Govie Writing Awards - George Singleton Prize for Fiction Winners
The Govie Writing Awards is a state-wide contest for South Carolina students in grades 6-12, sponsored by the Creative Writing Department at the SC Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities. Fiction entry awards are named after the department's founding faculty member and author George Singleton. Read more about the Govie Writing Awards.
Congratulations to the following winners of the George Singleton Prize for Fiction!
Winner - High School Division
Her Dead Girl Comes on Rainy Nights
by Tatiana Fasnacht
There is no way to stop it. Can’t put on earmuffs and block out the knocking; it’ll just turn into pounding. Can’t lock the door; the deadbolt will slide undone anyway, because she has a key. Can’t nail boards over it; she’ll simply pry the wood away when the rainy night finally comes. Don’t recommend moving; Lucille’s already tried that. Her dead girl follows her, wherever she may hide.
Since nothing can protect her, all she does when the forecast calls for rain is put on Mary Poppins, listen to Julie Andrews sing about solving all of her problems with sugar, and sip on some hot chocolate. She’s given up on alcohol—that never helped her either. She settles into a cool leather armchair with a pastel-colored quilt much too small to effectively cover her. Cold follows her like guilt, but she refuses to buy a larger blanket.
After she finishes her drink, she just sits there, shivering, waiting for her dead girl to come. She thinks about her life; her past, and all the sins that brought her to this present. She has no future.
At 9:37, Lucille’s dead girl is finally at the door.
It still jars her to hear the hesitant knocks, five seconds of doubt and fear between each set. The first few nights, it seemed eerie, like the slow tapping of a scythe by a black-hooded figure. Like death coming to take her for what she’d caused. But now all she can hear in the sound is tragedy, and the specter who actually stands on the front porch is here to torture her with something much worse.
Lucille gets up slowly, her heart beating to the rhythm of her dead girl’s fist. She makes her way to the door, showing her age in the curve of her back and the unevenness of her stride. One veiny hand grasps the knob hard and turns it, the door swinging open to an evening of lightning, thunder, and pouring rain.
There, shaking in front of her, with wet clothes and watering eyes, is Lucille’s dead girl.
“Mom!” her dead girl says.
Lucille knows exactly how it happens. She can’t say anything to change it; her dead girl won’t hear her. It always happens the same way, no matter what she does to try and fix it.
Her dead girl starts toward her, like she’s going to hug her. Like she wants to wrap her arms around her and hold tight and never let go. Lucille wants this as well, but her dead girl knows better. Her dead girl remembers how it really happened, and she pulls herself back.
“Mom,” she says again, her voice softer, more pleading. “I want to come home.”
Lucille wants so badly to let her in. She wants so badly to tuck her dead girl into bed and kiss her on the forehead and wake up tomorrow and have her still be there. She wants her dead girl to come home, too. But she didn’t want that on the night this actually happened, so she cannot have it now.
She recalls what she said at this point in their conversation: “I can’t support this behavior. You can keep on staying at your dad’s house until this phase is over.”
“It’s not a—” her dead girl starts, but she reels the rest of her defense back in. Lucille will never get the chance to hear what she would’ve said. Her dead girl simply hangs her head. “I miss you,” she says pitifully.
Lucille watches her dead girl cry. I know, she wants to say. I miss you, too. But instead, she stays silent. She knows if she has to watch the words go right through her one more time, get beat by the rain and drown in the puddles, she might finally break. So, she just chokes down the sobs until her dead girl turns away.
This is the worst part. Can’t shut the door, even now that she’s gone; it won’t budge. Can’t close her eyes; they’re forced open by the horror that is coming. Can’t run out to stop her; she’ll only continue walking. Walking down the steps, across the yard. Walking blindly through the rain, into the street.
Thunder drowns out the tires, and lightning mixes with the approaching headlights. The only things able to pierce through the storm are a sudden, blaring horn and a gut-wrenching thump.
Lucille watches her dead girl die. Her dead girl who used to love Mary Poppins and sang “Spoonful of Sugar” to herself every morning while she got ready for school. Who made hot chocolate on the evenings when she had a lot of homework. Who outgrew her first baby blanket but still let it sit on her bed while she slept.
Her dead girl who loved other girls. Who was honest with Lucille and asked for her acceptance. But for some reason, that simple confession made her angry enough to shut her daughter out of the house. And that led to all of this.
Lucille’s dead girl died many years ago on a rainy night, but she has had to watch her die again every rainy night since, and she will watch her die on all the rainy nights ahead, until she dies too.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tatiana Fasnacht lives in Summerville, South Carolina, where she is a freshman and member of the cross-country team at Summerville High School. She has three wacko cats and loves to hang out with her friends. Tatiana enjoys becoming invested in overarching storylines through books, movies or TV shows, music, and musical theater. Her favorite author is Jennifer A. Nielsen. Tatiana writes as an outlet for her emotions as well as a way to escape reality. It’s most important to her that she is proud of what she writes. Tatiana gives credit to her English teacher Angel Tucker.
