2018 Chelsea Cain High School Writers Competition Winners

by admin Conference News. Posted on April 26, 2018.

Competition Winner

Dagan Anderson, who is a sophomore in Jennifer Robichaux’s English class at Eastmont High School (for which this story was originally written) has composed dozens of first pages of novels and over the past few years has focused on other artistic pursuits, mainly drawing and animation, but also poetry and songwriting. Dagan said, “Music is a big part of my writing experience…poetry is just prose with a hidden music… I have immense respect for talented lyricists.”

Honey

The air was crisp and tasted like the beginning of summer. A stout walnut tree stood in the centre of a hidden park, roots extending deep into the ground. Despite the state of disrepair and its secluded location, the park had a fair number of regular visitors, all of whom held the tree in good regard and took frequent advantage of its shade and fruits. In return, the visitors serviced the park: raking fallen leaves, fixing fences, and tossing grass seed into the trodden areas. The tree greatly appreciated the company and assistance, and continued to grow and produce many walnuts, which were some of the sweetest around. In the end, everyone was satisfied.

Over time, the tree had invited many different plants into the park to grow by its side. The companionship was always welcome, and welcomed most gratefully, in fact. There was plenty of soil to share. (Not every companion was able to stay, though; some plants didn’t fare too well in the soil, or in the sunlight, or in the temperature. Some plants aren’t suited for certain parks, perhaps.) However, the visitor at its base now was of a different nature. A sort of humorous-looking plant, indeed, with brown-dusted, leathery caps topping off each tough little stalk. It must have been developing for a while, considering the number of capped fellows littering the ground, but gone unnoticed until now. Taking into account the benign appearance, however, the tree figured that no harm could come of associating.

The foreigner (called Honey, as the tree came to know,) had a poor relationship with the parkgoers. Some of them distrusted the appearance, relating it to other plants of similar stature. However, the tree had great appreciation for Honey; as it continued to spread across the ground at the foot of the tree, it would clear the layer of leaves and unclaimed walnuts littered all along. In return the tree would leave for it a moist, shaded haven, in which it prospered. It was an ideal relationship, mutually beneficial, flawless.

Only for a time, though.

As Honey continued to draw itself closer, its funny, capped little fruits began to develop at the base of the tree’s trunk. I have more than enough of myself to share, the tree would muse upon noticing this. I’m here to sacrifice for this friend that I love! And for a good time they coexisted like this, with Honey continuing to encroach farther upwards. After that time, however, things started deteriorating quickly.

One day, without reason, the tree felt a strong ache beneath its tough bark. It was such a sudden change, and not seeing any sort of physical damage, it was left baffled as to what could have brought it on. Perhaps I’ve been caring poorly for myself, it considered. This period of confusion lasted for a short while, and over that time the ache continued to eat away, leaving the tree very tired. Its leaves began to wither, and its walnuts stopped fruiting. Less and less of the parkgoers who had always collected them continued to stop by, seeing nothing to gain out of the trip. It became a very lonely time. But Honey remained closer than ever, now reaching halfway up the trunk. Slowly, the realization came upon the tree that… Perhaps it was Honey that was causing the pain? The pain had never come upon it until the tan-capped foreigners had made their home. The tree didn’t understand how that could be, though, since things had been going so well up until then. It didn’t make any sense, and the questioning only made the pain worse.

Regardless of what the answer was, it was too late.

***

After a long time spent away, one of the park frequenters returned. He took note of how the park had begun to fall apart: the molding fences and wilted hedges, dry soil and patchy grass. Then his attention fell to the tree. Its branches had warped over all this time, its stature shrunken and bare. It was a painful sight for the man to see. Coming closer, he was taken aback; the whole trunk had been covered by dozens of mushrooms. That’s got to be why, the man remarked to himself, and tore a few off to get a closer look. But no matter how many mushrooms he removed, there was no undoing the damage beneath the bark. The man tried to think of something else he could do. This was surely not the end of his friend, a strong, reliable tree that had always provided so much… And then he recalled something he’d once heard. The man took out his pocket knife and began to hack away at one of the sturdier branches. Considering its size, he knew he couldn’t saw through it all at once, but over the course of a few days it was finally downed with a great snap. Hoisting it off the ground, the man slung the branch over his shoulder and made off for another park. In this park lay a trunk from a recently felled tree, and the man figured, perhaps…
It was a completely different atmosphere in the new park, the tree noticed as its recovery progressed. Despite being somewhat bare, it was more home than the former had been in a long time. The walnut branch had been eased into a crack in a fresh oak stump, a surrogate mother of sorts, that allowed the tree to regrow what it had lost. It became healthier, and the man stood by its side, slowly helping it to make the park a more lovely place to be. As all of this went on, former park-frequenters caught wind of the happenings, and began to make appearances in anticipation of the first new walnut crop. After many years, with all of their support and tending, the tree gave them exactly that; and despite what it had lost, it still produced the sweetest fruits that anyone had ever seen.

