Congratulations to our 2018 Teen Writing and Comic Contest Winners!
1st Place: "A Fire Came at Night" by Caleb Weinhardt, 12th grade
2nd Place: "Adventures of Universe" by Halea Fields, 11th grade
Honorable Mention: "Untitled" by Julia Appel, 10th grade
Read the winning entries below -
" A Fire Came at Night" by Caleb Weinhardt
Bubbles erupted from my lungs. The water closed in on me, closed around me. My eyes burned, lungs collapsing. Above me, sunlight shattered across greenish waves. It was cold. Gasping, I wrenched my head from under the water. My skin stung and my fingertips began to numb. I clenched them into fists, taking a moment to catch my breath and catch your gaze.
You smiled. Laughed. Hair stuck to your cheeks and neck as you splashed. I wondered: how is it that the sun only touches you? You were glowing, and I was a slip of paper, powerless in the fingers of the ocean. I barely had time to breathe between the waves’ wails and burps. You shook the salt from your hair, bobbing: the signal to retreat to the rocks. The sky began to fade behind you.
We warmed ourselves around the fire, soaking in silence. I wrapped myself in wool and you toasted marshmallows. You sang something softly and expected me to sing along. I watched the flame eat away the wood until it turned black, and you frowned at me. I wondered how you could will your muscles to stop shivering.
Our little tree house sat far enough off the ground, cradled in between two branches, that my toes tingled climbing the rope ladder. I could see fireflies from up there, blinking stars in the grass, like the sky had turned upside-down. You braided your hair as the sun set. The air gradually cooled on my back. Though I slept covered in blankets, the cracks between wooden planks dug restlessly into my ribcage.
Resting my eyes against the chill, I dreamed I heard whispering, ghosts conversing pleasantly. Their voices then seemed to overlap, unintelligible words growing in fervor. I shuddered.
I woke to warm breath on my face. My heart pounded. Your voice hissed, echoing in my ears: wake up. Look outside.
The forest was on fire.
I looked to you for guidance. Shadows of flame leaped on your skin, your eyes calm and watchful. Your hair remained in a perfect braid down your back. Smaller trees had already cracked and fallen as flame engulfed their leaves. They screamed and dove to the forest floor, hair alight.
“Aren’t we going to run?”
You wouldn’t look at me.
“Why?” Blood raced behind my eardrums, my voice picking up an urgency shared by the forest around me, curling into ash as I watched.
That was the only time I saw sadness in you. You met my gaze, your eyes no longer calm, but instead, teary and dark. A pang of fear resonated through me. You could not falter. I didn’t know if I could survive that.
“The ladder’s gone.”
You were right. Flames began to lick the trunk of our tree, the bare soles of my feet warming as fire reached for the floorboards. A sudden terror tossed me back to Spring, when our tree trunk was so thick that I could barely wrap my arms around it. There was a reason we chose this tree; it could support our climbing and swinging, it could heal quickly when our feet scraped its bark from its flesh. Now, I wondered if we had chosen carefully enough. As sweat collected at my scalp, you leaned your elbows on the window frame to get a better view.
“What are you doing? We have to get out,” sound caught in my throat. You needed to move, I needed to make you move.
Nothing unnerved you, no flames or drenching waves or dogs barking in the night.
“Just watch,” it came out as a whisper, “You’ll only get to see this once in your life.”
"Adventures of Universe" by Halea Fields
The Universe, all existing matter and space, lowered itself in its comfy chair and loosed a sigh after another long day of being the Universe. It really was a hard job, being the Universe. It had the job of controlling every existing thing. Since Universe had always done this job, it couldn’t really compare the skills needed to that of a baker or construction worker. Nevertheless, Universe could only imagine that it needed a much greater amount of competence and talent than any mortal occupations it could think up. Every day, Universe takes on the task of holding our world together. Universe controls the laws of science, night and day, flora, fauna, and every other existing thing. The job description of Universe is anything and everything; the job was made for Universe. There was no application process for being the Universe. There were no qualifications Universe fell short of; Universe is inherently qualified being for this job.
With such a strenuous job, Universe liked to distance itself from the more chaotic regions of itself. Universe finds its best place of refuge in outer space. The nightly tones of purples, blues, and silver were calming; the silent ambiance of space was Universe's go-to when it came to de-stressing. Though there is little action in counting stars and watching comets, Universe still finds it to be a rather cathartic activity. The galaxies are Universe's favorite part of itself and provide the best retreat from the more chaotic parts of the Universe. Perhaps it is the simultaneously sleepy and vivid colors, Universe wasn't sure, but just the sight of Outer Space calmed Universe's nerves. The only fault of space was that sometimes it was too lonely.
