Among other prizes, the Grand Prize winners have their manuscript published as a book and as a podcast.

2021 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Place 

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Grand Prize 2021 | Elementary level
The Winged Adventures

Once upon a time there was a smart girl named Flarissa. One morning she woke up and she was as small as an ant. She was tiny, but she also had new dazzling wings. But her wings seemed enchanted. She couldn’t make them work.

All of a sudden, the wings started flapping and she began flying somewhere. It was a far trip across the world. She knew she landed in Egypt because she saw the Pyramids. She didn’t know why she was there.

A strange looking businessman came up to her and grabbed her by the ear. He dragged her into a pyramid. It was dark and then suddenly torches lit up all around her. When she turned around, he was gone. That’s when she saw it. It was a gold puzzle piece, sparkling in the distance. She raced over to grab it, but right when she got near the piece, she heard a voice.

“You must finish the ropes course up ahead. That will lead you to the mysterious tiles. You must figure out which tiles to step on from the pattern on the wall. If you complete this test, you may then get the first piece of the puzzle, which will help you turn back into a regular-sized girl again. Good luck!,” said the voice.

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to order the book.

Grand Prize 2021 | Middle School level

“Hello and welcome to the National News Hour. I’m Jenny Abrams. Breaking news tonight: history is being made by the new Cosmetic Science Institution, taking the world by surprise. News of their new advancements spread across the globe like a wildfire. This is a massive step in the advancement in society, bringing new opportunities. Yet how far will it go and how much influence will it have? Joining us is the CEO of the Cosmetic Science Institution, Mikael Zahk.” She turns to the man beside her. “Hi Mr. Zahk, thank you for joining us today.”
“Thank you for having me.”
“Mr. Zahk, your invention is taking the world by storm. Tell us a little about your discovery.”
“Yes, of course. We are excited to take a role in the advancement of robots and androids. Our prototype is different from all others before it. Model 66X has improved cognitive abilities, the ability to process information and produce thought, and most importantly, the ability to learn from its environment. The android’s carbon fiber coating and thought process similar to our own makes the Model 66X feel like a real human.”
“People seem to be interested in your new line of androids, the DuplicateSystem correct?”
“Yes, the DuplicateSystem is a custom-made android, fabricated to look and act exactly like yourself. We collect your memories, emotions, and personality on a Brain receiver drive, and download it into the Model 66X android. It is basically an exact copy of yourself who can do all the work for you when you’re feeling a bit tired. Not only that, but with the help of its artificial intelligence, it can complete those tasks better than you.”
“I know we all need a little break sometimes,” said Jenny with a chuckle.“How did you come up with this idea?”

“It’s a funny story actually. I was sitting alone in my studio on a Tuesday night, feeling drained and tired, since I did not achieve the level of quality that the company was demanding. I had created a DoubleSystem prototype which was supposedly ‘better’ than me, yet my company was not satisfied. And then it occurred to me. Since I am the ‘worse’ version, what if I get discarded and forgotten? It’s funny, isn’t it? My copy sitting next to me thought so too. We laughed thinking of the chaos it would cause in the world. Maybe we were a little envious of others, and wanted to bring a little mystery. Bring this place down along with us, watch it burn. Maybe we wanted the world to burn and we would laugh and laugh. It’s funny, isn’t it? Watching the world burn and burn―”

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Grand Prize 2021 | High School level

April 2nd, 1999

To my children, Eva, Laura, and Enrique Pinto:

I, Cecilia Campana Pinto, being of sound mind and memory, do make and declare this to be my last will and testament.

I’ve never written anything like this before, and I’m not sure how to begin. Rique is helping me write this. It’s good to have a lawyer as a son. He’s standing by the kitchen window, pretending not to watch me, but I know he is, and that he’s amused, frustrated, and sad all at once. Maybe this isn’t exactly how a last will and testament should go, but I like it better this way – like a letter, instead of a dry document that has no soul.

The doctor says I have a month, maybe two, so I need to get my affairs in order.

Charlotte agreed, grudgingly, to be a witness to the will, along with her husband, and she is sitting across the kitchen table from me, glaring tearfully at me. She doesn’t want to admit I’m sick. Poor old Charlotte. She was such a good friend to my mama, when Charlotte Johnson, as the head housekeeper at the hotel, gave Mama a good job and steady friendship. She looked after me when Mama passed, and she will likewise look after all of you. She is a grumpy but kind old lady, and I hope you all won’t tease and bother her too much! It doesn’t help that she hates kids.

Well, there’s not much in the bank, but I split it evenly among the three of you. It was hard to get Rique through law school, even with his scholarship, but, if you live carefully on Rique’s and Laura’s salaries, there’s enough for Laura to finish her last year at Miami Dade College, and for Eva when the time comes. The house will go to Rique because he’s mostly responsible for paying the bills, but it really belongs to all of you, especially Eva, because she is only sixteen.

And now I want to mention the most important item I am leaving you. It’s for all of you. It is the photograph enclosed in this envelope. Black and white and stained at the edges, with five smiling people in it. They are all clustered around a table with a basket of mangos in the center.

I don’t have to look at it to describe it detail for detail. That photograph is a memory seared in my mind. Do you know, I could describe my whole life like that basket full of mangos – some sour and stringy and hard to eat, but most overflowing with sweetness.

First Place 2021 | Elementary level

I remember my grandfather, even if it’s just a fragment of his memory that remains, hidden away deep inside me. I was very small when he left, but I recall the many times he brought me to the ocean and gently taught me how to swim. He reassured me that I was safe in the water with him, and that no harm would come my way. I still can picture the warm feeling I got when he was by me, and how he always seemed happy and calm. I wish that this state could’ve remained.

I’m eleven now, and my mother is gone, too. I remember that when I would call her “Mama”, she always had a vague, confused expression cross her face, but she never seemed to mind. I remember how she promised me that she wouldn’t ever leave, yet here I am now, without her. I won’t deny the fact that she may be dead, but I won’t lose hope in her ability to live, either.

My name is Maren. I live in a small island cabin with my father, and we have everything we need; fresh meals, shelter, and each other. Ever since Mama’s disappearance, Dad’s been by my side and he has guided me through the difficult phase of recovery. He sets breakfast out for me every day before he leaves for his boat. He says it’s only a matter of time until I’ll move on with life and forget about Mama, but I don’t believe I’ll forget. It’s especially difficult at night.

A soft breeze traveled through the air as I made my way down the porch staircase and onto the sand. The shore was unparalleled; it was a place of freedom and I felt like I was in absolute control. As I walked towards the low-tide ocean, I noticed an object, curved and glistening, buried deep in the sand. Intrigued, I reached for it and observed what I was holding. It was a conch shell, reminiscent of one Mama had showed me months ago during our final walk together.

First Place 2021 | Elementary level
Mysterious Doors of Merriland

Penelope Judd is a short and skinny little girl. Penelope is very adventurous and very smart. Penelope is so smart that she is the reason schools created A++! When she isn’t doing schoolwork, Penelope likes to swim with her little dog, Abbey. Abbey is tiny and fluffy and cute. Abbey likes to chase Midnight, the neighbor’s beloved cat, around the neighborhood.

