Byron Writers Festival is thrilled to announce the winner and runners up for the Jesse Blackadder Student Writing Prize.
Celebrating creativity and imagination in young writers, The Jesse Blackadder Prize was created in 2020 in memory of Jesse Blackadder, much loved Board member, author and founder of Byron Writers Festival’s StoryBoard program.
Entrants were asked to write an original short story of 500 to 1000 words on any theme.
Here is the winner:
Annie Times – Junior Detective by Ella McIntyre
A blistering wind swept through the petite village of Philade. The hamlet-like village had two shops, one hotel, one fire station, and no hospitals.
A handful of houses were bundled together; all were the same. They all had maroon tiled roofs, an egg-yolk like crust paint & a crooked front gate. All houses, shops, hotels, and fire stations looked like this…except one. This house belonged to the O’ Cleirigh family. The house had stone walls, a dark and murky green roof, and a flaking violet gate and fence.
Our story takes place with a young girl called Annabella Times or Annie, aka ‘Times’. Her hair was curly and had a tone that fell between strawberry blonde and classic red. She had a crooked nose with a cherry red end. Big round fairy floss splotches fell on her cheeks. Her eyes were quite peculiar, as they were different colours. One was an icy blue, the other was a light chocolate brown. She had a voice like a croaking toad, as she hardly ever used it. She was quite tall and lanky and was able to reach the highest cabinet at Alluring Antiques (The local discount store).
Although Times was sweet and loyal, she had no friends. Was she okay with this? ABSOLUTELY. Annie Times was quite the lone wolf and got nervous during public speaking. So instead of riding horses, gossiping, shopping, and goodness know what else with the other girls, Times was like a library. She adored reading more than you love eating your favourite cake with cream every day. She had bought almost every book at O’Reilly’s Book Shop. She found every story fascinating and easy to read. Even if it was an infant’s book or a small biography about a British royal. Even though she knew practically every word in ‘Philade’s only dictionary’, she was not a very gifted kid at school. She was always an average or less student in maths, English, writing, and worst of all…reading. Her teacher was named Ms. Curry, who was recently divorced. She smoked cigarettes and often sent the smallest students to the staffroom to get a new wine bottle. She had wild grey hair with dust curled up in it. She had long lines on her caramel face.
This story started on a humid Wednesday, flies were getting stuck on everyone’s sweaty faces. Ms. Curry (Who usually talked about nothing interesting.) Suddenly caught Time’s attention. She was talking about a mystery in her slow, chalkboard voice she croaked ‘There is a family called the Jones. They had a large safe full of golden cups, rings, and necklaces. The youngest daughter called Arianna had been in the house, and so had the mother and cat. 10 am that day the stuff had been in the safe. At 10:02 the safe was empty. Only the golden cups were left. No matter what the police did, they could not crack the case and-.’ Ms. Curry sighed like a horse. ‘And that’s all.’
Times suddenly perked up. She had never been funny in her life. She didn’t even know if this was a joke. She took a deep breath, cleared her tickling throat, and squeaked ‘ Maybe the cat took the stuff. I mean they like round and shiny things.’
Ms Curry looked at Annie for the first time. Her eyes narrowed on her toad-like face.
‘No one’s ever thought of that.’
The next day news arrived that the Jones case had been solved – by a young schoolgirl of all things! Times was happier than she had ever been. Even though the news articles referred to her as ‘Anelly’, she was enjoying her newfound fame. Even though she hadn’t cared much for detective work before, it started to tickle her fancy. Every day when she walked down the main street people would jump out of the shadows to get her autograph. A handful of days later, the yellow phone rang in her house. She picked it up casually and spoke into it. ‘Hullo.’ A gruff voice spoke on the other end of the phone. ‘Are you Anata?
My name is Luth. I work at the detective agency. And we would like to hire you.’
Annie breathed loudly. Hire her? Didn’t he know she was only 14?
Her mind was buzzing like bees. Would she take it? What would it be like?
‘Grrr.’ Growled a voice on the other end. Times took this to mean to hurry up.
‘Ah. I-I gues-s,’ She stammered. Her heart was pounding like a galloping horse.
‘Good’ Breathed the other voice. Click. Annie put down the phone.
Soon Monday arrived. Times grabbed her blueberry bag and headed right, down the dirt dust road. She walked past alluring Antiques and O’Reilly’s Book Shop. She then arrived in the direction of the signpost. One arrow said Sesame pub/detectives, and all the others said ‘Somewhere.’ She headed in the direction of the detectives. To be honest, Times had never been down this road before. This neighbourhood was called Thana Ave, and it was the worst place in Philade. In the shadows, beggars asked for money, and if you gave them some they would follow you, begging for more. Dark three-level buildings hunched over the road. You could never buy any food from there, or you would get poisoned. As a lion-like dog approached her she gasped loudly, everyone around her looked at her, she wished they would not. She strode faster now, not wanting to draw unwanted attention.