The Universe had to be fully concentrated at all times, with absolutely no exceptions. The role of Universe required an exorbitant amount of self-discipline and focus. Because everything in the Universe essentially works like a clock, Universe made sure everything worked in relation to each other. Universe functioned where, without the day, the night would always miss its queue; without the moon, the ocean would lose its zealous tides; without the atom's ability to move quickly, water would never boil. So, Universe couldn’t afford to even risk a slight slip in focus for fear of one missing gear in its clock resulting in every existing thing being lost to chaos.
So, you see, any mistake by Universe could lead to the end of structure in the world. Quite surprisingly, this has only happened twice. The first time, after a particularly stressful day of being the Universe, it decided to indulge in a drink –or a few- and lost some control over itself. For exactly six minutes, gear after gear in the clock-like machine of the universe loosened and lost their places while Universe tried and nearly failed to reorder itself. For six terribly chaotic minutes, Universe watched itself completely fall apart. Rain poured upwards, birds flapped their feet, cookies baked at freezing temperatures and cats barked. Fortunately, Universe got itself together and managed to shift itself back into order.
Ever since this almost catastrophic incidence, Universe has made sure to be more careful with its methods for coping with the notably strenuous days. But one day, Universe simply had it rough, as the Universe can sometimes. With a highly taxing number of hurricanes added to its already inordinate workload, Universe's focus was divided further by trying to keep the natural aspect of itself orderly and it simply failed to maintain the precise focus it needed.
The first hiccup, per se, affected poor Hawaiian baker, Kaholo. Kaholo, of nineteen, was the apprentice to the owner of a local pastry shop. He was spending his evening perfecting basic recipes as part of his preparation to reach his goal of becoming a master pastry chef. In the shop where he worked, Kaholo had displayed his delicacies on every flat surface, where the butter macadamia cookies were sprawled on one counter, and pans of pineapple-lemon bars on another. Balancing on the oven were cooling Hawaiian malasadas, their cinnamon-doughnut scent filling the room. Shafts of bright sunlight filtered through the windows brightening the room and showing the glisten of the glaze on the pineapple lemon bars. Kaholo leaned against the wall and sipped his black coffee as he admired his aesthetic baker's display. Then he choked.
Kaholo coughed hard and coffee dribbled from his nose as he blinked and stared in astonishment at the empty room before him. Gone were his beautiful and sweet-smelling masterpieces. The only proof that they were once there was the fleeting curl of smoke from the hot malasadas and the faint smell of macadamias and citrus. The young baker ran to the front door of the shop and threw it open. Stepping outside, Kaholo looked around to see if perhaps anyone else had noticed anything strange. The only thing Kaholo noticed was a few questioning stares from bypassers; one man even asked if he was ok. Nodding, Koholo tried to casually step back inside and cursed himself for looking a fool. Unsure of what to do, the apprentice slumped onto a stool and stared at the empty counters with a worried look on his face.
Meanwhile, in another dimension, far from the baker staring listlessly at empty countertops, a small army of Hawaiian pastries flew through the space-time continuum, forced from their home by an improperly functioning universe. The pastries flew past luminous and spectacularly colorful galaxies, only to be zapped back into the Earth's atmosphere and randomly placed on a bench in the middle of New York's Central Park. Before anyone could register the suddenly appearing fleet of delicacies, they were zapped to a picnic table on the beaches of Hawaii, finally let alone by the out of control and playful universe, only for Universe to play its game of dysfunction elsewhere.
While all of this was taking place, Universe was busy exerting its efforts to areas of great concern. Much to Universe's horror, the continents had already begun to shift and it hadn't even been six minutes yet! Greenland was no longer held in its places and began to shift south. Universe fought to keep the moving minimal, but Greenland just slipped right out of place and left the place it had previously occupied completely uninhabited. The continent continued to free fall down the globe until the edge of Greenland's city, Sukkertoppen, collided into Canada's Newfoundland. Universe stifled a chuckle as he thought the conjoined continents could be renamed Oopstopia. This made Universe realize that it truly did struggle with the focusing aspect of its job.