One day, Penelope was walking little Abbey through the neighborhood with her best friend Sara. Sara is very tall with a long nose and big, poofy curls that go down to her knees. Suddenly, Penelope gasped because she saw a big portal of green and grey swirling mist behind a tree! Midnight was sitting in front casually licking her paws. As soon as Abbey saw Midnight, she took off and disappeared into the portal. Penelope was dragged behind Abbey into the green mist! Sara hesitated. She had no idea what was beyond the portal, but she knew had to be brave. Her friend was in there! She ran and leaped into the portal.

First Place 2021 | Middle School level
The Whimsical Flower

Kim-Joy gazed in wonder at the blur of colors. In front of her stood a huge field of flowers, filled with vibrant colors. A breeze gently caught the air and Kim-Joy breathed in, happily. She could detect the faint scent of magnolia. The flowers swayed with the breeze and they seemed to dance in unity, swaying back and forth, their delicate petals gently moving along with the wind. With a burst of joy, she raced down the hill upon which she stood and ran through the maze of colors and scents. Her senses seemed to scream with happiness as she raced the breeze, being careful to not step or crush any flowers in her path. Suddenly she halted. “Wow.” She muttered under her breath, as in front of her stood a tall and graceful flower. It was bigger than any of the others, a pale pink with delicate spots of yellow. Kim-Joy had never seen anything like it. “Kim-Joy! Dinner!” She suddenly heard her mother call her from the spot where she had stood on the hill. She snuck one last glimpse of the beautiful flower before racing back the way she had come. She vowed to herself that she would return tomorrow, to study that magnificent flower.

The next morning, Kim-Joy was ready to go. She had her little backpack already filled with essentials because she thought that perhaps she would spend the whole day outside, in the field, amongst the flowers and nature. She was about to leave her room when suddenly her little brother came bounding inside. “Kim-Joy! Hey, where are you going? Can I come with you?

First Place 2021 | High School level
The Freedom in Flying

“What smell is that?” Abel leaned down to sniff her wrists. “Jasmine?”

“No, magnolia. You bought it for me two years ago. Christmastime.”

“Right. Well, it was a good choice. You smell lovely.”

She smiled at him faintly, catching his eye in the bathroom mirror before he turned away. Maybe to fix his cufflinks, or order the taxi, or say goodbye to Lu.

She realized the white on white on white — marble and tile and LED lights — was too harsh, too intense; it washed her out and flattened her best features (a strong, finely-sculpted nose and chin).

Perhaps her jewelry was distraction enough. Chandelier-style earrings with diamond teardrops. Stacks of gold bangles. Her wedding ring, of course.

She felt no special attachment to material possessions — the inevitable product of a life spent surrounded by far too many nice things — but she slipped it off regardless and dropped it on the enamel tray. It tinkled like a miniature wedding bell. Had there been wedding bells when she married Abel? Yes. Yes, she was pretty sure there had.

“We have to leave now,” he said, so she slipped on her heels — the soles fiery, brilliant red to match her dress — and draped her coat over her shoulders, kissing baby Lu on the way out.

“Who are we meeting again?” she asked in the taxi. Not that it mattered; these were her husband’s dinners, and she was an accessory.

“Nathaniel and Rita Glasper. Senior executive at L.M.”

“Ah.” She wondered if they had a child.

“Hey,” Abel said, and reached for her wrist. Here it was, the warning. “Keep it together, okay?”

“I know.”

His clutch tightened, nails cutting. “They’re important.”

“I know.”

She felt a momentary loosening and followed his eyes to her finger, where the ring had left a ghostly imprint.

“We’re here,” the driver said, and Abel slipped his hand from her wrist and interlocked their fingers, tracing circles in her palm.

2020 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Place 

Grand Prize 2020 | Elementary level
The Tale of Blue The Mouse (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

“Quick, the door is closing!” Martha yelled.

You probably don’t know the story of how we were captured, so, I’ll take you back to the beginning. It all started when we left the rose bush, to go to the store to collect scraps of food that fell on the floor. This is how we got our meals.
But before I go on any further, allow me to introduce myself. Hi! I am Blue. I’m a mouse, and I’m named after the color of my fur. I have seven brothers and nine sisters.
On one particularly hot sunny day, we went to find food. Josh, one of my brothers, looked in the meat department while the rest of the family looked in the vegetable department. About 5 minutes later, Josh came back running.
“The catchers are here!” He exclaimed.

We all started to run back home, but they were at the entrance. As we tried to escape, we felt the vibrations of their loud stomps and felt nets swooping over our bod- ies. My heart sank as we were thrown into a box with small holes.
As we were carried out of the market, our mother whispered in a sad voice, “Don’t cry my children, all will be ok.”
I looked out of the breathing holes and saw that we were in a van. As the van started moving, the roaring of the engine and the bumps shook us up and down. When the engine stopped, we heard the doors open and we were carried out. We were taken into a room with a lot of cages. “Exxxxxx!” I squeaked, terrified.

Grand Prize 2020 | High School level
Just Maybe (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

River Key was only supposed to be a moment, a weekend preceded and succeeded by thousands more, a dot on a timeline, you could say. Or maybe it was more like a blip: a day we were bound to forget, an adventure we could cross off a bucket list, a connecting flight to our future. I sometimes look outside and pretend things are as they used to be.

A soft breeze traveled through the archipelago of River Key, winding through canopies of trees and oceanside condominiums. The River Key bridge connected two islands which were contradictions of each other. One was lined with beautiful modern monstrosities, expensive restaurants, and exemplary schools. You could sit in a bakery downtown, raise a warm coffee to your lips, and still breathe in the slightest hint of salty air. That was the beauty about the idyllic North Key: it was easy to become mesmerized in the world around you and forget who you were. A lucky few called the North Key home, but the rest saw it as nothing more than a temporary distraction from reality.

On the South Key rested large condominiums built next to narrow streets, where vendors shouted phrases in a variety of languages. Students rode bikes in packs, pedaling through the city at dusk. There were rumors of crime and mysterious disappearances, and no one wanted their name to be the next headline. The South Key was a concrete garden, home to strip malls and casinos, in addition to interspersed, holdout single family homes. A few times a year, those from both islands converged on the River Key bridge. Traffic was halted for festivals and concerts, and the community was at peace together.

First Place | Elementary level
A Pig’s Flight

Once upon a time, there was a pig named Bacon. Bacon was a happy, cheerful pig. He as a handsome looking pig with a black body and pink spots. Bacon was different from the other pigs and therefore, teased by the farmers and other animals for his pink spots. He did not mind. All Bacon wanted to do was fly.

If you didn’t already know this, Bacon loved birds. He spent time watching birds fly and wished he could fly too. Bacon was definitely no ordinary pig. He did not like to roll in mud. He did not like belly rubs. All he wanted to do was to fly.

Ever since he could remember, Bacon lived on a farm, with lots of com stalks, and pretty flowers. If you asked any other pig whether they liked living on this farm, they would say, “it’s the life!”

One day, Bacon tried something new. He went inside the barn, where the horses and the geese were. He was looking for a very specific goose. He went over to the very specific goose, and asked. “Oink, oink, oinkity, oink oink?” “May I trade you my pink spots for your feathers?” Bacon knew that this particular goose loved his pink spots, and always envied them. “Honk, honk!” said the goose. “Yes, please!” The goose and the pig successfully did the operation, and soon enough, the pig had feathers, and the goose had Bacon’s pink spots. Bacon was happy with his new feathers. Now he was going to try to fly!

