Write From The Heart

One Student, Three Awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is a highly prestigious contest that recognizes the most promising voices in middle and high school. This year, they received 350,000 entries. Only the top 15% of the entries receive an award. All of our eligible students participate, and some submit more than one piece. We had 21 winners!!

Today, we are featuring one of our GOLD KEY winners–and this author won THREE awards! Eden S. submitted two stories, one in the Short Story category, and one in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category. Both won a regional Gold Key award. Additionally, her short story, “All the Speckled Moonlight” was selected as an American Voices nominee, the highest honor presented to a writer by the Scholastic Writing Awards. Only one writer from each region is presented with this award each year

Good luck to Eden!! As we await these results, please enjoy being taken to another place in both of their works.

The Antidote

By Eden S., Pennsylvania, 9th grade

“Trust me, Clover. Link will be okay.” 

That was the last lie I told before I mounted my bike and rode off into the night, leaving my sister, crying, and hanging onto the scrap of false hope I gave her; that somehow, everything would be okay.

Our conversation played through my head on repeat. Leaving her there with my sick and dying brother was torture. But when Apollo told me about a hidden stash of medicine that wasn’t too far from our district, I knew that I had to go. To do something to help Link…before the Takers came back.

As the anxious hours of pedaling dragged on, the sky gradually lightened into a dull, brassy orange. Knowing it wasn’t safe to travel by day, I began scanning the horizon for the abandoned gas station Apollo had described to me. I shivered, thankful the sun would soon warm the chilly fall air. 

Finally, I reached the rundown gas station and hid my bike in the brush near an old culvert. This wasn’t an ideal place to stay, but I was too exhausted to care and I settled down to sleep as the sun’s first rays hit the ground.  

When I awoke, a girl was standing over me with a handgun. Great. Not exactly what I had expected. 

“Get up.”

She was a full head shorter than me and I was pretty sure I could have easily outrun or overpowered her. I scanned my surroundings, considering my options, but she seemed to know what I was thinking. Nudging the gun into my back, she whispered, “it’s useless.”  

Apparently, she had taken my pack and either she didn’t see my bike, or decided it was of no use to her as she pushed me forward. She steered us away from the road and towards the thick woods. 

Everything about my captor was dark. Her long black hair reached past her waist, and her coal-colored eyes were shrouded by thick eyelashes. Her small, heart shaped lips were a shade of deep red, and her tanned face was slightly smudged. She wore black clothing, head to toe, and had a small bow slung across her back. I caught myself staring at her, despite my irritation.

“Who are you and what district do you belong to?” she finally asked as we traveled through the woods. At this point, I figured I had no reason to lie to her.

“District 43. My name is Legend,” I grumbled without looking back.  

“Well, Legend,” she said, “If you cooperate with me, no one has to get hurt.” I turned to glare at her but instead tripped over a root. She smiled amusingly, then grabbed my shoulder and thrust me forward, the gun still at my back.

 “Who are you and where are you taking me?” I said, deciding it was now my turn to ask questions. 

She hesitated a moment before answering. “My name is Star and I’m taking you to my camp.” She maneuvered us to the right to avoid a large bramble.  

“What exactly is at your camp?” I asked, not satisfied with her answer. 

“My people, that’s who. I believe some of you call us the Takers.” 

I stopped abruptly and turned on her, though I was speechless for a moment. I had fallen straight into the hands of my enemy. 

“How—how could you,” I stammered. Everyone knew Takers were the scum of the earth. They betrayed their own people for money or privileges. They were literally paid by the Elite to kidnap the sick and dying to be tested like rats or guinea pigs. People like her were responsible for taking my mother and killing my father.

“Don’t look at me like that. I have two kid sisters, you know,” she snapped. “I have to provide for them somehow. They rely on me. This was the only way. People like us don’t get choices, Legend—we take what we can get.” 

I couldn’t ignore the hurt in her eyes and the desire for someone to understand her situation. 

“Keep moving,” she said. For some reason, I regretted judging her so harshly. But why shouldn’t I? I thought again of my mother. And yet…wouldn’t I do anything for my siblings? My head swirled with that same question: wouldn’t I do anything for Link and Clover?

