WINNER CIRCLE

The compositions below, submitted to various competitions such as Letters About Literature (LAL), Cricket Magazine, and others, have received critical recognition.  Congratulations one and all!

First Place: FPS Scenario Writing, 6th Grade 

(infectious Diseases)    BY: Abby G.


                                               The Overlooked Type of Life Changers

Rue Lalonde groaned as she pressed her ear against the holographic screen for the second time. "Scanning... Access denied." She sighed impatiently at the machine and tried again. 'Scanning...' Rue thought while the machine loaded. The technology in her apartment was so quaint! Ear lobe scanning was used as a security device 30 years before! Ever since DNA scanners by HJG companies replaced the mega-giant Apple in the 21st century, HJG security technology was considered an essential asset of homes all over. Rue's mother was saving up for one. Thank goodness. An abrupt 'Access granted' interrupted her reverie.

Rue entered the dingy living area to find her 10-year-old brother, Finnick, staring into space on the couch. The technology he was using was very modern. Called Television Contacts, the contraptions were invented to replace media devices without the need of surgical implants. One must simply insert one into each eye and look straight ahead to see 3D figures among many other things. They were just holograms, of course, but they seemed so real! Unfortunately, they were rather expensive and Rue's family could not afford them. However, Rue's friend, the daughter of a wealthy merchandising giant, had given Rue hers because she had received a newer model. Rue let Finnick keep them because he wanted them more than her. Besides, Rue had her own holographic e-sheet. Rue flopped down and turned it on. News was usually boring, so she began to surf channels but suddenly stopped.

Warning for Whitehorse citizens, the headlines read. Rue continued to read, poring over the words. A Spanish influenza outbreak has just been confirmed. If you suspect you have it, contact your doctor immediately. For your safety, stay home. All schools in this area are closed until further notice. The symptoms include fever, nausea, aches, dark facial spots, and difficulty breathing. Don't panic... Rue's breathing quickened as the rest of the world melted away. Questions piled into her mind. How can that be? She tapped Finnick on the shoulder impatiently. He reluctantly slipped the contacts out and shook his head, dazed.

"What?" He looked annoyed and concerned at the same time.

"There is an outbreak of Spanish Influenza for Whitehorse!"

"What?" Finnick shook his head quickly. Still in the living room. He closed his eyes and didn't open them for a while. When he did, Rue was still there. "Wait, what is that, anyway?"

Just then, the door opened and their mother, stooping from the burdens of the heavy grocery bags, entered the room. The children ran toward her and began clamoring, both trying to fill her in on their day. Their words mixed together and created a giant jumble of confusion. "Wait, one at a time! Tell me while we unload these groceries," she paused, contemplating how to tell her children about the Spanish Influenza outbreak.

As they put the groceries away, Rue's mother explained to Finnick what the Spanish Flu was. She continued while sanitising the containers, washing their hands, and eating dinner. It seemed like Finnick would never run out of questions! Finally, he quieted down and fell asleep. Even after the apartment was quiet, Rue lay in her bed, thinking. She had no doubt that two rooms away her lonely mother was doing the same, thinking about how another disease had taken her husband.

Rue was worried. Would it be a replay of her father's death all over again? Her father held the family together. When, he died from the flu, everything fell apart. They had to move to the tiny apartment, leaving everything in Seattle. Their mother became tired and weak. When she spoke, there was always a hint of depression, showing she still hadn't gotten over his death. She became stringent in her thinking that disaster could be around every corner to target her family. But when it came, she would be prepared. She made sure her children received vaccines for every sickness possible. When they bought groceries, they would sanitize the containers and lids. They washed their hands constantly and dried them with antiseptic-induced hand dryers. As they both became tangled up in their train of thought, mother and daughter slept fitfully.

Rue awoke to the noise of her mother leaving for work. She stayed in her bed, not wanting to wake her brother, who muttering in his sleep. Her mother peered at them through the sliver of light at the door, worried lines etched into her face. As soon as she heard the door close, Rue crept out of bed and tiptoed past her brother. She froze. She noticed dark spots on Finn's face. Rue remembered the warning from last night. She felt Finn's forehead. It was hot. Burning hot. What could she do? Rue pulled out her earpiece to contact her mother. They had a quick conversation before Rue's mother called the doctor.

The doctor appeared on the e-sheet screen with an air of importance. Even from miles away, they could almost feel his presence. He asked for a close-up of the spots, and checked Finnick's temperature with a body scanner. Rue decided she did not mind his arrogance much until he announced, "I'm sorry, but Finnick has the Spanish Influenza. There is nothing we can do but stay away from him." After giving the usual recommendations about fluids and rest, the doctor logged off.

Their mother rushed all over the apartment, she paced back and forth the hallway, peeking through the doorway where Finnick lay hot with fever, moaning about his headaches. This went on all day and through the night, as his groans grew louder. Rue, like her mother, had done away with self-control and paced in the living area. Her eyes overflowed with tears as she began to picture her brother's grave. She quickly dismissed the thought.

