Dear young writers who entered this contest,
Why did you have to write such good stories? It really isn't fair! You made our job very hard. We agonized over the winners. Please stop writing so well... we want to have an easier time judging for the next contest.
So here they are, our top three, chosen from a crowded field of outstanding entries. We hope you adore these stories as much as we do. Give these talented writers some love in the comments!
And don't forget look for our next post, in which we will honor the creativity and imagination of some of the many other excellent entries we received.
Love, Anne and Ellen
The Hidden Paradise
by Min Su, age 12
It was an old Victorian house in a rural area that my mother fell in love with. Looming over the smaller, more modern houses of my tiny new neighborhood, it cast deep shadows on the already dark street. The floorboards creaked of age, sounding like the terrified voices of agony as my parents moved to and fro from the house. To keep me busy, my mom had whispered to me to find my room. Well, at least what I wished were my room.
So here I am. Wandering aimlessly around the 5,000-square-feet Victorian, avoiding the splinters my feet are sure to get . . . until I find myself lost. A hallway stands massively in front of me, seeming to never end.
After what seems like a century, I find a dusty curtain at the end of the hall. It is thrown hastily across the entrance of something. The smell of mothballs and thick dust swirl into my nostrils, causing me to cough loudly. My eyes water from the dust circling me, and I squint at the door behind the ancient curtain. It’s nothing special, a low door made of auburn wood. Small, intricate designs line the perimeter of the door, but the rest is just plain, solid wood.
I cautiously knock on the door, hearing a loud thud from the other side. Wasn't this a single-family house? I couldn't recall my mom ever mentioning that another family would live with us.
The door screeches open, inching inch by inch, dragging me from my thoughts. Small flakes of rust join with the dust, causing an even smokier smell to erupt. A loud, piercing sound rings through the 1700’s Victorian, and I wince, covering my ears in vain.
When my eyes flutter open, I see yet another door. Nothing stands between the tiny gap between the doors, so who could have opened the door? Not even bothering to knock this time, I crash through the second door . . .
To find myself in a paradise. Lush green surrounds me from all sides, and tiny colorful flowers dot the hills. Butterflies . . . no . . . fairies fly busily around, always in seek of something. Rosy-cheeked children dance in a circle, their light feet bouncing on a particularly soft piece of the meadow. Golden hair flying, feet flying faster, they never seem to tire out. I am tempted to go join them; laugh with them, dance with them. Yet a small part of my mind yells at me to be cautious.
My feet drag in the direction of the children, but my brain reels back. The angel and devil bicker on my shoulder:
“They look like they’re having a fun time.”
“They’re complete strangers!”
Rallying back and forth, I feel like my world is split in half. Which side should I take?!
While I stand there, mouth agape, a child runs up to me and tugs on my arm. That does it. I take the devil’s side. The angel and my conscious mind wilt, leaving my feet to start dancing. And dancing. And dancing.
Centuries, millenniums pass. The glamour of the meadow slides away, like a mask being peeled off. I finally understand that it is not a fantasy I have stepped into a complete nightmare.
The children that I once thought were rosy cheeked and lively, are skeletons with deep bags under hollow eye sockets. The lush field is full of bugs and scattered with various bones of plants. The fairies I once saw as beautiful are complete misery. They nip at your body and yap in your ears. Worse than that, however, are the legs of us—the skeletons. Our legs are enchanted, bound to the nightmare’s lull, and will not stop. On top of this nightmare is a soft coat of glamour, and if only I’d looked closely, taken the angel’s side, maybe I’d be back home, dancing of my own free will.
I only hope that that door down the hallway is tightly shut and the house knocked down before anyone else enters this world of terror, and suffers the same insatiable life as me.
The Reading Room
By Sophia H., age 12
I turned to see my brother looking at me, eyebrow raised. He was right. What was I thinking? That I’d open the door and it would lead me into this alternate world? Still, I couldn’t help looking around me for some sort of . . . I don’t know, secret passage. But the harder I tried to see something that might indicate something magical, the more I knew that it was just a regular old closet, boring and ordinary.
“Well, you never know,” I replied, determined not to let him be right. I closed the door, its hinges squeaking in protest, and turned around. My brother rolled his eyes.