Winner - Middle School Division
by Gabrielle Anderson
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for future”
-John F. Kennedy
“You will be meeting with Bailey’s son today,” Mrs. Reynolds spoke, her tone leaving no
room for argument. Resisting the urge to snort in disgust, Jillian kept her attention on her food, not asking the question that was on the tip of her tongue. It was early, and she was stressed with work, there was no reason to ask pointless questions. Her father did not share the same sentiment.
“Why are we making her do this?” he asked, looking directly at his wife, practically
demanding an answer. Anybody who didn’t know the personal details of the Reynolds family would assume that Mr. Reynolds was simply standing up for his daughter. They would be wrong. Mr. Reynolds was challenging his wife, not because he wanted to help his daughter, but because he got sadistic joy from angering Mrs. Reynolds. And he did so at every opportunity. Infidelity, staying out at all hours, being unprofessional at important functions, anything that could rile up Mrs. Reynolds, he made sure to do. However, in their twenty years of marriage, she’d grown accustomed to not giving him his way. Today was no different. The only clue that she might be annoyed was the sigh that only a trained eye could catch.
“Because of your behavior at the charity ball, we’ve had to amend relations with almost
every prominent family in this business,” a pause to let the accusation sink in, “the Baileys are the only family we haven’t made up with.” It was a simple sentence that carried power. It solidified Mrs. Reynolds’ position as head of the house.
“What time?” Jillian asked, hoping to cut some tension. The room was filled to the brim with unspoken malicious words and threats that could easily be followed through.
“The car will be here at three,” was the response she received. The rest of breakfast was
taken in silence.
To be quite honest, Jillian had no interest in fraternizing with the Bailey boy. In her mind,
she shouldn’t be the one inside Bailey’s foyer at all, as she had acted perfectly respectable at the charity ball. It was her father that decided to act like a petulant child. However, she knew why she was here, and she was willing to do whatever needed to be done to uphold her family's reputation. Her thoughts were interrupted by the quick click-clack sounds of heels on the tile. Looking up, she was greeted by the face of the eldest Bailey child. Veronica Bailey, twenty-two and a force to be reckoned with. She took over her mother’s spot in the family business when she died, and now that her father had fallen ill, she’d taken some of his responsibilities as well. If Jillian had to talk to anybody in this family, then she’d want it to be her. But alas, she was forced to act civil to her younger brother, Curtis.
“Jillian, I’m so happy that you accepted my brother’s invitation,” she spoke, a diplomatic
smile gracing her features. She had the same piercing blue eyes as everyone else in her family; one look held more words than a picture.
“And I was just as happy to receive it,” she spoke, the smile she was taught to always
wear proudly out.
“Curtis is downstairs in the den. I have a maid waiting to take you to him,” she responded, turning on her heel and returning to what Jillian assumed to be her study. The maid
that delivered her downstairs had a look of pure terror on her face, so scared Jillian almost asked her if she’d seen a ghost. With the way the Bailey house was decorated, it was extremely possible.
“Here is Mr. Curtis, miss,” she said, and scurried away. When Jillian turned around, she
could see why. There was Curtis, on the floor, trying with all his might to keep a door closed. A door that very clearly had something incredibly angry lurking behind it. Dear god, Jillian thought, please don’t let me have to bury a body today. Looking at the terrified face of Curtis Bailey, she went against her better judgment and started moving furniture to push against the door.
“A child?” she asked again, and again he responded,
“Curtis Bailey, do you mean to tell me that I just helped you trap a child in a room that it
very clearly does not want to be in?”
“Yes,” he responded, eyes grey instead of the normal blue, face pale, sweat at his
temples. He’d been at this for a while. She waited patiently for an explanation, one pair of eyes never straying from the other until finally, he caved. “My family is eccentric, you know this?” he spoke, more of a question than a statement. As if for good measure, the “child” resumed its pounding at the now barricaded door. She simply nodded her head.
“To remain in good standing with certain families, we do certain tasks,” he said, feeling
comfortable enough to walk around the room.
“I will explain after you help me with something,”
“I’m not killing that child,” she said. The pounding had started to slow a few minutes ago, but now, it had completely stopped.
“We don’t do the killing,” he said, before giving her instructions.
Four hours later, Curtis and Jillian were driving back to the Bailey house, in silence and
shock. Eventually, curiosity took over, and Jillian asked the question that had been burning in her throat for the last few hours.
“Why are they going to kill the kid?” “they” being the Alston family, a friend of the Baileys and the Reynolds. Curtis simply shrugged his shoulders, as if he didn’t care.
“They don’t tell us that, all we have do is drop it off and take the money,”
“The blood money,” she responded. It wasn’t often that she made her morals so clear, however, the situation seemed to call for it. Curtis simply scoffed.
“My family has to keep its power in some way,” he spoke, pulling in. On the doorstep stood Veronica, head held high, and Jillian saw a glint in her eye that wasn’t there before. Her brother had it too.
“I thought you were driving me home?” she questioned, she had no interest in becoming another child killed for money.
“I will. I just need to discuss something with Veronica first,” he said. Their conversation seemed to be one of the faux niceties, poorly disguised to hide the true nature of it. Urgently and aggressively, Curtis handed his sister an envelope before walking back to the car door and starting his drive to Reynolds’ home.
