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Students’ tales of heroism - read the winning entries

Prize winners in the Hall Caine Prize for Creative Writing with Education Minister Tim Crookall

Prize winners in the Hall Caine Prize for Creative Writing with Education Minister Tim Crookall

 

The top young story-tellers who wrote about heroes in a prestigious annual competition were celebrated at an awards ceremony.

Students aged 21 and under in full-time education were invited to pen a short story, a memoir or the opening chapter of a novel on the subject of ‘heroes’.

The annual Hall Caine Prize for Creative Writing – named after the distinguished Manx novelist – attracted 1,016 entries.

Winners and those whose work was highly commended received prizes sponsored by Gloria Rukeyser, great-granddaughter of Sir Hall Caine.

Mrs Rukeyser, like her famous ancestor, is a writer and journalist. Her family still occupies the novelist’s former home, historic Greeba Castle.

Presenting the prizes at the Manx Museum, Education Minister Tim Crookall said: ‘By virtue of the fact you are here today, you are all talented writers. You’ll soon be published authors, too, as – for the second year – we plan to compile all the winning entries into a book and you’ll receive copies, as will all school and public libraries.’

Entries were in four categories: Primary, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5/IoM College.

Judges scored the entries on strong characterisation, good narrative flow and imaginative story-telling.

Amy Hawke, 11, of Cronk-y-Berry School, won the first prize of £100 in the Primary category with the opening of an atmospheric fantasy story about the interactions of a fractured family.

‘I like my stories to have a dark twist to them and I thought it would be interesting to have a story where the hero and the villain were interchangeable and were also conflicted by being in the same family,’ she said.

Ffinlo Wright, 13, a King William’s College student, took the £150 first prize in the Key Stage 3 category with a fast-paced story of dragonflies’ fight to survive in the heat of the jungle.

‘Dragonflies are more exciting than most insects; they’re fast and colourful and easy to write metaphors about, especially the way they move in the air,’ he said.

‘They also have amazing strength, almost like superpowers, which made them seem to me like heroes.’

King William’s College student Laura Stewart, 15, won the £175 first prize in the Key Stage 4 section with a starkly-told story about the Allied invasion on D-Day from a German soldier’s perspective.

‘I wanted my story to have a twist so I decided to write from the point of view of one of the greatest “enemies” of all time, the Nazis, to show that, like everyone else, they were human, too,’ she said.

Bridget Bale’s story about a saviour during a suicide bombing in a bustling town in the Middle East won her the £200 top prize in the Key Stage 5/Isle of Man College category.

Bridget, head girl at Queen Elizabeth II High School, said: ‘When I thought about what it is to be a hero, my perception was clouded by clichéd images of cloaked supermen or war veterans.

‘I found it difficult to equate the acts of violence that these two share with heroics, so instead I wrote about a person whose title of hero was unquestionable.’

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My Hero, by Amy Hawke

“I’m not scared of you!” I quivered, snapping my head around to examine the tree-covered landscape around me.

Soon the wind died down and nothing but an opaque mist covered the scene. There was no sound.

The moss on the ground created a plush, green pillow beneath my feet and trees as plain as the truth stood darkly silhouetted around me, like frightening giants. The desolate silence didn’t last long as I let go of a shaky breath. It clattered in my throat like a rattlesnake and the sound of my own breath scared me. This place looked vilely fearsome and yet strangely beautiful. The trees shrivelled over, creating arched pathways to the north, south, east and west. But, no matter how imposing it was everywhere I looked defined despair. The grey mist clung hopelessly to everything. The swampy air smelt of death.

“You saved m-my l-l-life so I-I’m not that scar-red of you-u.” I added, but behind my ‘tough girl act’ you could clearly see I was panic-stricken.

“I’m no hero; I was just there at the right time,” a chill voice hissed, every word dripping with venom. “Besides, there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ villain, is there?”

I reached into my back pocket as my fingers skimmed over a small, keen, pocket-knife and I gripped it tightly for comfort. I knew that voice … but surely it couldn’t be … not him!

“Don’t hide away in the shadows, step into the light!” I barked, presenting my knife to the glimmering fog that was creeping forwards.

With every terrified step I took backwards it got closer and closer. “As you wish” he drawled.

The ground shook as large leather boots stamped forwards until he finally shone in the light before me. The blistering smoke cowered and limped back into the forest, eventually revealing his face. Why did it have to be him? That monstrous face that lingered in the back of my mind, haunting my thoughts.

