fiction, Homeschool Life

Announcing the Winners of the 5000 Words Creative Writing Contest

It was during my 5000 Words Writing Class that I first heard the news about my brain tumor. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to focus during the weeks leading up to my surgery. I let some things go, like this announcement.

The stories that follow were written by my students, all of whom receive/endure a workshop critique and (are supposed to!) thoroughly revise their work. The final drafts are posted to WordPress, and students vote for the winners anonymously.

Our literature selection was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. If you are at all familiar with Crane’s extravagant use of imagery, you’ll see he left his mark on my students. I couldn’t be more delighted. I, too, found myself writing Crane-ish posts like this one.

For the first time, we had a tie for 1st place. The Steyer sisters wowed everyone, and 2nd place went to Rachel Carpenter. Congratulations! Click on the titles to read the winning stories.

1st Place TIE: Love and War & The Unknown

“Love and War” by Katelyn Steyer (10th grade)

Here’s what Katelyn had to say: Reading is a favorite hobby of mine. Every time I open a new story I begin a new adventure, entering a different world full of exciting tales waiting to be unfolded as the pages turn. This year I got to experience the brutality of war through the eyes of Henry in the novel The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. I was inspired by Crane’s descriptive and beautiful writing to create a war story of my own. And I hope you’ll enjoy reading my story Love and War as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

“The Unknown” by Ella Steyer (8th grade)

Ella is fourteen years old and the second oldest of six kids. She has participated in soccer since she was young. Another hobby of hers would be reading, but before she started the 5000 Words Writing Class, she’d never been interested in creating the stories. Now, however, she thrives to better her writing with each piece and could even see herself making a career with it in the future.

2nd Place “The Path” by Rachel Carpenter (11th grade)

Ultimately, all fifteen students were winners because they bettered themselves as writers and learned to be more discriminating readers. I am grateful to my students for their many kind words and gestures.

 And by the way, everything in life is writable if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
― Sylvia Plath

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. – James 1:17

 

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Homeschool Life, on writing

5000 Words Fall 2018 Short Fiction Winners!

The 5000 Words Fiction Contest is the culmination of our fall class. Students write stories of at least 1000 words, workshop, edit, and post the final drafts to their WordPress sites. Then the students anonymously judge the stories. All I do is tally them! 🙂

As part of our in-class time, students journey through a work of literature together, discussing, evaluating, analyzing. Often our stories lead to interesting and complex life discussions. The Hiding Place, the true story of Corrie ten Boom, led our discussion to the movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks. Most people remember “Wilson!” from that movie, what a profound effect a blood-stained volleyball had on the main character. We ended our class by watching Castaway, which is a great story in its own right.

Much of 5000 Words is done on WordPress, where students post their stories and evaluate others’ using the formula: I noticed… I liked… I wondered… I would suggest… Strong words, phrases, or literary devices were… Having students finish the prompts pushes them to look more closely at each other’s work. I evaluate the comments at random, and give full credit only when students provide thoughtful feedback. I believe I stumbled onto a process that draws out the most excellent writing a student is capable of producing, and it’s my pleasure to showcase the winners. You can check out their blogs by clicking on the story names.

1st Place, Katelyn Steyer with “Happily Ever After”

On writing, here’s what Katelyn had to say: One of my favorite things to do is read, I love the feeling of getting lost in a good book. Writing has become another favorite hobby over the past years, and I owe that all to the 5000 Words Class. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without the help of Mrs. Griffiths, so thank you😊. Along with writing and reading, I also love playing my instruments- piano and guitar- science, and drawing.

Happily Ever After 

The sour smell of damp straw filled my nose as I slowly tiptoed down the dimly lit stairwell. As the daughter of the Emperor, it was uncommon to even be seen near the prison, but I needed to see him. Most wouldn’t want to fraternize with the ragged and bitter smelling “creatures” as my father would call them. To me though, he was more than just an object trapped inside the prison walls. Though my father would surely not approve of me going anywhere near him, let alone talk to him, I had been sneaking down to the prison since the beginning of the month when he returned home. I still remember the first time I went down to the cells, how cold and damp it was compared to my upstairs bedroom, with barely any light. The smell was unbearable. I had to resist the urge to vomit as whiffs of salty sweat and musty straw entered my nose. But as the weeks went by my nose became immune to the once-unpleasant smells, still wrinkling once in a while when I entered the prison doors.

As I closed the cell door his body tensed, his back was turned against me his head down.

“Ash, it’s okay, it’s just me,” my voice broke the silence.

Nothing. Not even turning around to see me.

“Ash, come on. You know I’m not going to hurt you,” I said taking a step closer. His body shifted, that was a sign. Whether it was a good or bad one I wasn’t quite sure.

“E-Ember-rr,” his voice was a hoarse whisper, but it was music to my ears.

“Yes, it’s me,” I answered.

“Wh-what happened to me?” His voice strained as he turned around. His dark green eyes looked deep into mine, searching for an answer I had already given him a thousand times.

I stood in the cell trying to gain the strength to explain the truth he had forgotten once again. The truth was I didn’t know what exactly happened to him. All the problems started when he was drafted in the war, even though Sector 2- the sector he lived in- wasn’t supposed to be drafted. And being the kind and determined person Ash was, he went anyway. Naturally, I tried to stop him, tell him it wasn’t his job to fight these battles, but I couldn’t. So he left one dark and rainy night, and I prayed he would come home to me safely. Then about two months later I got the message. Ash and two other soldiers were captured by the enemy during battle and they hadn’t been seen since. After the message it was all a blur, no word came for weeks. Till about a month ago when I was informed that the three missing men had been found, and Ash was on his way home.

As soon as I got word that he had arrived in Sector 2 I raced over to the hospital hoping to find him there. When I arrived they said he was transferred to the palace prison. The nurse informed me that Ash was accused of taking sides with the enemy and his charges were soon to be determined. After I was informed of Ash’s whereabouts I made my way to the prison to find him, and I will never forget the feeling I had when I first saw him. A mix of sorrow, pain, and anger all in one, his body was littered with scars, a living tapestry of near misses. His once jet black hair was overgrown and crusty, his eyes once full of color and life were drained and faded. And I knew he wasn’t going to be the same Ash he was before the war.

“Ember wh-what happened to m-me,” His shaky voice brought me out of my thoughts.

“You were taken by the enemy,” I answered taking another step closer to his fragile body.

“H-how long?” He questioned as his eyes dropped back to the floor.

“For about a month,” that was the one thing I was sure of.

The worst month of my life. Pure misery. Not knowing if I would ever see him again, ever get to be held in his strong arms. Ever get to talk to him about my problems and learn from our mistakes together. The fear of never hearing his soothing voice again or seeing his handsome face was constantly in my mind.

“But you’re back now. And you’re going to be fine,” I slowly placed my hand on his shoulder.

Instantly, almost as if I flicked a switch, he spun around grabbed my throat and pinned me against the wall. His face was red and contorted as he began to strangle me. My mind began to race, fear pumping through my veins. As he lifted me off the ground I kicked in protest. I tried desperately to release his hands from my throat, but I was no match for his powerful grip. His eyes were filled with anger as his forceful hands pushed into my neck. It was like he didn’t recognize me like I was a different person through his eyes. The air started to drain from my lungs as he pressed harder into my throat. My vision was turning fuzzy and I began to feel light-headed, and in that split second, I thought I was going to die. My heart began to beat faster as the last breaths from my lungs were being squeezed out. Then all the sudden he stopped. His hands released my throat and the color drained from his face as I slid down the wall to a sitting position. He backed away as he realized what he has just done. The cell remained silent for a minute or two until my voice returned to me.

“I-I’m al-right,” I gasped as the precious air began to fill my lungs again.

“What is wrong with me?!” He exclaimed, his hands began to shake as he continued to back away from me.

I sat on the cold prison floor, my eyes closed trying to erase the memories of the last minute from my mind.

“It’s alright Ash, I’m going to be fine. This isn’t your fault, it’s the psychos who took you, they must have done something to you. Do you remember?” I asked as I slowly stood up, regaining my balance.

“Blood. So much blood. On the ceiling on the walls, blood everywhere.” He whispered

I sighed, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. He seemed to go off into a daze whenever I asked him what they did.

“Ash, please. You must remember something,” I pleaded

“The walls are bleeding, the floors are bleeding, blood, blood everywhere.” He continued to whisper as he walked over to his bed and sat down with his hands over his head.

I took this as a sign that it was my time to leave. “I need to go upstairs to a meeting now,” I lied, there was no meeting, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t listening. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I love you,” I said as I walked out of the cell. His body still shaking as he sat on the bed. As I was walking back up to my bedchamber the tears began to leak down my flush face. Once the floodgates opened they wouldn’t close. That night I cried myself to sleep because I knew the man I loved, the thoughtful, tenderhearted, devoted Ash wasn’t coming back anytime soon.

The bright morning sun peeked through my sheer curtains the next morning. The heat from the luminous rays landing on my resting face. I slowly got out of bed, my clothes from yesterday stiff and itching to get off my body. I quickly dressed and made my way to the dining hall. On my way as I was about to turn a corner I stumbled upon a conversation between a guard and my father’s chief advisor. Instantly I halted, trying to stay hidden and keep quiet so I could eavesdrop.

“The Emperor himself has given me this message to deliver to you and only you,” my father’s chief advisor said.

“Yes sir,” the guard stiffly replied.

“I mean it, no guard gossip, this is between you and me,” the guard nodded in reply. “Alright then, the Emperor has charger Ash McCoy with high treason.”

My world was put on pause. Treason. That meant death. And my father was the one responsible. The sound of the conversation was tuned out by the frantic error messages crossing my mind. I think I heard something about public execution, and it would be an example, but I wasn’t sure. All I was certain of was that I needed to get to Ash. I had to save him before it was too late. I quickly rushed down the halls towards the prison, hoping he wasn’t already being transferred. As I entered his cell door he glanced at me and quickly returned his eyes to the wall.

“We need to get out of here now!” I yelled

No change in his position.

“Ash, please. We need to leave, my father’s charging you with the death penalty,” he glanced up at me, sorrow in his eyes.

“I can’t go,” he replied bluntly.

“What do you mean you can’t go? My father is trying to kill you are you’re not going to leave? Are you insane?!”

“That’s what they’ve been telling me,” He muttered.

“Listen to me,” I rested my hands on his shoulders, hoping it wouldn’t cause another panic attack. “You are not crazy! Please come with me, we can run away, start a new life.”

