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CanLit's Next Generation: The 2016 Winners of IFOA's Write Across Ontario Student Writing Competition!

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Every year, IFOA Ontario's Write Across Ontario student writing competition invites young authors across the province to submit their best work and show us what CanLit has to look forward to. We at Open Book had the tough job of choosing the final winners, and we're excited to present those four first place texts exclusively for you here.  

This unique contest offers story-starter prompts to students writers and then asks them to continue the story in any way they choose, and the winning writer in each age category receives $500. This year's starters were provided by Susan Perly (grades 5–6), Nathan Whitlock (grades 7–8), Andrew Westoll (grades 9–10), and Cordelia Strube (grades 11–12). Story-starters can be seen below in italics. 

Read on to see the creativity on display by these young writers. From the tense to the funny, the wonderfully bizarre to the unexpected endings, these young authors have us excited for the next generation of Canadian writing.

Gardea, Brad_WAO

Winner, Grades 5 & 6: Brad Gardea

Age 11, Grade 6 at Sidney Ledson Institute, North York

I’ll never forget what I saw that summer day. I was sitting with my parrot out on the porch of our cottage. My parents were asleep upstairs. The cottage was on a river. But I couldn’t see the river, or anything. There was too much fog. The parrot was on my shoulder. I didn’t like talking to people very much, but I could talk to the parrot sometimes. I said to him, “Pretty foggy.” He put his beak to my ear and said, “You okay?” The fog was moving away from the river into the forest trees. Now I could see the beach. There was something weird on the sand. “What’s that?” I said. I ran down the stairs with the parrot on my arm. “You okay, you okay?” he said, as I ran to the water.  There it was, a giant whale, stranded on the beach.

I was shocked at what I saw. Questions were popping out of my head. Where did it come from? How did it get there? How long has it been there? I walked around the whale. The parrot hopped off my shoulder and into the muddy ground since the weather was drizzly. Then it said to the whale, "You okay, you okay?"

The whale gave out a soft grunt. I walked to its tail. There were bite marks and blood everywhere. I took off my sweater and put it in the water. I dabbed the sweater onto the whale’s injuries. I thought about how it got the injuries. Dad told me one time that the currents are bad and there are sharp rocks.

I picked up my parrot and rushed back home. I ran up the stairs and woke up Mom and Dad. I told them everything. They got dressed and ran where I remembered seeing the whale. My dad took off the sweater and dipped the sweater in the water and put it on the whale.

My dad said, "Let's call the Wildlife Centre." He reached for his pocket and looked for his phone.

"No, no, no!" my dad cried out. He checked his sweater pocket, there it was. His phone was there, soaked in water.

"Oh no!" I gasped.

"Oh no, oh no!" said the parrot.

I thought that it was over when I looked at the whale's tail. I couldn't let him down. There was a bar a few miles down. I told my mom to stay with the whale. My dad and I went to get help. My dad and I drove to the bar at top speed, but a cop pulled us over.

When the cop came to our car, I asked him to call the fire department, and the Marine Unit. He asked why. I told him everything.

"Oh," he said. Immediately, he spoke into his radio. Soon, I saw helicopters and fire trucks come by. We drove back and when we got there, a helicopter was waiting to carry the whale while firefighters blasted the whale with water. Then the helicopter tried to lift the whale and had to try again. It worked. They lifted the whale and let it free in the ocean. I will never forget that day.

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Johnston, Annie_WAO

Winner, Grades 7 & 8: Annie Johnston

Age 13, grade 8 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic School, Whitby

The Daydreamer M.I.A.

Mia was on her way to the principal’s office for the third time that week.

Getting in trouble was the only thing she was good at anymore. On Monday, it was screaming about a giant white rat in the schoolyard that no one else saw. (She was starting to wonder if she saw it.) On Wednesday, it was throwing a pink pencil crayon out the window because “pink is boring.” (Mia thought everyone already knew that.) And today, it was standing up in the middle of a math test to declare, loudly, that she hated birthday parties. (Especially the ones she didn’t get invited to.)

The way to the office was down the stairs to the first floor, then down the hall to the left. She was sure she could get there blindfolded by now. But instead of turning left when she got to the bottom of the stairs, she turned right. And suddenly she wasn’t walking anymore – she was running. She ran until she came to a door that said EXIT, pushed hard on the handle, and jumped through it, ending up in an alleyway full of dumpsters. The door slammed hard behind her. She pushed on it: locked. Oh great, she thought. She remembered the nickname her uncle gave her: “M.I.A.” Which means “missing in action.” Which is exactly what she was.

