Congratulations to our Short Story Contest Winners! Below are the winners of our Grades 4-6 and Grades 10-12 categories.
Unprepared, by Hadleigh Gleeson, Grade 6
It was a boring old Monday: school, homework, soccer practice then home.
But it all changed when my brother and I sat down at the dinner table that
“Kids,” said my dad, with a big smile on his face. “Pack your bags.”
Oh no! I thought, they’re kicking us out! It’s because I didn’t clean my room!
My mom must have sensed my fear because the next thing she said made me feel
better, “We’re not kicking you out, sweetie. We have tickets to Athens, where Aunt Megan and Uncle Nick live.”
Athens? I sat there, a little stunned but too tired to process what my mom had just said or react to it. However, my little brother, Jake, immediately piped up. “How long will we stay?”
“Four days, I believe,” said Dad, looking at Mom for confirmation. She nodded.
“Yes. Pack some shorts and t-shirts tonight. We’ll leave at 6:00 tomorrow morning to catch the plane at 8:00.”
I drifted off to sleep that night wondering what ancient ruins we would see, what the people in Athens wore, and what Aunt Megan and Uncle Nick, whom I’d never met, looked like.
The next morning, I groggily rolled out of bed, pulled on my clothes, and lugged my suitcase to the car. I just had enough time to grab a muffin and an energy bar before we jumped in the car and drove to the airport. Walking through the cold, busy rooms perked up my legs and made my brain feel even more foggy. As we relaxed in the waiting room, I pulled my navy jacket around myself more tightly, trying to shield myself from the relentless air-conditioning. It fiercely fought the heat, even in the early morning. Finally, a flight attendant seated us on the plane and fetched me and Jake some apple juice. I dozed, staring out at the bland, gray sky.
I woke up with a jerk as the plane landed, bouncing everyone within. The dim face of my watch reported the time - 11:30 am. No way, I thought. We can’t be there yet. Confused, I followed my family off the plane.
“Are we here?” I asked Mom.
“Yep!” she replied.
I puzzled over this statement until I saw a sign hanging low over the large, bitter room. It read, “Atlanta Airport.”
“Hold on. You said we were going to Athens,” I retorted.
Mom looked at me queerly for a moment. Then, as if a lightbulb had just gone off, she laughed, “No, Coral. Athens, Georgia!”
I stopped walking, shocked. Suddenly, I ran to catch up and sputtered angrily, “Well, why didn’t you specify?”
Mom’s face adopted the I-know-you’re-mad-I-love-you-anyway look. I took a deep breath, trying to control myself.
“There’s Aunt Megan! Hey, Megan!” my dad called, waving. I followed his gaze to a woman standing unenthusiastically next to an “Elevators” sign. Suddenly, Greek or Georgian, her face lit up in a smile that melted all my remaining anger.
“Hi, Aunt Megan!”
The Search, by Charis Linton, Grade 11
“Don’t forget, your family tree projects are due next Friday!” I heard my teacher yell as I zipped up my backpack to go home. I groaned. I hadn’t even started on the project yet. It seemed so boring to go through old photos.
That night after dinner, I finally talked myself into going up to the dusty attic to look for some photos to use for the project. In the attic, there were bags of old clothes in one corner, an old rocking horse and some dusty boxes. I crept over to the boxes and wiped the dust off of one labeled “photos”. I set a few of the photo boxes aside, then something caught my eye. It was a smaller box that seemed to be hidden away in the corner. It was labeled with my mother’s name and “photos”, but that wasn’t my mother’s handwriting. I grabbed the box and opened it up. The contents fell into my lap and what I saw made me gasp!
A dozen exotic curios and artifacts scattered across the floor. Gold coins, stone carvings, jewels bedded in ivory . . .
Riches and treasures.
“Dad?” I said. He hit his head on the underside of the cabinet he was building.
“Any idea what this stuff is?”
His wrench clattered to the floor.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Let me see.”
We pored over the items. I felt the smoothness of each polished bone, the weight of each rock, and the texture of each fabric. It was as if someone was handing me pieces of the glory of many cultures, past and present. It was beautiful.
“This box said it was Mom’s,” I said. My dad set an elephant statue down.
“Really? Let me look.”
I handed it over.
