26th Kenai Peninsula Writers’ Contest winners: Fiction


1st Place — “The Pale Green Suitcase” by Inez Dunn

(Prologue to a novel: A fact-based story beginning in 1940s California about a young girl who spent entire adolescence at a sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis)

“You need to eat something.” Momma did not look at me. She waited for the tea kettle to whistle and lowered the flame. In the cuff of her sleeve, she kept extra Kleenex which she used regularly to dab at her nose. Water dripped from the leaky faucet it was a familiar sound. Momma’s hands looked wrinkled and worn, as she brushed away the crumbs from the embroidered tablecloth. An empty porcelain bowl sat in front of me with a tarnished soup spoon inside. It’s been a long time since we last polished the spoons and forks, it used to be important to Momma, but not anymore. I think Momma wanted to tell me something, but stopped. Her rhythm around the cast-iron stove was a habit. Her footpath in our narrow kitchen repeated, day in and day out, which made the yellow-speckled linoleum dull and faded. Her voice quivered. “Delfina, the day will be very long.”

The wide ladle emptied. The heap of porridge steamed. Nausea pushed up into my ribs, as the earthy-milky aroma filled my nostrils. I wished for anything that would stop the queasiness that swirled inside me. I took a sip of water from the daisy rimmed glass and forced my sleepy eyes to widen.

Momma sat down, her round body filled the chair. With a long exhale she sighed, “Oh, daughter.” She reached around her thick waist and untied her apron. Dark rain peppered the window. At such an early hour, I felt punished while my sisters slept peacefully. Why me? Was it because I was the oldest? Either way, it wasn’t fair.

My twelfth birthday was two months away and yet every bone in my body protruded against my pale skin. When I gasped for breath, I feared my bones would puncture my skin and my blood would flow like a river. If someone had told me more about this day, I would have been stronger. I would have sat up straighter, eaten all that porridge, cheeks full, if someone had

told me…

I memorized the tea-colored stain in the corner of the ceiling above the wainscoting. I needed something permanent that I could easily recall. Because of the fever, I felt like there wasn’t enough time to remember the things that were most important like, Momma’s face in the afternoon sun, the laughter of my sisters, and that special day when we planted the baby pomegranate trees in the front yard.

In the cold of winter, when the winds rattled the roof, Papa allowed the flame in the ginger-colored oil lamp to linger. The faint crack of light made a line from the hallway to the foot of my bed. That small bit of illumination was assurance that the tiny bedroom I shared with my two sisters would not blow away. I stashed this memory behind my heart so it would always be there. My sturdy headboard, with the green tilted letters of the alphabet, and my pink fabric music box with the dancing ballerina would all have to wait— wait, for fourteen long years.


The steps were wet. Papa dressed in his best church clothes. The car engine idled. Pencilcolored exhaust hung in the air. Before I could cough, Papa quickly helped me into the back seat and then shut the door. It was hard to see with so much darkness. I reached across the seat for the rolled blanket, but it was not a blanket. My hands felt the coarseness of a large brown paper bag crumbled and rolled at the top. The bag was damp from the rain and had a slight smell like the billowing steam from the tall chimneys at the pulp mill.

As we drove away, the windshield wipers squeaked and scratched. Headlights flashed over my head, past the back window, and then vanished. My head bobbed with persistent motion, due to all the potholes and bumps in the road. I fell in and out of sleep. When my eyes opened, I was brought back to the present; to the mystery of where exactly we were going, and why the doctor lived so far away. I did not speak. I did not ask Papa questions.

The bread box from the kitchen counter now occupied the front seat. As the car heater circulated hot air, up and over the seats, the waft of corn tortillas and fried chicken enveloped me. I lifted the hem of my skirt to cover my nose. I needed to resist the urge, and not show my weakness. When the rain stopped, I lowered the window. I saw Papa’s eyes through his thick glasses in the rearview mirror. “Delfina, only a little. I don’t want you to get cold.” I nodded in obedience.

From the horizon, soft morning light came into focus. It was the first time that I was up before daybreak. To me, it was magical. I felt like God had watched over us. I hoped we would turn around and go back, back to Momma, but my cough persisted. I covered my mouth with a large cotton handkerchief that I kept up my sleeve, and pressed a small glob of bloody spit into the fabric.

The landscape all around looked as though it was covered in thick green carpet. There were open fields that went on forever, with pastures that had cows and horses. I stared out at dozens of farmhouses with big red barns, and people who carried knapsacks I wondered where they were going?

We parked on a muddy road. I saw a windmill; its blades turned lazily. Papa opened my door and fresh air washed over me. As I leaned against the car, the heat from the tires warmed the back of my legs. I stretched out my spindly arms in the path of the sun. I stared into its glare. I hoped it might cure my sickness. When Papa emerged from a long row of trees, his voice snapped, “Never stare at the sun!” His broad silhouette in front of me blocked the light. I braced myself, ready to have my shoulder yanked. Instead, he wiped bits of dirt away from the cuffs of his trousers and cupped my fragile hand with a thin roll of toilet tissue.

The wind shifted and moved crisp leaves around my feet. Scattered on the ground there were hundreds of little seed pods with intricate patterns. They resembled the Star Anise that my teacher brought to our classroom. As the trees swayed, I caught a hint of menthol and it made me think of the blue jar of salve Momma would rub on my chest. Papa opened the bread box and handed me a mason jar filled with milk. He promised it would calm my stomach.

We got back in the car and drove in the direction of the hills, where thick forests of Christmas trees grew to the top of the mountains. Long shadows and flickers of sunshine pulsed through the car windows as the road narrowed. I tried to imagine the men that laid these roads, these endless stretches of black hot surface. How did they know where to put a road, its length, and where it should end?

My mind stayed busy with so many questions. I did not understand why this doctor lived so far away, but more importantly, when would I see Momma again? I prayed like it was Sunday morning with my lips moving, but no sound. I didn’t want Papa to hear me or my worry. With my eyes closed, I imagined the doctor we would meet, a tall, kind man with a clear, soft voice. In his office, there’d be giant picture windows with a view of a lake and chilled air like the kind in department stores. On the corner of his desk, a jar of different flavored lollipops would be free for all of his patients. At the end of our visit, the doctor would gather both my hands and tell us the good news, that I wasn’t all that sick and we could go home.

Papa drove much slower up the mountainous road as one sharp turn continued after the next. The brown bag slid over to me and then back. Papa lowered his window, because he knew it might help in case of car sickness. The bag returned to my thigh, I was curious about its contents. I gripped the rolled edges, but when Papa’s eyes checked on me, I padded down the ruffles on my skirt. From my viewpoint, Papa’s soft brown hair had thinned. When he moved his head, slick silver hairs splayed and parted over the collar of his tweed coat. I rubbed my shoes together, and bits of light-colored mud flecked from the soles onto a newspaper on the floorboard. The headline read: FDR TIMES THREE! I attempted once more to pull apart the top edges of the bag, but stopped when I saw Papa reach for the dashboard. He turned the radio knob. Judy Garland began to sing, Over the Rainbow. Papa glanced my way with a smile.


The afternoon arrived. I could see a small town in the distance. As we got closer Papa said, “This is Windmere City.” The long avenue was filled with all kinds of shops and cafés. Some of the buildings had colorful striped awnings and the taller buildings draped decorative banners over their balconies. We parked near a crosswalk, Papa told me to stay put and lock the door. People seemed busy as they walked in and out of shops. From the backseat window, I watched women with babies in their strollers, couples holding hands, and young girls who lingered long enough to catch their reflection in the storefront windows. In the middle of the sidewalk stood a painted sign of a giant slice of pie. It made my mouth water for the first time since I got sick. I moved from the right side of the car to the left, in all my giddy restlessness and I nearly sat on top of the brown bag. This was my chance to peek inside, but then Papa approached the car.

