Writers (in order): Eman Hussain, Irene Tsen, Stephane Norquist, Vani Madhur Garg, Adam Pratt-Dermer, Alyssa Tang, M.S, Mariarosa Cerritos, Sophia H, Nikil Sivakumar, Keiss Chan, Makenzie Lee, Grace W., Nidhi Nadgir. Editor: Irene Tsen.

The voices in my head have been with me for as long as I can remember, whispering in my ear secrets from all around me. Honestly, I don’t really mind the voices. They never let me get lonely, or bored for that matter, with the constant gossiping.

“I cheated on my math final,” said a voice I’d never heard before. Hah. That one’s a classic, very common but always entertaining. I looked around to see who the secret might belong to. Hmm, the elderly woman sitting on the bench, the family of four walking out of a store, a woman and her teenage son. Aha! It must have been the boy’s secret. Oh, and what a guilty look on his face. I laughed quietly to myself.

I continued biking. The mother must be admonishing her son now, I thought. But it wasn’t like she hadn’t done something similar as an adult. I’d heard enough whispered secrets from adults who looked like upstanding members of the community to know that everyone harbored ugly secrets. And I was on my way to unveil exactly one of those.

The sun was shining, the birds were chirping… I could feel it—today was my day. Not only was it a pleasant spring afternoon, but it was also the first day of my new job as a… how do I put it gently? You see, my detractors would call it “corporate espionage,” but I prefer “secret scouting.” I take things people want hidden and put them into the light. It’s a service, really, for both of them, since one person knows what the other wants, and the other doesn’t have to hide it anymore.

Another teen popped out of a Seven-Eleven store with a few candy bars and a jug of soda. “I forgot to pay the cashier, but I don’t really care anymore,” a shrill voice rang. I gave her a knowing wink—it’s a wholesome, good secret, as they go. Better than the adults have in their closet.

I used to just do small-time commissions, like finding cheating boyfriends or tattling on petty thieves, but today was the day I hit the big leagues. Today I escape poverty, food stamps, warm Coke, and angry landlords. I got my first fat job, worth around $50,000, a week ago.

The job: finding someone who is perhaps the world’s most dangerous, yet powerful celebrity personality, Sir Rutherfurd Scamton. Labeled by all as foul and disgusting, but smart and quick enough to cover his own tracks before the truth escapes out of his clutches.

Something about the job and the way the offer was delivered made it somewhat suspicious. It was just a normal Tuesday night when I got an email from someone called “The Agency.” It contained basic information along with the promise of “Great compensation for job completion.” I replied, saying I was interested in the job, and the next morning, an envelope appeared at my door. Inside was $10,000 in cash (the down payment, if you will) and a message.

The Agency had been trying to catch Scamton for years, hiring agents talented and skilled enough to crack even the hardest of cases. None of them could catch him. The Agency also said that if I needed extra money to complete the job, all I would have to do was place a picture of a cat on the street post closest to my house, and the next morning, another wad of cash would appear at my door.

The Agency came to me for this case out of what I’d like to call “sheer desperation.” Having tried all methods of brute force, they finally decided that subterfuge was the only possible way forward. In many ways, I was nothing compared to the past handlers of this case. But my uncanny, singular ability to hear secrets carried by the wind made me their last hope.

A slight grin slipped onto my face as I thought of the money that would be rolling in soon. I hadn’t unveiled much of my skill set to whoever the Agency was yet. They’d heard about my propensity for digging out secrets, but they didn’t know just how far that power extended.

To them, I was just another novice looking for their lucky break to cash in and dip out, as nearly all agents in this field were looking to do. This was an unstable and risky job. Not only did agents in this field have to uncover top-secret information from the wealthiest elites, but they also had to deal with the aftermath and possibly stay in hiding for years after to cover up their tracks.

The wide, unblinking eyes of a cat as black as midnight stared at me, breaking me out of my euphoric stupor. By now, the sun had gone down, leaving in its wake the artificial yellow glint of streetlamps. I realized that I had done nothing this entire day—but the Agency didn’t know that. This was my chance to get a little more money from an entity I was sure had all too much to spare.

Snap! I used my trusty Polaroid camera to take a picture of the cat, freezing its haunting expression for the rest of time. I used blue painter’s tape to attach the photo to the post mentioned in the letter, and then strode my way back to my house.

The next morning, I found myself opening the front door and looking straight down at an empty doormat. I rapidly rubbed my eyes, in case my drowsiness was interfering with my eyesight. I looked back down. Still empty.

I tried my best to keep my composure and began walking to the same post from last night. The Polaroid was gone: they received my message. So where in the world is my money? I looked around for an explanation. All I saw was Ms. Perry, my sweet but slightly batty neighbor, watering her plants. I tried to refrain from profiling Ms. Perry—who is in her sixties—as a thief, but that woman was notorious for being nosy. Who knew, she might have had a thing for mail that was not hers. Before I was able to accuse Ms. Perry of stealing my cash-filled envelope, I heard a voice, and I got an ominous feeling in my stomach.

I looked around, trying to locate the speaker. The only person I saw was Ms. Perry (yet again) and the voice wasn’t hers. It couldn’t have been any of my neighbors either—this voice was completely new. Could it belong to the person who had stolen my money? If so, why did their voice give me such a dreadful feeling?

Hearing new, unknown voices was nothing surprising to me. It’s how I entered this business after all. And it’s important to note that all voices possess some sort of personality. It’s almost like an auditory synesthesia. The kid who cheated on his test—guilty. The girl who stole groceries—proud. But this… this was something I couldn’t describe as anything but wrong. The voice had a salacious, malevolent layer to it, almost like a snake’s hiss. It wanted to do something intense and harmful. Despite his comical name, Scamton was undeniably a nefarious criminal—could this be his voice? I shook myself out of my morning grogginess and immediately surveyed the scene with more clarity. Nothing in sight…

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