“Penniless and Priceless” by Marci Scardino

Sherwood Christian Academy

High School — First Place

Inspiration Piece: “Equestrian Me” by Charles Wells

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The bell chimed yet again that day, signaling a friendly “hello” from behind the counter of the rundown laundromat. Mindy never ceased to smile and greet customers who scuffled in the building with a load of dirtied clothes to wash.

She examined the family that now entered — a youthful couple and their adorable little girl. They were simple people for the most part. The father wore a brown button-up shirt under his well-worn overalls. In a similar manner, his wife had on a grey dress, along with a clean white apron tied neatly around it.

Their countenance was seemingly tired, but they both managed to display only patience and love to the energetic child that sprung about them. This sprightly little girl, not yet 5, was wearing a plain pink dress and, in contrast, sparkling dress-up shoes. Framing her adorable smile, she had chestnut curls that bobbed about her as she skipped.

“Mama! Daddy! May I put the coins in this time?” the child asked, very enthusiastically.

“Of course,” was her mother’s gentle reply as she dug in her purse for some loose quarters. “Now, what’s the proper way to ask?”

“Oh, please Mama, pretty please!”

She eagerly took the coins from her mother’s palm and fed them into the slot one by one. She stood there for a minute, wide-eyed, just watching the tumbling clothes in the machine. Then, when she’d had enough, she scuttled over to where her parents were seated.

“Daddy,” she asked, “Will you tell me a story ... one about a beautiful princess?”

“Why not?” he grinned. He picked her up and placed her comfortably on his lap, “Once upon a time ...” he began.

On that lazy Friday evening, as the small family sat together, they seemed to be just normal passersby, washing their laundry. However, back behind the counter, as Mindy witnessed this simple family, they were able to stir something inside of her. You see, to her, they brought overwhelming feelings of nostalgia from someplace deep within.

Growing up, Mindy lived inside a small New York apartment complex with her father, mother and younger sister, Evelyn. Their family didn’t have much, but what they did have was priceless. They had each other and, more importantly, they had their unwavering faith in Christ. However, when the second World War began, her father was drafted ... and never returned.

Her father’s death left Mindy’s mother devastated on top of caring for two young girls with a very low income. She would come home from work worn out, just trying to break a smile and seem OK. Mindy was about 6 when it happened and wasn’t much of a help to her mother, although she did manage to sometimes make her laugh. However, while the circumstances were undoubtedly rough, the joy of the Lord was still present in their lives.

The girls never spoke much of their father. For once, when they did ask their mother about him, she started to answer, but couldn’t. She sat there for a long time, gazing off into the distance with tears welling up in her eyes. She didn’t speak much the remainder of that night. The girls hadn’t dared to ask about him since.

As the years went by, most of the memories Mindy had of him were blurred. There was only one thing Mindy could recall very clearly. That was his hearty laugh and the love and kindness he showed to everyone he met. Mother used to say that no person in their right mind could not love Daddy. After a satisfying home-cooked meal, he would take Mindy up on one knee and Evelyn on the other. Then he would, in his low, soothing voice, tell them stories of little “princesses.” They would start out poorer than dirt, and then, because of their kindness toward others, they would become the fairest princesses in the land. Then, after the story, their father would tell them that they too were princesses, but not the kind of princesses the world makes up. They were daughters of the Heavenly Father, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace. And that would never change.

When he ended the story, the girls would scurry into their tiny bedroom and lie awake for hours, it seemed, talking about what it would be like to have fancy clothing and jewelry like royalty. While it could never be afforded, they didn’t restrain their imagination from dreaming up sparkling ball gowns, shoes, and necklaces. They also dreamt of handsome princes that would come and take them away to live happily ever after. And you simply can’t forget the unicorn. The wonderful dream pet ... a graceful galloping figure with a thick rainbow mane flowing in the wind. And then, bestowed on the crown of its magical head, the single, most beautiful horn ever.

Nevertheless, no matter how hard they daydreamed, it never became a reality. Despite their kindness, they remained poor. On the sorrowful day they got word of their father’s death, those visions of dresses and jewelry were locked away. Never again would Mindy hear one of his stories. Not in the same deep voice, with those same rough hands and gentle arms wrapped around her. Now, all she had was the dimming memory.

Twenty years later, as she stood behind the counter of the rundown laundromat, a tear ran down her cheek. A tear remembering her father’s soft, valiant heart and brazen character. She was reminded of so much in that moment — seeing the little girl and her parents. Although it brought back sad thoughts, she couldn’t stop smiling as she witnessed the girl, curled up in her father’s lap, listening to his voice. And, if Mindy was hearing him right, he was telling his daughter a story of a kind, penniless girl as they waited for their dirtied clothes to wash.