At 2:00 AM, the world ended for Rue's mother. Her son had followed her husband's path, leaving her daughter and herself. But how was she supposed to comfort her daughter if she was mourning herself? So she stopped trying to help her daughter. No matter what Ms. Lalonde did, she couldn't protect Finnick, so how could she protect Rue? Kara Lalonde lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling, her daughter the only thing separating her from death. Soon, she began to let sleep win over her but, one question remained. I have exercised all caution. How did Finnick die?

Things weren't going well for Rue either. Tears streamed down her face as she watched raindrops splatter against her SmartWindow. It kept out intruders but couldn't block a virus. She knew Finnick wouldn't want her to spend the whole day mourning. Reluctantly, she wiped her tears and turned on her holographic device. A newscaster reported, " ... Let's come back to our infectious disease expert, Mr. Marshall."

Rue listened. "...Good news, Jerry. This is a serious outbreak. We have found the source. Some massive ice banks that have been melting uncovered human corpses who died from the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918. Their germs were released when the ice melted. We have also found that a staggering amount of daily commuters who caught the flu were in HoverBuses. Stay safe by not coming in direct contact with those who have the disease. Tight spaces will..." The man's deep voice tuned out. Rue signed off and, eyelids drooping, surrendered to sleep.

Rue was awakened by coughing and gasps. Her mother! She raced to the other bedroom. Her mother took no notice of her presence. Rue nervously inched closer to the bed, afraid of what she might see, and her mother struggled to sit up. The same spots that had marked Finnick decorated her face. She smiled weakly at Rue and uttered, " No matter what happens, stay safe." Rue grabbed her hand, fearing the moment would be over too soon. As the hand grew limp and the breath stopped, Rue's eyes shrouded with tears they couldn't feel.

***************

For the first time in days, Rue went out and sat on a bench and watched the news, now a daily routine for her. "...We learned that the technology sensation Television Contacts assisted in the spreading of the virus. Unknowingly, wearers shared the unsanitized pairs which spread the disease. I received information that the outbreak has not spread to other provinces and is under control. Still exercise vigilance..."

The contacts! When Rue heard the news, her head collapsed into her hands in a blur of tears. She was the one that marked Finnick for death, not the spots! She had killed her brother.

****************

Rue typed her essay rapidly. With satisfaction, she wrote the last sentences to the paragraph. I lost my brother and mom to the disease. My best friend is gone, too. Some lives will never be the same because of diseases. They aren't just illnesses, they are life changers. I will never be the same. Just think. When you go outside today, is it the same as it was two months ago?

It isn't. It will never be.


Cricket Contest Winner

                                                                 Opposites Attract

                                                                    By: Saumya M.

Natasha, the smallest one, wanted to explore the world, but she couldn't. She was trapped inside her many sisters. The only memories she had of the outside world were when she was created. Clinging to those memories, she tried to make sense of what she had seen all those years ago. At the same time Anastasia, the largest and always on display, felt exposed. Though a smile was painted on her face, she didn't feel as happy as she appeared.

One day, Anastasia saw her owner, Meg, talking with her best friend, Autumn. "I've always wondered how many there are in your set," her friend said, gesturing toward the table.

"I wouldn't know; I've never opened them up," Meg remarked.

"Well, there's a first time for everything," Autumn said, reaching for Anastasia.

Anastasia felt strange as Autumn's warm hands touched her fragile, porcelain body. She was being opened. It didn't hurt, but an uncomfortable sensation spread through her body. She was flabbergasted when she realized what was happening. There were more Anastasias inside of her, each smaller than the one before. As for Natasha, she heard a strange rustling in the outside world and panicked. Then she saw a bright, almost blinding light, and the world came into focus. As she looked around, she saw more copies of herself, every one bigger than she was. As she turned to her side, she saw the biggest one of all. Fearlessly, she introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Natasha."

"I'm Anastasia," she replied in a surprisingly small voice.

"I've never seen anything like this!" Natasha exclaimed. "All my life I've been in darkness, but today I can see the outside world. I've always wanted to explore."

"Really? I would rather have some privacy than always be out here," Anastasia said gently.

"You mean you see everything?" Natasha gasped, "Could you tell me stories of the outside world?"

Anastasia was surprised that Natasha wished to experience the daily happenings she considered frightful. As Anastasia recounted her stories, they bonded with each other, and the two Russian nesting dolls who were complete opposites, became friends.


Scholastic Gold Key Winners

Conquest for Birthright (by Thomas G.)

The dim morning sun sparkled on the dewy stone walls of the castle. My blonde hair fluttered as I passed the cloister onto the windy walkway toward the King's quarters. I walked down the candlelit corridors toward his Majesty's study, where I was going to ask him a burning question. I probably should have dressed regally for this confrontation and not amble about in my loose tunic.

I passed the guards, who bowed, ignoring their mock salute. I knew how everyone felt about me. The commoners, the noblemen, even my own father all felt that I was an inexperienced, rude trickster who was only a prince because I was the King's son. I tolerated this, however, because I knew that in time they would all bow before me, their next king. I sauntered into the capacious library of documents and scrolls, spitting out the sunflower seeds that I was chewing on the floor.

