Secondary short stories
EDUCATION AND LEARNING ·Short stories submitted by secondary school children for the SUR in English supplement in March 2023
EDUCATION AND LEARNING ·Short stories submitted by secondary school children for the SUR in English supplement in March 2023
Monday, 20 March 2023, 19:36
For the 2023 Education and Learning supplement, SUR in English asked schools to send in short stories; they were given a maximum of 300 words and the theme this year was 'Escape'.
Here is a selection of this year's entries from secondary school students.
It came unexpectedly. Could have happened to anyone, really. A misunderstanding. A last mistake.
The water was cool and fresh, an ocean of freedom.
With every swipe of my flippers, I was propelled forward, the pointy end of my scaly face calmly cutting through the surface. As I emerged, my nostrils were filled with sweet, salty air.
With the sun slowly sinking into the pink horizon, I dipped down, back under the waves, tranquillity flushing through my body, warming the soft skin beneath my sturdy shell.
A white thing bobbing up and down in the water caught my eye. Hunger overwhelmed me. Jellyfish! So strikingly tempting. I could already taste it in my mouth, the soft silky flesh. The perfect meal for a hungry turtle.
I couldn’t resist.
It was only when I had closed my jaws over the soft material that I realised this was no jellyfish. The texture was complex; flexible and most definitely not edible. It clamped around the insides of my throat, starving me of breath.
Panic took hold. I jerked around, struggling against the threat. But the more I wasted my energy, the stronger my need for oxygen. The unknown substance slowly wrapped itself around my head, getting tighter with every movement.
Gasping, I helplessly tried to paddle back to the surface. But the plastic was everywhere. Dizziness was taking over. I didn’t know which way was up. My veins pumped their last blood.
From the wrath of this plastic monster there was no escape.
On yet another spiritless Monday morning, Jack stared at the clock, wondering about skipping History while Mr Acker droned on about Winston’s psychological escape from Big Brother.
“Another fail.” Acker threw Jack’s essay at him. “You’ll go nowhere in life.”
Hopelessness hovered over the halls as the day crawled on. Could he escape the secretary’s beady eye? Waiting until she was distracted, Jack crept out.
Walking the buzzing city streets, Jack spotted a cat slipping into a barely perceptible alleyway tucked between buildings. Arching its back with matted black fur, the cat’s pupils narrowed to slits. It turned away, tail twitching… beckoning the boy. Intrigued, Jack pursued it, yet when the feline vanished through a foggy window, darkness descended.
Peering into nothingness, Jack could just about make out a signpost with weathered arrows pointing in opposite directions. The one to the right read “Somewhere”, leading to a passage paved with ancient manuscripts - a hive of activity. Loaded with books and briefcases bulging with papers, everyone looked productive, purposeful, driven.
To the left, “Nowhere” seemed much more alluring. Jack meandered through a forest of greenery where the soothing scent of lavender drifted on the breeze.
And there was that manky cat again… tail twitching, tempting him into the hollow of an ancient oak. And there he was. Nowhere.
A colourless concrete jungle where hollow-eyed folk were immersed in screens of all types, where clouds clung miserably to the oppressive grey sky. Nowhere: where nothing changed, nothing happened, and no one left (so rumour had it).
He was stuck there. Nowhere.
Jack finally understood what Acker had meant. “Nowhere” - where you end up when you do nothing in life. Jack was determined: he’d get back on the road to Somewhere.
That, or he'd make Somewhere out of Nowhere.
I came alive the second the Brush caressed the canvas, staining her path with black ink, over and over again, in seemingly no pattern at all. An array of small, seemingly insignificant lines and shapes, different sizes and different shades. That is me, a small, thick, black line, beginning in a deeper tone before fading away into the surrounding canvas.
I can hear as the Brush moves around me, dancing tantalisingly as she paints, pressing lightly and then hard, and then lightly again, lifting periodically, sometimes to leave and return with freshly daubed bristles. I know not what the Brush is plotting, what her trail will illustrate when she dabs the cloth one final time. Her dance, I recognise not by the pattern of her steps, but by the swift manner in which she executes them. Sumukhwa, that is what she is performing. Her intent is to tell a story nobody can foresee before she executes her final touches.
I wish only to escape the confines of the beauty she has painted to be able to witness the full story, but I am bound to my canvas for as long as it takes ink to disappear.
Iron bars, durable as diamonds. Mindless guards, brains coded with ‘ESCAPE = PUT IN CELL’. White gruel, no nutrients, no flavour. Together, invincible. Alone, pathetic. Just how to get them alone? ……… Plan made.
A well-built man, with a poorly built mind. He is just minding his own business, oblivious of the bowl of gruel metres from his feet. Seconds later, a loud CRASH reverberates through the cell. Two out - gruel and air-headed guard - one more to go.
Sharpening a titanium spoon on a stone wall is no easy task. Getting the perfect knife-like edge requires expertise. But I know how to knock out the bars. And the cell. And the WHOLE complex.
