The winning entry is followed by the judge's report.
The Silent Carriage
By Clare White, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School
Silence. Complete silence…complemented by arctic coldness that shook me like an alarm clock going off. I had been impatiently waiting on that desolate train station for over an hour, contemplating every speck of stray gravel and dirt that caught my short attention span. My watch had stopped at one o’clock in the morning, a few minutes before I had arrived at the station. A moonless sky gazed down at me and I now found myself standing rigid and upright with loneliness as my solitary companion. Childish fears paid no mind to my inner demands for their life-long banishment from my troubled mind.
“…You are all alone… and the damn train is unusually beyond providing believable reasoning as to why it is late…” I attempted to reassure myself. I paused for a couple of seconds as the two sides of my mind went about their daily conflict. My rational side took control and began to ramble, a good sign that meant I wasn’t really scared. “Stop tricking yourself into believing that sort of repetitive literary junk! The only out-of-place scenario here is you talking yourself!”
The train which was stationary in front of me was not my ride home. Upon my bombarding arrival, though I had been rushed to reach the train I wanted to catch, I had stopped to interpret text on the train’s front. ‘Special’, it read. There was an ominous atmosphere about that train. I ran my eyes around the platform as an automatic response that served no real purpose. In dire need of some common sense, I reached for the button to open the doors that stood directly in front of me. Out of the blue, it turned green and the doors slid eerily sideways to invite me inside. Surely anyone with a shred of intelligence would make for the nearest bus stop and take the next ride out of there, but not me. I got on, not all cautious as the doors closed behind me and the train sped off down the tracks.
Inside, I was still alone. I noticed there were no buttons for the doors on the inside, which deeply concerned me. The ebb and flow of my increasingly evident fears matched the constant sway of the carriage in an odd melody. Suddenly, the PA tuned in and a voice, ghostly slow and steady, stated that the train would be making a detour. I got up with widened eyes and stumbled over to a window as to study my surroundings. There was a sound from above me that wiped the look of thorough scrutiny from my face. I thought the noise was one of like a system rebooting itself and so very accurate I was. The lights had gone crimson red and stained the room accordingly. The screen usually for showing the next destination of the train turned on, so I looked up and…
“The next stop …” I began, ready off the screen, “is Eternal Damnation?”
No sooner than when I had finished speaking the lights shot off and I felt a cold hand constricting my throat. Short desperate gasps were all I could manage as a cackle burst out from my attacker. I felt a sharp pain in my skull as the grip on my neck clenched tighter. In a frantic instant I was freed and I fell, breathless, with salty tears swelling up in my eyes. Symphonies of banshee like cries echoed through the carriage and for the first time in a while, I knew the position I was in, was one I wouldn’t get out of. The torment continued for as long as I was able to cry out in terror. At times when I was unable of even standing, the train spoke to me, asking if I was having a good ride or if I wanted to hear a joke. I replied with the tears…and only tears.
Many moons later, I found myself bedraggled and given up on all hope. Attempts at escape left claw marks on the windows and blood spurt from my fingertips. I had even written on the windows with that clotted, foul smelling ink. Living off the cockroaches underneath the seats and drinking the water which dripped from the air conditioner for so many days, I was fine physically, but mentally I was crippled beyond repair. Then, on that very day, train stopped. The doors to my carriage opened and a young girl of about twelve stepped in.
“No! Get off! This thing is alive! Just run!” I screamed in desperation. I knew those doors would close with the girl in between if I approached her. The girl didn’t react; she didn’t even notice me, as the train again sped off. Sobbing, I embraced the child sympathetically. But I passed right through her.
Associate Professor Beryl Exley
Faculty of Education, QUT
Warm red ochre and blue sky greetings from the land of the Larrakia Aboriginal people in the NT where I am currently enjoying my Long Service Leave. My long term colleague and an esteemed English teacher from Ormiston College, Peta Egan, has kindly made herself available to deliver this report on my behalf.
This year entries in Section D were once again variable but stimulating reads. I am excited to think that so many young adolescents are enjoying writing and are confident enough to share their work with an audience. This year three prize winners and four highly commended awards have been given in Section D Short Story for Years 6 & 7.
• 4th Highly Commended, ‘Wolf Hunt’ presented a fast moving but highly descriptive fight narrative. The author expertly wove in a range of sophisticated literary devices, including descriptive noun groups, metaphors and excessively short sentences to speed up the action. On this occasion, the author brought the story to a close with an unexpected emotional twist, that of introducing the reader to a den of four month old soft grey furred orphaned wolf pups.
• 3rd Highly Commended, ‘Sydia’, was a more challenging read as the new world of Sydia was carefully created and tremendous spirit was given to Ruby and her foe, a Russian mutant lizardman. The author used comparison to quickly engage the reader with the active and emotional realities of the characters. The subtle use of alliteration gave the text rhythm and phonemic cohesion. This author was able to include a complex plot in the space of two pages.
• 2nd Highly Commended, ‘The Lost Tomb’, was a well-paced action drama, featuring Professor Richard Lenniste as an archaeologist and expedition leader searching for the lost tomb. This author showcased an extensive subject-appropriate vocabulary and balanced description of visual action against innermost turmoil. The plot took a surprising turn in the last two paragraphs to offer a satisfying conclusion. I’d like to encourage this author to write another few chapters about this adventure.
• 1st Highly Commended, ‘The End’, showcased a more mature writing style comprised of descriptive noun groups effectively masquerading as complete sentences. Other sentences showcased a range of sophistically built embedded and interrupting clauses to ensure detail also featured in the text. I was captured by the way this author mixed literary and informative genres to provide a compelling account of the end of the world. This was a brave piece of work and I have awarded it 1st Highly Commended to encourage this author to continue to explore this rather unique writing style.
• The 3rd placed entry, ‘Mirage’, required re-reading to fully appreciate the effort put into an extensive plot that transverses time. This author obviously has a talent for creating action and emotional drama. Reinforcing the same point twice or thrice added to the intensity of this text. I found myself closing my eyes after each poetic sentence to fully absorb the magnitude of meaning. This text also included a very effective paragraph structure to emphasise the protagonist’s decisive action. I really enjoyed this young writer’s style.
• The 2nd placed entry, ‘On the Run’, was a more traditional narrative about the trials and tribulations of Vicky, a young 11 year old female pick-pocket who escapes the law on Lady, her trusty chestnut mare. The author took a risk by interrupting the escalating drama with a flashback about her recently departed mother. However, the layering of drama and lament reduced me to tears as I came to appreciate the reasons behind Vicky’s criminal actions. The hallmark of this author’s work is the development of character through descriptive action.
• Finally to the winning entry, ‘The Silent Carriage’. This author did not waste a single word and I kept thinking about this story for days as I recalled the particularities of carefully crafted phrases. It’s a sign of literary talent in the writer when readers start to recall specific phrases. Many of the carefully crafted sentences created a fulsome picture of past action, the present situation and opened up my mind to possibilities for the future. Space was spent setting the scene before moving through a somewhat perplexing drama before time was transcended and we met another character. It was only when the unnamed protagonist interacted with the new character that all of the pieces of this ghost story fell in place. This author, quite significantly, required the reader to do some of the work of filling in the meaning. One comes away from this reading with a sense of having engaged with the author rather than just being told a story. I offer my sincere congratulations to this young writer.