"Knock, knock," I said as I startled my busy father, a smirk darting across my face. "I have a question."

"What is it, Walter?" my father asked. "I am quite busy."

"And I don't care," I muttered. "When is my coronation date?"

"You don't have one," he stated tersely. "You are not fit for the role of king. Now leave."

"Hugo is the better choice for King," my father added, "even if he is as arrogant as you."

"But-," I began to protest. As the firstborn of the royal family, I have been groomed to be King since the day I was born. I knew my father was disappointed in me, but I've always dismissed it with a joke. I had no idea that he was going to discharge the possibility of me ever becoming the king.

"I said leave!" he yelled angrily, "or are you deaf?"

I decided to leave, which was the best choice for the moment, but I still wanted to know why Hugo? He is brawny but dim-witted, even if he has the goodwill of the people in mind. I stormed down the stone passageways, enraged and confused. Along the way, I bumped into Hugo. I fell to the ground, and the Hugo leaned over.

"Oh, sorry. Are you hurt?" Hugo said sarcastically while reaching out his hand.

"Shut your mouth!" I yelled as I smacked his hand away.

"Listen, little prince," he said, "you shouldn't talk to your King that way."

That comment set me off. He must have already been told of how he was to be the heir. I brushed the dust off my legs and shot up, barely reaching his shoulders. I stared him dead in the eyes, my pale green eyes glaring into his bright blue eyes.

"Hearken, you oversized rat!" I shouted. "I challenge you to a duel, two fortnights from now! If I win, I am crowned King, and if you win, you retain your title. The king will be notified of this, of course, by the finest messenger. Our word will be enough to bind this agreement."

"Fine," he said. "You'll need all that preparation to last even a minute against me."

We shook hands as gentlemen do, but he almost broke my hand doing it.

Later I walked to the horse stables, moping dejectedly about the rash decision I had made until I was stopped by a large man, whom I assumed was the stable master. I would have known that he was the stable-master if combat and horseback riding lessons had not been canceled after the extended peacetime in the kingdom.

"Hey, boy," he said. "I heard you were going to duel your brother."

"Man, word sure does travel around fast here," I muttered, "Yeah, what about it?"

"If you go in that arena," he said, "you are going to get stomped to the ground. I can tell just by looking at you."

"And how do you know?" I said. "All you do is take care of horses, serf."

"And you are a pampered, scrawny prince who will be torn to shreds in the arena," he said, "unless I train you for some chance to win."

"If I lose, your head will be lost too."

The next day I jumped out of my satin sheets and stormed through my closet, looking for work clothes, buried beneath large silk robes. I shuddered, for they were much too uncomfortable and rough for my skin. I strapped on my boots, which chaffed my uncallused feet, as I have ridden a horse in a long time. I struggled to walk as the non-padded bottoms of the boots stung the soles of my feet. I chanced upon Hugo, who snickered at the sight of my work clothes.

"Is there a problem, Hugo?" I asked.

"Not at all," he said, controlling his laughter with difficulty. Other guards who were around him were snickering in the background.

I shuffled past him through the gates of the castle walls while the guards stared, bewildered at the sight. I stomped past, showing them no attention, determination glaring in my eyes. I walked through the marketplace, adjacent to the stables, passing by vendors and stalls with exotic fruits and rare meats in each one.

"Well, there he is," one of the vendors announced sarcastically. "Prince Walter blessing us with his presence. Isn't this place too rough for you? No satin rugs to walk upon, just the rough cobblestone that you gave us."

"Speak up, peasant," I said. "because if you don't, I can't hear you through your rotting teeth."

He began to walk toward me, but I paid no heed, which seemed to incentivize his heckling to become even wilder.

"Hey," he shouted, "did you hear me or did the cobblestone walls of the castle make you deaf to the outside?"

"Hey, Curtis," the stable master said as he appeared from the darkness of an alley. "How about you pick on someone your own size?"

"Simon," Curtis said, "this boy has treated us like trash for as long as he lived, and you're defending him? Have you gone mad?"

"No," Simon said, "but I see a potential for a great man in him, which is why he is going to help me on the farm for the next four weeks while I teach him swordplay."

"What?!" I sputtered. "A farm?"

"Yes," Simon said. "unless you want to lose that duel, you will do exactly as I say."

"Fine," I muttered, "but remember our deal."

"Of course, Your Majesty," he said with a sarcastic bow.

We walked hastily through the crowds of people and quickly found ourselves at a large, spruce wood barn scented with manure and animals.

"What is this filth?"

"The place you're going to work," Simon said with a grin.

I groaned and continued to follow him into the large structure, which increasingly reeked of animal waste the farther we went.

We soon stopped to where he picked up a bucket and threw it to me.

"Go fill this up with water from the well," he instructed.

"What does this have to do with training?" I asked.

"Just do it!" Simon shouted.

I cursed under my breath and trotted off to the well. The grimy, mossy stone made me shudder in disgust. I carefully loaded the bucket onto the rope while trying my hardest not to touch the filth. Leaning over the well, I slipped and fell headfirst, grasping at the walls. I crashed into the water. Time seemed to slow as I scratched at the slippery walls for a brick to hold onto. Suddenly, there was only complete darkness except for the faint daylight that shone through the hole of the well. The water had reached halfway up my knees as I screamed and yelled for someone to rescue me.

