MYAA 2023 SENIOR 1ST PRIZE
Name: Tarnia Lim Jia Yi
School: Saint International School
Title: Chinese Blues
Genre: Asian Tales
Rachel Chen recalls the intense scent of herbs wafting in the air as grandma brewed her daily concoctions on the stove – a remedy to heal the mind body and soul, was what grandma had told Rachel ever since she was little. “Rara, come drink. Good for health, weather so hot,” Grandma had yelled out from the kitchen in broken English. Personally, Rachel found grandma’s verbal skills in the English language proficient, it wasn’t easy to adapt to a new language after leaving her motherland, especially as a twenty-something wishing to escape the poverty of China.
She fled down the stairs making sure to not trip over the shoes which had littered the hallway, passing the red decorations festooning the halls for Chinese New Year. Holding the bowl filled with a brown liquid as ginseng floated on its surface, she brought the bowl closer to her face, swallowing it whole – the quicker, the less bitter. Grandma smiled at the girl as she muttered the phrase “My good granddaughter”, in her mother tongue – mandarin.
But that was 5 days ago, today, the lanterns, posters, and red-gold banners were all taken down. Instead, the once lively home was now drenched in the emotions of dejection. The front porch was full not because of Chinese New Year but because of the passing of Grandma.
Chen Rui Hua
17.05.1926 - 3.02.21
Originally, February was supposed to be a jovial, life-changing month for Rachel, a month for new beginnings as she embarked on her way into college but now, she has never felt so alone. Whilst everyone was downstairs chattering amongst one another – a concept of cope, Rachel isolated herself within the four walls of her bedroom, eyes red and swollen from the crying, fingertips blistered from the peeling.
“My darling girl,” was heard behind the door, followed by a soft knock against the wood, “We’re going to send Popo off now,” Rachel’s mother spoke behind the door. Standing out of bed, Rachel made her way downstairs as her mother followed behind her, occasionally reaching out to pat the back of her daughter, she was aware of the close bond Rachel had with her mother.
The send-off to the crematorium was silent, everyone mourning in their way, Rachel controlled every fibre in her body to not break down amidst the crowd. A part of her simply wanted this to be over but she knew her grandmother was deserving of a grand memorial.
By the end of the ceremony, Rachel had walked home as her relatives and parents stayed back, catching up, reminiscing — in hopes of recalling their time spent with Grandma. Her hair was in a ponytail as her bangs dishevelled, allowing various strands of hair to fly loose, she held her used tissues as her feet made her way home in small, minute steps.
She flopped onto her bed as she got home, too tired to cry but she still had to pack. Rachel convinced herself, or at least tried to, as she walked towards her closet throwing everything her arms could hold onto the ground. From shirts to jeans, she took everything without a thought in mind.
As Rachel’s arms reached for her top shelf she held onto a scarf, grabbing it and placing it close to her chest she slid down onto the ground, choking on her sobs. It was owned by her grandmother, and given to her when she complained that she felt cold in the Shanghai winters when her family had gone back to visit motherland.
A knock was heard on her door again, with how soft it was, she knew it was her mother. Her mother had always been gentle, just like Grandma.
“Rachel dear, I’m sure you want these, these items were from grandma. Passed on down to you, her dear granddaughter you know?” Rachel’s mom declared softly. Rachel replied her ‘thanks’ in a meek mumble and a lethargic nod as she continued folding her clothes into place – neat enough to fit into her suitcase for tomorrow.
She crawled towards the box as she sat cross-legged against the hardwood floor rummaging through the box filled with miscellaneous items.
“Grandma, you know, I’m leaving for college, to pursue astrophysics the course you’ve always wanted. The subject you never knew existed but always wanted to pursue. Where the nights laying in the paddy fields of China made you inspired, you loved stars.”, Rachel spoke into the air softly as her fingertips caressed the surface of each item within. She picked up a series of photo cards tied together and pushed against the side.
Looking at it, she swore she had seen her grandma. Not a picture, but her life. It was as though a movie had been played. Her eyes widened and her lips quivered, in disbelief, she was as she aggressively rubbed her sleeve against the piece of print. Taking another look, there Grandma was, within the paddy field as she lay sprawled across, “Peaceful” Rachel had thought, the photo of Grandma began to move.
There she was in the field of paddy, laid against the ground as constellations lined up before her above the creating intricate patterns. Another individual had slid into the picture, Grandpa, whom Rachel had never seen before. The man walked towards where Grandma had laid as her hand guided his to her side, the couple basking beneath nothing other than the moon’s luminance.
“What is this? This can’t be real,” Rachel jabbered out into the silence as she took another photo card, this one was different. Grandma wasn’t seen, except it was simply a photo of a crowd. There wasn’t much moving in this photo, which meant limited stories from Grandma but behind a paragraph had been written in Mandarin in now smudged ink.
Today, I leave my husband not because I do not love him, I do. This is for the betterment of my child. I have a daughter, an only daughter. Impossible to raise in the societal standards of China where a son is preferred. I know I will struggle, but this is to those after me.
By the time Rachel had finished reading the last line on the photo card, stains of wetness had already donned the piece of paper-like material she had held between her boney fingers. It was information she had never digested before.
“Grandpa, he doesn’t know grandma died.” she thought to herself as the serotonin leaked from her brain and decreased in levels, as of now, she only felt melancholy, like a broken vase cracked from unbearable heat in the kiln.
The next day, Rachel felt emotions she had never felt before. Overwhelmed she was, packing her bags and loading them into the boot of Mom’s car. “Is that all?”, her mother had asked, worried that she now low-spirited daughter would leave anything behind.
“I think so,” Rachel paused mid-sentence, “Wait, I’ll be right back,” rushing up the stairs she grabbed the box that was filled with grandma’s old belongings as she ran back down shoving it into the boot. Stepping into the passenger seat, “Rara my dear, everything okay? Done? Packed?” her mother questioned as her hands reached forward, tucking a strand of hair behind Rachel’s ears. Rachel nodded in reply.
Within her dorm, she felt small and unready. Entering college with the loss of a support system made the insides of Rachel churn from fear. Fear that what if she doesn’t succeed, for her family, for those who came before her, for her grandmother. Rachel wanted to cry, and she did the minute she reached out to the box that she now claimed as her only piece of home, grabbing a mirror that nestled towards the side.
She saw her reflection, eyes stained as her face became an emotionally charged tableau. It was at this moment that Rachel figured that she has never seen Grandma cry, and this moment was the first. She was Rachel’s reflection, but the truth is Rachel was hers. She was the blood that flowed within Rachel, the pair were mere reflections of one another, and despite that, they moved in opposite directions, whenever grandma reached out with her left, Rachel reached out with her right. If Grandma had never moved, Rachel Chen would have never existed.
The last photograph was simple, it was Grandma and the boat that had led them to where they are now America. This time the movements in the photos were little, as grandma stood there poignantly with her pregnant belly, her hair moving against the wind, the back of it was written entirely in Mandarin writing too difficult for Rachel to comprehend.
Rachel wanted to break at the thought of this, it was as though she had erased her culture due to the lacking of knowledge towards what should’ve been her native language. She wished for a world where she writes in her mother tongue like grandma did; one where it has not been age-battered, stunted and flawed, standing as her first language.
She knew that the end of her daily ritualistic routines containing herbal remedies came to an end, but this meant a new beginning, for her to continue what had been left. Rachel stood up making her way to the kettle in her dorm and as she tore open the packet of herbs, dumping it within to make what grandma had always made. Rachel knows she can no longer hold Grandma, but her dormant body will always be the gateway to the next that comes after her. After all, she was Rachel Chen Rui Li, named after her grandmother.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"This is a heartfelt and beautifully written story that explores the interplay of generations, cultural identity, and the enduring impact of family. The protagonist’s struggle with her lack of proficiency in her native language and her desire to reconnect with her culture are powerful themes. You could explore this further by depicting specific moments or interactions that highlight these challenges. Overall, amazing work!" - Arissa
"I loved the vivid description of emotions which truly brought the characters to life, giving us a touching and heartfelt story. Keep up the good work!" - Celiste
MYAA 2023 SENIOR 2ND PRIZE
Name: Alisha Sarah Binti Hizam Shah
School: Spectrum International Islamic School
Title: Turtle Eyes
It’s always a little bit disorienting to wake up from a nap at the end of class. The scraping of chairs, chitter-chatter of about 30 kids, and the bell — that awful bell. It's screeching in my ears. I yawn before pushing my chair away from my desk and standing up. Most of the class is already on their way out.
I look up to see my English teacher at her table, facing me with a stern expression. What now? I muster up a polite smile. “Yes, miss?”
“Can I please see you before you leave?”
A few minutes later, I'm sitting in front of her desk. An uncomfortable silence fills the room, and now, I'm not sure if I prefer this to the bustling noise just a moment ago. Suddenly, she clears her throat.
“Sofiya, I’m going to be clear with you,” she starts, her eyes staring into mine.
Her expression contorts into… something. It’s hard to decipher. Her eyebrows are raised, her forehead scrunched, and her lips pursed. “I’m worried about you.” Ah. That’s what it is: worry. It looks unnatural on her usually unmoving face. “It’s been two months since you’ve started Form 1, and I’ve noticed that you’re not adjusting as well as the other kids… are you?”
I shift in my seat. “I’m fine, miss.”
“I gave you homework today. Can you tell me what you're expected to do?”
I stay quiet. She knows I didn't catch a single word she said in class today. Enough with the theatrics.
"Right. I need you to write an essay about a topic that you're passionate about. Got that, Sofiya?" She sighs. "Try. Please. I don't want a spiritless summary of the first Google result that comes out when you search up ‘essay topics'. Write from the heart."
— — —
As I walk out of the school premises at the end of the day, I'm still thinking about her words. Write from the heart. I wonder what she thinks she's going to get from me by saying that. A paper that's soaked with my tears from pouring all my emotions into it? Yeah, right. This is a high school English class, not Shakespeare's personal workshop.
The streets slowly turn to dirt roads as I get closer and closer to my house. It's a bit far from the school, but I enjoy the walk home. There's something about being alone surrounded by trees and animals that soothes the brain after a headache-inducing day. I inhale slowly through my nose. The strong scents of leaves and soil are picked up by a breeze that swooshes in front of me. Has it just rained? It smells like it. Birds sing, crickets chirp, and frogs gulp all around me, seemingly invisible. I get lost in the beauty of it.
And for a moment… I forget about everything else. I forget that I’m lonely underneath it all. I forget that I don’t really know what my passions are.
But it doesn’t last.
I exhale through my mouth. As much as I wish I was, I’m not the perfect ‘Mary Sue’ main character of a novel – I’m just a girl, with enough problems weighing on her back to crush it. I’m reminded of my misfortune once again when I step into something brown and sticky, but I’m more taken aback by the size to be wallowing in self-pity. What giant of an animal produced this large piece of feces? I look up ahead. The house still seems to be too far to be walking with this thing attached to my shoe. Fortunately, I’m almost certain there’s a river of some sort beside this road.
Sure enough, after a few minutes, I find myself perched on the grass beside the slowly running water, trying to wash the faeces off my shoe. I sigh. Really, how did I end up here? My eyes wander from the tall trees around me to the lily pads in the river. My gaze fixates on a specific lily pad that seems to be… moving by itself? No, there’s something underneath it. It’s not surprising considering the amount of wild animals around this place, but curiosity is building up in me. I pull my shoe back on and creep up beside it, gently pulling the lily pad off.
The lily pad slips off to reveal a hard shell. A turtle. But it’s bigger than any other turtle I’ve seen in this area: it looks the size of a computer monitor at the least. It climbs up to shore, and I can see it even clearer now; it’s got stubby little arms and legs, but they look harder than stone. In fact, with the shell on top of it, the turtle looks indestructible. But somehow, despite the toughness of its exterior, there’s a warmth in its fiery red eyes.
“You carry yourself so confidently.” I smile. “Like a royal.”
Hesitantly, I run a finger on the top of its head, not wanting to hurt it in any way. It pushes its head towards my finger approvingly. I chuckle.
“Royal,” I say again.
— — —
The next day, even as I’m going through my classes, my mind won’t stop going back to the turtle. It’s strange, sure, and I’m certain that explaining it to anyone would just make me look crazy. But there was something about it that was so… calming.
My English teacher’s voice seems to snap me out of my trance. Again, the classroom is empty except for the two of us. “Class is over. Are you alright?”