“Ember, you don’t know how much I want to come with you, start a new life, a new family,” I smiled imagining what it would be like to have a family with Ash. “But I can’t. You saw what happened yesterday, I almost…I almost killed you.”

“Ash it’s-”

“Ember, you can’t say it’s not going to happen again because you don’t know. What if I hurt you, what if I kill you!” He was getting worked up. “I can’t come with you,” He pushed me away, “I think you should go.”

My mouth was dry; words tried to form but none would escape. As I slowly turned to exit the cell the sound of oncoming footsteps stopped me in my tracks. Instantly I panicked, the fear of being caught racing through my mind. As the footsteps neared and the pursuer came into view my greatest nightmare became a reality. There in front of the cell stood two palace guards and in between them my father.

“Ember, what are you doing down here!” His face contorted in frustration as I stood in shock, not knowing what to say.

“And of all the creatures to fraternize with, you chose him!” He gestured towards Ash who was staring at the ground with an empty expression on his face.

“This is unacceptable! If word gets out that my daughter! The future queen was found socializing with this man, accused of treason, it will be the end of our reign!” I flinched, his anger growing by the minute. “Guards take him away! I must deal with my daughter.”

The two guards left my father’s side, entered the cell and grabbed Ash by the arms. He flinched at first touch but soon submitted to their death grip. As they escorted him out of the cell he glanced over his shoulder and our eyes met. And in that split second, I saw his eyes. Not the damaged, ghost-like eyes I had seen in the past weeks. I saw my Ash’s eyes, full of love. But just as quickly as they appeared, they vanished. And slowly as the guards lead him away, a single tear slid down my cheek as I realized this would be the last time I saw him. My father grabbed my arm, quickly dragging me with him to my bedchamber.

“Father, please…he doesn’t deserve to die,” I pleaded as we entered the room.

“Now you listen closely Ember, I am not about to have you tell me how to run my country! He is being executed within the hour and that is my final decision!”

“I love him, father! You can’t take him from me, I need him!” I yelled, my eyes glossy with the tears threatening to fall.

“You know how I feel about love young lady, it can’t last forever, don’t you remember what happened to your mother?” I fell silent, my mother had died three years ago when there was a rebel attack on the palace. Father never truly recovered, and ever since that day he has said that love and attachments lead to pain in the end.

“Please, father. You can’t do this!”

“Enough!” His voice echoed through the room. “I will not continue to stand here and have you defy me! I’ve failed once in disposing of that boy, I will not fail again!”

“What are you saying?” I asked

“I sent Ash to war.” His words were a bullet to my heart.

“Why would you do such a thing?” I questioned, tears leaking down the side of my flush face.

“That boy was never good for you Ember. He is not royal blood, as the heir, you have the duty to be queen someday. And I was not about to have a second-rate boy sit with you on the throne. Now I will not have this conversation any longer, you are staying in here for the rest of the night!” He said as he slammed the door shut, locking it behind him.

I ran to the door, desperately pulling, trying to escape, but the lock held. I sank to my knees unable to contain my emotions for any longer. And as I sat on the floor locked away from the outside world I prayed that Ash would be able to overcome this. That he would somehow make it back to me.

***

As the guards lead me away I locked eyes with Ember. Her kind and strong eyes I knew and loved were replaced by ones filled with fear. And at that moment I felt like nothing could stop me from getting to her and making her feel loved again, but the thought quickly vanished as I remembered my current situation. The guards continued to escort me to my execution block, taking me outside to the courtyard. The air was fresh, for the first time in weeks, I felt free again. Out in the world, under the never-ending sky. Crowds of people stood around the town square, waiting for my execution to take place. The guard’s arms were no longer around me, they stood on either side, walking me to the center of town. As I walked alongside them, the conversation with Ember flooded through my mind. I hurt her, she may have been fine now but the guilt was still trapped inside me. I had failed her, she was my everything, the love of my life and I left her alone and hurting.

The guards halted and pushed down on my shoulders, signaling me to kneel. As I sat there in the center of town memories of the men who had captured me flashed through my mind. The sound of the fibrous whip slashing and tearing blood-soaked flesh away from my bony body. The overpowering and constant metallic scent of scarlet blood. The image of dark, crimson liquid splattering across the room while my back throbbed was continuously replaying within my mind. I closed my eyes and bowed my head, ready to face death and escape from the fear and guilt inside of me. But when the gun was placed on my head something inside changed. Suddenly I heard her voice, her sweet, calming voice telling me to come back to her, pleading for me to survive. And I knew that somehow I was going to make it back to her. And as if it was an answered prayer, suddenly bullets erupted through the crowd. I quickly searched the streets as more guns were fired. Then I noticed him, a young man with a dusty scarf over his face. He stood in the center of town, his gun raised proudly in the air. He shouted a muffled command and that is when I realized it was them. It was an attack, a rebel attack, more of them burst from their hiding places in the crowd. Guns continued to fire as guards raced towards the attacking enemy. This was my chance, my heart raced as I slowly stood up and then bolted. I ran, straight for the palace. All the guilt and shame once in my mind was washed away by her soothing voice. The pain from my battle in the past was gone, all I could think about was making it back to Ember.

***

I sat resting against the door when the nob began to turn. I tilted my head in confusion when all of a sudden the door burst open, pushing me across the floor.

“Ember?!” His voice shouted as he ran through the door.

I quickly stood up. I stayed in front of him waiting for him to make a move waiting to see that is was my Ash. He stood for a second and then raced into my arms.

“You’re alive!” I said through tears of joy.

“I’m alive, and I am never leaving you again,” he answered

“Ash, we need to leave. And I know you’re still scared that you could hurt me, but I trust you. It won’t be easy but I know we can get through it together. We can run away, start our lives over again.” I said

“I’m convinced, there’s just one more thing,” he stated

“What is something-” but before I could finish he pulled me closer and kissed me.

***

Three years later…

***

That night we ran away together, starting our new life, free from the guilt and shame of our past battles. Today we live in a cottage on the outskirts of a little town far away from the palace and any threats it may bring upon our family. We recently welcomed our beautiful daughter Ella into the world, she is and will forever be our little princess. Some people say we are traitors, maybe we are. All I know is that we did what we had to do to have our happily ever after.

The end.

2nd Place, Ella Steyer with “The Bucket List”

On writing, here’s what Ella had to say: My name is Ella and I am fourteen years old. I enjoy playing soccer, and have since I was little. I love to be outside. I recently discovered photography, which I have been enjoying. Reading has always been a hobby for me, along with writing ever since I started taking the 5000 Words Writing Class. My goal is always to better my writing with each story/essay. That’s why I am proud of my recent story, “The Bucket List.” 

The Bucket List

The word “dying” is not a word to be taken lightly. I should know. After all, I am. I have been for six months now. Those months were packed with many, many emotions. Tears seeped into my pillow, my head regularly pounded, and my stomach was in an eternal tight knot. These were all side effects of the fact that I knew a gruesome, destructive, wayward disease was creeping through my body, working to find the simplest way to bring me down. My mom would tell me to rely on God, that He has a plan, but I knew her pillow was as damp as mine in the middle of the night. My dad wished for me to be brave and to remember that it wasn’t merely me battling this sickness, but everyone who treasured me as well. My best friends, Sophia and Carter, just wanted me to have a good time. They always have, but now more than ever.

That’s what makes them the best people for this job.

I gaze out the window of the passenger seat, my long blonde hair twirling around me. My mind becomes dizzy from all the thoughts swirling in it. There was this face that people shot me whenever they discovered I had kidney disease. It was an expression that said, “Oh, that poor girl. And at age sixteen? What a tragedy…” Oh, how I despise that expression. Thankfully, I won’t have to see that offensive, sorry-for-you look for a while now because the following weeks are entirely about me and completing all my life goals. We won’t give my illness a single thought. I can thank the four people in this car for it. Sophia, who’s sitting directly behind me, has been there for me since the first grade. When I discovered my disease, she didn’t leave my side for a week. That’s when I recognized just how important she was in my life. She would remain next to me, crying along with me or doing whatever I needed her to do. Carter isn’t exactly that kind of person. He’s more like the one that gets you laughing when your down. The rare times I smiled after hearing the news was with both of them. However, my parents also amazed me–and still do. They mentioned a positive view in the darkest times but didn’t force me to believe it all the time. They understood if I needed some time to sulk. The heartbreaking discovery about my disease was just as difficult for them as it was for me.

Though this trip might be regarding me, those special people are the ones that spent weeks preparing, scheduling, and adjusting each detail flawlessly. The only thing I had to do was make a list of anything I ever fantasized about doing. They made sure to emphasize anything. I had dwelled on the unimaginable options for various days, making sure my ultimate conclusion was one I wouldn’t regret. As we drove to our first destination–Glacier National Park, located in Montana–I couldn’t help but be interested in the days to come.

Some could describe this list of courageous events as a bucket list. For me, it was more of an escape from the appalling realities of my life. Every one of these events was thoroughly thought over and chosen with purpose. I yawn. My exhausted body is overcoming the energetic thoughts as the car smoothly drives to our destination, it’s movement swaying me to sleep…

***

I rub my eyes, my memory still foggy. It isn’t until I open them when I see the genuine purpose I came to this park. The waterfall in front of me is more than beautiful. It’s something much more. So significant I can’t form words with enough value and excellence to describe it. The way the water pours with ease, the enormous amount never ceasing. How it plunges far below the surface, creating splashes like a child in a bath. The surreal view distracts my flooded brain from the reason we came. Carter steps over to the path that guides you behind the waterfall, Sophia trailing close behind. My parents and I follow. I’ve always dreamed of standing behind a waterfall, breathing in the crisp natural air. Ever since I was young, something about them fascinated me. Once I made one descent from the bathroom sink. My mom was awfully mad, but it was a tremendous achievement for my five-year-old brain. A light mist sprinkles my face, drawing me back from the memory. I shut my eyes, truly grasping the beauty of God’s astonishing creation. . .

My ears catch the sound of running and then a loud splash. I immediately open my eyes to see Carter hovering in the water beneath. He lets out a holler.

“Come on,” he pleads, “Jump in, Sabrina!”

I blink at the sound of my name. He wants me to jump in? It’s about a twelve-foot drop from the ledge we were standing on. He does stuff similar to this often, even though most are against the rules. However, Carter is the kind of person who believes rules are more fun broken.

“It’s warm! Not even the slightest bit cold!” he winks, and I swear I notice him shiver.

