head; eyes flutter open
and he gazes straight at me. I open my mouth to project some sort of noise, but I have no voice; no sound
comes out. I try once again, but still, no noise. I start to panic, trying everything in my power to get him to
notice that Im still here, still alive. He reaches out to me, shaking my shoulders, crying out, Charlie, Charlie,
wake up Charlie! I try once again to project a noise, Yes Im here! Im still alive! But he doesnt seem to
hear me.
He just continues to shake my body, still howling out words. The soothing sensation turns into a tingling. I
lift up, stretch out my hands, and turn my head towards him. I look straight into his eyes. Im here I say, and
my hands effortlessly glides straight through his cheek down towards the seat. My body stumbles backwards
transparently through the door and onto the cold wet road.
Am I still alive?


Mirani Shukla

Mirani Shukla is a fifteen year old author, renowned for her many
best-selling novels including Cheerleading, and Mirani an
Autobiography which was adapted to the screen and live theatre as a
musical in 2014. Mirani An Autobiography has gained popularity
world-wide, and has been published in over 90 languages. Mirani
Shukla has been dubbed one of the most significant and inspiring
authors ever to grace this earth by The New York Times and a gifted
prodigy child by her parents. Mirani has won the Nobel Peace Prize
multiple times for her astounding contributions to mankind. Outside
of her writing career, Mirani Shukla loves to spend her time
cheerleading, reading a range of different genres of books, eating
delicious food, doing yoga, and travelling to places she has never
been before.


The curves and angles of the hall were draped in glowing green fairy lights. The haze of the emerald light
radiated through the window and into lawn. Through the window, every shade of the natural green in the
garden was washed with the blurred colour of fluorescent emerald. The mass of people squashed together as
they moved rhythmically to the music. The laughter and loudness of the party mixed all of Skys thoughts,
feelings and desires into one enormous dizzying dream.
A voice yelled in Skys ear over the thud of the music.
We have to leave, now! the voice of her older sister, Yasmin, made Sky jolt and turn around.
What are you talking about? Why? Sky giggled
Were being followed not safehave to get out of here. Yasmin murmured
Yasmin tugged on Skys arm and pulled her towards the door on the side of the hall. Sky watched her sisters
dark hair swish from side to side as she opened the gates, slipped through the gap and motioned for Sky to
follow. Sky glanced back towards the empty garden; she couldnt see anybody.
Yasmin, youre being irrational. Theres nobody there.
Im serious Sky, this is important, we have to leave. Yasmins voice sounded odd, it was so grim, unlike her
usual light-hearted chatter. They were walking faster now, the sound of Yasmins high heels tapping rapidly.
We should call Mum or Dad if we are being followed. Sky mumbled. Yasmin looked over her shoulder and
scanned the dark street.
Sky, I you see Mum and Dad are They are missing; I got a call a few minutes ago from one of dads
colleagues. I think its to do with their work.
The distant beat of the music thumped inside Skys mind like a hammer, each beat like a blow to her head.
The two sisters parents had worked in the government before Sky was even born, when Yasmin was just a
They were always so busy, and were vague about what exactly they did.
Are they alive? asked Sky.
Yasmin didnt reply, but her furrowed brows and pale face gave away her thoughts.
They cant be dead, thats ridiculous! Answer me! Are they alive?! Yasmin looked at the ground and shook
her head.

No Sky stumbled forward, her head spinning.
She could barely breathe, she felt as though the oxygen had been sucked out of her every cell. Beads of
sweat clung to her glittery dress. The panic washed over her and she couldnt stand it any longer. It was like
the feeling of getting to the top of a high rollercoaster, knowing that any moment now; you would be
tumbling down the peak. She staggered onwards, trying to keep up with her sisters rapid pace.