“Yeah. Sorry, I just got lost in thought.” I look up at her face, and a sliver of emotion seems to seep from her expression.
“Do you know what you’re going to write your essay about?” she asks.
I shake my head reluctantly.
“You can do it. I know you can. Just try, Sofiya,” she smiles ever so slightly.
— — —
I find myself here again – lying down by the riverside, looking up at the canopy of the trees.
“Royal,” I whisper. “I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t think I can be what people want me to be.”
The turtle’s there, of course it’s there. I couldn’t not go see it again. It doesn’t say anything, because it can’t, but somehow even its presence comforts me with the utmost grace.
A few days go by. Every day, after school, I would go visit the turtle. I’d tell it everything on my mind. And suddenly, I wasn’t lonely anymore. I had something to love.
— — —
My English teacher is looking down at me disapprovingly – or rather, she’s looking at my notebook. I follow her gaze to a doodle of a red eyeball with flames bursting inside. “I’m teaching right now, Sofiya, and I expect you to pay attention,” she says sternly.
My cheeks go red. “Sorry.”
“Are you done with your essay yet?”
I bow my head down in embarrassment. I have no words to say.
She looks at me once again, and there’s disappointment written all over her face before she turns around and continues the lesson. I feel like sinking into the ground.
— — —
I’m almost running once I reach the dirt road. I can’t do it anymore. I’m a disappointment. Right when I catch sight of the pathway to the river, my eyes glance towards something else nearby. A pickup truck. People. They’re… tying something to the back of the truck. I walk forward slowly to find out what it is.
…No. No. It can’t be.
But it’s there. In plain sight. A shell, short stubby legs, and a soft head.
I drop down to my knees, my hand covering my mouth. The people, they’re laughing, they’re holding a gun. There’s no mistaking it. Tears fall down my cheeks as they drive off without a care in the world. I run towards the river, hoping with all my might, even though I know there’s no chance. It’s gone.
“Royal…” I whisper.
For an hour, I lay there, and I think. The turtle saved me from losing myself in loneliness. It didn’t deserve to die the way it did.
— — —
I look up at my English teacher, tired dark circles under my eyes, but my pupils are filled with strength and courage. “Yes, miss?”
“Do you have your essay? Today is the last chance for submission,” she says, eyeing me warily.
I nod, and hand her my 4-page paper.
She takes it from me and reads the title aloud. “Turtle Eyes: a story about poaching.”
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
Your story definitely made me cry a bit. I love the in-depth narration about Sofiya, it's always a joy to see characters explore their feelings and thoughts. I also loved the heartwarming relationship between Sofiya and the 'royal' turtle. I would've loved to know more about what Sofiya's English teacher thought of her essay, especially considering that Sofiya struggled a lot to find a topic to write about. This is definitely a must-read! Awesome work!" - Aliah
"A great message about the cruelty of poaching, and the dire need to put a stop to it. Great work! To make your story stronger, consider adding more depth to your character by elaborating a little more about her motivations for her final choice." - Celiste
MYAA 2023 SENIOR 3RD PRIZE
Name: Emily Kuok Yee Han
School: Kuen Cheng High School
Title: The Key of Idolon
Genre: Magic and Fantasy
Ryvel stood amid the hallway by the stairs, grand yet dilapidated, majestic yet desolate. He shuffled his feet on the carpet, contemplating the possibilities before him. Would this be the chance for a greater prospect of life? Or would it be the path that leads him once more into barren exile? A creak. He turned around. The door behind him was ajar, and beside it stood a man. He was clad somberly, yet his amiable smile lit up his otherwise forlorn features. ‘Ryvel!’ he whispered. ‘Come in.’
It was his study, with a large desk in the centre and ancient shelves lined with books. ‘Well, Ryvel,’ he shut the door. ‘Pleasure to meet you at last.’
‘Likewise, my dear baronet,’ Ryvel smiled as he shook his outstretched hand firmly. ‘After all those years of contacting by letter,’ he chuckled.
‘Indeed,’ said the baronet. ‘Now, Ryvel, we must come to the subject—times are more dangerous than ever. Have a seat,’ he gestured towards the chair opposite his desk as he sat down. ‘Now,’ he clasped his hands together. ‘You are familiar with the Idolon?’
‘Yes. The impeccable weapon of the Candoras, capable of manipulating the souls of the perished, turning them into their undying army of the dead.’
‘Very good,’ the baronet nodded. ‘Now, as you see, we are few, and with the Idolon they are unstoppable. Therefore, the only way for us to win this revolution,’ he leaned forward. ‘Is for us to—’
‘Take control of the Idolon?’ Ryvel cut in.
‘Exactly,’ the baronet clapped his palm on the table.
‘But how?’ Ryvel flung out his arms. ‘Even if you knew where it was, how would you get past their armies, their defences—’
‘Listen to me,’ he held his hand up. ‘That is where you come in.’
‘ME?’ Ryvel leapt from his seat. ‘Lanselius, when I agreed to come here this was not the sort of notion I’d expected, and it’s definitely not the sort of notion I’d agree to.’
‘I understand, Ryvel. But please, listen. You are the only freeman we have who knows the arts. You’re sharp and deceptive, and your belief stays firm— you’re not weak in mind like the others. In short, you are the best candidate I would trust for the mission.’
‘But what if I fail? What then?’
‘Then we’ll find some other way to make it right!’ Lanselius stood up. ‘But you must make the first step forth. I have a plan, but you must be the one to execute it!’
‘But Lanselius, I just don’t think I’m the one for it! What if we lose everything else?’
‘Ryvel, think of what may come. By failing or refusing, we gain nothing, but by risking it, there is a possibility of a new life, of revolution! Aren’t you tired of living like this? Don’t you want to be free again?’ he asked passionately, placing his hands on his shoulders.
Ryvel turned away. ‘I want to, but…I just can’t.’ Yet he sank into thought. This was… an opportunity to get out of this endless cycle, to put his life back on track. Levaron could rise again—He would no longer be living in darkness.
He took a breath, and turned back to face him. ‘All right,’ he nodded. ‘I’ll do it.’
Ryvel leaned against a gilded pillar as he scanned through the array of gowns and waistcoats. He breathed a sigh of satisfaction— it was unmistakably her, the vivacious brunette in crimson silk. He glided through towards her, and spoke. ‘Lady Marguerite, may I have the honour of this next dance?’
‘Why, I don’t object,’ she laughed and took his hand as the stirring tones of the waltz began to sound.
After an interval of dancing in silence, he asked ‘My lady, you are Candorasian?’
‘Of course,’ she stared back with a gaze of suspicion, yet somewhere there was a sliver of alarm.
‘Then you must be delighted by the recent reports of the Levaronian Revolution—those schoolboys don’t stand a chance. They’re too few in number.’
‘Excellent,’ she nodded. ‘We’ll squander them,’ As she spun around, the look of perturbation beneath her smile was unmistakable. Now was his chance. And yet—
‘An interesting way to start a conversation,’ she remarked. ‘The ‘reports’ are no longer ‘recent’, sir,’ her eyes narrowed. ‘I know the ways of men who are out for answers. Tell me, what is it you want?’
Ryvel held his breath. ‘I know what it is you want—you want to avoid persecution, yet you also want the freedom to stand where your heart truly lies. I can promise you both.’
She stopped. ‘How?’
‘You carry the coordinates to unlocking the Idolon, and you know the location of the key. If you could provide me with them, we’ll welcome you back as one of us, and you’ll have our everlasting protection.’
She stepped away, her eyes wide in shock. ‘You, sir, are no Candorasian—’
‘And you, miss, are no Candorasian either.’
She gasped. ‘YOU—’
‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he spoke in his calmest tone. ‘I know of your past. You were one of us. You betrayed our whereabouts for your safety, resulting in your exile, so you declared yourself as one of the Candoras. But,’ he held up his hand. ‘If you would aid me in this task, all will be forgiven. And one more thing—Lanselius Tresilian sent me to find you.’
‘Lanselius…?’ she paused, with hope in her once affronted gaze.
‘Yes, Lanselius. We need you, Marguerite. Please, come back.’
She looked downwards, contemplating. ‘All right,’ she gazed back up. ‘I will help you, but you must promise the success of this mission. Get caught once, and I will surrender the key and the coordinates to the Candoras. Yes,’ she glanced at him. ‘I am not fully committed to the idea of rejoining.’
Ryvel nodded slowly. Could he really guarantee the triumph of their quest? But what choice had he, anyway? ‘Very well,’ he nodded. ‘Lead the way.’
Holding his breath, Ryvel treaded through the floor of jagged stone with Marguerite by his side. He stole a glance at his reflection in the polished walls of marble— he was simply unrecognizable. Piercing blue eyes stared back at him, above which were waves of coppery gold— a stark contrast to his brown tufts and amber irises. They walked past guard after guard, suspicious gaze after dubious look, with his eyes on a deadpan frontal stare throughout the journey. This was the fortress of Dracaedis, home to the key of Idolon, and here he was, about to purloin from it.
They, at last, reached the door at the end of the hallway. ‘Lady Marguerite,’ the guard nodded. ‘Lord Ignacus,’ he bowed, and opened the door for them to enter. Ryvel breathed a sigh of relief. Yet he was getting apprehensive—it all seemed too easy. Amidst his ponder, Marguerite let out a sudden gasp. He soon knew why. In the centre of the large, circular room, high on a pedestal above the marble steps, was an ancient-looking key of rare stone. It was the key of Idolon.
‘Well?’ Marguerite gestured towards it. ‘Here it is.’
’So it is,’ Ryvel said breathlessly. He moved towards the marble steps, darted up, and clutched onto the key. It was unprecedentedly heavy and cold to the touch—it seemed real enough, yet something didn’t seem right. In an instant, an agonising sensation swept through him, forcing him to the ground, rupturing his very marrow and excruciating his soul. He screamed aloud. The pattering of footsteps reverberated through his ears, and Marguerite appeared by his side. Then she gasped. ‘Oh! By Dair!’
The pain had subsided, yet another overwhelming sensation battered him. He peered up and clutched onto his locks—his hair had resumed its brown shade and usual texture. The enchantment had worn off. But that was not all— a face was glaring down at him, a face of sly and decisive authority. ‘Queen Serafina!’ Marguerite’s voice resounded. He stumbled, trying in vain to move his frame backwards, yet it was too late. A strong thrust jammed him upon the pedestal, joined by the tip of a blade against his neck.
‘Well, Marguerite,’ the Candorasion queen’s voice reverberated. ‘Once a Levaronian, always a Levaronian. So it seems, even in your case,’ she thrust the blade slightly into his flesh. ‘I’ve never thought much of you, but I’ll give you a chance to decide where your loyalties truly lie: it’s him, or the key. Choose wisely.’
Ryvel looked up. Marguerite had the key clutched in her hand, and now she was staring at him hesitantly. She caught his eye, and walked towards the queen. What was she doing? No, no, no! Suddenly, Marguerite thrust the queen’s blade away and pushed him towards the ground. She threw him the key, and flung out an explosive, rupturing the wall apart. He stared at her in confusion as the Queen stabbed her blade through Marguerite’s frame, growling in fury. Marguerite shouted in pain. ‘JUST GO!’ she yelled at him. ‘I will come back for you! I will!’ he yelled. The Queen lunged forth, nearing his face, yet he darted down, away from the building, down into the sea of ice.
It was done, yet still a feeling lingered, a melancholy more piercing than the blade of a knife, yet there was also the feeling of a flame ignited, a flame that would never be doused, a flame that spoke of hope, of life, of renewal. He would deliver the key to Lanselius and save Marguerite, for the fate of Levaron, and for all who was a part of it.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"A wonderfully written thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat, with excellent choice of words that paints a vivid imagery of the scenes. To strengthen the lore of your story, consider elaborating a bit more on the background of conflict and the warring parties to let readers gain a better understanding. Great work!" - Celiste
"Your story has a compelling foundation with elements of intrigue and a quest for freedom. As a suggestion, be sure to pay attention to pacing, especially during action sequences. Slow down the narrative during intense moments to build tension and suspense. Conversely, speed up during less critical parts to keep the story moving. Apart from that, continue to develop the characters' relationships. Their dynamic, trust, and evolving emotions can be a central focus of the story." - Arissa
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR 1ST PRIZE
Name: Putri Ayra Elman Binti Bakri
School: SK Assunta 2, Petaling Jaya
Title: Desperate For Perfection
“I'm getting cold feet, I can’t do this!” I say, expressing my worry to my dance teacher– Ms Alicia.
