Our first Just Write teen fiction writing contest was a big success!
The judges were so impressed with the creativity we saw from every single contestant, and it was definitely a close contest. In the end, though, we only had three prizes to give away, so we had to choose.
Our winners were:
3rd place – April Tian, “The Pawn Shop” – she wins a prize pack of books by local authors & a reading at flywheel, with coaching from Emily Ursuliak
2nd place – Tia Christoffersen, “Face to Face with Hope” – she wins a mentoring session with local author Jani Krulc
1st place – Jessica Chen, “The Bookstore” – she wins a spot at Drink the Wild Air, a winter writing retreat for teens.
Congratulations to April, Tia, and Jessica!
If you didn't win, don't despair; we are running a nonfiction writing contest right now for Freedom to Read Week, and we will definitely be running Just Write again next year. Keep reading this blog for more chances to win!
The Pawn Shop
by April Tian
It was at the fall of dusk that I found myself standing without a penny to my name under the glowing neon signs of an anachronous pawnshop, Pretty Treasures. Overhead, the setting sun blanketed the once bustling street in a sluggish sheet of velvet. The sign above shone proudly, battling away the listless hues with a vibrant and radiant gold. However, to know what was in the shop you had to go inside; the patina of dust on the front window was thick, but once I thought I made out the shape of an owl on the other side of the glass, its wings lifted in frozen flight, forever.
Compelled by unknown forces, my fingers found themselves wrapped tightly around the handles. The solid oak doors flung open effortlessly, followed by a gust of chocking air, riddled with the musky scent of things long forgotten.
The room was dark. Strange shapes flickered black against the monotonous grey backdrop. I felt a cry tear at my throats, but the tenacious gurgle of my stomach indicated otherwise. My whole body shivered in delight as a sweet smell of roasted meat trickled from with in.
“Oh honey, you must be famished!” I turned around to face a well-worn woman, her hands and cheeks probably pink from spending days by a hot stove and her inviting smile glistened in the dark.
“I was just having some dinner, be a doll and join me would you?” Her voice flowed like a soothing river, washing away all the branches and clumps of grass in its way. And I too, much like a fish, was swept away by her gentle currents. “I do get lonely sometimes.” She admits sincerely.
Still in shock at this show of kindness, I nodded dumbly and together we made our way to the back of the homey shop. To my surprise, the dinner table was small but big enough as if it was made just for two. Upon the table sat a single porcelain dinner plates, piled high with slices of roasted beef, strings of sausages and strips of bacon, and beside it twinkled a devilish red glass of cranberry juice. The woman gestured for me to sit while having no indication of doing so herself.
Are those all for me?
“Go on. You must eat. You are way too skinny for a pretty thing like you. Just look at those pretty curls and that delicate face. Go on and dine to your hearts content.” The woman smiled reassuringly.
Without a moments delay, I dug in heartily, the food flooded my body with warmth. Between bites, I gulped down mouthfuls of the exotically sweet juice that made my head spin in happiness.
Unknowingly, while the other was eating, the older woman never once left her initial position. She smiled as if hearing a joke for the first time. And if you were to lean in closer, you would hear her mumble repetitiously:
“Such pretty treasures.”
Face to Face with Hope
by Tia Christoffersen
The message had reached everyone successfully. They were all there, hovering above my shaking hands, above the life-changing object at the ends of my fingertips.
At any moment, the Authorities could burst through the door and arrest us all for our secret meeting, or “Unjust Gathering”, as the Authorities called it at criminals’ executions. Treason would surely be on our criminal repertoires after they got their hands on the espérer.
“What we’re doing here is dangerous,” I say, enclosing my fingers around the espérer.
“We know, Veruca,” someone says, followed by a murmur of understanding from the group of women.
“Goggles on, then,” I order. “The switch,” I hear the familiar buzz indicating I may proceed.
