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2017 High School Writers Competition

Logan Reinier, Jorge Rodriguez, Chris Danko

The 6th annual Chelsea Cain High School Writers Competition awarded a $100 prize for the winner, $25 gift certificates from A Book For All Seasons for the two honored finalists, and personally inscribed journals from author Chelsea Cain for all the finalists. All three boys are juniors. Honored finalists are Jorge Rodriguez (Cashmere High School) for “My Three Birthdays” and Logan Reinier (Entiat Middle-High School) for “Willow.” The winner is Chris Danko (Wenatchee High School), who wrote “Swing and a Miss.”

Chris Danko, Swing and a Miss

Life has funny ways of teaching you a lesson. Sometimes it’s a divine vision that thrusts you onto a pious path to eternal salvation, teaching you charity and giving your life definition. Sometimes it’s an experience that changes your view of the world, teaching perspective and compassion. Sometimes it’s a lazily thrown baseball colliding with your gut.

My dad liked to pull me from my self-induced solitude to enroll me in sports I had little interest or talent in. The wire-framed glasses that I so often buried behind the cover of a book were replaced by sturdy, vision-correcting goggles that mainly just got in the way — an apt representation of my skill on the baseball field.             .

I couldn’t help but feel like as though I was being set in front of the firing squad when I looked into the eyes of the enemy pitcher. Preoccupied with my apprehension, I hardly registered the motions of the pitcher and the baseball headed right towards me. I knew I had little chance to hit the ball, but I swung anyway. The ball whistled by and the umpire called the first strike.

I could physically feel what little respect my team had for me draining away as a result of my failure, and I resolved myself to knock the next pitch out of the park. I was so worked up imagining the white sphere hurtling over the metal fence, propelling me to glory, that I found myself ill-prepared for the second pitch. Apparently, I hadn’t learned my lesson from the first and took a wild swing at that one too. To my surprise and great relief, I felt the muscles in my arms jerk from shock as my aluminum bat collided with the ball. Instead of knocking it out of the park, however, I had sent the baseball skimming just outside of the foul line — strike two.

As soon as the third pitch left the player’s hand, I knew where it was going. The pitch wasn’t thrown particularly fast and time seemed to slow down to the point where I could watch it creep closer to me, inch by agonizing inch. A good player would have let the ball hit him and taken the walk. A bad player would have danced out of its path. Only an idiot would have swung at it.

I swung at it. Perhaps it was an instinct of self-preservation that guided my bat in a diagonal arch, or perhaps it was the taste of near-success from the foul ball that compelled me to take a crack at the wild pitch. Whatever the motivation, the denouement was the same: the ball flew underneath my bat and slammed into me right, square in the hip.

A dull pain echoed through my mind, blocking out all the noise from my whooping dugout, the crowd of parents in the bleachers, and the umpire asking me if I had swung. Incredulous, I naively wondered if the stereotypical blind umpire was an accurate portrayal of the population as a whole. More vexing than the man’s poor powers of observation was the decision that had been thrust into my hands: should I lie to the umpire and take first base, benefitting my team and making strides towards earning their respect? Or should I be honest, and retire to my team’s dugout in shame?

The decision seemed obvious, but the machinations of my conscience were decidedly opposed to the “no” I was trying to force through my lips; memories of my father lecturing me on honesty swam through my vision, obstructing the teenage umpire with the kind face who had kneeled down to my level. Lying would certainly be immoral, but what was the worth of one child’s conscience compared to the gravity of a baseball game? How could I balance my personal convictions against the success of my team? The “no” snuck to the front of my mouth—prying apart my lips with claws of temptation. I looked towards my father in the crowd.  His enormous arms rested upon his knees as he leaned towards the field, taking great interest in the proceedings. I choked back the demon that fought to escape me and let an angel soar instead.