“What if I fall down!, or forget my dance!-"
"Esme, calm down.” Ms Alicia interrupts. “What did I say about overthinking? Just remember everything that I taught you, okay? And relax, I believe in you.” “Okay.” I respond with a wide smile.
As I hear my cue to go on stage, I immediately begin immersing myself into my character and run onto stage. The music starts and I dance to the rhythm of the song. My heart is pounding like a drum was beating inside my chest. But it feels amazing. A rush of adrenaline courses through my veins as I perform. It feels as if I was on cloud nine. From the chilling breeze that tingles across my body with every step I take, the gleaming lights that shone across the stage, the hard, smooth floor. I feel free. I could wallow in this moment forever. I end my dance and the audience cheers.
I have joined a hefty number of competitions since then, but my fuel to win has grown alongside it.
It’s nearing the end of my performance. The light is glaring into my eyes as I dance to the music in which I familiarized myself with through the many weeks of never ending practice for hours on end. Throughout the time I have been on this stage I had slightly lost balance and sickled my foot during my arabesque, but I may have the chance of redeeming myself if I nail these last turns.
As I arrived in the middle of the stage I prepared myself for my ending fouettés. With the judges in my point of view, I began my turns. "One, two, three,” I counted mentally. “four, five, six,”
My legs burn like the raging sun and I feel as though my body will collapse at any moment. “I must keep going.” I thought persistently as a drop of sweat trickled down my face from exhaustion.
"seven, eight, ni-" thump. I fell to the ground. I look up worryingly at the judges as I stood up and curtsied. Just from their looks alone it felt as if they were criticizing me. The audience clapped and cheered for me, but I knew it was from pity. With a smile on my face and tears threatening to fall, I ran off stage attempting to look professional even if I did terribly.
I ran off from the stage in a hurry, I clenched my fist and gritted my teeth. “If I just worked a little harder then maybe!..” I thought as tears streamed down my face. “Now's not the time to cry, it’s not over yet.” I wiped off my tears as I walked back to the dressing room.
Later that evening it was time. “The moment you’ve all been waiting for, the results!” said the announcer as my competitors waited eagerly for the winners' names to be called. As the announcer called for the third and second place winners, I waited patiently and bit on my nails, “Maybe i’ll win after all!” I thought optimistically as my eyes glimmered with hope. “And in first place overall in junior category, may we welcome…” He pauses “Anita Loraine from Red Ribbon Dance Academy!” My whole world had completely shattered the moment I heard those words. I couldn’t even cry; my ears started ringing as I shut my eyes and curled myself into a ball.
On the car ride back home I hear my phone ring, it was Ms Alicia.
“Hi, Esme. I hope I'm not bothering you.”
“Not at all, why are you calling me?”
“I was wondering if you wanted to attend the Stars On Pointe dance competition that’s coming up in September?” I gasp, I was offered to join a famous dance competition. If I won this, I could redeem myself.
“I would love to!” I said enthusiastically.
Since then, I trained for 2 months in order to be prepared for the competition.
As I am walking to class I hear two girls whispering behind me.
“Hey, isn’t that the prodigy who fell on stage at the L.I.M dance competition?” the girl asks her friend.
“Yeah, but is she really a prodigy? She seemed quite terrible if you ask me.”
“Right? I bet after all those years of being called a prodigy she stopped putting in effort.” I wanted to tell them off, I wanted to say something yet all I could do was listen to their slander. I increased the volume of my headphones as I continued walking.
“Ow!” I say as I hit the ground from losing balance. “Esme!” Ms Alicia stops the music and rushes towards me. “Are you okay? You seem so unfocused.” “I’m fine.” I lie through my teeth. She looks at me doubtful but decides not to protest.
Tell me, why do you dance?”
The room goes quiet.
“I want to make my parents proud.”
“They do so much for me and I don't want that to go to waste.” my voice breaks and tears form in my eyes. “Don't cry, don’t cry.” I thought repeatedly.
“It’s okay, you can cry.” seconds later tears stream down my face.
“I’m not great at my studies or anything else, dance is the only thing that I can be good at. But even now I think I'm just average at that. I try so hard to please others but it’s never enough.” I think back to the two girls. “People assume that I don’t try because I was ‘born skilled’. But I do try, I have tried for so long.
She speaks up. “What made you love dancing?” The question settles in my mind. “I don’t.. remember.” “When you go home, think about my question, grasp the feeling and use it.” I nod as she hands me a tissue.
“It’s time” I think to myself as I walk on stage. The music starts and I begin my performance. Things are going smoothly, everything is how it should be and I feel perfect. That is until I see a disgruntled face in the sea of spectators. Millions of questions run through my head as I feel my movements become less confident. “What did I do wrong? Is it my posture? Am I not pointing enough?” My legs shake and I feel weak. I shift my gaze and I see Ms Alicia. Suddenly, I remember her question.
“What made you love dancing?”
I remember it now, the first time I went on stage. The adrenaline that coursed through my body, the feeling of my heart pounding, the shining lights, and how free I felt.
As I think back to my past, I gradually feel more at ease. “Is this what people mean when they say they feel a sense of déjà vu?” I thought as I leaped across the stage. I finish my dance and the audience cheers. However Ms Alicia is no longer in the crowd. I walk off stage and see her standing before me. “Esme, you did amazin-” I embrace her into a hug. “Thank you for everything. I say as she wraps her arms around me. “Anytime.” she smiles. “You should get ready, they will start announcing the winners soon. “It’s okay, I don’t care about that anymore. All that matters is that I have the support of my teacher.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"This was an utterly complete story. It had a great protagonist who had to learn from mistakes, a mentor figure and a challenge to overcome. I feel like this story had all the important aspects nailed down and your writing was able to convey such emotion with ease. Overall, wonderful work!" - Nicole
"I thoroughly enjoyed the message behind this story, and the way in which the narrative style is able to explore the thinking processes of a dancer and her anxieties as she completes a dance. This story takes an intimate look at the struggle of being a performer, and where lines are drawn between personal passion and people pleasing. Such a heartwarming portrait." - Yumnah
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR 2ND PRIZE
Name: Lee Wei Ning
School: Dwi Emas International School
Title: The One and Only Oscar
Genre: Animal Tales
I growled at the two hunters, and I bared my teeth.
“You will never get the fruit!” I snarled. But they didn’t look scared at all.
"You think a little growling and snarling will stop us from taking your fruit? Not so easy!" Hawthorn smirked. I charged at him, and he dodged. Belladonna nocked an arrow and shot it at me. I gasped as a jolt of pain seared through me. It had hit my hind legs! I fell to the floor, writhing as my mind flashed back to the moment I found my wounded father...
Oscar the bear sauntered through the forest, walking the same trail that always led to his cozy cave—which he had called home for years—alone. It had a musky smell and he was going to hibernate there for the winter.
It was just a few weeks before winter, and Oscar had to gather as much food as possible. In his arms, he held a great pile of fruits, nuts, and plants.
As Oscar walked into his cave, he put down the food before pushing his weight against the wall—revealing a secret room. There it was—the magical fruit that made sure he got through each year, the Fruit of Life. One side of the fruit was bright and lively, while the other side was dark and clouded in mysterious indigo. The fruit was shaped like a bee, and Oscar was reminded again of the queen bee who had cursed his father and their whole family.
It all started when Oscar's father, Anatoly, stole a honeycomb from the queen bee, Beatrice. Beatrice's daughter was killed during the theft, as she was in charge of protecting the honeycomb. When Beatrice found out that her daughter had been killed and the honeycomb was stolen, she was enraged with fury. She cast a Forbidden spell so powerful that it cursed Anatoly and his whole family.
"As punishment for your heinous act, every winter from now on, your family would suffer unbearable pain, as if being stung by a thousand bees! The pain can only be eased by eating the Fruit of Life." Beatrice bellowed, an evil smile etched upon her face, before continuing, "The fruit resides in the darkest part of Black Hollow, a place full of venomous spiders and snakes. If you lose the fruit, it will cost you your life as it only grows once a year."
And thus, before each winter came, Anatoly’s family had to pass through countless venomous challenges to get to the fruit. When the bears finally got to it, they had already been bitten by various snakes, and were on the brink of dying. Only with the fruit were they cured of the venom, and subsequently, the curse.
All was well until one fateful day, when Oscar's parents went out scavenging for food, they didn’t come back. With worrying thoughts swarming in his mind, Oscar went to look for them. He found his father lying on the ground, an arrow sliced through his soft, warm fur; blood was pooling on the ground and his breathing was ragged.
In a quivering voice, Anatoly whispered, “I’m sorry, Oscar. The hunters took your mother, I couldn’t save her. Goodbye, Oscar! Stay strong, and always follow your heart. . .” Anatoly exhaled his last breath, finally resting in peace.
Oscar felt as if his heart had been torn apart. Tears blurred his vision as he stumbled back to his cave, dragging his father’s dead body with him. From that day on, Oscar vowed to protect the forest from hunters until the day he died.
Not far from where Oscar lived, there was a village named Qirian. Most of the villagers were hunters, including the two young siblings, Belladonna and Hawthorn.
One day, their mother abruptly fell ill. It was a rare disease where even the supreme Shaman had no knowledge of. Luckily, they stumbled upon a healing hut, where an old wise man spoke:
“It’s the Midnight Sickness, and she’ll die at midnight tomorrow if you don’t find the cure. Legend says that the Fruit of Life is the cure. The fruit was last seen in a cave in Black Hollow, and was guarded by a fierce bear.”
Hawthorn took out his map and pointed to a place that was labeled ‘Black Hollow’. They set off on their course immediately.
Back in his cave, Oscar was preparing to hibernate. Suddenly, he heard footsteps echoing behind him. Oscar turned around and came face-to-face with two hunters, who were none other than Belladonna and Hawthorn.
Hunters! A swirl of thoughts rampaged through Oscar’s mind as his body crouched, ready to pounce.
"Hand us the fruit and we’ll spare your life, or you would endure the same fate as your father!" Hawthorn threatened.
Oscar felt anger churning inside him. He growled menacingly and lunged at them. Belladonna immediately shot an arrow and it hit his hind leg. Pain shot up his leg, but he gritted his teeth and clambered over to the hunters again. He knocked them down and prepared to hit them.
Belladonna’s earlier guile seemed to have vanished entirely. She then spoke in a strangled noise, “Kill me if you want, but leave the fruit to my brother. Our mother has fallen ill, and only the fruit can cure her. She's dying tomorrow!”
Oscar’s paw paused mid-air, and he went silent. Surrender the fruit? But without the fruit, I…! Retracting his claws, Oscar heard his father’s last words echoing in his mind. Follow your heart, Oscar.
Finally, he knew what to do. He lowered his paw and broke the silence. “Long ago, our entire family was cursed by the queen bee. My only cure is the fruit or I’ll suffer enormous pain.” Oscar paused. “I’ll give you the fruit, but you must promise something in return."
Oscar requested, "You must not harm any animals of the forest, and you must stop other hunters from doing it too.” The siblings nodded vigorously, their faces shining. Oscar heaved a sigh. I hope my sacrifice will protect the forest and it ends my suffering too. Every year, I have to face venomous animals to get to the fruit. My sacrifice will be a blessing, not a curse, he lamented.
“Thank you! We’ll keep the promise.” Hawthorn spoke, his eyes brimming with happiness upon taking the Fruit. They took it back to their village, and the moment the fruit touched their mother’s lips, she was cured.
In Oscar’s cave, he felt himself drifting away, leaving the world instead of the pain he had expected. As he closed his eyes, he felt a familiar, warm presence. "Father!" Oscar whispered.
"Come with me." Anatoly spoke softly, his hand outstretched, ready to embrace his son.
Feeling weightless, Oscar took Anatoly’s hand. Together, they walked towards a pathway formed of bright light ahead of them, with smiles plastered on their faces.
A few years later…
Belladonna and Hawthorn looked up into the night sky. There was one star that they had their eyes focused on—the bear-shaped star. To them, it was the brightest star! The siblings smiled sadly as they remembered the bear who sacrificed himself for their mother’s life.
