The Foothills Writers Group organized a writing contest in September for Grade 5/6 students from Okotoks schools that aimed to promote literacy and encourage creativity among young writers.
The students submitted their stories during the Local Author Book Fair held in October at the Okotoks Public Library. Judges from the writers group reviewed each entry, looking for originality of ideas, grammar and style.
The writers group would like to acknowledge the generous contributions made by local businesses and organizations that helped to make this contest a success: Okotoks Art Council, Safeway, Sobey's, Tim Hortons, Ridley Cycles, Okotoks Cinemas, Dairy Queen and Boston Pizza. It would also like to thank Dorothy Bentley, the author of Escaping the Wildfires, for her generous cash donation.
The overall winners of the contest were Grade 6 students Madeleine Janzen and Graham Linton. Below are their winning entries.
By Madeleine Janzen (Grade 6 Student — Good Shepherd School)
Astraea glanced around her, taking in her surroundings. The sky was concerningly gray. Above her, the trees stretched high, looking as though they were touching the clouds. Insects buzzed all around.
Astraea’s nature-obsessed mother had woken her up early Sunday morning, and declared that she was going to send her poor, defenceless daughter into the wilderness that day. Her mother refused to change her mind, declaring that this excursion would be “good for her.” Astraea hadn’t gone on a hike in over ten years, and she had no intention of starting again. Then the guide called out that they were starting, and she focused on figuring out how to avoid hiking.
Astraea trailed behind the group until they had entered the forest, and all the weird hikers were too busy concentrating on the forest to pay any attention to one teenage girl slipping away.
Sly as a fox, Astraea darted into the forest. She only meant to stay in there to maneuver around the people crowding the path, but her inner voice urged her deeper into the trees. The girl vaguely remembered the guide warning them not to stray off the path, but she ignored his words and kept going. After a few minutes she stopped short. There was nothing ahead of her, just darkness. It was like the Vikings were right, and there really was an end to the world! The voice urged her forward, but she hesitated. It was then that she realized that she had no idea how to get back. Without taking the time to regret it, Astraea squeezed her eyes shut and stepped over the edge.
“Aaaaaahh!” Astraea kept screaming even after a loud THUMP signified that she had hit solid ground. Tentatively, she cracked one eye open, then blinked in surprise. The sun was shining brightly, without a cloud in the sky. Before, the sky had been dark gray. Now it was completely blue. She was still in a forest, but these trees had blue and purple leaves. The flowers had tiny faces in the center. She actually saw one blink! Wherever she was, Astraea instantly knew that she had to get out.
* * *
Someone was watching her. She could feel it through every bone in her body. Thinking fast, she pretended to walk away, in the direction opposite from where someone was watching her intently.
After about a minute, Astraea whipped around and saw a pale figure vanish into the undergrowth. She sprang after it, and landed on something.
“Oof!” came a muffled sound from the figure underneath her. Startled, she rolled off and, to her surprise, saw a human boy.
“What?” she managed to ask before the boy interrupted her.
“Wait, I can explain!” he cried. When she looked expectantly at him, he continued. “Something pulled me into the forest, until I reached the cliff and jumped off, like you probably did.” Astraea nodded. “I reckon that this is some kind of other world, and that cliff was a portal. I can’t figure out how to get back, though.”
That made sense, she realized. This boy was right; they had ended up trapped in another world! Before she could think about it anymore, the boy spoke up again.
“Maybe you can help me figure out where the portal back is? I’m Jake, by the way.”
“I’m Astraea. Have you talked to any of the creatures who live here?” She was thinking harder than she could ever remember. Astraea had to get back to her parents! At that moment, Jake suggested that they go talk to some residents of this world. She agreed, and they set off together.
Before long, Astraea felt eyes on them again, and she used the same trick as she had on Jake. The girl leaped and then rolled off of the figure and saw a cat sitting there, gazing up at her.
“Who are you?” it asked, trembling.
“We’re from Earth,” Astraea replied. “How do we get back?”
“Well, miss, you would have to travel to the queen’s palace, as that’s where the portal is, but good luck getting her to let you use it. She hates strangers. If you insist on trying, her palace is about a day’s journey north.”
Astraea could tell that this was all that the cat knew, so she and Jake set off in the direction of the palace.
After about a day, they saw the palace. The two of them began discussing plans.
“We know the queen hates strangers, so we have to make sure she doesn’t notice us. Should we disguise ourselves?” suggested Jake. “She’s bound to have guards, so it seems like we should ‘become’ one of them. We just need two uniforms.”
They could see guards posted outside, so they fashioned some slingshots from sticks and vines and gathered some rocks.
* * *
A volley of stones flew through the air, knocking out all but one of the soldiers. Jake raced forward, grabbed a sword and struck, defeating him. Then the friends put on the uniforms, lumbering into the palace.