I sat in the well, my tongue dry after hours of waiting, contemplating whether or not to yell or just to pass out with hunger. My gut wrenched with a pain that I have never experienced, and it hurt badly. My eyes were beginning to dim as the evening sun set, but a rope dangled onto the floor in front of me.

"Grab the darn rope!" a voice called from above.

I grabbed hold of it, and my limp and broken body was easily lifted out of the hole onto dry ground.

"Th- Thank you," I sputtered while clinging to the well's edge as I surfaced. "Simo-"

I was shocked to see that it wasn't Simon, but Curtis from the marketplace.

"Well, look at what we have here," he said slowly. 'Little prince can't even load a bucket. Poor soul."

I began to retaliate, only to be thrown onto the ground by his burly arms. I was then pinned to the rough terrain by a knee, which was suffocating me slowly.

"You don't belong out here, boy!" he said. "Just go back to your little castle bedroom, with your servants and guards."

"You don't know what awaits me in that castle," I lied, trying to act tough. "It is just as bad as out here."

That comment garnered me a punch to the throat, constricting my breathing. A smirk crossed my face as I looked him dead in the eyes, and we both stayed there for a few seconds.

"So are you going to do something or what?" I yelled, waiting for Curtis to say something, but a large fist came smashing into Curtis's jaw. He tumbled off me, freeing me from suffocation. I scurried a few feet away from the scene. It was astonishing. I always saw fights, but never up close, never this brutal. It was over in a matter of seconds. Curtis was face first in the dirt, while the victor stood. It was Simon, his knuckles bloodied.

"Teach me," I said sternly, "how to fight."

"Why?" he asked. "You will be using swords."

"I don't care," I said. "Teach me. How to. Fight."

The following weeks were spent with both hard labor and sparring matches, which were humbling, to say the least. I was a young fool who thought that I knew everything when I couldn't even fetch a pail of water. I learned to adapt to the common life, which I found exhausting but more exciting than the monotony of the castle. Simon did not go easy on me, and in my first match, I was absolutely demolished in under 30 seconds. I got better, however, and I eventually beat Simon using the tactics he taught me. I was more comfortable wearing boots and rough pants. Time passed quickly, a welcome change to the tedium of the castle. I didn't waste any time and kept at training for hours each day until the day of the duel.

Now the time has come. I stood outside the arena, my small but muscular body fully prepared for what was coming to me. I learned swordplay, as well as hand to hand combat.

"Well, kid," Simon said, "I'm rooting for you."

I said truthfully, "I appreciated your help. I really needed it."

I walked off into the arena. My heart beating faster as my brain forced itself into survival mode. Doubt was pushed from my mind, as I knew that I could do this. I could beat Hugo.

I grabbed my sword, which felt heavier than usual. I paid no mind to it, however, and walked into the sandy ground of the arena. I could see Hugo from the side, his bulky figure almost the same as Simon's, which made this all the easier for me since I practiced with this kind of opponent. Hugo walked toward me as well, but something was off about him. He seemed worried, unusual for him. As he walked in, however, the crowd screamed and cheered with enthrallment for their favorite champion.

"I thought you wouldn't show," Hugo said from across the way.

"Well, I am prepared," I said tersely, the anger rising inside me at the thought of him usurping my rightful place.

The referee came down into the arena from his box.

"Are the combatants ready?" he said and waited until we nodded. Then he threw down the banner and said: "Let the duel begin!"

He ran back to the umpire box. My brain was in full survival mode. I scanned the arena for ways to attack the enemy. Hugo began to rush me, his sword tip pointed directly at my chest. Dodging, I slashed my sword, scraping his arm with the capped tip, since using actual swords were prohibited. I backed away, successfully gaining distance between us. He began to follow me for a few seconds, but I kicked sand into his face, blinding him. Enraged, Hugo thrashed his sword, batting me several times in the arms, the dull pain stinging my skin. I went for one hard jab at the chest, which landed, forcing him back as he lurched over.

"Oh, come on," I said tauntingly. "Where's the real Hugo, or are you just a wimp?"

Hugo screamed and dashed toward me, his bloodshot eyes bearing pure hatred. He was quick, too quick. I could not lift my sword since it was too heavy for me to stop his sword, allowing him to thrust his saber into my chest. He knocked the air from me and made me lose the grip of my sword, its metal hitting the ground with a thud. Hugo jabbed at me again, though I stopped the sword by grabbing it with my two hands. The tip of the rapier came close to my face, but I rolled away moments before it was forced out of my hands. I then landed a solid punch to Hugo's throat, which knocked him down. Remembering what Curtis did to me a month ago, I pinned my knee to his chest. But before I could do that, the referee came out of the box and announced an end to the duel by decree of the King.

"Walter," he said, "has lost the duel, since he dropped the sword."

I said, "Looks like you won, Hugo- fair and square."