The Black Hollow had then been renamed to Living Hollow. The birds were chirping and sunshine flowed through the forest. Every animal was going about in its daily life, and every living thing thrived there, with no hunters left to be seen.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Your story is heartwarming to read! I love how the painful sacrifice of Oscar has led to beautiful beginnings for others, both humans and animals. It was heartbreaking, but also joyful to see Oscar reunited with his family once more. I would've loved to see more of Hawthorn and Belladonna's lives after saving their mother. I would love to read more of your writings in the future, keep up the magnificent work!" - Aliah
"Your story is heartwarming and well-structured, with a strong moral message of compassion, redemption, and the consequences of one's actions. You've done a good job of developing the protagonist, but you could add more depth to two antagonistic characters characters. Explore their motivations and emotions in more detail to make their transformation and redemption even more impactful. Additionally, consider adding more sensory details to your descriptions of settings and characters to make the story more vivid. Describe the forest, the cave, and the characters' emotions in more detail. Overall, your writing was nothing but short and sweet." - Arissa
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR 3RD PRIZE
Name: Tai Hui Wei
School: Sekolah Sri Tenby Setia Eco Park
Title: The Ocean's Beauty
“A Dweller’s Unnatural Fear”
The wind chimes’ soothing melody rang from Cerulean and Azure’s porch. Their house was just above the ocean water, and the porch had no fences where inhabitants could dip their feet into the crystal-clear water.
The life of an Underwater Dweller—shortened to Dweller—was carefree. They mostly dwelled underwater as their name suggests, and they had two respiratory systems: gills and lungs, unlike Surfacers, who only had one. Dwellers had fins that enabled them to effortlessly glide through the water.
Unfortunately, Cerulean, a Dweller, was terrified of large bodies of water. Her parents died from drowning in a thunderstorm while hunting for food two months ago. Her sister, Azure, had overcome it and found tranquility of the ocean. Azure, and her best friends, Blythe, .and Aether, would dive into the water to catch fish and play within the coral reefs while Cerulean watched wistfully from her house.
“C’mon, Ceru!” Azure shouted, her dolphin-like tail splashing eagerly against the water. “The Gliders are going to arrive tonight, so you ought to have warmed up to the ocean by now!” Gliders were vibrant-colored fish, their scales varying from vivid red to lavender purple. Their bodies used bioluminescence to light up. They came from the deeper parts of the ocean but occasionally arrive in more shallow parts to hunt for food. Their name, Gliders, was from how quickly they glided.
“I can see them from the porch,” Cerulean said. Typical.
“It’s better to swim with them,” Blythe insisted. “Schools of them will be coming tonight, and all you can say is that you want to watch them from afar?”
Cerulean frowned, still unwilling. She shook her head. Sighing, Azure, and Blythe swam away, leaving Aether behind. Aether had always been the quiet one of the group, and he was the odd one out—a Surfacer among a group of Dwellers. While Aether did not have gills or fins, he still swam with Azure and Blythe. Not to mention, he was Blythe’s adopted brother.
“Are you sure about this?” Aether asked, tilting his head. “I get why you’re reluctant to, but we’ll make sure you won’t drown. Besides, those two just want the best for you,” he added.
Cerulean brought her knees to her chest, the gentle ocean breeze blowing through her raven-black hair. “I don’t want to get in the way of your fun,” she mumbled.
“You’re a Dweller like them,” he said flatly, scowling. “You don’t have to deal with Dwellers staring at you from left to right because you’re a Surfacer who enjoys swimming in the ocean. I understand you’re terrified, but you shouldn’t waste your Dweller heritage and healthy body. Don’t you think your parents would’ve liked it if you moved on?”
Without hearing Cerulean’s response, he left to join Azure and Blythe.
“The Ocean’s Beauty”
The sky was fading into a fiery orange, the sun setting on the horizon, its rays seemingly setting the ocean alight. Dragonflies zipped past as Dwellers and Surfacers got ready to witness the Gliders. The wind was howling as waves lined with white foamy bubbles lapped against the shoreline, a lullaby.
While Dwellers were diving into the water and Surfacers were gathering on the shore, Cerulean was sitting on her house’s porch, her feet in the cool water.
“You’re sure you’re not going to swim with us?” Azure asked.
“I’ll just hang out with the Surfacers,” Cerulean replied. “Or I’ll just stay here.” Seeing Azure’s expression, she added, “I can still see the Gliders from here, don’t worry.”
Azure muttered under her breath and slipped into the ocean, not saying a word to Cerulean after that. The sun finally set; the cloudless night sky littered with twinkling stars. Cerulean looked up, wondering if there was a constellation she could recognize.
“Here they come!” A Dweller with sea-green eyes shouted from the ocean. Schools of Gliders lit up the night more powerfully than any cluster of stars could do. Their vibrant scales gleamed in the water.
They glided past coral reefs. Dwellers—and a few Surfacers, including Aether—happily swam blissfully among them. Surfacers on the beach were setting up a bonfire in honor of the Gliders.
Cerulean searched for her sister and friends’ faces. Her sister was playing with a Glider, her tail splashing in the water. Blythe and Aether were swimming elatedly around the brilliant coral reefs.
Feeling isolated, Cerulean headed towards the beach. A terrible wailing pierced the air. A Dweller who looked no older than six years old was sobbing, “I want to swim with the Gliders too!”
Unfortunately, the Dweller seemed to be disabled because she was sitting in a wheelchair made out of palm tree wood. Cerulean felt her heart tear slightly at the sight of the poor Dweller and she flashed back to what Aether had said: “…You shouldn’t waste your Dweller heritage and your healthy body.”
Eventually, the moon, a large white globe, had risen in the sky, smiling down at the Dwellers and Surfacers. Dwellers left the ocean to head to bed while Surfacers packed their things.
“Are those Gliders still sticking around?” Cerulean asked Azure once the latter had dried her hair and changed. Azure nodded and went to bed, which was a bamboo mattress on the floor covered in banana tree leaves.
Once her sister was asleep, Cerulean crept towards the porch, took a deep breath, and decided to dive into the ocean, pushing aside her fears. She gasped at how warm the water was, her bare feet touching the soft sand. It would get deeper from here; Cerulean decided she would play it safe.
A Glider with glowing yellow scales swam around her body, chattering eagerly. Cerulean smiled and slowly swam towards the coral reefs her friends adored playing around. They looked even better up closely. Colonies of radiant corals surrounded Cerulean—no wonder her sister and friends loved them so much. Schools of fish were swimming around the reefs.
Just as Cerulean began to swim back to the porch, she felt a drizzle on her face.
The starry night sky had turned cloudy, the looming dark clouds threatening to spill. A thunderstorm was approaching.
Cerulean’s heart raced, her ears ringing as she saw a vivid vision of her parents. She shook her head.
She saw the ocean with sharp clarity: an ever-changing body of water that inhabited marine animals of all shapes and sizes. It could be calming on the best days and menacing on the worst, but you shouldn’t let the ocean’s vicious side get the best of you—balance is crucial.
And anyway, Cerulean found that the ocean’s beauty overpowered its dangerous side. After all, the ocean is still a beautiful gift from nature.
“The Blue Sky”
The next day, Azure found her sister gazing at the cerulean blue sky on the porch. She could tell something had changed about the Dweller but couldn’t quite put her fin on it.
“I’m going to go hunting for fish with Blythe and Aether,” Azure told Cerulean. She walked on the edge of the porch and stretched, her fins gleaming in the sun’s rays.
“Count me in,” Cerulean said, smiling.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"The writing style for your story is stunning! I purely enjoyed reading it with it's interesting plot, wonderful background about the Dwellers and all the characters with the ocean as it's main setting. I would've loved it more if the main problem was highlighted more and the solution for it was, in the end more concrete. Thank you for the amazing story!" - Dharyaasri
"Cerulean is an amazing character and it makes me happy she has found her peace. This simple story is rich with beautiful descriptions, making the world of dwellers and surfacers so immersive, I love to visit it if it were real. In short, a beautiful tale in a beautiful l world, coming with a valuable moral." - Lee Ann
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Ian Lim Yong Jer
School: Stonyhurst International School Penang
Title: The Boy From The Snow
Genre: Magic and Fantasy
I lost everything. But that was when my life truly began.
TEN DAYS AGO
Every day, I’m tormented by the world, like I simply don’t belong. All the stares and whispering behind my back, as if my existence is a mistake.They might be right.
I’m a pyrokinetic. I can manipulate flames using my mind, with acute precision.
I used to be a normal 17-year old, before I accidentally scorched the village barn. Back in the days when I lacked control and understanding of my powers. My village cast me out, and my family disowned me because they thought I was dangerous, a freak in disguise.
Now, I have no friends. No family.
And live in a cave, all alone.
I never laugh anymore these days. I scowl every second of every day. Why do you people discriminate against me? My stupid flames. I would tear out a piece of me if I could ever get them gone!
I slammed my hands against a nearby tree, expecting it to burst out in flames. Nothing. Again. AGAIN! Nothing happened. The slender tree swayed gently in the wind, unaware of its surroundings.
My wish was finally coming true. Tendrils of joy wrapped itself around me.
I exclaimed out loud, thanking the Gods.
Maniacal laughter burst out of me.
"My powers............. they're gone", delight exploding outwards.
I’d never felt such freedom before. Let’s hope my powers never resurface.
I trudged along the snowy roads, gagging at the stinking air. Days had gone by without food. Without water. I’d realized much too late that my powers were the things that kept me fed and warm. I could not stop shivering in this blistering cold. On I went, embarking on a solemn journey to the nearest village, miles away from where I stayed, praying that I could be part of a community again.
The journey was treacherous. Worn roads would torture my feet, and my entire body would feel leaden. Hunger stung my stomach, the pain excruciating. Days later at midnight, a plain village appeared on the horizon.
“I made it….”, I said out loud, words barely escaping my lips.
My vision faltered. I let my legs give way. The last thing I remember was collapsing to the mushy snow beneath me.
I bolt upright from a stiff hard bed, and accidentally toss the heavy layer of blankets stacked atop me onto the floor. I have no idea where I am. I’m in a house of sorts, with trickles of water constantly dripping from the roof. A musty scent lingers in the air, perhaps from the dirt floor. A mouse, about the size of my hand, scampered past. I let out a small squeal.
Where am I? God, I’m being taken hostage.
“Hey! What’s your name?”, a figure in the corner exclaimed in a high-childlike squeak.
I jump in shock, but quickly see that he’s no threat to me. My strained eyes tear through the darkness, and I see that he’s a child. Maybe seven. His clothes are worn, his legs covered with grime and soot.
“Ming..”, I mumble hesitantly, bracing myself for attacks.
“I’m Tao-Tao. Nice to meet you! Feeling better?”, he replies with bursting enthusiasm, and leaps out of the shadows, revealing his face.
He sounds like he actually cares. Heh. Can’t fool me that easily.
Just then, the bitter cold wraps around me. I shiver. This house does nothing to keep the cold out. I stare at the boy’s clothes once more. He is kept warm by a mere green hand-me-down shirt. I slowly pick up the blankets on the floor, and wrap myself, careful to keep my eyes on the boy, because I don’t buy this kid. What the heck does he want with me? My organs?
“Cold, huh? It’s always freeeezing this time of year.” , the boy says cheerily.
I’m going to confront this boy. Get out as fast as I can.
“Why am I here?”, I snap fiercely.
The boy looked taken aback for a second. But lightens up again.
“Mum found you shivering and unconscious this morning. So I decided to let you sleep in my room”, he says with a smile.
His room? Why would he offer his room to a stranger?
“Ooh! I prepared a sweet drink for you in case you did wake up. And like all sugary things, it sure will take ALLL your worries away!”, the boy exclaimed in glee, and he handed me a cup.
“Here’s some plum juice! It’s my most favorite drink ever…… especially with all the sugar I added for you!”, he keenly offered the drink to me with both of his arms extended.
What’s with this kid? Is he trying to poison me? I can’t read him. He’s so… different from the others. My first kindness in….. years?
Oh well, I don’t have much to lose now. My miserable days are to come anyway. Nobody will notice if I get poisoned and die.
I sigh, holding the cup in my hand, swirling it around. The fragrant plum aroma waffles around me. I can’t help it. I lift the cup up toward my lips, and take a tiny sip.
The flavors of the plum juice explode in my mouth, a symphony of sweet and sour tickling my tongue. It’s perfect. I gulp the entire cup down, enjoying every mouthful.
