Sara Stobbe received the first-place youth prize for her story in the fourth annual writers’ contest. Contributed photo

Quesnel’s fourth annual writers’ contest – stories

Read the winning stories here

Read the intro article here.

Youth – first prize

Crossroads

By Sara Stobbe

“Maybe if you hadn’t left your purse next to our fireplace, none of this would have happened!” My father growls accusingly, his hands gripping the wheel so tightly I start to think it might snap. And the car would go off the road. Just because my luck is at that stage right now.

“Fernando, I was in a hurry,” my mom snaps. “Emma poured half her oatmeal all over Parsley, right when Nina Watson knocked on the door looking for money donations to the homeless. Thank goodness I put my wallet in my pocket, Fernando. Just think!”

We approach a red light. Crossroads. One road sweeping across the landscape in one direction, another in a totally different direction. No going back. It kind of reminds me of life. So many decisions to make, so little time to make them. Mom once told that her life was rough because she had to make thirty-something thousand decisions a day. Man! I can’t imagine making that many. She must have made a bad decision, marrying dad. Or vise-versa. I really don’t know. I can’t understand why they fight so much. Until 2 hours and 3 minutes ago.

We have been driving for 123 minutes. 2 hours and 3 minutes ago, our house burned down. With Parsley and all my stuff inside it.

My parents have been fighting for about a year and a half. Somewhere in this madness, Emma was born. Parsley is my dog. I got him for my sixth birthday; three years ago. I asked for a cat, but both mom and dad are allergic. I mean … Parsley was my dog. He didn’t make it out of the house in time. I miss him already.

It was my ninth birthday last week. The wish I made was this: I wish I had a cat. Stupid, stupid wish. I should have wished my house never burned down. Ever. Then, I might still have Parsley! I don’t want some stupid cat.

I don’t really have the same choices, or the same amount of choices, for that matter, as my parents. Mom, for instance, has to stay calm and not freak out at Dad. Though she may not like it, Dad’s pretty much in charge. Dad, on the other hand, needs to approach the crossroads boldly, and set a good example for Emma and me. Emma… well… her understanding of crossroads is limited to sleep, cry, or poop… and that‘s pretty much it. It’s just not her fault. She’s not old enough to go farther than that.

And I have to be okay with all of this.

“Evelyn, honey, wake up,” Mom whispers. “We’re here.”

I blink awake, at first discombobulated, then panicked, then writhing in pain. My neck hurts, my eyes hurt, and my head hurts. I see out the window that we’re far past the crossroad I had drifted into sleep at. Still there are many crossroads to pass on the road ahead.

Youth – second prize

The Right Choice

By Duncan MacDonald

Finn woke up to the sound of wolves howling. He could feel the soft, wet moss beneath him, and hear a creek nearby. He stood up and looked around. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light of the night, he started to make out the forms of large, shadowy trees. A branch snapped behind him. He spun around, looking in the direction the sound had come from.

“Hello,” he called softly. “Is anyone there?” No one answered.

Finn decided he’d follow the creek. He started walking. The ground near the creek was wet and soggy. Every time he took a step, his foot would make a squelching sound. An owl shrieked nearby, making Finn jump. Its okay, he thought, reassuring himself, it’s just an owl hunting. He continued walking.

The creek was winding steadily back and forth. Finn could feel the lichen that hung from the trees brushing against his shoulder, like the soft touch of a ghost. Something tugged at his shirt. He whirled around to see a twinberry bush. His shirt had snagged on one of its many branches. He started walking faster. A slight breeze started blowing and Finn heard a moaning sound. He started running. He felt branches whipping his face and heard sticks snapping beneath his feet. His foot hit a root and he flew forward, slamming to the ground. He rolled into a sitting position and leaned against a tree.

Finn looked down and saw that his pants were torn. Through the tear he saw the blood, it was oozing from a ragged cut in his leg. He tore a strip of cloth from his shirt and bound his leg with it. When he tried to stand, his leg buckled under him. He tried again, this time holding on to the tree to keep himself standing. Breathing deeply with his head resting against the rough bark of the tree, he tried to ignore the uncertainty and fear creeping into his mind. He let go of the tree and took a wobbly step forward, and then another. His leg was throbbing.

