Wow! We had a lot of outstanding entries for this contest! In upcoming weeks, we'll try to honor some of the other particpants. But here are our choices for the winners. We were so impressed by their imagination, vision, passion, and just plain writing ability. We hope you'll enjoy them as much as we did! Please give them some love in the comments! Happy reading! Anne and Ellen
By Sharon L., age 13
Too many people passed the old store without a glance. The run-down, rickety shingles were beginning to chip, the windows clouding over with the dust of the decades. Too many people had too much on their minds. Disillusioned by the mantra that life is too short for novelties, too few are staying behind to linger among the ashes of the ages. Yet one old woman spared the poor shack a glimpse. Soft, shimmering bells clinked as the door opened.
I found there to be something missing as I grasped the jade necklace. The jewels were carved from the millennium-old stone of the ancient world, the dragons’ fire from the depths of the heartland. My grandmother gave me a warm smile as I gently placed the string of pendants around my neck. “You are beautiful, my treasure.”
A little girl wanders around the crowded little apartment. Her parents are protective, watching her every movement to ensure that she is safe, though safety should hardly be a concern in the one-floor rented apartment. She toddles and falls, only to continue her ambling towards a shiny green box. It opens to reveal a string of beads, lustrous in the light of the dull floor lamp. A ribbon is intertwined within the package.
The conglomerate of food is hard to distinguish. One platter blends into another, one dish the same hue as those adjacent. The smells, though, overwhelm even the moist glimmer of the sauces mixed together. I try to take a single bite, but somehow another slice ends up on my plate. “Eat, eat!” Fingers pick up chopsticks, hand flitter to and fro, arms nudge other arms. I take a bite of everything.
An old woman lifts up a baby, less than a tenth of her age. She is positioned on a high chair, precariously set above the ground. The baby lifts up a bowl and a chopstick and waves around the odd pair until chicken and broccoli plop into her mouth. She drops all and happily chews. Food is presently on her mind.
We are running outside, the rainbow of paper, glue, and fabric growing ever higher as the breeze lifts. I feel a nostalgic twinge in my chest, but ignore the darkness as my cousins' squeals lift as high as the kites' path. I squeal for a moment myself, lost amidst the flurries of flight.
She sat down while the older woman carried her. Her eyes opened for a moment to allow the sight of beautiful box-shaped kites to cloud her vision. Fish gliding across the clear blue skies, dragons’ tails trailing with the strands of white, yellow squares brighter than the afternoon sun shining down. “Never forget.” She looked up at the woman carrying her and saw a tear trailing down her wrinkled skin.
We sit on the grass at night. The sun has finally set and there is nothing left for us inside. The grown-ups tell us to help out, so we take a stroll to the park and come back. Now lanterns are being hung from tall poles, tents being set out. A gazebo with high crimson arches dots the horizon, firefly lights brightening the darkness of the night. I feel the weight of a soft round pastry in my hand and a smile slips out. Mooncakes are my favorite.
The gazebo was decorated for this occasion. Not a single corner went unlighted. A tall brown table was set up for the occasion, a bowl of oranges resting in the center. The family looked above the rising hill. While their little girl munched on a fresh cake in the shape of the lunar sphere, they noticed the absence of neighboring lights.
My friend had texted me a while ago. “where r u? stop hangin out with those geeks!” Not a thought is wasted on ancient traditions and values, especially not in our bustling age of speed and movement, movement, movement.
There was no one familiar outside. The girl shrank up against her parents as she heard words she did not yet understand. “Go back, you Chino!”
I looked at my family, all settled at the dinner table, the lively chatter overriding all the darkness of the still air outside. Still, I feel that there is something left unsettled. Without another glance, I flipped my cell phone closed, stood up, and planted a gentle kiss on my grandmother’s tender cheek. “I will never forget.”
By Dani B., age 16
And I know how it would happen, too.
She’d stand there, fumbling with the lipstick cap, and I’d wait for her to get it. I’m courteous. I’d wait until she twists the red up, like a bloody finger pointing at her, and that’s when I’d clear my throat.
I know I’m awkward. But sometimes that’s what’s needed.
She’d find me in the mirror, pretend to be concentrating on her eyelashes or whatever, but really she’d be sizing me up. And then, when she thinks she knows me, that’s when I’d speak.
“You know, your sister’s messed up.”
She’d turn around. God, I hope this would be important enough to her that she’d whirl around completely and then I’d see her full face. People always look different when you see their whole face.
She’d look surprised, but she always looks surprised. Maybe that’s why she gets the leads in the school plays. I wanted to go to the last one, but I was tired of her acting.
That was a week after Joyce switched therapists.
“Excuse me,” she’d say. No, that’s too prissy. I’d like to think this would catch her off guard enough, take away all her bullshit until all she’d be able to say is, “What?” I think the whole world runs on that word.
I’d look her straight on. That’s the one thing I know. I’d look at her, right there, so direct that she couldn’t look away. I think she’s one of those people who no one ever looks at, really; they just see what they think they know, and she lives up to it.
“Joyce has a problem,” I’d say. I think if I worked really hard, I could keep my voice even. I’d swallow, but keep on facing her, trying not to move.