When the door swung open, he handed me a beautiful pale green suitcase. He told me to empty my things from the paper bag into it. Confused, and elated at this special gift, I did as I was told. I parted the bag, and when Papa lifted it, my flannel nightgown tumbled out, followed by pairs of socks, my red sweater, my hairbrush, and my toothbrush. In the lining of the suitcase, a small oval mirror stared back at me. I tried to deny my bewildered face, my unkempt auburn curls all tangled and uneven.

I felt tricked. This whole time the brown paper bag contained nothing more than the ragged contents of my life. I ran my fingertips over the ridged edges of the set of keys that dangled from the lock. Before I could make sense of this moment … I got a lump in my throat because, I realized that Papa did not have a suitcase!

We held hands as we walked to one of the restaurants. Papa pointed to an outdoor patio and we sat on a cushioned bench. I ordered the pie with syrupy chunks of apple wedges and a flaky crust covered in sugary sprinkles. Papa took long sips from his cup of coffee and then he told me to listen carefully. He said, there would be many different doctors not just one at this special hospital. He added hundreds of children receive treatment, but it can take a long time to become well. Papa seemed confident about the nice people at this hospital and the special events like ice cream socials every weekend. I did not want to believe Pappa’s words, especially when he whispered, “I will visit you as often as I can.”

I pushed my fork away from my plate, as my last bite of sweetness turned bitter. My face burned hot more than any fever I had known. My tears I could not stop as they dripped past my chin. I had been betrayed, and now abandoned. I felt so angry at Papa, at Momma, and at God.

People began to stare. I grabbed Papa’s arm. I begged him not to leave me, but my mournful words competed against the chatter all around us. I was humiliated that my fit had been witnessed by all these patrons who paused briefly with their sandwiches and milkshakes. A pretty waitress hurried to our table. She put her notepad into the pocket of her apron, she said, “Sweetheart you don’t like the pie?” When I tried to answer, my cough erased my words. A cough so ugly, it sounded like an angry barking dog. I quickly placed my handkerchief over my nose and mouth. I left the table unannounced and stumbled to the sun-soaked curb. I sat down. I didn’t care that my new ruffled skirt would get dirty and I did not look up when I heard Papa sniffle. I saw his shadow on the pavement when he lifted his arm to his face, I knew then that he loved me more than I had believed.


The gates opened slowly under a white stucco archway. Beautiful, and ornate, it looked like an important monument. In the middle of the arch hung a statue of Jesus. The attendant, a tall frail man, wore a hat like a police officer. He spoke in a low gravelly voice. I could not hear his words as he handed Papa a piece of paper and told him where to park. We inched our way towards several buildings interspersed with rows of army barracks. A church bell rang in the distance. Nurses and nuns walked in all directions over the manicured grounds.

In a gray-painted hallway, we waited with other people, children my age and younger, older men and women, some in wheelchairs. Dozens of telephones seemed to ring all at once. In the crowded room, Papa gave his chair to an elderly woman. I had to pee but crossed my legs tightly until a busy nurse noticed me. She touched my arm and walked me to the Ladies’ Room.

When I returned no one was seated and the corridor was filled with people in long lines. I couldn’t see Papa. I pushed my suitcase in front of me and followed what I thought was his tweed coat. The noise grew louder and I began to cry. Bodies and faces blurred. I ran toward the entrance and called out for Papa, but an orderly with no hair stopped me. I pushed past him and dropped my beautiful suitcase. The sun had set. I slapped my hands against the glass doors, my eyes strained only to see the painful glimmer of tail lights as Papa drove away.

2nd Place — “Ashes” by Jay Bechtol

I was ten years old when my father left us. The next day Mount St. Helens erupted and a lot more people disappeared. I’ve always tried not to imagine the two things were connected in some way, but I think they were.

The dormant volcano started to rumble a couple of months before it blew. My big brother Jeremy and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Volcanoes were only real in Hawaii and science fiction movies, yet, about an hour from our house in Eastern Washington, Mount St. Helens came to life. We’d watch the updates on the news and cheer every time it released some steam or clouds of ash. We especially loved Harry Truman. Not the president, but the old guy that lived up by Spirit Lake, just a few miles from the smoking volcano. Nearby towns and villages were evacuated. But not Harry. He stayed. In defiance of the forest service and the National Guard and the cops. He told one of the news stations, “I grew up on this mountain and I ain’t leaving.”

Jeremy and I would high five when we talked about Harry.

“He’s got it figured out,” Jeremy said. “No one’s telling him what to do.”

“Would you leave?” I asked Jeremy. “You know, if you were in Harry’s place?”

“No fuckin’ way,” he said. “I’d build a wall around my house.”

I laughed, because at ten, nothing was cooler than hearing my thirteen year old brother use the word ‘fuck.’

“I’d stay, too,” I responded after I stopped giggling. “But I think I’d be a scared.”

“What’s to be scared of, Benj? Some lava, some steam?” Jeremy punched my shoulder, “You could handle it. You’re tough. Like me.”

I always hoped that was true.


On Saturday, May 17th, I asked my dad if I could stay at friend’s house overnight. He said, “Sure.” It was the last word he ever spoke to me.

Sunday morning I rode my bike home and watched thunderclouds roll in from the west. Big black clouds that menaced the skies unlike any storm I’d seen before. I scanned for lighting, to try and judge how far away it might be, not sure if I’d get home before the downpour soaked me. But nothing flashed. The cloud swallowed everything in its path. Raindrops never came. Instead, grey flakes and yellow flecks started falling from the sky. Floating down from the cloud that obliterated the sun. I wheeled my bike into the driveway and my mom stood in the garage watching the sky. She saw me pedal up and waved frantically, “Get in here, Benjamin. Right now.”

I rarely heard fear in my mother’s voice.

She pulled the garage door down behind me so quickly it grazed the rear tire of my bike. “What’s…?” I started.

“It erupted,” she said and grabbed my hand, she looked like she might have been crying. “Wind is coming our way, radio says to stay inside.”

“Where’s Dad and Jeremy?”

“Jeremy is already in the basement,” she answered, “And your father is out.”

“Out?” My voice was panicked. “Out where? He needs to come home right now!”

“He’ll be fine, Benjamin.”

She paused and I thought she was about to say more, but she didn’t. She dragged me down to the basement where we huddled for the remainder of the day listening to the radio, trying to adjust the antennas on the TV to get the best reception, learning as much as possible. Slowly. The way we did back in those days.

At some point, Jeremy and I pulled a couple of folding chairs over to the far wall and stood on them to stare up through one of the basement windows. I think it was evening, but it was hard to keep track of time because of the darkness. The little area outside the window filled with ash. At least an inch of fine grey powder mixed with specks of black and yellow.

“Charcoal and sulfur,” Jeremy stated. He pointed to the various particles. “Radio says it could be toxic.”

Just outside the window a small spider tried to navigate its web. Its legs coated with the falling ash. Jeremy tapped on the window. “Go find a hole, stupid spider.”

We watched it struggle, its movements more and more unnatural. “Where do you think Dad is?” I asked. “He shouldn’t be out in the ash either.”

“Dad’s fine,” he replied without looking at me. “He can take care of himself.”

His voice had a waver in it that I ignored. “What about Harry,” I asked, “do you think he’s okay?”

Jeremy turned on me then. “Have you listened to anything? Seen the pictures on TV?” he nearly screamed at me. “It didn’t erupt, it exploded. They said it’s maybe a thousand feet shorter than it was yesterday.”

“But Harry…Harry said he wasn’t scared.” I answered. I heard the tremble in my voice that meant tears.