Before I could protest, two guards carried me away. I couldn't believe it. Hugo must have done something to make it so that I would lose, but I did not say anything because I knew the referee wouldn't listen. I was locked in my room, made to wait until the crowning of the king.

The following day I dressed in my formal attire and walked down toward the ceremonial hall. On the way, I stopped by the main gate to look upon the town, the gentle spring breeze blowing on my face as I reminisced about the past four weeks, which were the best days of my life. Simon walked up to me, oblivious of the contrast of his torn trousers and patched shirt to my rich apparel.

"I'm proud of you, kid," he said. "I really am."

"But I didn't become King," I said sadly.

"But you found something your brother could never achieve, humility. You were able to control yourself when you lost. Your sportsmanship proved that you really won."

I was amazed by his words as I realized that I didn't just learn how to fight. He taught me what no tutor was able to achieve.

"Thank you, for all that you've done. You are the best teacher I have ever had."

"I only taught you to fight," he said. "You taught yourself how to be great."

He walked away, but as he did, he said, "I know that you know Hugo cheated to win."

I said, "Yeah, but should I do something about it?"

"That's for you to decide," Simon said, "not me."

I turned around and walked into the great hall, the smell of fancy food and drinks filled the air. I sat down next to my father, no longer ashamed of my loss the other day. He seemed disappointed, but that was quickly wiped away when applause filled the room as Hugo entered. I stared at him, and the look on his face said it all. He looked ashamed and guilt-ridden.

Hugo stood on the dais and said, "I do not deserve this position. My brother does."

The crowds gasped with astonishment.

Hugo turned to me, "I cheated, and I am sorry. I replaced your sword with a heavier piece, a much more unstable sword to make it harder to hold, which cost you the duel, and me, my honor."

Hugo then proceeded to say to the crowd, "Walter deserves this crown, for he has grown more in these past weeks than I have in my entire lifetime."

The King, however, did not look astonished. He stood up and said, "I noticed this myself. I approve of this. Walter has grown immensely throughout the course of these four weeks. I would be proud to have Walter rule the kingdom."

I knelt with the royal scepter before the King who stated loudly, "Sir Walter, I appoint you to the position of a king. May your rule prosper the Kingdom more than I, your father, ever could."

I received crown and scepter from him.The entire court bowed in unison before me, their newly crowned King. I held my royal scepter high and stated "You do not need to bow to me, for I am not an almighty King. I am the King of the people!"

The crowd erupted in applause as they realized that I was not going to be a self-indulgent king like they had presumed I was going to be. This was the happiest moment of my life. I was now king.

*********************************************            *****************************                     

 The Unforgettable Visit (by Paul A.)

The lush farmlands of the Beqaa Valley, the Roman ruins of the Temple of Bacchus, the far mountains of the north were unlike anything I had seen in Lebanon. The Temple's pillars towered over rocks with Latin inscriptions, while the snow capped mountains took my breath away with their captivating views of the valley below. Despite this the memory that stood distinct to me from that specific trip, revolved around a visit to a time-honored relative.

After asking my mom many times for stories of her Lebanese family, she briefly mentioned about an uncle that couldn't see. This was my great-uncle Munir, who was in his late 80s. In a freak hunting accident, when he was 16, his friend shot him in the back of the head, but he luckily survived. Since then, he has been completely blind. Never being able to figure out exactly how that could happen, the thought poked at the back of my mind like an unrelenting mosquito bite. I wanted to know how his friend accidentally shot him in the head. Even I knew that a gun, even if unloaded, has to be aimed away from people. This tale intrigued me to the point that I could not wait to meet this ancient relative.

We were supposed to wake up early that day and I was given the choice to accompany my mom on this visit. Because of the exhausting trip from the night before, I slept through my mom's calls, despite being aware of our tight schedule. Grudgingly slipping on my t-shirt and shorts in anticipation of a hot and humid day, after a quick breakfast we started on the trip that, though I didn't know then, would teach me a completely different way of life.

First we traveled to my mom's old apartment in Baabda where decades of memories lurked with each creaking floor tile and broken wall. I realized my mom didn't have the luxury of a two-story house growing up, rather her family crammed into three rooms. We came here to salvaged through all the miscellaneous items lying around, deciding which to keep. With my grandparents gone, my mom was attempting to clean, renovate, and perhaps sell the apartment. I wasn't sure how I felt about her childhood home. An odd connection made me want to look at all the items stored here. I wished I could inspect all the items compacted into multiple boxes. Staring for minutes at the different pictures and books, I had too many questions for my mom. Mom, when were you reading this book? Who is the picture of? Behind their worn covers or chipped frames they seemed to contain such amazing stories. My mom, however, was not interested in answering my questions, too busy cleaning with a nostalgic expression on her face.

"Mom, is this you and Taytuh Katreem (my grandmother) in this photo?" My grandma looked so young in the photo, identical to my mom 10 years ago.

I explored the tiny three room apartment. My older cousin, Henri, was talking about renovating the whole place to put up for sale and arguing about how to do it. I opened the intricate cabinet that was as tall as the ceiling, housing dusty rugs and faded mats. Henri was right: the place was rickety.

