The judge's report appears below the winning entry.

Phials of Hope

By Priyanka Iyer, Mary MacKillop College

Hope.  A small inexpressible throb of unfathomable fantasies, of beliefs so evangelical and evanescent that it transcended the strongest emotion of all, fear, and it alone thrived and basked in its burnished luminescence, thrusting towards the absconding shadow, who, in an abrupt instance sensed its beckoning.

The eloping darkness shrouded the figure in a cascade of clandestine secrets, threatening to unveil and reveal the unknown atrocities of his wicked accomplishments.  Yet, this black knight had no fear, no fear that would penetrate his solidarity and unacknowledged incompetence, no fear that would languish over his heart of insatiable greed, and no fear that would lure him right into the yearning hands of his assailants.  For Salem was a man of no emotions, no emotions that is, other than his famishing greed for Hope.

He was tampering with fire and ice, dawn and dusk, unsurmountable mountains and turgid seas.  He was tampering with Hope.  Oh, such simplistic beauty, with all its soft reminder of fulfilling one’s wants and desires, a sure work of great devilry.  Of such endeavouring passion, unmolested by prying change of thoughts, an everlasting tongue of seething dreams.  Salem was drawn to it, as he always was, and always would be.

He crept stealthily towards its coaxing and lustrous aura, an intermittent ray of tantalising poetry, full of mirth and a capricious mind of its own.  In his coiled sack jingled phials of unaccomplished dreams, for in each phial enclosed and imprisoned, was an innumerable quantity of Hope.  Salem smirked at his own malicious doing, and with swiftness, so tender, almost caressing the earth with gentle placements of his experienced feet; he bounded on towards the alluring songstress.

Clouds gathered overhead, obscuring the pale and insipid gleam of the moon, who seemed to mourn the blackness that transpired inside Salem.  She mourned with Hope.  The trees began to whisper secrets, passed on from single falling leaves to another, and so loquacious were their conversing, laden with Hope.  One of the secrets that unravelled was like a flume of autumn leaves, a pure mist of their auburn tufts, a past that formed into a tale about Salem.

Salem stole Hope.  He stole it because he himself had none, none that is, until after the disappearance of his sister.  She had meant to him what Sun means to Day, and what Moon means to Night.  She was the single most joyous presence of light in his darkness, she was the water in his well, she was the azure in his sky, and she was the Hope in his soul.  Ever since her traceless departure from his life, Salem’s irrevocable love for her grew into a wanton craving for depriving others of Hope.

As he trekked onwards, he saw an abandoned horse cart, strewn across the haughty landscape.  A dull hush-hush sounded behind it, like gauzy silk being scraped against bundles of hay.  Salem walked towards it, and found a man lying suspended in between two different worlds.  He knelt down beside him, and produced an empty phial from his bag, and placed his palm over the dying man’s heart, muttering what seemed like vitriol gloating, but was actually an incantation that would wrought the man of his Hope.  His wishes and dreams for the world flashed before his eyes in effervescent shades of unruly hues, and Salem shaped the loose tendrils into an orb of intermingling colours, vaulting it into a phial, and placing it back into his sack.  An incorrigible smile displayed across his face as the left the Hope bereft man to his endless rest.

Yet that wasn’t the one that Salem wished to capture, this was most lacklustre in comparison to that one’s eddy of tumultuous whiplash.  Its presence was as strong as the amicable attraction between Moon and the Sea, a ruthless yearning, and this Hope tapered in a chain of the same magnetism.

Salem ran towards it in a restless flurry to extricate that rose, and an augmenting desire for it increased.  Suddenly, a small girl standing with great prudence, bathed in a cloud of soft rosy pink, shot thought with trains of dusky crimson, and showered with delicate drops of celestial beauty and Hope, cocked her head in curiosity.

She exuded such waves of exuberance that Salem became unduly irresolute under her prowess, which exacerbated his awe for her.  She was the quintessentialism of benign femininity, gifted with curlicues of black wind battered petals, and of a porcelain countenance.  Her eyes twinkled with understanding, with knowledge, with Hope, and the blue of her vision pierced him through the heart.  Yet, such deep and intricate wisdom for a child of her years pained him.  She was no more than five, yet the ricochet of her Hope astounded him.

She padded towards him and studied his grave visage.  Her face was like a vista of enduring beauty, too magnificent, too Hopeful.  She held out her hand, the only feature which betrayed her innocence.  It was soft and pudgy, smooth with sea shell pink fingertips.  Her palms were lined with entwined etchings, each a constellation, a tell-tale sign of her future.