“Is this what you wanted? To see your precious ‘hero’?” He smiled sarcastically.

He was just what I’d feared, the vicious and most blood-thirsty villain of all. The one who I could only see in my nightmares stood before me. His presence had sent me into a hushed silence and my flesh was as cold as ice.

A single frozen tear slipped down my face as I instantly recognised him and put my knife slowly back in my pocket before turning away from him.

My eyes welled with tears and a lump stuck in my throat.

“Hello father...” I said in a barely audible whisper.

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The Saviours by Ffinlo Wright

Heroes- Persons who are admired by many for their noble quality or their bravery.

I dashed between the grass green reeds in pursuit of my prey. I hurried over ash grey pebbles kicking up clouds of muddy brown dust from the floor. As I draw ever closer the thought kept crossing my mind. This is the last time I will hunt this prey before the change. The adrenalin pumped through my veins giving me the energy to push harder and faster. Then, with the swiftness of the silver, fast-flowing water of the Great Rapids, I sprang up snatching my prey from the surface.

The mosquito was just what I needed: I swam over to reed and started to climb. Up and up, taking the last gulps of fresh, cold, crystal water through my gills. What would it be like? I sliced through the water’s surface for the last time and emerged on an emerald green reed, basking in a glorious golden light. Before, the sun’s elegant rays had been muffled and deformed by the water’s sapphire blue wavelet barriers, which left where I had swam in a perpetual dusk. But I reached the place. The top of a meadow green reed. And it began.

CRACK! A slit cracked into existence across my back. And then… Black. Utter blackness. All I saw, smelt, heard, tasted and felt was black. Until a new sensation, paper ruffling in a slight breeze. A long gem green tail, pointed at the tip, emerged in quick succession. And finally my head came out from my old, dry skin. My six matchstick legs clasped onto the green reed as fiery rays burn the retinas of my new compound eyes and removed the moist fluid from my four paper thin, vein stricken wings of blazing white. I had emerged.

The sun was at its highest point so my wings dried quickly, and for the first time I beat my wings. Thirty times a second my four wings beat, bringing me upwards. I could see all around the wonderful lake thanks to the 30,000 lenses embedded in my eyes and I could feel and taste the freshness in the air. A sweet, reassuring freshness. This was my home, for over sixty moons the water had been my dwelling, but then the sky became my domain!

I found flying easy, natural. I was swimming through air. Up, down, side to side, everywhere and anywhere! I loved it. However I was hungry. So I flew slowly scanning the area and... There! A huge butterfly, a feast! I dipped my head and at 30 miles an hour I snatched the sweet-scented, multi-coloured butterfly from the air and feasted.

For day I fed on mosquitos and butterflies but never once did I see another emerald body skipping across the water or feasting on a reed. Until that day.

Here I sat on my reed drying fluid from my wings. My eyes had already adjusted to the burning gold rays and my six legs could feel the slight ridges on my chosen reed. I tasted the freshness of the Time of Long Sun in the air and of course I could hear the male hovering above me. I could tell he wanted me as a mate but who wouldn’t? My beautiful pink and white body would attract any emerald male for miles around. But was he so naïve to think he could just have me? I had to test him!

I took off and flew towards the setting sun, my strong but elegant wings took me high into the sky and cleared the highest tree tops with ease. And then I dived.

I plunged vertically down toward the lake was able to pull up; I would be taken by the deep blue. Body lengths away from what I had called home my elegant and graceful body turned up and swerved and glided between blades of green. Easy! This was also true for the male - he was only a reed length from me now. Fast and agile. A good flyer. A great mate!

Many silver moons had passed and I had laid our eggs, the next generation, at the base of a reed close to the shore. At this point we should have left. Our duties were fulfilled. We should have spent the last moons of our lives free, out in the wild. But we didn’t. We realised we were the only ones left. Both of us remembered many of us there were over our sixty moons in the water. So where were they?

One day we were returning from a mosquito hunt in the nearby musky woods and as we skimmed over the silver water and dashed between the reeds we noticed something… Wrong. Some of the reeds seemed to be connected. By what, we couldn’t see. But we followed it any way, then we realised. Our eggs!

With lightning speed we sped toward our reed. And there it was. The murderer. A large, black, hairy eight legged monster crossing a bridge of air, a bridge to our eggs.

