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.

***

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.

Fiction: Hear No Evil

If this doesn’t inspire a story…

I decided to try my hand at the assignment I gave my 13 & up class this week: 500+ words using one of the seven basic plot types and using the picture to the left as a prompt. Confession: I didn’t decide on a plot type first. The picture was inspiration enough. I just began writing. I can totally tell I’m in the middle of C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi book, Out of the Silent Planet. I did have trouble wrapping this up though, and I believe it’s because I didn’t settle on a plot type or have a plan. As usual, I wrote myself into a corner. Too-much-time later, I figured out an end. Good thing I spend lots of time driving. It’s great for plotting. Now that it’s done I believe it falls under the plot type tragedy.

Hear No Evil

All prisoners wore red; it was mandated. Years ago, some clever administrator dubbed it the perfect prison garb, as red did not exist naturally on Zoya. Making the cloth was costly. First, the larvae had to be imported from their native planet. They were freeze-dried for the journey, then defrosted and spun in oxygen-rich vacuums– a noisy affair, as the larvae screamed in agony during the process. Weavers were always of an earless species, as was thought humane.

Once the larvae were unspooled, the cloth could be brought into the light. Then it was sewn onto a prisoner where it reacted with the epidermis, creating an even deeper, unnatural hue. Milan had laughed as they stitched the suit into the cerulean skin of his ankles, figuring he’d tear it out the first opportunity he got. They sewed it into his pink wrist flesh too, and his neck.

That hurt.

Thankfully he didn’t have ears, so he didn’t hear his own screams. He did note, however, that his mouth opened and closed and a great rush of air pushed out his throat. He’d seen others do it before, so he knew he ought to be embarrassed. The administrators tricked him. He didn’t figure on them stitching a seam up the sides of his legs and torso, embedding the live threads into his heart. If he tugged even slightly on the loose string at his ankle, he immediately felt an excruciating pain in his chest. The red suit would stay, and Milan’s life as a free citizen of Zoya was over. They let him keep his home in the Mottled Wood, they even gave a stipend for his pets. Pets were good for combatting depression, they said. Pets didn’t talk back or criticize. A man with pets might be rehabilitated.

The first step toward rehabilitation was to admit guilt. This Milan would not do.

Every day a representative from the Zoyan Mental Health Services would knock on his gate at precisely 2:00 PM, tea-time in Zoya. Milan was expected to put out tea (they provided it in the stipend, ginger as he requested). The representative sat on the wicker chair, Milan on the floor cushions. His kind never used chairs. They were to talk about his feelings. Was he sorry yet? He’d eaten company property, after all.

How was Milan supposed to know they took seven years to digest? He never would be sorry, he told them. The larvae were delicious.

Milan was sentenced to Indefinite House Arrest.

“What if I leave?” he asked, with his usual sass.

“Anyone with ears will hear you a mile off,” answered the judge, “We provide you the tools and the environment. Rehabilitation must be a personal choice. Free will above all else.” The judge pointed to the Zoyan crest of an eagle as he said this.

“I’m not free,” complained Milan.

“You’re free enough.”

Milan, wanting to make the best of house arrest, decided to make a pet for himself. The ones they provided were lame: a toy rhino and a pillow beetle. To grow what he wanted required a special solution. Luckily, the library delivered, and he was easily able to make the solution once he had the recipe. The other ingredient wasn’t easy: his big toes, chopped off at the first knuckle. They grew back of course, but it was a slow process. He had to wear white cotton socks and slides around the house until the healing was complete.

Every day he stirred the jar, noting with satisfaction that after ten days the toes dissolved and stretched like yeast dough and began to resemble an offspring of the phylum Chordata. The representative nodded in appreciation. “Coming along nicely,” he said, “Art is good for rehabilitation.”

“Yes,” Milan agreed.

“How does it make you feel?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m still growing it. My feet hurt.”

“Yes. Well, I assume you’ve been adequately provided for?” The representative nodded to Milan’s pets and the jar.

“Oh yes, after this it will be enough,” Milan assured him.

“What are you making?”

“A penguin.”

“What’s that?”

“You mean you don’t know? They used to live on Earth. You are human, yes?”