SEVERAL HOURS LATER
Nighttime. Every detail is in place. Steel vs Titanium knife + Applied force = A blazing prison. Or a gap big enough I can sneak through. The moment of truth. Y13 Athletics helps a lot. I concentrate all of my focus and energy into the tip of the knife. My family, my friends, my house … my life. With my desire for escaping burning hotter than the prison will, I force all of my vitality into a single throw. I let go.
With the speed of a fighter jet, my carved knife darts swiftly towards its target. Everything depends on this. I close my eyes. A screech echoes through the room. I open my eyes.
Clouds of smoke reap the cell. An intense, turquoise fire dissolves the metal bars. I take my portion of gruel and hurl at one of the flames, extinguishing it so I can crawl through. The next moments were a blur. Alarm bells ring, guards flood in, taking no notice of me. My goal is in my sight. The exit. Adrenaline boosts up those final steps. I’m out. Operation Jailbreak success.
Bright light slamming into my eyes, cars honking, people yelling, so LOUD like a sledgehammer SMASH, SMASH. Need to escape, need to hide, I duck into an alleyway and press my hands on my ears. Deep breaths, I need to take deep breaths, in, and out, in, and out.
That's better, I shakily stand up and start making my way home taking deep breaths all the while. Keys out eyes forward, don't pay attention to the sounds or light. The door opens releasing grating squeaks and groans that hit me. Too much, it's too much I can’t handle it. No, I can make it, just one more flight of stairs.
Children rush by me shrieking and yelling, I double over in pain slamming my eyes shut clamping my hands over my ears. No, stop, remember what the doctor said. In, and out, in, and out deep breaths, I exhale shakily. Eight more steps to go, now seven, six, four more, now one.
There it is, my door at the end of the hallway, I'm almost there. I run to it and flip through my keys till I find the right one. I jam the key into the lock and turn the key, a blast of fresh air hits me, so refreshing and calming. My dog runs to me barking all the while, I hear music playing from the street below, tv playing in the background. These sounds are not overpowering or scary, they are calming and happy. These sounds are the sounds of home, my escape from the madness, my own little palace of peace.
As the fog lifts from my mind, I take in my surroundings. I seem to be locked in some sort of prison. The smell of dampness and sewage in the air stings my nostrils. The sense of fear rises in me at the sound of scratching, is it a dog, rat or even a human? In the distance, I can hear shouting and bars shaking. I stumble forward with my arms out, I kick a bucket of water, it has not fallen over but it has splashed my shoes. I touch the crumbling walls. My eyes adjust to the darkness and I can make out the graffiti on the walls, words written like H8TE, K1LL and FRE3DOM.
I’m so confused and scared; I can feel the sweat dripping down my back and can taste it on my lips. A phone rings and it is louder than my ears can take, there is a flashing red light at the corner of the cell, I stumble forward towards the noise. From the red light, I can make out a door with a clear tube running up the side of it and a keypad. I snatch at the phone; I hear a computerized voice saying “Everything you need to escape is in the room with you.” I put down the phone and I set to work.
This is what I’m good at, I scan the room, I see the bucket of water, I see the madman’s writing, I pick up the bucket of water, I pour it in the tube next to the door, the key rises, I grab it, put the key in the keypad, and punch in the numbers 813 - the door clicks open! “Congratulations.” said the man, “You completed the escape room in thirty-nine minutes and six seconds.”
I awoke in a calm, cold, lonely place. Before I could even comprehend my darkened surroundings. A sensation flooded my existence. It was overwhelming.
Water? I thought dazed. I reached out to touch something, to touch anything but nothing met my disheveled clammy hands. Logic soon returned to my subconscious, it felt like an eternity without.
I tried to scream, I tried to move, I tried to escape... But I couldn't. I couldn’t move. I braved to open my eyes and I saw nothing. I saw emptiness. “Am I dead?” I thought arrogantly.
Abruptly I noticed the eyes. They pierced the void and all my being. “Hello, Gabriel,” the thing said triumphantly. “ I'm here to finally take you! Your physical body gave up already.. However, a soul is a soul after all!”
I suddenly felt light, I felt euphoric. After all of these years. All the pain and torment with him...I-I felt serene. No more having to hide the bruises, no more having to lie to close friends. I didn't have to worry about the empty bottles and missing cash. I felt happy.
As I mindlessly floated to what appeared to be paradise, I thought “did he do this to me?”
The thing scoffed with pride “No- no you did this to yourself. Coping with the existence was finally too much for you”
I froze with fear as we suddenly descended. My memories surged back. Numbness soon encompassed.
“PLEASE” I yelped. “ I DIDN'T DO THIS. IT- IT WAS HIM PLEASE” I pleaded. With every letter more and more water entered.
An unmanageably bright light suddenly beamed from the distance. It blinded me to the core.
Suddenly I felt everything, people touching and screaming. Vague sirens in the background. The feeling of my husband clasping my hand.
I woke up.
In the pitch blackness, Alex stumbled to his feet, his ears ringing loudly. His heart, pounding against his chest, left him almost breathless. Where am I?, he thought. Alex blindly felt around in search of an answer. His fingers wrapped around a frigid pole. A bar? He identified a row of them in front of him. A cage. His heart beat louder, his breathing got heavier. Clutching his chest, he ordered his heart to slow. It didn’t.