“You and your ‘magic’,” he said, but I could tell that was the end of it. Flynn was not one to tease, and I was thankful for that. We walked down the long hallway, and then, nearing the end, Flynn ran ahead and barged into his room, slamming the door behind him. He did not do it because he was upset or irritated. That was just his way. I was the opposite, described as quiet, studious, and calm.
I soon entered the living room, a fire blazing on the hearth, casting eerie shadows all around me. Mom sat in an armchair, reading a book and sipping her chamomile tea. Upon hearing my foot upon a creaky wooden floorboard she looked up at me and smiled.
“Well, did you find anything magical in that closet of yours?” she asked cheerfully.
I pulled out my ponytail and began to redo it. “Nope,” I replied, twisting the hairband around one more time and pulling it tight.
She tilted her head, and gazed at me.
“You know, you’re just like I was when I was your age.”
“Really?” I said.
“Oh yes. I was a bookworm, just as you are now, and I loved anything magical. I used to build fairy houses out in the backyard, and then sit, hidden in the forest, watching patiently and hoping that someday I’d see a fairy.” She sighed. “And you know what? I never did.”
I knelt beside her on the floor, and she stroked my hair.
“Rebecca?” she asked, and then paused.
“Yes?” I said, prompting.
“Do you like it here?”
I thought for a moment. Did I? Of course I missed my friends, well, the friends that I had. I didn’t think I missed school, except occasionally, because I liked homeschooling a lot better. Mom wasn’t exactly a perfect teacher, but she was learning, as was I.
When we first moved here, I missed the city a lot, but now I’ve grown to like it here. Living in this log-cabin-like house, in the middle of the woods of New Hampshire was actually turning out to be better than I thought it would be. So, I honestly replied, “I think I do.”
“Oh good. I thought you would.” My mom stretched, and stood up, closing her book after marking her place carefully with a beaded bookmark. “I’m going to go make dinner, and you need to find something to do.”
I groaned. “Fine.”
I plodded in the direction of my room, and then collapsed on my bed. I still couldn’t stop thinking about that closet. What if there was something I had overlooked?
I decided to go and check again. Maybe I would discover something I had missed the first time I looked it over. I reached the closet, and placed my hand on the cool brass knob, which had been worn to a dull bronze over the years. Turning the knob, I slowly opened the door.
Worn wood, dusty cobwebs, and a rickety shelf greeted me unmercifully. There was obviously no magic here! I stood there, gazing thoughtfully at it for a moment, and then shut the door carefully and retreated back to my room.
Sitting down in my in my comfy chair, I began to think, turning an idea over and over in my head. The closet wasn’t magical, that was for sure, but maybe I could enchant it with my own kind of magic!
After thinking for a minute or two I decided what to do. I went into the kitchen where I found Mom fixing supper, humming to herself.
“Mom?” I asked.
She paused her humming and turned to look at me. “Yes?”
“I know that earlier you said I could use the closet for whatever I wanted. Is that offer still standing?”
“Of course,” she replied.
“Okay then, two things. Where did you put the big sponge? And do you know where a hammer might be?”
“Is my Becca up to something?”
“Alright I’ll leave you alone. Just promise me I can see it when you’re done.”
“Of course,” I said, smiling to myself.
“Well then, the sponge is by the fireplace along with the bucket, and the hammer is in the basement on the shelf.”
“Thanks!” I called, already running towards the living room.
After locating the sponge and hammer as well as a bucket of nails, I headed off to the closet with a big pail of soapy water on my arm.
I worked for an hour, maybe a little longer, and then finally, exhausted, retreated back out into the hallway to survey my work. What I saw was nowhere near what the closet had looked like when I had started. The walls were clean, cobwebs removed, dust free. Glancing down, I saw my green disc chair resting on a rope rug, both of which I had taken from my room. I had also replaced the dim bulb that lit the large closet, and it gleamed its fullest. All this was nothing however, compared to the treasures that lay upon the shelf. My favorite books sat there, just willing me to read them. For I had, in fact, used some of my ‘magic,' and created my own personal reading room.
By Madeleine L., age 11
I just need a break. I just need to run. But when I run, my troubles follow me. I can’t escape them. They’ve already intertwined themselves around me, enclosed me, like a net. I can run but I can’t hide. I’ll never be able to hide.