I couldn’t help but brighten a slight bit inside, but my scowl stayed.
“I have something really special for you, Brother-Ming!.” Tao-Tao took out a box hidden underneath the bed, held it in front of me, and flung the box open.
There were……. pebbles inside? They were colorful. Sparkly, even.
Ugh. Great. I’m entertaining some misled kid. Gave him false hope of me being his ‘brother’, after freaking drinking his juice.
And now he’s giving me pebbles.
What? Does he think I’m five? I don’t need the stupid pebbles! I’m 17, For god’s sake! Ridiculous!
“I don’t want your stupid pebbles!!”, I say aloud, realizing one second too late that I was speaking my thoughts.
Hurt flashed across his face. I..I..shouldn’t have said that.
At that moment, his mum called out from the doorway.
“Tao-Tao, it’s time for bed, we’ve got a long and tiring journey ahead of us tomorrow. “
Tao-Tao stood up and said, “Brother-Ming, I have one last thing to show you, and I hope it’ll make you smile..”, he said, a half-smile returning to his face.
In a swift motion, he removed his beanie, revealing a shining head. A bald head.
“My head shines brighter than a lightbulb!”, he chuckles while laughing heartily.
I gasp in utter shock.
This kid… he has cancer?
After an hour of thoughts rummaging around in my brain, I hear a knock from the doorway.
“Hey.”, a light, different voice calls out from the doorway.
It’s Tao-Tao’s mum. She walks over to my bed, and sits next to me.
“Tao-Tao told me about all that’s happened, and I guess I can’t blame you.. You must have had a very difficult past..”, she says, with a comforting hand on my shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m really sorry for saying that, hurting his feelings because I’m an idiot.”, I spat with hatred.
“No…no, please don’t blame yourself. I’ll share a secret with you about Tao-Tao. He’s…. going to the city hospital tomorrow for his treatment”, she continued on.
“He..he has one of the most sinister brain tumors out there, but in my opinion, has the purest of hearts. He insisted on personally picking the plums for you, and sat around waiting for you to wake and show you his precious pebbles. He says he likes to collect smiles, so he goes around trying to make people happy.”, her face brightening.
“The pebbles.. Tao-Tao picks them up from the rivers, as a hobby. During his treatments, he always holds on to a fistful of them, to hide from the pain. ”, she said, a tear streaking down her cheek.
Everything is bombarding my head at once. I’ve wronged this boy. When a smile is all he asked for.
If only…if I could have a slither of my powers back, I could do good with my powers. My fire-control is precise, down to a nanometer. Please, God. I regret everything that I’ve said. I…want my powers back. A tear falls from my cheeks.
“Very well, Ming. Use it for good this time.”, an otherworldly voice booms in my head.
The sensation was distant at first. Then the heat came flowing back. An inferno, ironically, calming my soul. I felt anew.
I wasted no time. I let my powers flow into the boy that laid asleep in the other room.
At 4am, after hours of precise heat channeling, careful not to hurt Tao-Tao’s surrounding healthy cells, I think… I have succeeded. I close my eyes, and for the first time, pray. Pray that Tao-Tao wakes up tomorrow flashing his big smile.
I wake up, with the pain gone.
Let me go find Brother-Ming, if this is the last hug I could give, I’ll give mine to him. He should learn how to smile and be happy.
Ta-daa..I flash my signature smile. And for the first time, he smiles back! Told me I will be fine.
Yes! Smile #88 collected!
Hours later, in the doctor's office, Dr Shan tells me my brain tumor is miraculously gone. Mama and Papa keep hugging me, in complete shock and disbelief.
I couldn’t help but think it has something to do, with the boy from the snow.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"One of the most wholesome stories! I love how you portrayed the relationship between tao tao and ming. For a more satisfying script, consider working on better pacing. Good job for this creative storyline!" - Edria
"The author skilfully explores themes of redemption, empathy, and the transformative power of selflessness. The story's core message of the power of compassion shines through, and the ending leaves the reader with a sense of warmth and upliftment. The narrative's pacing, character development, and emotional depth create a memorable reading experience. Good job! - Arissa
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Maisara Sofea Binti Mohd Mukhwim
School: SMK Bukit Jambul
Genre: Asian Tales
Mawar froze, holding her father’s cold, lifeless body in her lap as Awang wailed, crying out to their mother, hoping for her to at least blink an eye. She knew well that was not a possibility, the fire had burnt down nearly half of the village. It was a miracle for her and her brother to still be alive. They had returned--- Raja Masahor, The Dark-Blood King’s army had returned to find The Rose of Wealth.
Mawar knew about this cruel ruler’s intentions from the stories that her mother used to tell her before bed. “ On the night of the 6th full moon, every year, The Rose of Wealth of Kampung Bulan Mengambang will bloom and whoever is lucky enough to find it, it is he who shall gain the fortunes” she would say. “ The flower will grant us whatever we wish for, Mother?” “ Whatever we wish for, Mawar,”. Hot tears spilled from Mawar’s eyes as she gazed over her parent’s corpses, questioning why God kept her alive and not them.
Mawar managed to intertwine her parent’s hands before picking herself up to look for her brother as he was not where she last saw him. Mawar’s body shook as she was met with a sight that made all the blood drain from her body --- her brother being dragged away, the king’s filthy hands cupping his face as Awang tried to scream. Mawar looked back helplessly as she ran towards the forest. “ I’m sorry, Awang. I’m so sorry . . .”
Tonight was an unusually dark night for Mawar. Usually, it was brightened up by the comforting smell of her mother’s famous fried chicken and ear-aching bickering between her and Awang. She would give anything to live in those moments once more.
Mawar rested her head against an oak tree. Looking up she saw that the tree’s branch was intertwined with its neighbouring tree’s. “ Mother and Father,” Mawar thought as she buried her head into her knees, her eyes brimming with tears. She was quickly distracted, though, when a ball of green light appeared before her eyes. Mawar looked at it, stunned. The peculiar ball of light circled her figure before then moving ahead of her, as if guiding Mawar somewhere. As if the light hypnotized her, Mawar followed every direction the light went.
The light brought Mawar across the forest to a lake which she knows to be Lake Kino. It then vanished into thin air. As Mawar breathed in the cool lake breeze, she saw a small set of stairs leading up to a bridge that seemed to be never-ending. Mawar stepped up the stairs and onto the bridge then started to cross it. The view from the bridge was everything that could heal a longing heart--- the clouds painted the perfect shade of dark indigo, the crystal clear calming waters, and the tall trees towering over the lake. Before she knew it, she arrived at a small plain of land.
“ Mawar . . . “, Mawar heard a soft voice call out. Turning around, her view was welcomed by a figure of a pulchritudinous woman with the eyes of a doe, rose-red lips, and the long locks of a princess. She wore a loose white satin dress, torn in a few places. “How do you know who I am ?”. The lady smiled as she stepped forward. “ Through that !” she pointed towards a silver mirror placed in the middle of a tree. The mirror showed an image of her village, still in shambles as a result of the attack.“ I’m Mayasri, and I am rather shocked that you managed to survive Masahor’s attack,” “ At the cost of my brother’s death, though . . .” the guilt came rushing back over Mawar instantly. “ How old is your brother, Mawar ?” “ Awang is eight,” “ Then your brother is very much alive, my dear rose,“ she crouched down to Mawar’s level as she placed her hand on Mawar’s right shoulder. Her ice-cold touch sent shivers through Mawar’s spine.
“ Masahor never kills children” Mayasri spoke, letting out a sorrowful laughter afterwards. “How do you know so much about him? How long have you beenhere ?” Mayasri flashed Mawar a smile before picking herself up and walking towards a swing placed on the edge of the land. Taking a deep breath, she spoke again “ Masahor, was my lover. A charming human he was. Handsome too. I remember when he would sneak me into the castle gardens just so I could take a ride on the swings,”. Mawar was in denial. There was no way a being so immoral could ever love. That would mean he had a heart.
“ When he found out about The Rose of Wealth, greed took over him. I tried to stop him--- he perished me on this island, for eternity,” Her voice cracked. “ Eternity . . . how long has it been since ?” “ About 678 years,” Mawar felt herself choke on her saliva. “ So …you’re a ghost ?” “ I wouldn’t consider myself a ghost. I never died,” Mayasri gave a sly smirk. Mawar laughed along.
“ There really is no way for me to fully restore my village is there ? He will always come back . . .” “ Not if he dies”. Mawar stood in shock. “ B-but you said you’ve been here for 678 years. That must mean he’s immortal !” Mawar’s comment made Mayasri break into a fit of laughter. Her contagious laugh made Mawar laugh too. They both collapsed on the grass. The part of Mawar that she thought died along with her parents finally felt alive again.
“ Every soul shall taste death. Even the souls that have been tarnished, and supposedly reserved by dark magic like Masahor’s,” her tone went serious as she continued “ To kill him, you must search for the Keris of Love. It is the only weapon that could kill him. It is hidden where the seeker finds his purest form of love “ Mayasri looked at Mawar and smiled. “ Tell me, Mawar. Where do you find the purest form of love?” Mawar thought for a bit. All she could see was her parents. The way her father would willingly help her mother peel the onions despite being tired from work and how her mother smiles at her father each time he comes home. Mawar could not think of anything quite as pure. “ My parents. . . are dead. How could I possibly find it now?”
Mawar went into deep thought before realizing --- The Oak Trees, it was as if they were an adaption of how she had placed her parent's bodies in before she ran off. Realizing, Mawar wasted no time in thanking Mayasri, then running back.
Mawar went between the two trees, began digging, and soon found an iron box buried underneath. There it was, the asymmetrical dagger with its distinctive blade patterning. At that moment, Mawar knew the reason God kept her alive. It was her who is going to save her brother and to finally put an end to this. Taking off the cover of the Keris, it glowed a bright gold. “ Bismillah . . .” Mawar prayed before she darted out to save Awang and Kampung Bulan Mengambang.
The castle was no castle where the princess could meet her prince charming. It was a castle where the devil resides. There was evidence of the king’s cruelty even from the outside. Mawar climbed the iron walls of the castle, sneaking in through the portcullis. The unpleasant smell of rotting rats and fresh human blood stung Mawar’s nose as she entered the castle as loud, painful screams of the prisoners pierced her ears. Her heart dropped as she thought about Awang’s fate. “ God, please protect my brother…please. . .” Desperate prayers silently escaped Mawar’s trembling lips.
All of a sudden, she saw Awang, his face stained with tears. Mawar held him in her arms as her eyes met Raja Masahor’s back. “ Run, Awang!” Awang ran towards the castle gate, heading to the moat. Mawar dashed towards the king, swinging the dagger, then stabbing him from behind. Not expecting the sudden attack, the king fell to his knees as the blade of the Keris pierced through his chest as he let out a loud agonizing cry. “ Mawar, you did it!” Mawar whispered underneath her breath as she witnessed the death of The Dark-Blood King.
Mawar went back to the lake where she met Mayasri, this time taking Awang along. She crossed the bridge once again, yet this time, no one welcomed her on the island. Its once-green leaves turned an ugly brown. The enchanting swing is now a termite’s nest. The wind blew with sorrow, sweeping a few leaves with it. Mawar picked one up to find that Mayasri had written something on it. “ Every Soul Shall Taste Death” written in charcoal. Mawar looked up to the sky, Awang following his sister’s footsteps. “ Thank you, Mayasri. You’ve completed your purpose . . .” Mawar expressed her gratitude. She made a promise to herself that she would complete her purpose --- to bring Kampung Bulan Mengambang back to its glory.
Keris - A dagger which is both a weapon and spiritual object made from iron and nickelous iron that has a wavy or straight blade and is often used in Malay martial arts.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"An epic quest of magic, love and betrayal, all against the backdrop of our local culture resulting in an exciting read. The lore of your story could be strengthened even further by elaborating a little more on the history of the place and background of the side characters. Great work!" - Celiste
"I absolutely loved the excellence of almost every element that came together to form this story - the cultural focus, the dramatic and tragic events, the level of suspense, the tenacity of the protagonist, and the overall world building that came together to create an intense journey following the main character and her childhood tales told by her mother now coming to life. It is well written and has a thorough structure, making it an overall well-rounded piece." - Yumnah
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Valerie Loh Chen En
School: Stellar International School, Johor
Title: Last Train at 25'O Clock
Genre: Asian Tales
To those far from home.
