350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Announcing the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest!  This year, young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The numbers changed quickly.” Winners from our four age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to all!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


THE LOTTERY
by Sasha Greenfield, age 10, California

Amy chewed her bubblegum slowly. It was a hot South Carolina day and her visor stuck to her forehead. Her summer job at Joe’s Convenience Store was excruciatingly boring. The few times the door chimed the costumer who had opened it only wanted a soda or a lottery ticket.

Suddenly, Amy was pulled out of her dreamy state. The door chimed and a tall man walked through it. “Hello.” Said the Man. “May I purchase a lottery ticket?” He asked. “Sure.” Said Amy, further sedated with the dullness of the purchase . She scanned the ticket. “$2.99”. He handed her the money. The man walked out of the store; the door flapping closed behind him.

A few moments later the door chimed again. Then again. Soon the store was full of people, all wanting lottery tickets. Amy scanned and scanned. She looked at the screen of the cash register. The numbers changed quickly. A wide grin spread across her face. At this rate the amount she was going to be paid at the end of the week was enough to keep her out of work for the whole summer. She had really won the lottery.


KID IN A CANDY LAND
by Maddie Morris, age 11, Mississippi

Would you like to spend your summer vacation in a land comprised of candy? Where I come from, as soon as vacation starts, everything turns into sweets! Sugar flowers bloom, boulders become rock candy, and chocolate waterfalls flow. It’s a kid’s whimsical dream! I looked down hastily at my watch; time seemed to drag as the minutes counted down until summer. When the school bell finally rang, I practically flew like a bird down the front steps. This year, I want to do something extraordinary with my best friend, Maria.

I biked over to her house as quickly as I could manage. We had been pondering what adventure we should have this summer. I had an idea so earth shattering that I had to tell her immediately: we should build our own gingerbread treehouse. Maria and I decided on what additions we would make, and then we got right to work. What took the longest was baking the gingerbread. It took us a while to find an oven that big! Once that was completed, we built a Life Saver tire swing and an Airhead slide. When we finally finished, we gazed through the isomalt spyglass that permitted us to look down on the sugarscape of sweets below.

This was the best summer of my life! We had so many adventures, and I really felt free. At the end of summer, Maria and I devoured our candy treehouse. It took us some time, but we invited our friends and families to come help us with this impossible task. On the morning of the first day of school, Maria and I met at the spot where our treehouse once was before we ravenously finished it off. As we counted down the minutes til the end of summer, we remembered the fun times that we had. My favorites were climbing a tree made of peppermint bark and jumping a candy-floss rope. Suddenly, I glanced down. The numbers changed quickly! Five… four… three… two… one… and summer was over. We can’t wait until next summer, minus the stomachache.


REMEMBER THE PAST
by Rafael Ramos, age 14, New Jersey

Sitting at my desk, I typed vigorously. This ‘job’ I had was the worst, but I had to do it. I needed to. Typing a bunch of old stories on a computer was unsurprisingly boring when doing it for hours straight. News outlets stated that the world’s remaining governments ‘hired’ a ton of unemployed people because the rising sea levels stole homes, including mine, but in reality, it was enslavement. The previous generations neglected to look for solutions to their own problems and we paid the price. I’m not saying this generation of people is any better because my ‘employer’ decided we should leave for space. This is why I was typing.

From movie scripts to baking recipes, thousands of people with my job were creating an archive that would serve two purposes – they told us. One archive to send to the stars and another left on Earth for the unfortunate who are left behind. Oh yeah, only the elite would leave the place. World leaders, influential corporations, and some celebrities got to say “sayonara.” The rest of us were left here to suffer mother nature’s retribution. Talk about fairness.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. My sector’s lunch break started. My coworkers and I in our white jumpsuits all stood up almost simultaneously and headed to the cafeteria. We walked down a wide hallway with a counter above. It tracked every person who passed through it so we were accounted for like products, going up one per person. The numbers changed quickly. Armed guards and cameras watched our movements so nobody ever picked a fight. I sat isolated from others, the way I liked it, and ate. After lunch was over and I had to head back to my sector, I felt a hand on my shoulder while getting up. Before I could turn to see, a voice said, “I remember who you were in the past. I got a plan to leave this prison and I’ll need you.” I then whipped around only to see another white jumpsuit disappear into the crowd.