First Place | Middle School level
The Language of Fish

Ahh! I breathed in the pungent, salty smell of the ocean. Just like home. My toes gently brushed the soft sand. I could see the dunes, the clear sky and the puffy white clouds. Kids with beach balls were racing across the silky sand, laughing whenever the cool water touched their toes. “Kai. Isn’t the sea beautiful?” my mother asked, coming up close to me and putting her hand on my shoulder. “Yes!” I said. I could see the ocean stretch out in different shades of blue across the distant horizon. The sound of the crashing waves pounded in my ears. “Come on, mama! Let’s go swimming!” I exclaimed.

I raced down, the wind racing with me, sand coming up as I made my way to the clear ocean water. I submerged my head and body into the water. I felt a cool sensation, enveloping me. I plunged again and then came up for air. “Mama! The sea is beautiful!” I called. I sunk my toes into the sand and watched as silky, silver fish swam past me, eyeing me. I grinned and went under the water to race the fish. We swam around and around in circles. The fish were my friends. They understood me better than any other human could. Mama joined me in the water.

First Place | High School level
Little Liar

The first time she asked for my name, we’d just met.
Father instructed me countless times not to pass by the faerie ring at the edge of the village. He showed me a path to avoid it, but that day, I was in a hurry, so I took a shortcut. I only noticed I’d stumbled upon it when I was by the border of the ring. When I looked up, I saw a girl hovering upside down on the other side of that thin, white line where the grass shone with an otherworldly glow, watching me.

I’d heard enough myths by my young age to recognize she was the Fae of my village. She was spoken about either with reverence or dread, for all who were seen walking away with her never came back.

The Elders of the village leaned toward reverence. They warned us about the Fae but assured us she wasn’t evil. She helped our village. Her magic nourished our crops during winter and shielded our houses from foreign threats. To call her evil would be an oversimplification. She was merely a Fae whose ways we couldn’t understand.
Still, she was not—and would never be—one of us.

First Place | High School level

The nightly streets of Roydam held no mercy for the lonesome travelers in need for a hot bath and supple meal of chicken stew. The white wisps of snow cascaded down from the sky in twirling formation, lastly falling onto the soft blankets of shaved ice that had formed on the ground. The streets are dark and silent save for the dim yellow light of a single street lamp, or the sporadic sound of wheels on cobblestones. Winters in the city are unforgiving, succumbing locals to hide from the preying cold. Those who can afford wool coats and heavy boots might take an afternoon visit to one of the many pubs the city offers, hubs for drunken brawls and other entertainment. Others, not owning a penny to spare, find themselves on the street, arms around their body for the faintest feeling of warmth as they weather the cruel night. The soft echo of deep male laughter and clanking mugs from one of the pubs fills the expanse of frigid air outside.
Grace Lily Fireborn walks along the streets of the city, aware of the depth of winter darkness all around her.

Grace made her way down the streets of Varrimia’s capitol city, passing the plain stone structures fashioned by unorganized slabs of cement and stone. She observed, wonderstruck, how the houses seemed to be almost toppling onto each other for support, their stability lacking. She continued down the path, maintaining the effort to ignore the throbbing on her slippered heels or the low mumble of the homeless she passed.

First Place | High School level
The Girl and the Ganesha Figurine

In my mind there is a tiny door that leads to a vault. The vault is locked and under chains. One insensible night, however, I open that door and that vault and I am swarmed with a tornado of recycled aromas. Every small smell morphs into the next without pause and without rest. The cinders from saffron incense, the whiff of ginger, and the wafting jasmine return to me all at once, bringing me back to the place that once was home. The toxic fog ignites my asthma and my throat in flames, and the pungent odor of what once was garbage reigns in multitudes the vast New Delhi streets. In these seas of commotion is a city that, besides all it’s defects, has a magic that can so quickly graze my wandering heart strings, and soon again strum them like a child would a guitar. I can almost see the scarlet and sapphire sarees draped on ancient bronze princesses as I remember where I come from.

Once upon a time, I remember… on the second floor of a shared apartment (embedded in the fabric of the labyrinth that are the Old Delhi streets; the narrow alleys filled with a jungle of electric cables at the mercy of thousands of grey monkeys), there reads a young girl. She lies stretched over a mattress so clearly bought in a flea market as her large black almond-shaped eyes read the words of Charlotte’s Web. They’re near incomprehensible to her, as her English is barely sufficient for bargaining with tourists, but even so her curiosity about the grand novel in her hands is enough to keep her trying.

2019 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Place                            

Grand Prize 2019 | Elementary level
If Each Day Was a Person  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

Dear People of the World,

It’s Monday here, and you might be thinking that I am actually a day of the week,  but I am a real person. I have been watching people for years now, and I still don’t  understand how people complain about me. I mean, I’m not the person who came up with  the “genius” idea for everyone to wake up in the morning and drag their lifeless bodies  to school and work everyday…..

Dear lovely humans,

Its me Tuesday! Isn’t it such a wonderful day today?! I woke up bright and early to the chorus of birds chirping and the sun peaking through my window to say good morning. In that moment, I knew I was ready to take on the world and excited to start a brand new day!……

Why hello there my best friends!

Wednesday here, and I have SO MANY QUESTIONS to ask  you. Actually, maybe I should start by telling you guys about my  week instead, since it has been so long! I heard some SERIOUS  gossip because I ran into Monday, and she told me that people  have given me the nickname “Hump Day”……

Grand Prize 2019 | Middle School level
A Boy Amongst Marching Men (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

Somewhere in a place not too far from our own, there was a boy who was always
moving. To say he was an extrovert would be a dramatic understatement. He was a spawn of
pure energy, his mind racing faster than his lips could move. Granted, all children are bundles of energy, with their vivacious personalities that never seem to take a break. But this boy
preferred to tackle the world on his hands and knees, perpetually needing some sort of
stimulation for his wits. Though this boy had climbed trees higher than you could imagine in
places that are far beyond what our minds could comprehend, his view from such heights never
gave him a perfect view of the world below. He heard muffled voices and saw smudges of
silhouettes that had never been quite identified. As much as he strained his young eyes to see
what was around him, the blurry shapes never seemed to clear up. At home, he was just as
rambunctious as he was when he was scouring the yard for the best makeshift sword with his
invisible companions. However, his character was stunted whenever he walked into his home.
His words and creativity were constantly shot down with whips and slaps that would ring in his ears for days. His constant questioning of the world left him with marks and bruises that riddled his body and always seemed to swim back to the surface just as they seemed to drown.

Grand Prize 2019 | High School level
The Room Outside Reality  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

The four white walls of her New York City studio apartment’s windowless bedroom had become a hauntingly familiar sight for Iris. Each crack within its concrete, the grooves and indentations
that lined every inch of the wall, had become a vision so closely etched within her mind that she
could close her eyes and it would still be the same, ever so still. Iris occasionally wished the domain within those walls would transform into something greater than a cold, industrial
apartment, but reality could only outstretch its hands so far no matter how much she willed it
otherwise. Nevertheless, Iris refused to leave. She could work from home quite comfortably, and there was no need for her to go out of her way for groceries, since her father would always buy them for her and drop them off every Friday night along with the mail while she was asleep. Iris was truly alone, and she gradually learned to like it that way. For nine years, Iris had chosen to live within those familiar four walls, and for nine years, Iris had not seen a single soul beyond her own front door.