Her hand so childlike, was the epitome that Hope was never lost within Salem, he had just failed to welcome it.  Her hand remained motionless, with great patience, with a sign of Hope, urging him to take it.

Smiling, he took it.


Judge's report

Deb Peden


I was delighted to see an even greater number of submissions for this Section to that of last year’s competition. And the quality of writing has again lifted significantly: for that, I would like to acknowledge the writers themselves, but also their teachers and their families: for good writing starts with reading well and wide and it’s those around them that often model good reading and writing practices…. There was a delightful diversity of genres: from fantasy, horror, science-fiction, drama and adventure. I noticed the absence of humor this year and while writing can be a serious practice, it’s also fun and I would encourage writers with a humorous vein to also consider making a submission. What influenced my decision about the place-getters and highly commended entries was their ability to captivate the reader from the opening lines: a decisive or appealing narrative hook is essential for the short story writer. I also recognized in these winning entries, effective use of economy wherein the writer is able to convey a sense of place, character and crises within the word limit and sometimes powerfully with single words and clause-like sentences.


Third Place: ‘The Swing’

As I mentioned in my opening address, there is a power in economic use of language. In The Swing, the writer uses this tool very effectively during the climax of their story: Then a screech shatters the air followed by a loud CRACK….. She sprints outside…. And the scream goes on and on. CRACK. Diana lying spread eagled on the grass. CRACK. the two frayed ropes from the old swing…. CRACK. Diana’s limp hand held tightly in hers. CRACK… And so on, the word ‘crack’ punctuating the air, delivering powerful sound bites to create tension and a sense of the critical moment. The writer has also made good use of dialogue and provided an important message about an appreciation and love for family. This writer has a promising future.

Second Place: ‘The Ambush’

I really enjoyed this story, despite (or perhaps because of) the violent themes of attack & defense. The writer had me from the opening lines: the creak of the floorboards under soft leather boots was enough of a warning in itself, the story opens. And from there the tension builds as the reader vicariously experiences the threat of ambush through the perceptions of the victim. What this writer also does very well is shift from action to thought in a fluid writing style while maintaining the plot’s momentum. A subtle yet powerful twist in the denouement, completes a satisfying short story. This writer has a natural storytelling ability, and I would encourage them to pursue their craft.

First Place: ‘Phials of Hope’

What appealed to me most about this short story is not so much the vocabulary & imagery – although they are sophisticated especially in light of the fact that this a Year 8 student submission – the appeal and respect for this piece of writing and the writer comes from the writer’s ability to use this language in context and powerfully, to convey a sense of place and emotion. ‘Phials of Hope’ is an extended metaphor of Hope & Fear as portrayed through the key character, Salem, who harnesses Hope from unsuspecting others and secures it in his phial. That is, until he encounters a five year old child who is “gifted with curlicues of black wind-battered petals and a porcelain countenance”. The story ends with the innocent child extending her hand in Hope to Salem, who, smiling, takes it. The reader is left to determine whether Salem or the child remain hope-filled or hopeless. This is a beautiful piece of writing and I encourage the writer to pursue their narrative ability and their imagination: a powerful story with an enduring theme.


# 1 ‘H-A-T-E’

Despite its provocative title, this short story is about confronting the antagonism and perceived hatred of others. Basically it’s an anti-bullying tale over one school day in the life of a victim. The use of present tense is powerfully used here and the reader is transported through the fears and experiences of the key character until she stands up to her nemeses. While the denouement is a little clichéd, it is very satisfying story.

# 2 ‘Sarah’

The writer has used the fantasy genre to construct a fascinating storyline for the reader. Sitting at a park bench, the key character from the title, Sarah, converses with Thomas. The reader is taken back in time: but what is real and what is not real is left to the reader’s imagination. Greater economy of words would be effective, but the writer uses dialogue and vocabulary well and constructs plausible characters.

# 3 ‘Murky Water’

This is one of those frightening stories that conjures up images of the film Jaws. A chilling account of a young boy, Arnold, and his companion Sam. Arnold finds himself in murky waters with the threat of something unknown beneath him. Written in an unorthodox style from two perspectives – one in the water, one on dry land – the tension is built as the threat becomes real. A digital watch becomes the warning beacon for the danger. This is a well written story but it could have been expanded on a little more to further develop the characters.

# 4 ‘The Singing Doll’

The Singing Doll is a supernatural tale of a girl and her doll. A sort of Armageddon descends upon the village and it is the doll that emerges from the mire to transform into a real live girl – her song the only aspect she remembers from her former life as a doll. The writer demonstrates a good imagination and a flair for the written word. I would recommend however that the writer maintain a single event over a brief period of time to adhere to the short story writing genre: nevertheless, a commendable piece.


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