When he offered to come in, to give Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds an explanation for why their child was home so late, Jillian declined. She didn’t want him in her house, talking to her parents, finding out what rooms he might want to stuff her in.
“Are you sure?” he asked, smiling as if he didn’t just deliver a child to their death. As if she didn’t help.
“Yes, I am sure,” she said and exited the car. When entering the house, she was welcomed by the sight of her parents reading by the fireplace. As they heard the door close, their attention fixed on their daughter. Jillian simply smiled before saying she was going to bed.
“Jillian?” Mrs. Reynolds called after her daughter’s retreating figure.
“Yes, mother?” She didn’t turn around, not wanting to lose her momentum.
“Your half of the payment, it’s on the table,” she responded.
“Payment? For what?” her father merely chuckled.
“For helping deliver the child of course.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabrielle Anderson lives in North Augusta, South Carolina and is an eighth-grader at Paul Knox Middle
School. She began writing five years ago and it has become her main creative outlet. Her favorite genres
are mystery and thriller, and Mary Downing Hahn was one of her first inspirations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabrielle Anderson lives in North Augusta, South Carolina and is an eighth-grader at Paul Knox Middle
School. She began writing five years ago and it has become her main creative outlet. Her favorite genres
are mystery and thriller, and Mary Downing Hahn was one of her first inspirations.
- Dana Caldwell - High School Division
Blood Like Rubies
Nyx watched from the tower window, keeping her face obscured in the shadow of the dark red curtains. She tucked a strand of shiny raven hair behind her ear, her honey-gold eyes locked on the man who wove his way through the crowded fairground, his hat bobbing in the sea of brightly dressed people.
Like a bottle thrown from a sinking ship, the man bore a plea for help, for mercy. You could almost smell the desperation. Everyone at the carnival was there for the same reason- the lights, the colors, and the thrill of the extraordinary. Only he was there for another reason. Her.
She drew away from the window. He was almost at the base of her tower, and she needed to be prepared. There was only one way this night could end.
Nyx rubbed the bracelet that was fastened around her wrist. Little amethyst jewels hung between obsidian beads. One might assume that it came from a trinket shop on these very fairgrounds. It could certainly be worn as one, but if you were a witch like Nyx, the bracelet would take away what you need most of all-- your magic.
He had been the one to put it there, nearly a year ago. She had won his war and he had rewarded her with this, a candlelit tower draped in red and gold silks. Some would call it beautiful, but they were nothing more than fools who could only see the facade of riches that cloaked its true nature as a cage.
Nyx’s heavy silk skirts swished as she strode across the room to the shelf where a thin box made of pounded gold sat. It was her one true treasure. Much like the tower itself, it wasn’t the glory of the gold that gave it worth but what hid within. She lifted the lid. A silver dagger lay on the velvet interior.
It’s him or me, she thought, brushing her fingers across the cold metal. She wouldn’t fail. Again.
A sharp rap came at the door.
“Lord Ryker.” Nyx shut the lid with a snap. She turned to face the man who stood in her doorway holding a bouquet of roses. Calling a smile to her face, she asked, “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Not Lord anymore,” Ryker corrected, hanging his hat on an empty candelabra. Without Nyx could see the ruby-studded crown that sat on his silky brown hair. Nyx bristled at the reminder of what she had done.
“How could I forget,” Nyx remarked, clasping her hands behind her back. “In the wake of a war, a new king must rise.” She kept her tone neutral and her face a placid mask. He needn’t know what was coming. Not yet.
“And it’s all thanks to you.”
Her blood boiled at the words. She had done this. She had put Ryker on the throne and for a good reason. It was all so that she could reach this moment, this night, this chance. She could not fail.
“What do you want from me?” Nyx asked. “I fulfilled my end of the bargain; what more could you require?”
“Can I not come to see my favorite witch?” Ryker asked. His smile did not fool Nyx. How many witches had he killed by the command of his father? How many more would he kill now that he was king?
Despite this, she laughed, sitting down on one side of the circular table. An ornate chessboard with ivory carved pieces sat on a crimson tablecloth.
“What good is a witch without her magic?” Nyx held up her hand, showing off the delicate shackle.
“Very well,” Ryker amended. “I came to give you a gift.” He held out the roses.
“Careful,” Nyx warned. “I may have a habit of being nice, but give me flowers and I’ll turn into the demon of your nightmares.”
“You’re already made of nightmares,” Ryker replied, setting the flowers down on the table. “There’s nothing that I could do to change it.” Nyx smirked. You have no idea.
“As much as I love your gift, we both know that there is another reason for your visit.”
“Is it so hard to assume that I have pure motives?” Ryker asked, hanging his coat on the back of his chair. She could now see the sword that hung from his waist. A silver hilt was shaped like a dragon with fiery, ruby eyes. It was the sword of a king.
“That is not your way,” Nyx replied.
Ryker’s guise of friendliness fell.
“My kingdom suffers,” Ryker replied, taking a seat across from her.
“I know,” Nyx said. She had heard much of Lynea’s suffering in the wake of Ryker’s war. The fighting had lasted many years, and the presumed peace had led to the destruction of Lynea’s farmlands. The kingdom would need a miracle to survive the coming winter.