Little nymphs were emerging from the precious white parcels but for many it would be too late. Unless we acted. I spun down distracting the monster whilst my mate soared to the shore to pick up a pebble twice his weight. With skill and precision he manoeuvred through the duck-egg sky and dropped the jagged grey rock square on the creature’s head. At that moment I plunged my stinger into its back. However, it was not enough. We both ascended high into the sky, joined legs and dived.

At full speed we crashed into the monster, knocking it off its bridge and plunging it into the water. We provided food for our children the last time. As we lay in the water we embraced its cold hands once again as it had begun. We had sacrificed ourselves to save our species. Indothemis carnatica. We were Dragonflies. We were heroes.

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A World at War by Laura Stewart

The air around me is heavy with moisture and darkness, each fighting a battle to be the most suffocating element. I close my eyes and I focus my mind on the gentle rustle of the waves passing over each other as they rush to the sandy safety of the beach. I let the grass around me brush against my bare flesh, pretending it is my little girl tracing her fingers along my cheekbones. All these distractions calm me. They claw my mind away from the terrible truth of what I will be doing in a few minutes time. I squint against the night, straining to see the boats of the Allied Invasion cresting over the silent horizon. My objective is clear to me. All the steps drilled into my brain until it just seemed like a childish game that I might’ve played in my boyhood. I have no doubt that I won’t fulfil it. However, despite the painful simplicity of it all, I cannot help but wonder about all the men with cherished families of wives, children, siblings and parents who will soon be harshly ripped from their lives forever. The families will never see the body of their husband, father, brother or son again. All they will have left of them and to mourn over will be a telegram saying, “Officer Russo - killed in action”.

The first wave of boats crash against the shore. Gangplanks are thrown out, marking a clear pathway onto the beach. Soon soldiers are pouring out of the boats and down the gangplanks, reminding me much of the rush of the waves. They have the same determination and resolve. We hold fire. Not in hesitation, but in anticipation. Quickly, the first mines are set off, throwing tens of men in all directions. They land limply, no longer anything more other than ragdolls. Before long, explosions assault my ears in every direction. I can’t help but cringe. This isn’t war. This is carnage.

The first stragglers of soldiers make it through the maze of mines to be confronted with razor sharp barbed wire. They’re now in firing range. I turn to my squadron, all rigidly posed, prepared for the signal to fire. Their eyes are trained through the sites on their guns, victims already chosen. I wonder how many of them comprehend just how much that one lead bullet will change so many lives. It’s time for me to give the order. It’s time for me to authorise the murder of dozens of helpless men. It’s time for the said men to fade from existence, what lay ahead of them in the future never to be discovered, what past stories lived soon to be forgotten. “Schießen! Fire!” Bangs erupt around me. The soldiers crumble to the ground, only empty shells now. The men collapse lifelessly and I realise just what their value is to anyone here now. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This is pure massacre. Surely, this must be wrong for it cannot be right! The number of men dying should never be able to justify a cause. Never.

One silver lining, if you can call it that, to this battle - it was quick. It took no more than three hours to wipe out thousands of soldiers. A few of ours were killed, a hundred or so wounded. However our dead and wounded can at least return to their families. The Allies’ men that litter our shoreline, dead or barely alive, will be burnt to dust. No ceremony. No mercy. No humanness. But what can I expect? This is war. They are our enemies. They deserve no less than what they get. But to me, all I see is what might’ve happened to me if I was born British or American and not German. All I see is everything I could’ve lost today.

I board one of the first trucks, a murky camouflage beast that coughs out black exhaust at every hill, back to base. As a Sergeant I have the ‘privilege’ of reporting the actions of today to the Commanding Officer of our sector. To be honest, I do feel privileged over my men today. They, as mere soldiers, are left to clear away the ‘wreckage’. I pity them. The thought of all those mutilated bodies being piled together makes me want to throw up. I must stop thinking about it. I will not be looked upon well if Head Quarters see their chosen Sergeant throwing up all over the place after a battle. I cannot face a demotion. As a Sergeant I have a weekend leave every month to visit my family. Any rank lower and the chance will be slim. After today, the urge to hold my wife and daughter in my arms is almost overpowering. I must cherish what I have. I will try to focus on that as my lesson today and not on how many lives I have shredded to pieces…