A new thought pops into my head. What if this is the last risk I ever take? Wouldn’t that be worth it? I’ve stayed on the safe side most of my life, but I feel like this trip is different. I have to make it different. One that will be worth every minute.

“Come on. It’s fun!” he begs again, but he didn’t have to.

I’m already soaring through midair, the decreasing water spraying me before I plummet into the brisk lake below. It might be the opposite of warm, but he was right; it is fun.

***

“I don’t know about this…” I mutter, frightened as I gaze at the lengthy rope dangling over a two hundred foot drop.

Sophia places her hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, ‘Brina. It’s going to be amazing!”

My stomach jolts again at the sight of the zip line. What made me think sliding across a cliff on a tiny thread would be an enjoyable, life-changing event?

We had previously completed three events. Visit a waterfall in Glacier National Park, go kayaking, and whitewater rafting. The previous ones were chosen because of my enjoyment of nature. The next ones were more daring and adventurous. However, right now I’m highly doubting the bold side of me. I feel paralyzed as I stand in Aerial Adventures located in West Yellowstone, Montana. I’m still attempting to understand why I believed zip lining would be pleasant only three days ago.

Around me is a small platform where the equipment will be placed on me. A guide stands near the harnesses and ropes, assisting each person thoroughly. Sophia is already in her harness. After the guide triple checks, he nods his head. She glances at me for half a second before zooming away over a cliff, shouting in excitement as she goes.

My stomach is doing cartwheels as the guide fastens me up. He finishes way too quick. After motioning for me to start, I capture one steady breath. Then I’m sliding away from him, gaining momentum immediately. As my mind grips the situation, I instantly look down. Not a good idea. My mind grows shaky and my heart is beating furiously. Far ahead, I notice Sophia waving her arms wildly. She stands alongside the zip line, her harness off, a grin on her freckled face. I can tell she’s pleased I put this on the list.

I suddenly recognize it. I’m flying through the sky, like some of God’s most magnificent creatures. I’m doing something I would have never imagined me doing. It’s magical. The wind thrashing against me, my feet suspended in nothing but fresh air. I feel free. Free from my sickness. Free from the anxiety or distress. Free from the repulsive, haunting things in this world. For once, no thoughts swirl through my mind. It’s just me, escaping from my dramatic life as I soar from one thing to the next.

***

The bucket list is rapidly decreasing. After zip lining, the five of us swam with sea turtles, took a surfing lesson, and tried many foods that other countries considered a delicacy. Each one made me overflow with enthusiasm. As we travel to our next destination, I feel the same energy I did in the beginning. I can tell whatever happens next is going to be spectacular.

***

My mom looks at me as if I’m a little girl as we lift into the sky. Today, it’s just her and I on our own adventure. There was this book that Mom would read to me every night before bed. I believe it was titled Once upon a Balloon. It was the first book I read all by myself. I’m sure my mom was insanely tired of reading it, but she always did. It was our little book.

Now it’s simply a memory, but one we’ll never forget. It’s the reason why we’re floating peacefully in the sky in Denver, Colorado. The rainbow hot air balloon is nothing short of enchanting. The view it provides is like a piece from heaven. It’s truly astonishing. The grass appears greener up here. The world seems larger. I feel like a preschooler again as we float in a basket, bright colors above and the wondrous world below.

***

The bar locks, forcing me to stay. I certainly can’t go back now. Besides, this is the second to last thing on the list. The machine lurches forward. I gulp. Even with my dad sitting next to me, this was going to be the wildest event yet. Metal clicks together on the track in front of us. Even before twisting upside down, my stomach is a wreck knowing I’m about to ride the Valravn at Cedar Point.

My dad and I have enjoyed the thrill of rollercoasters together since I was little. When I had the idea of riding a massive one side-by-side, it sent chills of excitement and nervousness down my spine. Especially since it could be the last one we ride together.

A quick dip makes me shriek. The coaster rotates in a complete circle before starting up a hill that makes me wince. I can hear distant screams and view more and more of the park as we grow higher. Eventually, the loud noise of the chain stops, and for a second, we’re frozen on the top of the hill. Then everything switches. The coaster flies down the hill, dragging me with it. My stomachs in my throat when we tip over in a corkscrew. I can barely tell if we are right side up when a steep dip leaves my stomach at the top of the hill again. The coaster is speeding its way back where we started in about a minute. A laugh escapes me, but my legs feel weak as I step onto solid ground. I approved, but my stomach didn’t. I stood near a garbage can for the next five minutes, my stomach gurgling angrily.

***

A peaceful fire dances in front of me. I observe it closely, taking in every flame. If this journey had given me anything, it’s hope. A fire starts with one flame and builds until it’s roaring. Each task was like a flame, giving me hope, and when added to the others, it created a faith as powerful as the roaring fire. I glance around at our temporary campground in the middle of Utah. Sophia’s silhouette lay across from me, toasting a marshmallow. Carter is resting on the other side, plucking single strands of grass out of the moist soil. My dad is peering into the distance, as deep in thought as everyone else. I gaze over to my mom. Her eyes are secured on me. Her head shakes as if to forget the thought in her head, and she smiles slightly but doesn’t speak. I smile back, wondering what my life would be like if I were back home. My pillows were not wet here, my head did not throb. I want my life to stay like this, I think to myself, but I am suddenly aware of how tired I am. I let my head drop back onto the folding chair I’m resting on. My eyes feel extremely weak. I notice my mom rushing over, Dad close behind. I vaguely hear them shout my name before the exhaustion overcomes me.

***

Shouts and orders rang through my ears. As I open my eyes, I observe a familiar room. White walls, white bedsheets, white chairs. So insipid and monotonous. It could only be one place–A hospital. The chaos in the room should frighten me, but I felt as comfortable and lighthearted as I was by the fire. I notice the four people who stood by my side all my life. The troubled expressions on their faces tell me how serious this circumstance is. I hear only a few of their words but manage to pick out a couple like swelling and coma. I’m not positive about whatever transpired, but it doesn’t matter now. Carter, Sophia, Mom, and Dad step over to the side of my bland bed. They each stretch out their hand and rest it on me. I take in the sight of each one of them. My eyes are growing tired, my body shutting down. As I beam up at them, I realize that I had completed everything on my list. The only thing left is Enjoy Life, and as I think about our many adventures that led to laughs and hope for the future, I know that should be checked off too. Each event was even more successful than I imagined it to be. The tasks taught me things I hadn’t expected. I learned to take risks from the waterfall and looking back, I’m glad I did. I enjoyed God’s beauty from ones similar to swimming with turtles and going kayaking. From the zip line, I let loose and felt free. Even the wild and insane rollercoaster helped me realize that sometimes those fearless decisions are excellent ones. I might only be sixteen, but I feel as though my life was worth it. God’s plan is not always a long one. I gently close my eyes, and I know it will be for the last time. I feel whole, as if I gained the final puzzle piece. I had done it. The bucket list is complete, and so is my journey in this world. The burden of my disease is lifted off my shoulders. I’m free at last. My soul is at peace as I skip towards Jesus, finally home.

The end.

3rd Place, Izzy with “Andron”

Izzy positively adores reading and writing and is one of the most outspoken students in the 5000 Words Class. Her passion for the written word is evident by her insightful comments, the visionary stories she writes, and in her leadership of her peers into bigger and better writing enterprises.

Andron

Devon scanned the dense crowd of New Yorkers and tourists, his blue eyes alert, his dark hair blowing in the chilly autumn breeze. He sighed and pulled his oversized hoodie close around him. He pushed through the crowd until he found a secluded bench on the edge of Central Park, across from the Frick Art Library. Devon glanced behind him, making sure no one was watching, then uncurled his fist, sending up a wisp of smoke. A small red flame burst to life on the surface of his hand. Devon blew on the fire, and the figure of a small girl rose up. Her long pale hair and deep green eyes were all detailed in the fiery image. Devon peered at her, noting the jagged scar on her right shoulder for the hundredth time. How was he supposed to find this girl, Amber? This image was created when she was only 1 and she must be at least 15 now. Still Devon had hope that this image could help identify Amber’s main features. Unfortunately, before he could contemplate further a couple walked by, and Devon quickly snapped his other hand over the image, leaving nothing except a thin curl of smoke.

“Man, that was close.” Said Devon uncurling his fingers. But this time there was no smoke and no flame. Devon checked over his shoulder again but saw no one. He rubbed his palms together and slapped them on his knees but to no avail. Suddenly a tall girl with long blond hair dashed out from behind some bushes and sprinted toward the street. A few seconds later a group of teenage girls burst through the same bushes shouting taunts and insults. Just when it looked like she was going to get away the blond girl’s foot hit a hole and she fell to the ground. Devon knew that if he didn’t do something this poor girl was going to to get pummeled. So Devon got up and ran toward the girl, upon reaching her he scooped her up, his well and dashed across the street, deftly avoiding the bustling New York traffic. Soon they reached the opposite side of the street and Devon dashed into an alley next to the library. He carefully set the girl down on the dirty cement.

“What were you thinking?” The girl snapped. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

“Excuse me? I just saved your life!”

“No I think you just ended it. Those kids at school will never let me live this down Just because you had to be a “hero” or whatever you call that. I can take care of myself.”

“It doesn’t look like it to me.” Devon said gesturing to the teens ankle which was beginning to swell.

“Well, I certainly don’t need your help.” Said the girl as she tried to stand but she quickly slumped back to the ground with a groan.

“Will you at least let me get you a stick to lean on so you can get home.”

“I guess.” The girl said begrudgingly

Running across the street to Central Park, Devon searched quickly for a large stick. He brought it over to the girl and she slowly hobbled toward the sidewalk. As they got out into the pale fall sunlight Devon managed to finally fully see this strange girl. She had long blond hair, sharp green eyes and her face was peppered with freckles. Her clothes were either too small or too large. Her jeans barely made it to her ankles, her shirt drooped about her shoulders and was tied up with a rubber band. As she stumbled down the New York sidewalk, the rubber band on her shirt began to come undone. The girl’s shirt began to slip revealing her bare shoulder, what he saw on her shoulder made him gasp. There running down her right shoulder was a thin jagged scar! Devon stopped dead in his tracks. Could this really be the girl he began searching for over two years ago? He quickly reviewed everything he knew about the girl, there were only two things that would solidify her identity further her name and the street she lived on. He quickly sprinted up to her side doing his best to contain his excitement.
“What’s your name?”
“Rummplestiltspkin,” She said sarcastically
“What’s your real name?” Asked Devon rolling his eyes
“Amber if you must know.”
Devon could hardly believe it! Now he must follow her home to see where she lived. About 10 minutes into the trip Amber abruptly turned to him and asked:

“Why are you following me?”