“What now?” she said out loud.

A scuffling noise came from one of the dumpsters, and out climbed a giant white rat. It stood on the edge of a broken desk, looked at her with what seemed like a smirk, and said:

“You tell me – this was your brilliant idea.”

"What do you mean it was my brilliant idea? I didn't do anything, Whiskers! I simply suggested we visit the Fortune Teller" Mia said defensively.

"Oh, I see. You have forgotten why I am this way!" Whiskers said exhaustedly.

"Oh please do not bring that up again.I am truly sorry, but it was just a trip to the Carnival. How was I supposed to know?"

"Well then, would you like to come in for some tea?"

"No thanks" said Mia. "How about some hot chocolate?"

"Fine, I might have some hot chocolate somewhere. Come ,on Mia."

So Mia and her little friend Whiskers went into his dimly lit house. They sat down and had tea and hot chocolate.

"So how are your parents?"Whiskers asked sadly.

"Oh please, don’t be that way, I said I am sorry!" Mia pleaded. She knew Whiskers was missing his parents.

"You know how lonely and sad I am," Whiskers whispered softly.

"Fine" said Mia, "You can tell me the story for the one-millionth time." She knew her friend well, and she knew that he loved telling the same story over and over again of how she had ruined his life.

"Well, it was an ordinary day. You were in trouble and Miss Smith asked me to take you down to the office. You were new to the school, so you had no clue where to go. Miss Smith knew she could count on me, because I was the teacher's pet. This became a habit. I would always walk in silence, while you would mutter to yourself. Days passed and you kept getting in trouble. I would take you down to the office, making sure you actually got there...."

Mia started to fall asleep. She knew the story off by heart. They had become friends and enjoyed many adventures together. Their last adventure was at the Carnival in June when Whiskers was a boy named Timothy. Timothy and Mia were having so much fun on the rides, and then Mia saw a Fortune Teller and insisted they go.

This turned out to be a huge mistake, but Mia didn't know things would turn out so badly. The Fortune Teller predicted that Timothy's inner mythical creature would "show" before the night was over. Sure enough, before they left the Carnival, Timothy had turned into a rat. Mia renamed him "Whiskers". The people Whiskers missed the most were his parents.

"Mia, Mia, wake up!"Mia jerked her head up quickly and realized she was sitting in class."You fell asleep again",Miss Smith said gently. "I think you should go to the office and call your parents so they can come and get you." Mia nodded her head slowly. "Timothy, would you please take Mia down to the office?" "Sure thing", said Timothy with a smile.

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Perez, Sofia_WAO

Winner, grades 9 & 10: Sofia Perez Avila

Age 14, grade 9 at Our Lady Of Mount Carmel Secondary School, Mississauga

My neighbourhood is one of those leafy places, with lots of trees and old houses and big parks to play pick-up in. It’s the sort of place that feels like it’s been around forever, maybe since the dawn of Time, with ivy creeping up the walls of the buildings and gardens that seem to overflow onto the street. I love it here, but not because it’s got history, or because every time you leave your house you’re likely to see someone you know. I love it here because of the animals. Squirrels, raccoons, house cats and stray cats, dogs by the plenty and thousands of little mice. So many birds you can hardly hear yourself think. Remove the humans from my neighbourhood and it would still be alive, perhaps even more so, with coyotes and red foxes moving in from the nearby ravine and herds of deer tramping the streets.

Which is why last Thursday was the weirdest day ever.

Last Thursday, all of the animals in my neighbourhood disappeared.

It’s now Monday, five days after the incident. Autumn is ending. I can feel the cold wind as it rushes past me. I am walking to school this morning, when I remember that I can't hear the usual chatter of the many animals that once inhabited our lively neighbourhood; the sounds that used to make my morning more enjoyable.

Even if it’s autumn, and this year is colder than usual, many animals should still be running around as they prepare for the winter season. I feel empty with such a dead silence. The neighbourhood now seems sad and desolate, as its human inhabitants long for the usual sound of dogs and cats barking and hissing at each other. All the lost pet posters that had been frantically put up last Thursday make this neighbourhood look like it’s haunted by the ghosts of cats and dogs of every size. I feel a chill run down my spine and rip my gaze away from all the haunting posters, trying to focus on my walk to school. However, I can feel the gazes of all the lost pets on my back. The police had looked into this, and started an investigation, but they found nothing.

To get to my school, everyone has to walk either around or through the forest. Today, as I walk along the outskirts of the forest, I see something that nobody has seen for around five days now.

