Winners in the Globe's eighth annual writing contest were honored Tuesday during a banquet at Missouri Southern State University. The work of the winners is featured below.
SHORT STORY WINNERS
9th/10th grade division
FIRST PLACE: 'Where the Lost Things Go'
By Emily Eldred, Webb City High School
Instructor: Krista Peak
• In the 12 years I’ve been telling stories, I have enjoyed writing because it is a way I can combine my passion for the arts and love for sharing opinions and ideas.
• My biggest inspiration has been my mom. Even at a very young age, she encouraged my love for telling stories and read and critiqued my works. She also supported me throughout my years-long phase of wanting to become a novelist. She gave me the passion when I first learned to write, and she’s supported me ever since.
• I would like to go to college and major in theatre, linguistics or English education, and then eventually live on the East Coast.
My grandmother used to tell me that there was a special place for lost things. If something disappeared, it would be well looked after somewhere else, until it could be found again. It was the same for people. But the difference was that people had to find the way out themselves.
I never really believed her. I always thought it was a superstition, a fairy tale, a myth. That it was just a story passed from generation to generation. That it could never really happen.
Then one day, something happened. I was exploring the woods just outside my backyard when I saw a flash of light.
"There must be a storm coming," I thought. "I ought to go home."
I turned around, and the realization hit. Everything looked the same. Anything that could have been familiar was becoming less distinguished and much more difficult to see as it began to rain. Another flash of lightning. I took it in. Then, I slowly began to walk from the last direction I remembered coming, hoping it would lead to the fence that separated the woods and civilization. There was another flash of lightning, followed by a deafening thundercrash. I decided I couldn’t figure it out alone. I put my hand in my pocket and felt for my phone, hoping to call for help.
Nothing. There was nothing in my pocket at all. Nothing but my hand and the soft material it was grasping.
"Just great," I thought. "So now I can’t see where I’m going and I can’t call for help."
After a few moments of sulking, I decided I had to wait the storm out, or at least wait for the rain to slow down a bit.
I sat under the nearest tree and pondered. Thoughts of my grandmother and her tales of the place for lost things swarmed through my mind. Where was this lost place when you needed it? How well could anything be looked after if it wasn’t where it was supposed to be?
A croak startled me from my thoughts. A toad was staring at me with a strangely friendly gaze.
It was almost comforting to have the company of the toad. It just sat there, and we looked at each other for a few minutes. It looked at me as if to say, "You don’t quite belong here," and I stared back as if to respond, "Of course not." To me, it felt like we were somehow connecting. We just sat and observed each other for a few minutes. Then it hopped off.
As the toad left, I noticed the storm had cleared up a bit. So I got back up and began to walk.
My raincoat, now damp, felt heavier as I trudged through the rain and mud, but I didn’t mind much. In fact, at the time, I hardly noticed. Still entranced by the incident with the toad, I kept my ear out for other creatures, so I could make a point to be just as aware of them as I was of the toad.
A raccoon scurried by. A flock of crows flew overhead. The tail of a fox could be barely seen sticking out from behind a bush.
Just like the toad, they all seemed to know that I didn’t quite belong there, and watched me as I made my way. The comforting feeling of knowing that at the very least, something was there, grew stronger.
The rain fell at a much slower pace now. It was easier to see, and everything seemed more at peace.
The trees loomed overhead. They looked down at me in all their majesty. Perhaps there are trees that are taller, like redwoods, or bigger, like giant sequoias, but in that moment, I decided nothing could be as striking, beautiful, or majestic as the evergreens and aspens that stood above me.
I kept strolling through the woods. The rainstorm was drawing to its close, and every detail of the world around me became clearly visible again. From just behind the clouds, I could make out the sun. I was at ease. I kept walking.
Eventually, the trees began to clear out. I could see the edge of town. After what could have been minutes or hours, I’d found the way out myself.
I turned left and wondered what I’d say to my mother about the missing phone. Even as I climbed the fence that separated the woods from the "real world," I had no ideas.
I jumped from the top of the fence into my backyard, still striving for even a half-baked explanation about the phone. When I landed, my mother opened the door.
“There you are!” she called. “Grandmother Rose is here to visit. You should come in and say hello.”
I nodded in acknowledgement. As I walked to the back door, I noticed something on the ground. Something that didn’t quite belong there.
Sitting on the ground in my waterproof bag, there was my phone. A wave of emotions came over me. Relief, confusion, awe. Thank goodness it had been here the entire time. How had I not noticed I dropped it? How fortunate was it that the item could finally be found?
"Finally be found ..."
I looked back up, and saw my grandmother looking out the window with a knowing smile.
I whispered a small thank you to the toad, and the other animals, and the trees for looking after me, pocketed my bag, and went inside to see my grandmother and discuss with her the place where the lost things go.
SECOND PLACE: 'Lost ...'
By Stone Karcher, Joplin High School
Instructor: Shelly Greninger
• I enjoy writing for the same reason people enjoy anything. It’s a release from everyday life and it allows you to break away.
• Honestly, my inspiration is in my art. I draw something and write a story about it.
• After high school, I would like to go to M.I.T. and later become an aerospace engineer.
“Good afternoon Ryan. Please, have a seat. So how have we been doing since our last visit?”
The click of her pen echoed in my mind. I was distant, not because I wanted to be but because why shouldn't I be. This is just another “caring woman” hiding behind the fake smile with the same pointless “theory” as the last.
“I've been fine,” I mumble.
“Ok, what about the nightmares?”
“What about ’em?”
She dropped her pen and paper and exhaled deeply. “Ryan!” Her voice was not louder but more deliberate and sharp.
“This session will not be like last time, okay?”
“I hear ya, doc.” I groaned.
“Ryan you are an ex-Marine, you saved lives and you have to understand that sometimes to do that others have to face a different fate ...”
This is usually about the time I stop paying attention. They all get to the same hopeless point that takes me nowhere. Only if Jane wasn't the one who had to take the blow.
“Ryan! Ryan, are you even listening to me.”
The women stood out of her seat, the tan woman hunched over with both hands on her desk and leaned in towards me.
“I am only here to help, so listen up. I have only had three sessions with you and you’re already more trouble than I want to deal with. Clearly you want to be here because you keep showing up but if you don't like the way that I do things here then get out.”
She pointed at the door.
As she stood there leaning over me, I stared coldly into her hazel eyes. Just by the way she holds herself you can tell she’s confident, which isn't really something many of these people have. Must be the years of being ground down by society’s worthless rejects, rejects like me. Her hair was straight other than the few strands that were knocked out of place by her outburst. I skimmed over her face, she had few wrinkles, but hid them well, she was probably in her mid to late forties. She wore a green dress with a white stripe down either side that suited her nicely. She also wore a name tag that said “Julie Monterio”. She stood up straight and fixed her hair. She sat back down and sighed.
“Are you ready to talk?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I replied with a tinge of sarcasm.
“Good, so tell me about the nightmares,” she started.
“Well, I've had this one lately that won't leave me alone.”
“Okay, go on.” She clicked her pen and started to write.
“Back in Iraq, my best friend, Justin, and I were on a fuel tanker in a convoy through Baghdad to drop off gas to a nearby camp. But, once we got there the camp was under siege. It was on fire and there was at least two times more of them than us. Most of the soldiers jumped out when we got within range but Justin was the driver and stayed back to try and keep the supplies safe. I went in and did what needed to be done. Miraculously we put most of them down and those we didn't were far too injured to escape. After all the chaos I turned around to go back to the truck, but when I turned it wasn’t there, only burning wreckage where the truck should have been.” My voice turned shaky, “I can't help but think that I could have helped and yet did nothing.”
