23rd Kenai Peninsula Writers Contest: Grades K-12 Fiction winners

After a seven-year hiatus, the Kenai Peninsula Writers Contest returns for its 23rd year. Coordinated by the Homer Council on the Arts, the contest was open to literary artists of all ages on the Kenai Peninsula. The judges were Kim Fine, De Patch, Lyn Mazlow, Melissa Cloud, Shellie Worsfold, Debi Poore, Mae Remme, Linda Martin, Ann Dixon, Justin Herrman, Nancy Lord, Mercedes Harness, Wendy Erd, Rich Chiappone and Tom Kizzia.

Winners received prizes by sponsors Tom Bodett & Co., Homer Bookstore, River City Books and the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. Winners represent communities throughout the borough, including Anchor Point, Homer, Ninilchik, Nikiski, Kasilof, Kenai, Soldotna and Tyonek.

The winning stories, including second- and third-place entries, are online at the Homer Council on the Arts website at www.homerart.org/wcwinners.

Grades 10-12 fiction winner, first place

“Chapter 1: A Perfect Storm”

by Olivia Cunningham

As I sat in the classroom, I anxiously bit my lip while I waited for my quiz to be returned. From as early as preschool up until my senior year of high school, I have always wanted to be perfect. I strived for perfect grades, the perfect life, and, hopefully, the perfect future. My studies have always been my main priority; if my studies weren’t complete, I wasn’t complete. Sometimes, I would wonder how my life would look if I didn’t focus so much on school; perhaps if I ventured out into the world, I wouldn’t be so “stuck-up” as my best friend Anna puts it. Nevertheless, I continued with perfect grades in hopes of being accepted into a prestigious college.

I began to snap out of my anxiety-filled trance as I saw Ms. Norbury walking towards me with a delighted expression. I knew I had received a good grade on my quiz, but my idea of a good grade compared to Ms. Norbury’s idea of a good grade are two completely different things. You see, despite my many academic achievements, I’m still stuck in a school with less than smart students. If I had to guess, a good grade in Ms. Norbury’s mind would be, at most, an 80, perhaps even a 75. As Ms. Norbury approached my desk, I was giddy to lay my eyes upon the blood-red ink that read 100; however, I was greeted with something that wasn’t to my liking.

“Zoe, you got a ninety-two percent on the quiz! Congratulations,” Ms. Norbury said with excitement trailing behind her words.

“I’m sorry, ninety-two percent? I worked my butt off studying for this quiz,” I said. I had never received anything lower than a 98, but even then, I managed to talk my way up to a 100.

“Zoe, a ninety-two on this quiz is fantastic; just ask your classmates. I’m sure every one of ‘em would be quite happy with your grade. You should be very proud of yourself; I know I am,” Ms. Norbury said.

“But isn’t there something I can do to get my grade up? I mean, there must be extra credit of some sort?” I said with reluctance in my voice.

“I’m sorry, Zoe, but your grade is final. There’s no reason to be upset about it. Your grades are perfect,” Ms. Norbury said as she walked away from my desk.

As I watched Ms. Norbury hand out the rest of the quizzes, I began to bite my lip again. How was I supposed to “be proud” of a 92? It could ruin my GPA. I watched my teacher finish handing out the quizzes, and as she was handing out the last one, I overheard their conversation.

“Jackson, welcome to my class,” Ms. Norbury said. “I see you already impress us with your smarts. Congratulations, you’ve received a ninety-eight on your first quiz in my class,” Ms. Norbury exclaimed.

I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen this guy in any of my classes, and he’s already earning higher grades than me! I knew I couldn’t get too worked up about it, but I was so confused as to how this guy got a better grade than me. The thought of someone earning better grades than me made my blood boil. If Anna were here, she’d tell me not to worry about it, but when something doesn’t seem right, I have to know why.

Still, in my daze of anger, I heard the loud school bell ring: lunchtime. Every day I sat with my best friend, Anna, at lunch. Most of the time, she would do all of the talking, and I would listen. I didn’t mind it, given I studied throughout most of it, but every day Anna either had a new guy to talk about or a new piece of information on the so-called “mean girls” at our school. I wasn’t much for gossip, but it was interesting to hear what was going on in the world around me.

“Hey girlie,” Anna said as I sat down across from her.

“Hey,” I said with a distance in my voice. I had told myself not to focus on him, but he looked so smug about it. I saw Jackson standing across the courtyard, talking with his “friends.” How he even has friends is beyond me, given he’s been at our school for a total of three hours.

“Zoe, are you feeling okay?” Anna asked with confusion in her voice.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just that guy over there, Jackson. I think his name is,” I said, fully knowing his name was definitely Jackson.