Back on Earth, eight-year-old Hawaiian birthday-girl Kalani made her way through a crowded street on her way to a market. Flanking her was her father Haku and her grandmother who Kalani called Puna. The three were heading to the Sunday morning market for a treat to share on the beach in honor of Kalani's eight years around the sun. Though only a few blocks away, Kalani quickened her steps in eager anticipation at the thought of juicy mangos and a swim in the glinting water. She was so excited she barely noticed the wild-eyed baker peaking his head out of a door. The young man was only brought to her attention when Haku gently inquired if the man was ok. Nodding his head and mumbling, the man went back inside. Kalani dismissed the encounter and thought again of the food awaiting her.
Though the baker did not seem quite out of place to Kalani, she had noticed strange things on her way to the market. For instance, when passing a sprinkler watering the lawn of a home, Kalani could have sworn that she saw the water change colors. Kalani had to rub her eyes before looking again, sure enough, the water had changed from clear to a soft raspberry. The young girl didn't trust that she saw correctly, so she shook her head and continued on. A few minutes later, when passing an alley, Kalani thought she saw a cat bark. Kalani reasoned to herself saying that it could easily be a dog barking that just happened to bark the same time the cat opened its mouth. The girl scanned the alley but saw no other animals. Telling herself that she has a wild imagination, as her father usually told her, Kalani forgot the enigma of the cat's bark and continued on her way.
Now, Kalani was not the only one who had noticed the unexplained color shift in the water. Universe was aware of the change in all bodies of water around the globe, so it saw this mishap on a painfully larger scale. First, small amounts of water shifted; for example, single glasses of water. Universe had to block out the chorus of surprised exclamations when the people of Earth saw their glass of water turn into unidentifiable liquids. Universe cursed the darned wavelengths for going out on it too.
The rogue wavelengths made their way across the globe until they settled onto their last victim: The Pacific Ocean. Deep under the waves of this ocean, a small fish roamed the sleepy and deep blue of its home, until at last, the water shifted. The fish witnessed the sleeping depths of its home brighten, while suddenly becoming marvelous variations of red, orange and yellow. The serene water was now an expansion of an astonishingly bright and festively-colored glistening phenomenon! Universe watched as the last of the wavelengths failed. The short wavelength light of the constant blue was lost to the confident hues of long wavelengths that turned the fish's home into the colors that so beautifully dominated its waters.
Universe felt its intangible chest cave in with disappointment as it realized that the world had ended. It was over, right? The pattern of the universe was lost; nothing functioned as it should. Universe wasn't even sure if control could be regained, things were so bad. Indistinct shouts could be heard, but universe paid them no attention. The end had indeed come; the rain poured upwards, birds flapped their feet, cookies baked at freezing temperatures and cats barked. Universe shook its ethereal head as it lost all hope of restoring itself.
Suddenly, Universe was snapped out of its forlorn reverie as one shriek rang out above all the others that reverberated across the Universe. This sound was one of joy which greatly surprised Universe. Who could possibly find this sizable disaster something to draw joy from? Tracking the source, Universe found that it had come from a young Hawaiian girl, surrounded by two others, standing on the edge of a beach. Puzzled by the reason for this joy, Universe decided to see for itself. They could just be crazy, but Universe still felt that it needed an explanation. Universe settled into the form of a human to approach and walked onto the beaches where the small smiling group had gathered. Looking through different eyes, Universe saw that the girl and her companions were indeed laughing; they were genuinely happy!
Moving towards the family, Universe directed its eyes to where the other humans' attention was focused. Universe saw that their mysterious happiness was because of the vibrant waters Universe so clumsily allowed to appear. Shifting its attention, Universe noticed that the girl had a half-eaten pineapple-lemon bar in her hand, which smelled mouth-wateringly delightful. The girl, noticing Universe's stare, told it that there was a picnic table covered in sweets that just appeared. Universe saw the table of mouth-watering treats and, before approaching the table, Universe realized that the randomly appearing pastries must be a result of a malfunction in the folds of the Universe. Universe smacked its palm to its forehead in frustration at the addition of another task of things to fix.
Ejecting the miserable thought from its mind, Universe approached the table of treats and for the first time in a long time, cracked a wide smile. Mother of all things good, these pastries were gorgeous. Every once and awhile, Universe would allow itself to indulge in a small serving of delicious champagne, but nothing could come close to comparing with pastries. Universe advanced towards the table and hungrily took in the display of pineapple-lemon bars, butter macadamia cookies, and cinnamon malasadas.