“Jesus, Benj, Harry is smoked.”

The waver in Jeremy’s voice harder to ignore.

“That’s what’s falling on us right now. That mountain, the burnt trees, the burnt animals. Whatever is left of Harry.” He pointed toward the outside. “The sun is gone, Benj. Mom says it ould be years before everything is cleaned up.”

“Are you scared?” I asked him.

He climbed off the chair and stalked to a different corner of the basement. He didn’t answer.


We stayed in the basement until Monday. School was cancelled, everything was cancelled really. I’d go back and stand on the folding chair every hour or so and peek into the window well, looking for signs of the spider. Sometime early Monday morning I finally saw it. Covered in ash, not moving. Two of its legs splayed forward in surrender. I tapped the window lightly, hoping to see that it survived. “Dumb spider,” I whispered, trying to mimic Jeremy. “Should have found a hole.”

When Mom finally allowed us upstairs around noon, we peered through the kitchen window. Light trickled from the streetlamps, filtered through floating grey haze. Ash covered everything. The roads, the lawn, the roofs of the houses. Faded footprints were embossed in the ash in the middle of the street. I didn’t like the idea of someone being out there walking around.

Jeremy saw the footprints too and he pointed at them. “Hey, look Benj, Harry’s ghost is coming for us.”

“Stop,” I said. “That’s not funny.”

“They’re just footprints,” he laughed. “Nothing to be scared of.”

I could hear the waver in his voice again. He tried to hide it under the laughter. I squeezed my mother’s hand. “When’s Dad coming home?” I asked.

“Don’t go outside,” my mother replied and nodded toward the footprints. “No one should be out in this. The radio says we shouldn’t breathe the ash.” She grabbed our shoulders, harder than I’d ever felt my mom grab me. “You boys hear me?”

“Yes,” we mumbled in unison.

“Your father drove to San Diego. He’s not coming home.”

She went back down to the basement and left Jeremy and I to stare into the colorless grey of the afternoon.


Jeremy and I remained close. Through high school and college and into adulthood. It may sound cliché, but I consider him my best friend. We lived together for a few years after I graduated UW. Then I moved to Portland for work and he stayed in Washington, a suburb above Seattle. Every year we’d get together for my birthday and spend a weekend camping. We only missed a few, one the year cancer took Mom, and another when I was going through a divorce.

“This is a big one,” he chuckled over the phone. “The big five-oh! Where we going this year? You only turn fifty once.”

“Might be tough this year,” I started, “This pandemic thing is closing stuff down. It sounds like a lot of national parks and forests are shutting down.”

“That shouldn’t stop us,” he replied. “Might even make it better. No one around, some solitude. Where you thinking?”

I paused, I’d been stewing on it for a few years, but hadn’t made the leap yet. I figured turning fifty was the push I needed. “St. Helens.”

He laughed. “I’d been wondering when you might get around to it, Benj. Have you been up there?”

“No,” I answered? “You?”

“Clare and I took the girls, maybe ten years ago, when we drove over to Spokane to see Mom. We only spent the morning there. Looks like a mountain and a forest.”

“That’s where I want to go,” I said.

“Maybe we’ll find Harry,” he laughed.

I laughed, too. At least I hoped it sounded like a laugh.


We found a clearing near Spirit Lake just east of Harry’s Ridge. Named after the late, great Harry Truman, the one that was not the president. We pulled the car off the road and hiked in. The park, of course, closed. We joked about being too old to go to jail and having good enough savings to pay the fines if we got caught.

Jeremy pulled a small spade from his pack. “I heard,” he said, “you can still find ash out here.”

He chunked it into the soft earth and in short order dug a hole about ten inches deep. Then he hit it. Like a vein of gold ore in one of those old mines. A thin line of grey running through the dark soil.

“Holy shit,” I whispered. “I didn’t think I ever wanted to see volcanic ash again.”

“Pretty cool, right?” He smiled.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “It feels a little like we shouldn’t disturb it, you know? Like that was a whole different time.”

“It was,” Jeremy said. “You remember that day? Man, I was so scared. That darkness was something. I thought that was the way the world was going to be forever.” He stood and kicked the dirt back into the hole. “Perspective is weird.”

“Sometimes I hope the volcano got Dad, just like it did Harry,” I said.

“That’s pretty dark, Benj.” He tamped his foot down, trying to repack the hole. “But I get it.” He seemed satisfied with his work and looked at me. “Come on.” He started walking again.

“It seem quiet here?” I asked.

“Park’s closed,” Jeremy answered. “No people, no vehicles. No one trying to get that perfect shot of the mountain or the wildlife with their drone. We are so alone. Of course it’s quiet.”

“No birds, no insects?”

He stopped and gave me a surprised look. He turned toward the trees and then back to me. “Huh. I hadn’t noticed. Weird.” He shrugged. “We still have a ways to walk.”

We hiked another three miles and set up camp at the edge of a meadow where it butted up against the young forest. Our conversation, the occasional clank of our equipment, and the crackle of the fire being the only sounds we heard until we zipped the tent flap shut that night.


I woke the next morning in my sleeping bag, staring up at the roof of the tent, and watched a spider make its way slowly down the outside. Each leg moving with intent. I wanted to sit up and whack the inside of the tent, send the little creature away, my arms wouldn’t respond. I could only watch its legs scritch across the nylon. I tried to turn and see if Jeremy was awake but I couldn’t move. Couldn’t open my mouth. Couldn’t breathe. And the spider crawled ever so slowly. I heard my voice, it screamed inside my head. The spider’s front feet opened a small hole in the tent and it pushed its body through. It knew something.

I squeezed my eyes shut.

When they opened, the spider was gone and Jeremy was crawling from his sleeping bag. He unzipped the flap.

“Want some coffee?” he rubbed his face.

We pushed the flap open, the morning sun in our faces, stood and stretched. “I’ll get a fire going,” I offered.

Jeremy didn’t respond. He stared at the ground. I followed his gaze down and stopped when I saw the footprints. Grey prints tracking through the dewy grass and weeds, across the meadow and toward the lake. The morning sun outlined their shape against the shadow of the grass.

Jeremy snorted. “You needed to pee last night? Why didn’t you just walk over to the trees? I didn’t hear you get up.”

“Pretty good,” I responded. “You almost sound convincing.”

“Those aren’t mine.” He turned to look at me. Something in his look unsettled me. “Really. Are you messing with me?”

I patted him on the shoulder. “I get it. A fun Happy Birthday prank for your little brother.”

“Seriously,” he stared at me, “those aren’t mine.” He knelt and looked more closely at the track. “Maybe a deer? Or an elk?” He said without much conviction. We both knew they were no animal prints. He touched the track, twice as big as his hand. “What are you wearing?”


“Me too.” He rubbed his finger against his thumb. “This looks like the tread I had on my Rockports when I was a kid. And this,” he showed me his finger, “this looks like ash.”


We followed the trail for a little over a mile. Jeremy carried his rifle, I watched our position with the GPS on my phone. Then the prints vanished. I don’t mean they faded or became hard to track, I mean it was as if whoever made them simply flew away. Footprints, then no footprints. Neither of us spoke. Somewhere behind us, near our camp a bird screeched and we

both twitched at the first sound we’d heard in several hours.

“Well that’s fucked,” I said. “Stranger walks through our camp last night and disappears.”

“You sure it wasn’t you?” Jeremy looked over his shoulder at me, his face lit by the sun behind us.

“Yes,” I said, “I hid some old boots away and hiked out here in the middle of the night, then flew back to camp so there wouldn’t be any tracks the other direction.”

“You’re right,” he nodded, “this is fucked.” Then he grinned. “Maybe it’s Harry.”