The party seemed further and further away. In the crisp dark night outside, the lights were dimmer. Sky
looked up towards the murky dark depths of the night sky and let her eyes blur out of focus.
Missing., Dead. The words sailed so fast through her brain that she simply wasnt able to take the abstract
ideas that passed her mind. Could they even be named ideas? They were more like flies buzzing around her
head. They were definitely there, but too quick to catch.
Where are we going? Skys mouth said the words but they were almost inaudible.
At first, Sky thought Yasmin hadnt heard her as she just kept striding down the street.
But then Yasmins voice replied shakily.
I dont know somewhere far away from here.
Yasmin stopped walking, her hands were shaking.
One moment, Yasmin knelt down on the cement I just need to tie my shoelaces.

But youre wearing heels? Sky couldve laughed had the situation not been so morbid.

Swiftly, Yasmin slid her hand into her shoe and pulled out something that glinted silver in the dim
Sky began to form the words to ask what on earth she was doing when she felt a yank on her hair as Yasmin
shoved her to the ground. Skys head slammed into the gravel and she noticed black spots in her vision.

The long, thin piece of silver metal in Yasmins manicured fingers reflected off the streetlamp. It was a
syringe. In a blur, Sky felt the needle piercing into her flesh and shrieked. She attempted to roll out of the
way, but Yasmins knee was pushed into her chest, forcing her to stay still.

Yasmin was silent, her mouth pressed into a hard straight line. Sky felt as though she barely knew her. This
could not possibly be the Yasmin she had grown up with her whole life.
Sky had been pulled into a tornado of thoughts and couldnt make sense of any of them. The cocktail of
drugs from whatever was inside that injection slowed her mind and body down. The hazy black in her vision
grew in size. It grew larger and larger like a fuzzy ink blot on a blank page
A distant voice, that could only have been Yasmin, uttered Goodbye Sky.
Murky black mascara mixed with a teardrop ran down Yasmins face. It was the last thing Sky saw before
the black spots twisted and dissolved into an eerie black screen.

The curtain of darkness seemed darker than ever before. The panic that Sky had felt beforehand had
evaporated. She didnt feel peaceful, or lively. She couldnt feel any ground beneath her, but didnt feel like
she was floating either. She wasnt even sure she still existed.

Sky couldnt think of anything other than one thing. Her lips barely moved as she whispered Am I still


Charlotte Byrne

Having her work published in many different magazines and short
story collections within her community, Charlotte's passion to write
started when she was six, after winning a colouring competition and
receiving a book as a prize. Her first book was published when she
was only 14 years old, and a constant stream of novels has followed
not long after. After receiving the Australia Young Writers Award,
Blogger of the Year 2012 award, and the Puffin Books Young
Writer award, she has had over 3 million books published
worldwide. Over the short span of her writing career, Charlotte has
written scripts for stage shows, column articles for fitness
magazines, and published her crime/mystery mini series all over the
world. Also running a highly successful blog, she gives reviews on
other work, many of which share the same genre as most of her

The Hunt Against Time

The much too-suburban streets of London always had that kind of feeling. A feeling of certainty, safety, and
more than anything, a sense of protection, but not tonight. I don't know what it was, but it left me glancing at
every reflective surface which revealed what was indeed behind me; nothing. As I continued my route to the
pub that J oan and I had agreed on, I couldn't help but feel worried. Something wasn't right.

Approaching the alleyway that lead to one of my favourite vintage pubs, I strolled towards the old brown
door, only for two drunken men to stumble out and throw up into a bin that was merely two metres away
from me. Stepping into the bar, I didn't spot her anywhere, so I found a table and waited patiently. Time
ticked by, and I started to become more and more anxious. J oan is always late, but never this late - I thought
to myself, while I constantly checked my phone. Ten minutes later, she walks in. Taking a seat across from
me, she takes one look in my eyes, only to know something is wrong.
'You work too much,' she says. 'Its starting to give you stress lines.' Oblivious to what she had just
said, I'm entranced in deep thought, as I watched a tall and slender man, covered in black clad clothes,
intricate tattoos and piercings, making the various drinks. It was strange - there was only one man working in
the bar, but it was a very busy Friday night. She starts to wave her hands in front of me, with the hope of
catching my attention.
'Hello? Spencer? You're starting to make me nervous, loosen up woman!' She cries. Signalling for a
bartender to address our table, we start to make conversation. J oan was a heavy drinker, which always
worried me, considering I was the complete opposite. Soon after receiving our drinks, she excused herself to
go to the bathroom. This didn't surprise me, as she loved to constantly touch up her makeup. But after 15
minutes, the ever-growing ball in the pit of my stomach started to rise further and further up. I got up and
made my way to the ladies, and opened the door to find what unfortunately, didn't surprise me. J oan, on her
knees, with her head slumped over the toilet bowl.
'J oan, sweetie?' I cooed, expecting to see her head rise at my call. Only, it didn't. Slowly approaching
her, I gently pulled her head back, only to see red. Red everywhere. Blood, all over her face, neck and chest.
She had been stabbed multiple times, around her abdomen, stomach and neck. Immediately my fingers
reached for the side of her neck, looking for a steady pulse that wasn't there. I ripped my phone out of my
leather jacket pocket and dialled. I heard the familiar voice of one of my fellow agents on the other end of
the line.