Universe was stunned by the expert craftsmanship of these sugary delights. It knew the job of being Universe was one that required great capabilities, but Universe felt that the job of a pastry chef was a close second. Universe realized that whoever made these should be commended for their work. So, Universe inverted its attention to its inner workings and tracked the route the pastries had made. Universe found that the origin of their travels was a small bakery not far from where Universe stood. Universe snatched the young baker that sat in the bakery and manipulated a tear in the cosmic fabric of itself, for the young man to slip through. Then Universe placed the baker on the beach. The surprised man blinked and looked around wildly at the change of scenery.
Poor Kaholo had had the wildest day of his life. First, his pastries disappear, then he himself is transported and lastly, he takes in his surroundings only to find that those darned transient treats are sitting to his left, utterly unharmed. To his right is the girl and her family who passed his shop earlier. The entire situation was bizarre but Kaholo was further unnerved when he saw the person standing near his pastries, smiling at him. The stranger thanked Kaholo with fervor and it was all Katholo could do but nod at the praise.
Now having met the baker, Universe was uncertain of what to do next. There were still repairs to be made, damage to reverse, and order to be restored. Universe was exhausted. The disappointment of its mistakes had worn off and were replaced by a feeling that left Universe inspired. Universe heard Kaholo tell the family to take as many pastries as they pleased; they were only for practice anyways. This snapped Universe's attention back to the present, giving it an idea.
Deep into the depths of the Pacific Ocean, the fish that had witnessed the change in the waters was back to its peaceful roaming. Suddenly, the water began to ripple, and the fish was surprised to feel itself being jostled about. Then, without warning, the fish felt itself being shot straight out of the water on a powerful upwards sluice of water. The fish was twirled as the gushing waters pushed it closer and closer to the sun. The fish looked around and saw an abundant number of other fish all being twirled and pushed in the turmoil of the explosion of water. Once the fish made it to the top, it was eye level with the tops of surrounding mountains. After reaching the watery peak, the fish fell back towards the water, with droplets of water falling beside it and other thrashing fish, all eliciting a small splash as they returned to the ocean.
Universe smiled as it watched the gargantuan fountain it created from the ocean glistening in the sun. Universe decided to make one last manipulation of itself. Universe released a fissure at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii was the perfect place to release an underwater volcano and no fear of chaos could have stopped Universe from caving in to this whim. Around Universe was a certain paradise that Universe never thought it would find, a place of pure happiness. Beside Universe, Kalani gasped at the fountain and laughed at the fishes, her family behind her smiling. Kaholo shook his head in wonder, smiling slightly. Universe itself was smiling widely at its work.
The scene at this Hawaiian beach was certainly something of a wonder: the girl and her family chatting and sharing treats; the baker sitting at the picnic table near his artful delicacies; the fishes twirling in the sunset colored fountain; and lastly Universe. Universe, who had decided that the chaos of itself was not a mistake that needed correction. Maybe, it was beautiful. Universe exhaled away its worry as it took in the view of the grand fountain. Some of the water even splashed Universe's face, leaving multicolored freckles across Univers's skin.
This small stretch of beach was everything that Universe needed to feel truly happy. It was surrounded by people that found joy in its chaos. Most importantly, Universe, for the first time, found joy in its own chaos. The nuances of a simple mistake, like losing concentration, proved to be quite exciting. So, with this new state-of-mind, Universe grabbed another butter macadamia cookie and relaxed. Maybe it was just the taste of the pastries that had Universe extra emotional. Nevertheless, silver lined the eyes of Universe as it took in the beauty of itself.
"Untitled" by Julia Appel
The alley was dark, illuminated only by the moon. Graffiti he couldn’t read lined the walls on either side. They had said this was where he would find her.
In Rome, they say Lucia Morelli can put steel through your heart at a hundred paces. They say she keeps her knives in her hatband, each sharp enough to cut a thread draped over the blade. They say she’s smart as a fox and twice as tricky. Lucia Morelli, the most dangerous person in Rome. Her name is on their lips with every murder. Whispered--never spoken--with every body found lying on the street. In Rome, they say Lucia Morelli has magic.
Peter didn’t see her step out of the doorway. But she must have, because suddenly she stood before him. Tall, with long dark hair cascading down over broad shoulders. And on top of that hair, the hat. The famous hat. Bright green velvet, the color of her eyes.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hello,” she said, a slight cat-like smile curving across her lips.
“I’m Peter. Peter Ross.”
“Oh?” she arched one eyebrow, a trick Peter had always wanted to learn.
“I’m a reporter, and..and...and I was hoping to interview you.” His Italian was careful and practiced. Hers was marked with a slight accent that was not Roman. Lucia looked at him like she would a piece of meat in a market, and he shifted uncomfortably. Apparently pleased with her summation, she nodded.