“That’s almost funny,” I shot back. “But I’m not a kid anymore.”

And despite the morning sun beating down on us, I felt a chill push through me.

We walked back toward camp. The insects and birds, even the creaking of the forest, returned. Like someone had flipped a switch. I could make out the tent in the tall spring grass when Jeremy spoke.

“You really think the volcano got Dad?”

“Mom said he moved to San Diego and got remarried.”

“I know, but what if she just said that. I mean what happened. Why’d he leave? Where’d he go?” Jeremy stepped on one of the footprints, they faded as the morning sun dried the grass and a light wind pushed the ash away. “We agreed to never look for him. Fuck him, right? But sometimes don’t you get curious?”

“It’s my birthday, man. We’ve spent too much time this weekend, our whole lives, talking about Dad.” Jeremy put a hand on my shoulder and nodded. We walked a few more steps like that then I said, “The ash, it got him. Swallowed him up. Took him away.” I looked at Jeremy. “That’s what happened.”

My brother raised his face toward the vast expanse of blue above us, “I can live with that.”


Each of us tried to pretend the footprints meant nothing. Just some other dude catching some solitude, knowing the park would be closed and empty. We hiked, took pictures, cooked a delicious campfire meal, drank beer, and watched the embers burn down to nothing. We tried to outdo each other identifying constellations. Eventually we climbed into the tent, zipped the flap shut, a slipped into the sleeping bags.

“Got your rifle?” I asked.

“Damn straight.” He replied

We both laughed. It reminded me of our laughter forty years earlier.


The sun was already warming the tent when I woke the next morning, probably one too many beers the night before. The smell coffee and the crackle of a new fire filled the air. Jeremy already up and starting the day. I rolled onto my back and stared up at the top of the tent. It was covered. With the spider from the morning before and about two hundred of its closest friends. Thousands of legs scratching along the nylon. Their shadows elongated as the mass moved down the side of the tent toward the open flap. My arms and legs frozen in place. I tried to raise my head to call for help.

“Jeremy…” I wheezed and clenched my eyes until fireworks danced across the inside of my eyelids.

I counted to ten and opened them again. The spiders were gone.

I kicked out of the sleeping bag and scrambled from the tent into the morning. It was no different than the day before. Clear blue skies, a pot of coffee percolating on the campfire. A warm sun hitting the side of my face. I breathed it in. A good fiftieth birthday, spiders notwithstanding.

“Where’s the mugs?” I asked and crouched digging through the packs. My brother didn’t answer and I stood and scanned the tree line. “Jeremy?” I called.

Then saw the footprints. Like the morning before, heading away from camp, except this time there were two sets, side by side. Both filled with grey ash. “Jeremy?” I tried again, and then, much more quietly, “Harry?”

I don’t remember how long I stood there, not believing what I was seeing. I followed the footprints for almost two miles before they vanished. I screamed Jeremy’s name, staggered through the surrounding area, and ran in ever widening circles, sure I’d find something. I searched for five hours. Certain that he was going to appear from behind a tree or a rock, laughing hysterically. Positive that the volcano couldn’t have taken someone else. I rubbed the ash from the tracks between my hands hoping to appease Harry or whatever walked through the deserted forests surrounding Mount St. Helens.

At one o’clock, I stumbled back into camp and slumped to the ground next to our firepit. I cried, steadied my voice, and used the last of my phone’s battery to call for help.


It took the forest service team almost two more hours to get to me. I tried to show them the footprints, but the sun and the wind had erased any evidence. They searched for two weeks. No trace of Jeremy was found.

The police asked a lot of questions. So did Jeremy’s wife Clare. I think the police believed me pretty quickly, Jeremy had simply disappeared. Walked out into the forest at night and been attacked by something or fallen into one of the deep ravines that appeared after the eruption. They were confident his body would be found eventually. They offered their condolences and fined me for being in the park.

Clare was a different story. She was convinced I’d done something horrible. At the very least I was responsible for taking Jeremy out into the wilderness where he could disappear. She refused to return calls or emails. She had a lawyer contact me to let me know if I didn’t stop trying to get in touch with her, there would be a restraining order. Or worse.

That’s been three years now.

I often think about the volcano and how the official count has been debated. Most places report that about fifty-seven people died in the explosion that day back in 1980. Some of the presumed dead may not have actually died and some that went missing may not be in the body count. I wonder if a car on its way to San Diego ever made it. I wonder how many more people the mountain has taken since then.

I no longer sleep very well and, if I am being honest, it’s been a lot longer than that. Closer to forty two years that I wake up and see spiders crawling across the ceiling. I never told my brother, or my ex, or my mother. Sometimes I squash them with my shoe. Other times I close my eyes again and hope they go away. I think about the spider outside the basement window the day the ash came.

I quit my job in Portland last week before they could fire me. I put my house on the market. I told the realtor to give the money to Clare.

Tomorrow I’m getting in the car. I’m driving up to Washington and to that volcano. The one that took my dad, that took my brother. Evaporated Harry Truman. I’m going to take a tent into a distant meadow and wait for a thing that makes footprints filled with ash.

I hope whatever took my father and my brother will take me.

I hope.

3rd Place — “Journey to the Mountain Spirits” by Alexander Fearn

Mendo harvests pepper grass to snack on and cuts a fruit of the prickly pear along with a couple pads of the same cactus. He slices off the thorns with his knife and wraps the bounty into his now-dry bandana.

Bits of ripped fabric can be seen clinging to branches in the riverbed, belaying morsels of information from the ferocious flood. His friends are missing and he is on his own. He has had plenty of practice in the art of solitude from hunting and scouting for his band. Yet he cannot seem to shake the sense of unnatural occurrences and the weight of overwhelming odds. Feeling the pressure of exhaustion he retreats to the natural cover of tree canopy where he swiftly sparks a cooking fire from chert and steel.

Prickly pear cactus pads roast in the side bed of coals adjacent to a low, licking fire. Mendo sits criss-crossed on raw dirt, sharpening a willow stick in which to pierce the prickly pear when his ears become alert of footsteps over fallen branches in the afterglow of the evening. From the shadows comes the sound of unknown terror. When out strides a mountain lion, eyes of ebony on a muscular mahogany frame. The predatory feline eyes belie nothing of its intentions as it studies the sitting form in the glow of the nearby fire.

Mendo prickles with electrical excitement. Nerves flood with endorphins coursing adrenaline to all of his organs and extremities. His skin feels as though it is breathing, all of himself alive in unison. Muscles clench unconsciously with thousands of his ancestors’ instincts embedded in his genome. His breath halts, then restarts. Silence seems an eternity. He slowly moves his left hand to the ground to get up, reconsiders, and outstretches his dominant right arm with a stick with a prickly pear fruit on the end towards the cougar on the edge of his vision. “Come, friend or foe, and take what you may.” Mendo says steadily, “I am but a man, lost on his way, seeking his friends and the sacred path.”

“Seek unto none but yourself, for none other than yourself shall find what it is that you seek.” Whispers the cougar. Mendo recoils visibly but ultimately regains his composure.

The lion approaches at a circular angle, an eye fixed on the human. The quadruped stops within an arm’s reach and takes a bite from the offered cactus fruit. Then, the cat sits back onto its hindlegs, chest proudly displayed in the air.

“I am Meshra. My people have roamed these mountains for countless generations and many are buried beneath our feet. The world feeds on its own and provides us a feast. Fair trade if you ask me. Human, it is you I seek, and alas, here I am.”

Reflected firelight flickers in the sky turquoise blue eyes of Mendo burn with sincerity. His soul alights in ecstatic exhilaration. He moves to his knees and bows; tops of his feet and his head touch the ground.