But something about that day in particular did not sit well with her. Iris leapt out of her bed
unusually alert, each step she took on the creaky wooden floor undulating against her skull like a broken metronome. Rather than secure, she felt suffocated within her room. The smooth ridges that usually rode along the white walls like waves instead swirled erratically and aimlessly above the plaster surface. The comfortable, rhythmic hum of the AC that usually brought ease instead felt sharp and loud, like the buzz of an electric saw. For the first time in nine years, her own apartment felt like a prison instead of an oasis.

First Place | Elementary level
Golden Chains

Long ago, in a kingdom far from the imagination of mankind a woman suffered….

….. Just as the memory faded away completely she fainted into the trap door with a gentle cry of pain. She welcomed the darkness. It would ease the pain of her confused mind.

She woke meters underground where everything was dark except for a dim light at the center of the room where a hole led further underground. She desired to jump in. Maybe there she could escape and have a hap p y and peaceful death where no one would ever find her, so she jumped. This time when she land ed she felt a splash of water. gold lay in a glimmering pool of indigo water. She submerged herself to hear the voice of her grandfather. “I knew you would find it darling. Even if your father did hide it from yoµ. This is the Pool of Truths. Are you read y to find out who you really are?”

First Place | Middle School level

As it always has been, she waits by the river. The sun dips its weary head behind the horizon and beckons the night to take its place, and while waiting for its dutiful and fated respite she sits there among the darkening blades of grass. The bird jumps out of the tree and flutters in the air, releasing three caws just as always. Predictable, expected.
As it has always been, he appears after the dusk,.his hair a tangled bush of brown, his eyes ancient and embedded in the smooth skin of youth, gloriously shattered and yet whole. He reaches out his wrinkless hand, half in and half out of reach, and asks the same question as always.
“Are you ready to go?”
The gravity of fate pulls her hand towards him, intertwining their fingers in the awaited future.
By the river they walk a one way road, lined in repeated memories. He asks the next question as they pass the cedar tree, the one with the broken branch and the bird nest. She does not need to look up to know that it is there; it always has and always will be.

First Place | High School level

Cold black tea rests untouched on the nightstand. I’m lying on an old and dusty grey couch. In a room with dim lighting, just the right amount to leave an eerie feeling in my fragile bones. I look down at my beat-up hands and I see them tied together with a rubber band. I know I could easily snap the rubber bands and free my trapped hands but I don’t seem to want to. I look around and try to escape the scent of gasoline but it’s creeping up my nostrils and sending the message to my brain, something’s off. A part of me remembers that I never liked black tea but this thought keeps pushing its way into my mind and suddenly I’m convinced I love it. I down the glass. A part of me is attempting to put the pieces together of this unfamiliar couch, but when I look at it, it seems to remind me of home. I feel so comfortable in the unknown, my mind is asking itself if its playing tricks. And then it goes blank. I opened my eyes, shivering on my bed, my covers seem to have fallen off whilst I slept. I stand up on my white floors, in my white nightgown, as I graze my hands across my white walls to make my way to my bright white bathroom. I look in the mirror, my blonde hair and grey eyes, my pale skin settles me. I hear a beep come from my neck, a reminder to go downstairs. I make my way down the white steps and sit down at the white table. My father hands me a plain bagel, cold, of course. As is everything. We cannot risk toasting the bagel, what if it burns. That unholy color can get us kicked out of Avian, and this is all we have.

2018 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Place                            

Grand Prize 2018 | Elementary level
The Bell Tower of Formaggio  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

One stormy night, long ago, the bell tower rang loudly in the small village of Formaggio, Italy. A village where the seaside meets the mountains. The villagers rushed to the bell tower to see what was going on.

“Pirates!” Luigi the tower watchman cried!” It seemed another pirate ship had found its way into the seaside village, but thanks to Luigi, the pirates were spotted and chased away by the angry villagers. Everyone was relieved, especially Luigi!

You see, this was not the first time that pirates had tried to invade the village and steal the villages wealth. The first time, was when Luigi’s grandfather was a young man and the bell tower had not existed yet. The pirates made off with all of the villages jewels, and gold. ”Its entire wealth, gone in one night!”

The small village had to start from scratch, rebuilding their wealth once again. Luigi’s grandfather and the other villagers swore that chilly, foggy night, that they would never let pirates invade their village again! So they decided to build a bell tower to guard and protect their village, and that is exactly what the tower has been doing all these years…

Grand Prize 2018 | Middle School level
Alone (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

In a compact cabin in Eastern Woods, Alaska, sat a girl named Fiona Luvalle. There are a few things you should know about her, and these are that her mind was grand, her body small and meek. Fiona had lived in the same cabin for five years, and as she was only twenty one, it was a somewhat memorable time for her. To Fiona, these past years had felt like forever, but time passes slowly when one is alone.

The cabin was six hundred square feet, built out of wood beams and covered with a metal roof. One part contained a fridge and a counter with a microwave and stove, another part had a bathroom and bed, and the last, the most important, a desk, a sofa, a bookcase, and a computer.

Fiona rarely left the cabin, and would show her face to no one. She ordered her groceries and other amenities through her computer to have them delivered, and would wait until the delivery person left before stepping outside to retrieve her packages. Some might say she was lonely, and she was. Some might say she was wasting her life, and she was. In reality, she was just scared.

Today, March 1st, she sat in her desk chair, writing a poem inspired by a dream she had recalled that night. It had to do with flowers in a garden, growing flowers, picking flowers, dying flowers,… bunches of metaphors. And sun. There was sun somewhere in it.

Fiona’s shoulders pushed forward and her fingers skimmed the keys, her long wavy brown hair falling across the front of her body, and her dark chocolate colored eyes focused on the screen. As she finished typing, her body slid backwards to the back of the seat, and she heard a voice. “Fiona.”

Grand Prize 2018 | High School level
Limbo  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

The woman looked dreadfully cold, even as she leaned into the early-August night. She didn’t shiver, she didn’t look like the type to shiver, and she didn’t cower into herself reaching for warmth. But something about her stood out to me. She was stricken with the kind of chill that ironed her clothing every morning into a form-fit cage, that pulled her face inwards to a singular, mousey point, that hollowed out cheekbones and desaturated her skin. Even as she brought a cigarette to her lips, and let the embers leak into her lungs, her bones were inlaid with a permafrost that wouldn’t melt away.

I never asked for her name, but she knew mine. It was stitched into the polo I wore, ​Gail, ​ despite being spelt comically wrong. She’d been coming into the 7-11 every night at nine o’clock sharp since I started working there. If I had a nickel for every time I’d scanned a pack of Camels under her unblinking gaze, I’d be spared from the task for the rest of my life. After she wordlessly snatched the box from the counter, she’d lean against the railing outside for hours, watching ghosts that weren’t there.

My graveyard shifts, spent alongside the buzz of the air-conditioning and intoxicated night owls, were hooked in the woman’s spidery fingers until the night fell into an ashy morning. Her presence was uneventful, but enrapturing. Dark, but framed by a thick nimbus of the building’s harsh white light. Hopeless, but unwavering.

She was the only “regular” that I could recognize. People came and went; I never really knew if all the little towheaded girls with stained off-brand princess dresses bolting towards the Slushee machine were the same person, or a commodity in this backwater between city and suburb. But this cold, ghost of a woman and her freshly-pressed gray suits had this overwhelming hold on me.