[ For “Honey,” which immediately placed high, the judges commented on the allegorical, lyrical style, one untypical of young fiction writers. It was “captivating and well-crafted,” “flowed like a well-known fable” and had “a unique point of view.” They saw the story as a metaphor and appreciated the upbeat ending.]


Honorable Mention.

Morgan Rosentrater is a full time Running Start Student from East Wenatchee. She said that early on she attempted writing novels but discovered that the short story format is more satisfying, and “Most times I’ll spend up to two months debating a story idea in my head before I actually write it down.” Morgan said she often writes, whether on the computer or her phone, in the company of her cat, Pepper.

She Left With the Twelve O’Clock Train

She had told my father we were going grocery shopping. She had not told him we were going to the train station.

The smell of roasting chestnuts was making me hungry as my mother and I sat patiently on a wooden bench in the chilly autumn air. The train station was a small structure that consisted of an entrance with two ticket booths, a departure and arrival time board, and a covered area to sit underneath that would only protect you from the rain. At this time of the year, the station was always bustling, just like it was today, with people visiting family for the holidays.

“What time is it?” I’d ask. It made me wish that Daddy had let me continue at school instead of keeping my mother and me locked away at home. When I left school, my teacher had just started teaching us how to read a clock. Maybe I’d ask if I could go back.

I never did.

“It is 11:23,” she spoke quietly in a way to not draw attention. “We are waiting for a nice man to come so he can accompany us onto the twelve o’clock train.”

I nodded my head and swung my feet back and forth impatiently. “I thought Daddy said you weren’t supposed to talk to other men?” I cocked my head and examined her reaction.
She smiled sadly and ran her hand through the golden locks of my hair. “Your father is a very mean man,” she informed me. “While he is nice to you, that does not mean he is nice to me. We are taking the train so we can be safe from him.” She sighed and unfolded her newspaper. Monday November 3rd, 1953.

My mother was worried about something. I could tell by the way she kept glancing at the entrance to the train station as time passed.

“If we leave will I be able to go to school again?” She didn’t answer me. Her eyes were glued to a man who had entered. I tugged the sleeve of her long paisley dress. “Is that the nice man we’re waiting for?”

She snapped out of her daze and shook her head sorrowfully. “No,” she murmured, “he is not. We need not worry, I’m sure Mr. Edmunds will be here shortly.” My mother pulled a handkerchief out her purse and dabbed the corners of her eyes.

With nothing to do I set my focus on a pigeon who was hopping his way about the station pecking at dropped food and whatever waiting passengers would throw his way. We became friends quickly and I decided to name him Chomp because of how hungry he was. I was hungry too, because when Daddy was angry, he would only let us eat when he was home for dinner.

Without speaking, my mother stood up suddenly, her face completely despondent as the clock chimed. Glancing around the station I couldn’t help but notice there was no nice man who had come to accompany us.

In the distance, I could hear the whistle of the train coming. The whistle became louder and louder as it got closer causing Chomp to get startled and fly into a well groomed man wearing a long blue jacket. The man swatted at Chomp in annoyance before looking up and dropping his suitcase. A look of horror crossed his face and he pushed his way towards the tracks.

I turned my head enough to just barely see my mother jump onto the cold metal rails only to be taken away by the 12:00 o’clock train that barreled through the station.

The man in the blue jacket dropped to his knees and let out a devastated cry. He seemed like such a nice man.

[Judges said that “She left With the 12:00 Train” showed excellent control of the child’s point of view, had a strong dramatic arc, and was “O’Henry-ish” in its plot. The realism was believable and authentic. They especially liked the “spare description” and “effective dialogue.”]


Honorable Mention.

Logan Reinier is a senior at Entiat Middle High School, where his English teacher is Nancy Coolidge. He won a similar commendation in last year’s competition and has attended WOTR workshops. Logan says he has been a storyteller his whole life but has concentrated 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.

The Drearwood Thieves

The rustling in the bushes drew a silence over the group. Edder sat shaking on his stump. Just his luck, he had joined the thieves that would die in Drearwood.

The bushes moved again, prompting Varn to draw his blade. “Who goes there?” He said, walking toward the bushes.

From the brush, emerged a shorter, stouter, and hairier man. Buttoning up his pants, he looked up toward the group. “Oh… I’m sorry, did I startle you?” He said, looking around. A wave of relief washed over the group.