The representative, clearly embarrassed at not knowing, changed the subject to that day, Milan’s last day on the job making the very fabric that now enveloped his skin. Milan threw up his hands. “Even if I apologize, I’ll wear this suit forever. What’s the point?”

“At least you’d be free to leave the house.”

“I stand out like a zit.”

“Only on Zoya. You could eventually leave.”

It dawned on Milan that leaving was precisely what they wanted him to do– once the larvae were digested of course. Though the representative was sipping tea and engaging Milan in talk, his attention kept returning to the glass jar. Milan pretended not to notice. When the tea was gone, the representative, a naturalized human, bowed to Milan and thought his farewell. For a human he could think quite coherently. Most simply could not separate their inner thoughts from those they wished to send as communication. It was a drawback to having ears.

Milan wondered if being assigned to him was a sort of departmental punishment. Though he had no ears, Milan could imagine how difficult it was for the representative to ignore the tormented calls of the larvae as his system digested them. The screams went on and on, like a siren, so Milan was told. He heard nothing. The rhino’s ears had been lanced, and the bug didn’t have any, but his new pet… through the thick glass Milan could see the tiny mouth opening and closing. Was that what drew the human’s attention?

Milan eyed the glass-encased prisoner. A stubby wing struck out and hit the glass. “I don’t receive you unless you think.” Milan tapped the side of his head as if that explained everything.

Already it didn’t seem to like him.

Milan sighed. “Do you hear them too?”

In answer, the penguin banged so hard on the glass that it quaked on the table.

“I can eat you too, you know,” Milan said, “And I wouldn’t be a bit sorry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Forget – What It’s Like Writing my First Novel

keysI’ve been toying with the idea of changing my novel around. This morning I decided to change the point of view from 3rd to 1st– just to experiment. I’ve read many 1st person novels and loved them. Right now I’m reading We Were Liars by e. lockhart. If you want to hear a distinctive voice, read it. If you want to not put your book down for many uninterrupted hours ultimately putting your reality on hold, read it. My son was assigned We Were Liars for his summer reading; he read the whole book on the drive home from Pennsylvania. Then he had his girlfriend read it because it was too good to keep to himself. She also devoured it. I’m halfway through, but it’s definitely one of my favorites. Required reading that doesn’t feel required– way to go, St. Ignatius.

So this 1st person book and the others I’ve loved (The Fault in our Stars, The Screwtape Letters, Out of the Dust, The Book Thief, Telltale Heart) made me wonder if my story would be better served from 1st person. Even the book I hate the most, Catcher in the Rye, I hate because I hate the distinctive voice of the narrator. Many people love Holden Caulfield… or they love to love him. To admit loving Catcher in the Rye is to wear a sort of rebellious intellectualism like the green Masters jacket. It might be legit, but it might be off the racks of Goodwill. No one knows for sure.

Of course changing point of view would mean re-writing the whole thing which does make me want to weep. But I’d rather love my story, and in 3rd person, I’m not sure I’m lovin it.

So today I began the 1st person experiment. You know what? I love writing in 1st person. The few short stories I’ve written, the ones I like, are in 1st person. Since I might be reworking the whole thing, I’m not sure the 57,548 words I’ve written will ever reach the final draft, but in chronicling the journey, I note them.

I’m also itching to write a short story, so I have something about which to hope. Right now I only have three stories in the hoping queue. One is a local library contest, one the behemoth Writer’s Digest contest (my longest shot), and one to a web-based journal, East of the Web. I haven’t been able to join any of the local writing groups because my schedule has me driving or watching sports events. Not complaining, it’s a glorious season, but maybe when I can get back into those arenas I won’t feel so starved for validation. A writer sends out manuscript after manuscript, hoping for affirmation, but aware rejection is just as likely. It’s a boot camp of the soul.

Like buying lots of lottery tickets, I’ve got to get more hopes out there while I whittle away at my novel.

R is for Raveled

 

Raveled

See the kite

assembled, tied, stretched taut

on a bone frame, its colors

a brazen flutter in a blue-white sky.

See the kite

coveted, owned, loved.

New-toy perishable love.