After finally deciding to keep a few books and pictures of my late grandparents, we hopped back into our Jeep to travel to Bdadoun, a small closely knit town in the mountains. The mountains were beautiful. They were clean and fresh unlike the polluted streets of Cleveland. Tall beech trees covered them, drawing away from the mountain's normally brown color and turning it to a light green. No big cities with smoke marring the panorama, just the purity of the green valleys and mountains. Higher up on the mountains snow covered peaks with the Lebanese pine trees, the national symbol on the flag. Mount Lebanon were snow covered year round, making them a popular tourist attraction. I rolled down my window and inhaled deeply.

Upon reaching Bdadoun we drove through a maze of streets were shifted from winding to almost a maze. Some of the streets appeared too narrow to even fit oncoming traffic. Instead of the cool mountain air, scent was of coal oven delicacies and Arabic bread. My mouth watered this whole trip remembering how I binged on my favorite foods with the best ingredients, like shawarma, cheese manouche, or shish taouk. Within the maze of roads we became lost and began asking directions from strangers. "Selwa Chaya," the name of my great aunt who cared for Munir became so repetitive to hear I instinctively mouthed the words every time I knew my mom would ask them.

Eventually, we came across an inconspicuous side road narrow enough to barely fit a car. As another car approached from the other direction, we had to stop and watch as the other car practically veered off the mountain, a truly gut wrenching experience. I prayed the driver wouldn't fall, though I knew that the local citizens were accustomed to it. After asking one last person, we finally found out where the house was located: just down the street directly to our right. I felt incredibly dumbfounded that it was right next to us all along.

Heading down the bumpy stone road, we passed many houses all of the same design: rectangular and made of old gray bricks that I personally found unattractive. Despite this, the houses felt special because many remained unchanged for almost one hundred years. It contained a presence of both the past and present.

I jumped out quickly and walked down the steps to the door. Around me were two small gardens that, according to my mom, had been around since she was little. There was no door and the only noise coming from the one story home was a loud fan.

An old, tanned man with little hair sat on the couch staring into the distance. Upon my mom calling him, he instantly sat up recognizing her voice and replying by spreading his arms with a loud "Ahlan," which was a greeting.

We talked for a long time. I was asked about school and typical questions one would expect to hear from relatives. I found it difficult to keep up as they didn't speak a knick of English. Being partially fluent, some of my sentences were broken and I could not tell if I made sense. Sometimes I felt that I was stranger among them because the conversation steered to old memories I had no idea about. My mom had a nostalgic look on her face. I figured seeing all of these old relatives made her feel right at home. She also had a slightly proud expression, perhaps because she never would've figured I'd come to see people I have never seen, and speak in their language. Even when I didn't pay attention to the general topic of discussion, out the corner of my eye I saw Munir. He was always feeling the area around him to have an idea of where he was. I'd never truly seen a visually impaired person in real life. He handled everything with such caution it made someone who was scared of everything seem like nothing. Slowly I inched toward him. He grabbed my hand, knowing I was there and smiled at me. A tingling sensation suddenly rushed through me as my spine lurched. I couldn't say why this happened, but the experience was a new one. I had a newly found admiration for who were blind. Perhaps Munir wasn't blind from birth, however he had to adapt like none of us had to.

I engaged and conversed one-on-one with him. He never looked at a person while talking to them; rather he always stared forward. Munir had some features that almost reminded me of myself. I had the same ear shape as him and both protruded outward, however his were bigger. Interested in my newly discovered relatives, I constantly looked for similarities. Due to his blindness, he had partially opened, swollen eyes that I never had seen before. After a few minutes I brought up the courage to ask him what really happened to him over 70 years ago. He simply replied that it was a hunting accident. I expected such an answer, as I wasn't sure how comfortable he was with the subject so I dropped it. I didn't know him well nor was I a close friend. Despite me being a relative, I could not receive a special privilege to push some things.


I left the small house, after exploring all the rooms and garden. I had a new understanding of how other people live, the way they adapt, and how they cope. The lesson truly transcended race, nationality, or any other barrier. Though man people find lessons in things such as Aesop's Fables, I had one right in front of me in my own family. 

Scholastic Silver Key Winners

                                    A New Beginning 

                                                                    (by Sean M.)

Way back when the Silk Trade Route still existed, there lived a hard working potter from Egypt. Adeben loved to paint and make all sorts of pots and vases. He made a wide variety of items ranging from small clay frogs, to large cages capable of holding three-fowl families. Despite this, he and his wife owned a dilapidated house and sometimes went for days without eating. This was hard on the husband. He always felt like he cheated his wife by not giving her the life that she deserved.

One hot morning pharaoh's officer descended from the temple to the village to inspect and perhaps purchase a gift for the pharaoh. Shop by shop he went. When Adeben realized that the pharaoh's officer was in town, he rushed around trying his best to clean the shop and make a decent first impression. The officer came to the potter's shop after a short period of time.
"Hello, I am Adeben," said the potter. The officer looked at the shopkeeper and went on observing his unique items. Some time later the officer asked, "What is this Thing?

