Westerville writing contest 2021: Category grades 9-12

Compiled by Linda Wilkins
Arts Council of Westerville

First place: “Flip the Switch” by Uku Hughes

Second place: “The Swing of Things” by Olivia Wood

Third place: “True Love” by Ellie Chivington

Honorable mention: “Sounds in Silence” by Ari Wilson

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First place

"Flip the Switch"

By Uku Hughes

Uku Hughes

I look around the attic, which ends up being an ugly, cramped, and threadbare existence, the sole exception being a light switch on the wall, sticking out from the pink insulation. I flick it up and down a couple of times. “It doesn’t work,” I note.

“You haven’t wired it in,” explained Mr. Barns, a short, balding man, who was my real estate agent.

I raised an eyebrow. “What kind of light switch needs to be wired in? It seems excessively difficult to get a little light around here.”

Mr. Barns rolled his eyes, and flicked another switch, this one closer to the door, with a wire coming out of one of its sides. An old lightbulb flickered to light in the middle of the ceiling.

I blinked in surprise. “What does that other switch control then?”

Mr. Barns gave me an odd smile. “It controls the sun itself.”

“What?”

“Once properly wired in,” he explained, “its position will decide whether the sun is turned on or off at the moment.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I protested. “The sun isn’t on or off, because night is just the phenomena when the earth is facing away from the sun.”

“That’s just because no one has turned off the sun,” Barns explained. “If you flipped the switch while it was properly wired in, the sun would just turn off.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” I protested.

Mr. Barns shrugged. “In that case, we can just leave it the way it is.”

“Can you at least wire it in for me?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t see why not,” said Barns, as he pulled some copper wires out of a fold in the insulation, and hooked them around the bottom of the switch.

I promptly flipped the switch to its off position. Nothing happened. I turned to Mr. Barns, and folded my arms. “See, nothing happened.”

Mr. Barns looked rather panicked. “It takes about eight minutes for light emitted by the sun to reach the earth.”

“I guess we’ll see what happens in eight minutes, then,” I said.

“I, ah,” said Mr. Barns.

“Let’s go outside,” I smiled. “I want to see the sun turn off.”

Mr. Barns looked progressively more worried as we walked away from the attic. Suddenly, the refrigerator, which we were walking by, stopped its usual hum. I blinked. “Must be a power outage.”

Barns looked around skittishly. “Can we turn the sun back on yet?”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be so impatient. Come on, don’t you want to see the sun turn off?”

“Not really.”

We stepped outside and stood together in silence.

“See,” I said, fed up with waiting, “nothing happened!”

At that moment, the sun turned off. There was no warning, or dramatic effect. The world just suddenly went dark. Stars became visible in the sky, far more than there would usually be. The world suddenly became a bit colder. It was incredible. Unfortunately, my admiration of the darker world was interrupted by a gust of frigid air, reminding me something that I had learned at some point in school. Namely, that the sun was the source of all heat on Earth. I understood that now, as the temperature was dropping at a horrifying rate.

“Can we turn the light on now?” asked Mr. Barns, and I was forced to agree.

We walked back into the attic, and I flicked the switch back into the on position.

Nothing happened, and I was reminded of that fact that light took eight minutes to travel to Earth from the sun. We stood in silence, as the attic began to get colder and colder. I began to wish I had brought a winter coat with me, but hadn’t thought it to be necessary at the time.

“We’re lucky this attic is so well insulated,” noted Mr. Barns. “It would be much colder by now if it wasn’t.”

I nodded. “We are lucky. How long do you think it will take for the sun to turn on?”

“Not much longer,” said Mr. Barns. “We’re definitely nearing the eight minute mark.”

We waited for another minute. Nothing happened.

“Why isn’t it turning on?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Barns. “Maybe there’s an error in the wiring?”

I cursed suddenly. “The power is out.”

Mr. Barns’ eyes widened. “That explains why it isn’t working then. How long do you think it will take for them to get the power back up?”

I sighed. “Do you think electrical repairs are their first priority right now?”

We both sighed. The room felt colder already.