Kites are frustrating.

Without wind,

without a hand on the string

they fall. See that.

Or this: a dropped kite

sliced by leafless branches,

nothing more than worthless ravel,

the kite string

slithers along the ground

wraps mummy-like around

the tree that stopped its flight.

R

 

 

 

 

P is for Perfectiosis

PPerfectiosis. A disease that afflicts writers. Symptoms include but are not limited to the following: generalized anxiety, sweats, permanent worry lines on the forehead, permanent duck lips, muscle aches and pains, blurred vision, hair loss (self-inflicted), and ultimately death by defenestration, an option more appealing than hitting publish after spending an eternity on a piece of writing that no longer recognizes itself but blunders along like Frankenstein’s monster. As you read it you want yell curses and runfrankenstein from it just as Victor Frankenstein did, but the pragmatist in you regrets the hours of life you can’t capture back, and really, you’re hoping it’s not all that bad. Surely someone will love it; like it’s one of those ugly dogs so off-the-charts ugly that it’s (sort of) cute. Please think this essay is ugly-dog cute, you think. That’s what a writer suffering from perfectiosis clings to on revision #994.

A painter can hang his pictures, but a writer can only hang himself. – Edward Dalberg

Eddie and I would be best buds if he wasn’t a hundred years dead. Eddie also said writing is humiliation. He didn’t even specify that it had to be bad writing. Or for that matter, who gets humiliated. In my post about Luke I confessed that Luke hates when I blog about him, so it could very well shake down that he’s the one humiliated by some really awesome writing.

Perfectiosis and Eddie’s comment on art and suicide are what conspires to keep a writer’s work safely in the file, never published. As of today I have a short story. Haha!… short…. that I’ve pored over for at least a full work week and still don’t love enough to zap it with lightning and let it loose upon the world. My perfectiosis won’t allow it.

What’s the cure for perfectiosis? Why, publishing a post a day based on the letters of the alphabet. If you do that, one of two things will happen: 1. You’ll publish little scarred and warty monsters; or 2. You’ll go completely insane and get a week’s stay at the funny farm where I happen to know they have deli trays and gourmet cookies. (How do I know that? You’ll have to read my upcoming Q post/warty monster to find out.) Publishing scarred and warty monsters and noting that life goes on, that people still love you and the sun still sends down its warming rays… will cure the perfectiosis.

I have half a mind to publish a post with flamboyant grammar mistakes and misplaced modifiers just to prove my point…

N is for Norman

NI asked my high school writing class to complete a character draft, but I introduced a twist (I always introduce a twist). Each student received the worksheet with the same unfinished sentences. We began by filling out #1. Then we passed the paper to the right and filled out #2 and so on. What that yielded were 13 characters, each a Frankenstonian amalgam. I had the students name their characters and share the answers. At one point a student read I’m most embarrassed of the time I didn’t tie my swim suit tight enough. Can I tell you I almost fell out of my seat? These characters were so impossible, yet so delightful that I decided right then and there to have the students expand on them.

Double dipper that I am, I named my character Norman because I need an N-word. The answers I had to work with are in green. Only one of them is my answer. Can you guess which one? I’ll tell you at the end.Norman

  1. Three adjectives to describe my character are… devil’s advocate, cynical, salty.
  2. Three adjectives to describe my looks are… tall, cheerful, blonde.
  3. I love… Kalahari.
  4. I hate… Watership Down (the book we’re studying in class now).
  5. I would kill Peyton with my bare hands.(Peyton is a character from last session’s book, Alas, Babylon) 
  6. I would kill for… the children.
  7. I’m most proud of… my singing.
  8. I’m most embarrassed of… my father talking to people.
  9. I would kill for someone I love.
  10. If I could only do one thing forever it would be… live.
  11. My ideal job is… neuroscience.
  12. I’m afraid of… contracting lice.
  13. I’m confused by… stupidity.
  14. An extra fact about me is: I hate poetry with the burning passion of a billion suns.