“What about him?” Anna asked. “I thought you weren’t interested in guys,” Anna said playfully. “Anna, I’m not into him or whatever,” I said with disgust in my voice. “The thing is, he got a higher score on the quiz than I did, and he’s been here for less than a day. Like, how does that happen?” I asked, even though I knew Anna didn’t have any answers for me. “You know what?” Anna asked.

“What?” I responded.

“I think you like him, Zoe,” Anna said.

“Anna, I do not like him! I don’t even know the guy, other than he thinks he’s ‘all that’ just because of a high grade,” I exclaimed. “I’ve never even spoken to him. And either way, I don’t have time for guys, you know that.”

“Listen, all I see is you getting mad or whatever over some guy’s silly grade,” Anna said. “That isn’t really your style unless it’s your grade.”

Anna did have a point, but she never understood my desire for good grades. And I don’t blame her, but getting into a good college has been my everything. I don’t need some rando sweeping me off my feet just in time to fail the SATs and lose a scholarship.

As lunch was coming to an end, Anna and I said our goodbyes as we both had three more classes. Of course, Jackson was in every single one of my classes, which made for a very uncomfortable experience on my end. But, despite my pure hatred for a guy that I had never actually interacted with, I caught myself staring at times throughout the classes.

The final bell of the day rang, and I was exhausted. As I was walking out of the classroom, I had focused my attention on a singular person, Jackson. Something inside of me told me I just wanted one last look at him before the day was over. I wasn’t sure what drew me to him; whether it was his dark brown hair or his piercing blue eyes, I felt as if he was the ultimate catch. I had seen him smile on multiple occasions that day, and even though none of his smiles were directed towards me, I felt a fit of happiness come over me whenever I saw his perfect smile. Part of me wanted to question his academic abilities; the other part of me wanted to talk to him about normal things such as how he liked the school or even what his last name was; but, nevertheless, I continued my walk out of the classroom and made my way home.

I had finally arrived at my white-picket-fenced home after a very exhausting day, physically and emotionally. I was confused as to how I felt towards Jackson. I never thought about romance in my life; I’ve always been in a relationship with my studies and ambitions, not some boy. I felt silly, though, thinking about Jackson in any other way than my classmate. Something Anna has said in the past haunted my thoughts, “Even though you have no intention of finding love any time soon … when you do fall for someone, you’ll fall hard.” I’ve never paid much attention to Anna’s romantic nuances she tried to bring into my life, but that one particular saying is proving to be quite true. If Anna were here, she’d think I was crazy for even thinking Jackson and I could have something, and honestly, I’m slightly crazy for thinking there could be something with someone I’ve never met. I knew if I kept thinking about him, I actually would go crazy.

I looked over at my phone only to realize that I’ve been sitting on my bed for the past hour thinking about Jackson. I was supposed to be doing homework, but in the state I was in, I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of decency. I had to get out of the house.

Ever since I was a little girl, taking long walks on the beach always seemed to calm me. The sound of the waves crashing on the sandy beach; the sound of seagulls flying overhead; and at times, the moon’s reflection glistening in the blue water. I’ve always loved the feeling of the sand rubbing between my toes. The beach was a perfect getaway from any unwanted thoughts. I could just focus on the water and the sand.

As I approached the beach, I could already hear the waves crashing on the shore: my favorite sound in the world. Even though I live in Miami, a cool breeze followed me as I walked along the shore. The salty water had become somewhat cold as the night ensued, making for my feet to be on the cooler side. But something about the cold seemed to comfort me. Living in a hot, humid city for my entire life has made me appreciate the moments when it’s not 100 degrees out.

I continued to walk along the sandy shore as I felt any unwanted thoughts drift away. The sandy beach seemed to stretch on for miles, but with each step, I grew closer to a clear mind. Up ahead, I saw lights of some sort along with an almost empty basketball court. Someone was shooting hoops, although I couldn’t tell who from where I was standing. As I got closer and closer to the court, I heard loud, angry grunts coming from the person. I stayed on the sand. I approached the court carefully so as not to disturb the person, but I soon heard the ball bouncing off of the rim.

I followed the ball with my eyes, and it landed directly in front of me. I still had yet to see who the person was, but I was in no place to have any social interaction.

“Hey, could you pass the ball, please?” The person said.

I recognized his voice, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He had yet to turn around, so he hadn’t seen who I was, and I hadn’t seen who he was. As I got closer and closer to the person, I handed the ball to him as he turned around; to my surprise, the person was no stranger: Jackson. “No,” I thought to myself. “Jackson is what I’m avoiding, rather who I’m avoiding. Why was he here tonight? Of all the places.”

“Um, here you go,” I said as I passed the ball off to him. I quickly turned around and started to walk away, but he began to call me back.