“I have a family that needs me too,” I argued, but she didn’t answer. I did notice the gun was no longer being pushed into my back, although I knew it was still there, and ready. 

After a couple minutes she stopped and pulled my canteen off her shoulder to drink. “So why’d you leave them?” I debated for a second whether or not I should answer. Finally I decided it wouldn’t do any harm. 

“My brother’s sick. I was looking for medicine.” 

She snorted at this. “So you thought you’d just wander around, get lucky and find some hidden meds?” 

“No!” I protested, feeling my cheeks go red. I crouched down so I wouldn’t have to make direct eye contact with her. I knew I must sound stupid. “My friend Apollo told me where I could find some.” 

 She choked mid-sip. “Apollo?” She stopped and laughed. “Don’t tell me he told you there was some hidden stash of meds in an abandoned district.”

“Well yea….”

“He uses that trick on everyone. He’s on one of us, Legend! The abandoned district he told you about is our headquarters. The place where he said the meds are is continually guarded–they pick people up there all the time. I can’t believe you took that bait!” She shook her head, laughing. 

Now my cheeks were burning and I turned my face away, angry and disgusted. How stupid could I be? 

The hours slid by, mostly in silence, and near dawn, we stopped for a break. I sat with my back to a large tree, glaring at nothing in particular. I was angry at myself for getting captured and failing my family, and I was annoyed that I was now at the mercy of this girl. But something else about her was bothering me. Was it because as different as we were, we actually had a lot in common? 

“Legend?” Star’s voice interrupted my thoughts. I looked up and found her studying me. “I…I’m sorry about your brother. Don’t lose hope…it’s…it’s what keeps us alive.”

 I looked at her through the glow of the flashlight I was still holding. She was sitting on a large rock, looking down at her hands.  

“Maybe I can talk to Zion…he’s the one who leads our group. I don’t know…maybe…I—I could put in a good word for you.” 

Star looked up at me. Although it was dark I could see a softness in her eyes. I sensed that she felt sorry for me. Not that it mattered…I couldn’t accept her help or pity. And I couldn’t trust a Taker. Paid to betray their own people, they were the lowest of the low. If there was a way, I’d have to find it on my own.

I turned my face away and coldly replied, “I don’t want or need your help.” I didn’t have to look at her face to know that my response stung. 

“Fine,” she said after a moment. “Have it your way.” She stood abruptly and prodded me forwards. We didn’t talk anymore after that.

Presently the sky began to lighten. My blistered feet were aching, my stomach was grumbling, and my eyelids felt as heavy as stones.  

Moments after leaving the thick woods, Star surprised me by skillfully shooting a rabbit in the meadow. Her agility was impressive. “Breakfast is served,” she grinned and despite the tension, I smiled in return. Pulling a knife from one of her tall, black-laced boots, she sat down and began skinning it. 

“Why don’t you go fill our canteen,” she suggested, gesturing to the creek just ahead of us. I grabbed the canteen and scampered down to the water’s edge. As I filled it, I imagined how good the rabbit would taste. Suddenly, I stopped. What was I thinking? Now’s my chance to run! 

I bolted. I knew Star would immediately give pursuit so I pushed myself to run faster than ever before.

I ran blindly back the way we had come. Branches scratched my arms and face and roots tripped me as I tore through the brush. My heart drummed wildly in my chest as the world around me blurred. I had no idea where I was going, nor did I care, so it was my own dumb fault that after several minutes, I stumbled right into a small campsite, and six heavily armed Takers.

I woke in a dark room tied to a chair. I wheeled my head around, confused. Then it all came flooding back…

My prison was small and dirty. I tried to wiggle my hands free, but the ropes were knotted tight. My head was throbbing where someone had hit me. I heard murmuring behind the door and then, it opened. 

Light flooded the room. Squinting, I saw a burly man with a gun at his belt. He smirked at me with yellowed teeth. Behind him was Star. She wouldn’t look at me. I assumed she was mad at me for running. But didn’t she understand I was just trying to save my brother? I had to remind myself I didn’t care how Star felt.

