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2016 High School Writers Competition
OUR WINNING WRITERS
“Mariposa” by Chyna Leopoldo
A soft melody drifts around my ears snapping me back to the real world. My muscles ache and my body refuses to wake from its slumber. Reluctantly, I open my crusted eyes and force myself from my bed’s warm embrace. I slowly trudge to the bathroom and turn on the flickering light. Avoiding the watchful eye in front of me I turn on the freezing water. The chilling liquid awakens my senses. Fully awake, I dry my face with a rough towel. The reflection of a girl stares back at me. I used to know this girl. I used to share her laugh. I once used her voice to sing songs daily. She doesn’t do those things anymore. Instead she retreats and watches as I take over. She watches as the light slowly leaves her eyes and darkness consumes them. She rarely laughs now, or smiles and her voice is but a memory. She is slowly disappearing. But I, I remain. The looking glass flings flaws at me with crushing force. My once flowing black hair is nothing but damaged, dull, and tangled strands hanging limply from my scalp. My bronze complexion seems to have surrendered to the darkness as well. Ebony orbs flicker with a small spark of life. Chapped lips brush against each other. Robotically, I open my cosmetics and add thick black wings to the top of my eyelids while quickly sweeping some color over my cracked lips. I curl my thin lashes and apply a light layer of mascara. I pull a brush through my hair and let it fall. I remove my night clothes and replace them with threads that seemed to have danced with shadows. It’s almost time to leave. My chest fills with cement, weighing me down. Then, for a second I think she has returned. A fluttering stirs in the pit of my stomach, pity. That is her gift to me. I do not want it. I push it away and allow the now familiar feeling of misery to overwhelm me. I watch as she sinks back into isolation, taking her pity with her.
As I exit the house a gust of icy wind breathes over my frame. On my short walk, the empty feeling returns again. Maybe it never really left. Opening the front door, I force a smile upon entering the warm atmosphere. Her grandmother greets me with gentle eyes and a soft smile. I replace my forced smile with a small grin. A small amount of bliss fills me from her simple act of kindness. The feeling is foreign but I welcome it nonetheless. While we wait, my friend and I chatter about insignificant matters. Her light brown eyes shift as she speaks. She constantly flips her long brown hair side to side, a habit that’s stuck with her over the years. Strangely, her repetitive hair flipping always calmed me. It became a constant reminder that no matter how much I changed, she never would. In some way, she was my anchor.
School flies by in a blur. I drift from class to class and endure long lectures filled with uninterested stares and drooping eyes. The day crawls by until we escape our part time jail and I arrive at what once was my home. Hours of homework pass me by until my eyes ache. Dread fills my heart as he enters the room. His intimidating aura and hard eyes drift to me. His words pierce my heart. I am reminded, again, of how worthless I am. His words cut deep and I work to force back tears. Anger sizes my heart but I hold my tongue. My mother enters and then leaves the room. She does nothing, as always. I can feel myself returning to my usual depressed state. I know what happens when I get like this. I can’t relapse; I’ve been clean for so long…
I feel them coming. No matter how hard I try to push them away, they break through like a wave. My lips quiver and I bite them to silence my sobs. I feel the tears increase as my chest is wracked with sobs. Salt-filled tears fall into my open mouth as my breathing becomes erratic I believe that crying in front of others is the ultimate weakness. So I do it here. Alone. The only witness? The monster. It watches as I draw with silver. Streaming blood laced with pain trickle down my arms. The overwhelming emotions leave as the physical pain takes over. By now my sobs have subsided and only silent tears fall from my eyes. I slice through the broken skin repeatedly engraving new scars. Jagged cuts litter my arm. a bloody masterpiece decorating its tanned canvas. Shame instantly floods me as I set down the blade. My heart fills with disgust but the monster inside is full of pride. Once again it has won. I wish I could stop. I wish I never started. But I can’t deal with the pain, I’m not a fighter.
I wake up the next day and look into the mirror. She returns, I watch as light floods my dark eyes. I feel her emotions mix with mine. Sadness, regret, and understanding. She takes control and begins to speak. “Listen to me, you are not giving up. You have to fight hard. You want to stop cutting? Then find a reason not to. Nothing will change until you do. Just remember, a butterfly goes through darkness as well. But in the end, something beautiful emerges.”