Finally, she spied the crusty and flaking sign which read: Dona Detectives. She opened the hard wooden door. Inside she heard some soft mellow music. A large orange leather chair was in the corner, surrounded by stacked yellow files. A high-pitched voice came from behind a counter. ‘You’re Antelope, correct?’
‘Okay’ Squeaked Times
‘And you’re here to see Luth, correct?’
‘Okay’ Breathed Times
The mouse of a lady breathed in, and roared ‘STOP SAYING THAT!!!’
Anne gulped ‘O-O k-k ay.’
Below are the two runners up:
Far Far Away by Millie Bradley
The outback sky is streaked with pink and orange. The air is cool this late in the afternoon unlike the scorching midday temperature. I sit on the verandah holding Jasmine in one arm and Jacob in the other. I can’t believe it was only eight months ago Mum was giving birth to these two. I slowly rock them back and forth, so they sleep. They both look almost identical apart from Jasmine’s blonde fuzzy hair being in a tiny top knot.
Mum comes up our stone path, wiping away the sweat from her face. Her hair is a mess and her face and legs are streaked with dirt. She dusts her muddy hands off and looks up. “Hi” she says loudly. “Shh!” I shush Mum as Jacob stirs. She looks at me apologetically and walks up the steps. Jacob starts crying.
I lay on the couch with the twins on my lap giving them their bottles of milk. Mum’s cooking dinner and the smell of mushroom soup is wafting into the living room. Suddenly, Dad bursts in from a day at work. He builds houses for our growing community, and he is covered in sweat and dust from working. Both parents work from five am to seven pm. Mum on our farm in the scorching sun, and dad in the boiling heat building houses and carrying materials back and forth. Which leaves me with baby duty. I love the twins but I’d like to do other stuff as well like going to school. “Riley, can you put the twins to bed please?” Mum calls from the kitchen “…and Dave, go get yourself clean!”
I walk down the hallway to mum, dad and the baby’s room. The only furniture is a dusty crib, Mum and Dad’s bed and a chest of drawers. I lay them down in the crib and kiss them both on the head, then creep out the room.
When I come out, steaming hot mushroom soup is waiting for me. Mum and Dad are already spooning in mouthfuls. “How was the farm today?” I ask mum. “Good,” she replies, “all the animals are healthy, especially Ella.” Ella is mum’s horse and she adores her. “How was building?” I ask dad. “Good” he replies, “but someone got heat stroke and collapsed.” We all fall silent. I sometimes wish Dad didn’t have such a dangerous job but that’s life in the outback.
I lay in bed, not being able to fall asleep. I toss and turn and I finally drift off. We are in our house at Queens Bay, watching the news when a News Flash comes across the screen. “Breaking News. There’s been an outbreak of deadly firepox here in Queen’s Bay, transferred from infected livestock. Symptoms include reddish brown spots on your
skin, hot and cold flushes and double vision. So far 30 people have been hospitalised and many more are expected to follow. Symptoms come on rapidly, and people are being urged to quarantine immediately.” As he talks, a reddish brown spot appears on his forehead. He starts visibly sweating and the stream is cut. Mum looks scared and tells me to start packing my stuff. I suddenly wake up in a cold sweat, it’s my recurring dream, the same one I’ve had ever since we fled the fatal outbreak.
I hear Mum working outside on the farm, which means Dad’s left as well. I walk into the baby’s room and discover they’re awake. “Good morning,” I croon. Jasmine giggles. I pick them up and take them to the kitchen, wrestling them into their rough wooden highchairs that Dad made. I give them their bottles and they dig in. I smell a waft of my porridge and my mouth starts watering, I wait a couple of minutes til they clutch their pudgy hands around their own bottles, then I can eat. Suddenly a not so good smell comes up my nose. ‘Yuck, Jacob!” I exclaim.
After I clean up Jacob I decide to go for a walk. We amble along the hot track, pushing the wheelbarrow style pram Dad made towards the well. There’s a small tree there that can give us some shade. The well is our town’s only water source, to supply about forty people. Some old couples, some singles and a couple of families like ours. We reach the well and I lay down an old rug and put the babies on their tummies for tummy time. I get out my book and start reading.
Old Bill walks up with a bucket. “Howdy Riley” he says in his scratchy voice. “How ya goin?”
“Good” I reply. Old Bill started this community because of the outbreak. Him and his wife moved here first, and others followed once they realized it was safe. Old Bill lumbers off with his bucket. I suddenly see out of the corner of my eye something amazing “Jasmine you’re crawling!” I exclaim with joy. Jasmine is slowly crawling across the rug She collapses and I scoop her up “Jasmine, you clever girl!” I shout, I hold her up and kiss her little face. She giggles, proud of herself.
On the way back I am dancing around with excitement and I decide to find Mum and tell her. Then, something makes me stop dead. The animal enclosures are right next to our house and I see Mum sobbing, backing away from Ella – who is lying twitching on the ground. I feel confused but then…. I see it. The reddish brown spots all over her. I clutch the babies and run far, far, away.