Once aright and spine straight, he exclaims, “Ah, you must be my Spirit Kin. I am Mendo of the crescent people. I have seen you walk in my dreams and when I have quested for visions. I am one of five that had been sent into the mountains by the Elder Council tasked with contacting the Mountain Spirits to improve the health and balance of the planet. ”

Mendo continues, “The people tell of a time of flying aeroplanes and automobiles that skimmed over the vast, never-ending overgrown roads. They tell of a garden of Eden, a paradise of plentiful food and water, tea leaves on bushes tall as a man, hot mineral pools of water for soaking, open-aired sporting arenas and giant taverns serving up animals from land and sea harvested worldwide. The time of abundant clean air and goodwill amongst humanity as a global tribe. All of the good innovations backfired when poisons spewed by people’s machines soiled the water and air, bringing disease and societal collapse in its wake. Only the oldest amongst us remembers these times and most of the wizen are turned mad by age and time.”

“The land has been shuddering in sickness, convulsing and contracting with intense tectonic shaking of the Earth’s crust, storms move faster and with more severity, seasons are not so secure in their separation. Harmony has been upended by the weight of a double-edged sword. Animals mutate and act aggressive or extra skittish, as if on edge. People sicken and land is tainted in strange, foreboding zones. The youngest, strongest cusp of warriors had been chosen to walk this mountain pilgrimage. We have been separated by a tremendous flash flood. I am humbled and honored to join your presence, Lord Meshra.” Concluded Mendo stoically.

“I am no lord, Lord Mendo. I too am honored and humbled. I come with a message and I must be urgent. The rest of my journey is to be both long and arduous. Long beyond belief. My message is for you to stay true to yourself through all trials and tribulations. You will experience genuine transformation young Theseus but falter not and hold fast to your constitution. Thank you for the sustenance, my brother. We shall meet again. Be Watchful of your Awareness and Dream Strong Mendo Laureate,” spoke Meshra.

As quick as she appeared, Meshra bounded off into the now-full all encompassing night. No moon shone over that lonesome fire, but stars poured their light onto the planet by the millions.

Sleep hit Mendo like a club to the head, all lights out. In the deepest depths of dream, he was a lion on a mountaintop echoing his heart song for all the forlorn peaks and fertile valleys to hear. His being vibrated and he heard first the whoosh of a soaring hawk circle above him which provided comfort. A bighorn sheep clambered up the sheer slopes with grace and speed to stand by his side, her poise magnificent. A single whitetail deer sprinted his way from the lowlands. His antler rack shone in the dreamlight, beauty in its prime. Last came the great blonde grizzly bear, light footed for all his stature. He joined them from the high mountain valley sanctuary.

They flew up high in the sky, circling the peak on which they were, with an odd, eerie sensation of falling. Dropping into a cavernous hole in the mountaintop. Terrified of being swallowed up and trapped, Mendo awoke in terror and enthusiasm. His curiosity was wet and his senses sharpened. His friends needed him and Mendo Laureate needed his friends.

Fresh with rest, Mendo sprang to his feet both thirsty of mouth and ready to run. He stretched his muscles and opened up his lungs with a series of short breaths followed by a few long breaths. Then, he ran with wicked speed jumping over logs, bouncing off of roots and tearing at a breakneck pace through the trees.

He is a scout with wild, long hair worn in two braids, one smaller coming over the crown of his head and one larger one beneath it. His ghost blue eyes peer through a rugged face that has seen its share of weathered storms. His young facial hair scruffs at his cheeks. He is the fastest of his people and the most talented tracker. Mendo thinks outside of the box with creative solutions. He is a proven hunter and that combined with his calm-headed demeanor is what landed him leader in charge of this mission.

On his way to the creek, Mendo spotted movement. A slow black and white figure traversing the landscape. It was a bent figure, tiny and hunched. He knew that no people lived out here for this was a dangerous place. Yet here walked a wizened old woman. She ambled with a slow gait, a limp and a knobbed wooden cane. Mendo watched the ambulatory figure with wonder from afar. The figure approached a large deep, red-barked Ponderosa Pine. She was, and then she was no more.

Mendo waited in hiding, fearful of trickery or dark magic. He waited until he could wait no more and then charged the area where the woman had just been walking. Her footsteps proved real upon investigation. Her form had held true weight. She was no ghost yet she disappeared.

Mendo walked besides her prints and noted the marks her toes made along with the imprint in the Earth from her walking cane. Her trail led directly to the massive Ponderosa Pine. It was clearly an ancient specimen, having braved many wildfires and survived severe storms and heavy winters of frost. The way the tree looked, it appeared as if it had been there forever and would always be in this place. The land would not feel the same without it. The side of the trunk which had previously been obscured from his view now revealed to his sight a huge-burned out open interior. A mouth, a wound or a womb. Which or all, he could not define.

Without thought, he stepped inside the diameter of the stalwart trunk. The darkness erupted then shattered into psychedelic droplet of dew energy on the interior of the Ponderosa. His legs turned to jelly and his feet felt like they were trembling because of an earth shake. Mendo’s body began to transmute down into the ground, dematerializing into an essence to flow through soil and rock substrate. His vision became granular, nearly cellular by nature as he continued to descend weightlessly hundreds and hundreds of feet into the living planet Earth.

The Drop

The sound of water droplets falling onto stone woke Mendo Laureate from his nascent slumber. He dreamt of falling into a volcano, feathered wings instead of his usual arms, unable to flap or fly against the weight of gravity and the pressure of the lava tube. Like a wet butterfly, he pirroueted in a tailspin down into the molten liquid to melt him into an unrecognizable substrate and reconstitute his atoms anew.

Mendo propped himself up, back against the wall, and began to look around. The cave appeared dim, brownish-black, wet to the nostrils and his skin. Parts of the wall slimed with algae. His body felt partially renewed, his mind awash with excitement. He is deep beneath the surface of Mother Earth’s skin. Comforted to be in the world’s bosom, scared to be alone in a vast foreign land.

With a shaky stance, Mendo rises to his feet. He cups water with both hands to splash his face with. The water is cool, refreshing and delicious as it runs to his mouth. He can notice an exit from his small confines as his eyes adjust to the low light. He follows the brightening corridor turning slightly this way and that. A hard corner blinds Mendo with the full force of golden light. Stunned, he reels back around to the darkness. Gathering himself, he closes his eye slits so the intense transition would not blind him or fill his vision with dancing stars of light.

It was not that the next room was blinding bright by any standard. It was the transition from pitch black to a gray silvery-gold resonance reflected off of all the surroundings of one’s periphery that stunned the mind. Confusion is tumultuous in its frantic flight from accepting reality. So here, Mendo Laureate’s mind broke free of its common bonds. It raced to define, fill in the blanks, describe the context and history over time. This illumination from underground flooded his concepts of the world. He believed all of creation was roaming on the crustal surface skin of his Earth Mother. Yet here, and now, light resounds through the hallway like a clouded noonday in his homeland. Cold stone wet his hands as he followed his forward steps foot by foot.

“How can this be? Existence within the Earth could not be possible, could it?”, Mendo whispered his pondered thoughts aloud.

He walked for six-hundred seconds along a path with slight bends left and right. The hall seemed straight to the casual observer but Mendo took many a glances to his rear and the original dark backdrop was obscured. It now looked like a glowing hallway, eerily similar to his path forward into the unknown. A labyrinth, this place is meant to puzzle and disorient the intruder. On and on, serpentine sections of the same. Mendo steeled himself with resolve to keep his mind calm and under control. He knew not what creature calls these tunnels home nor what carved them an eternity ago.