"That is one of my favorite pieces of pottery. A bowl," Abeden replied in a confident manner.

"Pitiful. Not even remotely close to what the pharaoh would ever want."

"Ha ha, that's what I meant," the potter replied fearfully. He knew that none of his items were worthy of the pharaoh. He had no hope that the officer may buy anything from him.

"Oh, what's this? It looks very interesting," asked the officer. He picked it up. The sculpture took the figure of a small bowl eyeing the curve on the inside. It had three points on the head, and the handle was thin and smooth. It was so smooth you wouldn't feel a bump. It was brown, except for the worn gold paint. The officer reached for his royal canteen and placed the tool under the it. Pouring the water the officer the saw that it was able to hold liquids.

"That's a spork. Some people use it to eat, so they don't get food on their fingers. You can also use it to drink water and other things like that. It's absolutely useless, I think," Adeben replied sadly.

"Do you have any more? The pharaoh must have all of these!" said the officer with excitement.

Surprised, the shopkeeper rushed all around the shop collecting all the sporks he had created.

"Here you are, sir," he said joyfully, holding the prized objects to the officer.

"I will have it for one silver coin," the officer announced. Adeben looked taken back, never had he been offered so little.

"I'm only joking, that's a price too little for these treasures. Here, you can have twenty-five gold coins. I will send a servant tomorrow to collect these wonderful sporks did you call them?"

"Yes. And I will have the sporks ready for the servant," Adeben replied with great joy. That night he walked home whistling gratefully thanking the gods above that helped him. He now thought that the gods favored him above all in the village because of the offer.

As he walked he payed no attention to the ruffian behind him. Adeben, too preoccupied, was playing with the coins in this pouch. He then took his hand out and folded his arms promptly. The boy, seeing all this, rushed forward and took the money he had heard rattling and took off.
Adeben, still unaware of the stolen money, entered his house with the smell of wafting food from the fire. He sat down and started to eat with his wife. As they were talking, the last thing Adeben mentioned was his deal with the officer. The wife screamed and jumped out of her chair and sprinted toward her husband, who was then putting away his plate in the bucket when he was kissed. "Show me. I want to see how much he paid you," said the wife. She reached into her husband's robe and found it empty. "Where did you put it?" she asked confused.

"What
He went to bed early that night, waking early the next morning. As Adeben walked to his shop, he found that the officer's servant was already there surveying all the pottery. He gave the servant all the sporks, then took a seat at the nearest table, staring into the endless sky. He pondered what he should do next. The potter had a heavy thought that he ruined his wife's life again.
With time on Adeben's schedule he went for a stroll. When he returned to his station and looked around, he realized that he was the only potter in town. The pharaoh also realized this apparently because his officer was observing his handiwork when the shopkeeper came back.
"Oh. Hi again! I had no idea you were coming," said Adeben.
"Yes, I know. I am here to present you an offer," replied the officer. "The pharaoh would like you to become his personal potter and work for him. Of course you will get paid, and live better than the richest man alive in this filthy village. Do you accept?"
"Do I? Well of course I do! Who wouldn't!"
"Ok then. That settles it. We leave mid day, the officer said in a respectful voice.
Adeben raced so quickly back home that when he approached his house he almost slammed into the door! He swung it open, darted in, and yelled "pack your things we're leaving!"
"What?" his wife replied, "why are we leaving? What happend?"
"We . . ." Adeben panted, "are going . . . to live... ... in the pharaoh's palace."
"What?" she replied. "Why didn't you tell me sooner!"
"I came here as...fast as... my legs... would carry me," he said, yet struggling to regain his breath. "We are leaving . . . when the sun reaches the highest point in the sky,".
They spent the rest of the morning packing their few possessions and then hiked down to the workplace where four camels waited to take Adeben, his wife, and their belongings to the palace.


Scholastic Honorable Mentions

                                        Atlantis 

                                                                 (by Josh S.)

In the darkness, all I could see of the creature was its glowing tentacles and long purple teeth. I, Jeff Zeegle, refuse to die like this. Not on such an expedition. My fingers flew over the dashboard, trying to get my craft to avoid the inevitable. My heart was pumping so hard, it was like a jailed up criminal, furiously pounding on the bars. I finally managed to turn the submarine around; only then did I dare to turn on my searchlights. Though they didn't help much, at least I could see in front of me. Then, a crackle came over the communication system. I'd never used this mandatory device. I hoped it would be someone that could help, as long no one publicized my problems. I wanted to be able to think that at the end of my life I still never needed and never received anybody's help... ever!

"Hello?" a voice said into my system to hail me.

After I responded, he repeated his greeting, as if one time wasn't enough. "Hi!" he said in a stridently shrill voice, "My name's John!"

The cheerfulness was already getting to me, but as the polite person I was, I replied "Jeff." Then I wondered, how did this person know where I was? Is he the 'monster?'

"I'm right behind you!" John said, as If answering my unspoken question. I slowly stopped and turned my sub. My headlights illuminated another submarine! I exhaled a slow, long breath of relief. The front of his windshield had purple teeth drawn on it.

"What are you doing?" the kid bubbled with curiosity.