In the distance, Finn heard a sound. He was worried until he recognized the roar of a large engine. It sounded like a truck gearing down to go up a large hill. He changed direction and hobbled towards the sound. As he walked, the sky started to grow lighter, and he realized it was morning.

Finally Finn came to the road. It stretched in both directions, without a vehicle in sight. To the left he saw a green kilometre sign. Had he really only put eight kilometres between himself and his past. To the right, he knew was almost seventy kilometres to the next town. Finn could either head home and face the consequences, or continue to the next town with no food or water. He turned right and started walking.

Youth – third prize

Morality and Existence

By Kryan Gillman

A concept that has long influenced my personal philosophy and contemplation is the idea that our existence has no inherent meaning. What we decide to do, or not to do, has no true effect on the course of time and the universe, as everything will eventually cease to exist. Initially, this form of thinking debilitated me. I spiralled into emotional numbness and acquired a dissociative concept of reality and morality. However, in time, this motion helped me shape my personal idea of what it truly means to exist.

A claim can be made that regardless of our actions and the beliefs we live by, and whether we perceive them to be moral or immoral, we will all be met with the same fate. With this in mind, accompanied by an impromptu biology class, I determined that anything exceeding the primal and instinctual concept of morality is purely a subjective construct. Beyond the biological instinct to protect children from harm and, for lack of a better example, not leaving a body on the road lest it be eaten by coyotes, there is no true concept of what is right and what is wrong. Many animals hunt for no reason other than for sport, but do we consider this behaviour to be immoral? It is not to be forgotten that human beings are animals as well, the only difference being that our higher consciousness and its commodities of self-awareness and need for social interaction has led to abstractly contrived moral code.

It can be said that life has no true purpose besides the fabricated meaning and morals we cling to in order to pacify our existential dread. I was fortunate enough to be raised without religious beliefs imposed on me by my parents, or some other authoritative figure. I used to view religion as a fraudulent scheme preying on the weak-minded, but I have recently grown hopelessly envious of the ability to take comfort in a higher power; to take comfort in knowing that the effort I make will eventually mean something. I know that I could never fully immerse myself into a religion, as I would constantly believe myself to be delusional. This led me to the realization that my effort doesn’t mean something eventually, but currently. Therefore, I fabricated a meaning of my own to live by: my purpose is to be a witness to existence itself.

I think it is safe to assume that the phrase, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is one that most people have encountered. To apply this to a grander scale, if there were no beings to experience the universe, the universe itself would not have existed. I believe our purpose as conscious aspects of the cosmos is an experience and study it for as long as possible. Whether it be though writing, film, music, photos, or simply through one’s memories, it is our duty to record what we witness. While it is guaranteed that the record won’t last, it will exist briefly, such as the universe. To quote Eckhart Tolle, “Ultimately, you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself”.

Adult – first prize

Crossroads

By Lynda Strutt

DANGER

DECISION

DECLARATION

Beware the dark crossroad, a place of danger, of the dangling criminal, consequence of deadly intent, the price of evil paid in full. Citizen, avoid the cruel crossroad at dusk; avert your gaze; do not look upon death lest it shed its curse upon you. You of unexamined heart, does not the crossroad shock and terrify you? Why do you fear? Do you tremble because of your deeds too deserve death? Do you fear detection?

Deadly dilemma. Here at the crossroad I fear to go forward to my intended destination. If I go straight ahead, will my destiny be foreshortened like the merchant escaping, he thinks, to Samara? Will death precede me there and be surprised? What time is it? The rapid twilight obscures the road and menacing shadows creep upon me. Ah, my digital dial will light my way…..Wait, I forgot to renew the batteries. Drat!

If I turn left, what have I to fear? Left is surely the way to go. It will lead me to the big city that I desire: source of employment, merchandise, even of worship at the great cathedral of stone marvels.

