Congratulations to Young Writers Group member Eloise Quinn-Valentine, whose story ‘Clear Waters’ beat one hundred others from South Australia to win first prize in the Youth Division of the 2013 Salisbury Writers Festival Writing Competition. Eloise is fifteen years old.
You can read her prizewinning story below.
‘Clear Waters’ – Eloise Quinn-Valentine
Flames glowed and a cacophony of raging voices was all that could be seen or heard in the dead of night. As the procession approached a small thatched cottage a barely audible gasp escaped from the lips of a small pale figure peering from the window. She quickly turned away from the sight and bundled a few small objects into her arms before slipping through a hidden back door and out into the cover of night.
She stole through the undergrowth, her feet barely stirring the leaves and her chest heaving with frantic, shallow breaths. The figure reached the end of the bushes and paused to make sure the crowd wasn’t nearby, then with almost unnatural speed and grace she darted across the open field, no more visible than a ghost. She collapsed into the shrubs surrounding a serene pond, clutching her precious bundle to her tiny chest. But the reprieve did not last long, she quickly crawled onto her knees and either uncovered or created a deep hole in such a short amount of time it didn’t seem possible. She carefully placed her precious possessions into the neat little hole, and in no time at all the hole was covered over, and the grass looked as though it hadn’t been touched. She gently patted the spot where the hole had been moments ago, and lowering her face to the ground, she gently kissed her bundle goodbye.
Then, with a backwards glance, she stole towards the pond. Gently exhaling, preparing herself for what was ahead. She flexed her fingers and her skin began to ripple and shimmer, and then her body disappeared altogether. The ripples in the pond were the only indication that she had walked into the water. She kept a steady pace and didn’t stop for the shock of the icy water or the sludge beneath her feet. In the middle of the pond, the ripples ceased and tiny bubbles rushed to the surface.
The girl sank further and further downwards until the water became so murky she couldn’t see at all. Only then did she allow herself to shimmer back into visibility and her limbs to loosen and relax. A small blue light appeared in her hand and she slowly passed it up and down her body until she seemed to glow with warmth. The light went out and once again the figure was plunged into darkness. She peered upwards to the world she left behind, only glimpsing stars and the shining, round moon through the murky water.
But the scene changed quickly, blurred figures began to rush back and forth across her view of the outside world, brandishing torches. The fire only provided a small amount of light to the pale ghost of a girl hiding beneath the surface. As she watched and waited, the fire spread to the bushes and ground surrounding the pond, destroying everything in sight and lighting up the depths in which she hid.
She struggled to swim deeper, twisting her slim and agile body through the mud and roots. As long as the party didn’t search under the water, she would remain hidden. But even then she could only last so long under so many metres of water. The cold and lack of air would kill her within the hour if the crowd didn’t leave soon. The flames grew higher and higher, and soon an hour approached. The lithe figure swam ever so slowly upwards in a weakened and drowsy state. There didn’t appear to be anyone left waiting for her to surface, surely they trusted the fire to keep her under until she drowned. But as her lips were about to break the surface for that precious breath of air, she noticed movement to her left. There, crouched on the very edge of the pond, was a young man, no older than herself.
He sat there staring into the depths of the pond, unaware of the girl about to surface on the other side. She remembered to disappear just in time before she was spotted. Maybe she could risk it. Maybe if she stayed out of sight he wouldn’t even notice her slipping away. But if he did notice her then all of the running and fighting and hiding would have been for nothing.
She turned from the surface and returned to her spot amongst the roots. She began to meditate; it was all she could do now. Wait.