The wires are easy to manipulate, but the small circuitry is always daunting. I feel my hands tremble, worse now. It is now only a matter of time before the electricity coursing into our supposedly abandoned cellar is noticed, and the Authorities come storming in.
After several moments of anticipation, a spark erupts from the small yet powerful object, and shoots down the wire we have laid on the floor, out the window, and to the Country’s power source, its motherboard, which is located one mile from our workshop.
Two loud, short raps on the window from our lookout indicate she saw the spark, too. A moment passes before one loud, unanimous cheer bursts from the mouths of seven women, who have spent their lives being stifled by their Commanders, the Authorities, the dominant group.
Sixteen years of work for one split second spark that will change the lives of thousands.
Three raps are suddenly delivered on the window, meaning something much worse than that lovely couple I heard earlier. A loud shriek. A gunshot. Our lookout is dead.
The room is silent as we wait. We adapt our stony expressions of resilience, which we have employed so many times in our lives.
The cellar door bangs open, and boot stomps sound against the muddy, concrete stairs. I do net let go of the espérer.
“Run,” I whisper. But no one does. They all knew that by being here they were accepting their imminent death. They all knew. And still, they came. Along with taciturnity, we accept our fate.
The next moments go by in a blur. The object I have hunched over for sixteen years is ripped from my clutches, and I am beaten into oblivion. To my ears comes silence, but for the angry shouts from the Authorities.
My eyes are swollen to the point where I can see only through slits, and my bloodied body is dragged harshly up the stairs to its demise.
But what I see when I reach the light of day…. is darkness. And rioting. People standing up to the Authorities. Commanders lie facedown, murdered, in the street.
I let myself succumb to unconsciousness, knowing that espérer has worked. It lives inside us all.
by Jessica Chen
The bookstore on the corner was my home.
Not literally, of course—I lived two blocks over, but I spent most of my time in the bookstore. It didn’t look like a bookstore on the outside. To know what was in the shop you had to go inside; the patina of dust on the front window was thick, but once I thought I made out the shape of an owl on the other side of the glass, its wings lifted in frozen flight.
Inside, there was no owl. There were just books—rows and rows of them, spilling off the shelves.
The owner of the bookstore was an old woman named Mrs. Durand. I was perhaps her only regular customer, and while we had rarely spoken but for the exchange of money for book, we still gave each other unsure smiles when we saw each other. She was old enough to have remembered World War II, a young woman living in the terror of France.
Sometimes I thought about how she was another story in a store filled with stories. I usually didn’t linger on it, preferring to curl up with one of her books instead, but today I held a story about the French Resistance, and my curiosity peaked.
I walked up to the counter, where Mrs. Durand sat in an armchair. When she saw me, she looked up and heaved herself out of the chair, walking unevenly to the counter. “Hi,” I said nervously. I had never been great at speaking to people, even Mrs. Durand, even after all these years. “I’d like to hear a story.” Realizing that this may have sounded demanding, I added hurriedly, “If it’s all right with you.”
“Hear a story?” Her voice was thickly accented with French. “Not read a story. Surely that book you have in your hands would be fascinating.”
I nodded. “It is interesting. I like it. That’s why I kind of want to hear one ... please. You lived in France during World War II, didn’t you?”
At my words, a touch of sadness appeared on her face. “You should come back here,” Mrs. Durand said, gesturing to the space behind the counter.
I had been regularly visiting the bookstore for the better part of two years, and I had never been behind the counter. I sunk into the second squishy armchair.
“When World War II started,” Mrs. Durand said, “I was eight years old. I remember a lot of it, though—I saw it through the eyes of a child.” And with that, she let sixty years of locked-up memories flow. She told me about her family, the terror, the air raids, and I listened to all the stories she had to share.
It was better than any story I had ever read.
When I left the bookstore that day, I knew that even when I wasn’t in the dusty-windowed bookstore, I would hold the stories of everyday people close to my heart forever.