00:01, 5th March, 2022. Malaysia. (GMT +8)
She stared out of the window, head leaning back on the bus seat. Her body was weary from working shift after shift– hands burnt from cooking in the restaurant, legs exhausted from standing for longer than she should have.
Next to her, a car zooms past– red-yellow headlights flashing bright against the monotonous road. Her gaze, however, was fixated on the night sky.
Her mind; across countries and beyond seas. To the familiarity of a small town in the Philippines. To where she was nestled in the comfort of her husband and daughter.
Nasaan sila? Anong ginagawa nila? Naaalala ba nila ako?
Where are they? What are they doing? Do they remember me?
Her mind took her back to the day she left. The early morning sky was still dark, tinted steel blue. The air was humid and the ground wet from rain, though it stopped earlier on. She whispered into her husband’s ear: Babalik ako ng mabilis. I'll be back soon. Double-checked to see if she had missed anything in her luggage,-- everything was packed.
Now that she recalled– she had left her heart behind.
13:53, 14 August, 2022. Malaysia. (GMT +8)
The wok sizzles fiercely, the rice inside slowly turning a rich golden-brown, a familiar fragrance rushing out in plumes of white smoke. Yasmin eyes it, one hand on the handle and the other reaching into a small container on the metal countertop. She hears the loud shout for a ‘Table 15 order!’ ring through the bustling kitchen of the coffeehouse – someone quickly replies with a ‘Ya, done soon!’.
Soon. The word echoes in her mind. Soon, her contract would need to be renewed, and she can finally decide if she wants to continue working here or to go back home. Just a few more months. After all, her daughter is graduating in a year.
She chucks a handful of bird’s-eye chili into the wok, red skin and white seeds quickly overlapped by a wave of fried rice. With a spatula, Yasmin shifts the fried rice so it doesn’t end up getting charred by the blazing fire underneath the wok. The heat forms a sheen of sweat across her forehead, though she doesn’t bother to dab at it.
Rice could use some more salt.
Promptly turning to her left, she sees her lady boss standing next to her— arms on her hips and a frown on her face.
She had not been there moments ago.
“The agency wants you to call home.”
She’s squatting in the alleyway outside, holding her boss’s smartphone in her left hand. The sky is startlingly blue– not a single cloud can be seen.
Beep beep beep
Yasmin squints; the sunlight is bright and harsh, beating a slab of molten gold against her. Her shadow is cast beneath her, sharp and stark, lacking the blurry edge it has under softer light.
“Janine? Aren’t you supposed to be studying now?”
There’s an unsettling silence at the end of the line, scattered with hazy static.
A sob crackles through.
The realization hits too late for her to brace the words. A floodgate closing anew when water is already rushing through.
Grief, especially when accompanied by loss, is a strange thing. What once was a shadow of the star of love, slowly fermenting, until the star collapses in on itself and becomes a devastating void; left behind by a lodestar gone nova.
A void that, despite everything, never shrinks; rather, remains as it is.
A void that lingers, taking up as much space as it can until you learn to grow around it, make space for it— weave it into yourself however unwelcome it may be.
17:27, 4th March, 2022. Malaysia. (GMT +8)
Hours after the call, Yasmin finally cries. The truth finally hits its bullseye, an arrow nocking back on a bowstring and firing to pierce its mark.
He died in a motorcycle accident, just by the bend of the road where their house was located. It was midnight. Their neighbours had heard an unpleasant screech, followed by a loud bang, and came out of their houses to find him lying unconscious on the road; a splatter of blood around where he lay. His motorcycle had been a few feet away from him. The motorcycle he’d bought for her as a gift a few years back, her dream vehicle at the time.
They called the ambulance. It came too late. By the time it arrived, he had passed.
The car responsible was nowhere to be found; a hit-and-run.
His last words were: Sabihin mo kay Yasmin at Janine, wag susuko.
Tell Yasmin and Janine, don’t give up.
She cries because he’s gone. She cries because the driver that killed him would never face court. She cries because the ambulance was late. She cries because she knows crying cannot bring him back.
The evening sky stares at her, at this lady weeping in an alleyway. At Yasmin, who had gone so far with nothing but a string for a tether– only to find that the line had split when she was so close to returning.
Nevertheless, she forces herself to breathe properly, as her watch reads 17:37– and her evening shift starts.
The restaurant is not as busy as it usually is, providing Yasmine some form of respite. Two hours into their work, Yasmin asked a co-worker if she could borrow his phone to call someone. He had quickly agreed, not pressing her further on the matter, to her relief.
She slips silently into the dim backstreet, illuminated by a single LED light stuck on the top of the door. The sky is darkening, day fading into a humid night.
She checks her watch: 20:24.
Her fingers press the keypad. A bright light washes gently over her face as she hits the green call button— dissipating when she brings it to her ear.
Buzz buzz buzz
“Hello?” A voice crackles, tearing Yasmin from her thoughts.
“Janine, it’s me,”
“Iya. How’s everything going on? Rest of our family, they know?”
“Yeah, they do,”
A weight settles slowly in her chest. It was a sort of comfort, to know that there were others who carried the same feeling. But it was also confirmation of his passing— his death was now an undeniable fact.
“Have they arranged a funeral?”
“I’ve arranged a funeral,”
“You? What about his brother?”
“I want to do this. I’ve taken a few weeks off studying, so I have some time to deal with it,”
“But you don’t know how they work,” she says, voice lilted with the first hints of panic.
“Ma, trust me. I do. If anything goes wrong, I’ll—“
“You should leave it to them!”
“I can handle it, okay?”
“You cannot, and you know it! And your studies?”
“I don’t want to!”
“What do you mean?”
“I’d rather work, like you!”
How could you?
“Everything I do, I do for you!” Her voice comes out in a tumble. “Everything me and pa did, we did for you! Why can’t you see? Do you want to end up like me?”
End up like her, living under someone else’s command.
Her voice sounds hoarse, slowly dragged down by the tears threatening to win out. “Janine, I just want you to live better than me, please,”
The line fizzles, and there’s a sharp static screech, loud breathing.
“Wag kang umiyak mahal ko,” She whispers shakily.
Don’t cry my love.
“Ma- I want to continue, I didn’t mean it- I’m sorry…”
The worn watch on Yasmin’s wrist ticks 21:00, as her hand comes up to wipe away the teardrop staining her cheek.
23:11. 4th March, 2022. Malaysia. (GMT +8)
She wants to go home. She longs for it.
But a strand of faith clings on to her tight. For her.
So she decides to stay.
24:06. 4th March, 2022. Malaysia. (GMT +8)
Yasmin leans her head against the bus seat. Her eyelids grow heavier with every passing minute, until…
“Ma!” A female—no, Janine! She sees her wave her hand from the side of a stage, gesturing for her to come. She’s dressed in a graduating suit, with the mortarboard, the coat…
Her husband stands next to Janine. He’s grinning at her, too.
Yasmin hurries towards them, weaving through the crowds in the bright hall.
“Hindi kami sumusuko,” her husband says proudly.
We never gave up.
“Ginawa ko, nanay!” Janine whispers, beaming.
She reaches out to hold Janine’s hand. But it’s so cold—and everything melts away—
A cough. Yasmin blinks, groggy from her wake.
“Uh, hey lady. We’ve arrived the the last stop,” the bus driver rasps.
25:00, 14th August, 2023. Malaysia. (GMT +8)
The agent had mailed her the envelope, she recalls. She sits on the floor of her rental room, holding it in her hands.
It is light, thin.
Using a paper knife, she gently slits the adhesive, giving way to the opening flap. She peers inside, fingers carefully retrieving a piece of paper.
It slips out smoothly.
She squints a little– but the golden framing bracketing the beige sheet is clear. So is the name in bold.
The corners of her mouth tilt upwards. Her eyes crinkle; A warmth permeates in her heart, unfurling.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"I'm absolutely impressed at every aspect of this story. It has such a vivid portrayal of the struggles and feelings an immigrant woman might face. The asian elements of this story were smartly incorporated such as the portrayal of the main character's relationship with her daughter. The words are also strung beautifully together, with elegant metaphors and unique imagery slipped in here and there." - Edria
"The story effectively navigates through different time periods, creating a mosaic of emotions and experiences. Each time jump provides a new layer of understanding and insight into the protagonist's journey, making the reader feel like they're piecing together the story alongside the protagonist. Consider expanding on the symbolism you've used, as they can be woven more deeply into the story to enhance its thematic impact." - Arissa
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Leong Yuen
School: Han Chiang High School
A gentle waffle-scented breeze of cruel summer flowed around St. Berrie’s,
It was a good day, a great day.
The green trees swayed its branches as a fellow, sorrowful goodbye to its fallen yellow leaves; it was the only splash of exotic colors other than stale brown.
But it wasn’t the only thing that was stale brown, St. Berrie’s Antique Shop beside it melted in the same shade of stale brown, with a hint of fresh dirty gray of dust clouds, misting up the windows like fog. At least the shop sign was still at its finest shade of gold.
‘ST. BERRIE’S ANTIQUE SHOP est. 1935’
Written in bold, gold letters, the local antique shop staled, rotted and lasted for over 80 years.
But that wasn’t the point. In this little antique shop, through a little part of the window that wasn’t musted by thunder clouds of dust, Mr. Clown peeked through the window, watching the people come and go.
Mr. Clown liked to watch.
It wasn’t much of a life just sitting on a shelf and staring at the same view every single day. Mr. Clown considered himself lucky that he got a window seat: He was able to watch the sun set and rise, watch the people come and go, watch little pets bark and scream at him for no reason, watch the plants sprout and rot, watch youthful strangers he was familiar with grow and decay, find love and starting families of their own, be in almost every photo taken, every conversation held, be part of their lives, invincible, inevitable, but invisible.
It was beautiful, it was all beautiful to Mr. Clown. Of course, the antique shop had its beauties, but that was all the past, that was all from the past, he belonged in the past. Out there, it was the present, it was the future; you never know what could happen next. The past is history, it already told its tale, fate was already final and happened.
Mr. Clown didn’t want that. He didn’t want his story to be told be fate; he wanted to make his own fate, to not know what happens next. He didn’t want to live in the past anymore, he desires to be out there, living, breathing, smelling the scent of relief knowing that this darn antique shop is no longer above his control.
Mr. Clown liked to watch, and he was good at it.
He knows what he wants, and he was going to get it soon. He just knew it.
Mr. Clown was a circular wooden figure. Shades of faded, vivid designs on a plum-shaped body: Mud-coloured pants connected a striped button up with suspenders; black, chipped, unpolished clown shoes matched reflected his classy clown hair: stiff wooden red, bald in the centre and Afro around the sides of the yellowish white head, his face plastered with a permanent smile, clouded with faded clown makeup and dust particles. Despite the passage of time, a small pouch of charm remains on the circular wooden figurine.
That’s all painted wood. Fortunately, he was blessed enough to receive a pair of physical arms and legs, painted continuously with the striped shirt and muddy pants.
You might be wondering: ‘Hey, Mr. Clown has two physical wooden legs, couldn’t he just…walk right out the door any day?’
Yes, of course he could, and he would. But at the same time, he can’t. Not right now.
A small reminder that Mr. Clown likes watching, but the views outside during daytime wasn’t the only thing he watched.
Cruel Summer lingers in the air still as nightlife arose. The antique shop was as dead as ever; died in the past, dead like the past.
But not Mr. Clown. It was time again, and he had none to waste.
Mr. Clown ventured his way through the shop, taking the same route he took every night; he settled in the shadows, and waited.
There she is, right on time.
As the lid of a pastel music box opened, a tall, lean figure in a tutu and pointe shoes stepped out. The ball-joints on her arms, legs, neck, wrist and knees bent and turned, as she took her first steps into the opening dance. Mr Clown dazed.
She’s as beautiful as ever.
Mr. Clown had forgotten when he first started watching her, but he never failed to attend ever since. This elegant woman, this piece of broken fine art was the reason Mr. Clown stayed. Ever since he first saw her, he already had plans to run away with her. The way she moved, the way she bounced, the way she swayed to her own feet…she wasn’t just spinning stiff in the music box; she was moving, she was bouncing, she was her, she was alive.
He wanted to be with her, he wanted to give her her own stage instead of staying in the small cramp space, he wanted to live out there, with her.
And tonight, was the night he was going to a-
It seems that Mr. Clown has dazed for a little too well, as he fell right out of the shadows and onto her platform. Silly Mr. Clown.
