To recognize and encourage the talents of literary artists, the Arts Council of Westerville, Westerville Public Library and ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion invited writers of all ages to be a part of the Celebrate the Arts Writing Contest.

The contest, in addition to calling upon writers to share their works with us, was conceived as a new dimension to the month-long celebration of the arts in Westerville during April.

This marks the 12th year for the collaborative event.

The contest

Writers submitted their entries according to five categories arranged by age or grade in school.

The submissions were required to be original works of 800 words or less. Any genre was welcome: poetry, free verse, short story and others. First-place winners in each category have the honor of seeing their entry published in the ThisWeek Westerville News & Public Opinion, with first-, second-, third-place and honorable mention entries published online.

All approved entries are published in a book, Celebrate the Arts Writing Contest 2018.

The results

With great pleasure we present to you the creative works of the participating writers. We thank and acknowledge the work of our judges, Terry Hermsen, published poet and English and Creative Writing professor at Otterbein University; and Cheryl Ortlieb, retired teacher with the Westerville City School District who taught grades 4-6 for 30 years.

The celebration

Writers, along with their families and fans, gathered for congratulations, refreshments and the opportunity to read from their work at the Awards Reception for Writers held April 22.

Thanks and kudos

We extend our gratitude to the talented writers of every age and style who participated in the contest.

The 2018 winners:

Category: Grades K-2

First place -- "Bailey's Adventures," by Lillian Ross

Once upon a time, my family and I had a dog named Bailey. He was such a good pup. But when he was 3 years old, he ran off! My Dad went looking for him all day, but he still could not find him. We were getting so worried about him. But Bailey met another dog named Lucy ... I think Bailey is going to have a girlfriend! Then a couple days later, Bailey came back with his girlfriend! So I asked "Can we keep Lucy?"

Then Mom said "Yes." "Yea!" I said.

Also, Bailey and Lucy ran away many other times. So now, I'm going to tell you some other things about their adventures.

One time, we were eating lunch, and they ran away! They ran away for 5 days, then they came back. Another time, Lucy and Bailey ran away while we were on vacation and when we got back, they were gone! But then a day later, they came back.

So then Dad said to Bailey and Lucy "This will be the last time you run away." Dad kept an eye on them and they were sad, but Bailey and Lucy found a way out! Dad got really mad at Lucy and Bailey. So when they got home, they got in trouble.

They had to stay in their cages for one day. But when dad saw their sad puppy-dog eyes, he could not stand them. He let them out and Bailey and Lucy were so happy! But then dad said "If I let you stay out, you have to not run away, is that clear?." Then Lucy and Bailey nodded. "OK then, you can stay out of your cages", dad said.

Then Bailey and Lucy got too old to run away, and they were sad. But they were very happy to be together. Also, they got two treats a day. They got really spoiled, and they loved that! But they also got really fat!! I laughed so hard! In fact, my whole family laughed. Every single night we fed Bailey and Lucy dog food. But they only ate half of their food, because they would come to us for people food! It was so funny that my family was crying of happiness. After dinner, we all watched a movie with popcorn. We gave Bailey and Lucy some popcorn, too.

Then my family, Bailey, and Lucy went on a hike for 3 days. On the second day, we all exercised to get Lucy and Bailey back into shape. We exercised for 2 hours. Bailey and Lucy lost a little weight, but not much. On the third day, we packed up and left at 3:00. When we got home while we were unpacking, Bailey and Lucy liked exercising, so they were exercising in the basement. Also, Bailey and Lucy were scared of thunderstorms, so the basement felt safe to them. But, Dad had to carry them back up the stairs because their back legs did not work as good as they did when they were younger. By the way, Bailey and Lucy weighed more than 100 pounds, isn't that crazy?! Also, Bailey and Lucy exercise every morning in the basement. They exercised for 3 hours sometimes, and I would go down and exercise with them.

And they lived happily ever after!

Category: Grades 3-5

First place: "Stuck in the Art," by Mia Anderson

Lily stood in front of the museum where her father worked. "Where should we go first?" asked her brother, Jonathan. Lily's father let them look around the museum on Friday nights while he cleaned.