As the inky blanket covering the cage lifted, Alex found himself surrounded by shadowy figures, hearing murmurs from every direction. A hand grasped the bars and fiercely grabbed his wrist with icy claw-like fingers. The boy jumped. His wrist burned with pain, red painting his arm. More of them reached in hungrily, their murmurs evolving into growls. Alex gripped his shirt harder, his heart now booming. How could he escape? He looked around, but there was no hope in sight. I can’t, Alex realised. He collapsed to the floor. He closed his eyes, curling up into a ball. He was powerless.
Or was he? The mob rattled the cage, howls of despair filling the liminal space. Alex stood up, feeling unsteady. He closed his eyes and breathed, shakily at first, then more calmly. He breathed in, then out. Thought of what made him happy, relaxed, at home.
Then the uproar suddenly ceased. Curiously, he opened his eyes. He gasped. In front of him was a beautiful scene. Breath-taking blossoming trees towered above exquisitely fragrant wildflowers. Birds sang a light tune, carried by the soft whisper of the wind. The forest hummed with life, creating a melody of beauty and bliss. Alex felt relaxed. He lay on the floor, relief filling him followed by overwhelming joy. He laughed. He had escaped.
It was a lazy winter morning. I sat in front of cold porridge, looking out of the window. Snowflakes danced in the air. In the snow I saw the footsteps of an animal; could it be a wolf? Living in the forest could be dangerous so I always have to be careful. Today I have no choice; I don't want to miss the first day of school.
I pulled on valenki and went outside. Freezing, I was surrounded by towering trees covered in snow. Looking into the depths of the forest made me nervous; what if the same wolf whose footsteps I had seen was lurking in the darkness, waiting for me? Walking faster, I headed towards the village where the light from the lanterns began.
After school, walking along the same road, I wasn't so scared anymore. I squinted into the sun and turned my eyes to the forest; it looked especially dark in contrast with the blinding whiteness.
I heard something - like someone running. Was something chasing me from the darkness? Heavy breathing was closing the distance with giant leaps. Snow was slowing me down. Crazy thoughts flew through my mind. I heard an animal growl close behind me. It felt like the sound had come from a pack of hungry beasts, rather than a single one. An enormous shadow hung over the clearing. My house, in the middle, seemed a long way off. With every last ounce of energy I owned, I moved.
Breathing heavily, I tripped over the doorstep and smashed into the door. I wrenched the doorknob and it obediently gave way. I rolled into the hallway and slammed the door behind me.
A bright light washes upon my face. Blazing radiance floods into my eyes, blinding me. Slowly, my vision returns, everything bathed in a blurry view.
“Where am I? What is this?” I think to myself.
Dragging my heavy eyes around the painting visible to me, I see myself in a room. Tiles line the clean walls and floors. Machines circle around me beeping in synchronised harmony, like an orchestra of robotic musicians. To my left, a window. Outside, I see a parking lot, with cars so little they looked like children’s toys. I notice a person come in, clad in green, with a mask on his face and gloves on his hands, and my wrinkly eyes grow heavy and tired once more…
Trickles of memory begin to return to me. Puddles of reminiscence form in my mind, beckoning me to recall what events led me here. Trying my hardest to remember, I walk through these memories. I see people. There is joy, celebration, sadness, anger, confusion… fear…
Fear of something unknown, unfathomable, imperceivable. Fear of something you can’t prepare for… Fear of something that will always catch up…
Fear of death…
My life flashes before my eyes. I watch as years transpire before my eyes in a matter of seconds. I think of all I have done, and all I haven’t, good or bad. All of what I could’ve done. All of what fear stopped. The fear of something I was trying to avoid, trying to escape. But it isn't something you can escape…
Returning to my senses, I sit up in this bed, this coffin, and I burst out into tears, waterfalls streaming down my face.
“Come, now, for it is your time” I hear. I look over to the man clad in black robes… And I follow…
Cruel. My life was dreadful before I left. Everything was so overwhelming. The people were horrible. They were like monsters. I was lost in my own mind. Reviewing everything that happened in my head over and over again. I hated it. When I was still in my hometown I was invisible, like a ghost. People would walk past me like I didn’t exist or they knew they just didn’t care. I saw how they abused the other kids at school. It was horrific. The atmosphere was so bleak, grey and obscure. That's probably why I retreated into my escape.
Everything started spiralling into a never ending abyss. Strange things started to happen. Big periods of time that I experienced started disappearing and moments that felt like hours now felt like seconds. Everything was slow but so fast as well. It was so confusing, lonely and dull. Now I am slowly healing from past tragedies. Life is starting to become amazing and like a dream. When I look back at how hopeless my life was back then I feel so relieved for escaping my cage. If I had stayed I would have gone insane from the stress of my fear finally catching up with me. It was like a predator spying on its prey ready to pounce at any second.
The people here now notice me and accept me and don’t judge me for being “insignificant” or being a lesser human being than them. I know now how to dream and let myself be happy. It was world changing for building up the confidence to rip off the chains that were holding me back and just be free from the torment that was being held over me for years. I can love myself now and it’s amazing.
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