“I, um couldn’t just let you wander off in your, uh, condition.”

“I told you once I don’t need your help.” Amber said shooting him a suspicious glance

“Well um, I’m going this way already.”

“Really? I doubt it.” Devon decided it might be in his best interest to follow Amber undetected. However he didn’t realize how difficult that would be. First, as soon as he reached the sidewalk a deluge of people pushed in on all sides of him and he soon lost sight of Amber. After a few minutes of terror-filled scampering he once more caught site of the girls hobbling figure. Following at a distance was clearly not an option. So he crept closer just as Amber sharply turned onto a residential street. As I ran to keep up with her she picked up her pace as best as she could. It was obvious that she had seen Devon. Amber shuffled as fast as she could up the steps of an orphanage. Amber shuffled inside the building with angry exaggerated steps leaving Devon alone with his thoughts. He meandered up and down the street for awhile searching for a special old oak tree to confirm Amber’s identity. As he searched his mind began to wander. Could it be that his two yearlong search was finally at an end? His mind drifted back to the day he first embarked on his quest.

****

“Are you ready Devon?”

“I think so.”

“Let’s go over the plan one more time. What is your mission?,” Questioned Maritosa Devon’s tutor.

“My mission is to bring you Amber to assist our fight to rid Andron of Deviant the evil usurper .”
“Why do we need Amber’s help?”

“She is the last direct descendent of Aaron the great prophet, and his family line holds a power necessary to uproot any usurper. Only his family know what the power is and what it can do.”

“Good. What if she refuses to join us?”

“If she won’t assist us,” Devon eyed Maritosa warily and took a deep breath before continuing “If she refuses to help us I must dispose of her so she cannot assist the enemy .”

“Very good,” Maritosa said gently “Now in order to find her I have an image for you to use.  Come here, stretch out your hand.” Devon offered his hand and as Maritosa took it he pulled a pinch of mysterious purple and gold dust from a leather drawstring bag.

“This may burn a little.” Said Maritosa kindly. As the dust was sprinkled over his palm Devon bit his lip against the pain.

“Now close your fist,” Devon cautiously  curled his fingers one at a time.  As soon as he did a bright light shone from the cracks in his fingers. Devon’s eyes sparkled from the brightness now all around him.  He stared bewildered at Maritosa who was looking on wisely. Almost to soon the magic ended, and the light faded.  Devon stared at his fist a moment before he carefully peeled away his fingers.  Maritosa took Devon’s young, soft hand in his large weathered ones.  Maritosa tapped a long wrinkled finger on the center of Devon’s palm, immediately a small flame burst to life. As Devon stared open-mouthed a small girl was rendered in the flames.

“This is Amber.”

****

Devon was brought back into reality as he rounded the corner heading back to the orphanage, there was one thing still bothering him. He couldn’t help noticing that Amber bore a stark resemblance to Deviant, the usurper. Was it possible that they were related?   He searched her street and the ones neighboring it without success. As darkness fell on New York Devon noticed something new. A large gleaming shimmering oak tree appeared at the end of the culd- a-sac. It was fully dressed in autumn splendor, the top of the tree seemed to grace the heavens, its golden tresses swayed gently in the cool breeze and the ancient twisted trunk had a yawning hollow that shimmered with water droplets and gold dust.

“The Tree of Dimensions .” He gasped Devon ran to Amber’s house and as he stood and thought about how he was going to get this strong-willed, bullheaded girl through the tree of dimensions Amber came out the back door lugging a heavy garbage bag. Devon ran up to the teenager and grabbed her wrist yanking her down her driveway and across the street. Amber shouted protest but had no choice but to run along behind him. Soon they came to the tree, Devon noticed that the very top of the tree was beginning to look translucent. He quickly pushed Amber into the hole in the tree before dashing in himself.

“Whew! That was close.” Said Devon wiping his brow. Then he turned and braced myself for the torrent of angry questions he knew were coming, as Amber recovered from her shock. He couldn’t quite catch all of what she said but this is what he picked up.

“What was that? You really think you can get away with this? Where on earth are we? Take me home this instant!!”

However there was nothing he could do there was no going back now. Devon sighed and turned toward the expanse of land behind him. He gazed out over the lush, gently rolling hills, off in the distance he could see a small inlet, to the right he squinted and managed to make out a far off forest. That forest was where Devon would hopefully rendezvous with whatever was left of his troops.

“Well,” Devon said glancing warily at the golden sunset ” I believe I can answer all of your questions tomorrow.”
“I am not going to wait that long.” Amber said defiantly

“Ok fine, I suppose I can answer a few questions.  But, we have to keep moving.”

“Where are we?” Amber fired off her first question as they walked.

“The Kingdom of Andron.”

“Oook, where is that exactly?”

“Right next to the kingdom of Andifin.”

“Uh hu, well, do you live here?”

“Yea, you could say that.”

“Why did force me to come here?”

“Well um, hey! I believe this is our campsite.” Devon said evasively

“Our campsite? Don’t you people have houses or a hotel or something?”

“Of course we do but, the nearest town is over a day’s journey north. Plus, I don’t think we would be welcome there.”

“Why?”

“Tell you what, let’s set up camp and I will answer the rest of your questions tomorrow.”  After a bit of convincing Amber agreed to hold her interrogative barrage off until tomorrow.  Before doing anything, Devon pulled from the bushes a small bag of supplies.  Using the bandages he had packed, Devon carefully wrapped Amber’s ankle.  She had plenty to say about that but, Devon did his best to ignore her comments.  Next they set up two primitive lean-tos for overnight protection from the wind and weather.  After a hasty supper of dried meat and stale bread the teenagers settled down for the night.  As Devon lay staring up at the leaves and sticks that made up his temporary home, he wondered if Amber would be willing to help or would he be forced to kill her?  He couldn’t help thinking about the nagging similarities between Amber and Deviant. They had the same sharp green eyes, the same tall thin frame.  Could they be relatives?  Wouldn’t that make Deviant a descendant of Aaron? With those troubling thoughts swirling around in the dark night Devon’s eyelids became heavy and he dropped of to sleep.  For a few hours Devon slept peacefully, he had been trained his whole life to be strong and resilient.  When he was younger his tutor, Maritosa had brought him out to these very woods to learn survival skills and other helpful traits.  Suddenly, a noise in the forest yanked Devon from his dreams.  He sat bolt upright and peered cautiously around the corner of his lean-to.  Devon carefully rose to his feet and his big brown boots padded quietly over the carpet of brilliantly colored leaves.  He tip-toed around last nights fire and peered into Amber’s temporary lodgings.  Nothing special struck him at first, the little area was just like his own the sane straight broad sticks and multi-colored leaves that made up the one wall, the identical gray bark that served as s second wall. The only things that were different were the bright leaves artistically positioned on the walls and floors, the kitten sketches on the floors, the open sketch book and pencils.  He was about to turn away when he spotted something unusual. The blue-gray blanket he had lent her out of his supplies was pulled way over her head.  Devon crept around the structure and pulled the blanket away from her face revealing a large pile of leaves and sticks.  Devon stared down in shock as he whipped of the blanket the rest of the way uncovering more sticks and leaves.  Fear overwhelmed him as countless questions swirled furiously in his mind. Where is Amber? Is she lost? Has Deviant found her?  Devon wasn’t quite sure what to do.  After a quick search of the campsite he thought it might be best to build a big fire in case she had wandered off and gotten lost.  He walked over to the dying embers of last night’s fire in a daze.  He carefully stirred up the embers and began to build his fire.  Once he got it going Devon sat back on his haunches and tried to figure out what might of happened.  Suddenly, Devon heard a fierce rustling in the forest.  He jumped to his feet and grabbed a large stick laying off to his right.  As Devon watched, every muscle tense, a human figure materialized in the dappled forest light.  As it drew closer Devon crouched down, ready to strike the incoming intruder.  However, to his great surprise Devon did not see Deviant in the forest or even one of his henchmen.  He saw a very disheveled and sleepy Amber. Her face was red with anger as she stomped dramatically into the clearing.   Devon relaxed and drew himself up once more, ready to face whatever trivial complaint Amber had found to plague him with. But what she said next shocked Devon beyond words.

“Devon, I know all about your little scheme, and I refuse to assist in your horrid plot.”

“What, what plot? And how do you know my name?” asked Devon bewildered

“Don’t play coy,” She sneered ” I know all about your scheme to over through the innocent king and use my powers to kill him.  Not to mention you were planning to murder me all along.”  Devon was floored, her view of the “king” was twisted but, the rest of her accusations were accurate.

“Who were you talking to?”

“Ah, so you don’t deny it!  Well, for your information I had the pleasure of speaking to his royal highness Deviant, the king of Andron.” Devon gasped and Amber smirked. ” It is encouraging to see that my father’s name strikes fear into the hearts of his enemies.”  Devon’s eyes widened in terror, Her Father? My suspicions were correct, they are related! But, I never could have imagined she was his daughter. 

 Do not worry Devon, as a reward for bringing me back to my Kingdom and my father, he will graciously spare your life, and allow you to return to your troops.” With that Amber bent to collect her belongings before she turned on her heel and sailed out of the clearing. As she sauntered off, Devon noticed a golden signet ring on her finger and a new rich bandage on her ankle. Well, she wasn’t lying, He thought ruefully.  Devon was stunned, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do now.  All he felt like doing was crawling in a hole and sleeping until all trouble had passed.  Devon decided to settle for sleeping until morning.  He crawled in to his tiny shelter and fell asleep almost immediately.

When he finally awoke from his hibernation, the sun was already high in the sky.  Reluctantly, Devon slunk out of his lean-to and dragged his feet over to the remains of last nights fire. Suddenly, a thought came to him.  What if all that had happened last night was just a dream?  A new hope flooded through Devon as he dashed toward the second lean-to.  He quickly dropped to his knees and cast his eyes frantically around the small space, however all he saw were piles of leaves, sticks and the wrinkled blanket, pushed over to one corner.  Devon slowly rose to his feet, she was definitely gone.  He sighed and began to move about the campsite absentmindedly putting away his supplies.  He was crushed.  He felt weak and helpless.  Not only had Devon lost his only chance at avenging his parents, he had let down his entire country.  He was not looking forward to meeting his troops.