"Definitely the paintings," said Lily, who always wanted to be an artist.

Reluctantly, Jonathan agreed. He found a stone on the step of the museum and had called it his lucky stone ever since. He had rubbed his lucky stone in hopes that Lily would have chosen the sculpture exhibit. He always wanted to be a sculptor when he grew up. Unfortunately for Jonathan, his sister chose the paintings. Again. Next thing Jonathan knew, he was staring at a painting of a garden. He rubbed his lucky stone wishing that they would leave soon, and Lily reached to touch the painting. There was a blinding flash of light! She was sucked into the painting!

"Help! Get me out of here!," cried Lily.

Jonathan reached out to grab her, and felt himself getting pulled in, too! "How do we get out?" Jonathan asked.

"I don't know, you're the one with the magic stone!" Lily said.

"You think my stone is magic?" asked Jonathan.

"Have you noticed it sparkles when we get near a picture? Of course it's magic!" exclaimed Lily. A loud growl broke their conversation.

"Please tell me that was your stomach," asked a terrified Jonathan to Lily, who was always hungry.

A mountain lion sprang out of nowhere and began to chase them! "AAAAH!" they both screamed.

"Look! An exit to another painting!" yelled Lily. They leapt through the exit and onto a dock in the nick of time.

"That was close," gasped Jonathan.

"How do we get out of here?" asked Lily.

"We leapt into another painting when we escaped the mountain lion, maybe if we find the right painting we can leave," Jonathan said. "But I don't see an exit here." They saw a boat on the dock.

"We can use that boat to sail to the exit! It's a good thing I took sailing lessons when I was five," Lily said. They climbed into the boat, but as soon as they left the harbor a hurricane started to roar.

"Just great," muttered Jonathan.

Waves smashed into the boat, sending water all over the vessel. Amazingly, Lily managed to get them through the roaring storm.

"Look, the exit!" yelled Lily. "Jump now!"

They stumbled onto a mountain cliff. "Whoa," Jonathan said as he stared at the bottomless plunge. "How do we get across?" asked Jonathan. A huge eagle soared above them.

"I have an idea," Lily said.

"But we'll need a fish." Jonathan spotted a piece of wood on the ground and immediately started to carve it with his pocketknife. Soon, he had a very lifelike fish in his hands. Lily raised the carving high in the air. The eagle dove at the fish. Jonathan and Lily leapt onto the bird's back. Lily held the fish in front of the eagle so it would fly toward the fish. They spotted the portal, jumped, and fell onto a tree. They noticed the tree picture was right in front of their father.

"Dad! Help! Get us out of here!" they yelled.

Jonathan dropped his stone out of the picture. Luckily, their dad saw them and managed to get them out without getting trapped in the picture himself. They immediately became their original size. The next week, they were standing in front of the museum again.

"Can we go to the sculptures?" asked Jonathan.

"Okay," agreed Lily. "Just don't rub your unlucky stone."

Category: Grades 6-8

First place: "Paint the Sky," by Anna Deichert

I press the button next to me for more pain medicine. A large dose of tranquility sweeps over me as my mom pats my arm.

"It's okay, my girl, it'll be over soon," she whispers to me. Though I couldn't see them, on the other side of my bed, my two siblings stand with my father, watching the short breaths I take. The TV is on, long forgotten, as my rapidly approaching death is the only thing that clouds their minds.

"I love you all," I manage to rasp out. I can hear the silent weeping of my family before I drift into a deep sleep.

When I open my eyes, I am not in the hospital bed. I am not surrounded by the endless white and the constant smell of sour medicine. It's all gone. Instead, I sit cross-legged on a velvet pillow, taking in my surroundings.

I'm in a dimly lit room, and when I look up above me, there isn't a ceiling. The perpetual universe is above me. Shades of blue, purple, black, and white swirl together to make a huge galaxy. Speckled across it is thousands and thousands of stars, I can even point out the Big and Little Dipper. I'm in complete awe; I have never seen such a sight in my life. After I peel my eyes away from the raw beauty, I notice what's in front of me. There's a large, blank canvas on an easel and in front of it sits every color of acrylic paint imaginable. The paint has been well-used, which makes the upcoming project that much more special. Next to me is a sign, reading "paint tomorrow's sunset as you please."