Hello, Legend,” said the burly man who was now standing in front of me. “My name is Zion.And I have an offer for you. Star here told us that you were looking for meds for your brother.” My face hardened and I glared at her. She looked at the ground, face flushed. “I might be able to help you.”

  “Thanks a lot, but I don’t want your help.”

He came closer and crouched down right in front of my face. “What if I told you I have access to the medicine you’re looking for. I’d be willing to give you some …” 

My eyes widened, and I held my breath. 

“…for a price, of course,” he finished.

Welp, I knew it had to be too good to be true. Why would he help me, for nothing.

“Tomorrow night we are traveling to a nearby village. There’s a bunch of cases there and we need help to extract them. Here’s the deal: You help us on a few missions starting tomorrow night, then I’ll give you the medicine your brother needs to live.” 

I brooded over what he was asking me. 

Was it that simple? Betray my people and help them “extract” the infected helpless, and I could save Link?  I began sweating as my mind screamed—a million thoughts demanding my attention.

“Alright, I’ll do it.” 

“Good,” said Zion, clapping his hands together. Standing, he turned to Star and barked, “Untie him and then get him geared up for tomorrow.” He left the room.

Star made quick work of the ropes, mumbling something about being a fool for ever trusting me even for a second. 

Putting away her knife, she walked to the door and pointed her gun in the direction she wanted me to move. “No stunts this time.” 

I was compliant as Star steered me around the camp with one hand on my shoulder like she had done in the woods. A tall stone wall surrounded their camp with heavily guarded entrances at both ends. 

Within the walls were many buildings. Some looked abandoned, and others looked like shabby living quarters. Most of the Takers we passed were stiff and quiet. Some stared me down as if waiting for a chance to pounce. Finally, Star stopped in front of one of the buildings.

“There’s a lady in there who will get you all suited up. I’ll wait here till you’re done.” Star began walking away, but I grabbed her hand.

“Hold on. Wait. Listen… I really am sorry I ran, Star. But I had to try-for my brother. I…I didn’t have a choice”

“I gave you a choice. I offered to help you, Legend! You don’t have to be on your own all the time…it’s not wrong to accept help, and to trust someone else.”  With that she pulled away from me and walked off. I knew she was right. This was too much to do alone. I had been a fool to trust Apollo. But when Star offered her help, I had stubbornly refused, and had run (literally) right back into the same problem. I could feel the hopelessness rising. I did need help, I realized. 

“It’s too late now,,” I murmured to myself. “You’re just gonna have to figure it out on your own—like you’ve always done.“

After I suited up, Star escorted me to a run-down warehouse where, apparently, I would be held behind locked doors. We hadn’t spoken since she took me to get my gear, and to be honest I hadn’t even looked at her. Once she put me in my temporary cell, I was left alone with plenty of time to rest…and think. 

  My mind was racing with worry. I didn’t have much time. Link would only be getting worse. Tomorrow night was this raid that I had no real intentions of being part of. I could try to slip away in the middle of it, but I’d probably be guarded, plus there was no point in leaving this place without the meds for Link. Star had mentioned they were kept in some other warehouse. If I could just find a way out of here maybe I could get to it…if only I had trusted the one person who had offered to help me.

Legend.” Star’s voice made me jump. But it was her urgent tone that surprised me. I rushed over to the bars of my cell facing her. 

 “Star…” I answered 

“Legend…” she panted, her face close to mine. Her eyes were wide and frantic. She handed a small vial and syringe through the bars. I looked down, confused. I tried to figure out what she had just given me. On the vial, I could just make out her name in the dim light. Then it all hit me. This must be the medicine, and it wasn’t unclaimed like Apollo had told me, this was Star’s personal dose, paid for dearly. I knew every Taker was given one. If you get sick, your own meds were used to save you, but each person only got one. This was the assurance every Taker was given for their risks. 

But now Star was giving it to me for Link. I looked up at her, my eyes wide with concern.. She closed my hand around it with her own, and whispered— “No questions. Now c’mon.”