First Place | Elementary level
Rose & Percy

It was a brisk autumn evening in Florida where Rose lived, and since they were so rare she had
decided to take a walk. She told her mom, then put on her shoes, coat and hat. “Look out for
panthers,” her older brother, Ethan, teased her just before she left. Rose just shook her head.
Her family did live close to the Everglades, but there hadn’t been a panther sighting nearby for
at least forty years.

She walked out the door and decided, “I’m going to take a walk farther out this time.” Then, she
closed the door behind her and she started walking. She hadn’t been walking for long when she
heard a rustle of leaves in the tree. “It’s just a critter.” She told herself. As she walked on, she heard more rustling. Rose started to worry. Could her brother be right? She looked towards the
direction of her house. She had never walked this far off from home alone. I should head back,
she thought.

First Place | Middle School level
Asleep and Nothing More

The moonlight snickers with the stars, laughing at us lowlifes, hypocrites in their thrones,
heroines nevertheless. The sky pats the obedient boxes and the wind tries to knock me down and it almost does. Little does it know that when it dies, I will reign. The sun smiles at the stillness, the sky breathes, trying to gently prod the city awake, for it is
asleep and nothing more.
I am awake among the battle between night and day, the dark blanket of space smoldering the fires of light around it. Their incessant battle will last forever till the sun is shot dead of age and the night is what remains. Nevertheless, for now, when the city wakes, the night is slowly forgotten, not mourned, erased from the memory.
I talk to the stars, I ask them for help. They are the only beings in the universe that know I’m not
crazy. How can you be crazy when you are so human, so normal in your motives? Perhaps crazy is simply a synonym for passionate.
I always wondered why people hated me. Was it that crazy meant different? What it the difference people feared? I left the home of all those crazies because I was not worthy of living among them. I was never different from the rest of society. I was just me.

First Place | High School level
True Value

Suddenly, I noticed something that turned my blood to ice. Grandad’s chest wasn’t moving. He wasn’t breathing.
Trembling, I slowly backed away from the bed and let out a long, earth-shattering scream.

The hours after that were an amalgamation of broken images and garbled sounds. I remembered the thundering sound of my entire family ascending the stairs as one. I
remembered the panic, the grief, the tear-stricken faces. I remembered warm bodies pressed against me, arms wrapped around me and maybe they were supposed to be comforting but all I was thinking about was how I wished Grandad was as warm and alive as these bodies around me, instead of cold and unmoving and gone…

Suddenly, it was my turn. I stared up at the old man and, instead of the bird, I chose the only object I wanted, the one that had meant so much to Grandad and now meant so much to me, “I want the game box.” I said. Several people snorted in disbelief, but all I saw was the smile that had suddenly broken out on the old man’s face.

“You’re in luck.” He winked at me, “I happen to have it right here.” He pulled it out from behind his podium and handed it to me. I stared at the small box full of priceless treasures and I knew I had made the right choice.

I heard a sigh and turned to see Mom watching me, her gaze full of confusion and hurt. I stared back and though there was nothing but air between us, I could feel a wall of misunderstanding pushing us apart. She shook her head and left the room. After several awkward glances at me, the rest of my family followed suit.

2017 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Place                            

Grand Prize 2017 | Elementary level
Nuts & Berries  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

A Long time ago, in a magical forest, there was a little squirrel named Lily. She
lived with her twin brother Liam, her mom and her dad. Lily loved adventures, and she
believed that dreams do come true, so she knew in her heart that one day she would get
to see the world. Since she was so optimistic, she always had a little suitcase packed with
her favorite things ready.

One day, her mom asked her if she could go to the market and get some nuts and
blueberries for dinner. As always, she gladly agreed and took off. On her way to the
market she heard someone screaming, she immediately followed the sound until she
saw two stone bricks on the floor like if they used to be part of house that fell down.
Then she heard someone coughing, Lily carefully walked towards the bricks, until she
saw a little mouse with ears the size of chocolate kisses and milk chocolate fur.
He had chocolate chip eyes with little whiskers and a little red jacket that
matched his brown shoes. He also had a small bag hanging from a stick leaning on the
floor, he was shaking himself to get rid of the dust when he saw Lily.

-”Are you ok? “ asked Lily.
-” I’m ok, thank you for asking “he said.

Grand Prize 2017 | Middle School level
The Sky’s Blessing  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

“Zara, he needs to compete!” my father exclaimed suddenly.

“Compete? Well, he is very fast…” I thought about it, it was possible to have a future in this. But then the cold hard truth rained over me.

“But father, I am a girl. I don’t think I’m allowed to compete. It’s not normal for females to compete in men’s sports,” I sighed.

My father looked at me, his eyes wide. He then suddenly grabbed my arms. “Zara, you may be a girl, but you know what? Women are amazing and beautiful human beings, inside and out, Zara, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just keep your head up high, and keep telling yourself that you are not below someone because of your gender, you need to embrace how God made you. You and your mother are women of such maturity and capacity. I want you to compete, Zara, do not think that you found this falcon by coincidence. God sent him to you as a sign, that you need to show Saudi Arabia your majestic beast with feathers,” he said as he glanced toward the falcon, who was now observing a beetle scurrying away. “Besides, we can start with unofficial competitions, those are not strict with genders. But whatever happens Zara, I want you to know I will be right beside you, whenever you need me, and that I can’t be even more proud or happy to call you my daughter.”

Grand Prize 2017 | High School level
Finding Pollen  (Click here to view or to purchase the book)

She rides on a gentle breeze, propelling herself forward as she rose up above the hills and down. Pops of yellow buttercups scattered throughout the grass whispered, “Please come! I have sweet nectar.” A gentle rolling breeze brought a sweet, tangy taste to her, tingling as it wafted around her like a honey cloud.

The bee considers her options:
Should she labor in collecting small increments from flowers, possibly wasting time and finding disappointing yield? Or should she search for something more, something bigger? Something better? The intoxicating whiff of nectar rattles her small thoughts. Was that considered a good sign? Or did that smell accompany all flowers, and didn’t say whether or not it was worth it?

She swoops by a bouncing buttercup. Its gentle coaxing promises sweet and plentiful nectar.
“Please come! Please come!”

Gradually, the pleas subside as she cruises above the land and heads further away from the hive. The ideal flower permeates her thoughts– consumes and intoxicates her with large lofty petals, dripping nectar, and golden pollen. It is the only solution. The idea of such a flower sends a flood of ecstasy throughout her. She could not come to the hive empty-handed.

First Place | Elementary level
An Unusual Summer Tradition

Sorry, let me back up and introduce myself. My name is Finn Gonzales and I am 12 years old. I have a twin sister named Angelina. My mom and dad are engineers for the government, which I have never liked for several reasons. First, it just sounds boring. Second, I never get to see them because they are so busy! Finally, even though I live in a nice house, we have never gone on a single vacation. Whenever I bring up the subject, my mom mutters something under her breath such as “It’s not safe,” and changes the subject. I’ve always assumed this has something to do with her government job.

I didn’t know why, but this summer was different! We were going to London, on our first vacation ever.

First Place | Middle School level
Life As Such

Stories shape the world around us
We repeat the same ones over and over, reminiscent smiles on our faces, or tears leaking from our eyes
Either way, tales of the ones before us influence our everyday lives ……

It began with an infant
Brought into the world on a tidal wave of tears, …….