I feel her go, but before she does I cling onto some of her light. Hope blossoms in my chest as I replay her words. The monster grows worried, and it should be. I smile to myself and know this time, it’s real. I choose to be the butterfly. I choose life.
Chyna Leopoldo, a sophomore at Wenatchee High School, loves reading and writing haikus and free verse in addition to fiction, and is also a fan of Korean and Chinese hip-hop music. She finds it easier to write about personal issues, whether conflict or positive moments, if she has a strong emotional connection to them. She dreams of being a professional writer.
“The Last Dinner” by Cameron Wood
Sept. 3, 2017 6:34 PM
Zara peered into the oblong mirror of her vanity and the “Chosen One” stared back. Olive eyes burned with the knowledge of postulates, polyatomic ions, and parabolas. Plump lips were covered with a bold shade of Crimson Cleverness 102. Curly raven locks redolent of liquid determination were tied back with a polished ribbon. Slender fingers bore a writer’s bump of a 2345 SAT, and a dainty hand held an epistle from the object of her efforts, announcing, “Congratulations, Zara! On behalf of the faculty and staff of Smith University, it is with great pleasure that I inform you of your acceptance as a member of the class of 2020.”
Thus was the surface image of Zara Murata, bred for the Ivy, oozing with sense of self, and on track for greatness.
Zara broke her focus on the mirror and gazed down at her checkered dress, shyly smoothing the wrinkles out from the diaphanous fabric. She looked up, taking in the image of herself once more, and continued practicing the convincing persona of a self-assured soon-to-be Ivy Leaguer. Once pleased, Zara bounded down the stairs to greet the hoi polloi awaiting her arrival to celebrate her oh-so prestigious achievement. It was to be her last dinner at home, her last dinner that she held the infinite potential of a high school grad.
On the ornate table sat plates of Japanese-Italian fusion Murata-Abate family recipes, which were created soon after her a young Ayaka, Zara’s mother, met a handsome waiter on a starry night dining on the rooftop of the Terrazza Amoruccio in Venice.
Zara loaded her plate with udon minestrone, the dish she had loved ever since the time she first tasted it as a child (an event that had been captured in a comical picture of a half Japanese, half Italian three-year-old with sauce all over her insatiable lips). She shoveled the soup into her mouth with the same eagerness she exhibited 15 years ago.
“In honor of my beautiful wonder, Zara,” toasted Ayaka as she rose her wine glass with the proud flourish of a mother whose own child had achieved the dream she had once fallen short of.
Sept. 4, 2017 5:30 AM
Zara’s rental car rattled over the foggy pass on her way to the airport. She drove alone, per request of herself. After a week of visits from a seemingly endless stream of friends and family, she wished for a moment to reflect.
Everything she had done up to this point was to get to the place she was traveling now. It was always the plan: Be an overachiever in high school and get accepted to Smith University. Zara had followed her objective to the t, taking first in science fairs and debate competitions, leading a plethora of clubs, and acing the most rigorous courses with flying colors. The rest had never been more than a muddled “I’ll figure it out later.”
Later had come, and Zara was puzzled more than ever. She knew how to identify complex ions, but she was perplexed by her own identity. She could find the antiderivative of a function, but she knew not how to discover her purpose, her passion, her place on earth. Zara’s family called her a Jane of All Trades and her peers voted her “most likely to change the world”; she could pick any field or practice and succeed. That was the ability she had spent 18 years perfecting, and it was the handicap that prevented her from paving her own path.
So, Zara watched the streaking colors of cars and the mustard lines of the highway and pondered.
“Who will I be?” she muttered aloud as she momentarily glanced to the view of pine trees outside her car window.
From the corner of her eye, a streak of orange sharpened into a Ford Ranger. She whipped her head around, eyes wide with terror, and met fender to fender with her answer.
Sept. 20, 2017 12:20 PM
“It’s time for you to wake, Zara-chan.”
Zara’s heavy eyes flitted open and, in her post-doze daze, tried to push a lock of hair off her cheek, only to be once again faced with the inexplicable sensation of having no control of the body she inhabited. Again, the scene played in her mind. The orange truck hurdling towards her. Her body stiffening in fear. Whiteness.