“Ryan, you are intelligent enough to know that this is not your fault. There are casualties in war, we just aren't always the ones in control of those casualties.”
Now all the flashbacks were coming back. I could see them all, Jason, Michael, Drew. The old memories burst through. I could remember every detail to the gruesome ends they all met. Even with the old memories I couldn't shake the new ones. I saw Jane the same way I left her this morning, with a bullet in the chest.
“I'm ... I’m sorry Ryan.” Julie stuttered
I said nothing but the silence was deafening.
I go back to thinking of Jane. It wasn't her fault, only mine. The only thing she did is what I asked her to do.
“Is Justin the only friend you ... lost?” She probed
“Yeah,” I lie.
Why should she pay for my wrongs? I came home late and drunk as always, Jane of course got upset and I said things that I shouldn't have. I told her to leave and take her things with her. This morning she wasn't in bed and I walked to the living room and saw the boxes. I ... I just snapped. I go into the kitchen to check if she was there.
“Progress! This is good Ryan. You’re finally talking ...” her voice pushed through my thoughts but I was quickly plunged back into myself.
Jane was there and she was going through the drawers grabbing what was hers which was pretty much everything. I felt like I had no control anymore, or if I did it wasn’t a part of me I wanted to let out. I slowly crept behind her and I ... I hit her. She dropped to the floor. I pulled the drawer next to me open and grabbed my gun. As I gripped the handle tight, Jane pleaded. I wanted to care I really did but ... I didn't. Without hesitation I pointed the gun at her chest and pulled the trigger. The screaming stopped and nothingness filled the air. I dropped the gun and grabbed my coat and I was gone. By now her blood would be well soaked in the floorboards, and flies would surround her. I waited for the pain to settle in but it never did. I feel no remorse which somehow hurts worse than if I did.
“... You know what I think your problem is Ryan?” She asks.
“No Doc, I can’t say I do?” I question.
“You aren't scared of war ... you miss it.”
THIRD PLACE: 'The Lost Island'
By Mairi Beranek, Joplin High School
Instructor: Kasondra Boone
• I enjoy writing because it gives me a way to unleash.
• My biggest inspiration is my brother, because he writes very well and he teaches me more words.
• I want to become a military doctor in the future.
Waves crash against the ship. Lightning illuminates the eerie darkness for a mere second, until the sky turns black yet again. Thunder roars and the ship rocks back and forth, tossed about like a leaf in the wind. The mast trembles as wind gusts tear through the sky. I run around with the crew, struggling to keep the boat upright.
“Keep her steady!” the captain yells over the cacophony. “We can’t let this storm run us off course!”
Turbulent waves threaten to capsize our ship as water is thrown onto the ship, washing over the deck. Lightning flashes again, and illuminates the sky seconds before disaster strikes. Another lightning bolt shoots down from the sky and strikes the mast. I look up in awestruck fear as the mast snaps like a toothpick and tumbles to the ocean below. Without a mast, the ship rocked back and forth, completely at the mercy of the waves. Our vessel, the only thing protecting us from certain death, was being thrown by the waves like some sick roller coaster.
“Batten down the hatches!” the captain cries, having given up on keeping the ship steady.
I run down to the hold with the crew, but as I am rushing down the stairs, my foot catches on one of the stairs. I fly forward and everything goes black.
“Mira! Mira! Wake up!” I hear somebody yell. I struggle to pry my eyes open and find Matthew standing above me, shaking my shoulders.
“Phew!” I hear Matthew say, “We thought that you were dead.” Continuing to look around, I see the entire crew standing around me.
“I feel dead,” I moan, and squint my eyes against the glaring sun. “I see the storm ended.”
“Obviously,” Matthew quipps, “but we are, uh, kinda stranded on an island.”
I move to stand up, but Matthew stops me. “Whoa, whoa, WHOA! There is no way you are getting up with a wound like that on your head!”
I put my hand to the back of my hand and feel something sticky. Moving my hand back into my line of sight, I see that it is blood.
“Fine, if I am not getting up, then I’ll at least tell you guys what you need to do. Does anybody have a pocket knife?”
Sebastian whips one out, and I smile. “Always prepared.”
“Uh, Mira, there is a problem though ...” Kayla says.
“Well, this island isn’t exactly ... normal.” She pauses for a second, as if wondering what to say next. “Some of us already explored the island, and there are some animals on it that are, like, hybrids or something.”
“Do you think that we might have to stay here overnight?” Kayla shrugs. “For safety’s sake, we should probably build a shelter, or find one. I am probably fine now.”
I put my hand up to my head and when it comes away dry, I start to stand up. My friends start to stop me, but I assure them I am fine. Suddenly, a red and orange bird flies past, flames trailing behind it.
“I take it that is why this island isn’t normal?” Kayla nods. “They don’t seem to want to harm us. I say that we should just try to start a fire.”
“All the tinder is wet from the storm though.” Sebastian interjects. I look around for a solution, and see a trail of burnt leaves from the firebird.
“What if we dry the tinder with that firebird? It managed to burn some leaves over there.” I suggest.
The crew nods, but Matthew hesitantly raises a hand.
“How are we going to catch it?” He asks.
I bend over and sift through the sand. After a while, I stand up and procure a half-eaten fruit.
“This fruit is halfway eaten. We could try to bait it. Let’s split up.” I point at Matthew, Kayla, Jamison, Brooke, and Captain Flint. “You guys go towards the North.”
Sebastian looks around. “I guess that leaves you, me, Hudson, Lana, and Shawn to go east?” he says, while pointing towards the other side of the island.
“Yes, we will split up and try to find all the fruit. Grab only a few of every kind you can find so you can carry them back. Try to get back before the sun begins to set, so we have time to bait the bird and start the fire.”
The crew states its affirmation and both parties set off in their set direction. I head into the forest with my group behind me. As soon as we pass the tree line, it gets darker. Despite the darkness, we are still able to see, so we continue the trek. We pick up fruit along the way, and stuff it into a leftover canvas sack. During the search, many different bird calls echo through the forest, and several animals run through the underbrush.
After about an hour, we come upon a waterfall. The water roars down and splashes us with a fine mist, cooling us down immediately. Birds fly around and soar under the waterfall. Colorful fish dot the water, many of which can’t seem to decide on a color, shifting from blue to green to purple and back again. Lana looks at me, and I smile. We both drop our sacks on the ground and jump in. The water splashes up and seems to glow in the bright sunlight. I dive underwater and swim alongside the fish shooting through the water. Some animals seem taken aback by us, but they get over it and jump in as well. Sinking to the bottom of the pond, I find several glowing gems that sparkle in every color under the water. After a while, we get out. The hot sun dries us almost immediately. We look for fruit for a little while, but then, as the sun starts to sink from the top of the sky, we begin to head back with the sacks of fruits that we had gathered.
As we are walking back, a rustling sound follows us through the forest. I turn back several times, but my sparing glances provide no insight to what is following us. When we reach the clearing, we find the other crew there waiting for us.
“Took you guys long enough,” Matthew teases. I smile and dump our fruit on the ground.
“Sure, but did you gather this much fruit?” I banter back.
Matthew sighs in surrender and dumps his solitary sack on the ground.
“I hope this is enough.” Matthew says, smiling sheepishly.
“It should be. Now we just have to wait.”
Just as those words are out of my mouth, a flock of birds swoops out of the sky. They land on our fruit and begin devouring it.
“Okay ... I guess.” I say, smiling.
Suddenly, a huge blue and green bird swoops out of the sky. I can see the intelligence in its eyes, and it gestures at us as if it wants us to get on its back.
