Congratulations to our 2019 Teen Short Story and Poetry Contest Winners!
1st Place: "Waves" by Julia Appel, 11th grade
2nd Place: "Night, Shortly" by Zoey Nahmacher-Baum, 11th grade
Honorable Mention: "Ethos" by Marzhana Abduraiimova, 12th grade
1st Place: "Imperfections" by Paloma Vogel- Del Valle, 11th grade
2nd Place: "Changing Perceptions" by Noa Biener, 7th grade
Read the winning entries below -
"Waves" by Julia Appel
When we landed in LA that day in March, I was nine years old, and the sun nestled in my bones and welcomed me home. We crowded into two taxis, my parents and my aunt and my cousins and me, and packed ourselves into my uncle’s house, but I spent the whole day looking west towards the water. Every day I dragged whoever was willing out of the house, to the sand and the sea.
When I close my eyes, the memory of that day at the beach has been fast-forwarded. One moment, I’ve dropped my towel down on dry sand and kicked off my shoes. The next, my cousin Maya and I are a hundred yards out to sea, but the water is just barely splashing at my hips. We’ve found a sandbar, somehow, both of us glasses-less and fumbling. A spot of land in an ocean that should have enveloped us. When I close my eyes, I’m diving. Running into the waves, half-listening to Maya’s insistence that there always be someone in front of us, to keep from dropping off the sandbar into deeper waters. This is how it’s done, as learned from the kids on the sandbar who grew up there the way I almost did. Run forward, let the wave hit you, laugh raucously as it carries you back to Maya’s outstretched arms and let her catch you gently, let her hoist you to your feet. Interlace your fingers with hers and pull her out further, for once not the cautious one. Feel the pull of the ocean that was almost yours, slip in the sand and go under, come up sputtering for air with a mouth full of salt, and your necklace tangled in your hair.
Earlier that day we had sat on the sunny concrete steps of my uncle’s house with a package from one of the souvenir stands that lined the pier, struggling to open a small, flat can. Inside was an oyster that Maya cracked open on the side of the steps. The pearl hidden there was pink, for love, according to the box. We carefully opened the pendant and placed the pearl so it looked out through small silver windows, stringing it on the chain that would later break in the gym locker room.
When I rose from the waves, I rolled the pendant in between my fingers. I still do. It isn’t silver any more. I’ve worn it in oceans, lakes, pools, and showers, eventually rubbing off the color from silver to pinkish to bright copper. The tiny rose-colored pearl still rattles gently in its home around my neck. Pink, for love of my uncle’s concrete steps and the flowers around it. Pink, for love of the ocean, the sun, and Maya.
"Night, Shortly" by Zoey Nahmmacher-Baum
I didn’t notice that the sun had begun to set until it had already dipped below the horizon and the sky was full of stars. The flame of the fire pit had since died down, leaving only a trail of smoke quickly disappearing into the trees. My mother stood up after a long while of staring into the sky, beginning to pile plates from the table and take them back into the house. I almost asked her to come back, not yet ready to say goodbye to the evening.
“Are you coming, honey?” my mom asked, her hand on the screen door. My eyes traced the path of a firefly over my head.
“I’ll be in soon.”
I looked into the remains of the fire, the last of the dying red embers, and then back into the dark sky, letting out a long breath. The smoke was gone, but it still smelled like fire. My dad rustled around behind me, cleaning the grill and putting it back in the garage.
“Hey Zoey,” he called from behind me after a minute. I turned around to face him. “Wanna play a round?” He smiled, holding a badminton racket in either hand.
I was tired after a long day and didn’t feel ready to run around, but I agreed nevertheless, taking one of the rackets from him. He ducked under the net, birdie in hand.
It was too dark to play a normal game of badminton, so he flipped the switch on the birdie, filling our backyard with a series of rainbow flashes. The bright flashes contrasted the darkness of the backyard, and I had to squint my eyes in an effort to focus on the game. My dad served the birdie over the net to me, my eyes struggling to follow its arch into the sky. Soon enough, my eyes adjusted to the blinding flashes, but although I could now focus clearly on the birdie, I could no longer see the racket in my hand or my dad on the other side of the net. Even so, my arm moved instinctively to return the birdie. Every so often, one of us would hit the birdie hard enough to switch the light off, and we would be returned to darkness. In these moments I could still see an echo of the birdie’s light reflected in my vision, quickly fading.
We played for a long time before I began to get tired, the warm summer breeze not helping to cool me down. My legs felt sore, but I couldn’t see my watch to tell how long we had been playing.
“One more round,” I said into the darkness, unprompted. My serve faltered and hit the net before falling unceremoniously into the grass. “That one didn’t count.”
We played for a while more after that. One more round turned to two, turned to three. I kept playing until I finally won a serve, wanting to leave the game on a high note. I kept playing until the bugs came out and urged us back inside to safety. My arms were littered up and down with bug bites that I knew would only get worse the longer I stayed outside, but I still delayed it. The white light of the kitchen streamed out through a window and fell upon the backyard, trespassing on the serenity of the fireflies and the dark trees. I could make out my mother inside as she cleaned and made herself tea, preparing to go to bed. I didn’t feel ready to return.
Instead, I sat down on the bench, the fire pit black, and stared back into the cloudless sky. My father joined me. This warm summer night would be followed by many others in the years that followed. I knew this, but I still held tight to this moment. The smell of ash that covered the bench, the glow of fireflies lighting their paths across the lawn. Inside could wait.
"Imperfections" by Paloma Vogel - Del Valle
All you can talk about is all my Imperfections.
All the dirty thoughts of my brain
the grime and dust that you see on the outside.
This is all a facade.
This disguise I wear, charade I play.
The me inside that you have never seen
you cannot see.
You cannot see all the Imperfections that sit deep inside of me.
I will forever wear this mask
I will forever not let you see.
The judgement you see
let it not reign me.
"Changing Perceptions" by Noa Biener
The Nature of this Earth, is that all things come and go,
Though, between life and death, there is always time to grow
The minute we are born is our first view of the World,
But through our parents’ eyes, it is happiness for sure.
The first years of our life, we experience our firsts:
First step, first word, first mistake, first love,
First time we win or lose.
We’ve been the ones in the spotlight,
The ones who held our mothers tight
We’ve been the ones that won the game,
And lost the Best Friend from First Grade.
The older that we get, it gets tougher to decide,
Should I listen to my friends or my parents by my side?
Or when times get hard, and we can barely see the light,
We eventually remember to move on, perhaps to thrive.
We have been through all of school,
And we’ve all been very wild
Had our first obsession of our job,
First marriage and first child.
By the time we’re sixty-four,
We’ve about just seen it all
There are some things that we regret,
And some things, not at all!
We’ve ignored the people that treat us wrong,
And listened to the people that lift us up
We’ve all been through so much to know,
What is important and what is not.
As the days and nights go by,
We all look back and we just sigh
And we remember all that we have made,
To improve this World, in every way.
Through having fun and passing English sessions,
We learn to change our perceptions
And we will continue doing so,
‘Till the end of time, as far as we go.