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2022 Teen Writing Contest Winners

Read the Winning Excerpts in This Year's Teen Writing Contest

Read the winning excerpts in this year's Teen Writing Contest

drowned & burning (starving/full)

Trophy - Drowned and Burning (Starving/Full)

Neekta Baghoolizadeh

There’s a word we have, in our world, for people who want more than they can take. For those
who would crush the whole world between their teeth, only to swallow and ask for more. The
heroes of the legends told around fires, the villains of whispered rumors. Lips pressed to ears,
fire pressed to mouths. Always another story to tell.

But for me, the stories weren’t quite so contained in fiction.

Because here I stood, face to face with my sister. And she had been born filled head to toe with

“I can’t believe we’re arguing about this again!” I spit out. The words taste like blood, bitter. I
was always going to come off worse in this fight. Always the one left, never leaving. “You don’t
have to leave, you don’t have to go risk your life only to discover, what, exactly? A world that will
never be yours?”

“This wouldn’t have to be an argument if you would just be reasonable,” my sister countered,
voice silk-smooth as always. She wasn’t going to conquer the word with spears and violence, no,
she was going to soothe it to sleep.

“I don’t know how else to be!” I retort. “You’re the one who’d take the whole world, and the night
sky too! You’re so lost, you can’t even see what’s in front of you!”

“And you’re any better? God, you can’t even take a single sentence without pulling and pulling it
unravels into a fight. Why would I listen to you?”

“Because you’re my sister!” I blurt out. “How can I live when you’re not here? When you’ll
always want more, and…” When you’ll never be able love me enough to fill that gap, I think. But
I hold my tongue. For all my sister thinks I cannot, I hold my tongue.

This, finally, stuns my sister into silence. Not an easy silence, but a suffocating one. Too loud for
its own good.

“I don’t want you to leave,” I repeat, so quiet the silence is almost louder. But my sister hears, of
course she does. For all that I was born blazing tongue and gnashing teeth, she was born with a
hundred ears.

“I can’t stay here,” she finally responds, looking down at the ground. “I would drown.” I don’t
have to ask what she would drown in. Our family, the history, the rumors. Herself. There’s so
much more than water to drown in.

“And I can’t leave,” I reply. “I would burn.” Always too much and more every day, with no
respite in sight. The chaos would be the death of me, if I ever had to face it.

My sister grabs at my hand, the gesture clumsy for how foreign it was. “You know,” she starts,
“I’m leaving, that’s never changing. But I’m not leaving you.”

My sister would swallow the world whole, if she could. And I would stand by and watch.

Your stomach is closer to your heart than your mouth is.

The Institution

The Institution

Alexandra Wilmer

My eyes grew wider as I scanned each word on the page. It couldn’t be true. I started at the top
and began to read it again. A document titled “The Lindsey Porter Institution Packing Guide” lay
on my father’s office floor. I quickly snatched up the paper and dashed to my bedroom. I opened
up my computer and searched for the institution online. I scrolled through the results, praying
that something else would appear.

Unfortunately only one business came up: The Lindsey Porter Institution for Troubled
Teens.Some of its past students called it , “Hell on Earth”. I slammed my laptop shut and closed
my eyes tight. No matter how much my stepmother hated me, she wouldn’t send me here. It was
inhumane! Kids who were sent there never came back normal. They all returned home wrong. I
didn’t know how to explain it, but I just knew it was true. I felt the same way about the shadows,
but my stepmother Maggie thought it was nonsense. She said that it was crazy-person talk. I
scanned over the packing guide, searching for anything that might indicate the date of my
departure. The page read September 29th. Oh God !) That was next week. The more I worried,
the more the shadows surrounding me began to whisper loudly. Run. Run. Run. Run. I bit my
lip. Running away was risky, but the Institution was worse andy they always got you. But not
me. They wouldn’t get me.

“I’m going to run away.” I stood up abruptly and said. It was lucky that my stepmother couldn’t
possibly hear me from downstairs. As I began to gather supplies from my drawers and closet, I
noticed a lot of my belongings missing. I didn’t think much of it at first, but I soon realized that a
LOT of stuff was missing. I wondered where I could’ve lost all of it, and then it hit me. I grabbed
the packing list, and looked furiously for every item on the list. None of them were in my room
anymore. Go. Go. Go. Go. The shadows whispered. Fear coursed through my body, and I ran to
my bedroom window in a frenzy. I shattered the glass with my bare fist, but the adrenaline
caused me to barely feel the pain. I threw myself out of the window, expecting the painful hit of
the ground below.

That didn’t happen. I landed on a duffel bag in the back of an enormous vehicle. And as bars
began to rise around me, I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t need to look on the truck’s side to
know what company it belonged to. The words “Lindsey Porter Institution.” were already blazed
into my memory.

Excerpt from The Fabulous Four Written Battle

Excerpt From the Fabulous Four Written Battle

Joshua Koretzky

In a parallel universe...

Tucking my wings in, I plowed into the floor as the projectile slammed into the library’s
expensive doorframe, exploding and sending flames in every direction. As the furniture and last
books in the world caught fire, I realized that I had slid to a stop in front of a pedestal holding a
cracked glass case with a large book inside. There it was! After shattering it, I hefted the book up
and flipped it to a random page. My parents had taught me to read in secret, so I was able to
make out the heading, “What are Parallel Universes?” before a voice behind me called out.

“Watch out, Fly-Boy!” shouted Dino Boy as he leaped through a gap in the now-broken wall, his
normally green costume black with soot.