The crew looks around confused, and I say, “It wants us to get on its back.”
The crew immediately jumps on, thrilled by the opportunity. As the bird takes off, the island zooms out. We soar through the sky, with the wind rushing past us.
“What a tale to tell our friends!” I yell through the wind as we fly away from the Lost Island.
11th/12th grade division
FIRST PLACE: 'Hamsters in Party Hats: An Allegory for Feminism Lost'
By Hannah Crouch, Joplin High School
Instructor: Susan Primm
• I enjoy writing because it's an excellent form of self-expression. While I might not be the most eloquent speaker, I can express myself well through writing.
• My teachers inspire me to write the most. Every compliment I’ve ever received from a teacher regarding my writing has meant the world to me.
• After high school, I plan to attend a local university (either Missouri Southern State University or Missouri State University) and study English. I hope to be involved in an orchestra or symphony.
The world was full of people who tolerated Les Butfield.
He was a caricature of a man, bearing a striking resemblance to an inflatable arm-flailing tube man at a car dealership. Everyone knew him, or at least of him, much like Bigfoot. But no one was begging to fraternize with Bigfoot.
Les Butfield waltzed down Fifth Avenue to the Office, swinging an empty briefcase in sweat-sullied hands and hurling impromptu catcalls at proximate women. Approaching his destination, he paused to gaze reverently at the Not Hallmark™ sign, reciting an affirmation. The world is yours. Now take it.
Les Butfield shuffled inside the Office’s revolving doors, but not without first snagging the lapel of his ill-fitting blazer in the hinge. He clambered into the lobby and began the ascent up to the 17th floor — the Birthday Department.
Les Butfield traipsed up the stairs, passing sixteen department landings, their subdivisions, and their subdivisions’ subdivisions. He noted the signs on each entryway: Thank You, Anniversary, Good Luck, Hanukkah, Congratulations, Retirement, Easter, Halloween, New Baby, Valentine’s Day, Get Well, Mother’s Day, First Communion, Quinceañera, Christmas, Graduation. Finally, huffing and puffing, Les Butfield reached his own landing, wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, and entered.
Les Butfield’s ears were immediately congested with the cacophony of office static: the purr of the printer, the lop of the paper cutter, the low rumble of hollow small talk. He weaved through the labyrinth of cubicles, greeting coworkers as he passed. He waved to Nancy at GOOGLY EYE ANIMALS, Carol at SHIRTLESS COWBOYS, Joe at TO CLERGY, Fred at PERVERTED DEPICTIONS OF ELDERLY WOMEN, Anita at TO FORGETFUL HUSBANDS, Karen at DONKEY PUNS, and Herbert at SINGING POP-UPS. Les Butfield finally spotted his own cubicle — HAMSTERS IN PARTY HATS.
Les Butfield glanced at his watch and smirked. Just five minutes from the meeting. Perfect timing. He promptly busied himself with the most essential of trivial tasks, tidying his desk, refreshing his email inbox, and shuffling the stack of business cards reading Les Butfield: Birthday Card Designer. Les Butfield beamed as he pondered the new title he would be awarded just minutes from now.
Another glance at his watch roused Les Butfield to his feet. He trekked to Conference Room B with confident, animated strides. The world was his, and he would take it.
But his certainty shattered as his saw Heidi Clarke seated at the oblong conference table, her honey curls cascading down her shoulders, her rose-tinted lips pursed, her sun-kissed arms folded over her bulging chest.
Everyone knew Heidi Clarke in the same sense that everyone knew Jessica Rabbit. Much like the animation, she was very talented, and most men in the Office had, at some point, hung a framed poster of her in their bedrooms. As the head of the OLD JOKES division, Heidi Clarke had the highest sales record in the Office; she was the star of the Birthday Department and, coincidentally, most of Les Butfield’s romantic fantasies.
Les Butfield, paralyzed, attempted not to stare at Heidi Clarke’s pencil skirt under the table. Instead, he averted his gaze to the only other occupant of the room: Mark Stolsky, the Birthday Department’s mustachioed manager with absolutely no propensity for fanfare.
“Mr. Stolsky, I was under the impression that this would be a, uh, individual meeting,” Les Butfield stammered.
“Yes, well, you’re not the sole competitor for the promotion, yes?” Mark Stolskly defended, twirling the tips of his mustache, a saliva-softened pretzel hanging from his mouth, slightly askew.
Heidi Clarke offered Les Butfield a shy smile. He flushed, scrambling into a seat and intently redirecting his focus to the flakes of pretzel salt embedded in Mark Stolsky’s facial hair.
“Of course, Sir,” Les Butfield sputtered. A detached part of his brain, unaffected by the unmistakably feminine fragrance floating across the table, noted that something was amiss about Heidi Clarke’s presence in his meeting. But the louder part of his brain, the part yearning to drown in Heidi Clarke’s perfume, found no issue with it.
“Yes, well, you know why you’re here, yes?” Mark Stolsky didn’t wait for a response; he didn’t even pause while he took another chomp out of his pretzel. “Yes, well, I’ll cut to the chase. Miss Clarke, the position is yours. You’ll transfer to the Christmas Department –– the 15th floor, yes?”
Heidi Clarke nodded in affirmation, an ecstatic grin eating her face alive.
Mark Stolsky turned to Les Butfield. “Yes, well, you’ll be assuming Miss Clarke’s prior responsibilities, yes?”
Les Butfield blinked once, twice, three times, blankly.
Mark Stolsky grunted in disapproval. “Well, Son, I need an answer. You accept, yes?”
Les Butfield blinked once, twice, three times, blankly.
“Mr. Butfield?” Heidi Clarke prompted.
“You have pretzel crumbs on your face,” Les Butfield blurted.
“Bah!” Mark Stolsky exclaimed, sheepishly swiping at his mouth. “Yes, well, Miss Clarke, remain in this office until quitting time today. Collect your things and fill out this paperwork, yes? Mr. Butfield, you may ...”
But Les Butfield wasn’t listening. He was already stomping down the hall, retreating into the break room where he could unleash his fury in private. The job was supposed to be his. He deserved it. So what if Heidi Clarke sold more cards? OLD JOKES was an easy sell.
He could stomach this if another man got the job. But a woman?
At that moment, Heidi Clarke ambled into the room, oblivious to Les Butfield’s hulking presence as she retrieved a mug from the cabinet above the sink, straining on the toes of her crimson stilettos. Les Butfield’s eyes narrowed on her slender form, her struggle for reach pleasuring him far more than the sight of her taut—
“Oh, hey, Mr. Butfield. I didn’t see you there,” Heidi Clarke babbled, clutching a ceramic cup to her chest.
Les Butfield busied his anatomy, reaching into an ambiguous pink box resting on the counter near the splotch-stained microwave.
“I’m so excited to start this new position,” Heidi Clarke gushed. “Christmas Department, here I come!”
Les Butfield’s hand seized something round and sticky.
Heidi Clarke continued, unperturbed. “And you’ve got a great new spot, too. I’m sure you’re happy to leave HAMSTERS IN PARTY HATS; frankly, you’ve outgrown it.”
Les Butfield scowled into what he now realized was a donut.
“I guess the world was really in our favor today, huh, Mr. Butfield?” Heidi Clarke concluded, grinning as she twirled back to her cubicle.
Les Butfield growled, pulverizing the donut in his palm.
But Les Butfield wasn’t too discouraged. The world was his; he just had to take it. He spent the remainder of the day completing the most essential of trivial tasks, reorganizing his desk, reloading his email inbox, and building a castle out of his business cards.
When the clock struck 5, Les Butfield monitored each of his coworkers as they filed out of the Office. He remained in his cubicle, bashing a folly of random characters on his keyboard as he spied on the pile of blonde curls peeking above the partition three cubicles away.
