Here are our brilliant second and third prize winners. We're blown away by the talents of these teens. - Anne and Ellen
by Trevin Smith, age 16
I am framed on the wall. Hung up in a neat wooden square. Planted across from the others by a canyon of linoleum. We stay here for the moonless night, and at the dawn’s curtain call, the birds sing a quiet alarium. The royalty enters. They come in groups while one of them points at us, telling the rest our stories. They stand enraptured.
This is when I feel the happiest.
Do they love me as I love them? Can they?
For the first time, I look and see the others across that canyon. They are beautiful, with bright colors and full bodies. Their willful audience watches as the scene immortalized in front of them seems to move. The people cannot tell what they are seeing. I am even drawn in from my station, so far away, to see the beautiful scenes that could have been plucked from time itself. If I could only get closer, and see from the people’s view.
For the first time, I realize that I am not like the others. I can feel my sharp bends and my broken features. I am harsh, linear. I cannot compare to their rendering, their life, the way they can draw eyes in. They show the glory of humanity at its peak, even if their creators tended to exaggerate. They are the beautiful people.
I am ugly. I am sharp, abstract, confusing. I’m colorful scribbles on canvas paper. Nothing more than some deranged scene that never could show the beauty of life as the other ones can. I’m some sort of freak. Some sort of monster. Their gorgeous blend of colors mixes with my hectic scheme in a cacophony that almost wounds.
But the people still pass by me.
Are they mocking me? Can’t they see that I’m a deformity? A leper left to die alone on the street?
I fold into myself. I run along connecting lines that go on forever. I twist and bend my way deep into the complex layers of geometrical shapes and structures. I work my way along a flounder face, with broken eyes and a flat nose. I traverse wrinkles and creases. I go away from these people, looking at me with their thirsty eyes, thirstier for blood than for nourishment. I stow myself away.
Am I safe?
Can they see me?
I can’t look in their direction to check.
I’m so far away.
Don’t look at me.
Please, don’t look at me
by Sasha Switz, age 15
Sunlight fell in stripes on his stomach. He stared at them until his eyes hurt. His body felt anchored to his bed, like the nightmares were still in his head, making it heavy and awkward.
He could hear his mother banging around in the kitchen. She must have been doing it on purpose, trying to get him up so that he would go see her. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Pieces of the night before were beginning to leak back into his head. They pressed down on him, threatening to push him farther down into the mattress.
He heard his mother yank open a cabinet and pull something out, probably a coffee mug. He could smell the Folgers brewing all the way to his bedroom. He sighed, resigned to the fact that he had to get up at some time. He swung his legs out of bed. The floor was cold on his soles and he curled his toes involuntarily. He tugged the comforter off the floor and deposited on his mussed sheets.
Padding down the hall, he avoided the places in the floor with nails sticking out or where boards sagged too much. He approached the kitchen and slowed. He peeked around the corner. His mother sat in a chair and stared in her cup as if the swirls of cream in her coffee would form the solutions to her troubles. The yellow linoleum shined dully and the Formica table looked ready to collapse.
She didn’t look up as he walked to the table. He imagined she might be embarrassed. He wanted to tell her that he loved her even after what had happened the previous night. That he knew she had to do it. He couldn’t seem to find the words and instead, he sat down.
She had set a cup of milk in front of his seat. He picked it up and drank, washing away the sour taste of morning from his mouth. She drank too, her eyes never leaving her cup.
The silence lasted too long. His mother finally cleared her throat and muttered, “They’re coming soon.”
He flinched and responded, “Yeah. I know.”
The speaking seemed to trigger memory in the both of them. For him it was the feel of his father’s fist against his face and the smell of whiskey. The pain in his head as he it struck the coffee table. Red everywhere. He reached a hand back and felt the spot. He was lucky not to have a concussion, he knew that. But he didn’t feel lucky at the moment.
The look on his mother’s face told him she was thinking about last night too. Her forehead was wrinkled and her knuckles were white against the cup in her hand. She didn’t look guilty, just tired.
“There are some things you’re going to have to remember when I’m gone,” she said. He nodded to show he was listening. “First, when they take you away, put only important things in a bag. Take some toys or pictures or something. Not too much, because you’re going to have to carry that bag around wherever you go.” He nodded again. She sighed.
“Second, don’t let anybody make you do anything you don’t want to do. I don’t know who they’re going to give you too, and there are some nasty people out there. This goes for lawyers, too. If you don’t want to get up in court, you don’t have to.” She looked pained. He reached out and grabbed her hand across the table. She looked up at him for the first time.
“Ma,” he murmured, “I’m going to do everything I can to help you, even if that means testifying. I won’t let them put you away.”
She almost smiled. There were tears in her eyes. “Oh, angel, that’s not really up to you. But thanks.” She squeezed his hand. “Third, try to blend in. Kids will go after you if you stand out too much.”
“I think I’ll be good at that,” he joked, thinking about how insignificant he already was in the world. Would not having parents make him even more invisible?
“And last, remember that no matter what, from here forward, I love you. I love you so much.” The tears in her eyes threatened to overflow. He scooted his chair over to her side of the table and held her. She seemed small and breakable all of a sudden.
He wondered how much time they had left. Seeming to read his thoughts, his mother said, “I called them five minutes ago. They’ll be here soon.”
Over her should, he saw his father lying on the floor, stiff and cold. A large brown spot surrounded the place where his head would have lain, had the buckshot not blown most of it off. He remembered the front door slamming. He wandered down the hall, hoping to find his father sober and happy to be home. When he had seen the man stumble and lurch into the living room, his heart had fallen. He tried to quickly back out of the room, but his father had already seen him and started towards him. Where you goin’, boy? he had shouted.
His father hand grabbed his shoulder and shook him. He knew better than to struggle, but it was a knee-jerk reaction. His father had hit him six times. He went limp and pretended to be unconscious. That had only made his father more angry. He threw him to the floor. He didn’t know if it had been his father’s intention for him to hit the side of the table, but he had. He heard the crack and then everything had gone white. His mother had screamed, and then there was a bang that must have shook the whole house. Then it was quiet.
His mother’s sobs brought him back to the present. He still stared at his father’s body. He was tempted to put a blanket over it. It looked cold. It was turning blue, the blood that hadn’t escaped through its neck pooling just its skin.
He hugged his mother harder. His arms hurt and his head hurt and he was just starting to get scared. A car pulled into their driveway, flashing red and blue.
He smelled her, sweat and coffee and a splash of blood that was scattered like stars over her nightgown. His body began to shake.
Then, there was a knock at the door.