“Hey, I recognize you,” Jackson said inquisitively. “You’re in Ms. Norbury’s class, right?” “Yes, I am,” I said. “And every other class you’re in,” I thought to myself.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Should I walk away, or should I keep talking to him?

“Well, I uh- I should be getting back,” I said reluctantly. “I have homework,” I said, hoping he’d let me leave.

“Wait, I haven’t even introduced myself,” he said. “My name’s Jackson, and you’re Zoe, right?” He asked.

“Yes, I’m Zoe,” I said, not really knowing what to do or say.

“Well, Zoe, it’s very nice to meet you,” Jackson said. “I suppose I’ll let you be on your way home.”

I was grateful he didn’t bring up how he knew me from class, given I practically had a mental breakdown over one bad grade. Part of me wanted to go home and be done with the night, but the other part of me was curious why he was out here alone. Of course, I probably looked odd for being out here alone as well, but I was curious about him.

“Before I go, why are you out here all alone?” I asked genuinely.

“Well, I could ask the same about you,” he said playfully. “No, um, I got into an argument with my parents, and the beach has always calmed me down. It’s a great place to just let go of any unwanted thoughts.”

“My words exactly,” I thought to myself.

“Ah, I see,” I said, not really knowing how to respond. Before I knew it, I said something I may or may not regret, “If you wanna talk about it, I’m sure I won’t be missed,” I said, instantly regretting my statement. Jackson looked at me as if I’d just offended him, but his words said something else.

“I’d really like that a lot, actually,” he said with a glimmer in his eyes.

And so we talked, and we talked, and we talked some more. We covered everything from his fight with his parents to why I strive to be so perfect. I even told him how much I hated him for getting a better grade than me. Of course, he brushed it off as a compliment, but it was nice to know he didn’t think of me as completely stuck-up. Before we knew it, it was almost two in the morning. We knew we’d see each other at school in the morning, but it felt as though we’d never see each other again.

The whole walk home, I was confused as to how I let a boy get in the way of my studies. I had come to the beach to clear my mind of him, not fill it with thoughts and hopes of what could be of us. As I continued the walk home, I came to the realization that I would show up to school the very next day without my homework, for once in my life. I approached my doorstep, and all I could feel was anger towards myself for allowing myself to get distracted. I knew better. But, I did it anyway.

As I crawled into bed, I began to imagine my teachers’ reaction to me not having my completed homework. I hoped they would let me complete it tomorrow, given my perfect GPA and school record, but that was something I’d have to find out the next day. I began to drift into a deep sleep, and the only thing I pictured was Jackson’s face.

Grades 7-9 fiction winner, first place

“Odelle Knightly and the Whispering Hemlocks”

by Naomi Jones

In the small town I lived in, I was labeled the Weird Girl. Ever since I was little, nobody would believe me, when I told them the hemlock trees called to me. It annoyed my parents, so when I even spoke a word about it, they’d send me to my room with no dinner for a week. It annoyed me to no end, and the only one who believed me was my best friend. He moved away a couple years ago, and haven’t heard from him since. His parents didn’t like him around me, so they left when we were both in the sixth grade. I’m now in tenth grade. I was constantly bullied by the kids at my school, and I wanted to snap at them so badly.

After a fight with my parents, the whispers from the trees in the backyard were louder than before. I tried to ignore them, but they were echoing inside my head louder and louder. I even tried to put my hands against my ear in an attempt to keep them out. They got so loud, I finally tried to listen to the voice. It got a bit quiet, and I finally understood what it was.

“Odelle Knightly, come home,” it whispered in a soft honey-sweet voice, and I looked out my window. I made my decision quickly, and grabbed a bag filled with important things: a brush, extra clothes, hair ties, and the necklace I got from my best friend. I slid my window open, and climbed out quietly. I was on the first floor, so it was an easy sneak out.

I made a break for it, and heard the screams of my parents behind me. I didn’t pay attention to them, angry at them for never believing me. I followed the voice, and it led me to an abandoned looking cabin. I walked closer to it, and noticed someone lived in it. I was confused, as the hemlocks were off limits. I subconsciously made my way to the door, and knocked before I knew what I was doing. I heard heavy thunks from a person’s boots, and waited silently. Soon enough there was a man. Tall. Hairy. Strong. He was staring at me in confusion, and I was staring at him in shock.

“Who’re you?” he asked me while furrowing his eyebrows. I gaped at him.

“I-uh, I’m, um, I’m Odelle Knightly,” I stuttered out, and he glanced around. He pulled me inside, and sat me at the table.

“How did you find my cabin?”

“I don’t think you’ll believe me if I told you,” I said with a fake smile, and he rubbed his face annoyed.

“Just tell me, Odelle.”

“I followed the voices in my head, they told me where to go. After they told me to run away from home, and into the hemlocks,” I said finally, after a few minutes of silence.

