Write from the Heart Fall Fiction Contest Winners!
High School Winners
We are so excited to announce the high school winners of our Fall Fiction Contest!
Students answered this prompt from our Story Starters Journal: “On the top floor of an apartment building, across from the elevator, there is a door labeled “Roof Access.” But it doesn’t lead to the roof.” The contest was open to any student in 9th-12th grades and did not need to be a current student to enter.
We had so many wonderful entries, and are thrilled to announce our winners!
Logan B., Pennsylvania
Winner of a Free Workshop
“He owned this place, right, Val?” Barry asked, his voice bubbling with excitement. “Way back then? Before the War and the, you know, bombings?”
I nodded. “He did.”
Barry gasped. “Wow. That is so cool, Val.”
“I mean, I can’t believe that your father, you know, actually owned this whole apartment building!” Barry meandered around the remains of a lobby. Chairs and tables sat in shambles. Chunks of dislodged marble littered the floor. Light from the overcast day poured into the lobby from a massive, sagging hole in an exterior wall.
This place had certainly seen better days.
I had painfully strong memories of the bombing. I was four years old and, therefore, big enough to roam the lobby on my own. Men and women in business suits bustled about noisily. Teens leaned against the walls with their eyes fixed on their phones. A few younger children giggled while playing tag before an adult told them to cut it out.
The first bomb rocked the building.
Everyday busyness morphed into unbridled panic as people screamed and scampered. Before I could react, I got lost in a crowd of wildly dashing bodies. The ground shook. Dust fell from the ceiling. I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew that everything from then on would change for the worse.
I did what any normal four-year-old would do. I cried. I hid. I pleaded for Mommy to come find me, rescue me, and take me away from this terrible, terrible place. As time dragged on, the bombing only grew in intensity. The War had made its way to my home.
The apartment building had fared surprisingly well in the bombing. I had managed to survive just by hiding in a corner and not moving. Rubble fell all around me, but I never left my corner. I waited out the disaster, crying until my voice went hoarse.
Six hours later, Mommy found me.
Mommy and I walked through the city, and I saw the destruction up close. Skyscrapers had become ruins. Two pillars were all that remained of the mighty courthouse. The bombing had leveled towers, razed stores, and scraped away every last trace of the shopping mall. As looters surged into the city, Mommy and I fled to start a new life on the countryside, far from the carnage left by the War.
Everything had felt cold and bleak that day, as though the War had taken away hope itself.
We later received news that looters had found Daddy’s body. He’d died in one of the upper floors of the apartment building. The looters had taken his wallet and rings before leaving his body outside the city.
“Hello?” Barry asked. “You with me, Val? Hello?”
I nodded, trying to shake off the scarring memories. “Yeah.”
Twelve long years had passed since the bombing. Daddy had died long ago, and now Mommy had gotten sick from the nuclear fallout of the War. Barry and I had come in part to satisfy our boredom and in part to find something here to sell.
“You don’t look too good,” Barry noted. “You okay?
I sighed. “Sure. I’m just peachy.”
Barry smiled. “Okay, good!”
The kid was two years younger than me, and he didn’t understand a word of sarcasm. I still didn’t know how the two of us had become friends, but at least he’d willingly tagged along with me. I’d need a hefty dose of his innocence to carry me through this dark place.
I looked around the destroyed lobby, hoping to find anything shiny. Shiny things almost always brought in a fair amount of money at a flea market, especially when rich tourists came by to visit. Unfortunately, twelve years of looters had stolen everything even remotely valuable.
Barry let out a high-pitched yelp. “OH MAN! Wow, those are some, um, gross bones.”
“Mhm,” I said, not even bothering to glance over at Barry.
“So, you know,” Barry continued, “this place is pretty creepy, yeah?”
“You sure this is a, you know, good idea?”
“You can back out now if you want.”
“No!” Barry exclaimed, fervently shaking his head. “No, I’m staying.”
I couldn’t help but let a little smile creep across my lips. Since the War, almost everyone had fallen into hopeless depression. Most people at school kept their heads down and rarely talked to anyone other than their closest friends. Barry, however, always had a grin on his round-cheeked face and looked on the bright side of life as much as possible. Too bad loyal friends like Barry were in short supply these days.
“This lobby is no good,” I said. “Let’s try the stairs.”