****

“Wake up!”

“Hmm? What’s the matter Maritosa?”

“I can’t explain it to you right now, but you and your parents are in grave danger!”

“Why?”

“Listen to me Devon! We have got to get out of here immediately.”

“But Maritosa,”

“Shh what’s that?”

“Sounds like footsteps, but I’m sleepy can’t we wait till tomorrow?” Devon muttered sleepily

“No I-”

“FIND THAT BOY NOW!” Yelled a voice just outside the door. Suddenly, a silhouette appeared in the window, it carefully squeaked open the window and whispered sharply

“Maritosa, let’s go!”

“Alright we’re coming.” Maritosa ran to the window pulling Devon behind him. Just as they reached it a strong armored hand grasped Devon’s wrist.  Maritosa turned sharply, his eyes wide with fear.

“Trying to make off with the boy are you Maritosa? Well, no matter even if you could wrestle him away from me, old man you would never escape my men. They are everywhere.” As soon as the mysterious man finished speaking he yanked Devon’s arm away from Maitosa and he drew his sword from its sheath.

“Deviant! Somehow I knew you were behind this.”

“Of course now back away from the window.”

“Why Deviant? You had so much going for you. You were the kings closest advisor.” Asked Maritosa inching away from the window

“Ha! I had nothing going for me.  The entire future for me and my family was resting solely on the mood swings of a king.  I could have been executed with the wave of a hand.  After tonight my family will forever have a solid future.”

The silhouette unnoticed up until this point grabbed Maritosa, pulled him out the window and away to freedom.  Leaving Devon to suffer his fate with the new king.

****

Devon’s thoughts were interrupted by a huge commotion in the forest.  He heard the shouts of men and the barking of dogs. Suddenly, a huge hunting dog burst from the trees and ran full strength at Devon.  It ran right into him and knocked him flat on his back. With its big paws pinning Devon’s shoulders, the dog’s long pink tongue showered Devon’s face with slobbery puppy kisses.

“Ugh yuck! Bruno get up.” Devon yelled

“Devon! Man what took you so long?” Said a tall, muscular and handsome teenage boy.  He was blond and had a commanding figure his features were pleastant but unremarkable. The teen swung down from his horse and ran to free Devon from his slobbery prison.

“Philip! Oh man, are you a sight for sore eyes.” Said Devon as he got to his feet

“It’s good to see you too. But, where’s the girl? I came down from camp to ‘formally escort the lady back to camp.’ ”

“Well, um….”

“Oh No! Did she refuse? Were you force to kill her?  Man, that must have been hard. Was she pretty.” Philip fired off his questions with out giving Devon a chance to  answer any of them. “Was it hard to get here? Did-”

“Philip! If you will be quiet for a second I can tell you.”

“Ok, but you didn’t have to yell.”

“I, I didn’t have the chance to kill her.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Deviant grabbed her before I could tell her anything.” Said Devon his body tensing at the sound of the usurpers name.

“What? How? I didn’t think he knew about your quest.”

“Evidently he did, but that’s not even the worst of it.  Amber is Deviant’s daughter.”

“Oh, no.” Philip breathed “We’re gonna have to tell Maritosa and the others.”

“Yea, I know”

“Well, then it looks like you’re all packed so let’s get going.” Said Philip doing his best to be enthusiastic.  Then, Philip called to Bruno before swinging back onto his horse. Devon hopped up behind him and they took off galloping into the woods.

“Oh, I meant to ask you earlier Devon, we have a few routine raids scheduled for this month do you think we should cancel them?” Shouted Philip over the clatter of hooves.

“Probably, where are the targets?”

“We have a couple at the arsenal and the other usual places but the last one is set for the castle.”

“Really?”

“Yea, we were told  “his majesty” would be away.”

“Then, let’s proceed as scheduled.”

****

While his men scoured the castle for gold and weapons Devon set off on his special mission. He knew he was taking a huge possibly unnecessary risk but, he had to redeem himself. As he crept through the long dark hallways, sword drawn, Devon couldn’t believe this had once been his home. Was it possible that this gloomy place that reeked of death could have been the setting of his happiest moments?  Was equally possible that these same halls carried memories of his darkest days?  Devon walked past countless closed doors until he came to a large open room and he cautiously stepped out from the doorway.  Devon suddenly felt very small and vulnerable under the tall cavernous ceilings. He tipped toed over the cold, shiny well polished floors until a small noise made him jump. Devon thrust his sword in the direction of the noise and crept forward to discover what was making the sound. To his great surprise Devon found Amber crouched on the floor in one corner of the room. Her flushed face was streaked with tears.

“Devon? Wh, what are you doing here?”

“I think I could be asking you the same question.”

“Oh Devon, I’m so sorry.” Amber blurted before bursting into tears.

“You, you are?”

“Yes! A servant told me about your parents. I, I had no idea that, Father would go so far as to, to…” Amber blubbered. Once more Devon was floored had this stubborn, vicious girl truly reformed? Or was this all a trap? Devon decided to go out on a limb and trust her.

“Shh, why are you crying?”

“I, I can’t believe I fell for his awful schemes. Father seemed so sincere.”

“Shhh, it’s alright now let’s get out of here.”

Devon fairly flew through the castle with Amber doing her best to keep up with him. Soon they found the rest of Devon’s troops.   Without a word to his men Devon saddled an extra horse for Amber and they took off.  This was just the beginning of Amber’s immense assistance but, for now it is the end.

 

 

Homeschool Life, on writing, Personal Journey

It Ain’t Easy Being Real

I’m a laissez-faire teacher, which is something out-of-control teachers say to make themselves feel better. The truth is, I’m more comfortable allowing my students to talk, so long as I can get them to say, with some degree of accuracy, what I was going to say anyway. Today we did a little self discovery. I gave them the following worksheet and told them to fill out what they wanted, but that we’d share. Everyone, would share.

Oh, the gasps. The moans. No one wanted to share real facts about themselves. (This is how you know we’ve been too long in fiction. How lovely a mask is fiction.) One prompt: I have a big problem with… is basically a green light to complain in your best eloquence. That made them feel better.

Several students took the opportunity to tell me they have a big problem with writing class. One even said he’d rather watch grass grow than write. I was impressed with his illustration. One student came up with a seemingly incongruous phrase: grotesque beauty, but taken in context of our world that can be both those things at once, made perfect sense. Some students made jokes. But one student, who evidently thought hard about the prompt, began to reveal his soul-searching in a sincere and penitent manner– and with such beautiful and haunting language– we were all stunned into a moment of silence. A class of middle/high schoolers, silent. It was a bona fide Dead Poets Society moment right in my living room.

It’s not easy, in a classroom full of peers, to write truth about yourself and share it. But every time it happened, I felt blessed. Sometimes I saw myself in their opinions. Sometimes my perspective angle zoomed out as I understood a completely different perspective (like hating writing… who does that???). Getting real in front of others isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

Fearful, Tearful, Weirdful, and Rise

Fear. I wish I could cut it from my soul with a scissors. I wish I could lay on a comfy couch, talk its existence into oblivion, then charge myself $100/hour. I’d collect my fees and go on a vacation to the beach.

I have an active imagination, so I fear things most people haven’t even thought of. Example: Swings and Things. Everybody else just dons the batting helmets. Me, I think What is the probability there’s lice in there? I mean, how many scraggly heads have been inside that thing today alone? And everybody knows you’re not supposed to share headgear…

How about door handles. Am I the only one who considers the millions of invisible germs crawling all over those suckers? Or speaking engagements. Truly. Frightening. Or posting my innermost thoughts for the world–

You get my point. But I try very hard not to let fear stop me from doing anything. I charge it. Get it over with. The hardest thing is the waiting. A hard thing looms on the horizon and I just want to compress time so I can face it and put it in the rear-view mirror.

My kids have to live with this philosophy. I homeschool them, which you’d think is inherently insulating. And in some ways, it is. Or it can be. Who hasn’t met the socially backward, jumper-wearing, yellow-toothed homeschooler who hasn’t seen a hairbrush since 1995? That’s what I’m working against. I can conjure up all sorts of uncomfortable hard, fearful, tearful, engagements where my little ones’ homeschoolness will be showing, oh yes, and in those fearful, tearful, weirdful moments when they want to crawl into a hole and die (or at least crawl back home into their fuzzy blankets where math problems are their only problems)– in that moment, they get a glorious chance to rise. Rise and face whatever “horror” I set in front of them. Today it was meeting the herd of cross country kids at the stadium, all of whom came from class while my guy stands outside the locked gate (an apt image, as it were) waiting to be let in. “I wish there was just one other homeschooler, so I wouldn’t have to be alone,” he says. Inside I sigh and understand completely. With my outside voice I tell him to embrace this because he’ll be stronger for it.

I’m not a tiger mom, contrary to the opinion of my family. But I am driven to certain opportunities: fearful, tearful, weirdful opportunities at which they can rise and overcome. God help us.

Child: “I hate this. Why do you force me to do x?”

Me: “To prepare you to face a world that doesn’t care about you, without me.”

 

Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

Getting to the Whole Story: An Example from my Son

School started today, to my son’s horror. We’re finishing our history curriculum from last year because I went through K-12 never learning anything after WWII because we always ran out of school year before we ran out of boring textbook.

A History of US is one of my favorites because it’s a comprehensive, source-driven look at our past and not a boring textbook. Each day Gabe reads a few chapters and writes a paraphrase on his blog. Scroll down to his post. Did you know the bolded information? I didn’t.

There are many significant happenings, the details of which don’t transmit to Joe Public. In the case of my history ignorance, a textbook writer somewhere, sometime made the decision that the bolded piece of intel wasn’t worth the ink. I understand cuts must be made. But I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to trust someone, somewhere to filter my history for me. The way to bypass the textbook revisionist is to read as much source documentation as possible. And to believe: The man who tells the story is as important as the story itself.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear bombs. Both were destroyed because they were large, industrial cities that supported the Japanese war effort. Days before the bombing, pamphlets were dropped on Hiroshima to warn the citizens that the city would be destroyed, but nobody took it seriously. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed just 3 days apart. Somewhere between 129,000, and 226,000 people were killed in the two bombings combined. The pilots on the 509th Composite Group of the 313th Wing of the 21st Bombing Command of the 20th Air Force were chosen to do a secret mission. They practiced for it, but instead of practicing with huge amounts of missiles, they would practice with a single, medium sized weapon. Soon they were getting bored and even being taunted by other groups. They were taught to fear storms, especially electrical storms, and they never even knew why the whole time, but they still did it. When they flew over Hiroshima and they saw the bomb drop, at first it just looked like any ordinary bomb, but when it hit the city it made a huge explosion and a mushroom cloud. Three days later they did the same thing to Nagasaki, and the war ended. – Gabe, grade 7

What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrible. I was always taught that. Lately, I’ve been told I should feel ashamed of my country’s actions: the decision to drop the bomb. That’s when I start getting uncomfortable, and you should too. There are so many atrocities through the ages that, were we to begin serving penance for the actions of people who lived and died long before us and in a world entirely different from ours– we open a can of Dune-sized worms. Do you feel it, opening? I do. We’re in the middle of a shift; it’s fashionable to measure antiquated actions with a ruler of modern philosophy.