The other members of our superhero team, Green Dolphin and Super Butterfly, had been trying
to hold back the huge Anti-Literature Army that was advancing toward the Stark library. Now,
though, they were both shouting at me urgently. All of a sudden, a shadow dropped over me and
the pedestal. Clutching the book, I beat my four wings, launching myself behind a burning couch
as the pedestal exploded, scattering chunks of polished concrete and shards of glass throughout
the library. As the dust settled, I quietly opened the book because the truth was, I was dying to
see what it said. Before he was captured, Tony Stark himself had told us we needed to recover it
at any cost and escape using one of his inventions. I knew now probably wasn’t the best time for
reading, but my curiosity won over. As the Anti-Literature Army approached the destroyed
library, I opened the last book on Earth, and nothing could prepare me for what I was about to

My eyes grew wider as I scanned each word on the page. It couldn’t be true. I started at the top
and began to read it again. The page described that, according to Tony Stark’s studies, in other
universes, books were legal! Of course, Stark’s vocabulary was much, much larger than mine,
and my reading skills weren’t great, due to the fact that written material was illegal in my
universe. But I was pretty sure that was what it said. I thought about what I had just read. I
could hardly imagine a world like that. Several years before I was born, a guy who called himself
Mr. Anti-Literature conquered the entire world with his Anti-Literature Army. He banned all
reading and writing and allowed the general public to practice only simple math problems.

However, my parents illegally taught my brother and I reading and writing. Earlier today, Tony
Stark contacted my superhero team and told us to come to his mansion in Malibu.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, we were ambushed by the Anti-Literature Army. Stark was
captured and told us to go to his library and get the book, then escape.
To be continued…



Ella Sherry

When the baby across from me started crying I began to unravel. He was wearing a light, sky
blue onesie (her favorite color) and a small cap with bear ears stitched on top.
The mother leaned down and shushed him, stroking the blonde tuft of hair atop his head. I
glared at them, stuffing headphones over my ears (had she held me like that once?). Music
didn’t help—I could still hear the hiccup-like shrieks.
I shifted in my seat and looked past the mother and her baby, watching the silent TV in the
terminal. The channel switched after a few minutes, to a cooking show with one of those women
in blinding white kitchens. She was baking Christmas cookies, the kind with jam between two
biscuits (she used to make those, with powdered sugar on top). I looked away again.
“Hey,” I heard a distant voice say. It was my brother, sitting back down in the seat next to me
with two plastic water bottles in his hands. “Got one for you.”
I slid the headphones off one ear, tossing the water into my backpack. “Thanks.”
We were quiet for a minute. The airport terminal swirled with noise around us but the dull pain
in my chest kept me from shouting out in frustration. I frowned at the woman with her baby.
“It’s an 11 hour flight,” my brother said, finally breaking the silence.
“I know.”
“Lots of TV to watch.”
I shook my head. “TV’s boring.”
“You’re boring.” He was silent again. “We’re meeting Hans and Ida at the baggage claim.”
“Please stop,” I said. “It’s not helping.”
“Just stop talking about them.”
“I’m just telling you what’s happening when we get there. You don’t have to get mad.”
“I’m not mad,” I sighed. “It just hurts sometimes.” Sometimes was a lie.
“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”

My gaze dropped to the duffel bag between our feet (god she’s in a duffel bag). My brother
noticed and shifted his weight, wrapping an arm around my shoulder.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”
“This is our first time out,” I said, my voice shaking slightly. “You know? We’ve never been out of
the country and now—”
“I know, I know. It’s okay.”
My voice dropped to a whisper. “I don’t want to go.”
“I don’t either. But we have to.”
For the second time, my eyes lowered to the floor (god she’s in a duffel bag why is she why is she
dust why why).
“Do you remember how she used to talk about Germany?” he asked. “About the farm and the
cherry trees?”
“I remember,” I said. (at the end: the oxygen mask and empty almond eyes. the hospital bed, the
apple sauce, the geese.) “But sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know.”

The Delay

The Delay

Grace Coleman

As we watched our plane take off, Lily was doubled over, panting after our desperate, yet failed sprint to the gate. I decided not to check my phone yet, confident I would see at least 10 "YOU SHOULD'VE LEFT EARLIER" and "Call me." texts from my mom. But let me back up, to how we ended up in this mess. My best friend is Lily Jameson, and we had been planning on going to Mexico since we were 10. For our 17th birthday, our parents gifted us a weekend trip to Cancun. We were so excited; packing a week in advance, and carefully planning every detail down to the minute our uber would drop us at our terminal. Though our plane was scheduled to depart at 6:55 pm, we had planned to be through security by 5, giving us plenty of time. But of course, when do perfectly crafted plans ever work? With just our luck, our uber decided to get rear-ended on our 15-minute drive. At a red light. Unfortunately, he decided to get out of the car, screaming at the driver behind us, which, (of course), just so happened to be an off-duty police officer! So if you couldn't yet tell, we were quite delayed.

Though we missed our flight, Lily and I were still determined to find one departing the same night; it was early June, and Cancun was a popular vacation destination. Yet upon arriving at the information desk, we were told that due to its popularity, there were limited last-minute options.

"Please, aren't there any seats? We've been planning this for too long," I cried.

Thankfully, the overworked attendant seemed to take pity on us, and with a sigh, began searching other airlines.

"There is one available seat on the next flight out, boarding in about an hour, and another on a flight leaving at 11 p.m," she explained. "There is no way I could seat both of you on the same flight given how packed the flights are."

"We can't take separate flights; that's ridiculous," I told Lily.

"It'll be fine," she argued. "The hotel is a 10-minute drive from the airport; we will check in an hour apart."