Finally the Office was deserted. Les Butfield watched and waited as Heidi Clarke plunked the last of her belongings into a flaccid cardboard box, dismounted her chair, and started for the exit.
As Heidi Clarke stumbled along, Les Butfield hounded after her. Passing her cubicle, he scanned the desk for an instrument, any instrument to get the job done. His eyes landed on the only item left — a mug.
Les Butfield’s fingers clamped around the handle. He advanced with renewed determination.
Heidi Clarke halted abruptly before the exit corridor. Les Butfield, her delayed shadow, staggered to a stop. Heidi Clarke paused, glancing to her right, to her left, behind ...
Les Butfield leapt forward and swung.
Silent were the purrs of printers, the lops of paper cutters, the rumbles of small talk. Now there was only the shatter of the crockery, the clatter of the office supplies raining down from the box, the thump of the body as it tumbled to the floor, and Les Butfield’s own ragged breathing.
It was easy then. Simple. Les Butfield trudged down the stairs, passing sixteen department landings, their subdivisions, and their subdivisions’ subdivisions. Les Butfield whirled through the revolving doors, stubbing his toe on the ledge, and stepped out onto the street. He smirked up at the Not Hallmark™ sign, pausing to admire it.
Les Butfield was interrupted by the screech of a van slowing to a stop by the curb. Three men in taupe coveralls climbed out, carrying buckets and mops and aerosol bottles. Les Butfield strained to read the emblem enameled on the side of the vehicle. Grime Busters Cleaning Crew, it said.
Les Butfield swiveled away, commencing his journey home. As he waltzed down Fifth Avenue, swinging a briefcase replete with the ruptured fragments of a ceramic mug, no one paid him any mind. He was Bigfoot incarnate: untouchable, invincible, indubious.
The world was full of people who tolerated Les Butfield.
SECOND PLACE: 'Marbles'
By Maya Dally, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Leandra Toomoth
• Writing is a really good outlet for me to get things out and actually enjoy myself doing it.
• Leandra Toomoth, my English/creative writing teacher, has been one of my biggest inspirations as a writer. She’s an incredible woman and is constantly giving me new writing ideas.
• After high school, I plan to attend Missouri Southern State University.
It was a late Tuesday morning, and Ben woke in the chair to the smell of a burning something.
He rose as quickly as possible and found, much to his surprise, a pot of water boiling over. A tea bag spun around tumultuously amid the bubbles as he pulled the pot from the stove.
He was sure it was Cynthia making tea before their son arrived for lunch, although she had just passed on months before. Knowing this, still, Ben knew it must have been her. He knew his mind grew old right along with him, but Ben had been seeing her around him. It had become such trouble for him to recall how it had started. Maybe a book taken from the shelf or a lamp left on. A few flukes were no worry to a man who has lived for so long.
However, he began to notice her chair in the living room sat disheveled and laid in while his rested untouched. He dared not tell Michael about his suspicions, for fear he may put Ben in a home. He watched Cynthia go through it, and it tore him to pieces. He knew crazy when he saw it, and this was only his wife, dead or not, he was sure.
Day turned to night and the bustling became still. Ben was to rest often, as professionally instructed by Dr. Prater, and more out of worry by his son, Michael. So he woke once again in the chair by the window, curtains spread wide open. He knew he had closed them just before his nap, but Cynthia liked to watch out the window as the sun set, so she must have opened them while he slept.
Ben felt a void in his chest as he thought of her. He looked down at his calloused hands and the spots smattered up his arms. He thought to himself, “Great God, what an awful place! When did I get here?” as he tugged on his skin. It wasn’t long into the mourning of his own body that Ben promptly fell back asleep.
Several weeks later, Cynthia’s ghost began to scare Ben. There was no immediate danger, but he feared she may be angry at him. He found the silverware drawer lying broken on the kitchen tiles, and the throw pillows in the sink, soaked through. Ben racked his brain, but to no avail. He could not think of anything he had done to upset her up to the last moments of her life.
Cynthia had faith in God throughout her life, but Ben never felt the need to nurture a connection with a being he saw no proof of. He used to feel an ethereal presence on Saturday mornings when they had the whole day to spend together, tender light spilling onto the carpet as the washer hummed. And that was all he needed as far as religion.
But as the days progressed now, Ben began to pray her away only out of fear that she may tire herself too much. He felt immense guilt with every word he whispered into the air. And yet Cynthia continued leaving inconspicuous things in very suspicious places: The toaster in the basement, her toothbrush in his bed, her shoes resting on top of the TV, etc.
Ben spent most of his waking days returning all items back to their rightful place, and it was exhausting. He felt pieces of himself disappear each time he woke up from a nap or a short night’s sleep. He became less and less Ben.
Michael drove with the familiar itch crawling down his back against the seat, a sensation he felt only when going to visit his father. He worried more about him than he ever did about his mom, God rest her soul. Michael watched the weeds in his father’s lawn tangle together in the wind as he pulled into the driveway. He knew he would have to mow it today after saying hello.
He no longer knocked on the door when coming into the house as it confused his father to no end. He would ask Michael how and when he got there for close to half an hour. When he walked in, he found his dad sitting in his mom’s old chair by the window, reading her Depression-era cookbook.
“Catching up on the latest dishes, huh dad?” Michael pulled his coat from his arms and hung it on the hook by the door.
“No, well, Cyndi wanted me to find out how many cans she needed for the dump cake she’s making this evening for dinner. You know, Robert is coming over and he’ll go on and on. Better to have more desert to stuff his mouth. I think I’ll need to run to the grocery store to pick up more cherries.”
Ben rose slowly from his wife’s chair, and headed to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and pulled out Cynthia’s pearls and said, “Oh, you know what? We’ve got plenty,” and then went back to his wife’s chair by the window and sat down with a sigh.
THIRD PLACE: 'Fire and Diamonds'
By Kiara Manion, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Leandra Toomoth
• I enjoy writing because everything I cannot convey in person, I can convey in the written words. I can take everything I’m feeling, all my hope, desperation, anger, and pour it into my work.
• My biggest inspiration for writing would probably be every author I’ve ever read and my mom. My mom for encouraging me to read, and the authors for writing the books I fell in love with.
• I want to go to college and hopefully work for a nonprofit when I get older.
A breeze twists throughout the sprawling spread of trees. Coming in from the north it is slow and sluggish, barely alive anymore. It twirls around the trunk of an ash tree before spiraling upward to where a girl sits, perched on the highest limb. It settles around her slowly circling. The girl looks exhausted, her feet encased in broken ballet slippers. A crown of luminescent flowers sit on her brow and diamonds sparkle in her cascading hair and lay interwoven into her homemade dress. The branch she is sitting on creaks dangerously as she lazily kicks her legs. Her legs are streaked with black pulsing streaks. Her veins are filled with pollution from the human world. She gave life to the world, she is the world and now her creation is killing her.
Her mouth tightens at the sight of them. They used to be lithe and strong, carrying her as she danced among the treetops, bowing and dipping with laughter. They would never work the same again. With every forest torn down to make paper, money, and books, a piece of her is torn away as well. Every drop of oil discarded into the ocean is poison in her blood. She has tried to fight the pollution and grow new and beautiful plants but it never turned out quite right. The trees weaker and having to fight just a little harder. The animals a little off. Phoebe the goddess of prophecy had warned her of her own doom but she had not believed her. A baby blue jay lands on the limb beside her. It chirps softly; its feathers fluttering against the girl’s hand as she reached out to trace the blue jay’s wing.