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Second place

"The Swing of Things"

By Olivia Wood

Olivia Wood

The wet mulch squished satisfyingly under the little girl’s shiny galoshes as she skipped through the empty playground, only one activity on her mind. Ahead of her sat an old swing-set, it’s rusty metal frame glinting in the afternoon light. Landing onto one of the warm rubber seats with a plop, she sighed happily, kicking her suspended feet in the air. Pumping them back and forth, she rose higher into the sky and into her imagination with a joyful laugh. But it wasn’t long until her legs were tired. Dragging them in the mulch as she passed to stop the swing, she soon slowed to a halt. Panting from the effort, she clutched the metal chains in her palms, turning the swing around absentmindedly. Once. Twice. Soon the two chains had intertwined into one above the girl’s head.  Leaning back in the narrow seat, she lifted her feet. At once the world blurred around her as the swing spun into motion. She watched her beloved town as it whirled by, noting the familiar presence of the looming clocktower, the busy grocers, the puddles drying on the sidewalks from yesterday’s storm. She spun around again, turning in her seat to keep her eyes on the town. She cried out in alarm. The town had disappeared, replaced by rolling hills as far as the eye could see. The little girl blinked in surprise, craning her neck as the swing turned her around again.                                                                A settlement had appeared on the hills, horse-drawn wagons gathered in groups around small wooden cabins and campfires. Time seemed to slow the swing’s spin, the girl’s braids hovering mid-air. She resisted the urge to let go and rub her eyes, sighting houses where the wagons had been before. People wandered about on their daily business, trading goods and harvesting wheat in the nearby fields.  The girl gripped the chains with her sweaty palms and leaned forward, fascinated. But she couldn’t watch for long, foiled again by the swing, which was jerking her around roughly as it untangled. She now smelled smoke. The next scene she witnessed was alight with an orange glow. Her town as she knew it had returned, but it was burning. She shrieked in terror, watching helplessly as the clock-tower lurched and crumbled into the hungry flames. Ashes travelled through the air, passing by her swing and choking her. She attempted to stop the odd visions, digging the toe of her shoe into the mulch, but it wasn’t enough. The swing continued on.                                                                                    

The hard sound of rain came from behind the girl, the remains of the town steaming from the torrent. Wind whipped the smoke up into winding spirals. Lightning cracked in the distance and thunder shook the earth under the swing-set. The girl scrunched in the seat, squeezing her eyes shut. It was then she heard a voice. She opened her eyes as her view returned to the town, spying a woman on top of the rubble. She was gesturing wildly, stirring up a crowd. The girl felt a recognition. It was herself. She was aiding her town. Time sped up, each twist of the swing returning to a better scene. The clock-tower was rebuilt, white-washed and gleaming in the sun. A statue had been erected in the square of another recognizable figure, the girl’s grandfather, who had started the settlement. Children ran through the meadows. Lovers fed the local pigeons. Businesses boomed. And at the front of the recovery efforts, was the girl now grown, a spark in her eyes. She grinned at the vision of her future, letting go of a chain to wave.

Bam! With a metallic clunk her swing came to a halt, rocking her back and forth. Losing her balance she fell backwards into the damp mulch, finding herself staring into the face of her favorite clock tower. Behind it storm clouds brewed, the faint rumble of thunder felt in the ground under her. Her wide eyes blinked in realization. Pulling herself off the ground and untangling mulch from her hair she turned away from the storm, thoughts whirling in her head. She knew not where the visions came from, but she did know one thing. Whatever came, whatever happened, life would go on. Her town would rise from the ashes. It would grow stronger through trials, emerging better than before. And the little girl felt solemnly in that moment that she would do the same, for life, like history, always holds a back and forth. For that, she thought, remembering a phrase her father had uttered. That was the swing of things.

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Third place

"True Love"

By Ellie H. Chivington

Ellie Chivington

A voice, no matter how angelic, when heard too much can become tiresome. Noa knew this truth well, and thought this as a women's vintage vocal cords crackled from the record player in the corner. Her mother’s favorite record: Love Songs for Modern Women. The record, however, was recorded when the women of the fifties were modern. The songs were pleasant, but there was something about them that didn’t sit right with Noa. But she couldn’t figure out what it was. So on this particular night, similar to many before it, Noa stared out the window of her parents apartment, mindlessly searching for stars while her thoughts were doing a curious dance in her mind, in which certain steps were monotonous; repeating over and over again while other parts were impossibly fast and tiring. She was thinking about all this when a familiar voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Noelle? Darling, I need you to do me a favor. I meant to pick up my dark chocolate from Dupont’s earlier today, but I forgot. I’ve already retired for the evening and I don’t feel like going out again, so would you fetch it for me? Usually I'd just wait, but I was going to make biscotti for Aunt Jane tomorrow morning (it’s her birthday tomorrow, don’t forget to wish her a happy birthday) and... what was I saying?”

“Dark chocolate from Dupont’s.”

“Right.”

“Who?” Noa’s father piped in from the sofa near the fireplace.

“The Dupont’s, dear. Charles and Sarah and their son Robby. Such a nice boy,” her mother sat down on the sofa. She was a small woman, looking smaller in her soft pajamas. Her steely blue eyes looked at Noa with a mask of innocence.

“Such a nice boy, Robby. A respectful gentleman. Whoever ends up with him will be one lucky girl.”