My mouth trembled as I slowly muttered the words. 'J oan's dead.'


'Ma'am, is that all you can remember?' A police officer inquires as I stand up to meet with my team.
I simply nod and turn away, taking a tissue as I pass her desk. Agent Mantis looks at me with a sympathetic
smile as we walk towards the shiny black Range Rover.

During the journey back to the FBI base in Quantico in our jet, I couldn't help but wonder. Looking at the
horrific photos of the crime scene, flicking through the pages of notes written over J oan's death, I felt
somewhat responsible. Feeling someone's eyes pinned on my every move, I slowly looked up, only to see
Agent Hopkins staring right back.

Looking down to the case file in my hands, he simply states, 'It's not your fault.' I scoff at his remark. The jet
landed, and we got into more shiny black Range Rovers to soon arrive at Quantico. We make our way up to
the Behavioural Analysis Unit after we entered the building. Suddenly, Detective Gray comes rushing
towards me, with what looks like a crumpled piece of paper in his hands.
'You need to see this.' He spoke with an ushered and uneasy tone. I took the paper from his hands,
and unfolded the tattered edges. I don't know what I had expected to be inside, but it certainly wasn't this.
Looking up at Gray with some hope of receiving an explanation, Mantis and Hopkins step closer.
'What is it?' Mantis asks. 'Spence? What is it?' She repeats. I trace my fingers over the handwritten
letters and look up.
'Every murder is just one step closer to you, Spencer.' I quietly croak out. Once again, I look at Gray
for answers. 'How did this get here?' I can see the reflection of my distressed face in his dark blue eyes.
'Regular mail service, no return address, no idea who wrote it either. There's no prints, no DNA, no nothing.'

'The rest of the Behavioural Analysis team are gathered in the conference room, we can try and start
a profile on the suspect.' Hopkins said as we grabbed notepads and the case file.


Half way through the meeting, we were interrupted by a ring from the telephone, located at the centre of the
table. Answering the video call on speaker, Hopkins addresses himself.
'Hello, this is the Behavioural Analysis Unit, Charles Hopkins speaking-'
'Yes I know, just confirming that the autopsy is complete. There is something you should know,' it
was Doctor Reeves. 'It looks like the cause of J oan's death wasn't actually the multiple lacerations to her
neck, chest and abdomen. J oan was actually poisoned with rodenticide.' I question this as I look up at the
video call screen
'Rat poison?' I ask. Reeves nods and continues.
'Correct Agent Diaz, when you were with the victim, what did she drank?' He questioned. Thinking
back to what she had to drink, I remembered that it was vodka soda. Instantly, I knew this this was bad as the
chemicals mixed kills in minutes.
'Miss Diaz?' He repeated. As I opened my mouth to speak, I remembered the man working at the bar,
who caught my attention. He made J oan's drink. He made my drink too.
As everyone stared at me and waited for my response, my slurred tone spoke with certainty as I said,
'It was him.' Suddenly, I plunged into a deep abyss of black as my head hit the floor. Feeling
weightless, I tried to regain control over my body, when suddenly I wondered:

Am I still alive?