Check out the January winning entries in the grade 9-12 level.
What a strange word, once. Once there was, once upon a time, once, once you say it enough and it loses meaning. You repeat it and it sounds strange, like the word "wants", but truthfully that's what it means, you can't say it without realizing that all stories ever reflect are "want" all legends, all tales, they all involve desire and it's destructive outcomes. This story is no different, it begins with the wants of a very strange beast.
I was playing with my baby sister when he appeared in the East. At first, he was just a glimmer on the horizon, then the features became more distinguishable: the slender neck, the streamlined body, the feathered wings. A dragon. A dragon unlike any I had heard of, he was larger than the castle with golden scales that shimmered in the summer sun. At the time I didn't know, I just gripped Theresa to me and prayed to the Gods, and asked them to send him away.
It was then that the lottery started. The king had decreed it, from his tall, grey fortress, it was fair he said, it would keep the dragon from killing the whole town, it was the only way to do it. I could see him in the throne room making the decision, stroking his long beard and figuring out the odds. Three thousand to one that it was his child, three thousand to one that he had to suffer, three thousand to one that the royal family would have a loss.
That very same week they began drawing names in the town square, Freida, Seth, Annabelle, the girls were dressed and escorted down to the lake, screaming. All of us stood around and watched like a grim wedding aisle of downturned eyes. Too ashamed to look upon their frightened expressions. All the while the King sat in his castle.
I remember the day it happened. We were standing in the piazza, waiting for the next name to be announced. The herald had just ascended the stairs to the stage of the gallows, and he was standing on the wooden planks making a show of clearing his throat. Theresa was chasing a marble across the cobblestones, her bell-like laughs resounding off the hard cobblestones, and the stone façades. He reached inside the box and shuffled the pieces of paper inside, then he drew it out. Then he cleared his throat again, and watched us lean forward in anticipation.
I brought water and a rag to my father. I dipped the rag and wrung it, then used it to mop his sweaty forehead. He insisted on sitting out on the street every day, so as not to be "forgotten by the world," as he put it. He sat upon an old pillow and lay propped up against the mud-brick wall of our home. An elderly man, my father, he had long suffered from an ailment that manifested itself in the occasional bleeding of the ears and eyes, as well as seeping boils on his arms and chest and groin. Death was not far.
It was a day like any other. He sat on the street, not begging, even rejecting any charity, and watched passersby. I, the youngest son, took care of my father. I sat by him sometimes, or else stood at a distance watching him watch.
I dipped the rag again and wrung it and mopped his forehead. He closed his eyes and then opened them, looking up at me. Then he closed his eyes again. I retreated with the water. He coughed and opened his eyes. He wiped some blood and spittle from his hand onto his side. He looked straight ahead.
In the street peasants passed as well as the occasional merchant, bearing his richly clothed self through the dust with grace and purpose. I sat and watched my father watching. A man approached my father. Dressed more richly even than the merchant, he stood and looked down upon pustuled skin. I saw blood begin to drip from the corners of my father's eyes. The man sunk to a knee there, and my father's eyes found his face. The man murmured something. My father responded. The man took two fingers and touched them to his lips and then to my father's forehead. He rose, bowed lightly and continued down the street. My father was motionless. I approached him slowly when the man had gone from view.
"What did he say?" I asked.
"He asked if I was sick," my father responded, "the idiot."
I chuckled. He chuckled.