The umpire patted me on the back, his eyes wide with sympathy, and told me to sit down. The scarlet shirts of my team surrounded me in the dugout, their wearers peering at me like I was an idiot. Two crimson-clad batters struck out; they were greeted with high-fives and condolences while I was met with mumbled invective and allocations of blame — my honesty had made me a willing constituent of the team’s defeat. My eyes clung to the dust coating the floor of the dugout and began to well with tears of shame. Far exceeding the pain of the baseball’s impact was the emotional blow that made my stomach feel as though it was about to expel its contents.

When the final strike was thrown and the funeral dirge of parents shuffling on metal bleachers began to play for our team, I raced out of the dugout and headed straight for my father. An apology for my humiliating honesty jumped into my throat before he clapped me on the shoulder and smiled with pride.

“That’s going to be a hell of a bruise, isn’t it bubba?” My father asked with a chuckle. We went and got ice cream, which tends to heal ailments of the body and the soul.

Life, as far as I can tell, was trying to tell me that baseball wasn’t right for me. Not being a particularly good listener, I continued to play through fifth grade; instead of quitting while I was—well, not ahead, but halfway down the slopes of public humiliation instead of rock bottom. No matter how large a fool I made of myself, however, I was always greeted with a warm smile and a firm hand clapped on my back.

Chris Danko (a junior at Wenatchee High School) loved to write from the moment he knew how and is halfway through his first novel, a political satire. He worked on The Apple Leaf at WHS, interned at the Wenatchee World, and current writes part-time in the Sports department.  

Logan Reinier, Willow

The Skulking Rat Inn had a reputation surrounding it. Its nights were hectic and its days silent. Perfect for hiding. Outside the door two mercenaries stood post.

“Leave your weapons here,” the bald man on the right said.

“I carry none,” Ira replied, holding his cloak wide.

The guard eyed him suspiciously. “Only a fool wouldn’t carry a weapon in this part of town.”

“I can assure you, I’m no fool.”

The guards looked at each other, shrugged, then nodded him in. As he made his way past, a large hand grabbed his shoulder.

“Mind yourself in there, or you’ll end up on the pile out back,” said the shirtless man on the left.

The doors swung open and Ira was stepped into the haze of smoke.  He waded through the sea of people, making his way to the counter. A bar maiden greeted him with an annoyed stare.

“Need a room,” Ira shouted over the noise. Begrudgingly, she walked off.

The stench of stale booze came from the man next to him. He was a broad man wearing a leather jerkin, with a stained white undershirt. Looking him over, his eyes fell upon a crossbow fastened to his hip. How’d he get it in here? He shifted nervously on his stool.

The barmaid tossed a key on the bar. “You’re in room 4,” she shouted before turning away.

“Excuse me miss!” he reached over the counter, and grabbed her arm.

“Not for sale buddy!” She yanked her arm free.

“I believe you have me mistaken,” he leaned in, “the gentlemen next to me appears to have a crossbow.”

“Yeah, he’s a bounty hunter, they’re allowed to carry weapons.”

“What… is uh… he doing here?” He said, losing the blood in his face.

“Hunting down that bastard that killed Barron Jaques De La Croix, Earl Remon’s son.”

Frozen stiff, his eye’s gave only a blank stare. After collecting himself, he pulled his face deeper inside his hood and slid closer the man. Ira had to know what he knew.

“I hear tale that you are a hunter of bounties?” Ira said, keeping his head in his hood.

The man gave him a confused stare. “You got an odd way of talking,” the bounty hunter replied, swaying on his stool. “But you hear true, I’m here on Earl Remon’s orders. Hired me to find the prick that murdered his son… dead or alive.” He burst out laughing and waved the barmaid over.

“Allow me. We’ll take a bottle of the strongest stuff you have, top shelf.” He pulled out a small pouch and tossed it on the counter. Gods only know what passes for top shelf here.

“Thank you kindly, mister!”

“My pleasure. Now, if you don’t mind my asking, can you tell me about your bounty? Have any good leads?”


“None? You must have something!”