“Right here. Nine tomorrow morning.” She turned her back to him, and then suddenly Peter was alone in the grungy alley.
She was already there when he arrived the next morning, right on time. He studied her for a moment in the light of day. Black pants, black shirt, and the tall green hat. As he watched, her frame seemed to absorb all the light and radiate darkness. Peter shook his head. No, he was imagining things.
“Sit,” she said. He folded himself onto the cold concrete steps and she joined him. Her eyes seemed to be looking at something very far away as she spoke.
“I was born on a farm in the north. My father worked that farm all of his life, with our help.”
“Our? Do you have siblings?”
“Yes. Two brothers and three sisters.”
“What are their names?”
“Paolo, Giovanni, Nicola, Violetta, and,” she paused. He waited for a few moments, but when nothing was forthcoming, asked “and?”
“Catalina.” It was almost a whisper. Peter underlined her name in his notebook. This was something to come back to. He would need her parents’ names, too, and a little bit about them, and the name of the nearest city, but it was clear she had been rehearsing this, and he could ask questions later, so he sat back a little, closed my eyes, and let the story wash over him.
“I was born on a farm in the north of Italy, in the Po plains. We grew rice. That was what we did, year in and year out. But I do not wish to speak about rice. We were a happy family, I suppose. I was the third oldest, and also third youngest. I was the wild girl. I could never sit still. I was out and about, exploring. I was always ripping my clothes and driving my mother and father to the brink of insanity. Catalina, my older sister, she would come with me sometimes when I roamed. Mostly to keep me in check, on Mama’s orders, but she liked it all the same.
We knew every inch of that land, the two of us. Paolo was too old for our games, and the little ones were too young. Nicola, she was only six when I left. It was just us. Catalina and I against the world. We grew up like that, all of us. Day after day, crop after crop. We would go to school (torture for me) and come home again. We would eat our meals together and return to our work. There is always work on a farm, and most of it is boring.
And one day I woke up, and I went downstairs to help with breakfast. And Catalina was gone. We were frantic. We thought she’d been kidnapped, though by whom we didn’t know. But an hour later we got a call that Antonio from the next farm over was gone too. I was questioned, but I knew nothing. She had told me nothing.” She took a deep breath.
“It was not long after that that I left. I could not bear the waiting. I could not take the hope in Mamma’s eyes whenever the door opened. I could no longer bear the sameness of every day. So I left. I left it all behind me, and I never looked back.”
She took a deep breath, pulling herself out the the stream of the story, and then dove back in.
“I was robbed almost the minute I set foot in Rome. Set upon by a gang of thieves. They stole my money, but the knives one of them carried gave me my destiny. The sight of the blades had set something deep in my soul blazing like a wildfire.
It didn’t take me long to find Veda, the girl with the knives. It didn’t take long to persuade her, eager for a protege, to show me all she knew. It seemed to take forever to learn. Something about the way they flashed in the sun, their deadly beauty, had entranced me. Over the course of a year, I cared for her knives. I polished and sharpened them, I wiped them down when it rained, and I made new sheaths when theirs had ripped or worn. Then Veda began to teach. She taught me how to send a knife flying, and how to pull one from the air. I practiced and practiced, until I could form a silhouette of steel and snatch a bird from the sky. No magic, just practice. That was when she gave me my own set of knives. I wore them around my waist, never more than a few inches from my fingertips. I loved those knives in a way I could never have loved the farm. I was not the same person I had been back home. Because now Rome was where I belonged.”
Lucia’s eyes came alive when she spoke of Veda, Peter thought. When she talked about her training. She looked almost happy-a stark contrast to the bitterness when she had spoken about the calm of daily life on the farm, and the deep sadness that overcame her when she said Catalina’s name.
“I went out with the gang for first time in the spring. It was a warm night, with a gentle breeze-not enough to curve a throw. The target was a group of gaily dressed revelers returning from a party.”
Her hands trembled as she spoke.
“They were drunk. It should have been easy. Stop them, hold them up, let them go, disappear. But they fought us-they had swords. I was there to protect the gang. I reached into my belt.
The knife was heavy and cold in my hand. It was just like target practice with Veda. I aimed for the man with the sword and the tall green hat, pulled back my arm, and let fly. Felt each of my fingers let go of the hilt. I’d done it a thousand times before. The blade caught the moonlight as it soared through the night air and found its target. And I became Lucia Morelli, terror of Rome.”
There was nothing but cold in her eyes now.