She suffered no memory loss and no major injuries besides the trauma to her brain placing her in an infuriating state of paralysis. The rest of her brain functioning, the golden child was imprisoned inside her great mind.
The sad smile of her mother entered her view of the hospital ceiling. Zara noticed the rare messiness of Ayaka’s bun at the nape of her neck and the coat of burgundy lipstick applied to distract from the dark rings around her weary eyes.
After pushing her daughter into sitting position, Ayaka pulled the lid off of steaming tupperware. The inviting aroma of udon minestrone floated into Ayaka’s enticed nose.
“I figured you’d appreciate a break from those disgusting hospital meals.”
Ayaka dipped the spoon into the dish and brought to Zara awaiting lips. Zara felt broth run from her mouth and onto her chin, once more cursing her unresponsive extremities while her mother took a rag to her face.
Ayaka held the spoon up and Zara momentarily examined an upside-down reflection of herself in the silver. Olive eyes rimmed with faint purple bruises. Tangled raven locks rested on the shoulders of a hospital gown. Dry, scarlet lips crooked across ashen skin.
“Oh, yes, I almost forgot,” Ayaka started, reaching into her bag and pulling out a newly opened letter. “I thought you’d want a look at this.”
She held the ivory page front and center for Zara to read.
“On behalf of the faculty and staff of Smith University…”
For the first time in her lengthy 18 years of life, Zara felt apathetic.
Cameron Woods, a junior at Wenatchee High School, is a writer and editor on The Apple Leaf. As a young student, she read around 1000 minutes a week and wrote her own chapter book. She’s the daughter of two Marines, she struggles with calculus, and she enjoys embarking on long distance runs, sipping Thai tea, playing her violin, and rearranging dictionary words.
The Winning Entry is…
“The Patron Saint of Sinners” by Ellen Perleberg
How odd – a man. Renata, witch woman, relished her role. She was dispenser of love potions, enactor of hexes, fulfiller of dreams and creator of nightmares. She was renowned in the Calle Recoleta, Buenos Aires’ underground network of madness, crime, and miracles, but only women dared call on her.
Yet as Renata’s private business thrived, her husband Enrique’s import-export company failed. It was Peron’s fault, of course, with his pledge to end “foreign domination of Argentina’s industries.” So Renata fired the butler and wore last year’s dresses. Eventually, Enrique mortgaged the house.
So she did not care that a man now greeted her. “Señora Lopez?”
“Sí. Who are you?”
“Call me Muñoz. Are you the woman from Calle Recoleta?”
“The very best.”
“I know that you will soon lose your house.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Cut the games, woman. I have an offer.”
“I belong to the Socialist party-” He started again, speaking more carefully. “We wish to effect great changes in Argentina’s spiritual leadership.”
“I may be able to help. Who do you wish to…change?”
Renata gasped. She could imagine killing generals, ministers, Peron himself, but Eva? Eva always preached that she was Argentina, and Renata half-believed it by now.
She understood, though, why they targeted Eva. Evita was truly Argentina’s spiritual leader. She made the ideology; Peron handled the paperwork. “Why would I do that?”
“We can offer you thirty million pesos.”
Dios mio. “Fifty.”
“You can do it?”
“Of course.” She had no love for Peron. She had married into privilege and denounced the poor. “Give me two years, and I’ll make it seem an accident.”
“Will we have proof it’s working?”
She nodded. “And it looks clean, and we’re free from suspicion.”
He smiled, then tensed. “Even if we’re safe from government action, could there be other…ahem…spiritual repercussions?”
“Ghosts aren’t nearly as common as the stories say. Very few people have truly unfulfilled purpose.”
“Evita certainly has her fame and fortune,” Muñoz spat.
“Exactly. She won’t mind leaving now.” Rena laughed softly.
“You have a dangerous mind, for a woman.”
“So does Eva.”
They shook hands and sealed their fates.
The next day, Renata set to work. Eva’s curse would be significantly harder than an ordinary death curse. It needed to be invisible, yet powerful enough to tear Eva from her people.