“Just got into the city and the Earl hasn’t even given me an official warrant yet, just a letter asking me to meet him.”

“Do you even know what the suspect looks like?”

“Nope, but I know his name.” The barmaid arrived with a bottle of Gaston Blanco’s Fire Wine. She popped the cork and poured it into two tankards. “That’s some of the strongest brew I ever did smell!” He held up his tankard for a toast. “To fine wine!”

Ira clanked his tankard and tipped it back and tried to down it but ended up spitting it back up. It wasn’t wine.

The bounty hunter downed his tankard, slammed it on the table and burped a puff of smoke. “They don’t call it fire wine for nothing!”

“Yes, very true. So, you know his name?”

“Rumor has it the warrant’s for Ira Rousselot, Jaques’ assistant. A maid saw him running away from the scene.”

“What if he’s innocent?  Just because someone saw him there doesn’t mean he had anything to do with the murder.”

“Makes no difference to me. Tomorrow I meet with the Earl, and I can assume he’ll give me a warrant for him. And man, when I find this guy,” he reached down, caressing his crossbow.

Ira stared off, beads of sweat flowing down his forehead. He had to do something. The bounty hunter had seen his face and knew where he’d be hiding.

“That’s a beautiful crossbow you have there.”

“Isn’t she! Named her Willow.”

“Mind if I take a look?” Ira said, pouring another tankard.

“Well, I guess not.”

Ira slid him the tankard as the bounty hunter handed him the crossbow. As the man began to drink, Ira removed the bolt from the crossbow.

“Ahhhhh, really hits the spot, that does,” he said, nearly falling off his stool.

“Well it’s been a lovely evening, but I really must go.” Ira handed the crossbow back and started to walk away, only to stop, and turn back. “I never got your name?”

“Arren Ryser, you?”

Ira walked slowly, leaned into his ear, and whispered “Ira Rousselot” and slowly backed into the crowd.

Arren shot up and grabbed his crossbow, pulling the trigger, but to no avail. “I’ll have your head!” Arren shouted, drawing the Inn’s attention.

The mercenary’s outside ran in, swords drawn, and met Arren before he made it to Ira. Arren drew his sword, but in his drunken stupor, swung wide passing over their heads. The mercenary seized the moment and pierced Arren’s heart.

The Inn grew silent. It wouldn’t be a night in the Skulking Rat without at least one death.

“Another one for the pile,” the shirtless mercenary said to his bald companion.

Ira scurried to his room. Sitting on the bed, he starred at his hands, waves of guilt crashing over him. Now he did have blood on his hands.

Logan Reinier (a junior at Entiat Middle-High) has been a storyteller his whole life and has been concentrating on writing short stories for the last few years. Though he likes all genre, he especially enjoys fantasy and science fiction and plans to pursue writing as a career.

Jorge Rodriguez, My Three Birthdays

I was born on December 27th, 1956 and then registered into the system December 31st. Once registered, I was ‘officially’ born. I’d partially lived my childhood in Peribán Mexico (the key word being partially).

After being in school for a measly 3 years, I was forced to drop out. The reason being my family couldn’t afford me not working. We relocated to the outskirts, and I was put to work. Even out of town my life was the same; my brother, Mateo, mocked me, Father kept taking hard jobs, and my sisters pushed me around. I was the runt of the family. Good for nothing, and not going anywhere.

The strawberry fields were basically my second home; trudging through mud, bugs nibbling at me, working hunched in the burning heat, and picking fruits with my bare hands. At night, I’d divulge myself to my addiction, reading. One of the few ways I entertained myself. That was my life, day in and day out, at age ten.

One day at work I was minding my own business, until I was suddenly struck on the back of my head with mud. I turned around at the taunting figure, I swore furiously at them. Anger cascaded through my veins, but was then was replaced with fear as the boss’s son met my eyes.