Who am I, in 2017, to decide whether or Truman should have dropped the bomb in 1945?

Truman, for his part, thought he was bringing the war to a swift close. Taken in its time, the decision was the right one… and to judge the decisions of people in 1945 by the standards of 201[7] is not only ahistorical, it is pointless. Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made; indeed, considered in the context of World War II, it wasn’t really much of a decision at all (Tom Nichols).

The above quote is why, when we’re done with our history curriculum, we’ll read through every source document provided by A History of US, all organized into the last volume, #12. Then Gabe will read Hiroshima Diary, by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, who survived the Hiroshima bombing, witnessed first-hand the devastation, and did his best to treat a formerly unknown condition: radiation poisoning.

Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

I Wish I Could Be…

Imagine this. My six-year-old wearing his fuzzy pj’s makes this imperious proclamation: “I wish I could be public schooled so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the kitchen to get my rods.”

Those rods, to which he referred, were little color-coded blocks that enabled him to learn his fractions and multiplication tables like a boss. Just, they were manipulatives. Manipulatives must be manipulated. One must touch them. One must get them out and place them on the coffee table next to the couch before one sits down to do his math. Else, one must expect to get back up.

A truer grass-is-greener thought was never uttered than when my son, who had zero-minus-infinity idea of what public school entailed– wished for it anyway because it was the antithesis of his present, horrible circumstances. That of having to walk the twenty steps from our cosy spot on the couch to the kitchen drawer, where his math rods were stored.

Nevermind we live barely less than two miles from the elementary school where code dictates he’d be walking to and fro every day, unless his mum rescued him with a car ride. Nevermind traipsing through the halls to get to classes, lunch, the bathroom. Each and every time, far more than the twenty steps to the kitchen to get his rods. And the pj’s: out of the question. Public schoolers have to wear clothes.

We all do it though, don’t we? Decide the grass is simply not green enough. Sometimes when life gives me a backhand I look longingly at the freeway and think how nice it would be to get in the car and just… go. Anywhere. King David had no freeway, but he and I comiserate: Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6) He was a king and wanted to be a dove. My son was homeschooled and wanted to be public schooled. I am a homeschool mom and wanted to be a gypsy.

Better yet, I wish I could be a superhero, then this thing called adulting wouldn’t be so dang hard…

 

fiction, Homeschool Life, on writing

Congratulations Writing Contest Winners, Winter 2017!

One of the highlights of the year for me is the 5000 Words Writing Contest. Homeschooled students ages 13 & up participate in a creative writing workshop and post their revised drafts as contest entries. Entirely peer-judged, the contest prompts some of the most tectonic revisions and highly polished writing these students are capable of producing. I mean, when your friends read your story and say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” you’re motivated. You have a waiting audience. Don’t take my word for it. Read the winning stories.

1st Place, “Need You” by Phil Miranda

Phillip, 12th grade, has participated in 5000 Words since his freshman year. During that time, he has also competed on Keystone High’s track, academic challenge, and cross-country teams, where he was awarded the Mastick Woods Scholarship and Keystone’s 2016 MVP award. Additionally, Phillip has participated in CCWA Model United Nations, also headed by Kelly Griffths. He has taken college classes through both LCCC and Hillsdale College, and aims to earn his MS in architecture from Kent State University.

Need You

Corbin ripped open another coagulant packet with his teeth and quickly poured the powder into the puncture hole that ran neatly through the ribcage of the Pvt. laying beneath him in the dust. The soldier was overtaken by a spasm and thrashed beneath Corbin’s knee. Grimacing, Corbin shouted, “Sully! I need help!”

Several seconds later, another soldier slid to Corbin’s side. “Yeah?” he yelled.

“Hold him down.”

Sully grabbed the wounded soldier and pinned him to the earth. Corbin went to work immediately. His hands didn’t shake. He could have been operating on himself and his hands wouldn’t have shaken. He finished, pouring iodine over the wound. Then he plunged a wad of gauze into the puncture and taped a heavy bandage over it.

“I’ll get him to the corpsmen!” Corbin yelled. “Here, you’re empty!” As he hoisted the limp man onto his shoulders, Corbin handed Sully his rifle.

Seizing the fresh weapon, Sully raced off to the front line as Corbin carried the hurt soldier away from the firefight, towards the battalion’s staging area. It seemed the slowest sprint of Corbin’s life. A stray burst of bullets drummed into a concrete wall a few yards to Corbin’s left, toppling the feeble construction in a billow of dust and cement chunks.

Just as the makeshift base came into view through the maze of Yemeni streets, Corbin heard a hollow whistle above him. Without slowing, he glanced upward into the sky, and could just see the speeding blur of mortar shell as it arced over him and struck the ground at his feet.

***

A metallic boom shook the Emergency Room as the ambulance-bay doors swung open and struck the walls. A pair of paramedics rushed a gurney through the E.R. towards the elevator. On the gurney was a pregnant woman. Her face was beet-red and she was breathing sharply through nearly closed lips. Her whole body was tensed in place on the gurney. A trauma surgeon waiting on standby in the E.R. rushed to the paramedics.

“What have we got?” she asked as she helped wheel the woman to the elevators.

“Mary, 28, three centimeters dilated.”

“She shouldn’t be in this much pain.”

“Minor car crash set her in labor.”

“Okay; we have to check for trauma. Let’s get her to delivery, call in Dr. Schmitt and a trauma team.”

“Got it.”

“Mary? How we doin’?”

“Tense,” Mary gasped.

“Can you feel your toes?”

There was an unintelligible response.

“What’s that, Mary?”

“I n– need Corbin.”

“Okay. Who’s Corbin–”

The nurse’s voice was lost as Dr. Schmitt rushed to the gurney. “What have we got?”

“Minor car accident– she’s at three centimeters. Abdominal pain.”

“Okay. Here– this room right here. Yeah, she isn’t gonna do this naturally. Prep her for an epidural.”

“On it.”

“Trauma team’s here.”

***

The blast knocked out Corbin’s hearing and struck him like a hammer, but he refused to let it topple them over; at this point, the Pvt.’s compromised ribcage would probably have been crushed by the impact of being dropped. Lurching forward and sidestepping the coal-red crater, Corbin rushed through the smoke and covered the remaining distance to the compound gates.

Corbin rushed into the drab medical tent picketed just inside the fence, gagging as he was hit with the palpable reek of blood and rot. He deposited the Pvt. with the medics and left, picking up a new rifle as he prepared to rejoin Sully on the front line.

“Gates!” yelled an intense voice.

Corbin turned to look, and saw a commander running to him holding a satellite phone.

“A nurse called for you from your wife’s phone. She’s in labor. And it- she’s- they said she’s okay, but I guess she was in a car accident on the way to the hospital.

Panic branched through Corbin’s spine. “Wel- Ho… c-can I talk to her?”

Before the commander could respond, the cry, “Sully’s been hit!” blared in Corbin’s earpiece. Corbin’s eyed widened and he glanced at the commander, who heard it too.

Corbin’s feet started towards the front, then swiveled back. The already muted sound of gunfire in the distance faded away as he thought about the woman lying in pain in the hospital. He remembered the first time she hiccupped, “I love you,” on the sidewalk in front of a bar in D.C.

At the same time, he thought of the soldier bleeding in the dust somewhere. He remembered the man who pulled him out of a burning car what seemed like a lifetime ago. Corbin glanced once more at the commander, still holding the phone in his hand. I can’t help Mary, he thought. Sully needs me.

“We’re taking heavy losses— they’ve got a technical!” The voice was hysterical.

Corbin swore, then turned to race back to the front line.

“Gates,” the commander started. Corbin was already gone.

“Get ordinance on that technical,” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran.

Corbin rounded a corner into an alley that emptied into a little meat market ahead. Emerging, he saw several things at once. Firstly, his squad was hunkered behind a low wall along one edge of the market. At the other edge, the Yemenis had parked a truck-mounted machine gun— whose gunner was spraying a hail of rounds down the square. Lastly, Sully had somehow been pinned to a wall by a spur of rebar through his thigh. Corbin raced to Sully, emptying his magazine in the direction of the truck as he moved. All the while, a huge ovoid shadow spiraled around the market walls.

He grabbed Sully and ripped him free of the rebar—hoping he hadn’t torn an artery—and threw them both to the ground, rolling them into a culvert. The moment he did, the technical and its occupants burst open in a fiery hail of parts, machine and human. The market was shredded with splinters of rubble and bone.

There was a moment of shocked silence as the survivors outside of the culvert collected themselves. Then the gunfire resumed. Ignoring it, Corbin tended Sully.

***

“No… something’s wrong. Baby’s cocked.”

“It’s already too low for a cesarean.” A nurse pressed a hand to Mary’s belly.

“I may have to cut her.”

“You are NOT cutting me.” Mary forced past her clenched teeth.

“Then push this thing out!”

“Schmitt, she’s delirious; Cut her.”

***

As Corbin cut a shallow incision across the hole in Sully’s thigh, it finally clicked that his squad had retreated. There hadn’t been gunfire for several minutes. They left us, he thought.

As he locked the clamps open, Corbin peeked out and saw dozens of boots through the market stalls as insurgents picked the bodies of the Americans clean. Ducking back down, Corbin focused on Sully’s leg.

Holding a flashlight between his teeth, Corbin pressed himself flat onto his belly to reach the damage. Sully’s artery had been partially—but not fully—torn, creating a halfpipe-shaped gouge. Corbin used his thumb and forefinger to pull both sides of the artery together, creating a ridge, and clumsily ran five stitches through the resulting seam. Sully gurgled in pain through the rag in his mouth. Even mended, large beads of blood kept seeping from the inner flesh of the incision. Quickly, Corbin poured his last pack of coagulant in the wound, unlocked the clamps, took the gag from Sully’s mouth, and wrapped it tightly around his thigh.