WHAT HAD ONCE BEEN PERFECT
by Karen Yang, age 16, New Jersey

What did you expect? It was never going to be perfect. You took a look at the machine and sighed. You had spent eons coding, working on this hunk of slow-moving computer, tweaking the controls until you could indicate a year and the computer would broadcast a memory about your family, your friends. Likewise, thanks to your efforts, the computer should’ve been able to show the lives of the people you had left behind.

But now, it was all for nothing. The machine would need years to recover from the pile of scorching red nuclear ramen noodles you had accidentally spilled. Though it was useless, you had wiped the oily noodles away, revealing a red film of fat where the computer glowed with the present year, 2081.

You started groaning but stopped when the computer began buzzing again, awakening from its hours long hibernation.The numbers changed quickly. 1994, 2004, 1990. Memories flashed on the screen; dances at Long Beach Island, Mom and Dad cutting a slice of peach pie as a baby (you!) watched on. You glowed as the computer continued to hum. Perhaps, in a miracle of all miracles, it had worked! You inched closer to the screen, eager to remember Maisy’s squishy pug face, to taste the texture of pistachio ice cream, to hear the song your friends sang in the underground library, to honor what was now gone.

You grimaced at the next number: 2021. The year you had left this all behind, this life that had once been perfect. The computer, as if understanding that your life had ended this year, decided to crash as well. It shut off, accompanied by your loud wail.

It was all futile then. There would be no speculating, no looking to see whether Mom and Dad were still well, still eating fruit pies in their salmon colored beach house. There would be no spying on Maisy, watching for her antics in the dog park. There would be no more memories, no more cathartic songs and orange juice the next morning. There would be no more guessing, no more you.

First Draft

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This one is for the young writers out there! Would you like some constructive feedback on your work? May we humbly suggest First Draft, our library’s writing resource for authors-to-be? Simply submit your creative writing and short fiction stories via e-mail, and we’ll offer comments and suggestions via email or Zoom…your choice!

Recommended for ages 9 – 17

We accept creative writing and short fiction stories…not academic works, non-fiction, school assignments, or college essays. Also, this is a resource for kids and teens (sorry, all ya’ll adult writers!).

For full submission details, please visit our website.

350 for 50

pen frameEvery year, our library has a writing content called 350 for 50. We challenge kids ages 6-16 to write a short, 350-word story that includes a sentence of our choosing. This year, the sentence was  “The image blurred, then darkened.” Our judges select winners from three age categories and not only do the young authors get published on our website, blog, and print publication, they enjoy a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore!

It is our great delight to present this year’s winners. The artwork for each piece was created by Princeton University student, Aliisa Lee.


Every Day is a Bad Hair Day

Lucy McCulloch, age 9
Bordentown, NJ

Bad Hair Day artwork by Aliisa LeeI am Meddie. I am in 5th grade at Blockwood Elementary School and I am considered a complete freak by most of the girls in my class. The same girls, who for the past six years have tormented me because I wear an enormous hat to school. If they only knew the truth hiding under my hat.

It all happened one day during a chaotic indoor recess. As usual, the room was divided into four corners containing the “bookworms”, “the artists”, “the fashionistas” and “the gamers”. I took my usual seat with the artists and began to draw cartoons.

From across the room I heard a loud commotion. I looked and saw a boy named Quincy stick out his tongue and make the “gag me with a spoon” action. I didn’t know what was going on, but I saw all eyes in the room turn and look at me. Quincy had a note in his hand. Before I could even ask what was going on, our teacher Ms. Birdfitch, swooped in a grabbed the note from his hand and read it out loud. “Dear Quincy, I love you.  Love, Meddie.” The whole class broke out into laughter. Ms. Birdfitch told everyone to get quite and take a seat.

The note was the last straw. I rushed out the door, and ran down the hallway. I slipped into the bathroom and stumbled to the cold tile floor. Those girls had done it again. But this time it wasn’t a silly name, it was a lie!