The Stone Dead Garden by Mia-Rose Hampton
Unlike the others his skin was pristine and untouched, pale grey glazed against the silhouette of a man. Rose buds grew up against the still figure, foliage lacing a fence enclosing a dense forest arena, blood red roses scattered like seeds against the perimeter. Several more porcelain sentinels cracked and enclosed in dripping roses, a thorny scent smoking into the atmosphere. Branches reaching out with silenced birds engraved into their wood, dead silence dominating the usually musical forest. Duck weed filled ponds, murky and still. The sweet smell of roses drifting against the breeze, clouds above becoming gloomy and gravelly, small droplets attacking the area, the rain doing her devastating dance of depression. Cracking leaves breaking the repetitive pattern, a feline soaked as can be, seeking shelter from the storm, leaping over the white picket fence curling into a divot under a dead root rotting oak tree. Red flowers slithering, reaching out from a cluster like a dead man’s hand, suffocating the area around the tabby cat, now rough and stone, gripping against the newly turned garden statue, the satisfied garden prized its new possession.
Marching through a grimy, trash packed alley a fleabag Shepherd sniffing against the piles of putrid waste, shadows dancing against the stone walls, manipulating the dark blobs into monstrous figures, empty streets leading into the country.
“Dog”, a voice dragged out; ”Dog, are you there?” a cautious voice echoed. Dog ears lifted into the sky dragging his snout from a dirty fish bone, prancing into the arms of a young man, shaggy blonde hair reaching to his nose brushed aside to grant him vision, a loose almost mangled maroon tee clung to his figure, rough cargo pants, with an olive green cardigan leaping over his shoulders. Dog sniffed intrusively into the man’s hand, a white paper bag peaking his interest, sniffing into the parcel pulling out an old pig’s bone, digging his jaws into the harsh skeleton, ears flopping as he hunched on the cracking concrete trying to devour it, the man’s rigid hand reached out to pet the matted fur, slicking it back affectionately. Dog leaned into his hand, the bone clattering to the ground as he stuck his elongated tongue out slobbering over the man’s pants, “Hey buddy, c’mon let’s go” the man tapped his nose and started walking down a series of streets, Dog following closely behind him, not forgetting to pick his bone up beforehand, skipping along closely.
Forgotten missing people posters hung up on phone poles, constant ‘have you seen me’ flyers stuck up against post offices, Dogs eyes wandered as he walked by on the cracked cobble foot path, the man’s feet clicking, mocking the ghost town mountains of people used to reside in, everyone fleeing after the disappearances, investigations always ending up stone cold. The man stopped abruptly, Dog accidentally falling into his legs, they came to a stop at a tavern called Shelly’s, a quaint pub in the middle of the town. Dog clung to the man looking around the familiar area as they climbed the crumbled stairs into the eerie red brick building, entering the pub the man immediately got recognised, “Mickey! You got time to spare?”, a man said with a slight lisp, his dreads packed into a ponytail. The man, Mickey, winced and clenched his teeth muttering out an ‘I guess?’, the man fixing his hair grinned excessively, “Mickey, my star you’ve made my day!”, while gesturing wildly with his arms, looking down at the dog he continued “and your friend can stay too”.
Dogs tail thumped on the water stained wood behind the bench of the bar, an aluminium bowl standing beside him, while Mickey continued cleaning the same glass in a small white apron waiting for someone to leave or enter the pub, the same braindead intoxicated patrons staring at a TV screen that had been replaying the same footy match for three hours, the man in a ponytail returned from the back, “Righto Mick, you’ve done your duty get outta ‘ere”, catching Dogs attention, Mickey swiftly removed the cloth from his front and clicked in Dogs face catching his attention and running outside after receiving a cheque for his work. Dog and Mickey ran into the dense overgrown forest, Dog carrying a dead willow branch inside his mouth salivating against the firm wood. One of the most entrancing scents to ever exist wandered around making its way into dog’s nostrils pupils dilating so much you couldn’t see his iris, almost like a command it drew him in, moving his limbs as if he were a puppet in a children’s show moving along with such skill you could barely tell it were a mere stuffed doll, his nails dug under the soil frantically inhaling the rouge blossom far in the distance, marching forward into the horizon like an phantom. Mickey trembled in his skin as he caught a whiff of the blinding scent drifting against the flowing wind, step by step following Dog into his untimely end. Approaching closer to the picket fence drawn in by the intoxicating perfume, slipping over the pickets slammed into the ground Mickey jumping in first rose buds gliding around his calves digging the stems thorns into a thin cargo like texture creeping its venom into the bloodstream, a plastered stone figure emerging from the silhouette of what used to be Mickey, yelps from Dog emerging, slowly being wrapped from the paws up to his waist keeping him in place dogging into his mangy fur, like a Venus fly trap trapping its prey, the rose garden feasted with pride on its newly found objects, petals fluttering in glee as they rested into place producing more of that delectable pollen into its stone dead garden.
One of the student prize judges – Sarah Armstrong – said that she and the other judges, Karen Foxlee and Siboney Duff, were awed by the confidence, polish and originality of the shortlisted stories. The writers should feel hugely proud of their work.