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Student Spotlight | 8 Minutes

Student Piece - Short Story Contest Winners (4th-6th and 10th-12th)

Written by Jesse Brooks
Student Piece - Short Story Contest Winners (4th-6th and 10th-12th)

In January we announced our annual short story contest. Contestants were given a story starter (one for grammar students and one for secondary students) and asked to complete the story. Winners were chosen in four grade categories. Each winner receives a $50 Veritas Press gift certificate and their story will be published in the Student Piece section of Epistula this month and next.

This month, we're featuring the winners from the 4th-6th grade category as well as the 10th-12th grade category.

4th to 6th Grade

A Surprise in the Pantry

It was the middle of the night when I suddenly woke up. I sat up in bed. What had awakened me? Then I heard it again. It sounded like dishes clanking together in the kitchen. I looked at the clock. It was the middle of the night, my mom wouldn’t be putting dishes away at 2 a.m. So I slid my feet into my slippers and went downstairs to investigate. When I pushed open the kitchen door, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

A shadowy figure was shuffling around the kitchen, opening the pantry and rummaging through the cupboards. I stealthily lit the oil lamp. “Who are you?” I exclaimed. A tall, African-American man turned around with a startled look on his face. I jumped back in shock.

Out of the shadows, I noticed an African American woman edge her way from the open pantry. “Mother?” I called out loudly. Just then, I heard my parents running down the stairs “Hush, James, you’ll wake Teddy!” She looked at the people standing in the kitchen, then looked at me. I gave a her a ‘please tell me what’s going on’ look. She sighed, “Everyone, please take a seat.

Now, James, you’ve heard about the slave plantations down south, haven't you?” I nodded. It was the year 1829, and the Northern and Southern states were disputing over slave rights. Living in New York, our family strongly supported freedom for slaves. “And the Underground railroad?” Mother asked. I nodded. “Well, Paul and Molly,” She gestured to the ‘strangers’, “Are slaves from South Carolina.” “Were.” Paul corrected. “Yes. Were.” Mother continued. “One night, after little preparation, they snuck away through the woods, looking for a specific house. The people in the house were ‘conductors’ and they let them stay there for a few days.” I was intrigued. “Mama, what’s a conductor?” I asked. “A conductor is someone who helps slaves escape to the North. We are conductors.”

“Specifically Ontario. Right, momma?” I spun around, pale in the face. Standing behind my chair was a boy who looked around my age. I couldn't believe we had a whole family staying with us and I didn't even know! “When we gonna get to Canada?” He asked with excitement. “Tomorrow, Mr. Charles is going to take us to our next stop” “Father, can I help, please?” Father and mother exchanged glances, and I saw mother shake her head ever so slightly. “No, son. A mission like this is too dangerous.” My heart sank. I wanted to do something, anything to help end slavery, or at least to help this family. Suddenly, a knock was heard at the door. Mother’s face turned chalk white. She immediately rushed the Greens inside the pantry and closed the door.

“James.” Father said through gritted teeth. “I’ll get the gun. You get the door.” He dashed up the stairs. Trembling, I opened the door slowly. A rough-looking gang of men looked at me with harsh eyes. “Hey, son. Your Father here?” One man asked. I hesitated, then shook my head. “We were wondering if you knew the whereabouts of these slaves.” He held up a picture of the Green family. I slowly shook my head. The man looked at me with hesitance. “We better just check your house anyway.”

“Oh no! No, you wouldn’t want to do that, because my little brother Ted has an awful case of croup, and it’s highly contagious. At this, the men stepped back. “You better not be lying or it’ll cost you.” The men sped off into the darkness. Father appeared out of the shadows. “That was mighty brave of you, James. I’m very proud.” They headed down into the pantry and told the story. Everyone expressed their gratitude.

“We all owe you a thank you, James.” Paul said. His family nodded. “Maybe we should let you tag along tomorrow, after all.” Everyone smiled. Stories were told far into the night. Some were joyful and some were anguishing. I was horrified to learn about how slaves were treated. The Greens taught me much that night.

Eventually the Greens made it safely to Canada. Every time I look at the pantry I remember them and how happy they must be to be free. Now that I know the kind of life slaves had, I try not to take anything for granted. A little surprise in the pantry led to a big life lesson.

by Jordyn Pangborn – Grade 5

10th to 12th Grade

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“Decaf latte, please,” I told the barista.

“That’s $4.00,” she said. I gave her the money and took a seat at my favorite table.