A miracle, Nyx mused, watching Ryker. Or magic. Coming to her for help would break Lynea’s most sacred laws, but she knew that Ryker would do it just as he had five years ago.
“Let’s play a game, shall we?” Nyx suggested gesturing to the chessboard before them.
“I suppose,” Ryker agreed. He moved his first piece, a pawn. “Your move.”
“Tell me,” Nyx began, advancing with a knight. “What do you expect me to do to save Lynea?”
“The crops are destroyed,” Ryker explained. “You can bring them back to life.”
Nyx laughed. The pair exchanged quick moves, their pieces clacking against the chessboard. “I’m a witch, not a necromancer,” she said, taking his pawn. Ryker raised his eyebrow.
“All of your tricks, yet the bonds of life and death still hold power over you?”
“There are some things that even I can not be free of,” Nyx replied. She nodded at the pieces before them. “Your move.”
“So there is nothing you can do for me?” Ryker asked as he moved another pawn. Nyx studied the board. He was keeping his pieces close, surrounding his ivory-carved king.
“I didn’t say that,” Nyx said casually, making her move. “I can save your kingdom, but I cannot do it for nothing.” She moved a bishop in the way of Ryker’s king. “Check.”
“Of course not.” Ryker propped his chin against his locked fingers. “You never give anything away for free.” He used a pawn to take her bishop. “What’s your price?”
“Do you see them out there?” Nyx asked. Abandoning Ryker and the game, she strode to the window. Below, the crowd thrummed with life. Nyx could see the wide-eyed thrill that entranced the patrons, always turning them into children, no matter how aged their bodies might be.
“What about them?” Ryker asked, bored.
“Alive.” Nyx pressed her hand against the chill window pane. How long had it been since she felt what they did? Weightless, intoxicating freedom that could only be defined as the pure freeness of life. “They are like birds,” she continued, her eyes growing vacant. “They can go wherever they wish and do whatever they want to do.”
“Yet they come in crowds like cattle,” Ryker said, joining Nyx at the window. A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.
“They come for the promise of something extraordinary,” Nyx replied. “Within these grounds, they can see myth and magic come to life.”
“A charming sentiment, I’m sure,” Ryker said in a clipped tone. “What does this have to do with Lynea?”
“Everything,” Nyx replied. “Once more you come to my door and ask the world of me. Last time, I gave it to you. This time, I will require something in return.”
“Name your price,” Ryker demanded. Whatever diplomacy or kindness he had brought with him had dissipated like the smoke from a blown out candle.
“I want that which men die for,” Nyx replied. “I want my freedom.”
Ryker laughed. “No,” he said, shaking his head, a dumbfounded sort of half-smile on his face.
“Then we have no deal.” Nyx crossed her arms across her chest.
“I can make things very bad for you, Nyx,” Ryker warned, humorless once more as he tapped his finger on the hilt of his sword. “I was the one who put you here in the beginning.”
“As if I could forget,” Nyx snapped. “I helped you and you threw me in a prison.”
“Believe me, this is far from a prison.”
“It’s no palace,” Nyx replied. A dangerous edge slipped into her tone. “Although, I won’t have to tell you what it feels like to have all the comforts of nobility stripped away?” Ryker’s stony glare met hers. “Lynea will die, and you will be no better than an old hunting dog unable to sniff,” Nyx reminded him. “Unless you give me what I want, I will not raise a finger to stop it.”
“You will pay for this,” Ryker snatched her hand and gracelessly tore off the bracelet. Nyx touched her wrist. Her pale skin was marked with an angry red line where the cursed beads had touched it. Her wrist still burned, but the pain was nothing compared to the rush she felt having her magic returned to her. She was free.
“Now save Lynea,” Ryker demanded.
“I don’t think so,” Nyx replied. She could feel the magic flowing through her veins once more. The sweet liberty of power kept fear from entering her as Ryker turned on her.
“I said what you wanted to hear,” Nyx interrupted. “If I were to save Lynea, I would not have hired those men to destroy the crops.”
Ryker froze. “You did what?” He breathed, rage brewing in his eyes.
“I needed you to come to me,” Nyx shrugged.
“So you tried to kill my kingdom?” Ryker’s voice shook with fury.
“It was a means to an end.”
“What end is that?”
“I’m made of nightmares,” Nyx replied. “Nightmares that can become your fate.”
The words had barely left Nyx’s mouth before Ryker’s blade was drawn.
“Take a step closer and I’ll run you through,” he warned.
Nyx smiled at the blade. How flashy and brave it made him seem. The weapon was a true beauty; what a pity that it was always placed in the hands of a fool.
“That cannot stop me,” Nyx reminded him. With a wave of her hand, the blade launched itself from Ryker’s hand and into the wall. “That blade didn’t save your father,” Nyx said as Ryker rushed to pull his sword free. “And it won’t save you.”
Another flick of her fingers sent Ryker flying across the room. He slammed into the wall and crashed onto the floor, his ruby-set crown clattering to the ground beside him. Blood trickled from a cut on his forehead.
“You,” he growled, understanding what she had said. Ryker jabbed an accusing finger at her. “You killed my father.”
“Yes.” The admission of guilt brought a fresh smile to her face.