I got up to wash my face and looked in the mirror and that is when it happened. I looked at my reflection, but it didn’t look like me. The image blurred, then darkened. I felt my insides getting colder. I couldn’t hide my anger or true self any longer. I took off my hat and let my snakes coil around my head. Finally free from the hat, I walked unafraid back to class. I opened the door to horrified faces.  “Call me by my real name from now on.  I am MEDUSA!”


Memories

Neha Aluwalia, age 13
Plainsboro, NJ

Memories artwork by Aliisa LeeThey had been one of the last to escape. A few more weeks, and the ship would have been stopped-and the Jews would never have made it to America.  However, with luck on their side, the newly-wed couple Deborah and Joseph Rubenstein took a crowded, smelly ship to America, and wrapped their faith and hope around them like a warm blanket.

Upon arrival of New York City, things were not at all what they expected.  For one, they were detained at Ellis Island for many days, and the mixture of languages, smells, and sickness were very overwhelming to the lonely couple who understood little English.

When all the papers were finally set straight, Deborah and Joseph used what scant money they had, all their families’ life savings, to rent a room in a crowded apartment complex.

While Joseph went to work at the docks, Deborah stayed at home and began to befriend the neighbors. She became good friends with a man named Leroy Caldwell, a handsome and curious journalist. He was interested in what happened to the Rubensteins, of the events that brought them to America.

The two became so close that Leroy asked Deborah if he could interview Joseph and her about being Jews who escaped from Nazi Germany. After a plethora of conversations about a myriad of war-related topics, the article was almost ready to go.

The one thing that was missing however, was a photograph. Leroy arranged Deborah and Joseph together, pillars of hope in the darkness, and hit the button.  Flash! The camera spit out a photo.  The image blurred, then darkened.
———————————————————————————————————————
“Grandma? Grandpa?” asked the small child perched on her grandparents, squinting at an old photograph, “Is that you?”

Pointing to the young couple, indifferent to their poverty and content, the elderly woman replied, “Yes child. That was me and your grandfather, living out our families’ dreams. We only had each other, but we made the most of what we could.”

The child agreed to this statement by snuggling next to her grandmother and falling asleep, leaving Deborah, Joseph, and the memories together.


Therapy

Roshni Mantena, age 15
Princeton NJ

Therapy artwork by Aliisa LeeShe’d learned later, that its name was Ischemia. She was suffering from ischemic loss of vision, caused by a blockage of the artery supplying blood to the eye. It was the most common reason for sudden visual loss, and left untreated even for a few hours, it could leave permanent damage. The last fact, she knew too well. At first, she’d blamed her parents. If they’d returned home, even an hour earlier. Then, it’d been her grandfather. Genetically inherited, artery blocking cholesterol. Finally, it’d been God. You sent this my way. Her bitterness had consumed her, pushing away her friends,  family, boyfriend. She walked in the school hallway alone, whispers of that blind girl trailing behind her, but she wore them proudly like armor, deflecting whoever attempted to get close. It’d gotten old fast, the loneliness tearing holes deep in her heart, leading her here.

It’d been half past eight and her parents still hadn’t returned home from their dinner party. The summer sky had long since faded into hot, sticky, darkness, and her clothes clung uncomfortably to her skin. She was too lazy to change into pajamas, the horror movie flickering on the TV screen in front of her just interesting enough to keep her from leaving her comfortable place on the couch. The air shimmered, the image from television slightly distorted, from the heat, she told herself. Another minute passed, the beginnings of a headache pounding at her temples. She rubbed her head; dark spots appeared in front of her eyes, the characters onscreen swimming in her vision. The image blurred, then darkened. She could still feel her heart drumming loudly in her ribcage as she screwed her eyes together, squeezing them shut tightly before opening them again. Panic in the form of bile was rising in her throat as she rubbed at them frantically, trying to coax them back from the nothing-ness to no avail. She scrambled blindly for the phone, hands shaking.

She inhaled sharply, running fingers over the raised bumps, feeling out the words. Palm flat, pride swallowed, she pushed the door open into therapy.