Noa gently corrected “girl” to “woman” in her head. “I agree... he’s nice.”

Robby Dupont was more than nice. He had flawless dark skin, sparkly eyes, and an adorable smile... and made Noa nervous. Being around someone that beautiful and perfect made Noa want to stay away from him at all costs. But tonight was different somehow. The dread that usually filled her body when her mother sent her to their family store and the silent prayers that he wouldn’t be working that day didn’t show. There was something about that curious night that gave Noa the little bit of confidence she needed.

“My wallet’s by the stove,” her mother called. Noa was already in the kitchen adjacent to the door scouring the countertops. The woman on the record crooned out a line about being  nothing without her love. Noa sighed. She drew out a few bills, snatched her purple sweater, and left the apartment. She hustled down the stairs and out into the drizzly night.

Just around the corner was Dupont’s. Across the street from Dupont’s was a grassy hill that Noa had always seen but never gone to. She looked down at the bills folded up in her palm, debating.

“Just for a minute,” she whispered and ran down the slick roads and began the slippery ascent up the hill. By the time she reached the top she was wet, dirty, and happy. The moon shone a bright white spotlight on her that reflected off the tiny mirrors that were falling from the sky and running down her face. 

The door to the apartment opened and Noa slapped a neatly wrapped bar of dark chocolate triumphantly on the kitchen counter.

“Noelle Stacy! How did you get so wet?”

“It's rainy out,” Noa said mildly, with a smile.

“Well, go dry off, Darling, you’re dripping everywhere.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

Noa began peeling off her heavy, drenched sweater as she left the room and walked upstairs.

“It worked.” her mother proudly announced to her sleepy husband. He grunted in reply.

“I knew if I could get Noa to be around Robby it would happen on its own.” she clapped her hands together in satisfaction.

“What, dear?”

“Noa walked through that door soaked to the skin with a stupid smile on her face. Clearly she got to talk with Robby, and walked home slowly because she was still thinking about him which is how she got so wet. That, dear, is the look of a girl in love.”

It was indeed the look of a woman in love. On that hill, by herself, she had found love. With the moon and the rain as company she had realized why that record had been bugging her. The songs were about some man that somehow made her life complete, but always void of any recognition of self worth. So with a stupid smile, in the pouring rain, she had discovered in herself a true love that would last a lifetime.

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Honorable mention

"Sounds in Silence"

By Ari Wilson

Ari Wilson

i am silence.

i am louder than you take me for.

without me, you would hear nothing. when you bask in silence, i roar in your ears.

i can drive you insane.

the lack of sound is not silence, is it? or is silence another sound?

with silence, you begin to realize that there is a lack of hubbub, not enough noise.

you are used to your shackles of sound. i am still sound, aren’t I?

but don’t think of me.

where am I?

i am in the thick, velvety twinkle of the stars.

i can be sadness. you can feel so empty, rotting,

so silent when you are sad.

sometimes you can see me in the outside world.

when the rain pours, splattering and dropping, it seems to whisper silence.

the clouds pour their hearts on the earth in the only way they know how.

floating. 

only those who care to search for me find me.

i am in the look upon one’s face when they cannot speak, i am everything you do without thinking, the soft flow of river thoughts in your brain.

the hush of snowfall.

some things just look so deafened because

we lose track of them.

nighttime is silent because night has no voice.

it is laden with drowsy droplets of red, grapey, underneathness, cooling, starry quiet.

there is no need for talk, no need for the hubbubs of life, it is simply a break.

silence is a break from the world.

silence does, silence is a feel, silence is peace.

Peace blowing in to and out of souls.

hushing, dreaming, folding, taking.

i am the wind on the froth of the ocean at dawn.

i am your body as you swim through a river, taking you forwards and back in the constant motion of the water.

i am the closing of your eyes, the bathing in the sunlight on top of a mountain.

i am the way you dream of everything you wish for in the future.

i am the moonlight reflecting off of the forest floor,

i am everything you never understood, I am the questions you cannot answer.

why?

because noise fills in enough. because shouts, loud, beating, dish, rushing, winding, placing – all of these things are the loudness that fills your ears.

things that cannot fill our ears our minds our souls – these things sit in silence, unable to be answered, unable to be filled by anything, unable to fill.

silence is a secret.

held tight to your chest, tight in the inner depths of your self, the inner silences, of a person.

a soul is a world itself, and a secret is small, silhouetted by and shrouded in the hidden wall of your mind.                         

silence is the moon, looking down above with nothing to say, no words to speak.

it is not completely darkened, but perhaps whispers ideas, floats little things down to us below.

pearled, mooned, velvet, silver, icy, cold silence