By now the insurgents were on all sides of them. Even behind them in the buildings on their side of the street. Corbin looked at Sully, who nodded. Covering it with both hands, Corbin popped the button on Sully’s holster and slid the freed weapon into his hand. Likewise Sully found a magazine in a back pouch of Corbin’s pack. “That’s not gonna be quiet,” Sully whispered.

A cluster of footfalls was growing louder and nearer. “Ready?” Corbin asked.

“Yeah,” Sully groaned.

As he was pulled to his feet, Sully slapped the magazine into Corbin’s rifle. The rifle locked with a metallic slam. The insurgents tensed and whipped toward the noise. A hail of gunfire erupted through the market.

***

“Get it to the NICU.”

“Blood pressure’s falling.”

“NICU has no open units.”

“Then wheel a back-up unit from the basement!”

“Schmitt, she’s not breathing.”

“Get the baby out of here.”

“She’s flatlining.”

“Gel the paddles.”

“I’m not done closing her up.”

“Yes, you are. Clear.”

“No-”

“Clear!”

***

A dead weight fell against Corbin’s back, smearing his neck and shoulders with moist warmth. Corbin shrugged it off him, knowing full well it was Sully. He didn’t stop shooting. He could feel his chest plate splitting further and further open, the shards of ceramic pushing into his skin as they cracked into smaller and smaller pieces. The strike of the rounds against his armor quickly turned from dull pings to wet crunches. Still he kept shooting, until the receiver clicked on his rifle.

By then Corbin’s diaphragm was so traumatized that he hadn’t breathed properly in minutes.

Finally, a round caught him in the armpit, under his vest, and punched a hole through his torso. The force of the impact and sudden loss of nervous function bore him straight into the ground. He fell largely overtop of Sully, so that as Corbin looked up he saw Sully’s blank face, upside down, next to his own.

Ribs fractured, lungs filling, Corbin looked for the already-flown spirit of his best friend in the glass of Sully’s eyes. Diaphragm hemorrhaging, he lay a hand on Sully’s armor and gripped it like a lifeline.

“I’m… right behind you… buddy.” he choked out.

He pried the pistol from Sully’s hand. The insurgents had been nearing warily for the past minute, hoping him dead.

Corbin pushed himself to his knees, gun raised, face empty.

One final burst of gunfire erupted in the sleepy little meat market in Samir, Yemen.

Epilogue

“Good news,” said Dr. Schmitt as he entered the nursery holding a clipboard. “The baby’s green across the board. He’s cleared to leave as soon as you are.”

An exhausted voice cracked as it said, “He looks nothing like me.” But it was a chuckle.

The chuckle turned into a trembling sob. In between gasps came the whisper, “I can’t do this.”

Schmitt stirred uncomfortably. A look of pity and concern flashed across his face, then, “She thought you could.”

There was no answer.

“Listen, you’ve been through a significant trauma,” Schmitt eventually offered. “There’s no reason to do this on your own. If you need, I can refer an excellent therapist.”

“That’s not what I need.”

Schmitt nodded, understanding. “Well, if you change your mind.”

Corbin looked up from the baby in his arms.

“I need her.”

2nd Place, “Footprints” by Jenna Melendez

Footprints

The warm summer sun cast an orange glow on my August tanned face. The world was still tucked asleep in their cozy homes while the sun peeked over the horizon leaving an ombre of red, orange, and yellow colors in the then awakened sky. Silence. Everything was so peaceful that morning. The beach had been cleared by the sandboni that comes before the sun rises every Friday morning. The only marks near the shore had been my own. One single trail of footprints on the white sanded beach I had left that last week before the start of my last year of college came around the corner. I was deep in thought that calm morning with my mind on school and the unresolved drama that had been left the previous year between my best friend and I. Walking down my favorite spot on the beach with my wavy auburn hair blowing from the slight ocean breeze, I remember thinking how I wished to go back to that day and do it all over again, wishing that I would’ve forgiven her. Now we’re not even friends any-

My thoughts came to an abrupt stop. I sighed and looked up to see Doctor Davis crouched over my white sheeted bed.

“Christina, you were hallucinating again. How are you feeling?” He asked while jotting something down on his clipboard.

I told him that I was fine and that it’s nothing, but how am I supposed to pretend that I’m okay when I only have months left to live? I guess I could make a good actress someday with all the fake smiling I’ve been doing. The loneliness is more painful than the burning feelings I get in my bones on a daily basis, but I just keep that part on the down-low.

The doctor left the room after he grabbed some paper work from the desk near my bed. I looked over to the window though there was not much to see. The hospital room was as devoid of beauty and color as I am of hope. Its walls are simply cream, not peeling or dirty, just cream. The room as an undertone of bleach and the floor is just plain gray. Not a single person has flowers, cards, or home brought food. It seems as though they are sleeping to pass the time or just staring at nothing at all. The doctors tell me that I’m lucky I wasn’t in the car with my parents when it crashed, but how does my luck look now? I lost my best friend, parents, and who knows when I’ll lose my life.

My thoughts focused back to my mom and dad. They were the most supportive people I’d ever known. My dad always told me that he’d do anything to “see that big white smile” of mine, and my mom would look into my eyes as if they were worth more than her own life. They were my partners in crime. We did anything and everything together. They always took me and Vanessa to the zoo to watch the monkeys swing across the trees and vines. My best friend and I would beg my parents to let us play on the zoo playground so we could pretend to be monkeys on the monkey bars. Vanessa, being the clumsy girl she is, would fall more than I can remember. There was one time, though, that was worse than the others. It seems like it was yesterday when she fell on her wrist and broke it. I can almost see her tear streaked face and hear those little sobs of a seven year-old.

These thoughts came to an abrupt stop once again, but this time it seemed as though they were coming to reality as I heard loud footsteps pounding down the halls headed toward my room. The sobbing grew louder, and the next thing I knew, Vanessa was crouching beside my bed hugging me as if she never wanted to let go.

“I’m s-so sorry,” She tried to squeak out the words that I’d wished to hear since that June day when everything fell apart.

At that moment, all my doubts, worries, fears, and confusion faded away. My eyes dripped with tears. My walls, the walls that used to hold me up and make me strong just collapsed. Brick by brick, they came tumbling down. Salty drops fell from my chin, drenching my shirt. We cried until the tears couldn’t fall anymore.

Vanessa began again, “Christina, I really should’ve told you that we were together. I know he’s one of your best friends and that you always had something for him, and I shouldn’t have kept it from you. This past week, I found out that you have cancer… I guess I was just afraid I’d lose you, and I didn’t want to see that happen. You’re my best friend and I could’ve been the one to help you through this, but instead I was a bad fr-”

“It’s okay Nessa. Your feelings matter to me, and I shouldn’t have gotten so upset. I don’t blame you for being scared, but we’ve been through everything together and I wish you could’ve been here with me these past five months. You don’t know how hard it is for me,” I said with caution, knowing that these could’ve been some of the last moments for me to have someone by my side, and if it was my best friend, I wouldn’t give up the chance.

“I know how hard it is since your parents aren’t here,” Vanessa started, “and I should’ve been here for you like you’ve always been there for me. I’m just so sorry,” She said with a tone of sadness in her voice. Her glassy blue eyes looked as if they wanted to shatter.

I told Vanessa that we’ve always had ups and downs, but we get through them together, and that we would get through this.

***

Months passed by, and my hallucinations seemed to be coming more and more each day. Some of the times, I would fall asleep for hours on end. One of the doctors would have to wake me up so that I wouldn’t go into some sort of coma.  I knew that the cancer was spreading even further and would soon reach my heart, but I didn’t feel so alone anymore.  My anxiety of not making it this long seemed to ease. It’s been two and a half weeks since I was supposed to be “gone”. The ongoing pains I have weren’t the most pleasant, but for once in a long time, I felt at peace. The chemo treatments were getting more and more as time went by, but I’ve learned to deal with it. Doctor Davis came in on a Thursday morning and asked how I was feeling, as usual. I told him that I was fine with a real smile spread across my freckled face.

***

“Hurry get her some oxygen, she’s going under,” I heard the faint words of a blurry figure who seemed to be scurrying around the room.

“Christina, hang in there. Christina?” With all the strength that I could gather, I opened my eyes to see that it was Vanessa who was squeezing my hand. The words seemed to blur into nothingness as everything went black.

***

The sun was above the clear, blue horizon when I ran down to the shore. I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and I looked around to see that no one was there. I realized that I was standing on my favorite spot of the beach, and I didn’t feel alone. Someone was there with me. The sound of the ocean brought a sort of peace and happiness over me that I had never felt before as I looked back to see two trails of footprints in the sand.

3rd Place, “We Were Gladiators” by Sharon Kay

I’m Sharon. I have a deep passion for things I strongly believe in and am not afraid of speaking my mind. I also love having deep, real conversations with people! Here are just some of the things I love: writing fiction, reading every YA book I can get my hands on, watching all different genres of TV shows, thunderstorms, running, sunsets, comfy blankets, Nike’s, Pinterest, Spotify, sleep, and COFFEE. Since I gave you some of the things that bring me joy, it is only fair that I tell you of some of the things that don’t bring my soul joy. Things like tomatoes, books that drag, people who don’t mean what they say, know-it-alls, etc….

Now that you know a little bit about me I will tell you of my future plans. Although you can never be sure of what your future has in store, I am planning on going to college after I graduate. I would love to either study Criminal Justice, Nursing, or both! We will see! – Sharon Kay

We Were Gladiators by Sharon Kay

Chaos.

I had never seen such chaos like this before, my whole world had in almost every sense, been flipped upside down. The cards had been changed, I was no longer preparing to die but, in fact, preparing for a new life.

That instant tossed everything I ever knew and had known up into the air, never to be seen again. The turmoil and excitement, however, did not just affect me. The moment after Marcus’s knife had gashed the Emperor’s throat, the Colosseum became still, and the faces in the crowd showed nothing but pure disbelief and wonder. They gawked at the man responsible for a death that would influence, perhaps, the rest of their lives.

The Emperor was a cruel and brutal leader, deserving of a cowards death. The mass yearning for his death, however, were not created not by his blunt use of words and force, but the moment he chose to create a new type of entertainment for his empire. This entertainment would draw out his citizens, hooking them in with excitement and adrenaline, but at the cost of tearing apart families and individuals piece by piece….