Wait! Who is this weeping beside the crossroad? Is the hanging man her husband? I dare not stop and waste the precious light that is left. She sees me; she looks up. Can I avoid her pain-filled gaze? It is too much. I must go on. What light is left to me I must not waste. I can see the glow of city lights in the distance. If I hurry left, the pleasures of town, the warmth of pubs and inns, of laughter to dispel this current gloom, await me. I will hurry left.

Damn! It’s getting darker. A scurrying small beast races across my feet. There is no time: down I go, no time to stop my fall with outstretched arms! My nose precedes me, now a bloody thing. Damn cat that scavenges in the dusk! I have no dignity left!

Right! That must be the way. I will turn to the right. Yet without sufficient light, how can I go stumbling on the gravel road? This way must lead away from light and laughter, from companions, from feasts and jolly times. These I crave. No, these I worship! Is it late? The gloom intensifies; confusion dogs my thoughts – ugly black creature – I can almost smell it! Think! Remember little black Gabriel, the angel Boston bulldog, runt of the litter, who never learned to get along with his kin, terror to cats. Leash my thoughts – they run amok! Out of the light, stumbling from the crossroad – am I losing my way? The road is empty – there is no one to take my hand and guide me.

Depression descends on my very soul. Black dog indeed! How far is it to some habitation? I can see no lights and my destination is unsure. Passing like phantoms before my dimming eyes, I sense horribly, rather than see, the nefarious deeds I have done, processing in conclave of black popes. What is happening to me? Who can deliver me from this fear of death approaching? Who was that Son of Man hanging at the crossroad? Have I missed the final toss of the fateful dice? Is it too late so far from the Crossroad?

Adult – second prize (tie)

Crossroads

By Emma de Blois

For a person not very good

at decisions and directions and dedication

I am always at a crossroads

idling before the worst kind of metaphor

If crossroads were an apt metaphor for my decisions

(they’re not)

I could hit reverse on the moments that make me

pull a u-ey

or cut across a grassy field to an oasic rest stop

With no need for “What if?”

But I told you it’s not

The road is too narrow

The trusty, rusted cattle guard collapsed behind me

and I’ve kicked up so much dust

I can’t look back without it infesting my lungs so every inhalation is a chorus of

Coarse, clawing crickets in my throat

and I am not so good driving

because I am not a good, grown person

so I am not a good driver

Moments in my life where people have said

“You are at a crossroads”

Have never been so simple, so laid out

And planned by city road committees

Never a spectral voice telling me

“Make a left at this next life altering decision”

In my version of the oh so popular

Crossroads Metaphor

I pull over in a rainy town to ask for directions

most back away from this nervous woman

asking them to give her directions to somewhere nobody has been

Those who stay wave their arms

Say, “when you go, go east

not west, it’s dark out that way”

I nod

then,

not being very good at timeliness,

I show up a minute to midnight

(try to) focus through the darkness

and look to the silhouettes of figures who,

with glowing eyes, are waving their arms

but I can’t tell which way

The moonlight is trapped in the branches of thick pine

looming, swaying overhead

Back and forth

deciding if they should go fell themselves

land where I sit, feeding them their carbon diet

and make the decision for me

I switch on my lights to see the figures

(They all look vaguely like my mother)

the waving stops

some point down one road

a few to the other

And the other other – a third option

that I couldn’t see before and am tempted to choose

because of that

I roll down my window to wave back

show them my face is puzzled

it is about to cry

please tell me which way to go

The strange road spirits with my mother’s face

keep pointing and

I realize they can’t see me through high beams

This is the metaphor I would write for my decisions

Not a steady, stock photo

dusty road that splits in two, disappearing into the horizon

A simple place with infinite fuel

Where the dust behind me buries “what if”

Adult – second prize (tie)

Finding My Way Home

By Vicki Esplen

Looking down I saw thick, dark, manure-like mud and small twigs clinging to my legs. I was cold, my saturated coat no longer offering any warmth or protection from the gusts of chill wind. Melting snow and last night’s relentless rain had the road that I thought would make for easier walking into a challenging track of slick footing and chaotic depressions. I would have to be very careful.