As if sensing the despair the girl is feeling, it begins to sing. With a startled laugh she brings it to her chest.
“Thank you my blue jay,” she whispers.
After a few minutes the bird flies away, leaving the girl feeling just a little bit better. Babies always reminds her of the circle of life. Her greatest achievement. Life cannot begin without death and she had used that ideal perfectly. She traces the swirling patterns of the trunk. Every line unique and different, made by her.
“Gaia.” She looks up slowly, a small frown marring her face. Crouching on the fragile limb in front of her is an almost ethereal man. Windswept with a devilish smirk on his face, he glows from the inside with the intensity of the sun. He is the sun.
“Elio.” She nods as he sits and takes in her exhausted form. The ring she gave him, eons ago, still glints softly on his left hand. It matches the one on her left ring finger perfectly.
“I will not stop loving you just because you run.” His face is discontent and his fingers twitch as if they want to touch her but he restrains himself.
“I don’t want you to witness the end of me my love. It would be cruel to do so. I would be cruel.” Her voice is a soft lilt, wobbly with unshed tears.
“I still have to watch, Gaia. You are caught in my gravity, forever circling. It is cruel to deny me last moments with you.” She clutches at her arms trying to keep herself together.
“I wish there was another way, but I created humanity. Humankind is killing me! They are my biggest regret. I went too far and I must pay.”
“I know you will die. I’ve come to terms with it. But all of this suffering is useless. You can end it. Don’t make everyone suffer and die off slowly. They deserve better. You deserve better. Humanity is lost and we must all pay but you shouldn’t drag it out. Release them Gaia, please.” This sight of Elio trembling is something Gaia has never seen. She leans forward until their foreheads are touching. From here Elio can see the tears trapped among her lashes.
“I know. But I’m so scared. What happens to Nature when it dies?” She admits as if she has failed a test. “Nothing is right. Humanity is lost. I am lost. I don’t want to die.” A tear drips down Elio’s cheek.
“I don’t know, my world. But you must be brave.” Gaia takes a deep breath. She lets it out and nods.
“I love you.”
“And I love you.”
“I’ll miss you.”
“I don’t know what I’ll do without you.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“As am I.”
Gaia reaches deep down inside of herself to all the anger and fear and sadness she has felt since the black marks on her legs first appeared. She grabs ahold of it and pushes it into the earth, the sky and the ocean. At the fragmented lines where she pieced together the world, she tells them to let go and she tells the fire that has simmered in the belly of the world to rise up and to the sky she encourages it to lash out and the ocean she tells to storm as the tears drip down her face. As the world trembles and roars with the emotions Gaia has let go of, Elio stands.
“One last dance my love?” He asks, pointing to her broken shoes. She takes his hand and rises. He pulls her to him as he begins to twirl her throughout the treetops. With every step they take, they leave behind a trail of fire and diamonds. He holds her close as she gets weaker, the black slowly traveling up her body. The world is burning quickly, eager to end its suffering. The storming of the world, the music they dance to. When she becomes too weak to hold herself up, Elio holds her up himself letting her experience one of the things she loves most for the last time. Each twirl and dip sends laughter coursing through her body until eventually they are just swaying in each other’s arms among the dying embers of the world. Her eyes are the only thing left without black streaked across her suntanned skin. As the starlight blinks out of her eyes forever, she whispers one last time.
“I love you.”
A broken sob echoes throughout the barren wasteland the world has become as the light Elio loves blinks out. His heart incomplete without Gaia, the sun slowly diminishes until only a few flickers of light across the surface before the sun goes as dead as Earth has become. Eventually the planets drift away, the light, passion and energy they had been lusting after gone and the two broken worlds and two broken hearts are left to wither away in the darkness, lost for all of eternity.
PERSONAL NARRATIVE WINNERS
9th/10th grade division
FIRST PLACE: 'Am I Lost'
By Hailey Staib, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Henri Whitehead
• I enjoy writing because you can tell people how you feel.
• My biggest inspiration for writing has been my family.
• My goals after high school include college.
I guess I’m kinda “lost” to write this paper.
I don't know what to write about since I’ve never really been what you'd call the smart kid. I thought about writing about my tragic past but it's the same story every time. Also everybody’s tired of that story. I know they are because of the lack of human decency around here. So I'm lost up here, in my head, which by the way is how you should be reading this. Since I don't know you and you don’t know me I guess I'll give you the story.
This thing that happened made a giant impact on my tiny mind and little did I know it would change my life for the rest of my life.
Before we dive in, let's talk about that word “life.” Life is so mysterious. Nobody has ever fully grasped the concept of life. People may seem like they have it all figured out, truth is, we’re all a little lost.
Back to the story. When I was 11 years of age, I was in a car wreck with my sister Rachael and younger brother Nathan. My sister did not survive, more or less she left me lost, she left all of us lost.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. That day at school was unlike any other, the school had been put on lock down in fear of a threat said that morning. We stayed in our classroom all day and we watched movies on low volume. Towards the end of the day it was time to go home.
My sister had always picked me and Nathan up from school. And as you can imagine, that was a pretty distasteful task with an 11 year old and a 6 year old. Stress took over the wheel causing a wreck. I firmly believe that God was watching all of us because after I opened my eyes, the car was full of light. That silence was broken by the sounds of my little brother crying. I reassured him that we were just fine and he stopped the tears. I’m not gonna tell the whole story because I feel as though I haven't completely healed from that which is where this next part comes in.
“Lost.” Man oh man, was I lost after that. Bombarded with family, friends and food. I just wanted to be alone. I didn't eat that night, I remember stopping at McDonald’s. I ordered chicken McNuggets, but I didn’t eat them. The next day my Aunt was over. She made me a sandwich out of supplies people had given to us due to losing my sweet sister. I didn't eat it. I couldn't eat, how the hell could I eat, that’s a lot of things to slam in a sixth grader’s face.
Some time passed by and I started to evaluate myself and realized I was riddled with depression. And then I really started to feel lost. Completely lost. Not talking about how you feel “lost” when you’re 5 years old and your mother leaves you in an aisle at your local Walmart, or the lost you feel trying to get back home after traveling that old road in your town that nobody goes down, at 1 in the morning. This kinda lost was more of an emotional battle.
A battle still ceaseless to my mindscape.
SECOND PLACE: 'Lost but Found Again'
By Moo Say Ray Soe, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Henri Whitehead
• I enjoy writing because it’s a good way to express yourself and what you’ve gone through.
• My biggest inspiration for writing are my parents because they are the strongest people I’ve known and they worked hard to bring my family where they are today.
• In the future, I want to go to college.
There I was, lost in the dark with my family. All I could hear was gunshots, all I could remember was dead people. Then, my eyes went shut and there was total darkness.
I woke up in shock the next morning, happy that I was alive. My mom told me things will be fine as long as we cross the border. We didn’t know where we were going, and we hope for the best that we don’t get caught. We were running away from the soldiers in Burma. Seeing our village burned down was all that I could remember. We took what we can with us, we had so little anyways. It was really hard for me and my mom since she was pregnant with my little sister, but it was also a big help that we had my dad and my two brothers. They looked out for us since there was a lost journey ahead of us.
On that sunny day, all we did was walked and walked, we stopped and rested for a while but we had to make it quick. Not only was I lost, my whole family was lost, so were other families. This was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced.
We walked for a whole day, and when sunset came, we heard gunshots again, we didn’t dare move an inch. The Burmese soldiers were fighting with their enemies. I guess we’re also their enemies. As the gunshots continued, we just stayed where we were, hiding and scared at the same time. But the most terrifying thing was that we were in the Jungle, and that’s not our Jungle so who knows what would happen if we got caught.