I remember the night it all started, it was the first time I had ever felt true hate.

I could make out even the farthest of stars in the sky, but I would not be admiring the stars tonight. The town was filled with the wailing of mothers, as their children were being ripped from their arms by the ruthless soldiers in red and silver. These mothers knew not whether their child would last the night or if they would ever see their precious faces again. This was the emperor’s way of recruiting noble gladiators, by grabbing their children right from their arms and instilling terror and fear within their souls. I remembered my mother’s voice when the red and silver came to our door, she screamed and collapsed to her knees begging for them to leave me be, but they dragged me off, just like all the others.

The Emperor’s Noble Gladiators brought more entertainment to the Colosseum than ever before and many forgot all about that dreadful night; however, many did not forget, and would never forgive the acts of abduction and cruelty done by their Emperor.

*********

My body lay still and under white sheets as I saw the door being cracked open, deep in thoughts of my past and not wanting to be disturbed my eyelids fell, pretending to be asleep. I could hear someone walking slowly in, footsteps growing louder as they came closer and closer. The footsteps suddenly stopped, they had reached the edge of my bed. A rough hand was placed gently against my damp forehead, the man belonging to the footsteps exhaled strongly and started to weep. Realization hit and I opened my eyes, I had to let him know I was alright. I tried to say his name, but it came out as only a faint whisper and brought about agonizing pain; the gash on my throat had not yet healed from the trauma it had been through. I looked up to see his eyes glimmering with tears as he saw the pain I was in. “I… I am sorry,” he said. His knees started to fail him as he slowly slid down until his elbows had reached the edge of the bed, he then placed his head into his hands, no longer able to look at the pain he had caused. I knew he would blame himself, he always does, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. But he had made the right choice, he could not have left that excuse of a leader live any longer torturing and killing hundreds of innocent men, women, and children daily for entertainment. Marcus had always felt responsible for me, it began when we were both young, I had been ripped from my home and forced into the games and he had been thrown in by his abhorrent father, the emperor. As fate would have it, we became a team conquering each match together and he slowly became the brother I never had and I the sister he never had. My mind dragged those memories up once more, to the moment it all happened…

It appeared that no matter how hard I tried I would always end up in the same place, in the dirt, I had gotten myself up again and again but the only thing that had changed was the number of times I had fallen. The heavy steel still felt unfamiliar to my touch, as I had never held such a weapon before, ironic that my life would now depend solely on one. I got up once more and looked at my opponent, the emperor’s son, only to be knocked down once more. What came next was just as surprising, his feet carried him over to my frail helpless body, lying in the dirt, and leaned down to help me up. We became inseparable after that, training day and night and as time went on we slowly became the greatest noble gladiator’s there were.

To this day, I still wonder what had compelled the young emperor’s son to lean down to help me up. Maybe he had felt sorry for me or maybe he didn’t want a young girl’s death on his conscious…….I may never know, but I do know this, I will forever be indebted to him.

My hands grabbed the side of my head as another wave of pain came, my brain was reliving each and every moment that took part in the event that placed me here. Marcus still knelt at the edge of my bed, grabbing my hand he asked me what was happening.

I shook my head from side to side, tears sliding down my cheeks as I still could not speak.

“Octavia, what’s wrong?!” he said.

All I could force out was “Too……much….blood.” My eyelids then closed tight, trying to force the images away.

“We did what we had to,” he said, voice shaking.

I grasped his hand tighter as the memories I had been trying so hard to forget came crashing down. The moment that placed me here, wounding me both physically and mentally were upon me….

I saw Marcus out of the corner of my eye climbing up the Colosseum walls that were keeping us from the crowd, a mass of roman soldiers on his heels. I knew exactly what he was doing, we couldn’t keep this up much longer but getting to the emperor would have a greater influence than dying down here. Marcus was over the wall now making his way to the balcony, the crowd still thinking this was a game, made way for him and tried to prevent the soldiers from getting through. He had reached his father now, he was still and looking straight into his eyes. They stared at each other with so much hate and disappointment that if looks could kill, they would both be dead. Before I could throw my dagger, Marcus grabbed ahold of his father placing his blade at his father’s throat, tempting the beginning of chaos. His voice cracked as he screamed at his father asking him why and how he could ever do this to him. He kept pushing the knife further into his father’s throat, blood spurting out as his father began struggling. I was on the balcony now, watching as the man who killed my parents was gasping for his last breath when I felt a sword on my neck. Marcus stopped but did not lower his knife. We knew this was the end, we had stood up and defied the emperor and his games, and we were ready to finish this. I nodded towards Marcus, there was only a moment’s hesitation before he sliced his father’s throat.

That was the last thing I saw…before the world went dark.

We had done what we planned to do, but we could have never foreseen what would have happened next or even thought we would be alive to see it. I had almost died that day, they said with the amount of blood I had lost I should not have survived, but I did and here I am today.

After the sudden death of the Emperor, the senate was in an uproar and filled with fear of another rising to power moved quickly to make the next of kin, Marcus, emperor. The people needed a strong leader, one they admired and would follow, Marcus was already that man. He had freed their children, gotten rid of the cruel and murderous emperor and was in all respects, next in line being the emperor’s only living son.

After the painful flood of memories had passed I drifted off to sleep.

Marcus got off of his knees and started walking towards the balcony. His feet slowed as he neared the end of the balcony, lips curving into a smile as he felt the breeze brush across his face. In all this chaos it was hard to remember that he was free. He looked up to see the dark and pillow-like clouds inviting rain, it was time for his city to be washed clean. As Marcus turned to go something caught his eye, that fiery blaze would not be the last of the night. Just like any rule, there will always be ones that oppose, and those men were getting stronger and stronger, threatening their new ruler and now his empire.

Marcus looked back at Octavia, she had been through hell and back and she didn’t deserve what he was about to ask her. It would be like asking her to sacrifice more of herself than she already had, but he needed her now more than anything.

1 week later

Marcus walked into my room, his royal clothes now less startling as the days went on, I lifted myself up so my back was straight.

“How are feeling?” he said.

“Stronger every day,” I said, giving him a small but painful smile.

“Good, I am going to need you soon,” he mumbled out.

“What do you mean by that?” I said eyebrows raised.

“There have been uprisings,” he said ” and I need someone I can trust to put these rebels at bay. I know I’m asking a lot, believe me when I tell you I never wanted to throw you back into battle.” He shifted from side to side, not being able to look her in the eyes, his eyes were the window to his soul, a clash of emotions and distress he couldn’t afford to let out. He couldn’t let her see the pain that haunted him. Deep down he knew she could do it, she had been doing the impossible her whole life. Every blow she took was received like it was a challenge, a challenge to be better, a challenge to grow, and a challenge to overcome against all odds.

I looked down at my skinny figure wondering how I would even leave my bed, let alone fight. Lord knows I wasn’t ready to be thrown back into a battle or have the constant guilt of the ones I’ve murdered haunt me day and night. I blocked the thoughts and did the unspeakable…. I moved my legs to the side of my bed, feet touching the ground, rose and brought a knee to the ground. My head spun and my legs felt like they were going to collapse at any moment, but I stayed in place. I brought my fist up to lay on my chest an all too familiar stance I’d hoped to never do again, but I reminded myself that this was different as I spoke saying,”I will protect my home and its armies or die trying, Emperor.” The world spun fast around me and then went dark, as I passed out onto the floor.

5 weeks later

Red, red as far I could see. My hands, my men, and my enemies were all covered in this crimson liquid.

Early that day, a small group of my men and I went out to silence a rebel uprising at the edge of the city. We expected it to be just like all the rest, small groups of men, angry and burning things; we were greeted with nothing like we expected. I had hopped off my black mare as soon as I saw what was up ahead, I tried walking over them but there were too many. The rebels had slaughtered a group of kids in the village like the savages they were, ones lacking a soul. No longer able to look, I looked up to see that one of my men had spotted a trail heading into the woods, I signaled the others off their horses and we took off into the woods….

I swung my sword towards another soulless one, blood spitting out of its flesh as I pulled back only to raise it once more, separating its head from the rest of its miserable body. Gore covered my body from head to toe as I looked at the bloodbath of my victims, tears springing from my eyes and mixing with blood flooded down my face as I killed one soulless child killer after the other.

The sunset ran as red as our victims that night, reminding us of all the lives we took that day.

Your hands are far from clean after you’ve washed them when you carry the title of general or emperor; being a leader to your people requires a certain strength and sometimes the only way to do that is to keep your emotions hidden from the crowd. But those emotions can only stay hidden so long…

I went home that night, needing to clear my thoughts and my heart. As soon as I entered I stood as still as the statues, in shock of my surroundings, it was the same yet so different. The rows, which were always stacked with brutal, loud citizens holding our lives in their hands, were now desolate with only broken dishes and crushed roses. The scene in the center of the amphitheater sent fear running through my body faster than lighting. Trying not to make a sound, I descended as quickly and as quietly as I could. I was an arm’s length away now, his back facing towards me, he was on his knees looking blankly at the ground while holding the edge of his sword to his abdomen threatening too many things. I have seen too much death, the lives that were taken by my hand haunt me night and day but I would not be able to recover from this death.

“Don’t!” I said, my voice cracking. “Look at me, Marcus! Don’t do it…please don’t.”

My eyes looked at his hands, still, they were.

“I don’t wanna fight. I don’t wanna fight anymore,” he said, voice faint.

“I will not accept your life to end like this, these people need you! I still need you. Marcus, you’re the only family I have left, please…don’t…..don’t do this to me.” I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, as I watched his hands grasp the sword tighter.

“You need to let me go, Octavia…let me go.” He said looking up at me, tears in his eyes.

My head swayed side to side violently as tears streamed down my face.

He looked me in the eyes one last time before he pushed the blade in as blood flooded out and he toppled over face down into the dirt.

I rushed to his side, pressing my hands down on his wounds aimlessly trying to stop the blood from leaving his body. “No…no…no…..no…Marcus…NO!! You can’t die, you can’t die!” I took my hands off his dead body and beat my fists on the ground repeatedly, yelling at the world.

********

My devils still haunt me in the night, waking me up with a tear stained face and throat sore from my screams.

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As you can see, 5000 Words students write thousands and thousands of words. By the end of the session most write them joyfully, all write them fearlessly, with ever-increasing eloquence and clarity.