It wasn’t long until I was fired and had to bring the news to Father. Once I confronted him, he was distressed. I was afraid of Father beating me with his belt, livid and ashamed of me. He knew how important my income was to rent. How crucial it was if we were to survive. I fell to my knees, pleading. I claimed I’d try hard to find work, while desperately sobbing.

Yet, he didn’t seem enraged. Instead, Father soothed me. “Hijo, I know you’re a hard worker. Tomorrow after work, I’ll go with you to try and find some work.”

Of course, I was ecstatic. Father, wasn’t mad. He certainly wasn’t happy, but he wasn’t mad. The next day, I followed Father to the jobsite. He was helping reconstruct a bridge for the moment. After his shift was finished, we traveled to the nearest town, through dozens of fields, and to family friends, but to no avail. Nobody wanted me.

After a week of scouring, I guided Father to work, with intention to keep up the hunt. Before I left, a man called Father. “Reyes!” I stopped and listen. “Your son, he needs work, right?”

Father’s brow furrowed and he gave affirmation. The man chuckled, “No manches! Why didn’t you say so sooner? We could use all the hands we can get!”

It was then when I started more intense manual labor. When work was finished, I’d assist Father at each job. Once we returned to the city, I temporarily went back to school until money got tight. I’d take big jobs with Father, and eventually harder jobs by my lonesome.

I’d work hard to scrap myself some extra money and I’d save it, unlike Mateo whom visited the brothel. Every week, I’d take a pretty girl out to the movies. This was routine, and lasted until I had a Bonita to call my own. As time passed, I wanted to make this woman my wife. I was sixteen, on December 16th, when Father muttered his most important lesson.

“Son, you’ve grown into a respectable young man. You’re courting a beautiful lady, and you’d certainly make a handsome groom. Unlike your hermano, I’ve seen you grow faster, harder, and I’m especially proud to call you my hijo. Santiago, you have my blessing to get married.”

There wasn’t much I could say. Father made me choke up, teary eyed, and proud.

“But,” In a single word I hesitated. What he said was etched into my mind, and now beats in my heart. “Santiago, I want you to know of my ideals. I want you to see the world. I need you to learn and understand what’s out there. I don’t want you to be confined here, but I want you to be proud of where you came from. Just know there’s a life beyond this one you’re living.” He placed an arm on my shoulder, his stare so intense. “I don’t want a better world for you. I want a better you for this world.”

I didn’t know exactly why he uttered it, but I knew of what he spoke. We call it El Norte, America. The fabled promised land. Yet, that was ridiculous​. I was happy here, with Father and my family, and my hopefully wife to be, but I thanked him regardless.

As I sidled out of the house I caught one last thing. To Mother, Father groaned, “Hermosa, my head feels funny.”

Click, the door was shut. I proceeded to the market with Bonita. We had a lovely time, ate fruit, went to church, and bought trinkets from the shops.

It wasn’t before sunset when my sister found me. She delivered me grave news. Father had died. He was strong, and he was the bond that held my family together. He couldn’t be dead. He built me up. He took somebody people turned away into a respectable young worker.

I sprinted home, bawling, no goodbye to Bonita. Upon arrival, I was instead sent to the brothel to retrieve Mateo, but in a drunken slur, he swore me off. I then faced the inevitable, and Father’s last wish. A man approached me the days soon after Father’s passing. He told me Father asked a favor of him, and even paid for it.

Now there I stood. My foot was on the bus. Within my fist, the bus fare, and in my pockets, were my life savings. It was Christmas. This was my father’s last gift to me; I was headed north, towards my renewal, my new life. With God as my witness, I left home for the first time.

That was my third birthday.

Jorge Rodriguez (a junior at Cashmere High School) loves to write about anything that is seemingly impossible, but recently his themes involve an outsider’s perspective on the world. He writes daily with friends and wants to be definitely a teacher and hopefully a writer.

The winner of the Chelsea Cain High School Writers Competition and two Honorable Finalists will be announced at the WOTR Conference May 20.