“It’s not her writing,” he said.
“And it’s not photos,” I said.
“So what . . . ?”
“I don’t know. I was just up there for my family tree project. And, you know, we don’t know about her family . . .”
“No,” he sighed.
We looked over at our pictures of her. Smiling and vibrant. And long lost.
She had said she was from Asia. My dad had not known about her life from before she’d moved to America alone. Then it had become too late to ask.
“Did she say anything about this?” I asked.
“No,” my dad said slowly. “Your mother never thought of the past. She just rushed forward, happy to experience more, until . . .”
I wondered where this stuff was from. Why it had been under her name.
I needed to find answers.
“. . . These here are Egyptian--very valuable. And finally, this is a rare indigenous Austronesian piece. Yes, a very beautiful collection, worth thousands. If you’d like to sell, we can make an offer. Where’d you get it?”
“Sorry, not for sale. It was my mother’s.”
“Really, Nick, I expected more from your project. I’m sorry to say but the gaps with no explanation took away fifteen points.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Terry. I got distracted. Can I do something for extra credit?”
Hot desert wind tossed dust around my ankles. I shaded the sun from my eyes. Five years of questions and dead ends had brought me here.
“Hello!” a baritone voice interrupted.
I jumped. “Hi?”
A short man full of bounce and geniality approached me. “My my! Your face so familiar! Are you here to buy? I have beautiful things inside--”
“I look familiar?”
“Yes! I remember every face I ever saw. You look, hmm, eyes, yes, a young woman! Years ago I saw her.”
“Was her name Nicki Williams?”
“Ach, I don’t remember names. But you look like her, yes! So are you buying?”
I held out the two glittering scarab beetles. Excitement grew in my chest.
“Did you sell these to her?”
He investigated. “Hmm, yes! I did! Well, I sold one to her. One I gave free! For her pretty face. Look! You remind me of it, I give you this.”
He pressed a large gold bead in my hand.
“Did you know her?” I said, desperately. “Where she was from? Where she was going?”
“Oh no, I saw her only once. Although I remember thinking, she is from China, you see--her accent--”
The ancient landlady smiled confusedly. Hesitating, she said, “American?”
I nodded, holding out the gold coins. Matching coins hung behind her. She inhaled delightedly. She rushed into the dim back room and came out holding a wrinkled, mildewed paper. It was a sketch of a mountainside dropping into a river-filled gorge . . . signed with my mother’s name.
She gestured between the coins and the picture, smiling.
I gazed down the gorge. Clear blue water swirled against steep granite walls. I turned to the man at the tourist kiosk, holding out the snake-patterned necklace.
“Is this from here?”
He shrugged. He looked annoyed. I revealed the photo of my mother.
“Do you know her?”
He shrugged again.
Okay. You don’t.
I followed a trail to the bottom of the gorge and put my feet in the water, gazing into space.
Directly across the river, names carved in the rocks.
I splashed across.
Half obliterated, the initials NW.
I swam through humidity. Mosquitoes buzzed around my face.
An old man sat on a park bench, throwing bread at squirrels.
It had been a long journey, across continents and oceans.
“Sir?” I said, gently. “Do you know this lady?”
The old man took the photograph. His eyes were my eyes. They filled with recognition.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Her son.” My heart beat faster.
“She was my niece,” he said. “My brother and his wife died in an accident. She sold everything and vowed to travel. She never came back. You are . . . her son?”
We looked at each other.
“She came to America,” I said. “Married there.”
He threw more bread out, contemplating.
“Do you know what this box is?” I said, holding out the worn box.
“I have never seen it.”
“Thank you,” I said.
His voice remained gruff.
“I see her in you.”
“Always searching for something.”
“Nick! Hello! What did you find . . . ?”
I gave him the box. He looked at the mementos. The number had doubled.
“The new ones are mine,” I explained. “I went where Mom went. That’s a gift from the seamstress who sold her the necklace, that’s from the son of the ivory man . . .”
We connected the lines of my mother’s life and travels from the dots of each token. Eventually, the ends of her threads tied into mine.
“I’ve got to go again,” I said at the end. “Have to find out about the box, the writing, how it got here . . .”
“You and her.”
My dad smiled. “Always searching.”
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