 She unlocked the door and I raced out, following her down the endless hallways. Before long, we heard yells behind us and I knew we had been discovered. Star turned corners, and flung open doors, sometimes losing valuable time unlocking them. The Takers were quickly approaching, and I knew they would be armed and angry. A sense of dread loomed and I began to doubt we would make it. I knew Star was thinking the same thing from the look in her eyes. Suddenly she grabbed my shoulders and started to give me directions. Fast but clear.

“Legend— listen to me.  You need to go down this hall and turn right at the end. Enter the first room you see on the left. There’s a broken window in there… climb out of it… it’s not a long jump to the ground. To the left you’ll see a tree. Legend, listen— it’s the only tree in the whole place —you can’t miss it! If you stay in the shadows you’ll make it.  Behind the tree, there’s a shallow hole covered by brush. You can slip under the wall there. Now go!”

“Wait, why are you telling me this? You can’t go back there, Star. You’re coming with me!” I could feel the floor vibrating with pounding feet. I looked down the hall then back at Star. She gave me a quick hug, and cupped my face in her hands.

“Go. Save him for both of us.” Then she pushed me through the doorway and locked it, leaving me on one side, and herself and the Takers on the other.

Shocked, I stood frozen on the other side, imagining what they would do to her. 

“Run, Legend! RUN!” Star screamed.

“Nooo!” I yelled, slamming my fists against the door. “Star, open the door!”

I tried it again but it was no use. I heard the Takers pounding into the room with her. Above the chaos and shouting, I heard Star’s final plea… “Go, Legend!”

Still dazed, I stumbled backwards. Then turning, I began running down the hall, hot tears streaming down my face. 

I located the room with the broken window and swung my feet over the edge. I was about to jump out when I heard the gunshot. My breath caught in my throat and I froze. For a moment, all was quiet. I squeezed my eyes shut. I needed to get away, now. Jumping from the window, I struggled to my feet and headed for the tree. Within moments, I had cleared away the brush and slipped under. 

Leaning against the wall, I looked down at the vial in my hand and tried to process what had just happened. 

Star had given her life so I could save Link. I righted myself and stood up, determined to keep moving, to press on. Finding a bike hidden behind the brush, I knew Star had left it for me. As I pushed off towards the East—towards the sun, and towards home, I heard Star’s voice again: Hope is what keeps us alive, Legend. Looking down at the vial clenched in my hand, I knew she was right. Hope was the antidote.

All the Speckled Moonlight

By Eden S., Pennsylvania, 9th grade

Andrew always held back the tears until he was lying in his bed. His mother’s death had been only weeks ago and he believed he would never get over the bitter sadness. 

He had put in a good hard day of work, exchanged a few short words with his father, and had eaten his supper by himself on the front porch. His life seemed to be on repeat: Wake, work, eat, cry, and finally slip into sleep.

This day had been no different. Andrew climbed into bed, and rather than snuggling under the covers, he just laid on his back, looking up at his dull gray ceiling, his father’s words drifting back into his mind. 

“No more dawdlin’ on your chores, son. You know those cows can’t wait.”

“Yes sir,” Andrew had answered meekly. Moments later, he had climbed the stairs to his small upstairs room. 

He doesn’t care for me the way you did, Ma, Andrew whispered into the blackness. It seemed his stoic father lived only for work. He personally never believed in luxuries or “frills” in life, though he had allowed Andrew’s mother a few simple pleasures when he knew it especially pleased her.

“You have to work hard for the things you want in life,” he had explained to Andrew more than once when he was just a small boy.  “When I was young I wanted a farm of my own, so I worked hard for it. Hard work is what got me this place. Now it’s our hard work—yours and mine, son— that provides for our family, ya hear?”

“Yes sir,” young Andrew had responded those years ago as he stared up at his father’s tall, burly figure, hoping that one day, he would be just like him. 

Now Andrew saw his father in a very different light. He could see no color or life in his father anymore; his eyes had no depth and his infrequent smiles had all but disappeared. Now that his mother was gone, Andrew believed that his father couldn’t truly love anything, except perhaps work. 

Morning dawned and Andrew woke before the sun had even begun to peek over the hills, promising to shine hot and bright. But the light didn’t seem to reach Andrew. His thoughts and feelings from last night came flooding back to him, crashing down on him like heavy waves.

