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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“Hmm? What’s the matter Maritosa?”
“I can’t explain it to you right now, but you and your parents are in grave danger!”
“Listen to me Devon! We have got to get out of here immediately.”
“Shh what’s that?”
“Sounds like footsteps, but I’m sleepy can’t we wait till tomorrow?” Devon muttered sleepily
“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.’ ”
“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.”
“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.