The 2019 Byron Writers Festival Susie Warrick Young Writers Award attracted 61 entries across two youth categories: years 7-9 & 10-12. Young writers were asked to write a 1,000 word short story on any theme for their chance to win $500 and publishing opportunities with Byron Writers Festival. Congratulations to Niamh Montgomery and Gabrielle Hill-Smith, and to all the young writers who dared to share their stories. Read the two winning stories below.
Crayons by Niamh Montgomery (category 7-9)
Richmond River High School
Colours skittered across the paper, waxy lines creating a world. She hummed as she worked, tiny hands switching colours as need be. She was in her own world entirely- a world she could fashion to her liking, and she was doing exactly that.
As she drew she ignored the shouts from the room next door- they weren’t unusual and they would be gone soon anyway. On the page she drew smiling faces, the sun shining down kindly and grass drifting gently in the breeze. She smiled at her work. It was good, better than anything she had done before.
She counted the figures- one, two, three, four. Smiling parents, a happy brother and her. This time, she frowned at it. Something was missing. Picking up a black crayon, she drew ears, a wet nose, a happily wagging tail. Now it was perfect.
Her mother bustled into the room, breaking the serenity as effectively as a brick through a window. Washing basket balanced on her hip, she scowled down at her, hair tumbling out of a messy bun and creases between her eyebrows more pronounced than ever.
“What’re you drawing a dog for?” she said, moving the crayons aside to make way for the basket. “It’s never going to happen.”
The girl frowned at the paper, picking up the red crayon and hurriedly widening the smile on her mother’s face. Her mother sighed, a small one sneaking onto her real features.
“Just don’t make a mess, alright?”
She nodded, returning the red crayon to the floor. It’s work was done. As she did so she heard a quiet yapping from the doorway, and a puppy bounded into the room, shaking with excitement as it’s tail wagged and tongue flopped out of its mouth. She smiled at it, extending her arms towards it as it reached her. It licked her face and she giggled quietly.
“What’s a dog doing here?” said her father from the doorway. He creaked across the room, his clothes smelling stale and his breath rotten. “We’re not a zoo, we don’t keep animals. Get it out of here.”
Smiling patiently, she put the puppy down to her right, picking up the blue crayon this time. On the paper she extended her father’s arm towards the crayon dog’s head. The real dog bounced over to the real dad, wagging it’s tail excitedly and jumping up to lick his hand. Laughing, he petted it’s head gently, a smile of his own creeping onto his face.
“You know what? Keep the little thing.” he said, taking a beer from the fridge and leaving, chuckling to himself. Satisfied, she picked her crayon box up, returning all the crayons to their rightful places, perfectly in order. Through the wall she heard a bang and a yell as one of her brother’s possessions collided with the ceiling.
“That boy will be the death of me.” her mother said, re-entering the room to pick up the basket.
The girl frowned. Well, she couldn’t have that, could she?
Carefully, she pulled at the side of the paper, tearing the green crayon teenager out of the happy picture and tossing him into the open fire. The noise from the next room instantly ceased and she smiled, sliding the lid onto the crayon box. He wouldn’t be bothering them any more.
One Thousand Paper Cranes by Gabrielle Hill Smith (category 10-12)
Cape Byron Rudolph Steiner School
New Years Eve 2029, NYC.
It is said that the Crane lives for a thousand years. No one really knows where the story started, but that’s the case with all stories, is it not?
You remember Jiji telling folktales while she folded the origami cranes, her deft wrinkled fingers stroking the coloured paper as you watched, your arms folded under your head at her red kitchen table. You remember following the dancing patterns of the carpet with your eyes, the embroidered birds dipping and soaring, dancing to Jiji and Baba’s wartime music. You remember softly falling asleep curled up on the carpet, the warm homey smell of Jiji’s famous sukiyaki filled the room, Jiji and Baba’s bones creaking as they sway gently around the room.