Ballerina was rather frightened by his sudden presence. She stumbled and hid behind the music box for protection.
No, no, no! Mr. Clown didn’t mean to startle her!
Mr. Clown stayed where he was, and offered out a hand, and waited.
Eventually, Ballerina peeped out of the side, all she saw was a kind, goofy-looking man offering to her. Slowly, she approached him.
A dance, mademoiselle?
How could she ever reject a dance?
She placed a petite hand on his, and they both danced. They swayed, they moved, their rhythms clashed together like two liquids mixing into each other, in that moment, there was nothing else, but them.
This it it. This was all going according to plan, what Mr. Clown had always dreamed of. Is this a dream? If it is, he never wished to wake up from it.
As dawn begin to crack, their time has ended. Mr. Clown held her soft hands once again. Ballerina was quite flattered, what a gentleman he was!
I had a lovely evening.
So did I.
Shall we dance again?
Mr. Clown left a kiss on her hand, and left without another word.
Before he knew it, the day had gone by and night came again.
Mr. Clown was practically racing his way to the platform.
This is it, this is seriously happening, this was a great start to something, and Mr. Clown would never ask for anything ever again.
He took his usual route back, and passed through the shadows. The excitement in him climbed higher and higher until…
Mr. Clown took a moment to let the view before him sink in.
Ballerina, in a wedding dress, smiling brightly with her arm looped with another man’s arm.
No, no, no, no, no….
That man…wasn’t him…
He was supposed to be that man…
He was supposed to be her happily ever after…
Mr. Clown stood cold, as he watched the distance of the happy couple walking down the napkin aisle together.
It wasn’t just any man either. It was Sir Toy Soldier.
Of course she would go after him…
Look at him: Tall, muscular, shiny hair, uniform…of course she would go after someone as attractive as her, and not some dumb clown like him…
Mr. Clown fell onto his knees, he almost felt his physical wooden structure break like glass. His mind went numb, pain and betrayal scrapped through him like sharp tools, he wanted to scream, but the lack of voice box only shut him up.
But she promised…she promised to dance with him again…
But she’s so beautiful…look at her…and she’s happy…happy with her present, and going to be happier in the future.
What if Prince Charming chose Anastasia over Cinderella?
What if Eric chose Ursula over Ariel?
Or was it all just meant to be like that. The pretty, ‘good’ characters have their way with fate while the ugly ‘evil’ characters get their dreams destroyed by fate.
Those characters have dreams too, they have lives, aspirations of their own too.
So does Mr. Clown.
Is this really it was going to go? His story already written with a bad ending just because Sir Toy Soldier is the handsome, potential one? And he was the ugly clown?
If it truly is that way, Mr. Clown had nothing more to say.
Mr. Clown took one last breathe and got up from his knees. Waddling lifelessly towards the exit of the antique shop. He didn’t bother to turn around to look back, and left without another word.
At least she’s happy.
At least her fate was a good one.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"This is a captivating short story that blends whimsical elements with deep emotions, expertly exploring the complexities of desire, appearance, and the bittersweet nature of longing. You've introduced thought-provoking themes about beauty, fate, and perspective. To further emphasize these themes, consider integrating them more explicitly into character reflections and dialogue, as well as elongating certain key moments to add to the emotional impact. Above all, excellent job!" - Arissa
"My mind has been hooked on this story for quite a while. It radiates such a vintage, innocent and cute vibe since it's a story about toys, but then, what really caught me is that it realistically portrays the unfairness of life humans face. "Invincible, inevitable, invisible" — gosh my heart goes out to Mr. Clown. This story was like a breath of fresh air and told so much in such few words." - Edria
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Isis Isabel Wong Ziqian
School: Premfield International School
Title: Ravenwill's Catastrophe
Genre: Mystery and Adventure
Across the waves of the Atlantic, the dark mountains and the swaying trees, laid a historic castle from centuries ago. A young boy, who had no care in the world, dashed across the dining table.
“Damien! When she returns, your mother will punish you greatly!” Grace, the boy’s maid, attempted to catch the boy but fell.
A slim figure entered the dining hall, she chuckled at the sight, “It’s okay Grace, I’ll handle this.” Grace nodded and left for her quarters.
The woman whistled, attracting the youngling almost immediately. He hopped off the table and sprinted towards her, embracing her with open arms. She bent down to reach his height and stroked his dreads.
“Would you be a sweetheart and get ready for bed? Giving your father a quick visit for tea.” She smiled lovingly.
Damien obeyed and left. As he sauntered the hallways, he grazed the walls which had golden designs engraved to resemble royalty and nobility. Damien wondered if he would be able to live up to his father’s eminent legacy… to rule the land that has been kept pure for centuries. Since the maids think he’s unable to do such duty, he shook his head in disappointment and continued wandering.
Unanticipatedly, he heard screams of his mother echo across the castle’s hallways and metal of silverware clashing into each other meeting the maroon coloured carpet. The world stopped rotating and went silent. He heard tears drop, saliva separating itself when the mouth opened, the rustling of hair falling as his mother bends over the corpse.
His father, King Augustus Evercrest III, was found stabbed to the heart with a sword of silver. Blood spilled out his chest at an alarming rate, Damien stood there, unable to move. One by one, servants swarmed the study, pushing the boy away from the scene in hopes of not traumatizing him further. Damien fell to his knees, crying knowing that was the moment that he knew he would avenge his father and prove to the world that he is capable of taking on whatever comes his way.
Six years has passed since the death of the king, Damien’s 18th birthday was only a few days away and it will officially crown him King of Ravenwill. His mother had taken over the King’s duties, leaving no time to mourn nor for her own son. Once Damien reached the appropriate age, he would rule the village and take the weight off his mother’s shoulders.
Damien sat on his bed after being awoken by his caretakers, he observed the town from his window that lay perfectly below his feet. Butchers' shouts rang, gossiping of ladies, and lumberjacks chopping firewood.
The bed creaked when he arose, he sighed woefully and made his way to the dresser. He finished off his clothes with a white tunic that is decorated with embroidery and golden designs stretched all over.
Damien walked over to the mirror to fix his collar till the door of his chambers cracked open, he turned around with curiosity on who walked in; It was nothing but a little rodent looking for food. Damien grabbed his gloves and chased the rat out of the room, it darted to the opposite of the hall. Damien wanted its filthy hands out from his castle and followed it.
A door barricaded with wooden planks attracted the rodent’s attention and squeezed in. Without thinking, Damien peeled the planks off and dashed in after it. He found himself in his father’s study.
He dropped whatever he was doing and scanned the room. Books catching dust, spilled ink cartridges and blocked off windows that kept sunlight from entering. He inspected his father’s table and noticed something missing.
The sword that pierced through his father’s heart… was missing. He ran over to the desk to check for any fingerprints left behind, nothing. He figured he may be dealing with an astute thief. “You’re looking for the sword?” A familiar voice appeared behind him.
Damien drew his sword and pointed towards the voice, only for it to be placed back into his holder. Aunt Rory stood before him with hands placed behind her back, “Where is it?” Damien stuttered; her dark green eyes intimidated him. “I know someone who can help.”
She handed Damien a folded paper, “This leads to a welder’s shop who examined that sword, he may help you… with a small price.” Damien wanted to thank her, but before he could she vanished.
A puddle sat in the middle of a brick pathway, a reminder of the rain that resided; reflecting the villager’s busy lives happening everywhere. A boot soon disrupted the still water as it was plunged into. “Ugh… This town is filthy.” Damien whispered under his breath, shaking muck off his boot. The prince had disguised himself with a brown coloured coat to seal his identity.
A hoard of villagers crowded the shoplots which displeased the prince; Damien prepared himself and pushed through the crowd. Eventually, he swam through the crowd of sweat that nearly suffocated him.
Damien’s body flopped onto the display stand with exhaustion, he looked up to see the welder’s surprised expression. “Prince Damien?” The welder exclaimed.
Damien rushed to cover the welder’s mouth, “Shh! Tell me what you know about the sword that killed my father.” he said with a stern voice.
“That’s an old and rare sword, said to be so sharp it was able to pierce through bone instantly.” The welder checked his surroundings before leaning into the prince’s ears, “I haven't seen that sword in ages… but a customer recently requested me to fix the handle of a sword that looked similar to what you seek.”
Damien’s eyes widened, “Can you provide me that information?”
The welder chuckled; leaning away, “Of course… With a price.” Damien reached for his pocket when a thief snatched the bag of money out of his bare hands.
He stood there dumbfounded, Damien grew frustrated and darted towards the thief with the energy he had left. The thief bounced and hopped over carriages filled with sacks of potatoes, which left him confused. Damien awkwardly ran around the carriage and continued chasing the thief.
The thief took a path that led straight to Highcrow’s Woodland, a forest villagers tend to avoid. The thief skipped the man-made path and into the depths of the dark forest, with hesitance, Damien followed them.
The more they ran, the quieter it became. The sound of the village faded, and all Damien could hear was the rustling of tree leaves and the grass as he stepped on them. The thief stopped in their tracks, causing Damien to stop as well. He watched as the thief removed their hood; revealing a boy his age with brunette hair and light brown skin.
The boy opened the bag of coins and rejoiced, he smiled so bright it could practically be the sun! Damien yelled, “Hey! I demand you hand that bag back to me immediately!” This startled the boy, but managed to get a grip of his arm before he could run off.
“Ugh! Let go!” The boy screeched. “Not until you give back what’s mine.”
The boy threw the bag on the floor and snagged his arm away from the prince’s grasp, both boys desperately gasping for air. “Who even are you?” He forcefully removed Damien’s hood, revealing the identity beneath it. “Your turn.”
The boy got back up on his two feet, dusting off the grass that stuck to his hood. “My name is Fletch Aspall. What’s a prince like you doing in these slums?” Fletch examined the prince; He lifted Damien’s hood, took a quick sniff of it, “You don’t even smell like this town!”
Damien snatched his hood out of the boy’s hand, “None of your business.” He scoffed. Fletch watched as the prince stomped away angrily, “Leaving without this?”
The prince turned around to see his bag still being held by Fletch, he grew enraged. He launched forward to grab the bag but failed as Fletch stood taller than him, “Why would you want to know about whatever I’m doing anyway!” Damien snapped, still fighting for the bag. “I’ve always wanted to go on a royal adventure, maybe even as a right-hand man?”
Damien stared at Fletch and chuckled childishly, Fletch rolled his eyes in response. “You? Be the king’s right-hand man? HAH!”. The prince’s laugh attracted something hiding in the bushes, its rustling immediately caught Fletch’s attention.
Fletch retrieved a shiny dagger that had been sitting in his pocket, he remained silent and listened for any further movement. Damien stared at Fletch with confusion written on his face, he was about to question Fletch until a bear appeared out of thin air.
The bear’s claws were inches away from clawing into his face but Fletch managed to grab onto the prince. He swung the dagger to assert dominance towards the attacking bear, it growled fiercely.
Fletch’s posture was intimidating, he was tricking the bear into thinking that he was in the advantage. Damien saw a glimpse of his father as Fletch backed away to not let the bear perceive this as a challenge, allowing a sense of doubt flow.
After the bear had retreated, they both took a huge sigh of relief. Damien looked up at Fletch, “You saved me…Why?” he questioned. Fletch wiped sweat off, “You’re the prince, I had to.”
Damien gripped his bag tightly, and sighed, “Let’s go on a royal adventure…”
The prince was unsure that what he said would be completely beneficial to him but Fletch responded confidently, “Absolutely, Prince.”
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"I loved the premise of this story as well as the main character. Thanks to the beautiful writing, I can easily picture the atmosphere in this sort of medieval world. I think this story will shine more if there was closure towards the missing sword, Damien's ruling, and his father's death. However, I see a lot of potential!" - Edria
"A highly dynamic and engaging read. The use of the fantasy genre to explore concepts of royalty and familial vengeance created an exciting tale that takes the traumatic childhood experience of the protagonist through a meaningful, redeeming journey for answers in which he may build such relationships along the way in a way that leaves readers hungry for more. Excellent work." - Yumnah
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Izza Husna Binti Adzairiel@Shamsul Azrul
School: Kolej Yayasan Saad Melaka
Title: Play to Them, The Mangled Melody of Their Doomsday
Genre: Ghosts and Ghouls
The dark, night sky canopied the school compound. An eerie cackle could be heard in the distance. I could only think of one thing: ‘it’ found me. My heart was racing, and my insomnia was getting to me. The voices in my head wouldn't go away. I had to find a way to escape.