“Gods be damned boy, I nearly ruined my breeches!” Dorrick said, the fat on his face bouncing as he did.

“Again, I offer my apology.” The Halfling held his arms out to his sides bowing a little. “Would you mind if I joined you? I’d be willing to share what wine I carry.”

“Sure,” Dorrick said reluctantly.

Sitting down, the Halfling pulled out a wine skin and took a sip. “Now answer me honestly. You guys thought I was the nameless creature that lives here in the Drearwood, right?” The kid looked down. “Well, there’s no shame in it! Most locals believe in it.”

“Are you saying you don’t?” Edder asked with a shaky voice.

“Listen, kid,” the Halfling said before taking a sip and handing the wine skin to Varn. “I’m a storyteller by trade. We never believe the tales we tell.”

“Poppycock!” Dorrick yelled, spitting out the food he had in his mouth.

“If a bard is afraid of his own tales, how can he expect to be able to finish the story or play the crowd for a reaction? Telling a story to a crowd isn’t unlike playing an instrument.” The Halfling paused and took his wine back, taking another sip. “However, I am far more interested in the story of how you three ended up in the middle of the most decrepit forest in all the world?” He began to eye the group.

“We’re traders. Grain traders.” Varn said, motioning to the sacks lying against a tree. “We are taking Drearwood as a shortcut.”

The Halfling’s eyes widened. “Grain traders, huh?… in the middle of this forest…” he took another sip. “If I had to guess, I’d say there is grain in those sacks, but that is not what you trade. There are no trading post on the south end of Driarwood. There is however… Thieves cove.” Varn drew his sword, the curved blade hissing as he did. “And for people who believe in the nameless creature in these woods, I’d have to assume whatever it is you are smuggling is quite valuable. My guess would be on gems or gold.”

Varn started to lunge at the Halfling before stopping with his sword overhead.

“I got to scare you twice tonight. Made the whole journey worth it.” The Halfling said laughing. “I’ve seen you before at Thieves Cove, you knobs! And quite frankly I’m hurt you don’t recognize me.”

Dorrick began to laugh, his jowls bouncing up and down. “Yes, of course. I thought I knew you. Hard to see you in the dark.” He said. Varn put away his sword.

“I recognize you two, but not the kid.” The halfling said, wiping tears from under his eye.

“Ahhh, I found him on the street. Just hired help.” He said, taking another bite of the chicken leg in his hand.

The kid watched him the whole time. It was torture to have to cook the meat and then watch someone else eat it. “Do you think… I could have some?” he asked Dorrick.

Dorrick grunted, throwing the meat on the ground in front of the kid. “You’re lucky kid; I’m full,” he said laughing.

Picking up the meat, he began to brush the dirt and twigs off. It was better than most of what he’d eaten in his life. He wasn’t about to complain.

“Tell me about the creature in these woods?” The kid asked the bard.

“You don’t know the tales?” the halfling asked.

“I know rumors,” he said taking a bite, spitting out the twigs that he had missed.

“Well the story goes that it preys on the wicked and greedy that travel through these woods. They say it takes the form of anyone it devours and perfectly imitates how they look and sound.”

“What does it look like… naturally?”

“I’ve heard some say giant wings, others red eyes. Generic monster stuff.” The Halfling paused and looked into the kid’s eyes. “It’s just a story kid, trust me, you have nothing to fear.”

The kid looked down at what remained of the chicken leg and started sucking any remnant of food off the bone.

“Hey kid!” Varn said in a rough voice. “We need more water.”

The kid stood up and grabbed the bucket. Starting toward the river, he thought about what the bard had said. Reaching the river, he dipped the bucket into the water, when suddenly his body went tense. Screams echoed through the woods. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. They were just messing with him. All he had to do is walk back and see that they are completely fine.

He emerged from the bushes to find only blood and viscera. Looking around he saw what remained of the group, except the Halfling. Perhaps he had been eaten whole. Looking up he saw it.

The creature indeed had wings, tattered and torn. Its skin was black and hairless. On the top of its head where a row of horns forming a crown. It turned toward him, slurping the flesh that hung from its lip into its mouth. A grin grew on its face. “You’re lucky, kid” It growled, throwing down Dorrick’s head. “I’m full…” it said, flying off into the trees.

He did indeed consider himself lucky.

[“Drearwood Thieves” was an immediately engrossing mix of realism and fantasy, said the judges. They felt the writer showed good control of the story with the compact, contained setting and it had “punchy dialogue,” was suspenseful, and had clearly defined characters.]