And so I do.

I paint the sky as I would have loved to see it before I was hospitalized. I paint a sky full of hope and love, even though there wasn't any left for me. I channel my artist, I used to be one years ago, and I paint as there isn't a tomorrow. Granted, there might not be for me, but I toss the thought from my mind.

My paintbrushes create colors and swirl them together on the canvas, and when it's done, I stand up and take a step back. It's not flawless, but I love it nevertheless. The main colors are purples and reds, with a hint of pink. There are many clouds, as I used to love watching them float by, and they give me peace.

As I'm waiting for it to dry, I lay back on the pillow, my head facing the universe above. The stars twinkle and shine, so I spend my time trying to find famous constellations.

The last star I find is the North Star before I drift into sleep.

Yet again, when I wake, I am in a new place: alone on a hill, with the wind blowing my hair in a mess around my face. Before me, the sky is the one I just painted in the last dream. It's even more beautiful in person, but I don't feel a hint of pride in painting something so lovely. I stay long enough to watch the sun dip into the horizon and evening turns to night. I stay long enough to realize that this is, indeed, the end of my life. I want to say goodbye to my family though, so I open my eyes to see my family standing over me.

"I'll miss you guys," I barely manage to squeeze out. They're teary-eyed and miserable, and I hope this will release them of my burden I carry. "Don't be too sad when I leave."

I smile up at them despite my immense tiredness.

Then, finally, I take my last inhale of breath and I close my eyes for the final time.

Goodbye, world, and all the beauty I got to experience in my lifetime. I will miss you and everyone in it.

Category: Grades 9-12

First place: "Stars, Stars, and More Stars: A Moment in Nature," by Owen Lewis

In any person's life, there are few moments where one can feel truly connected to nature. This is my story.

I experienced one of these moments late one night in the middle of the summer of 2016, but to understand this moment fully we have to back up a bit. A few months prior, one of my closest friends, a pastor's son named Connor, had asked me if I could help out with a week-long church camp for fourth- through sixth-graders. He needed someone to play guitar with the worship team and to lead a small group of the boys, and so, knowing that I had recently taught myself to play the guitar, he decided to ask me. Connor and I have been friends practically since we were born, so I knew I couldn't let him down. After some careful consideration (as well as some rather forceful encouragement from my parents) I hesitantly agreed, and so in late June, I found myself packing up and heading off to a small and remote campground in northern Ohio called 'Elkhorn Valley'.

As the week played out, it ended up becoming an amazing experience. Almost immediately, I found myself making very personal connections with many of my fellow camp leaders as well as the children alike. Within a week, a group of people who I had never spoken a single word to became some of my closest friends. Additionally, playing guitar with the worship team was an incredibly inspiring and educating experience. The kids were tons of fun to work with, worshipping had ended up being an amazing experience, and I ended up making really close relationships with every leader who I was with on the worship team. So, as the week came to a close, on the last night of the camp, the other leaders and I decided to go stargazing.

After receiving permission from the camp dean (who happened to be Connor's father), late on the last night, after all the children had gone to sleep, my friends Riley, Olivia, Connor, Ian, Trevor, Joseph, and I, all snuck out of our cabins and met up near the camp's chapel. We then made our way to a field about a mile north, and after messing around for a bit, laid down on the grass. Eventually, the random and sporadic talking of our group faded into the silence of the night and it truly became magical. Although it seems rather insignificant and unimportant, lying there in the grass that night is one of the most memorable experiences of my life. There's something truly spectacular and indescribable about being surrounded by people you love in the middle of nature. Everything that night from the sound of the cicadas and the dozens of other insects filling the field's silence, to the cool summer breeze flowing past our still bodies lying on the grass, to the view of the clear, starry sky contributed to the euphoria of the night. After an immeasurable amount of time passed, words from my friend Olivia pierced the sounds of the night. "It's just stars, stars, and more stars out there, isn't it?" she said. We each refocused on the night above us and glared at the infinity that totally encompassed our field of view. Here, we were completely connected to nature. Here, we could feel the ground underneath us, hear the sounds of the countryside, and see the infinity of the starry sky. Here, at least for a moment, we could completely abandon the struggles of the real world and find solace in nature around us. Here, it really was just stars, stars, and more stars.