A gentle, lapping sound began to present itself to his ear. His keen senses were kept sharp by years of hunting and scouting. It sounded like a sweet lullaby. The slight moisture in the air prickled his skin, causing his exterior nerve hair to stand at a static end, erect in the atmosphere like sensory collectors. He made like a cactus and made no movements nor gathered any breath. Mendo listened.

He pictured water pushed onto a sandy shore and pulled back into the infinite flow of underplanet energy. He visualized a low, crackling blaze. Slow, deep breaths. And harmonic humming.

“Hmm na na hum na na, padma sen, hmm na na hum na na, wakan tanka wan.”

Mendo inhaled, bringing his senses closer to his body. He allowed himself space to think about what he had just observed. Quieting doubts and fighting against conviction, he thought openly and with intuition. All the evidence pointed to a happy camp by a stream just up ahead.

The tight confines of the walking canal opened up into a cavern with stalactite ceilings twenty-five feet over the floor. A stream flowed perpendicular to his current direction, and directly across the gravel bottom of the streambed lay two long marble stones covered with furs. A green fire flickered in the dim light of this place. Light dappled the surroundings, reflecting off of a sleeping form and a blanket wrapped figure.

The humming commenced and the standing figure turned around, revealing the elderly lady he spied in the woods, though she appeared a bit less hunched. Her eyes shone deep brown with green flashes dancing within, Her cane was now a staff, her attire a loose-fitting black and white hide outfit with skunk and hare furs stitched throughout in a spiraling yin-yang. Her blanket mosaiced in a mesmerizing mandalic design. Her gaze never faltered, yet Mendo felt as if she were searching him all the same.

“You must be Mendo, young son,” She said, “I have been expecting you.” Her voice carried weight.

“And who am I to you? Why are you expecting me as a visitor?” Mendo snipped back.

“Your friend Soaring Heart has spoken of you, both in conscious speech and in his unconscious dreams.” Her words soothed. “You are you to me. And I greet you as a friend.”

“What have you done with Dante? If you have caused him harm, I will not be quick to grant you forgiveness.” Mendo said with a quiet ferocity.

“On the contrary, I have healed the young harlequin. I will let him regale you with such tales. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Rah Sem, welcome to my home.”

“Harlequin? Alas, we are well met Rah Sem. I owe you my apologies and my gratitude. Where are we?” replied Mendo.

Rah Sem, “We are in Redoubt, in the borderlands between the surface and Iliamna. I will return with nourishment. The stream is crystal pure and clean to drink. Keep your friend’s company and listen to his tales.”

Okay, I shall rest and…” Mendo turned to look at his friend’s sleeping form, only now really taking in his presence. Looking back, the old woman had vanished into one of the many side tunnels. “I’ll watch over this place.”

He laid his hand on Dante’s shoulder awhile, then ambled to the flowing water. Filling his waterskin, then drinking from his cupped hands, he rejoiced in the delicious spirit-giving waters. Mendo returned to the circle of green warmth and propped his back against the fur-covered marble. His mind wandered to his parents, and to the rest of his companions. Sleep surprised Mendo and he drifted off to sleep, sliding sideways into a sleeping position.

Grass waved across the sky, stretching towards the boundaries of his vision. Effortlessly, the blades of grass danced to the beat of the wind, hypnotic and primal. Magical energy seemed to emanate from the willowing vegetation, seeping into the superterranean clouds, ever dense clenched white. Massive thunderclouds formed as drumming began, rattles shook and footsteps echoed. The spirit veil seemed lifted. A piercing strike of lightning burst down in sudden, slow motion to the sound of an ululating woman’s voice that sounded sacred and irreverent. The storm clouds obnubinated the sun, punching frozen hail clusters flattening the grass. A spiraling eye of a tornado descended towards this ground-bound form in a menacing manner.

Mendo felt cold to the bone, stiffening at the malevolent cold front. The pressure closed in on him when all of a sudden, a gap formed in the dark thunderheads, releasing a ray of golden light and a flying speck. The speck dove and circled close, forcing the tornado in a safe direction with the power of its wings. The bird flew down, revealing itself to be a splendid, swift red-tailed hawk. It perched upon the ground in front of him. The hawk spoke, “Mendo..Mennnnndooooo…..wake up you silly land strider.”

Mendo blinked back into the waking universe through blurry eyes and heavy lids, wiping away the crusty sleep of dream.

“Oh, Laureate, am I happy to see your pretty face. I thought I may have lost you, hell, lost all of you to that god forsaken flood!” Dante exclaimed.

“Dante! My brother, how I have been searching for you and the remnants of our party.” Mendo said. “Bring it in.”

Dante Soaring Heart is the son of a shaman and has a special connection with nature, animals in specific. He can commune with animals, being able to send messages through them and seeing through their eyes. Dante is also a promising herbalist specializing in hallucinogenic compounds as well as beneficial healing remedies. He is dark skinned with a short, loose black afro. He is usually adorned with many extra sewn hidden pockets and carrying numerous pouches.

The two men embraced in a hug, long braids intertwining with loose black afro, tatters of clothing overlapping, love for one another overflowing.

“Soaring Heart, I shall tell you of my path, but first I must listen to yours. This is the Lady Rah Sem’s counsel. What of your trials and tribulations?”

“Rest easy and listen with an open heart and open ears,” Dante said in a calm manner. “Build a smoke if the herb in your pocket is dry enough.” Mendo looked shocked but was aware of his friend’s keen sense of smell. “Feel free to share Mendo.” Dante finished with a sly smirk.

Grade 10-12

1st Place — “Lost and Found” by Ainsley Boss-Harmon

Avah plopped down at the desk in her dorm. Outside her window, she could see the front stairs of the Alder Academy of Mind Magic. Producing a sleek metal cylinder from her bag, she slid back the cover. A colorful holograph of her hometown expanded in front of her. The title read: “WHITEHAWK NEWS.”

She scanned it as usual. Unlike the well-established city of Shoreton where she went to school, Whitehawk was a desert drying out. This week another store went out of business. Living somewhere so far away, with so many people, Avah felt the Whitehawk news was personal. She hadn’t met anyone in Shoreton who had even heard of Whitehawk.

Avah’s eyes caught on the next heading: “Cleo Asher: Missing”.

She knew she’d heard that name before. She had a feeling Cleo was important. Her eyes flew over the article. Cleo was the same age as Avah, had bright red hair, sapphire eyes, and tiny freckles scattered across the arch of her cheeks. She was born without magical abilities, but liked sports and horse riding.

Avah had ridden horses before, but couldn’t recall meeting someone named Cleo. She started pacing around her dorm, raking her memory. She gathered a few images: a flash of fiery hair, a buck-toothed smile. It could have been her imagination. No. She was certain she knew that girl.

It hit her. These were the symptoms of memory removal by magic: Avah’s talent. She had varied aptitudes for other kinds of mind magic, but memory removal came most easily to her.

Once a memory was erased it couldn’t easily be recovered. The only way to find a memory that one did not possess was memory detection—a type of magic that allowed someone to enter a memory associated with an object. That was something Avah was not good at.

Who would want to erase my memory? she wondered. Avah knew what to do. She had to see Professor Ledger.

She set off immediately after class. She remembered where his house was; he told all the students that he “collects memories” there. She walked up the steps and knocked three times.


“Hello Avah!” Professor Ledger said cheerily, the moment he opened the door. He had a hunched back and frizzy white hair.

Avah started.

“Come in!”

His house was old and rickety, and filled with random objects. There was a display case containing a trophy, several knick-knacks, and a tarnished diadem. There were shelves lined with trinkets, papers, jewelry, books, and toys. It was difficult to distinguish between the collection and the living space.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

She hesitated. “I need to find a memory.”

“Oh! What kind of memory? Maybe it’s here! There are many memories here. My house is something of a lost and found.”

