Congratulations to our competition winners! You can find their stories below.
Age Category 12-15 years
In The Forest
Theo Drayton, age 14
Some said it wasn’t real. Some said it would never be seen to mortal eyes. Others simply believed their own thoughts, fabricated from their own minds. Dan was from the third group; his belief was that the beast would come to those who willed it to, and it was under this illusion that he wandered out into the forest, after dark had fallen and all light extinguished. Dry leaves wept under his feet as he padded into the wood, eyes flitting around as he surveyed the reticent scene around him. Inexplicably, Dan felt terror as he wound through the silhouetted figures of gnarled trees reaching towards the charcoal sky, but this fear galvanised him, and he was stoic as he let the shadowy form of the forest swallow him, and kept a steady course onwards as he was plunged into complete darkness, the foliage above blotting out the pale moon.
Silence reigned. Even the crunch beneath his feet seemed to fade as Dan slipped further into the woodland, and he almost wanted to prove sound still existed by yelling into the void; however, he couldn’t rouse himself to speak. Instead, he stopped, his body paralysed, and he glimpsed a flicker of light some way forwards. It danced jaggedly, flitting haphazardly, enticing him. This must be the Willow: the guide of the forest. It would lead him to the beast.
The Willow dipped down, and began to float away, flickering like a candle between the trees. Dan realised – it was showing him the way. He snapped out of his stupor urgently and stumbled through the thorny thickets, chasing the speck of light. Maladroit and floundering, he snagged branches urging him to slow, to reconsider his actions; he had no time for hesitation. He barely noticed the rain beginning to fall, hammering against the leaves above him and forcing their way through to the ground below. It was only when a large drop hit his hand that he took it in, and, staring down wonderingly at the bulbous blot resting contentedly on his knuckles, he recalled one tale of the beast which claimed it appeared only when a storm brewed above. A clap of thunder sounded from the heavens, as if divinely confirming his thoughts, and Dan pushed on, certain that tonight, he would prove the tales true.
The Willow had stopped, reaching a clearing. The absence of canopy overhead showed just how torrential the rain had become, striking down like liquid knives. Dan did not care for this, though, his hair plastered sleekly to his forehead. He cared about the shape in the centre of the clearing, pulsating with breath, red eyes half-closed in lethargic slumber. As he stepped towards it, it began to stir, and groggily stood up to its full height, towering above him, glazed eyes lazily observing the intruder below. And all Dan could think of as it swung a heavy claw down at him was that he had been right; all along, he had been right.
Jessica Hirons, age 15
She’s walking down a swamped city street, surrounded by noise and action even though there’s not a soul to be seen. Every store front is emblazoned with neon signs, glaring with it’s joyous eyes as she shuffles her way past, barely missing the cracks in the ground left by unfinished construction and centuries of footsteps grinding the concrete open. Overhead lights flicker as she passes underneath them, their shine rapidly dimming to a pleading, erratic glow that casts its light in broken shafts. The shadows, nebulous and invincible, grow taller and loom over her head, reflecting their nightmares in her dulled eyes – but nobody could ever know. She keeps them fixed on the ground she walks on, wishing the shadows would take her away, praying for the cracks to widen and let her sink below.
Nobody can see her damaged state, and there’s no souls around to keep her from falling. She’s coated in ebony, her layers dragging miserably behind her. The stench of ashes and tears forms a thick fog around her mind, obscuring this procession from the eyes of the innocent.
Rumbling, the clouds above let out a roar of pain, and unleash a flood upon the earth-thick and dense, it tumbles in uneven waves through the streets, scouring the edges of forgotten buildings and cleansing the day’s misery from the air that has grown stale with complaints and disappointment. The girl, soaked to the bone, looks up at the sky crying with raw shame, and sags to the floor. Her back rests up on the brick behind her, letting all her weight rest upon it. She tips back her head, allowing the harshness of the rain to touch her, care for her, cleanse her. It has been so long since she felt such a gentle touch. Not since the ones who gave those touches were pulled into the darkness. Now she wanders in that same darkness, aimlessly, wondering where it took them to. If they found peace. Most of all, she wonders why the darkness took part of herself with them. Every time she opens her eyes, all she sees is a stygian mist that stings her pupils. When she breathes, she inhales the human misery that’s been carried along the air from the morning rush hour. When she drinks, all she can taste is the bitter angst of heartbreak and loss, washed away down the drain time and time again. Her heart beats, faintly, a slow boom like the final fading crashes of a worn-out cymbal.
So here she sits, letting her broken form be rinsed of the heavy burden she lumbers around with each day. Her mind finally goes silent, freeing her for a moment, allowing her to dream of what could be, if life gave her what she needed to feel loved. Successful. Alive. It’s times like this, when she can match her state with that of nature, that she is at peace. A silent figure in a broken world.