Staircase after staircase. Hallway after hallway. The wallpaper’s always the same, too. It used to be an elaborate design, but now it’s peeling from the walls, rotting away. It used to be beautiful. But not anymore. Just like me. Because why am I here?
Why am I here? I’m too wrapped up in my grief to even think about why I’m here. It’s my dad. He’s gone. Gone forever. I think about his funeral a month ago. When my dad was lowered into the ground. And tears were running down my cheeks and I was thinking “stupid car crash.” Thinking of all the things I’d never do again. Thinking about how he died too young. Thinking about how I need him. Thinking about how I need not only him, but his love, his hugs, his kisses. And then I think of his welcoming green eyes and his dark hair. And his gleaming white smile. I remember when he had a princess tea party with me when I was five. And when he helped me with my homework when I was ten. It’s just too much, too much. It’s my memories. I’ll never be able to hide from my memories.
Dad and my grandmother were in a car accident when they both died. This house was my grandmother’s. Well, technically it was my grandmother’s. She owned it, but she lived somewhere else and never went inside. Now I can see why. I can barely stand all the gloom and darkness of World War 3 these days, let alone living in a dark and dreary house.
My close family has never been rich. We got by, with my dad working and my mom staying home and homeschooling me. But when my dad died, we didn’t have money coming in, so we had to move here. So far, I don’t like it. This house was built in 2014, hundreds of years ago. Built in 2014! So old! I’ll never be able to live here.
And now I’m screaming and crying, tears pouring down my cheeks. I’ll never be able to reach him again. Never, never, never. I’m running through the house, fleeing my mother, who’s pale with sadness as well, but who’s trying to act brave for me. My tears stream down my cheeks as I run helplessly around. Trying to escape.
I’m so blinded by my tears that I almost don’t notice when I run right smack into a door. I stand there, paralyzed, shocked for a few seconds, and then start to stare at the door. I don’t know why, it’s just a door. Seems like there are billions of doors in this house. But this one looks different.
I put my hand on the cold doorknob. It isn’t tarnished like the other doorknobs I’ve seen. In fact, this doorknob looks like it was cleaned just yesterday. But we came here this morning.
The metal looks so familiar. And then it hits me. My grandmother used to wear a gold necklace around her neck. A white gold necklace.
The memories have caught up to me again. “Jessa,” I can almost hear them calling. “Jessa.” I try, but I can’t make them go. So even though I’m hostile towards them, I’m forced to welcome them into my head.
I remember the last night I was with my dad. A bright summer day. We were packing up our picnic and Dad looked me in the eye. The sunset was behind him as he said, “Remember Jessa. If one door closes, another will open for you. All right?” He looked so serious, I couldn’t believe it. He was usually so silly and fun loving. So I just said, “All right.” Then he smiled, as if he had never reminded me of his saying. “All right, Sugar. Let’s go.”
The “Sugar” nickname came from a princess tea party we had when I was five. I accidentally spilled sugar everywhere, and my dad said, “Whoops, sugar!” I thought he was addressing me, though, as “Sugar.” So it stuck.
I’m plunged back into the coldness of reality. It’s as though I’ve been resting on a hammock on a warm beach, and someone has rolled me into the freezing ocean. I feel my hand slowly turning the doorknob. And inside I find . . .
Art. I used to love art. Not anymore. Dad loved art. It was because of art that he died, too.
I find my legs carrying me around the room, my eyes searching the pieces of art. They are so breathtaking, so beautiful, I have to remind myself that I don’t care much for them anymore. I find famous paintings from the Louvre.
Wait a minute. I believed that these paintings were destroyed when Paris was attacked in World War 3 a few years ago. This war has lasted forever.
Dad taught me about these paintings. All about them. I wish now that he hadn’t. That he had not known about art. Because when he was in the car accident, he was driving to an art museum.
I find it funny that it’s a note that I take interest in. I pick it up. The paper is yellowed and old, like everything here. It reads:
War is red blood, but art is red paint. What do you want red to be?
What do I want red to be? And then it strikes me.
Did Dad die on purpose? Did he know these were here? I don’t know. All I know is that this is what he would want.
And now I finally know why I’m here.
“I need to show the world art,” I whisper. “I need to bring beauty and light back to the world.”