The floors were carpeted, and crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The duo raced through the hall and tried to guess where the portal could be. Astraea spotted a closed off hallway, so that seemed like the best option. Jake picked all of the locks, but none of the rooms had anything of interest. Finally, there was only one door left. This was it. Astraea could hear footsteps drawing nearer. No one had glanced at them in the first hallway, but the off limits one was different. She urged Jake on. This had to work. The lock sprang open, and they darted inside. There it was. The cliff, with only darkness beyond it. Without hesitating, they ran forward and leaped off.
* * *
Astraea had somehow found her way back to the path and rejoined the group. She hadn’t told anyone about her adventure; it was her and Jake’s secret. She had certainly learned her lesson: never follow urges to wander into dark forests!
By Graham Linton (Grade 6 Student — Good Shepherd School)
Red is a barn, but he is special. He can talk to animals, feel things, and see things. He started as a concrete foundation. The humans worked day and night constructing the walls, the doors, everything. Then the hayloft was added, and finally, the shingles were nailed into place. That's the short story of how Red was made.
Red has the best life. He stands happily as the pride of the farm. A bird flew into the gleaming new barn and chirped excitedly, “Wow! Nice new barn.”
Red felt proud, then said, “Hello Bird”.
Bird jumped “Ahhh! You can talk! Geez you scared me! Have you heard of the new town?” asked Bird. “There are houses, humans, and lots to do”.
“Sounds like fun, but I can't move. I’m a barn!”.
“Oh yeah, that's too bad,” said Bird.
Red felt sad that he couldn't see the town. He also felt a bit jealous of Bird. “Well could you try lifting me over there?” asked Red, “I really want to see the town”.
So Bird grabbed a board and pulled, and pulled till she finally said “You're too heavy”.
“Well, what else can we do?” asked Red.
“I can ask tractor to push you over there?” Bird said.
“Well, that might not end well such as me being knocked right over. Hmmmm, can we move the town here?”
“No, I don't think we can,” meowed a barn cat that seemed to be there the whole time. “It is too large”.
“I guess I will never see the town,” Red sadly admitted. Dew started dripping off his sad shingles falling soundlessly into the grass. Bird left, searching for food. The barn cat went off chasing mice. Red felt so lonely and sad. The day seemed to drag on forever. The happiness and pride from before had drained away.
He dozed off at some point just to be woken up by thunder. It was raining so hard Red couldn't see five feet in front of him. I hope Bird found shelter. His thought ended with the sound of wings rustling in his hay loft. “Good morning Bird” Red said, relieved to hear Bird was safe.
“Hey Red. I just decided to take shelter here. That’s quite a storm outside”. Red felt glad that he had a purpose again.
Red started to get older as the years passed by. He felt sore, as his red paint was fading, his concrete foundation was crumbling, and his boards were snapping. He felt sad that the humans didn’t care for him anymore. He was used less and less. One of his barn doors fell off and a window shattered. He was left to rot. All he did nowadays was watch the seasons pass. Red just wanted to see something new like the town, but he realized that there was no chance of that.
Bird had left a while ago but never came back. Barn cat left as unexpectedly as he came. Red was so lonely. He just wanted someone to talk to. One day he saw the farmer looking out his window on the phone with someone, staring at Red. Red could barely make out the words as he read the farmers lips, “Yes, Tuesday works fine, bring the excavator.”
‘Must be working on building the silo near the west field’, thought Red. ‘Whatever, just some more usual farm stuff and all I get to do to help is watch’. The rest of the day was normal apart from the phone call, such as trying to talk to the mice. Well, sort of…all they do is squeak.
The next day was Tuesday. Red woke up thinking of trying to get the mice to talk. But then he felt the ground begin to tremble, heard a rumbling clank clank clank, and saw a big excavator slowly crawling up the road. Red remembered the phone call from yesterday and understood. Red sighed. ‘They are building a silo to the west’, he remembered, ‘that must be why it is here’. But as the excavator approached it didn't turn west. It was heading straight for Red. Then it stopped and the driver got out as the farmer walked over.
“Ok," said the driver, but Red couldn't make out the rest of the conversation. The excavator started up again and rumbled up to Red. Suddenly, the bucket swung around right into Red’s wall. “OUCH!” He couldn't believe it! They were demolishing him! How could the farmer do this to him? Wasn’t he an important part of the farm? The excavator swung again. This time into his hayloft, which used to be Bird’s home! The excavator kept swinging and crashing into him over and over. As the final board fell the last plume of dust went up and away. All of Red’s hopes and dreams went with it.
All was quiet. Even the excavator had rumbled and clanked away. Red laid in a crumpled pile, devastated. He never had the chance to leave the farm. A pickup truck drove in and started loading up the wood with the remains of Red. It drove off to the market in the town and unloaded the wood onto a table with a sign that read “Barn Wood: $10 a board”.
By the end of the day all the wood was gone. People made signs, doors, decorations and even beds with Red’s wood. Red felt perplexed. So much of him was in so many different places. But then it dawned on him that he was now part of the town. He had finally made it to the place he had dreamed of his whole life. No longer did he have to be lonely and neglected. No longer did he have to sit in one place and watch life go on around him. He was a part of homes and families and laughter and love. He finally felt like he belonged, and it was beyond his wildest dreams. Red had found his purpose.