“I’ve forgotten a person. Her name is Cleo Asher.”

Professor Ledger looked thoughtful, then beckoned for her to follow. He asked Avah to describe Cleo. He stopped by a horse saddle and instructed her to place her hand on it.

“Now, to detect a memory, you must open your mind. You must prepare your senses for input from the past. This is unlike psychic resistance or enforcement. It is a pull.”

Avah tried doing what he said, but quickly lost focus. “How can I find a memory in an inanimate object?”

His eyes twinkled. “The mind is a powerful thing. It can think, it can resist, and it can learn. Through magic, we may do these things to one another, but we also affect the matter around us. When we encounter an object that our minds latch onto, the item will contain a magical trace, even if the person is not magical. In that moment, our memory is imprinted onto an item, and forever linked.”

She drew a deep breath and tried again. She reached for memories to grasp. Her fingers tingled. She caught a whiff of freshly cut grass. Vanilla chapstick.

“It isn’t her.” Avah was sure of it.

“Hmmm,” said the professor. “Perhaps we should look closer to you. How about that necklace you’re wearing?”

She touched the charm on her collar: white gold melded into the shape of a heart. She undid the clasp and poured it into her hand.

“I don’t remember where I got this.”

“No matter. You know what you’re looking for.”

She closed her eyes and concentrated. The necklace had many memories.

It was her birthday. Cleo handed her a present, her eyes alight. Sounds of crinkling paper, pulled back to reveal a glint of white gold.

It was graduation. She felt immense joy, glimpsed red hair and a buck-toothed grin.

Weeks later.

“You can’t leave me.”

Avah was going to the academy.

“..always knew this was going to happen, Cleo.”

“You said you would stay…you’re my best friend…”

Avah knew how to wipe memories. Maybe if she couldn’t remember Cleo, it wouldn’t hurt so much.

Avah dropped the necklace, reeling herself back to the present. A tear traced her cheek.

“She was my best friend. We knew each other our whole lives. And I erased her from my memory.”

She left quickly. Cleo needed her, and Avah had cast her aside. She had to find her. With her thoughts in a flurry, Avah packed her suitcase. She bought a train ticket to Whitehawk for that evening.

Time passed in a blur. Before long, she was home. At the train station, she barely looked where she was going. Avah collided into a girl’s frame, pitching forward and tackling her to the ground. She rolled aside.


She looked up and saw a freckled face with sapphire eyes. Avah was stunned. Cleo threw her arms around her.

“Oh, Cleo. I’m so, so sorry.”

When Cleo finally pulled back, they were both crying. A memory flooded back to Avah: Cleo, next to her father’s bed, holding his hand.

“Your dad…?”

She sobbed, burying her face in Avah’s shoulder.

“I was looking for you,” said Cleo.

Grade 7-9

1st Place — “Newsflash” by Apphia Bowser

Ned Davis, National Cleanliness Inspector of Colorado, has confirmed that Sam Holland, native of Denver, Colorado, kept his bedroom clean and organized for a record-breaking six months! Sam smashed the previous record set by Ohio teen David Speare, which had been unbeaten for three years. For this astonishing feat of supreme order, Sam was nominated for and received the NYC (National Youth Cleanliness) award. He is the youngest male winner of this prestigious award, as well as only the second male in history to win the trophy. Unfortunately for Sam, his feat has been met with critique as well as praise. Sam said on national TV that being organized was an advantage, as he could do schoolwork, pack, and prepare for activities more quickly than most other teens because he knew the location of everything he owned. In response, hordes of teenagers crowded the streets, protesting that cleanliness was not something to be lauded and that they also had a good idea of where their personal items were. The remarkable cleaning machine of a boy, Sam, said he hopes to inspire others to follow his example, in spite of naysayers’ claims that being neat is not something to pursue.

David Speares, the former record-holder who was outpaced by Sam only two weeks ago, had this to say:

“You know, I’m not upset about being beaten. Personally, holding a record of two days of being neat is a huge accomplishment, and I really am just in awe that Sam could hold out any longer, so congrats to him.”

These congratulatory words from David were met with thanks from the new cleaning champ, who said he was grateful for the support amid public scrutiny. Sam allegedly trained for 9 months, practicing picking up all items on his floor and organizing his drawers and shelves before starting the record long regime of mess-lessness. According to his parents, Sam was moderately calm for the first few months, but as he started getting closer to his goal he was more stressed about everything being immaculate, even running home from school to make sure his room had not been disturbed. His attempt ended when his mother opened his closet door. (She was successfully extricated by emergency workers four hours later.) Afterwards, the ground breaking teen said he was proud of what he did but was euphoric to be done. Upon receiving the NYC award Sam said he was blown away by how far he had come in his cleaning ability.

However, many teens dislike the praise Sam is receiving. A large group of middle and high schoolers went on a protest yesterday waving signs stating their freedom to be messy is being challenged. Multiple teenagers said their parents were now pushing them to be more cleanly and to follow Sam’s example, which they say is inhibiting them from their right to be free from organizational pressure. When challenged on TV by one of these adolescents, Sam said he thought being clean enabled him to work more efficiently. The unnamed protester replied,

“I know where all my things are too. They’re on the floor.”

Sam did not counter for this statement, and the interview was ended. Police have put a guard around the famous cleanliness star today to ensure his complete safety. Considering the reaction of the nation’s youth to Sam’s accomplishment, the government has decided that no restricting laws on disorder will be passed. In addition, the government has decreed that while the benefits for winning cleaning awards are significant for being televised, no money will be given in cleaning competitions, but vacuum cleaners are still allowed to be awarded.

In an interview the day after the protests, Sam said that he is still cleaning his room semi-frequently, and when asked if he planned to set any more cleaning records he responded,

“I am pleased with the record that I am currently holding and as of right now I plan to stop cleaning excessively. Keeping things neat is beneficial but hugely stressful when trying to be perfectly clean, and while I intend to be more organized than the average teen, I will not be trying to break any more records.”

Concluding with these words about the taxes of order, the famous sophomore from Colorado has now officially ended his six-month long reign of complete cleanliness.

2nd Place — “The Giant on the Hill” by Finn Bird

Somewhere in the Middle Ages lived a tiny peaceful village. Peaceful, except for at night, when the townspeople heard the roaring from the giant’s house over the hill. Little did they know… It wasn’t a ROAR… it was a SNORE! The townspeople also feared the stench of decay, which they imagined came from the remains of the giant’s victims. Little did they know… It wasn’t ROTTING BONES… it was his FEET! Finally, when the bunnies in the forest started to disappear, the townspeople REALLY feared the beast on the hill. Little did they know… Bunnies love to be BRUSHED, and giants love to knit with ANGORA YARN!

The giant had no idea what the townspeople thought about him.

One day he decided to go down the hill and see the village. He was so excited to meet his neighbors. Just as he was about to invite someone over for tea, he heard a woman scream, “MOONNNSTERRRRRR!” The giant was just as terrified of monsters as the people seemed to be, so when they scattered, he scattered!

One little boy had curiously watched the giant sprint up the hill. The boy wondered if the town had it all wrong. Maybe the giant wasn’t a monster after all? For the next few days, the boy sneaked up the hill and watched how the giant spent his time. Turned out that the giant wasn’t that much different from the rest of the town. The boy tried to convince the town that the giant wasn’t so bad, but no one believed him.

A month went by, and the boy forgot all about the giant. UNTIL…. A DRAGON came to town! House by house, the dragon started to burn down the village. The town needed a hero, and the boy knew just where to go to find one! He ran to get the giant.

The giant woke up from his nap as he heard a tiny knock at the door. He opened the door to find the little boy. “Don’t hurt me!” the giant cried. “I’m not going to hurt you! My village is under attack!”