Dragging himself out of bed, he dressed quickly and quietly, almost grateful for the labor, to have something else with which to occupy his mind. Walking out his doorway, he entered the empty hall. No wallpaper clothed the wooded walls, and there were no pictures or art adorning them.  Andrew had never really minded the emptiness and simplicity of the house, for his mother had filled it with laughter and life. But when she died, she took with her the light that had once filled the small farmhouse…like the way the sun sank down below the horizon each evening, taking with it the last rays of light and giving way to night. 

Andrew averted his brown eyes from the bare walls and moved quickly down the aged stairs, which creaked and moaned under his feet. He cried silently with them. Sighting his father in the kitchen sparked many emotions in him: sadness, a touch of anger, but most of all, a maddening desire to please him…to hear, just once the words, “Well done, son.” Yet Andrew knew full well that the only language of love his father spoke was good hard work. 

His throat tightened and he choked back a sob, covering it with a cough. His father half turned, expression empty. His calloused hands and broad shoulders were signs of his industriousness; skin like leather and sun-streaked hair were proof of the long grueling days he spent on the farm in the torturous sun. 

Andrew studied his face as he prepared their breakfast. His soft eyes were filled with sadness and deep grief weighed down upon the silent dining room like a heavy blanket. Andrew finished his meal and headed out to barns for another day of labor. 

That night at dinner, both were tired from the day, and the few minutes spent together passed again in stiff silence. Andrew waited for him to speak. Folding his napkin, his father stood and sighed. “Best get to bed son. We’ll be up bright and early tomorrow.” Andrew just sat in his place, stunned. That’s it? he thought. Abruptly he stood from his chair, not sure whether to cry or yell. Bitterness embedded itself in his chest. He didn’t care that he stomped too loudly up the stairs, or slammed his door a little too hard. But alone in his room, the anger slowly dissipated and gave way to sorrow. He allowed the pent-up tears to come. 

Dreams were always a welcome thing to slip into after a long day or night. But unfortunately, not all dreams are whimsical and peaceful, and lately, Andrew’s troubled dreams were the opposite— mostly consisting of visions of his dying mother. This dream was one he had often and was always so vivid and detailed, sometimes he even believed it was happening again. 

Andrew’s mother gazed lovingly up at him, her bloodshot eyes red with dark circles, her face pale as snow.

“You be a good boy for your father today. He’ll need more help with me bein’ sick.”

 “Yes Mama, of course.” Andrew had said. He tried to be strong for her but inside he was crumbling. He had made it his personal goal to bring her some gift from outside every day, because the doctor had said she couldn’t go out, and he knew his ma so loved the fresh air and sunshine.

One day it had been a small sappy pinecone, the next day a late fall leaf. Mama loved the small gifts and each one brought a tired but happy smile to her face. She used them to decorate her empty white room. 

One morning he had given quite an extravagant gift: a small baby bird that he had pridefully carried home to present to her. His bare muddy feet left prints on the floor and his soaked overalls, the ones with lots of patches and holes, dripped dirty creek water as he walked. His hair was full of enough leaves and sticks for a bird to build its nest with. That’s what his ma had said to him once. But when he entered her room that day, he knew something was terribly wrong. His tall, stoic father sat on the side of the bed as he delicately held his dying wife’s hand. Andrew ran to his mother’s side, pushing past his father, who had turned his back to hide his face from Andrew.

“Ma,” Andrew’s words shook. He tried to be strong for he desperately wanted to take her mind off the thought of dying. “I brought you a baby bird. See?” Andrew cupped the small thing in his hands but his mother kept her eyes on his face. She tried to reach for him but couldn’t, so she just regarded him with a look only a mother could give. 

“You know I love you?” she whispered. 

“Yes of course I do, Mama,” Andrew choked on his words. 

“I love you and I want you to be happy, so don’t waste your time on tears. Remember the Lord chooses when to take his children home. He is the Master Gardener and he picks his flowers when they are ready. Don’t be hateful. Laugh, son. Laugh for me “

“Stop it!” Andrew whispered. “Don’t talk like that. You’re gonna get better. God can’t take you, Mama. I need you.” he wrapped his fingers around her boney, cold hand, the tears running like streams down his muddy cheeks.