Norman Fates

People tell me I’m cynical, but I’m a realist. In Cleveland, Ohio, the reality is that it’s cloudy 364 1/2 days a year. Add to that fact a body just washed up on the shore at Edgewater Park, one of my favorite haunts. No, I didn’t find it myself, but I heard he had blonde hair like mine, that he was tall like me, but perhaps no longer cheerful, being dead, like I am when I get to swim in my favorite lake. Winter in Cleveland for a water-lover is tough. If it weren’t for Kalahari, I don’t know… I’d have to move to Texas (which I may do anyway, especially if they secede).

With all the garbagy weather we get (again, not cynical, just keeping it real), I read a lot. Watership Down is a two-inch-thick story about… (you’ll never imagine) bunnies. Can you believe there could be even an inch about bunnies? I thought I might die before reaching the end of their quest. It was like Dostyovsky sprouted a cotton tail and pored his soul into copse and field descriptions. Gag. It’s one thing to hate a book, but I’d kill Peyton Bragg with my bare hands. She was a character in Alas, Babylon, a post-apocalyptic novel written in the 1950’s. Peyton was a child character, and even though I’d kill for the children, she’s excluded. She killed Phyllis’s pet goldfish and used them as bait. I mean, who does that? Don’t whine about you’re starving. Stealing is stealing.

Another way I keep myself from getting too salty about the Cleveland weather is by singing in my church’s choir. I’m in the soprano section at the United Methodist Church of Berea. Not actually standing there. But that’s where I sing, and I’m darn proud of it. My father, God rest his soul, embarrasses me when he talks to people. As if I can’t hear the voices. I hear them all the time. They whisper T.S. Elliot poems to me, which I hate with the burning passion of a billion suns. Poe, I like him. I once wrote a completely original poem entitled “The Craven.” It’s an enchantingly rhythmic, dark, and repetitive piece about my fear of contracting lice. I wrote it in response to a terrible experience I had at an Indian reservation. I was there for a short-term missions trip and we’d been warned to exercise caution with our hair. One of the students thought he’d be funny and put a baseball cap on my head, the same cap that had set on about a hundred Indian heads. Just in case I got lice, I had to cut him up into little pieces and flush him down the toilet. First though, I had to unscrew the base from the floor so I could fit his skull down the sewer pipe. That’s a free tip.

psycho-anthony-perkins-as-norman-bates-1000x288

I’m most afraid of… contracting lice.

 

A is for Albatross

AI received an email* from one of my students. His problem: writer’s block. I think he knows there are better-written articles on the subject by better-written writers than me. But I’ve been where he is.  I’m there right now actually. You see, were it not for that A, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be watching nine hours of Pride and Prejudice because my lungs feel like they were swapped for cement blocks. I’m coughing them up and wadding them into tissues.

Until a few days ago my pen was a firehose. I had to push the words away and take up the vacuum for responsibility’s sake.  That was then. Today, Day 1 of the A to Z Writing Challenge, I’ve had to pry these words for you with the jaws of life. You won’t be able to tell, because to you they’re just here. This post is me squeezing my stone until my fingers bled. That’s how much I didn’t feel like it today, dear student. That’s how one overcomes writer’s block.

Were it not for the A to Z Challenge, I would not be here on this screen, frustrated, wanting art to sally off the tips of my fingers, my mind to yours. Any old barf can go on the page. The words other people will see, those are more carefully chosen. Hedge yourself into a place where you’ll be forced to procure words someone else will see, whatever flavor works for you. Here are a few: Nanowrimo, Cracked Flash Fiction, Mashed Stories.

Because if I didn’t have to hit publish, I would not have finished.

Writing is my self-styled albatross. I’m glad of it. Even on the rough days.

 

*Email from my student:

Hello Mrs. Griffiths, I have a question to ask. I have serious writers block and I for some reason, I can’t get into my writing flow as quickly as before. I have been only ably to write two or three sentences, and then all of a sudden, its like the writing waves get clogged. This has been going on since the beginning of the year. It’s actually becoming very frustrating because this has never happened before. The longest writers block has ever lasted for me was two hours. I don’t know if I need to have a change of scenery or if I need to change anything. So how do I unclog that writing wave so I can get back into my usual writing flow? – Joshua 

If you know of any great sites, contests, or tips for my student (or me!) we’d love to hear from you! 🙂