Years later, it is New Year’s Eve in an unfamiliar city. It’s time for the countdown to 2030. Ten, nine, eight. Strangers’ laughter, their heady perfume and cologne fill the air around you. Lipstick marks champagne flutes. Someone has sparklers lit on the balcony, tiny galaxies in their hands, laughing like little children at a fair, giddy on happiness, liberated for just one night. Seven, six, five. The unfamiliar faces are haunted by the horrors of the last decade. After travelling the world for a year, a whole world lives inside of you. The air has seeped into your lungs, the harsh rays of the sun scar your skin. Man-made poisons live in your liver. Four, three, two . It’s only been a year since the disasters ended. Some say they are never going to end. Some say it is only the start. One . The fireworks go off on the widescreen behind you. More than one person flinches, the sound just too familiar. It hasn’t been long since the peace, yet the memories still have trouble fading.
You remember the aftermath of that first tsunami, how it destroyed your home country and
all you could do was sit and watch, sit and wait for news of Jiji, news of your family. You didn’t know it was the start of something much bigger. You were just a child then, still at school. Even though the tsunami was thousands of miles away from Australia you remember teaching your classmates how to fold the paper cranes. You were only 11, and yet you created a movement. The one thousand paper cranes need to be completed within the year for your wishes to come true, but your friends made several thousand in just a fortnight. The teachers strung them up around the hall, a sea of colour and wishes. Your Jiji phoned that night. Your mother was in tears, you weren’t old enough to understand if they were happy tears or not. As long as you are safe, as long as you are safe. She repeated into the phone. Your father made Jiji’s famous sukiyaki. It wasn’t as good, but you didn’t complain.
It’s morning. Dawn’s rosy fingers are climbing the skyscrapers of the city, it’s famous landmarks sunning themselves like lizards, the river twists its way through the city knocking on peoples doors reminding them of the flood marks that still stain their windows. The wheel starts turning. It’s morning, the first day of the new year, and the city shakes itself awake. Grief is a heavy burden to shake off. You are not ready to forget the shackles around your ankles but you are ready to start healing.
You tie up the last string with a red bead at the end. Red for fire. Red for strength. Red for bloodshed. You fill your bicycle basket up with 40 strings of cranes and cycle through the city. The dusty bullet-strewn streets glow in the early morning sunlight, and you smile. The cranes fly out of the basket, rainbow streamers caught up in the wind, and you are glad that you tied them down. The Vanderbilt gates of Central Park come into view. At least that is what your battered map says it is, 5th avenue. You don’t remember New York looking like this. There are others already at the gates, holding their own fragile paper wishes. You set to work in silence, helping each other tie every string onto the gates. There must be at least 15,000 cranes here. The gates soon become a mountain of colour, sea of wishes. Your fingers are numb and icy, like the crunchy, frozen skeletons of leaves from last autumn. As you lay down the last string, you remember the story of 12-year-old Sadako Sasaki. She died of radiation-sickness in 1955. It was only 75 years ago, but it feels like 1000. She never finished making her wish, never made the one thousand paper cranes. She died of leukaemia from the American poison seeping into her blood. Every year since the world has finished making her wish for her. All around the world, every year, she is immortalised into thousands of tiny paper cranes. At the peace park, on Obon, people leave their strings of cranes, their tiny paper wishes for Sadako, for themselves and their loved ones, but also for the world.
You remember being small, you remember your mother gripping your mittened-hand in the cold evening air waiting to lay out the paper cranes on the memorial. You wished for a bike that year. Your mother wished for Baba to get better. The old man who carefully arranged the cranes smiled at you, his eyes twinkling, the crinkles around them like rays of the sun. You remember what he told you now, as bitter snowflakes start to fall on the cranes, and the fragile paper crumbles under the weight of the first snowfall in over a decade. Let me tell you what I wished for, Kodomo, I wished for the world, I wish that my one thousand paper cranes will protect your world. The Crane lives for a thousand years, does he not? I hope that he protects us for a thousand more.