“Shh, child,” she gently squeezed his hand and smiled. Her well-known warmth was fading and giving way to a chilly cold, but still she smiled. “Goodbye, my baby bird,” she had whispered as she closed her eyes for the last time. 

She was buried the next day, along with the baby bird who, without the warmth and care of its mother, couldn’t survive the big cold world.  

“Mama, nooo!” 

Andrew bolted upright in his bed, gasping for air, sweat beads dotting his forehead. He frantically looked around and then realized that it was only a dream. He sank back into his bed, and let the sobs come.

“Why did you leave me?” he whispered to the darkness. Why? 

That was the only thought pouring through his head. Why did she have to die, why didn’t his father love him, why did he have to be so alone? He just wanted to die, to leave, to forget.

As Andrew wept in his bed, another quieter cry joined his. He stopped and listened, heart pounding in his chest. It was just the wind, he told himself, just the wind.

Again it cried out. Andrew turned his head to look out the window. He left it open each night because summer nights in Texas were almost as hot as summer days and the whole house always roasted. Again he heard it. Mournful and deep, it was no human sound. 

All of a sudden the night got a little darker. Despite the heat, Andrew shivered. Part of him wanted to hide under his blankets and tell the thing to leave him be, to go away. But the other part of him, his boyish side, kicked in and he gave into his curiosity. 

Wiping his face on his sleeve, he walked towards the window, and once again the wail filled his ears and caused him to practically jump out of his skin. He ducked down below the window, covering his ears, but then scolded himself for being such a girl. Straightening he peered out into the darkness before he made up his mind. He had to know. Lifting the window a little higher, he began to climb out onto the long, flat roof. 

The moon was clouded but still bright enough to light the darkness. It was eerily quiet for several minutes as Andrew jumped down from the low roof, and listened with bated breath. He certainly didn’t want to wake his father up. After a few moments of silence, he began to relax.

But then it came again: another whimper, softer, but pained. Andrew’s heart raced. He turned. The sound seemed to be emanating from under the porch. Fear caused his mind to freeze. He realized that he had never before been scared of the dark, now he associated darkness with death. Shaking those thoughts from his head he willed his legs forward. 

In the light of the moon, Andrew noticed a small hole in the lattice, partially hidden behind a dead bush. Squatting nearby, Andrew peered through but saw only black. He took stock of his courage. Was he really up to crawling under the porch to discover the source of the wailing? Its cry again sliced through the night, and for a moment, Andrew couldn’t find his breath. The wail was so mournful, so pained, and yet… so familiar. A silent prayer escaped his lips before he dove under. 

Underneath, he waited. He awaited pain, or maybe for some ghost hand to reach out to grab him. But instead he could only hear a soft panting further back, along with small whimpers. Invisible legs seemed to crawl up his back as he slowly edged forward. Presently his eyes started to adjust. Speckled moonlight shone through the latticed sides of the porch, but didn’t quite reach the middle.  

A heap of matted brown, like a discarded fur coat, was all Andrew could see. But that heap was breathing, and breathing hard. Andrew gasped as his vision cleared. It was a dog! Now he rushed forward on his hands and knees, dirtying his newly washed self but not caring in the least. He was not prepared for the teeth that met his outstretched hand. Quickly pulling back his shaking hand, he sat on all fours, ready to run if need be. But the dog’s low growl turned into another cry. Andrew’s heart hurt for it and he desperately studied the dog to see what ailed it.     

Suddenly Andrew noticed them: tiny balls of fur surrounding the dog. Brown fur, just like their mother. Upon seeing this, his eyes were met with another sight, a terrible sight. The skinny, sickly mother dog was bleeding. It looked as if she had been attacked.                                  

Time slowed down as Andrew sat under the porch and cried along with the dying mother, pleading with her to let him help, but his every attempt was met with teeth. Unwelcome thoughts of his own mother and her death flooded Andrew’s mind. The way she had refused their pity and sympathy, and the helplessness that he had felt when she lay cold on her death bed. Once again he was completely helpless and could only sit back and watch as the dog struggled.