Now I am an old lady
Sitting in a rocking chair with aching joints, facing two adults and a child
The family I built
My son looks up to me, full of admiration for the woman who raised him almost single handedly
I’ve never been prouder of anything or anyone
Wrinkles are etched into my face, but my eyes still hold the stars as I tell them my story

My story isn’t finished yet, but, at this point, I know the ending …….

First Place | High School level
A Whole New World

The next two days passed in a blur. London was ok, though I still wished we were at home. For the first day, we booked a tour on one of those red double decker buses that are so popular in London. That wasn’t very fun because it was really hard to get service with all the constant moving around and my parents kept interrupting to show me some landmark or another…..

All I remembered was tripping over something and falling into frigid water…

Somehow, I had been transported to another dimension where current technology didn’t exist. This was horrible. How could I survive without a phone?!……

It suddenly struck me how strange it was that everyone was talking to each other instead of going on their phones……..

I bit my lip as I realized my obsession with my phone had stopped me from actually talking to Collin, to Catherine, to Ally, to anyone for years…..

For the first time, this strange new dimension wasn’t a restriction but a whole new world, full of possibilities.

Congratulations to Nicole Nixon who published another story in the fall 2017, Fire Within you can find here on Amazon.

You can preview the books listed below, and buy hard or soft cover books by clicking here.

2016 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Place

Grand Prize 2016 | Elementary level
Ellie Saves The Zoo

Once upon a time there lived a happy little elephant named Ellie. He loved living in the zoo with his mommy and all of his animal friends. He especially loved to see the joyous children who visited. Everything in Ellie’s world seemed perfect! Until one day he saw the sign…

His mother explained that the zookeeper could no longer afford to keep the zoo open. Sadly, he sold it to a man named Mr. Greeds. Mr. Greeds was going to take the land and build condominiums! For humans! “He sold the zoo?”, Ellie wondered. “Isn’t this our home?” Ellie was confused. What was going to happen to him and his family and friends? All of the animals were devastated by the news but there was nothing they could do.
“Or was there?”.

That night, Ellie thought and thought and finally came up with a bright idea! “I’ll get a job and use the money to save the zoo! How hard can it be?” The next morning he gathered his mommy and friends to reveal his great plan. Ellie knew they would be so excited! They would all cheer and call him a hero! But that is not what happened at all. All of the animals were silent when suddenly they began laughing hysterically. One in particular, a sloth named Fred, made fun of Ellie the most. “You can’t get a job, you’re an eight year old zoo elephant!”
Ellie hung his head low and turned to his mommy. “Now, now baby Ellie, do not listen to them. I believe you can do anything if you follow your heart…”

Grand Prize 2016 | Middle School level
The Edge

It wasn’t particularly busy on the I-85, so no one took much notice of the scrawny teenage girl standing at the highways edge, her matted jet-black hair hanging limply at her shoulders. No one saw her tentatively swing one leg over the barrier, perching herself precariously over the concrete several stories below. No one but the sandy haired, wild-eyed boy swerving down the highway in his mom’s silver Mercedes. “Hullo, Josephine!” he called through the half-open window. “Be careful there, you might fall over the e-“ he stopped at the sight of the girl’s tear-stained face. Grayson slowly began to piece together the situation. He heaved open the car door and ambled over to the frightened girl. Just as she took another step closer to the periphery of the highway, he grabbed her hand. “Don’t,” he said softly.

Eight months later

Josephine happily sauntered out of Ms. Sinclair’s office for the last time…..

Grand Prize 2016 | High School level
I Appreciate Negative Space

“Are you nervous?”

That was most definitely rhetorical- because why would someone be asking a question to which the answer was obvious? My eyes don’t meet hers; they instead find some kind of interest in the wall behind her chair. My lips are chapped since I couldn’t bring myself to actually use the unwrapped Chapstick in my jacket pocket. My fingers take positions that in any other situation would seriously worry me. The dull room seemed to be shrinking on me, and the only thing on my mind was getting the hell out. The words were probably a reassurance, like “in case you forgot the metaphorical cliff of anxiety you were just climbing, I’ll just ask you about it- but in a very calm robotic voice.” Yeah, it was most definitely a rhetorical question.

“I don’t know, am I?”

Of course I found myself answering it anyways, and not even seriously- my voice was laced in sarcasm…….

First Place | Elementary level
How Hurricanes Came To Be

Once there were two brothers, Boreas and Notus. They were always together but also always fighting. While brothers often fight, this was not your ordinary family. Their parents were Zeus and Hera, King and Queen of the Gods. Hera was always trying to keep them from fighting so they would not upset their father. This went on for many years until one day, Zeus, who was trying to rest for a few minutes (Gods need rest too), was woken from his nap by the sounds of the two brothers fighting. Zeus decided he would separate the two as far away as possible and made Boreas the God of the North Wind and Notus the God of the South Wind. That way the two would be on opposite sides of the Earth and that would prevent them from fighting once and for all.

At first, there was peace between the brothers. However, Hera was not happy with her Husband Zeus’ decision to separate them. Many years later, humans began navigating the Oceans and the brothers enjoyed filling their sails with wind to fuel their journeys. The brothers actually worked in harmony. Since the North Wind could only blow south from the north and the South Wind could only blow north from the south, they had to work together to send vessels back and forth. separating them seemed to have worked to keep them from fighting.

One day all that changed…….

First Place 2016 | Middle School level
Hearing Colors


Sounds like waves crashing against the sand,
Our Vacation in Cancun
My whole family snorkeling
The color of togetherness
Sounds like the words “Grandma’s Gone,
She wasn’t in Cancun
Red brings up mixed emotions
It’s happy and sad


The sound of the oven timer when there are
cookies in the oven
The smell of that chocolate chip goodness
Tastes like cookies melting in your mouth
Feels like a hug from Grandma
She made the best cookies
I wish she were still here

First Place | High School level
Snow White After Ever After

The Prince and I rode his white horse to the gleaming palace in the distance as I bounced with excitement.  I finally had a prince! He looked so handsome…

“I`m glad I found you Snow.” The Prince interrupted my thoughts, “I`ve been looking for you for ages.”

I frowned, “My evil stepmother kept my existence a secret.  How did you know about me before you found me?”

“Because you`re my sister.” He replied.  I froze, staring at him with my mouth agape. “But… you gave me true love`s kiss.” I whispered.

“Yeah, because you`re my sister and I love you.” The Prince said, “Our father divorced our mother and married your stepmother when you were three. All three of you moved to the castle you grew up in.  However, that witch killed our father soon after and used magic to cloak your location.  I would have never happened upon you if I had been trying, but thankfully, I was simply out hunting the day I found you.”

I stared at him in shock, “I thought you rescued me because you fell in love with me.” “Don`t be silly.  Who falls in love at first sight?” the prince laughed.

I nodded, seeing the sense in his words, “Well that`s true.  What`s your name?”

“I`m Phillip.  Now we need to rescue another one of our sisters.  Her name is Aurora, though she`s also known as Sleeping Beauty. She`s in a dragon guarded castle.”

“Whoa, tight security.” I said.  Then Phillip turned into a dark forest.

“Why aren`t we going to the castle?” I asked nervously. This forest reminded me of the terrifying one I ran through to get away from the evil queen.

“Don`t worry.” Phillip said soothingly, “I`m just going to get a few more of our sisters.”

Geez, how many siblings do I have? I wondered.