“You’ve made many mistakes,” she told him, calmly selecting the dagger from its golden box. “It’s like the game of chess we played,” she continued. Ryker struggled to his feet, his eyes wide at the sight of her blade.
“You spend so much time protecting your king,” she said, snatching Ryker’s king from the board and turning the ivory piece over in her hand. “You forget to advance and remove the danger.” Nyx let the piece fall to the floor. “It seems that this is checkmate for you.”
“Wait!” Ryker cried, desperately holding up his hand. “I can give you whatever it is that you want.”
“You can, can you?” Nyx kicked him in the chest, knocking him to the floor. She knelt beside him and pressed her dagger to his throat. “Can you bring my sister back from the dead?” she asked.
Ryker stared at her blankly. “Your sister?” he asked.
“Yes,” Nyx snapped. “You killed her.” Nyx shook her head. “You don’t even remember her, do you?” Ryker didn’t answer. “What about my mother and father? Do you remember them? Do you?” Nyx snapped, digging the blade into his skin. Blood beaded from the cut on Ryker’s neck and dripped down the blade, falling to the floor like the rubies that glittered on Ryker’s fallen crown.
“No, alright!” Ryker shouted. Nyx pulled the blade away.
Of course he didn’t remember. To him, her family was nothing but witches to add to the pyre so that the fires could cleanse the lands of their wicked magic. The same magic that Ryker went crawling to at the first sign of trouble.
“My king,” the words dripped like poison from Nyx’s tongue. “You shouldn't have come here.” She laughed, giddy with vengeance. “I’ve waited so long for this moment,” she said breathlessly. “Finally, I will have my revenge.”
“Then do it,” Ryker challenged. “Kill me and finish this.”
Nyx’s smile was as sweet as belladonna. “My king,” she said again. “Nothing would give me greater pleasure.”
Nyx drove the dagger into his knee, pinning him to the floor. Ryker screamed, gripping his knee. She smirked as she climbed to her feet. Physical pain was temporary and not nearly revenge enough, but that didn’t make it any less fun.
“Just kill me,” he screamed.
Nyx shook her head. “No.” She picked up the crown and examined it in the flickering
“It’s like I said,” she began, turning the crown over in her hands. “In the wake of a war, a
new ruler must rise.”
“No...” Ryker’s face twisted in pain.
“I’m not going to kill you, Ryker,” she said, her voice calm as death. “That would be too kind. I’m going to keep you alive so that you can watch as I tear Lynea down piece by piece.”
“No,” Ryker grimaced as he pulled against the dagger.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” Nyx grinned. “Lynea will fall and you will be forever remembered as the king who let it happen. When the dust settles you will gaze upon the ruins of your kingdom, and then I will kill you and watch as you are laid in a peasant’s grave.” She laughed. In Ryker’s eyes, she could see the nightmare come to life.
“Checkmate, Ryker,” Nyx said, placing the crown on her own head. “I win.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dana A. Caldwell is a homeschooled student of Lara Caldwell and lives in Gray Court, South Carolina. For the past four years, she has been writing a high fantasy novel that is nearing completion. Since writing is her number one passion, she will be pursuing a degree in creative writing through Liberty University and plans to have a career as an author. In her spare time, she enjoys theatre, writing, and all things fantasy.
- Maya Sinclair - High School Division
Only some of the bottles of feelings and memories in her small cottage in the woods were hers. Others came from the desperate — people who wanted to forget bad news or a memory from the Geode War — or the reverse: people brimming with fond memories they wanted to hold forever physically, if not mentally. She hardly kept any of those memories. Most people who had them for her to bottle, rare as they were in the first place, wanted to keep them to themselves, understandably enough. Wanting to keep the joy around at all times and wanting to have as powerful a good luck charm as a bottled treasured memory were reasonable.
It was sort of demoralizing, though. Her workspace was almost entirely breakups and spells gone wrong. It was at least better than the days when she’d first started out. Bottling these feelings and memories wasn’t easy to begin with, and the inexperienced witch could very easily muck it up and risk doing unspeakable damage to their client.
Not her, though. Not after all these years. She had practiced magic and practiced hands. It also helped to have her own luck charms — not cherished memories — hung in all four corners of her workroom, a cozy but admittedly cluttered space. Maybe she’d prefer a neater work area, but running a magical business on the outskirts of the nearby kingdom didn’t mesh well with minimalism. She had all sorts of alchemical supplies and notebooks scattered around, and —
And a bell attached to her front door that was ringing. It meant somebody was there, looking for her business or the bounty for her capture — dead or alive, the melodramatic posters read. Well, no time to consider picking up now, not that she would have anyway. She adjusted the cape hanging over her ratty dark purple dress, held together by pure will and some clever housework charms, and opened the door.
Unsurprisingly, her aspiring capturer or patron was a knight. Knights tended to have rather dramatic things they wanted to forget and rather dramatic things they wanted to keep with them forever, and knights tended to do the monarchy’s dirty work of hunting down rogues and cleaning up other people’s messes. She wondered whether she was meant to make the first move here or her guest was. She decided she could always make the first move later, but couldn’t unmake it once it had already been made, so she just held the door open without needing to even touch it.