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“A Lover’s Quarrel” by Christianna Ford

Deerfield-Windsor School

High School — Second Place

Inspiration Piece: “Allegory of Bad Government”

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“I’M SICK OF YOU AND YOUR OUTLANDISH TALES ELIZABETH!” I didn’t see the hit coming. All I felt was his rings coming in contact with my face. My body flew across the room and my head came in contact with the wall; I could only hear the ringing in my ears as my husband paced the room like an animal in a cage. “WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO ME AND MY SUBJECTS? THERE IS NO REASON TO TALK TO THAT WOMAN!”

I didn’t want to tell him that woman was my sister, and we had been planning a coup for months. I wouldn’t tell him that the monarchy that had been his family for generations was going to crumble in mere minutes when the Empress of the Sea acts on his silly threat of war. All because he doesn’t listen to me. His queen. He deserves everything coming his way.

I lift myself from the ground on wobbly legs, head still spinning from hitting the blue wall of our bedroom so hard. “Xander.” I try to speak, but my voice is raspy, throat suddenly bone dry from our argument turned sour, barely enough to break the merciless noise of his yelling. “Xander.” My new attempt to silence him falls on deaf ears as the heat of my anger rises. I remember to try to count to 10 to calm my nerves.

One, two, three … breathe. Four, five, six ... four more. Seven, eight, nine … I can’t do it. “ALEXANDER ANDREAS HOLYFIELD THE THIRD, I SWEAR ON THE LIVES OF YOUR ANCESTORS IF YOU DON’T SHUT UP AND LISTEN I WILL REVOKE THE TITLE OF KING FROM YOUR NAME AND EXILE YOU TO THE POOREST PART OF THIS CONTINENT!” His incessant babbling about my stories and tea parties finally ceases, but the tension in the room is suffocating. The poor maid in the corner is visibly shaking at the sight of our screaming match.

He knows he has gone too far this time. His right hand shakes like a leaf to the point it seems like the sleek rings will fall off and his head bows in shame so his long hair hides his now-reddened face. It seems Xander forgot his place when it comes to how he became King.

“Now, I know my tea parties aren’t exactly your scene, but at least have a little respect for my thoughts and feelings. You had the audacity to come in and tear everything apart. The Empress and I are friends, but I’m telling the truth she ...”

A messenger bursts in the door hurriedly, barely giving me time to conceal my newly forming bruise. I quickly press my fingers to my face and think of a fast healing spell, and with one swipe it’s gone. The maid in the corner looks on, astonished at my sudden magical transformation

“My King!” He bows before Xander, then performs the same action while addressing me as he kisses my hand. The tension between us in the room is dissipated as the teenage boy, no older than 15, presents a scroll to Xander. “The Empress of the Sea has declared war on our nation as a response to the, quote, ‘heinous crimes’ you and the kingdom have committed against the queen and her home kingdom.”

My eyebrows raise in suspicion as I inwardly smile at how quickly my sister and her aids worked to draw up the documents.

“Her home kingdom? But Liz is from ...” he mumbles confusedly as he begins to put the pieces together. Xander’s eyes burn into mine with a fit of red-hot anger before he turns his attention back to the messenger boy. “Call a meeting. Get my head of National Security on the phone. And call the guards. NOW!”

The poor boy nearly jumps out of his skin in fright before scurrying out of the room. Xander turns on a dime and opens his mouth to yell a thousand curses as he stares me down. “We go to war at dawn.” His face reddens again as he poises himself to lunge at me again.

Xander’s fighting stance falters as he hears running steps and the boy’s voice behind him again. “But sire there have already been attacks on the south border of the country. Soldiers are disappearing left and right!”

“Fine. I guess my wife and I will have to talk later.”

He and his little “army” don’t stand a chance. Mara’s magic will slaughter them all and give him a frog head for the fun of it, but I chuckle at his attempts to seem like a leader as he charges out of the bedroom barking orders to the undeserving soon-to-be soldiers.

“Have fun with that …” By later I’ll be at my own home. A beautiful palace on the horizon, 10 times bigger than Xander’s will ever be.

“Call my Ladies-in-Waiting for a tea party. My sister and I have to celebrate.” And so help me God, Xander better not break any more plates.