“Um…Val, are you sure that the stairs are, you know, safe?”
“They’re just stairs, Barry.”
“If you say so.” He jogged over to the door that led to the stairwell and tugged on its handle. It took both of us to pry open the heavy door that had sealed itself shut over time. Dim light slipped into the stairwell through ivy-covered windows rimmed with shattered glass. Specks of dust glinted in the filtered sunlight as they drifted through the stuffy air. The cracked walls and hollow silence gave the old stairwell an odd sort of beauty. It made me want to climb up story after story until I reached the very top.
“C’mon, up we go,” I said, jogging up the stairs before Barry had a chance to respond.
Our footsteps echoed loudly in the empty stairwell. Barry struggled to keep up, and I had to stop several times along the way so that he could catch his breath.
“Hey, Val,” he said at one point, “why can’t we just, you know, explore some of these floors? Like this one, Floor 12? Twelve is a good number, right?”
“I want to see the top floor,” I replied. “I…want to see the city from the roof.”
I had another reason for wanting to reach the top. I hoped to find Daddy’s office. It had been on one of the top floors, and I wanted to see if anything there had survived the bombing. I’d come too far to not check up on the office.
The higher we climbed, the more signs of devastation we found. Gaping holes dotted the walls. Parts of the staircase had fallen away. Barry insisted that we stop running and hold on to the rails with both hands. I told him he could leave if he wanted, and he once again refused. We ascended the last few floors together.
As we climbed, I racked my brain in a desperate attempt to remember where Dad had his office. I didn’t remember its exact location, but I vaguely remembered that it had something to do with a joke…
Then we reached the top. We pushed through the final door. To our left was a crumbling elevator, and to our right stood a door that read “Roof Access.”
“Here we are,” Barry panted. “Should we go up to the roof?”
I sighed. “I guess.” But I would’ve liked to find Daddy’s office.
It took the combined strength of me and Barry to push open the roof access door. When the door swung open, a memory came back to me. Daddy had painted the words “Roof Access” on his door to deter tenants who had come with complaints.
“This doesn’t look like a, you know, roof,” Barry commented.
“No, it does not.”
The roof had caved into the office. A large chunk of debris had cracked the ornate wooden desk in half. I remembered playing around the legs of this desk when I was three. Maybe now, thirteen years later, I could find something valuable to sell.
A yellowing piece of paper on the desk caught my eye. Fallen debris had pinned it to the desk. I grabbed it and pulled it out. The ink had faded, but I could still make out the date on the top of the paper. It was the date of the bombing.
Dear Val, the paper read. You’re four years old now–an exciting year! Congratulations!
I know that the world around you seems confusing. Everybody looks sad. People whisper and panic. You can see fear glistening in their eyes. They’re all scared of things that haven’t happened yet.
They’re scared because they don’t have hope.
Don’t be like them, Val. As you grow up, always remember that you can find ho–
Large ink splotches covered the rest of the paper. The bombing had happened while he wrote this.
“Um…Val?” Barry asked. “Are you, you know, okay?”
I’d never given much thought to hope. Hope seemed a bit useless at times. It never put food on the table, and it wouldn’t heal Mommy’s sickness.
Then again, maybe I’d spent my life looking at things the wrong way.
The clouds shifted, and a ray of light shone into the office. I looked back at Barry. “Yeah. I’m okay. Better than usual.”
Second Place Winner
Lauren K., Florida
Winner of a $50 Gift Certificate
Never Would Have Guessed
I will never know what drew me to the flyer tacked carelessly on the bulletin board in my town’s library. It would make sense if it had been the neon pink letters or the enormous some of money the winner would receive. The contest sounded relatively simple: in the new apartment complex off Main Street there is a door to the roof. Find it, and the prize is yours.
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Third Place Winner
Molly R., Virginia
Winner of two novels/journals
I walk through the greasy glass doors that mark the end of my work day. I use my shirt sleeve to avoid getting the germs on my hands. When you work in a fast food restaurant, you try to avoid touching anything you don’t have to. I walk on the sidewalk, and start heading to my apartment building. When I reach my apartment building there is a sparkling clean fire truck parked outside. It’s from out of town because our fire trucks are rusty and have indents and marks. My curiosity gets the best of me and I approach a young firefighter.
“Excuse me sir? What are you guys doing on this side of town?”
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