“Reports are that you have done exceptionally well today, Sergeant Richter. Congratulations. You will be well rewarded for your work. A reward that I feel is well justified with your progress”. I am in the comfortably furnished office of Commanding Officer Klein. In the corner, a fire blazes warming the snug room. In the other corner there is a door. A door which leads to the ‘interrogation’ room. The room that also conveniently has the torture weapons stored. I try to supress a violent shudder and turn my gaze back to the Officer. I bow my head in acknowledgement and gratitude of the man eighteen years my senior. He nods curtly, dismissing me. I ‘Heil Hitler’ him, but he is too absorbed in the criticizing of some paperwork. I then turn to go. As I reach the door of his polished oak office he continues:

“Indeed. Many reports said you were quite chivalrous and brave. Also quite merciless with those wet sissys”. He laughs at this. I cringe inwardly. A true stab to my morality.

“Yes. Many said you were quite the erm… what was the word they used? Ah! Yes! A hero.

Quite the hero today”.

At this remark he looks up from his papers to study my reaction to this bewildering statement. My face was an emotionless mask; or at least I hope it was. I bowed my head once again. He seemed satisfied with this reaction and carried on his examination of the paperwork. I opened the heavy wooden door and exited the burgundy carpeted room with the overpowering stench of scotch and cigars.

Once outside and comfortably nestled upon a pile of supply boxes containing food, medical supplies and other such objects, I lit a cigarette and inhaled slowly, grateful for its instant calming effect. The sky was a thunderous grey, the temperature low enough so that my breath alone formed clouds of smoke; without the help of my cigarette. I pondered over the words of the Officer. A hero. Is that what I am for slaughtering hundreds of men? Ripping them away from so many of their dearly loved ones? Am I really a hero for that? If so, dear God help us. If I’m what a hero is, I pity the human race. I pity what we are. I pity what we’ve become. Dear God help us all, for if I’m a hero we are all damned to Hell.

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Who Is A Hero? by Bridget Bale

The day was stiflingly hot, the busy street and its contents baking under the high midday sun, the slabs of sand-coloured stone scorching the bare soles of the street urchins’ feet to a texture not dissimilar to leather. Small eddies of dust rose above the desiccated ground, clogging throats and initiating bouts of wracked coughing like death rattles from all sides, prophetic of the future of many of these street children, who, even if they managed to avoid the emerging violence which was eking into the country from its war-stricken neighbours, would be unlikely to escape their hunger, which was the reaper that shadowed them in their every waking moment.

Nevertheless, despite the heat, the street thrummed with life, plugged at one end by a bustling market, creating a veritable forest of once brightly coloured awnings, now faded from many years of relentless use under the unforgiving rays. They stood straight, protecting the network of tables beneath them, which groaned almost audibly under the weight of the wide variety of goods they promoted. Around them bumbled great personalities, many of whom had trod these flags for the majority of their lives, some as old and tired as the banners above their heads, yet all managing to maintain at least something of their original vibrancy, be it in the witty rapport with their neighbouring stallholders, or in their skill at fending off cheeky barterers, countering their impertinently low offers with cheerful silence, their weathered faces, for the most part as brown and wizened as walnuts, crinkling into wide smiles, exposing their strikingly white teeth.

A little way down the street the smell of cooking permeated the warm air from the local taverna, its owners good naturedly doling out the unwanted food scraps to the waifs lingering hopefully beside its doors. A group of soldiers were settled at one of the tables here, their dog-eared cards, having seen years of active service spread haphazardly across the tables between them, their rifles resting casually against the back of their chairs – with the pressure of their duties out of their minds for the moment, their raucous laughter resonated through the street, a pleasant addition to the soundtrack of urban life.

In a quiet corner, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfare sat an old man wrapped in swathes of light fabric which blended almost seamlessly with the stone on which he rested, regarding the scene before him fondly, content despite the harsh hand fate had dealt him. Indeed, the mere fact that he had secured this spot in particular, was in itself testament to his years of hardship, for it was highly sought after, and it was only out of the respect of the other beggars who had been witness to his plight; walking the streets of this region as long as many of them had been alive, that he was left undisturbed by the street’s other inhabitants.