As the first rays of sun showed their light and began chasing away the last of the charcoal clouds my spirits lifted; I was certain I would find my way back, today. Was it just yesterday I had set out for an afternoon of exploring the snow-covered fields and taking in the early spring air? Adventurous and sure-footed was how I had always been described but then there was that uncharacteristic stumble and subsequent knock on the head; scrambling my internal, usually reliable, instincts so that I was unsure which direction would lead me back home.

The path of the sun had always given me a sense of time and direction; the fog in my head was starting to clear signaling that it was time to once again let nature be my guide. Lifting my head to catch the fresh breeze and shaking off my hunger I worked at freeing my feet from the muck. Short strides and concentration was definitely required. Scanning the horizon I could make out fencing in the distance; a symbol of human habitation. A good sign.

The sun was just beginning to share its warmth as I reached the barbed wire fence that marked the end of this road. I was now faced with two sodden arteries leading in opposite directions. Both options offered some vaguely familiar landscape but my instincts advised me that following the sun was my best option. As finding home before darkness set in again was my goal there was n time to rest; I willed my feet to suck themselves out of the mud and pushed onward.

My weary head was flagging not wanting to see how much more road was ahead when the smell of wood smoke drifted towards me. I immediately stopped and lifted my head to see groves of trees and open fields that I recognized; my ears perked at hearing familiar sounds; a tractor engine, a new born calf calling for its mom. Spurred on with the knowledge that I was almost there, my exhausted limbs somehow found new purpose and charged forward toward what I now knew was the final rise.

As I bolted through the gate and into my yard the smell of food hit my nostrils and my stomach groaned in response. In front of me I could see the door had been left open anticipating my return! I moved as fast as my leaden feet could manage, entered my stall and buried my face into the sweet golden hay that had been left for me. I was home.

Adult – third prize

Crossroad

By Ginnie Dunn Webb

Desperate to join my friends from my first 5 years of school, at the age of eleven, I begged and pleaded my case to Mom. I wanted her to write a letter to the Vancouver School Board for me.

My family had moved merely three blocks over summer holidays at the end of Grade 5. I didn’t mind so much the change of elementary schools for Grade 6, but I was devastated I wouldn’t be allowed to attend Vancouver Tech for high school in grade 7. My best friend was one year older, so for my Grade 6 year we would be separated no matter what school I was attending.

“Why should they care”, was Mom’s attitude to my dramatics. “No, you will simply have to go to Gladstone High School,” was her response. (This was 1957 – kids didn’t have opinions!). No amount of begging, pleading, crying was budging her decision. She just didn’t understand how important it was to me. Furthermore, kids definitely weren’t supposed to tell School Boards how to function. End of subject from my Mom’s perspective.

I stressed about my problem for months. When summer came I decided I had to be serious. I wrote my own letter to the School Board. To my delight, they replied right away! They sent me a form to fill out requiring three reasons why they should grant my wish. OK…now I really had to think!

The first reason I gave was because my Father could drive me to school every day so I wouldn’t have to ride the city bus -the school was on his route; my second reason was because my friends were at Vancouver Tech so I had to be there too. No matter how long and hard I had thought about my dilemma, I could not come up with anything for my third reason. So I repeated #1! (After all, I was only eleven.)

Every day all summer I checked the mail. Can you imagine…on the last day of summer, I received an envelope from the School Board. I can still feel my anxiety as I opened it! Stamped right across the front of my same form – it said, “ACCEPTED! Reason: Transportation!” Wow, I hadn’t even known how important transportation might be when I wrote it onto the form! (Mostly because Dad slept on everyday and I’d be taking the bus anyway!)

Wow! I won! I screamed my success to everyone! It sunk in more and more over time and certainly provided ammunition each time a new crossroad came into my life.

I have often remembered my eleven year old experience. My Mother had expected me to just accept my fate. This was a serious crossroad for me because I learned right then I am capable of making a difference in my own life! Who knew!

Nobody else cares as much about our problem as we do. Persistence, determination mixed with a passion are powerful allies.

Special merit award

Andrew Thompson

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