A squirrel.

Not one animal has been sighted since last Thursday, so seeing an animal like this is like seeing a ghost.

The squirrel simply ran out of the forest and stopped in front of me, scaring me half to death. It simply stands there now, watching me with its big black eyes and wiggling its small brown nose curiously. I try to focus and recover from the shock this small animal has given me. I can suddenly feel myself smiling as I realize that I am the first one to see an animal in this neighbourhood since the incident, but I have no time to celebrate.

As soon as he sees my expression change, the squirrel turns and runs back into the forest.

I dash after it, into the depths of the currently gloomy forest. The small animal is quick, but I can hear his movement as he runs through the yellow and orange fallen leaves. I run, forgetting about everything else except for the squirrel, and without even noticing, I find myself in front of a huge cave.

I stop and stare at the wide entrance, admiring the huge structure, then see the squirrel staring at me from inside the cave. We stare into each other’s eyes curiously for a moment, before he runs back into the cave. I immediately chase after him, wondering why he would come to such a place.

Then I see light.

I keep running. There’s no turning back now. The small, furry animal leaps into the light bravely. Without thinking, I leap after him. 

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Lam, Claudia_WAO

Winner, Grades 11 & 12: Claudia Lam

Age 17, grade 12 at St. Augustine Catholic High School, Markham

I knew immediately that someone had been in my bag. I’m a tidy person—my ex describes me as borderline OCD—so when my baggage appeared as I’d left it, I grew suspicious. In my line of work we habitually leave a snap unfastened, or a zipper slightly unzipped. The perfectly aligned Velcro on my laptop case indicated a breach. I opened the suitcase to see if they’d found the lure. Clearly the perpetrator did not have my folding skills, which I inherited from my mother and greatly irked my ex who thought my attention to detail pathological. What a relief to be free of that domestic chaos, to come home to find the dishwasher empty, the dishware in the cabinets arranged in rows according to shape and colour, the sofa cushions placed just so. An orderly home is an orderly mind my mother always said.

I felt the “hidden” pocket. As expected, the bait was gone. No doubt, at that very moment, the perp was fingering it, imagining a fait accompli. Surprises were in store.

The first thing I did was take Advil; I myself had no clue how or when I got back to my apartment. This had been going on for quite a while; my brain would suddenly just shut down and re-activate itself without any rhyme or reason, and it always left me in another place, dizzy and disoriented. Swallowing the pills I went over to check the locks, yes, locks, on my door. As expected, they were all secure in place, with not one of them broken or smashed.

I didn’t even have to question who it was. No one had the keys to my house. No one but my mother and my ex. I was a bit too intimate with him, and when I found out that he had slept with another girl, I gave my mother the privilege of saying “I told you so.”

I went over to my closet. Moving my clothes to the side – why is this brown shirt with the whites?

I found myself, without warning, in the corridor of an apartment complex, my ears ringing. How or when I got there, again, I myself had no clue. It didn’t matter right now though, because this was where I planned to go.

I walked towards one of the apartment doors and rang the doorbell. Soon I heard footsteps, and the door opened, revealing a figure I hadn’t seen for so long, yet hated just as much.

“… Elise? What are you doing here?”

“You look like you are expecting someone else.”

“What? No… I was just… surprised.”

“Nice boxers.”

He quickly tried to pull his oversized t-shirt over them. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

I bit my lip instead. “Can I come in?”

He looked at me with a nervous look, thinking of how to respond.

I sighed. “Look, I don’t really have anyone close, ok? You know that, and you’re the only one I can talk to… you see… something happened…” I gave him the most pitiful stare I could master.

He sighed.

“Sure. Come in.”

I went in, and closed the door behind me, clicking the lock in place.

“What are you-“

I thrust him into the nearest wall and pinned them there, and silently reveled in seeing the confidence leave his eyes. Why is it that guys always fall for this? You lull them into a false sense of security, seemingly not putting the blame on them, and chivalry follows. Men are such foolish creatures.

“Where is it?”

“W-where’s what?”

I pointed the gun at him. “Don’t play dumb with me. Where is it?”

I leaned closer.

“I’ll let you in on a little something. That USB you stole? Is self-destructive, and only I know how to disarm it. So you better tell me where it is.”

“You’re- you’re bloody crazy!”

I felt a warmth on my hip, near my jean pockets.  I reached in and pulled the item out, and I stared in horror.

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Find out more about Write Across Ontario by visiting IFOA Ontario's website.