Once seated, I unpacked my schoolbooks and set them on the table. As I reached down to get my laptop out of my bag, I saw a pair of black dress shoes scurry past me. A scrap of paper floated down and landed beside my bag.

“Excuse me!” I yelled, “You dropped something!” But my call was met by the jingling of the bell on the door. The person had vanished. Curiously, I looked down at paper in my hand and unfolded it. I gasped. There in black and white, was my name.

I gaped at the creased paper in my hand, a thousand thoughts flooding through my head at once. Why was my name on this piece of paper? Who had carelessly dropped it right next to me? I jumped up from my seat and ran for the door, throwing it open and looking down the sidewalk in both directions. All I could see was the crowd of well-dressed pedestrians that always filled the walkways. A never-ending stream of salary men and kids like me. Whoever had dropped the paper, they were gone.
Inside the coffee shop I heard the barista call my name, "Decaf latte for Quincy."
I took one more look around the bustling city sidewalk, and then walked to the bar to pick up my drink.
The barista was preparing another drink, and eyed me when I took my drink. "Decaf, huh?" She said, not quite mockingly.
"I want to be able to sleep tonight." I replied with a shrug. She nodded and went back to fixing drinks and I moved back over to my table to gather up my stuff. I slid my books back into my backpack and zipped it up, throwing it over my shoulder and taking a sip from my gloriously hot coffee. I pulled open the door, ignoring the annoying little bell, and stepped out onto the walkway. The sun was just beginning to set, turning the western skyline into a blaze of orange, and the heat of the day had relented a bit. But I was still sweating within five minutes. My pilot's school blazer was far too warm to be wearing in the middle of summer.
The skyscrapers in the distance reflected the sun into my eyes and as I shielded my eyes I caught sight of the air tunnel far above my head, with hundreds of flying cars accelerating at ridiculous speeds through the sky. They were all going toward the center of civilization, which was commonly called the Wastrel Tower. The tower rose high above all of the skyscrapers and far into the sky. It was so huge that some said it went all the way into the upper atmosphere. It served as the center of commerce for practically the entire galaxy.
I was squinting into the glare of the sun's reflected light when I ran head-first into someone walking in the opposite direction at a brisk pace. My coffee cup, which was only half empty, spilled all over my blazer and his suit.
"I'm sorry," He said, "I wasn't looking..." and then he went stiff.
"It's fine." I said, even though I was pretty upset about getting coffee all over my school clothes. "I've done it before." He nodded curtly and continued walking. I turned to watch him go and noticed that he was wearing a pair of carefully polished, black dress shoes. I immediately thought of the stranger who had dropped that piece of paper with my name on it. Why else would someone be in such a hurry? I asked myself.

I started following him, walking against the flow of pedestrians going home after a hard day's work. I followed him all the way back to the coffee shop and watched him go inside. He come back out a few seconds later and ran his fingers through his slick black hair. He pulled out a phone and lifted it to his ear. I saw his lips move as he talked to whoever was on the other end. As he was talking, he scanned the crowd, and by the time I realized what he was looking for, he had spotted me.
He started walking toward me with obvious intent, and I immediately turned to run. Before I got five feet, I felt his hand close over my shoulder and the unmistakable press of a gun barrel.
He leaned down and whispered into my ear, "Make a scene and I put a hole in your shoulder."
I stood still, terrified and angry at myself for being so stupid.
"Good," He said, "Walk slowly. We'll talk as we walk."
I didn't start walking until I felt the barrel of the gun dig into my shoulder. After we had walked for a couple of minutes, he started asking me questions.
"You saw the piece of paper?" He asked quietly. I nodded slowly.
"Do you know who I am?" I shook my head.
"My name is West. Do you recognize that name?" My eyes widened and I nodded in awe.
"Good. Now that introductions are over, we can start." I felt the pressure of the gun disappear, but his hand remained on my shoulder.
"Your name is Quincy Tarble. You're in your second year of pilot's school. You live with your parents and two brothers in a small apartment. And..."
Just then a shot rang out and West collapsed.

"Cut!" Yelled the director. "That was good. We're going to reshoot the first part in the coffee shop, but otherwise that was perfect."
West slowly sat up and brushed his suit off.
"This thing way too hot." He grumbled.
The director laughed, "You're just a glass half empty kind of guy."
I jumped in and gave my two cents, "It's not about whether the glass is half empty or half full, it's about filling it up."

by Jack Beard – Grade 12