The ingredients, at least, were easy to obtain. An image of the target – Evita’s face was plastered on every wall. Holy water – she knew a priest. Blood of one beloved by the victim – easy enough to hire a beggar to stab one of Evita’s darling workers. She mixed the blood into the holy water. The liquid glowed gold in her tiny crystal vial.
Frantically, she painted Eva’s portrait with the blood-taints. With an artist’s eye, she rouged Evita’s cheeks and painted her lips with the blood of her descamisado. The image flashed violently, reacting to the poison and sin. She fed the portrait into the flames. Scraping the ashes into her palm, she said a prayer to the patron saint of sinners. She walked to the window and blew the ash toward the flickering lights of the Casa Rosada. The clock struck midnight, January 2, 1950.
Renata didn’t sleep until Eva fainted in public on January 9. The baffled doctors had no choice but to diagnose Evita with cervical cancer. They knew she was dying; cancer was deadly. Argentines accepted this, weeping and praying in churches and union headquarters.
Eva fought back, as Renata thought she would. Eva ran for Vice-President, and lines of descamisados ran through the streets, shouting her name. It was a valiant effort, but not enough to save her. By 1951, Eva was much worse. On October 17, she addressed the people for the last time, renouncing her bid for Vice-President.
“My beloved descamisados,” shouted the actress. “With all my soul I wanted to be with you and Peron on this glorious day of the descamisados because I have a sacred debt to Peron and all of you. It doesn’t matter if I have to leave shreds of my life along the way.” She looked terrible. She had aged twenty years in twenty months. Queen of the world at twenty-six, she had borrowed time and burned it for fuel, and at last the debt caught up with her.
“I came to give thanks to Peron and the descamisados. I won’t tell you the usual lies: I won’t tell you I don’t deserve this honor you’ve shown me. Yes, I deserve it. I deserve it for one thing alone, worth more than all the gold in the world: I deserve it for all I’ve done for this people.” A shudder ran through Renata’s bones. Eva was renouncing the fame and fortune for which the Socialists wanted her dead. “If this people asked me for my life, I would joyfully give it, for the happiness of one descamisado is worth more than my entire life.”
Evita cried silently. Her pure fervency bit at the scars on Renata’s soul. Though Renata supposed the bourgeoisie had pressured Eva into this renunciation, clearly some part of her was sincere. That was dangerous. Truth, said Catholic priests and heretic witch women, was immortal. Renata shifted uncomfortably. “Compañeros, let us shout an oath to the last corner of the earth. Our lives for Peron!”
She paused. “And to all my descamisados, I hold you so very closely to my heart, and want you to know how much I love you.” Eva bowed, a servant to her people, and hung her head, a slave to her ambition.
On July 26, 1952, Evita died. Life froze. Buenos Aires filled with flowers, flashes of color amid the millions of black-clad mourners congesting the streets.
By August 1, the fifty-million peso transaction was complete. Renata and Enrique celebrated the return of their prosperity. At peace with the world again, she walked upstairs.
“It was you.”
Renata didn’t startle. She had half-expected this. “Hello, Eva.”
Ellen Perleberg is a junior at Cashmere High School. She writes historical fantasy, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Evita Peron, beloved and hated First Lady of Argentina, fascinates her. The Patron Saint of Sinners explores the life and afterlife of an icon, the price of success, and the politics of redemption. She was a finalist in last year’s Chelsea Cain Competition.
CHELSEA CAIN HIGH SCHOOL COMPETITION JUDGES
Edan Patterson is a senior at Wenatchee High school, involved with DECA and Appleleaf and an award winner in both. He was a 2014 Chelsea Cain Competition finalist and the 2015 winner.
Mike Irwin is a lifelong journalist and avid science fiction reader. He is a reporter for The Wenatchee World and covers a range of business news and issues throughout the region.
Steve Scott works at North 40 Productions, where as director of content he tells visually engaging tales, writing everything from fully scripted commercials to interview-centric documentaries.
Patricia Nikolina Clark is a long time, active member of professional literary groups and writes on nature and history topics for young readers in national magazines. She is the author of three books.
Susan Blair has taught aerobics and conditioning classes. She is also a poet, heard frequently at local open mic events and in the elementary schools as “Perie the Fairy” as she encourages young writers.