The knight took off a metal helmet that looked impressively scuffed and heavy, revealing blond hair tied up in a bun and currently afflicted with a bad case of helmet head. The guest’s brown eyes were wide; she looked like she was watching the world spin and dance and was confused as to why the witch couldn’t see it too. Instantly the situation seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. The witch bit her bottom lip.
“I came as soon as I heard,” the knight said, looking dubiously around at the candles that were the only source of light in the house and the self-indulgently large collection of inks and ribbons. (If one was to have a grimoire, one had better at least decorate it well.)
“Heard what exactly?” The witch didn’t move, which seemed to unnerve the knight.
“That you take people’s memories! Just for a while, if they want, so they can figure out how to deal with them and then come back to the memories themselves, and permanently other times if that’s best.”
Maybe it had been the collection of bottles and jars in the obviously-visible workroom the knight had been looking at with poorly-disguised interest. “Really, I specialize more in feelings, but yes, I also do memories.”
The knight didn’t say a word, though she looked like she had several brimming just below the surface.
“Memories are such a fuzzy business, you know,” the witch elaborated. “Try to get rid of having seen a crime to cover it up, end up removing the person’s recollection of their little sister. Not that I cover up crimes. Or remove people’s recollections of their little sisters. I much prefer taking away a grudge or some self-loathing. It’s more…simple. Less economical considering the process involved, though.”
“Less economical? I’m sorry, but do you do this regularly these days or not?”
“I do it, yes. Regularly? Not so much.” The witch’s cape shifted as she scratched the back of her neck. It was true, if not promising — her last client had been maybe the baker six or seven months ago, who’d wanted to be sure to remember his children for as long as he lived. (She’d been happy to work that case — the baker had seemed so charming.) Mostly she made a living off of taking trips to the nearest marketplace every few weeks to sell potions and charms. Less exciting than working with the mind, less lucrative, definitely, but also less likely to destroy a person’s sense of self.
The knight’s eyes bounced around, almost like they were performing a complicated dance at five times its traditional speed. “Then I presume you can help with a problem I have.”
There were many possible responses to that. The witch selected the one least likely to get her furniture ripped apart by the sheathed sword at the knight’s side. “Well, I’m happy to, but that honestly depends on the problem if you don’t mind my prying…”
They had reached a point in the conversation where the witch decided it was acceptable to invite her guest inside, out of the midwinter chill and snow. It wasn’t long before both were in the workroom, curtains drawn over the windows. The knight looked around again, seeming like a frazzled animal on the verge of bolting. “I’d prefer this to stay between us. Exactly how secure is this room?”
“The curtains are enchanted to keep people from spying and eavesdropping,” the witch explained, her feeling of unease becoming ten times heavier. “Or not people so much, but fairies and sprites and pixies. They love playing tricks on humans. Come to think of it, some humans love playing tricks on humans…I’m not helping, am I?”
The knight emphatically shook her head no, absolutely not.
“We’re not likely to be overheard! Have you seen the garden in my backyard? It’s very insulating against spies,” the witch, exasperated, went on, taking a seat across from where her visitor stood. “Most of them never make it past the enchanted hedge fence, so I’d bet my finest spells that nobody but me is here to hear about your predicament.”
The knight shifted in her seat like it was a prison cell she was trying to escape. “Speaking of…okay, let’s say somebody is dealing with an impenetrable city.”
She didn’t elaborate. The witch shifted in her own seat - had it been this uncomfortable before? Finally, she looked back at her guest. “…An impenetrable city. Is that even possible? Surely it’s at least a little bit penetrable.”
“You bottle memories and feelings for a living and you want to know if something’s possible.”
“Recently, it’s not strictly for a living, and, yes, I do want to know if it’s possible.”
Across the table, the knight had an expression like she’d been confined to a pocket dimension where everything was very slowly constricting. “If it’s not impenetrable, the people there do an admirable job of making the outside world believe it is. It’s at least very…very…heavily guarded.”
Again, the witch had to do all the work of figuring things out. “You say that like ‘heavily guarded’ is code for something else.”
“It might as well be! It’s…it’s my father. He used to be in the knight guard like I am, but the people there took him during a raid even though he hasn’t been a knight for ages! They’re passing it off as some ‘war prisoner’ situation too, from what I’ve heard - almost three decades after the actual Geode War. I have to help him, but I’ve been holding out hope there’s a way out of the…fee. It’s not a ticket or money they want in exchange for entering - it’s memories.”
The way the knight looked at the witch very clearly said what she hadn’t: that this hermit who worked magic in the forest was her way out. It made the witch feel very uneasy. She bit her bottom lip. “I’m presuming that’s where I come in.”
After a pause just brief enough to be noticeable, the knight nodded and sat down, hands folded on her lap and her knee bouncing up and down in its armor. “If you could make some copies of the memories they’ll take, they won’t be gone forever. I’ve heard it’s even possible to get them back later, once they’re bottled up. The only reason I didn’t come sooner is that you do a good job of keeping underground - I only heard about any of this about a week or two ago, and traveling through the mountains in the middle of winter usually takes twice that time.”