I love how neat that sounds. A problem. Like it’s all wrapped up in a little package, tied up with string. Like she’s just a dog who did her business on the carpet or something—“Joycie had a little problem today…” or “Joyce had an accident.” That’s another great one: accident. Not the word, but the concept, that it couldn’t possibly be your fault. That you can just say to someone, “It was an accident,” and all will be forgiven. All must be. Because the next time, someone else will be the one who fucked up—not to blame them, of course, totally out of their control. What a joke.
Joyce had told me it was an accident the first time I caught her. We’d been changing for gym, Joyce in the corner, having to borrow a tank top from the Lost and Found. I saw the red lines, little railroad tracks, and didn’t understand.
“Joyce,” I said. “What happened?”
Joyce had slithered into her sweatshirt. Hadn’t looked up. “It was an accident,” she said finally. Then she walked away.
I had been thinking of the little accidents—a series of paper cuts, a dropped kitchen knife, scissors gone wrong. The acceptable accidents you can shrug away. I thought that because I wanted to think that. It took me a while to realize how true those words really were.
Because problems can be accidents too. Especially when you make them for yourself.
That’s what I’d tell her anyway. And then her mouth would catch on the word—“Problem?” she’d repeat. Maybe she’d tell me I was wrong. Or maybe she’d ask who the heck I was, who I thought I was.
Either way, she’d piss me off. There’s only one thing I’d want to hear, and that’s that she knows, that she’s doing something about it. Except part of me would be hoping that she wouldn’t say that, because then I couldn’t lash out at her.
No hesitation. That’s the best and worst way, right? I think it’s worth the risk.
“Your sister had a problem!” I’d say again, my voice rising. “Joyce is really messed up, and you act like nothing’s wrong! She’s going to die you know, she’s going to, LOOK AT ME, SHE’S GOING TO…” I’d swallow, act like I was trying to hold it in, but really I’d be gathering more. I wouldn’t want to leave anything unsaid. “You’re going to lose her!” I’d say. “Do you know that she cuts herself? Almost daily? Do you know how ashamed she feels of herself, how she had to hide it? Do you know she throws up? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO SHE IS? You can’t act like this is okay! LOOK AT ME, YOU CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”
I wonder if she’d hit me. One slap, across the face. That’s what I’d do. The truth’s a bitch. But then she’d think about it, wouldn’t she have to? Wouldn’t she watch out the next time Joyce goes to the bathroom after dinner? Wouldn’t she check the desk for the razor I know she had?
Wouldn’t she read over Joyce’s shoulder the next time she texts me, “I can’t handle it today”? Wouldn’t she be the one Joyce could talk to, she’d be the one…
Just not me. Please.
I know it would happen that way. I know it, and so when she walks in, I finish braiding my hair like it’s nothing. I watch her pull out her lipstick.
And then she drops it. An accident. I kneel down to help her pick it up, and my body feels like it’s pulsing, and I hand it to her and look her straight in the face. Her whole face.
And I have to stop because of how much she looks like Joyce. I look down and the sleeves of her dress are loose, and they fall back to expose her wrists when she reaches for it…
And she knows I’ve seen her. All of her. She takes it, reddens slightly, nods thanks. Then she teeters out on her high heels, leaving me with the nothing I was going to say, with the trail of accidents down her arms.
To Think of Wednesdays
by Emma S., age 14
When I get up on Wednesdays, I’m either going to school, path A, or I’m staying in bed for a while longer, path B. If I take path A, I’ll be arriving in homeroom promptly one and one half minutes prior to the start bell at eight. If I take path B, I’ll be thinking about how weird the word “Wednesday” is when I cast a questioning glance directed at my calendar. I will think of how the n comes after the d, but we still pronounce the n before the d. Or so it seems. On path A, I will participate in playful banter amongst my friends, making the jokes of perverts and sailors. On path B, I will think about the English language, and how on its transition to America, it’s been somewhat slaughtered or recreated like a phoenix. On path A, I will not raise my hand to answer the question of whether or not this leaf is a dicot or a monocot. I truly have no understanding seeing as I didn’t do my homework because of a feline eating my pencil.
On path B, I may get up eventually from the warm burrow in my blankets as my body is pressed against the mattress, but I can hear the rodents chattering, which means someone has entered my lair. On path A, I will wait until the bell rings after 35 minutes of drooling trolls. But on either path, I will see the demons, the shadows, and the sons of the light. School is filled with the trolls and the growls and claws of the educational establishment. Home is filled with the demons and the shadows and the haunts of past kinsfolk blotches and storms.
I will take the torrents of my flaming anger out on the soft fluffy pillow as I turn into the roaring lion raging out of the hurt I feel from poachers hunting down my brethren. And after I calm down, the ice freezing over the flames, although it takes a while, and I will give my cumshaws to the rodents and felines of which I have frightened as I came up clawing and biting, spitting and hissing. And I sit, looking up at the window, calming down. But the burns and the singes of the flames still remain. I look at my feet, which slap across the cement floor of the dungeon as I cross to the window looking out at the moonlight, which may pass through the muddy glass, but I cannot feel through.
And so, on either path, I cannot feel the cold embrace of the night’s mother. For I have my own mother, and no matter how much I wish it weren’t true sometimes, my mother and my father and my family, are my moonlight.
And so, I wake up Thursday, shooting a questioning glance to the calendar. I wake up from the dreams of my falling back asleep on path B or falling asleep during the lecture on path A. And I am no longer the lion who has iced over and the window is no longer reflecting the moon and humans are humans once again. The trolls have left, and so has Wednesday.