After several agonizing minutes, she lay still. Andrew found himself wondering if dogs went to heaven. Thinking now of his mother, he desperately wished it would be so. Gently, carefully, he moved the dog’s lifeless body aside and gave his attention to the four pups scattered on the ground. He picked one up with his hands, and choked back a sob. Cold and limp, the icy hand of death had already stilled the pup’s body. Desperately, he tried the next pup. Cold. The tears flowed freely now. I’ve cried enough tonight to last me a lifetime, he thought mournfully. By the time he lifted the third pup’s lifeless body, he had given up all hope and so was startled when the fourth warm ball of fur yelped. Gasping, he held the last pup to his face. 

Although it was still, Andrew could feel its heartbeat pumping warmth through its tiny body. He was taken by surprise when the pup licked him with its wet, sandpaper tongue, and sitting there in the darkness of the cool earth, under the porch, Andrew smiled. Suddenly through his tears he began to laugh and cry all at the same time. Andrew believed he had never laughed so hard in his life. Only yesterday he had forgotten that he even knew how. And then a small tickle at his throat brought him back to his senses as the puppy squeaked and wiggled, trying to climb onto his face.

“Hey little girl…little Annie,” he whispered. Andrew kept right on laughing, neglecting all caution or need of quiet as he nuzzled and rubbed the pup–his pup.  All the speckled moonlight shined down on the motherless pair, quietly reminding Andrew that hope is found even in the blackest of nights.

Andrew was brought back to reality when he heard his father’s voice calling his name. Like a thief that had been caught, he climbed out to meet him. Head down looking at the pup’s big blue eyes and floppy ears, Andrew was now sure that she wouldn’t be his for much longer. 

“What in tarnation are ya doing out here, son–and under the porch, no less, at this time of night?” his father asked in a restrained whisper.

“Well Sir,” Andrew gulped, still not meeting his father’s eyes, “I heard somethin’ and came out to see what it was. It was coming from under the porch. It was a dyin’ Mama dog and her little pups, and this was the only one left.” He extended the little puppy to his Father. “Its Mama…” he choked on tears, “its Mama i-i-is dead. And its father is g-g-gone, I don’t know where, cause maybe he didn’t love him.” 

When the strong arms of his father reached tentatively out to him, Andrew nearly fell into them. He couldn’t remember the last time his father had held him like this. At first it felt a bit awkward but it didn’t even matter. Andrew pressed himself into his chest, still holding his pup, his father’s strong arms around his back. And with that, the tears came. There was something different about these tears though. They weren’t like the ones Andrew held in until the dark of night–those were bitter and angry tears, and there were always more. These tears were freeing and they brought relief. 

“Now son, I know I’m not your mother, and no one could ever replace her. But believe me when I say I love you, boy, and I always will.” A sob escaped Andrew and if he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought his father was crying too. But to his surprise, Andrew’s tears slowly subsided and gave way to a smile that pulled on his lips. He felt loved. That was a feeling he thought he would never feel again. And boy was it welcome. 

Annie gave a small yelp. She had been pushed in between the two of them and wanted some attention. They broke away and Andrew’s father scratched Annie behind one ear. 

“Maybe she’s a gift from your Ma. I’m sure she is watching over us from up there,” he gestured to the starry night sky, “and sent this one to take care of us. She knew this pup needed us, just as much as we needed her.”                 

Andrew liked that thought very much.

“Now then. Come on back inside. We have an early morning and a pup to train tomorrow.”

Andrew lagged behind a second, looking to the sky, “Thank ya, Ma,” he whispered to the dark, “I’ll take care of her for ya. And don’t worry–Pa and I are gonna be okay. I promise.”

The clouds parted momentarily, and the darkness of the night around him was strangely transformed by the abiding glow of the moon.  

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Our Fall Registration is open! Our annual classes are designed for students in 6-12th grade, and meet the requirements for a full year English credit. Our AP English class is approved by the College Board.

Annual classes run September-April, and students are part of a vibrant writing community, where they read one another’s work as well as getting help from a professional coach. Check out our list of year-long classes here.

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