He watched with contented apathy as a young family entered the street from the far end, the mother, dark-haired and with the golden skin and perfectly straight, almost feline features, native to his people. Her face was lit up by a dazzling smile as she strolled along at an easy pace beside her husband, who by comparison seemed much less at ease, his expression stoic, although apparent anxiety was barely concealed by the determined set of his sharp features. Between them scampered a young boy, a huge grin splitting his small face as he swung off his parents’ arms. Suddenly he let out a loud whoop and ran off towards the market, his spindly arms windmilling as he tore towards his favourite stallholder, a kindly old woman he had come to know through his regular visits here, who already stood waiting for him, her arms outstretched.

With a bark of rebuke from the boy’s father which escaped the notice of the boy, the old man’s attention was once more drawn to the parents, his awareness piqued by the note of urgency in the man’s voice, his cloaked head whipping round just in time to see the panic in the young man’s face, to see the thing he had clutched in his hand, and to notice what before he had missed – the additional bulk unmistakable around the man’s waist, at odds to his otherwise lean form. It had previously been concealed by the father’s loose fitting clothing, but was now starkly exposed by a light breeze which whispered through the street – something which moments ago would have been a welcome addition to the scene, but which now spelt out their doom. The man’s wife remained oblivious to the danger, her focus on his face as she looked questioningly up at him, her trust unwavering.

The old man knew enough of the horror stories that haunted this region to know he had no chance of survival, although he was near the outer edge of the average blast radius, ‘near’ was not enough in these situations, and yet, as the certainty of his death stared him in the face, the old man felt calm, at ease with the fact he was finally about to succumb to the invitations of death that had tempted him all his life, been his constant companions through the hard times. He readied himself for his departure, with but one regret, although large enough alone; the regret that, as much of a feat as it was, all he had done, all he had achieved, was survival. And as the child careened towards him, almost level with him now on the path of his trajectory towards the market, he knew what he must do.

With that the old beggar lunged to his feet, reminiscent of some wayward spirit as his robes whipped around him, putting into harsh clarity the slightness of the man’s frame, exaggerating the curvature of his bowed back. A strangled cry escaped his cracked lips, for many around him the first indication that something was amiss, arriving far too late. At the taverna, the soldiers fell silent, some craning around, others half rising from their seats, already reaching for their rifles to ready themselves to neutralize any threat. But over this threat they had no authority, no amount of training could save them here. So they merely looked on as the old man threw himself into the path of the child, watched perplexed as he barreled into him with all the strength he could muster, leaving the two of them rolling across the slabs, the boy shocked into silence as he grappled futilely against him. When they finally came to a halt, the old man lay spread-eagled across the child, attempting to afford the best protection he could for him, looking for all the world to be an angel the likes of that which you make in the snow, although there was no way he could ever have experienced one of these.

This was how they lay as the explosion occurred, filling the street with a flash of blinding light which reached the boy, even swaddled under the folds of the mans robes, searing into his retinas the image of the body, motionless above him. A blast of earsplitting volume followed, and a wave of superheated air, which made the earlier complaints about the temperature seem trivial by comparison.

After that, an eerie silence fell across the area, the boy pinned to the ground, although the restriction meant little to him, paralyzed as he was by his shock and fear, unable to shut his eyes, even to lift a hand to cover his face as a stench which he could not yet attribute to any entity known to him filled his nostrils; the odour of death, causing the bile to rise in his throat, triggering a sound deep in his chest of something akin to a wounded animal. Above him the man, the body, did not stir.

And so who here is the hero? The boy’s father thought himself one, sacrificing himself, and making the ultimate sacrifice of his family to his cause, acting under the belief that he would be far more useful as a martyr, taking as many ‘enemies’ with him along the way as he could, to make the world take notice. And perhaps he thought this loss of life was justified, that what he fought for was worth dying for. And for all we can say, maybe it would have been, but then, the soldiers, our side, thought exactly the same thing.

Are the soldiers the heroes? They thought of themselves as such, fighting and dying, killing whosoever opposed them, ‘for the greater good’. Undeniably, it is often the case that their conflict is justified in cases where the suffering inflicted by the opposing party far exceeds the suffering necessary to halt it. Yet still, that waste of life, however necessary, is inexcusable, is not something to be celebrated, to be rewarded with the title of hero.

And so it appears the only character here that can be attributed the true, unsullied title of ‘hero’ without reservation, is the old beggar man, whose name we do not even know, whose name will never be inscribed upon a monument, for whom heads will never be bowed in reverie, who will depart from this life in one great final defining act.

And who will be forgotten.

 

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