The next morning, we continued walking, we would walk during the day and rest during the night. We passed by many villages, but all there were lost souls, there was no sight of living. On the fourth day, we finally got to the border, but the thing was, how are we going to cross it without getting caught?
We hid there for hours and suddenly we heard someone coming close by. My family got scared and we ran for our souls because we knew that was one of the enemy’s soldiers. He was chasing us and luckily there was only one of him. Me and my mom made it first, but my two older brothers and my dad were behind us trying to protect us as we were running for our lives.
The enemies don’t dare to shoot a bullet across the border. I could see my dad in the back then suddenly I heard gunshots. Tears ran through my eyes and I could feel my heart burning. But, my dad made it, but he got shot on the leg. He was laying there touching the ground of our soon to be called home, Thailand. Soon, help came.
Now, were in the refugee camp and a few days later my little sister was born. We build our new home in the refugee camp of Thailand and we were not lost anymore. We were found again.
We went through many terrible things but the process brings a beautiful ending. A few years later we came to the U.S. to start a better life, now we’re in a better life and we’re living a better life. I was once lost and now I’m found again.
THIRD PLACE: 'Blinded'
By Dayson Fickle, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Henri Whitehead
• I enjoy writing because it allows me to be creative.
• My biggest inspiration for writing is my grandfather, because of his years of wisdom.
• My goals are going to college and owning a flower nursery.
Nothing is without a flaw, for me that would be my lack of vision and ineptitude to multitask. Sitting down I knew no other than the pages of words in front of me, the book held my attention like no school lesson could. People walked by and smirked as if I did not belong by myself, although I could not see them. A quick glance at the writing on the shelf turning into minutes of solemn contemplation of all things on my mind, but when it was time to go, there was no one.
The aisle was empty as far as one could see, no parent or sibling to guide my way back to safety. After the despair of my situation had set in, I knew I had to search for my escape. Walking out into the interstate of all shopping lanes, faces melded with one another, a shopping cart full was no different than an empty one at this range. Bumbling off the beaten path landed me in arts and crafts. The area was barren, save for the old woman who couldn't hear her phone. The idea of asking her for help raced through my mind, but the deaf leading the blind was not a road I was willing to walk.
Breaking past the blur of the old woman and back onto the freeway of the store, where speed limits were unregulated and cart crashes were regular. Getting off the road, left me vying for someone I knew while next to the thousands of varieties of sliced bread. Could it be? The curly haired woman with a cart brimming for things to be eaten at a school lunch, she was her. Racing forward I felt weightless, knowing my safety was near. Yelling out for my mom, the curly haired woman turned with a look of confusion. Holding back tears I asked where she had been, what she had been doing, and telling her how I could not see.
Without a care for my safety, she let out a simple, “We need to get you some glasses.”
11th/12th grade division
FIRST PLACE: 'Lost'
By Bailey Sherrell, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Leandra Toomoth
• I enjoy creating something out of words. I enjoy being able to make someone feel when they read my work.
• My biggest inspiration for writing is not a person, it’s a feeling. A want. I want to create something that could last forever.
• My goals are to go to college to further my writing skill.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray, you’ll never know Dear, how much I love you, so please don’t take my sunshine away.” I started singing this song to a small puppy that had wandered off the bed and was whimpering, and after some begging, my mom sighed and nodded, “Yes you can keep her.”
I named her Sunny. She was the smallest one and I think that’s why I felt so connected to her, because I myself was super tiny and small. The first few weeks, I wasn’t allowed to touch her. She had to stay by her mom’s side and get plenty of warmth and milk. Eventually, her siblings were given to other families, but not all of them. My sister got to keep a chubby pup she named Ivy, and my brother kept Marley, the leader of the group. I was just fine with my little Sunshine, and I think she was just fine with me.
When Sunny was finally let outside, she hopped around like a little bunny, I called her Sunny Bunny, and sang her song.
We had to move sometime later. Sunny wasn’t a year old yet. We moved to a town and lived in a neighborhood with other dogs and lots of traffic. Every time we walked to the store, the dogs would try to follow and we had to tell them to stay back.
I began to grow older, and with that, I started going out more. I saw Sunny less, but whenever I did see her, I would sing her the song and laugh as she hopped around.
Sunny had puppies. Less than a year old. She was still so tiny, I was terrified and I could tell she was too. All of the puppies died of parvo. I become distracted with life again.
I don’t remember the last time I saw Sunny, all I remember is she stopped coming to the back door and whining for me. I sang her song, and she never came. Later on, I found out that she was hit by a car and my mom had buried her without telling me. I lost my sunshine that day, she was taken away, just like everything else.
SECOND PLACE: 'Childhood Trauma'
By Madison Holly, Webb City High School
Instructor: Laura Henry
• I enjoy writing because it gives freedom to express and create.
• My biggest inspiration for writing is Shakespeare, because he still inspires people today.
• My goals after high school are to attend the Missouri University of Science and Technology to get a degree in chemical engineering.
I was only turned around for a second when my mom disappeared. Just a second earlier I was on a nice little stroll with my mom, and now all of a sudden, I was lost in a world of chaos. People were scrambling around everywhere frantically trying to get out as fast as possible. All I knew was that I had to track down my mom and get out. On this maniacal adventure, I managed to get somewhat away from the pandemonium temporarily to find my mother, get trampled by a bunch of people, and hear a message from above.
I had to get out of the crowd, so I finally found a somewhat tame, sequestered area from all the outrageousness and commotion of the people. I took a second to just breathe and try to calm down. I remember closing my eyes and just listening; I heard the rapid clunking of shoes, horns honking, tires screeching, and a baby screaming at the top of their lungs. As I regained my composure, I started to scope out the perimeter, looking for my mom. However, the only things I could see were massive amounts of people, cars blazing by, and a news van parked around the corner. I was bewildered as to why they were here (the news reporters); they’re never here. I only saw the people from the news when something horrifying was happening. I suddenly felt weak and shaky. I forced the thought that something appalling could be happening to slip from my mind in order to focus on the task at hand: finding my mother. I kept gazing around in this little corner looking back and forth for what seemed to be hours upon hours until finally I spotted her!
I sprinted towards my mother as rapidly as I could; my little legs were dashing and my arms flailing to try to get her attention, but I kept getting elbowed and shoved by the cluster of adults towering over me. I tried again to squirm my way through the surging crowd to reach my mom, in hopes that we could get out of this disastrous mess. I fought my way through the mess of people inch by inch until I was about a yard away from her. I was so anxious to find her. I didn’t realize how fast my heart was beating until I had found her. I calmed down as I had almost reached her, and when she turned around, my heart began to race again. The lady I had followed was not my mother.
I panicked and ran to another somewhat secluded spot, my mind racing with questions. “Where is my mom? Will I ever get to see my family again? Is this the end? Why did we have to go to a big city over the break? Something like this was bound to happen! I begged my parents to not make us come here of all places. Why didn’t they listen? Is this even real? Am I dreaming?” While I was lost in my thoughts, I somehow managed to snap out of it and hear my name being called from above. I was absolutely petrified. I couldn’t move a muscle, and I was barely breathing. I might as well have been a statue. “God?” I thought, “Is that you?”
Thankfully, some lady near me heard them call for a lost little girl over the intercom; they were calling me up to the front of Target. Once the lady helped me make my way up to the front, I saw my mom with all the stuff she picked out, ready to pay and go home. The mall was packed with people because of Black Friday, and she was beyond ready to get out (as was everyone else). Everyone was in such a panic to get the best items on sale and get out. There was even a man from the local news channel interviewing people. After I separated myself from the people to find my mom, heard the intercom, and found my way to her, we had a long talk about not getting distracted and staying with her in public. I was only six or seven at the time, and although it didn’t feel like it, I was only separated from my mom for about 10 minutes.