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“The Friend” by Ethen Kelley

Sherwood Christian Academy

High School — Third Place

Inspiration Piece: “Ontbijtjes Side A” by Michael Oliveri

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Lucas never talked to anyone. He only spoke when spoken to and ate lunch by himself at the end of the table. He had bad penmanship and walked kind of funny, so kids would always make fun of him. Everything changed on the first day of the seventh grade. When he sat down to eat his lunch, another kid sat down in front of him.

“What are you eating?” asked the kid.

He was so surprised that someone sat in front of him he just stared at the kid.

“Well, I only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by my dad,” continued the boy as if Lucas had answered.

Lucas continued staring at the boy in amazement as he pulled his SpongeBob lunchbox and started pulling three uncrustable sandwiches, all peanut butter and jelly, out and eating them in two bites.

“I’m John, what’s your name?” asked John after swallowing.

“Lucas,” Lucas said timidly.

“Well, Lucas, we are going to own seventh grade together. Me and you on the top of the food chain. Backpacking all through field house valley. Racing down east hall straightaway. Parkouring over the tops of the lockers of doom. It’s gonna be an amazing year,” said John with a sparkle in his eye, ready for whatever came next.

Lucas’s mom barely heard her son talk so when he did, she would listen closely, and she would try to remember every detail of every conversation she had so that she would have a window, even if it was small, into her only child’s life.

Everything changed on the first day of seventh grade, though. Lucas came through their yellow front door with a giant smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes.

“Mom,” he said bursting with a story to tell.

Overwhelmed that her son was standing in front of her ready to tell her what happened that day, she barely muttered a “Mhm”.

“I made a friend today at school; his name is John and he likes all the things I like, and he has a really cool bug collection that he said he would show me tomorrow. Can I go to his house tomorrow and see it? I will be able to be home before dark?” spilled Lucas to his mother.

“Absolutely,” she told him.

Looking back, she should have asked for more details about John, made sure that John had permission to ask a friend over, made sure Lucas could make it home by dark, made sure he knew the way home, talked to John’s parents. Any of those things would have helped, but she was too excited to think reasonably. Her son had made a friend, and that was all that mattered.

On the way to John’s house, they talked about school, what they did during the summer and how to make a bug collection look good.

“It’s all in what else is in the collection,” John told Lucas. “You can’t have just bugs. You need rope, pine straw, maybe some fruit, and definitely worms and centipedes. They just look the best”.

Lucas would just listen to John every day, and John would tell him about bugs, trees and dirt. Lucas would only really start listening when John started talking about his bug collection, though, because it was the most amazing thing to Lucas.

By about Christmas time, Lucas’s mom asked him, “So, when do I get to meet this John?”

“Umm, John said that he didn’t want to meet you, and that we should just continue hanging out after school,” replied Lucas.

“You know I am going to have to meet him at some point. He’s your best friend,” said his mom, trying to get her son to cave in.

“OK, I’ll see if he’ll come over,” caved Lucas.

On the way to Lucas’s house, John was unnecessarily nervous.

“I don’t know, man. All the people I have been friends with, well, the people close to them don’t like me,” John said with a shaky voice.

“Don’t worry, my mom will love you. She is really cool,” said Lucas calmly.

As they walked toward the yellow front door, it opened with Lucas’s mom on the other side.

“Hi, Mom,” said Lucas normally.

“Hello, Ms. Grain,” said John nervously.

To Lucas’s surprise, his mom just ignored John. She just went on asking the normal questions and not being a hostess at all.

“Mom!” Lucas interrupted her angrily.

“What honey?” she asked as if she didn’t know what he meant.

“John, this is my mom; Mom this is John,” Lucas said, trying to give her a hint.

“Hello, I ...” John started but was immediately cut off.

“Lucas, I don’t understand ...” said Lucas’s mom compassionately. Then it clicked. “Oh … I understand,” she said realizing that her son had not made a friend but had made one up.

“Lucas, I had an imaginary friend, too, but I was much younger than you. I think it’s time for you to make real friends”.

“What are you talking about? He is real. He is right here!” yelled Lucas, furious that his mother would be so rude.

“Hey, I am going to head home, and don’t take this from your mom,” said John, apparently ready to leave this awkward conversation.

The next couple of weeks were a blur of arguments, doctor’s visits and lies according to Lucas. Many “well-respected” doctors were telling him that he should try to forget or avoid John. Why would he do that?

They eventually put him on some medication. Lucas tried to understand why. Something called schizophrenia. He didn’t understand. All he knew was that he would work on his bug collection every day. He would make it look cool, though, with worms, centipedes, rope, some rotten fruit and pine straw.

His mom told him that the medicine had worked and that he was better for it, but in the 10th grade all he understood was that he had a bug collection without anyone to show it to.

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