“You got through the nearby mountain range in two weeks this time of year? That’s…a feat.” The witch’s flattery, though it’d been genuine, didn’t seem to be doing very much. She sighed. “As for the memories, yes, getting them back is possible. Not easy, so a surprising number of people don’t want to…but possible.” The witch leaned against the back of her chair, considering the possibility that none of this was actually happening in the real world. “Are you sure you want to do this just for one person, though? You seem very close with your father, but would he even want you to take this risk for him?”
“Considering everything - for example, rumors, letters, and relics - found recently that suggests there’s something much deeper going on, it’s hardly just for one person. You don’t lock a place down that securely unless you have something to hide or something to protect, and even if it’s the latter, that begs more questions than it answers.” The knight’s knee bounced up and down even faster. The witch flinched at the noise of armor clattering around on itself. “I suppose I’ll go and stay for a few days and try to poke around without getting killed…on top of attempting a search and rescue mission.” She’d been doing a fine job at faking levity until the word “killed.” After a few minutes of the witch feeling supremely awkward and wondering how to respond to that, the knight’s fidgeting halted and she stared at her hands, now curled into fists on her lap. “I need you to understand that I at least am doing this, but you don’t have to help if you don’t want to.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to?”
Maybe that had been the wrong thing to say, because now the knight was looking up again with that stupid cautiously hopeful expression on her face and the witch hated it. Her prospective client was probably an awful liar; she seemed absolutely unable to wear her heart anywhere but her sleeve. “So, you’ll help me?”
The witch sighed, but couldn’t keep a small grin off of her own face. Maybe that meant she was probably an awful liar too. “Yes, I will help you. I’ll probably come to regret it, but I’ll do it.”
She had been bracing herself for the knight’s face to light up with obvious relief and excitement, but what actually happened was more unsettling. The knight frowned slightly, shifting in her seat. “So where do we go from here? What exactly do you need to…know, or do?”
The witch was almost thankful for the knock at the door, because she didn’t know where to start.
She scratched the back of her neck and smoothed out her cape. “Give me a moment, I have to see who this is.” Her stomach turned at the idea it was one of the people here for that bounty, not her business.
That, at least, wouldn’t have taken her by the surprise the truth did. Standing there in the doorway, looking like he had been to the underworld and back several times over, was the baker whose memories of his family she’d bottled months ago. She blinked a few times and managed to collect herself. “It’s good to see you, sir. Is there...is there something you need?” She shuffled a few steps over so that hopefully, the baker wouldn’t see the knight and ask questions she and her guest weren’t prepared to answer.
The baker took off the wool hat he was wearing, which also looked like it had been through an ordeal, and wrung it in his hands - they were covered in dirt and not flour as they had been the last times they’d met. “That’s one way of putting it. Is there any way you could return the memories you preserved?”
“Yes, actually, but is it possible for you to come back later? I’m with…someone else at the moment, and I don’t believe the two of us have a whole lot of time to spare.” The last emotion the witch had been expecting to feel today was relief, but here it was, seeming to take over her life.
“I can assure you my situation requires attention as immediately as you can give it,” the baker replied gently, taking an unwanted step into the cabin.
The witch, stealing a glimpse of the knight, could not believe her eyes or ears. The knight’s grip on her helmet faltered as she stared in awe at the baker. Her bottom lip trembled.
“I’ve…I’ve been so worried. Dad?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mya Sinclair is a freshman homeschooled student of Amy Sinclair who lives with her family of four in Piedmont, South Carolina. For as long as she can remember, she has been deeply connected to writing. She taught herself to read at four years old and began reimagining and rewriting classic stories at five. Since then, Mya has developed interest in genres from fantasy and sci-fi to free verse poetry. Mya has moderated a panel at Read Up, Greenville and been published in poetry journals. Mya volunteers with her Girl Scouts troop, works as a dog walker, and enjoys drawing and learning to play guitar.
- Enyonam Toklo - Middle School Division
Sitting in a tall office chair, Estella was having a rotten day. She had gotten herself kicked out of Mr. Avery’s class. He was rambling about the Declaration of Independence, losing all of Estella’s attention, until he said that one quote. Estella had only explained to Mr. Avery, that if Thomas Jefferson was so smart, why didn’t he say all men and women were created equal? Look where that remark got her. Inside the principal's office, for the fifth time this week. Mrs. Dunmore's office had become her second home, since she started at Hamilton Academy. A school where children whose parents are busy people make them attend. Until Mrs. Dunmore finished her meeting, Estella sat in front of the principal's desk waiting. Estella never got in serious trouble. She just sometimes made her teachers so aggravated, because she always finished her work early, and asked for more. Mr. Avery usually got used to her advanced brain. Every class, he would sit Estella in front of a dictionary, while her classmates struggled to pronounce simple third grade words. According to her peers, she was weird. Instead of playing on the cool playground, she read silently on the grass. Instead of eating like a normal kid, she had to wash her hands three times, and separate all her food based on food groups. Just as Estella’s stomach started rumbling, Mrs. Dunmore stepped out of the meeting room, and she did not look pleased to see her.