THIRD PLACE: 'A Bouquet of Marigolds and Roses'
By Sara Lutman, McDonald County High School
Instructor: Leandra Toomoth
• I enjoy writing because it releases thoughts and ideas trapped in the mind.
• I’m inspired by Mary Downing Hahn. I always get lost in her books. They are page-turners for sure.
• My goals after high school are to go to college.
In the warm summer, I remember waking up to a golden glimmering light beaming through the kitchen windows spreading into the house like a heavenly aura.
My Mother and I decided to visit Miss Helen, a living angel. Miss Helen's house was a two-story. Gardening was her passion. Butterflies and bees roamed among the variety of flowers displayed. Sometimes when we visited, she heard us before we made it to the door and she met us on the porch with a smile. She was tall and thin. Her hair, short, curly, and blackish grey. Her voice was never rash nor cruel, it was always soft and sweet. She would always greet us with a warm graceful smile and would say something like “How have you been?” spreading out her arms for a hug while inviting us in.
Inside, the sunlight beamed through the bamboo shades, the chairs were comfortable and cushy, the kitchen had dark-wooden shelves and cabinets with a tiled bar.
The upstairs was guarded by plastic glass stained doors of many shades of green. The sun somehow shown through it, making it appear like it glowed, even though no windows were near. Grabbing the round handles and pulling the two doors open, they dragged on the carpet floor, leading to the stairway, where the sun’s rays shone down. I always walked up the stairs slowly — it seemed to be leading to Heaven itself.
Rays of sunlight gleamed through the curtains. On the other side of the room was a desk, covered in books, paper, and writing utensils. What caught my eye the most was a lava lamp that had pictures of fish and mermaids. When it was turned on, a light would shine through them and reflect onto the walls. The images would go round and round. The gadgets on the fins moved, making it appear as if they were actually swimming. A simple little tune would play, that even today I cannot name.
One time there was a gathering at Helen's house that include kids I could play with and adults to whom my mom could visit. The house was filled with joy and thunderous chatting. I snuck some potato wedges from the kitchen, and retreated to the back porch so I could eat them in secret. The night overcame the radiance of the burning sun. A sound of creaking was behind me. The screen door! I panicked since I wasn’t supposed to be eating junk food. Turning around, dreading the thought of getting caught, I was both surprised and delighted to discover it was Miss Helen.
She closed the door, which now blocked the crowd’s noise, and smiled at me. In her hands, it appeared as if she had a small napkin crumpled. She walked over and sat next to me on the stairs and placed the napkin in my hand.
“Careful, they’re hot.” The bundle felt rather warm, and with curiosity, I unfolded the grease-soaked pleasant smelling napkin to reveal more potato wedges.
“Don’t listen to your mom, you’re welcome to have as many as you like.” She said smiling warmly.
“Thank you, Miss Helen.” I said, as I picked up a piece and started to eat the delicious food.
“You’re always welcome here, make yourself at home.” We sat together on the steps, it seemed as if time slowed, everything in the world slowed and went silent. The fireflies floated like night lights, making the flower garden light up like a mystical fairy-tale. I sat there, eating the well-seasoned food. A few minutes passed until the crowd called for Helen. When she left, everything seemed to go back to normal. The sounds of the nocturnal masquerade came back to life. Frogs croaked while crickets chirped. I finished up the last bit of the potato wedges.
A few years later ...
Legos, Legos everywhere. Building was rather difficult. Mom was on the telephone with someone, I wasn’t listening, Miss Helen was mentioned, I turned around and asked when would we go see her again. A pause.
“That’s what im trying to say! Miss Helen’s dead.” Mom said looking at me.
Eyes stared me down. Being overpowered by the gazes, I looked back down at the scattered Legos. I felt ashamed and depressed. The desire to play and build was gone. Everything went numb.
A few days later ...
At the visitation funeral, we got marigolds for her. I slowly embraced the dim stillness, there was soft music, with the projectory. Many flowers surrounded the coffin. I had a little marigold that I plucked. While mom was signing us in, I walked up to Miss Helen’s sleeping figure. She lay limp, looking peaceful. She wore an old style dress. As courage found me, I reached out my hand to place the flower behind her ear, Mom walked in. I retracted my hand back, afraid of getting caught. Mom was moping. The pictures slowly appeared and faded, as life and death. Sitting there silently, holding the flower. People say if you can’t cry, you’re too weak. I couldn’t. No feelings of sadness overcame me, just ... nothing. Mom hugged me.
“It’s going to be alright.” I understood, the aura in the room, someone else was there!
I believe ... I know who it was.
The car had the windows down, the wind was strong. Uncontrollably my hand went out of the car window into the wild wind. Looking at the flower wiping in the wind, time seemed to slow again. Like the time on the porch. My numb fingers slowly let go of the delicate flower, the wind current slowly swept it upward into the blazing sunset, floating and twirling its pedals in the wind. Almost like it was flying to Heaven itself. Withdrawing my hand from the window, switching the radio channel, certain sensitive words came on. “If I die young, bury me in satin, lay me down on a bed of roses.” Mom raised the volume and said “Miss Helen’s song.” My soul felt of a void, my lips formed a smile. Understanding that Miss Helen was no longer in chains of pain from the world. She was set free.
The Day of the Funeral ...
Waking up to a cold silence, there was darkness. Walking into the dull kitchen, no golden rays of light shone through the windows. No birds sang lullabies. The atmosphere felt chilly and damp to me. Storm clouds ruled the sky dark blue and grey. Nothing is nothing.
Trees were bare like they cried off their leaves. All so still. It appears that the world's light died with Miss Helen.
A wave of wind came across the depressed group of black dressed people. A tear slid down my cheek. When it was time to place the flowers, they opened the coffin, and lined up. I slowly walked up to the silent coffin, not even caring if there was a line. Getting one last look at her. There she was, laying in a bed, surrounded by pure white roses ...
It was Tommy's turn to lay down a rose, he asked Mom, “Audrey do you want to lay down a rose?”
Mom was still crying and shaking she said, “No, No, I don’t touch the dead.” Tears rolling down her face while she spoke with her hands.
“Are you sure?” Tommy replied.
“Yeah ... I’m sure.”
The wind gently combed my hair, the bed of pure white roses with Miss Helen in them. An angel lied before me… I was never going to see her again.
A Few Months Later ...
We went to Helen’s house, as we arrived it was dead. The grass had dead spots, there were no flowers, just dried up yellow weeds and sticks. No butterflies and bees. Not even a song from the birds. I stared at the spot on the porch where that one memory stirred.
Inside of the house, spider webs and dust about. The glowing light that snuck from the bamboo shades didn’t peep. Once a warm embrace of the house, now chilled. Rooms of enchanting joyful light, a haunting painful sight… step by step slowly coming near two doors. Once glowed a magical heavenly light, it’s dim shadow height. I grabbed the dusty round handle and pulled. It came off. The other door opened, creating a crying creak as it dragged. Dust particles flew in the faded bluish-grey light. Before me was the stair-case.
Walking up with gentle thumps, the atmosphere echoed. Touching the handle to the one room, Revealing dead blue light, dim and haunting, it felt as if someone stabbed my soul with a knife, as round dust particles glowed grey swimming in the air. Slowly approaching the little humble desk, a strange lamp that I found so fascinating ... the sound of a click, there was a heartbreaking tune ...
To this day I haven’t seen the golden rays of light.