We stared at each other in silence, and it wasn’t as awkward as one would think. I knew he was thinking I was crazy, but I was used to it. I was thinking about how he’d answer.

“You hear the voices as well?” He asked me quietly, and I nodded a bit. We just sat in silence, studying each other. Watching. Silent. Still. Sitting. Breathing softly. Time went by slowly. I could hear the ticking in my mind every second. I didn’t know how long it was until he spoke again.

“Odelle Knightly, sounds familiar. I think She told me about you a few months ago. I am Ash Bronzeworth,” he said quietly, and stuck out his hand. I shook it, and then realized he said She. “Who’s She?”

“The voice who whispers in our ears.”

It all made sense to me, the honey-sweet voice was a woman.

… To Be Continued

Grades 4-6 fiction winner, first place

“A Curly Christmas Tail”

by Olin Braund

Every Christmas Eve all the food inside the refrigerator began to bicker. Tickle, the mini dill pickle, wanted to be the first on the table. This made Piggies and the Blankets upset because they wanted to be served as the appetizer. Honey the Mustard agreed saying, “yes, we are surely the best!”

Then a booming voice from the bottom shelf yelled, “Who cares about you little hot dogs, you are only one percent meat!”said Beefster Wellington. “We may both have puff pastry around us but we are not the same! I am the most expensive part of beef, no gristle, all tender.”

Eggnog, Cocoa, Milk and Water started fighting on the top shelf. Water said in a fancy voice, “I am the cleanest, there is zero sugar in me.”

Milk argued, “What is Santa going to drink to wet his dry mouth after he eats his cookies?”

Cocoa said, “When we are at the winter cabin I warm children’s mouths and bellies. Water, you just make them cold with your icy cold heart!”

Eggnog piped up, “I may be like melted ice cream but I have the best yolks. And everyone knows and loves my Christmas companion Nutmeg!”.

Beefster Wellington shouted, “Be quiet you drinks, I’m trying to form over here!” He bragged, “My meat is so juicy that they won’t even need any of you drinks!”

All the food and drinks started a riot; the biggest food fight of Christmas Eve began. The foods and drinks fought so hard the refrigerator door flew open. Mashy Tato flew out everywhere. Everyone went silent except Butters, who screamed, “MASHY TATO, Nooooooooooo, you are our main side dish!”

At that same moment they realized the beast was coming. Any food who fell out of the fridge was doomed. The demon’s name was Licker the Pug. Licker ran over with dead shark eyes, his nails scratching the hardwood, but he fell and skidded across the floor. He was too tired to get up.

All the foods decided to work together to save Mashy Tato. Beefster Wellington, Tickle the Pickle and Butters all grabbed Asparagus and pulled Mashy Potato with all their might but it was too late. Licky the Pug woke up and saw the rescue food party, he licked and licked until only half of Mashy Tato remained.

Just in the nick of time Water, Cocoa, Milk and Eggnog all jumped and splashed the beast! Licky the Pug dodged Eggnog, Cocoa and Milk but Water got him! Licky was not defeated, not yet at least. But it gave the food enough time to pull up Mashy Tato and slam the refrigerator door shut. Christmas dinner was saved and the beast never came close to the refrigerator again.

Grades K-3 fiction winner, first place

”Turkey’s First Thanksgiving”

by Wylder Johnson

It was a beautiful Thanksgiving morning and Mr. and Mrs. Moose were happily setting the table for Thanksgiving dinner. Carefully, they placed the paper pilgrims and the paper turkey and the red, waxy candles.

Mrs. Moose was distraught. Mr. Moose felt like it was his time to step in and make his wife happy. He asked if he could do anything to help her. Mrs. Moose replied, “I’ve always wanted a turkey!”

Mr. Moose proclaimed, “I will go get you a colorful, beautiful turkey this very second!” And just like that, Mr. Moose set off into the bog. While he was walking, all his friends poked their heads out and asked, “Is it time for dinner yet?”

“Not until I find a turkey for Mrs. Moose,” Mr. Moose answered.

“There’s a big one down by the gloppy, muddy riverbank,” mentioned Mr. Goat.

Mr. Moose, Goat, Rabbit, and Sheep headed that way in their search. They looked under this and around that until they finally found the plump, brightly feathered turkey. They pushed the unwilling fellow back to Mrs. Moose.

Mrs. Moose was so thrilled that she did her happy dance and delightfully gave the turkey a chair. Turkey was so surprised that he wasn’t ON their table that he started to do HIS happy dance. Then, he sat down with the others and ate his meal.

The group ate dried leaves as crisp as cold frost in the morning, crunchy baked acorns, and sweet juicy apples. It was a fantastic, lively, delightful meal.

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