Suddenly the horse bucked, and I fell to the ground.  I looked up to find a knife inches from my eyes, causing me to scream and cover my face, “Stand down Belle!  She`s with me!” Phillip called.  I peeked between my fingers to see a dark-haired woman with hazel eyes watching me with suspicion.

“Who is she?” Belle asked Phillip. I then pulled my hands away from my face, causing her to gasp, “Oh my gosh!  You`re Snow White!” I nodded tentatively, “Well hi Snow.  I`m your sister.  Well, half-sister.  We only have the same mother.” She pulled me to my feet, “How old are you?” Belle asked.

“I`m fourteen.” I answered, feeling a bit self-conscious.

Belle`s eyes widened, “Wow, you`re just a kid.” She turned to her brother who was tying the horse to a tree, “Are you sure she should come?  This is a dangerous mission.”

2015 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Prize

Grand Prize 2015 | Elementary level

Poetry / Free writing

My favorite thing to do Thoughts flowing onto my paper

Thoughts of wisdom, knowledge

The little person trapped inside of me,

Screaming to be free of this stutter that holds me down from the fun I could be


From the life I could have lived

That is the truth

And that is what I love most

Not the truth,


Grand Prize 2015 | Middle School level

“The certified letter lay on the table unopened as Patrice combed through the trunk of memories left by her deceased grandparents. Henry Alexander Lamont Franklin was a decorated soldier from World War II and Patrice’s grandfather. She was fascinated by the trunks contents: newspaper articles featuring her grandfather’s medals, uniform, and war stories all kept by her dear grandmother.  Patrice noticed a few new items added, which she was not familiar nor had nothing to do with the war. There were some loose keys, authenticity letters for some art work, a French newspaper article of a missing person and a body in a car. These must have been added by the soldier during his last visit to the states. Patrice remembers as a younger girl going through the trunk every summer here with Grandpa. But she had not gone through the trunk or seen Grandpa’s sisters since her visit to France.”

Congratulations to Isis who expanded her story and has now her new book published and sold at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.

Grand Prize 2015 | High School level
The Horror of our Love

“She was beautiful. Her skin so supple and flawless, as white and perfect as the glow of the moon among the clear water. Her eyes the most beautiful of lapis stones, her hair the brightest sunflower among fields. Her lips a ravishing plump strawberry. I wished for her to be mine. Only mine. But someone as lowly and as worthless as I could not but only dream of such a thing. I watched her from behind my  white mask. She seemed to glide across the golden floor of the grand ball. Smiling shamelessly at all who dared so much as look at her unmasked face. A green beast roared inside me and I was tempted to do much the same. But I waited. It wouldn’t do me much to be impatient. I had waited too long to ruin my moment of triumph. She would come to me, she did for everyone else. I dared not blink nor breathe as she began to head my direction.”

Frist Place 2015 | Elementary level

“The doors exploded open as hundreds of students flooded out of the school. They screamed, ran maniacally, and pushed each other away as they loaded the buses. Each of them had no clue that within in one of the many holes in the grand old trees that lined the entrance gate to the school lived an opossum. His name was Nathan, and he is definitely amongst the smartest animals in the world…….

The moon, that glittering crescent that radiates, hope, wonder, and curiosity to the creatures of the world. Nathan had nothing to worry about; there would definitely be plenty of mischievous animals to follow. Whether they were Opawesomes (like him) or not, he didn’t care. With that, Nathan climbed into his bed, knowing that there was another great day ahead of him.”

Frist Place 2015 | Elementary level
Maximum Time Travel

“In the year 2059, a physicist named Dr. Maximum was working for ISL Laboratories. He was running tests on magnetic fields and set about to create a magnetic bracelet. He called it a rainbow magnetic bracelet because the energy coming off the magnet looked like a rainbow of colors. Not knowing what kind of power the bracelet possessed, he put the device on his wrist and was admiring the beautiful colors it was giving off. Suddenly, he found himself traveling through time and got teleported to the Wild West.”

Frist Place | Middle School level
Names and Faces

“You know that defining moment when you meet someone? When you see someone you don’t recognize, store them in the file of Unidentified Strangers in your brain, and think to yourself, Hey, look at that face. I don’t think I’ve seen that face. That is a very new face.

Then there is that extra-special moment, when you either do or don’t get to know the new face. Will they be that kind of Friendly Face that introduces themselves to random strangers whose dog sniffs their dog’s butt? Will they be a Sullen Face, who scowls and hurries away? Will they be a Sweet Face, smiling shyly and brightening your day considerably?”            

First Place | High School level
Empty Handed

“The rain tore at Krag through the ridges in his scale mail.  He swayed with the ship as it yawed and rolled in the darkness, the heavens roiling above him.  Lightning split the sky, illuminating for  an instant the monstrous length of the warship and her crew’s resolute faces.  The lookout hollered from  the prow, and the helmsman hauled on the groaning tiller, the ship threatening to snap.  The crew scurried for  their weapons, the moonlight illuminating their blades.  Krag liberated his war pick from his belt, and set his mouth in a grim, hard line.

“At last, ” he whispered into the wind.  ”At last I will.”

2014 STORIES | Excerpts | Grand Prize & First Prize

Grand Prize 2014 | Elementary level
The Lucky One

“Astrid Wild was probably the unluckiest girl, or at least she thought so. Why? Because, at 10, she almost never had any fun and most importantly she couldn’t even spend time with her parents. You see, Clara and William Wild have meetings literally every hour of the day, even if they are home and not traveling to this country or that city, they are always busy. Astrid Wild is the President’s daughter. So now you are probably thinking …wow, she’s so lucky, but you’re really wrong. Even her friendships are complicated, always having to schedule play dates with nanny’s and bodyguards  just to go to the park, it’s not like regular neighborhood friends that can walk up to your door and ask if you can come and play … it’s the White House!”  

Grand Prize 2014 | Middle Level
A Blank Canvas

“Several weeks had passed since Maxwell Proctor had his first gallery show. His professor at Yale had recommended him to a gallery in Chelsea that had represented his childhood heroes and within a matter of months the lanky German owner of the gallery named Ansel, who told him that he wasn’t an art dealer, he was a gallerist who made artists’ careers, had given him a solo show. This was unheard of.  No artist fresh out of school ever got a solo show. After that show, he no longer had to bus tables, he was an instant art world celebrity.

In the long weeks after the show blank canvases hung around his loft and haunted him like ghosts. He could do nothing but blankly stare at them the way one would stare at the television set, while the phone rang off the hook with propositions of more solo shows around the globe, newspaper articles and even a documentary. His mail box was flooded with elaborate party invitations on thick card stock.  He was tom, should he go or should he paint.”

Grand Prize 2014 | High School Level

“Time is an inevitable force, shifting and changing and forever continuing as I hang in my final resting place. All I have now is time and my fading story. My long life began in late spring in a small mud hut. A tale is woven in my strands, one of laughter, love, and tears. My home was surrounded by rocky fingers sporadically reaching up as if to touch the sky. Rings of amber and orange wound around their stone fingers. The sky was vast, immeasurable, eternal.

 I was woven in the orange palm of the desert, created by caring hands with red and black dyed woolen yarn as life hummed gently around my growing patterns, as rain played its rare music on chalky ground, as life settled into my threads. Strand by strand, effort and tradition were interwoven with my balanced patterns. The world was bright and my colors brighter. As a new blanket woven with the tradition of centuries past, I was full of life and use and strength.