“My Mama taught me to help those in need,” the giant said. “Let me go get my club.”

With the boy perched on his shoulder, the giant sprinted down to the village. He set the boy down and wasted no time. It only took one SMACK to the dragon’s noggin, and BAM! The dragon fell onto its back, all fours in the air, dazed from the hit.

The townspeople watched the giant defeat the dragon and realized the boy had been right all along. They threw a fantastic celebration for their new hero and lived happily ever after.

3rd Place — “The Endless Battle” by Daniel Christ

The battle started with just a few arrows flying through the air. The yelling began in a wave. The terror rose almost like a tsunami. The enemy saw this fear and took hold of it. They held onto it like rope, pulling on it. They used this fear just like a noose to crush and destroy us. We felt the fear seeping into our bones. Most men almost died from fear. They fell to the ground without even being hit. When the arrows finally reached us the men did not hold their stance, the arrows sank into the men like a hot knife through butter. After the moment passes and the sky is clear, the men lose their only hope. They lose the will to fight and live. They run and the fear on their faces is as apparent as a rose in a field of grass. They run faster than they have ever in their lifes. The ones who have truly lost it stand but they stand at an angle. Those men who do not move will never move again; they stay, and their minds are freed from the terror that stuck them there. As the men ran past me I began to yell. This had no purpose but to regain their focus. They would not listen. Those who did come back fell before they reorganized into lines. After what felt like forever happened, I followed my men. I too felt the terror. As I ran I could see the men behind me falling before my eyes. As more men died behind me I could see a mass following us. The mass is no one else but our enemies. We could not prepare for such a mass. As we finally got to the forest, and to safety I stopped. As I stopped, an arrow followed me straight into my chest. I felt a twinge of pain as I slowly fell. When I hit the ground I went straight through it.

On the other side, I was standing where I was before the arrows came. The arrows came down again and the men ran as before. I could do nothing but the same as I had. I ran without a thought, and was hit once again. Just as before I fell and went right through the ground. The battle then started once again and has not stopped. I am in a loop and the only way to be free is to have my body taken to the place of freedom. I can not see the world and my mind has grown cloudy. I now feel as if I am in a cage worse than the pits of hell. The freedom I was told I would be brought from fighting for my king does not exist. His lies worked and now I am in eternal punishment. I warn you to follow your gut and stay free from the lies of power.

Grade 4-6

1st Place — “Cartoon Eulogy” by Esther Bowser

It has now come to our attention that our dear friend Wile E. Coyote has passed away this month. His lifelong commitment was chasing a bird. He loved building robots and various gadgets, which he hoped would catch the Road Runner.

A committed buyer of ACME products, he had a brilliant mind to boot. Day and night, he toiled from the days of his infancy. He had an excellent work ethic, and his actions spoke louder than his words.

A hard worker to the day of his death, he tirelessly slaved away to bring about the ruin of the bird he so hated.

His unfortunate demise came out unexpectedly. He was chasing the Road Runner, as usual. He was gaining by the second, when…………….Choo, Chuga, Vroom, Wham! A passing train hit him fair and square! Under it he fell, and rose not again.

Ladies and gentlemen, he died doing what he loved. It is a sorrowful fact that such a kind and worthy cartoon character comes not again. He had quick feet and handsome look about him. His ACME gadgets and objects of various kinds and uses that he created, will be donated to a museum. We all hope Wile E. Coyote will truly rest in peace. Perhaps now he will catch the Road Runner once and for all, racing through heaven.

Grade K-3

1st Place — “The Forest Friends” by Cassidy Allmendinger

“Lucky, I want to figure out more stuff about you and our friends. Can you please help me?” Rosie the fox asked Lucky the snowshoe hare as they walked and hopped through the forest.

“Maybe you should ask our other friends also and maybe Susie if none of them know anything about us. Susie is a very smart owl. Maybe she knows more about our friends,” replied Lucky.

So, Lucky and Rosie went to look for their friends, Sammy, the grey squirrel, and June the bear. Lucky and Rosie asked them if they knew anything about themselves that they could share. They both said no! Then Lucky and Rosie decided to find Susie and ask her if she knew anything about their friends. They found Susie in her hollow tree, as usual and as they expected.

“Do you know any interesting facts about our forest friends, Sammy and June?” Lucky and Rosie asked the wise owl.

“Well,” Susie replied, “Sammy has big feet, so it is easier for him to scamper from tree to tree. Also, June is a cub because she is a baby bear. You are all babies, but babies are called lots of different names because they are all different animals.”

“What about facts about us?” Rosie asked.

“Hmm” said Susie. “Well, I guess Lucky you have big feet just like Sammy. Your big feet help you to run fast without sinking in the snow. And you Rosie, you have incredible hearing so you can hear mice underneath the snow.”

Now Rosie and Lucky had their interesting facts about their forest friends and even themselves. They set off to tell their friends everything they learned.

“Susie told us a lot of facts about forest animals. Sammy, did you know that your feet are big to help you sprint from tree to tree? And, June, you are called a cub because you are a baby bear (we are all babies of course).”

“Hey, I didn’t know I was called a cub,” said June.

“I didn’t know that I had that big of feet,” said Sammy while looking at his feet.

Rosie and Lucky also shared the facts about themselves.

“Did you know that Lucky has big feet so she can jump and hop across the snow without sinking?” said Rosie.

Lucky said, “Rosie has very good hearing so she can find mice under the snow to eat!”

The four friends had lots of fun talking about the facts that Susie told them. They all agreed to learn more facts next year. And they did.

2nd Place — “The Run-Away Family” by Leo Cherok

It was a hot, sunny morning in Costa Rica. Me and my family had just woken up. We did all the usual things like getting dressed and eating breakfast. I ate a Toaster Strudel. I love strawberry and cream cheese. Once we were done with breakfast, it was time to brush my teeth. I started to get up, and that’s when I noticed it. A boa constrictor. It was slithering up and down my chair. I had been learning about snakes on TV, and I knew he was not venomous, but I was still worried. I called for my mom and dad to come and look. My parents were freaked out! They called for my sister, and yelled, “Everybody run!”

We ran and ran out of our house and into the rainforest. In the trees I saw a an old, log house. I led my family to the house. It had a lot of security, so I knew we would be safe there. I noticed a button that said, “Open Up Security”. I pressed it and it let us go inside. When we went in, we were surprised that it was so clean and had food. Most important of all, there were no snakes or poisonous dart frogs. We decided that this was a good place to live. It was clean, there was food, but most important of all, it was safe!

3rd Place — “Gnome and Fairy” by Marlo LaPlant

Once there was one gnome and one fairy. They wanted to go to Gnome Village, but they didn’t know how. When they tried to walk, they just kept finding taco trees.

“We need to try to find a map,” said Gnome.

They searched for a map for five hours. When they found the Forest Gnome, Fairy said, “Do you know where the map to Gnome Village is?”

The Forest Gnome grumbled, “Yes,” because he was one hundred years old. So, he told Gnome and Fairy where the map was because he couldn’t walk.

“Go back to a taco tree near where you started. It is a gold taco tree!” said Forest Gnome.

Gnome and Fairy borrowed the Forest Gnome’s Lamborghini and made it back to the taco tree forest. While they had the Lamborghini, Forest Gnome played tennis with his pizza friend.

Finally, Gnome and Fairy drove to see Winter Gnome, Desert Gnome, Jungle Gnome, Ocean Gnome, Space Gnome, and Candy Gnome to find the map because Forest Gnome was cheeky and had tried to trick them.

At last, they found the correct map and drove to the Gnome Village where they made a lot of friends. Now their life was good!