Mrs. Dunmore was one of those poise middle aged principals. If the wicked witch of the west had a sister, she would look exactly like Mrs. Dunmore. Unlike Estella’s curly dark brown mop for hair. Mrs. Dunmore's ink black hair was in a neat bob, not one strand out of place. If you looked at Estella and Mrs. Dunmore you would think they were related, but if you looked closer you could see the huge differences. Estella’s eyes were amber, while Mrs. Dunmore’s were brown. They both had the same olive skin, but Estella was much tanner. Mrs. Dunmore wore business clothes that matched her black diamond rimmed cat-eye glasses. She sat with her legs crossed and chin up, like she was expecting a fight. “Estella you're not a troublemaker, you just have high demands of learning that teachers cannot provide for you at this grade level.” Mrs. Dunmore said cheerfully, her glasses tilting up a bit. Estella couldn’t understand why teachers were so passive aggressive. They claim you're the opposite of what they think you are, and then tell you to tell the truth. “Mrs. Dunmore, I was only trying to express my point of view.” Estella said as innocently as she could. Mrs. Dunmore must have had a rough meeting, because she frowned back and said, “Don’t try to be sarcastic with me honey, because I can get you kicked out of here, faster than your dad can sue the school.” Estella frowned. Yes, her dad was rich, and often he would pay for the trouble Estella caused. Mrs. Dunmore rubbed her temples, as if Estella was giving her a headache.
“I'll tell you what. Why don't you try and make at least one friend today.” Mrs. Dunmore said. She smiled as if this was the next revolutionary idea. Estella realized that Mrs. Dunmore probably never had trouble making friends. She talked as if making friends was as easy as Estella got A’s on her tests. Estella finally agreed to Mrs. Dunmore’s challenge. Maybe if she made friends, she could experience a somewhat normal childhood, but Estella could never make a true friend like Laylo.
Last summer, Estella had stayed at her grandmother’s house in Greenwood, Mississippi. Those three days had been the best of her life. It was the first time Estella's dad wasn’t busy. After her mom’s death, he always worked. He claimed it distracted him from thinking about her. When they pulled up at her grandmother's flat, her dad had been packing their bags in the house. Estella noticed a boy her age, on the grass. He had light brown hair and blue eyes. She remembered asking him what he was doing. He was on all fours engrossed in his task of digging up the dirt. Estella was yelling at him to stop messing up her grandmother's yard. He claimed he was looking for crystals, and Estella was trying to tell him crystals grew in caves. What happened next was fuzzy, but the next thing she remembered, they were rolling in the grass and throwing fists, until Estella's dad and Laylo’s dad pulled them apart. Both their dads forced them to apologize. Estella apologized, but she didn’t mean it. Laylo didn’t either. Estella didn't see the reason to further apologize, but her grandmother invited Laylo over for pie. Her grandmother always made the best food, and the lemon pie was no disappointment. Laylo went for the last slice and Estella didn’t want him to finish the whole thing, so she quickly got up for a seconds, even though her tummy was about to pop like a balloon. Then the strangest thing happened, Laylo shared his slice with her. After that, they went outside to talk about crystals. Estella remembered calling Laylo a dummy, because he knew nothing about crystals, yet he wanted to find them. Laylo lived next door, so they made a plan to find one before she left. Estella didn’t realize how fast time went. The second day, Laylo tagged along with Estella's family on a hike. Estella asked Laylo where his mom and dad were. As soon as she said it, she knew she had offended him. Laylo’s normally mischievous smile was replaced with a sad heartbreaking smile. His electric blue eyes seemed to lose their vibrant color. They talked about their moms the whole drive to the park, and Estella realized how little she knew about her own mom. The last day was probably the saddest of all. Laylo's family and Estella’s family sat around a warm fire, and roasted marshmallows in Laylo’s backyard. The stars were gazing down at them, and everything was perfect. Laylo wouldn’t admit it, but he was sad she was leaving tomorrow morning. He barely talked and he looked down at his lap the whole time. Estella asked what was the matter with him. He replied that he would miss her. They sat in silence, until it was time for Estella to go to bed. In the morning, when Estella and her dad were about to leave, Laylo came running, with a huge smile on his face. He held in his hand, a single green jem that sparkled in the sunlight. Laylo had found a peridot stone. It was often called, “The Stone of Friendship.” He placed the beautiful rock in Estella’s hands. He told her that if she kept it with her, she would never forget him. She still held onto it even to this day. Estella cried almost the whole ride back. Her dad tried to comfort her, but it was no use. She cried herself to sleep, until she was back at her house. Befriending Laylo seemed like a dream, but as Estella held the stone in her palm, she knew it hadn’t been a dream.
Mrs. Dunmore had no idea what she was asking little Estella to do. Making a friend in a
day was easy, but making a good friend in a day was unrealistic. Estella realized there was no rushing friendship, but she had to at least give an effort. Laylo had been her true friend and there was always room for more friendships.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Enyonam Toklo lives in Greer, South Carolina, and is currently a student at Riverside Middle School where Maisie Hansen is her ELA teacher. When not in school, she enjoys reading and playing soccer, basketball, and the guitar. She loves to write, because it’s a way for her to escape into a whole new world of endless possibilities. Some of her favorite authors include, but are not limited to, Rick Riordan, Nicola Yoon, and Amy Tan.