Alas, no moment, regardless of its perfection, can be infinite. As the night ended, we eventually had to return to our respective dorms and go to sleep. The next morning, the children's parents came and picked them up, we all went home, and life returned to normal, but I still can remember that night as if it was yesterday. I can still feel the humid and warm air around me, I can still hear the noises of the night, and I can still see the stars in the sky. That camp helped me in ways I could never have imagined, and the memories and relationships I made at that camp will always stick with me. Playing guitar with the group allowed me to get over some debilitating stage fright, meeting those children and hearing about their lives helped me remember how blessed my own was, and that night in the field really reminded me of the beauty of my world. In any person's life, there are few moments where one can feel truly connected to nature, but when they occur, they can be truly life-changing.

Category: Adults

First place: "Tokens," by Matthew Carlyle

It was Autumn. The walnut trees forgot some of their leaves as they settled into an emaciated physique. Preparation for winter was necessary. Flood warnings ran in banners below the six-o-clock news as the boy looked out his trailer window for a break in the rain.

The boy trudged through the yard for walnuts that had escaped the grip of the trees. He loved walnuts. His Grandmother told him they brought health. The saying in rural Ohio went, the more walnuts the healthier the tree and the healthier the livestock would be. With healthier livestock, the healthier the family. The boy questioned its truth. If it was true, it didn't seem to be true now. The yard was full of walnuts and his family was not healthy, not even together. He searched anyway and the ones he found he clung onto like coveted pieces of pretend truths. He heard the ditches run wild with too much rain. It was more than the ancient Appalachian soil could hold.

The driveway was long and dipped under and over his line of view. There were ditches along the road. The water ran over the banks and across the road in low places. As the boy walked along a full ditch, he heard a huff above the water rushing into the storm drain and he knew it was a buck. He approached the ditch. The ridge of the buck's back and its head were barely above the water. His eyes were a panicked glassy black and almost the size of the walnuts the boy had in his pack. Among prolonged periods of stillness the buck thrashed with all the energy he had collected.

Maybe the saying was true. The boy grabbed a few walnuts, husk and all. He forced them into the buck's view, and then into his mouth. The buck spit them out along with the foam that had collected toward the outside of his lips. The boy put his hand out for the buck to smell like a dog and then grabbed behind his jaw bone. He pulled. It was useless, not a budge.

The boy ran down into the ditch and forced the bucks hips out of the mud.

As he tried this he knew it was too late. The mud seeped through the fabric of his pants and startled his skin. And as much as he tried to break free, he was stuck. Oh God, he was stuck.

"Help me," he panicked. "I'm stuck," stating the obvious.

He wiggled and felt his body fall further into the muck just like the deer had before him. He had to be still. He cried and as he cried nothing happened. He felt heavier.

There was no sense in crying now. He rested his arms on the buck's back making sure not to sink closer to his death. All the walnuts in Ohio could not save him now. The buck reared back and kicked him in the shin. It was a precision blow and he knew his shin was split open.

After the pain lost its sting, the boy felt some freedom in front of his leg, some wiggle room. The buck kicked again. This time in the knee and he felt more free. It became a pattern and then a rhythm. And the pain became a prayer and then a blessing. The buck snorted and kicked, and the boy inched his way out of the ditch with each painful blow and an additional inch of hope. The boy dragged himself onto the bank, his legs were swollen and cut wide open. The boy heard the buck's lungs scream as the boy rolled over onto the saturated soil and looked up at the walnut trees. The walnuts fell and he cried.

He got to his knees and collected parts of his breath between his tears.

The buck's head rested on the bank of the ditch. The buck's breathing slowed and the whine in his lungs stopped. It blinked slowly and then expired as he snorted, a you're welcome. The boy lifted its limp head attached to its limp neck. He hugged the buck still blurry eyed and left some walnuts next to the body like tokens of pretend truths.