"Looking for Atlantis." I said it like it was no big deal, but to no avail...

"Can I come toooo?" His voice extending on the 'too' for what felt like forever. It was like a little kid begging me for an autograph, even though he was probably in his twenties. I knew that if I refused, he would follow me around anyways.

"Fine," I sighed, "follow me."

I continued where I had left off. The whole reason I had even thought that John was a monster was my belief that Atlantis would be heavily guarded. If the best guesses were correct, I was extremely close. My mission was to prove it was real. I knew it obviously was, but I apparently had to get evidence to prove it to others.

The first day was excruciating. John kept shouting at every little thing saying how absolutely amazing or incredibly cool it was. I was so annoyed that I made sarcastic comments to myself! I kept thinking to myself; How did this kid ever get a submarine? I believed that submarine drivers must be in their thirties or forties. And yet, the intercom held constant bickering.

"Hey, Jeff! How are you doing?" I would answer gruffly, but then seconds later "How about' nooow? Look at that piece of coral? Wow! Did you see that fish?"

UGHHHH! Personally, I think that if you've seen one of those living rocks people called coral or fish, you've seen them all. I wanted to shut the communication system off permanently. If I didn't, I would go insane. But because I knew that John would never survive on his own, I held myself back from flicking the 'off' switch. Besides, the surroundings weren't as incredible as John cracked it up to be. The only cool things in my opinion were the hydrothermal vents I saw every now and then. I didn't get too close, knowing all too well that they can reach over 700 degrees fahrenheit or over 371.1 degrees celsius. I knew that millions of microbes must have been living down there, but I wouldn't let anything undermine my ultimate goal.

The next day was quiet, too quiet. I didn't even bother with the intercom. Maybe he left, I thought. Hopefully he did.

After what felt like year, but was probably a couple of days, I stumbled upon large dome-like structures. It was the oasis in all this barren desert floor of the ocean. It was Atlantis!

"Wow!" Over the radio, John's voice sounded like a fog horn. I jumped in my seat. To be honest, I "might" have completely forgotten about him. Since his last outburst, I had thought he had left. He was never that quiet. I entered the structure, and John followed me, at least I think he did... I really didn't care all that much.

It was my turn to say 'wow'. The Atlantis in front of me looked like a huge pyramid with a large opening on top. In the past, it most likely floated, peeking its head just above the surface to keep air in the city. Somehow, the Great Pyramid of Atlantis had tipped over and become submerged. As soon as I entered through the top, I grew all the more sure it was the not-so-lost city of Atlantis. There was nothing else it could be. It was as elegant and beautifully designed as the Sistine Chapel! Sadly, the paint had faded. Even more so, I realized that my sub, despite being small for its kind, was a few feet too big to fit in the hallways and corridors. I checked how far below the surface I was to see if I could swim.

At 673 feet, The pressure would be high, but not unbearable. I rose from the cockpit and went to the cargo area. There, I pulled on my mask and slung on the tanks of oxygen that would give me a few hours of breath. I made sure that the airlock was secure before I opened door below to leave the sub. Because of the pressure, the door was difficult to turn. I slipped through the now open area and propelled myself forward into the water-filled wonderland. It wasn't scary, per say, but I was still shaking. The excitement was almost too much. I clicked on my flashlight and let my eyes adjust to the light cutting through the darkness.

The city stretched for miles with smooth but cracked marble pillars supporting the domed-roof that loomed around the perimeter. I was lost in the exceptional architecture. It seemed to me that I was in the highest level, the smallest in this immense pyramid, most likely reserved for highest rank. That is, if they had any. I wasn't sure. I couldn't imagine how such a thing could be created and survived this long underwater. Just then, I thought that something was behind me, but when I looked, nothing was there.

I realized suddenly how dark it was, especially with just a small flashlight for illuminating my surroundings. Maybe it was John again. I hoped it was him. His sub was smaller than mine, so it was possible he followed me through. I clicked off the flashlight, hoping that whatever it was held light to be just as much of a necessity as I did. I forced myself used my ears. I heard another sound behind me and slowly turned. It wasn't John or his sub.

The huge monster loomed over me like a giant balloon. It's appearance swelled and swelled until I knew it would pop, then it swelled some more as it slowly swam towards me. I froze, my body frozen with complete and utter terror. Suddenly, coils unfurled themselves from the giant head, giving the appearance of its skin being peeled off, sliver by sliver. Now I was surrounded by huge tentacles as thick as my waist! It was only then that I decided to make a swim for it. One lone appendage reached out for me, and not in vain. One moment I was swimming, and the next I was careening back towards my demise. I was twisted around, forced to look into one of its red eyes. The black slits penetrated through my body and into my soul. His stare alone was enough to tear me apart. The coil tightened and squeezed a final prayer out of me, as well as my breath. I shot through the water again as the tentacle drew me towards its dreadful beak, snapping repeatedly. It held me there, seeing if I would fight, or admit defeat. I fought. I fought with every last ounce of strength in me. The tanks finally gave way, but I didn't care. I fought until every last ounce of energy was gone. The last thing I could see was its glowing tentacles and long purple beak.