 In my first years of life, time passed without my knowledge. The sun rose and fell like the blink of an eye. Sunset was nothing more than a sign of an approaching day. Though the memory is faint, I still remember the squirming bundle of life I swathed. They called her Mai, a strong name for such a gentle creature. She was so small, her tiny heart fluttered fast and light as a bird under my red and black shelter. Her new breath was warm and soft, unassuming in the world we now shared.”

First Place 2014 | Elementary Level
One Man’s Rebellion

“One sunny morning I woke up- and went to nearby houses begging people to join me if they agreed to end slavery. These neighbors lived in small houses and had small farms. This was good for me because if they had big plantations slavery might be important to them. One of my neighbors, John Clark, used to be a Federal soldier whose group of 50 men were captured by the Confederates. Only 12 of them escaped. He was one of them. Once I told him my ideas of rebelling against the Confederates, he was excited to join me!  He came with me for two reasons. First, to get revenge on the Confederates for killing some of his friends and second because his father was a Union general captured by the other side and killed.”

First Place 2014 |  Middle School Level
Things That Matter

“I didn’t understand. There was no possible way she could be here. It was hard to take in when she knocked on the front door. And now she was sitting in our living room, her sandy blond, long, straight hair covering her short, strapless, shiny, orange dress. My little sister kept looking at me and her, no doubt finding resemblances between the two of us. Her ponytail kept swishing whenever she turned. My father, who had recently came out from the bathroom, was studying the cracks on the floor with sunglasses that covered his red eyes. Every once in a while, he would glance up at her, but if she looked around where he was sitting for a second, he would look down at the cracks again. And me? I stared at my mother’s smug, small face. Her puffy lips were bright red, and her nose was stretched and turned up. Her eyes were small and green, the only noticeable difference between us, and they were cold and hard. She inspected the house with a face of disgust. We sat there for 20 minutes without talking to each other. I had a longing to leave but I couldn’t bring myself to get up. It’s been eight years since I last saw her; even all the pictures of her were thrown out. Finally my dad broke the silence….

… I walked up to the phone slowly as if it was a death machine. I didn’t want to but I knew I had to. There was something pushing me towards the phone, and I knew that I would never be able to do anything again if I didn’t confront her. I felt courage building up inside of me and the blood rushing through my veins. And before I reached the phone, I knew why I had to do it. I had to think of myself as the girl who stood up and said no to all the pretty things in life and said yes to all the true things. I stared at the phone for a long time and asked my dad for the phone number. My hands trembled as I dialed the number. I heard the dial tone and waited.”

First Place 2014 | High School Level

“It was 5:56 when Reid drove into a parking lot in front of a clean white building. He walked up to the thick glass door, pulled a key card from his wallet, and unlocked the electronic lock. The interior of the building was quite similar to the outside, boasting an orderly appearance…. He entered his laboratory, using the same key card that he used to open the front door. A blast of cold air met him as he stepped inside, and the familiar smell of newly cleaned laboratory equipment reached his nose. The laboratory, mimicking the rest of the building, also had the same immaculate image… Keeping to his every day morning ritual, Reid emptied a single packet of sugar into his coffee, left it to cool, and unwrapped the sandwich. He opened his mouth, ready to bite into his sandwich, when his pager, buried in his back pocket, went off….

That afternoon, the desperation in the atmosphere was higher than it had ever been before. Sick victims were dying every hour, and the few healthy villagers were brutally imprisoned in their own homes. Reid and Alan sat in a small laboratory, surrounded by test results and empty answers, on the verge of giving up. It was nearly midnight when Reid and Alan were forced to leave their lab and return home. As they walked through the darkness, Reid couldn’t help but notice that the streets, which had been bustling with excitement, were completely deserted now. That night, Reid dreamed of four years ago. Alan had approached him, asking him to help stop a contagious disease that was raging across several towns in western China. It took eighteen months, but in the end Reid and Alan had managed to find a cure. It was an experience that was both something that Reid wanted to forget, but also something that he considered one of the greatest accomplishments of his life.”

First Place 2014 | High School Level
The Tale Of Avadne And Amaris

“Her aqua eye peaked through the brush she was crouching behind, her calf length hair in folds behind her. She breathed quietly and steadily, not giving any hint that she was there. She slowly notched an arrow and pulled back. The gears of her bow moving silently into place. She looked down the length of the arrow and held her breath, steadying her aim. With the relaxing of her fingers the arrow flew true and struck the doe in the chest. It made a noise of distress but Evadne made no move. The doe run as best it could and disappeared into the forest…..

She heard a slight disturbance in the fallen leaves and turned to see a black wolf not ten feet away from her…. “You don’t need to be afraid of me.” Her eye widened and she took a step back. He stood and lifted one paw off the ground.”

2013 STORIES | Grand Prize

Grand Prize 2013 | Elementary Level
When The Animals Could Talk

“Long, long ago in very, very ancient times, animals could talk. Instead of purring or roaring, howling and growling they talked like you and me.

Over the years most lost their magic. Very few still have it. It’s hard to find them but they do exist. This is the story how it all happened. Let’s travel back in time before the first humans were alive. Animals lived in happiness. They chatted and played well together. It was their magic that let them. It only worked when the animal was happy. This was life for hundreds, thousands, even millions of years. Until….a new creature came…a human! The animals saw her as a harmless creature and welcomed her. She thanked them, but then cut down trees and built a house. This hurt the feelings of animals. She made them happy by helping the hurt and healing the sick. This the animals appreciated much! Soon, the human population grew. Over the years, more trees were cut and more land was claimed.”

Grand Prize 2013 | Middle School Level
Silence’s Sound

“There are words, everywhere. The words are floating, flying, whisking, dancing through the air around my head. I am happy at first, watching the words. They seem beautiful, although there are thousands. When I focus on each particular word, I open my mouth to try to speak it aloud. Nothing ever comes out. The harder I try, the faster the words fly. They begin to sting with every sharp letter. Infinite words to speak, but have no voice.

Fear crawls up my spine. I reach backwards to lean against a wall, to close my eyes and hide. The words are no longer beautiful, they are painful. There is no wall to lean against as the words plummet through my head. I fall, sinking into a raging sea of unspoken words. I am drowning, descending further and further into the words I can never speak.

The letters begin to fade, and through them I see a boy. He is the boy from the park.

He’s wearing that black jacket, zipped all the way to his chin. Disheveled black hair floats in the fog of disintegrating words. He slowly speaks, his question becomes painfully distinct. “What is your name?”

In that moment I crash onto shore. Alone, lying in the sand, two words are lapping my bare feet. The waves flow upward and recede. Back and forth. I am …

 I am …

I am…

Grand Prize 2013 | High School Level
I Remember

“I squint in the sunlight and wince with the creaking of my bones. Walking now at eighty years old is not like walking when I was eighteen, when I was young and in love. I sigh and continue my walk through Berlin’s park. My destination is just ahead. Nearly there…

The tree is tall and welcoming, aflame with falling leaves. I sit beneath its golden canopy and gaze up at its branches, all intertwining and cascading like the many memories that wash over me at this moment.

… “I’ve kept my promise, Franz. I’ve kept my promise.” Wind blows over the     park and roars soft, sweet nothings about me. The leaves fall tenderly like a grateful shower of praise. And looking up to the heavens, I could almost feel his smile in the warmth of the sun.