9th/10th grade division
FIRST PLACE: 'Paper Airplanes'
By Chandler Hall, Webb City High School
Instructor: Doug Garrison
• I enjoy writing because it’s a way to turn thoughts and ideas into art.
• My biggest inspiration has been Mrs. Withers from Webb City Junior High School. She’s the one who got me to write.
• After high school, I’d like to be a counseling psychologist.
Those warm, breezy nights
Back before our innocence
Was stolen by our earthly glimpse
Back when we’d throw paper airplanes into the sky
We hoped they’d land on the moon
And an astronaut would smile
But really, they didn’t make it that far
Though we wished upon a golden star
Nowadays we live and pray
Trying to make it through the day
Keeping our minds from going astray
Wishing our innocence would have stayed
All I want is our untouched bliss
All I want is the water to kiss
Our sweet, beloved moon
Hopefully, it’ll be back soon
So we can throw paper airplanes
And make an astronaut grin
So we can hold each other
Before our innocence fades again
SECOND PLACE: 'He Found Me'
By Emily Nelson, Joplin High School
Instructor: Shelly Greninger
• Writing helps me process my emotions in a creative way, and gives me a new identity.
• I am inspired by the people I come into contact with in everyday life because they all give me new perspectives and experiences.
• I plan to attend a college in Missouri to pursue a career in agriculture.
I was taught that love is a house
My parents built me brick by brick into a sturdy home
And then their love turned into ticking time bombs of anger
That sent my walls crashing down to the foundation
If this was truly love, I decided not to feel it
The gravity pressing down upon me became too much
I had begun to pull in the weight of the world
My heart going from supernova to black hole
I tried to breathe in life by hiding it away
I could control the unknown if I just swallowed it up inside me
I tried to be God — the creator of the universe
I took this body of His image
Fired it until I was unrecognizable
A porcelain doll trapped the girl I used to be
Tying strings around my fragile wrists
I grabbed the reins and took control
Becoming the puppeteer of my own life
I chose misery over You
When I shattered
The pieces of me that had died
Were now being resurrected
I took my life and poured it out
Tears ran like rivers flowing down my mountain cheeks
From my sapphire eyes came a pool of rainbow sorrow
Colors of crimson soaked pain to amethyst robed power
I let go of each and took in the light of love
I learned that I could be loved in the midst of my brokenness
I was a home built with a sturdy foundation that would stand the test of time
I did not know that I was not God until I met Him
I did not know I was lost until He found me
THIRD PLACE: 'Labyrinth'
By Caroline Kunshek, Girard High School
Instructor: Robyn O’Malley
• I enjoy writing because it helps let out emotions. Poetry helps specifically when it’s difficult to verbalize thoughts normally, and they can become metaphors.
• My writing inspiration is Savannah Brown. She writes and performs slam poetry about issues that people don’t like talking or hearing about. Her poems introduced me to what poetry really is, not just rhyming words.
• After high school, I want to do something weird and different, hopefully something with music, writing or art that helps people.
In my heart there is a labyrinth
Or in my head, I’m not sure
Sometimes when I search within
It all becomes obscure
Each time I’m close to my destination
The labyrinth starts to spin
Jumbling up the whole creation
So again I will begin
In this maze, my hand outstretched
I feel a presence there
I fall for this again and again
And every time, still air
As I struggle to find myself
My future and my dreams
Life attempts to overwhelm
But the world stays as it seems
The sun will rise and set each day
Consistent, a new start
My emotions struggle to relate
The mind at war with heart
11th/12th grade division
FIRST PLACE: 'The Road for the Lost'
By Morgan Cravens, Joplin High School
Instructor: Brendan Cooney
• Writing is a way to express myself. I can write about anything and be as creative as I want. In writing, you can go anywhere and be anyone.
• My dad has always encouraged me to read and write. He helps me edit my work and gives me great ideas. I probably wouldn’t be such a good writer if not for him.
• After high school, I plan to travel and write in my free time. I want to be a mother but I’m not sure yet after that.
I have been lost before as have many
Unsure where the road led or how long I’d be walking
It got dark and cold and hard to see
I was afraid; thought no one would find me
I took shortcuts hoping it would set me free
I strayed off the path looking for a better way
But still I remained on that never-ending road
It took me through forests, suppressed by the branches
It took me through caves, covered in darkness
It took me up mountains, exhausted by the weight
It took me across rivers, beat by forceful currents
It took me past lakes, ashamed of my own reflection
And then I saw it, the glorious sun rising in the east
The golden light poured over me, filling me with hope
I marched on through the branches, for they could not hurt me
I marched on through the darkness, for it was no longer night
I marched on through exhaustion, for the weight was lifted
I marched on through the current, for I had greater purpose
I marched on through the doubt, for I had hope in someone greater
And finally I took the road waiting all along
In my struggle I was lost, blind to the good things
The branches that whipped me made me stronger
The darkness shrouding me made me cling to the light
The weight of life made me surrender my own way
The crushing of the current striped away my insecurities
And the reflection I saw in the waters humbled me
We are all lost, but God saves those who look to His light
SECOND PLACE: 'Lost Inside'
By Julia Kerr, St. Mary’s Colgan
Instructor: Audrey Dickey
• I enjoy writing because it’s a creative outlet much different than painting. I am able to put my thoughts on paper and people listen.
• Jane Austen has been my biggest inspiration for writing. The way she was able to give lifelike imagery through her words is inspiring.
• After high school, I am planning to go to college in Europe and major in nursing and minor in Spanish.
I have everything a kid could need
Nice toys, clothes, and other things.
I have great friends like Jem and Scout
They love me, no shadow of a doubt.
I have white hair and skin that’s fair.
I am small, no problem at all.
My mother, she ships me away.
Yet, with the Finches I ain’t astray.
If Boo Radley don’t scare us
Then I ain’t Charles Baker Harris Inside
I want to belong.
My family’s all wrong.
No place for my own;
I’m often alone.
No one has time for
me. They find me a chore.
Wishing I was wanted.
By loneliness I’m haunted.
Though I wouldn’t choose this life as my own,
The lessons I’ve learned will stay with me ‘til I’m grown.
THIRD PLACE: 'What Alice Didn’t Tell You'
By Tricia Combs, Girard High School
Instructor: Kayla Pruitt
• I enjoy writing because it allows me to process emotions and work through things, no matter what I’m going through.
• I’ve enjoyed writing from a young age, but got really into poetry during middle school. After watching, “Louder Than a Bomb,” I was inspired to put my passions down on paper in order to be understood and help other people who are experiencing similar things.
• After high school, I plan to obtain a degree in the area of Agricultural Education and a minor in Leadership Studies. I also hope to publish a book of poetry by the age of 25.
My Oma’s eyes are cloudy like the ocean in a rainstorm.
I shout through the fog between us,
tell her how good it is to see her again.
The beam of her lighthouse mind
falls short of recognition.
How long has she been floating there?
Right on the edge of knowing,
her body keeping her in its limitless void of what’s already known.
She calls my mother’s name, sometimes,
telling stories of tea parties and adventures
in a wonderland that even Alice
could become lost in.
That dear little lady,
so inside of her own mind
that she cannot see what’s going on in the world around her,
cannot see her grandchildren growing up,
her children growing old.
Alice tried to warn us that Wonderland isn’t so wonderful after all.
I see my Oma walk through the doorway of a memory,
calling to her siblings,
that long-gone love existing only inside the mind.
Sometimes I wonder if I am floating in her realm of consciousness.
Her face lights up when she sees me,
a child standing at the edge of the ocean
watching the waves leave behind treasures in the sand.
She opens her mouth to speak
and Wonderland calls her,
leaving me to shout through the fog