As I ran through the hallway, old memories flashed before my eyes.
— — —
“Hanabi, slow down!”. My old friend, Dorji, was running after me. “Give me my clarinet back!”, she exclaimed. I chuckled and gave her instrument back to her. Dorji frowned, but her expression changed as she looked at something behind me. This ‘thing’ had piqued her interest. I turned around and saw a strange music sheet lying on the ground. For some reason, I felt like something was wrong with the piece of paper. “Hanabi, did an orchestra member drop that?”, asked Dorji. “Maybe, I’ll send a message to the group chat. Hopefully somebody will claim it”, I replied and grabbed the piece of paper. “Oh, that song looks complicated. Can you play that, miss flautist?”, Dorji teased. “If you rejoin the school orchestra, then maybe I would, Dorji”, I countered. The ex-orchestra member looked unimpressed. “Nicht lustig, Hanabi”. “Hǎo ba, hǎo ba. Let’s head to the back of the music studio first”, I suggested.
When we reached the studio, I set up a music stand and brought my flute to my mouth. Dorji was still holding her clarinet, a goofy smile plastered on her face. “Gee, sometimes I wish we didn't live in Southeast Asia; it's so hot here”, Dorji complained. I smiled and nodded in agreement. I briefly scanned the music sheet and started to play the song. For some reason, I could hear someone whispering into my ear, something rather disturbing.
“Play to them, the mangled melody of their doomsday”.
‘What did that mean?’, I thought.
As soon as I finished playing the song, Dorji clapped in thrill. “Amazing as always, Hanabi! I just adore Eastern Asian melodies. This is why I wished we were still dormmates—”.
Before she could finish her sentence, Dorji dropped down to the ground. I froze; I wanted to move my body and help her, but I just couldn't. I called out her name, but there was no response. Suddenly, her body started to decompose at an alarming speed. Her skin instantaneously wrinkled, slowly peeling itself off; until all that was left of her was her bones. She wasn't even recognizable at that point. I trembled in horror, falling to the ground; and screamed in agony. I saw someone running towards me: Mr Ng. He was calling out to Miss Adrin.
After what happened, news broke out. Everyone knew what happened now. Ever since that incident, a lot of people have avoided me. Dorji’s family was devastated; but none of them blamed me. I never understood why. I was the reason their daughter died. It was supposed to be my fault. Why were they so forgiving? Would Dorji forgive me?
— — —
That memory was so painful. I wished I had never played that song. No, I wished I had never even grabbed that music sheet. My feet were hurting because I hadn’t stopped running. Another memory started to play out.
— — —
“Hanabi, it’s not your fault. You didn’t know that would happen”. Yet another old friend of mine, Raina; little did she know what fate had planned for her. She was only practising another orchestra piece with me.
“No, that’s not it, Raina. I feel like something is watching me, a ghost probably”. The moment I finished my sentence, I realised it reminded me of Dorji. Dorji was never scared of ghosts. Raina sighed in frustration and tightened her grip on her flute. “Don’t let your thoughts get to you, fool. Let’s just finish practising this song”.
‘‘Play to them, the mangled melody of their doomsday’’. That stupid voice again. What was up with it anyways?
I began to play the orchestra piece on my music stand, until I noticed that something was wrong; I was playing that song again. The same song that robbed Dorji of her life. I wanted to stop, but my body wouldn’t listen to me. Panicked, I threw my flute on the floor, shocking Raina. “Hanabi, are you oka—”.
Raina collapsed and started trembling violently. At that moment, yet again; I was forced to watch another friend of mine lose their life. I ran towards Raina and held her in my arms. Tears streamed down her eyes. A look of horror and fear on her face could be seen as she was rotting away. “Hanabi… I don’t… I don’t want to die…”.
— — —
Those words still haunt me to this day. Why did she have to die? Why did that happen? It was all that song’s fault. Why did I always hear the same thing whispered into my ear when I played that cursed song?
‘‘Play to them, the mangled melody of their doomsday’’.
More memories played in my head. Ailang, Areen, Nanqtya, Jie, Nessa; and so many more had died.
I eventually found out the source of this problem, I was right all along; a ghost was the mastermind behind all this. It always followed me wherever I went. Whenever I stared at it for too long, I would hear muffled voices. All of them repeating the same sentence that haunted me: ‘‘Play to them, the mangled melody of their doomsday’’.
But I had only one question: What exactly did this ghost want from me?
Speak of the devil. The vengeful spirit appeared right before me, covered in blood from head to toe. Black ooze poured out of its eyes, streaming down its cheeks. A smile stretching out so wide, it could swallow the average man whole. I noticed something: The ghost was wearing the school uniform. The nametag on its vest bearing the name of its owner: Nadrya.
The ghost let out a horrifying cackle before speaking. “What a foolish child you are, to awaken me. Do tell me, what year is it my dear?~”.
‘If I don’t show any signs of fear, nothing bad will happen; just like what Dorji always used to say’, I thought to myself.
“It’s 2023”, I replied boldly.
Nadrya was silent, looking at the ground below. A spark of rage could be seen in her eyes. “No… I was left here for 23 years?... And nobody even came looking for me?...”. Nadrya’s smiling mouth turned into a frown. “Nobody… Not even my parents?!”. I was on edge. The vengeful spirit clenched its fists. Her eyes darted towards me, the frown on her face turning into a sinister smile once more. ‘‘Ah, I forgot you were here…’’. My reflexes kicked in, and I slowly took a few steps backwards.
“Oh sweet child, you wouldn’t mind helping your dear senior out, would you?~”. I was taken aback. The ghost put on a more serious look. “Listen here, kid. You're going to help me, whether you like it or not”. ‘If I distract this monster by ‘helping’ it, I can find a way to get rid of it’, I thought. “Fine”, I lied. “Splendid! Now we just need to wait”, Nadrya exclaimed.
And so we waited from 6 a.m. until it was finally noon. Nadrya was dead set on carrying out her revenge plan on the school authorities. She never stated as to why she was specifically targeting the school authorities, but I just went along with it. However, I had something else in mind.
Nadrya patiently followed me around school. I stated that I would only help Nadrya after I had finished all my classes for the day. Nadrya was bored out of her skull; but I was the only one who could help her, so she didn’t complain about anything. That is, until she realised where exactly I was heading: the school mosque. Filled with fury, Nadrya plunged herself into my body. Now that was her biggest mistake: I had already stepped into the mosque when she had tried to possess me, so she was now trapped in my body. Luckily, Ustaz Tazlie, one of the school ustazes who was always in the mosque, noticed what had happened. He signalled to the students in the mosque to bring me further into the mosque. I tried my best to fight for control over my body, but I failed. Under Nadrya’s control, I wailed like a banshee; fighting off the students. I could only watch in horror as Nadrya fatally wounded the poor students. I saw a boy running towards me, holding a broomstick. The broomstick hit the side of my head, sending me sprawling to the ground. I saw my reflection in a nearby mirror. My face was ghastly white, and my pupils were dilated. That was the only thing I could remember before I blacked out.
I woke up on my bed in my dorm. My dormmates surrounded me with concerned faces. “What—”. I was interrupted by my dorm leader. “Shhh... The ghost is gone. You can rest now”. Relieved, I smiled and closed my eyes. I could finally have the closure I longed so dearly for.
A familiar voice could be heard, but only by me.
“Hanabi, don’t fret over what happened to us, okay? We don’t blame you”.
My eyes immediately pried open and I instantly sat up.
“What was that?...”.
A recognizable song could be heard playing softly, somewhere. I was frozen in shock. Something whispered in my ear: ‘‘Play to them, the mangled melody of their doomsday’’.
‘History often repeats itself, doesn't it?’.
Ustaz - A male teacher who specialises in the religion of Islam
Nicht Lustig - Not funny
Hǎo ba, hǎo ba - Okay, okay
Banshee - A female spirit in Gaelic folklore whose appearance or wailing warns a family that one of them will soon die
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Your story is one of a kind! An enjoyable and suspense-filled read from start to finish! I could really feel Hanabi's fear throughout, it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Consider adding more context as to what happened afterwards in the mosque, I would've loved to read the tense and frightening scene. Overall, your story is definitely a must-read! Great job!" - Aliah
"I really liked the premise of the story. Trying to imagine music that makes people brutally die is super eerie! Good use of flashbacks in the story which provided sufficient background of the main character. Consider working on pacing so that the story flows more smoothly!" - Edria
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Lee Yve
School: SMJK Katholik
Title: No Time To Lose
Genre: Magic and Fantasy
Part 1: Know
With a creak, the library entrance opened. A tall man stepped in, droplets dripping down his outfit of black slacks and a sweater, complete with a coat billowing behind him. He staggered forwards, muddy boot prints trailing behind, staining the hardwood floors.
The man stalked forwards, rushing up the staircase with an urgent air. He glanced around the corridor and the counter, then turned to the bookshelves. At last, he spotted a faint golden glow in the distance, obscured by a bookshelf. The man stumbled forward and released a relieved breath.
“Phoebe! It’s Quinn!” he called out.
The figure turned, her hair a halo of light. The woman was perched on an armchair, engrossed in a leather-bound novel. She snapped her book shut at the sound of the man’s voice. A small smile steadily grew, and her eyes twinkled like stars.
“Nice to see you’re back, Quinn. You done tracking mud through my library?”
Quinn nodded and promptly fell to the floor in a violent coughing fit. In a flash, Phoebe was at his side, placing her hand on his back. Quinn knew Phoebe wouldn’t hesitate to use her healing powers on him.
“Don’t.” he managed to cough out.
Immediately Phoebe could tell by Quinn’s pleading tone that it was important. She removed her hand as he straightened up, a hand grasping the staircase railing. He pushed his wire-framed glasses up his nose and cleared his throat.
“Phoebe, I—I think these time jumps are killing me.”
Phoebe took a step back, properly looking at Quinn’s face for the first time since he entered the library. He was a mess. Dark circles under his eyes, glasses askew, nose bloody, and a pale face. Phoebe knew the sight all too well. The appearance of a dying man.
Phoebe stepped back aghast, horror upon her face. Quinn could only nod in response. Phoebe started to tear up, and Quinn moved to envelop her in a tight hug. Tears were no comfort to her after knowing that her closest friend would die an agonizing death.
“I’ll find a way to stop this. I will, I will, I swear I will, Quinn.”
She repeated her words like a mantra. Phoebe tried desperately to reassure Quinn and herself too. Quinn sighed in acceptance. He had known his death was coming, from the first day he started noticing bloodstains on his clothes. He could feel his body deteriorating by the second, rotting as if he were decomposing. It was the inevitable truth.
So why was it so hard to accept?
Part 2: Search
The lantern hanging above them flickered dangerously. Quinn groaned in frustration. “This isn’t working! We’ve been looking at these books for hours and not even a mention of time travel!” His despair affected Phoebe as well, but she maintained a stoic tone. "I think your time jumps are the result of a curse," she replied, still observing the pages of a dusty book. “Try the stack near the candles.”
“Fine. This is the last book and then we’re done. I need a break.” Quinn grabbed a book from the stack next to him, stumbling his way back to his seat. “The Divine Anthology: A Guide to the Gods,” he read out. “Promising.” He cracked open the book and glanced at the first page. Something caught his eye.
“Page twenty-three. The Lord of Time. Hang on,” He flipped to the twenty-third page. Phoebe leaned over curiously. Quinn continued. “Khyros, lord of time, life, and journeys, patron saint of the Sidian Empire. It is rumoured that the Sidian people believed in the possibility of…time travel!” Quinn coughed as he exclaimed in delight. “Kibijo Mountain is the location of Khyros’ temple, said to have magical powers, able to cure any ailment and reverse any curse of those who visit. Phoebe, this could break my curse!” Quinn looked up, a smile etched on his face but quickly dashed away by Phoebe’s ashen expression.
Phoebe had to admit, breaking a curse seemed inviting. Maybe I could also break my curse, she thought. Unfortunately, she remembered the incident of 1285. “His temple was destroyed decades ago by raging non-believers. There’s no way it still exists now.” Phoebe explained. When Quinn tried to speak up, Phoebe shut his idea down. “I don’t want to risk another time jump; it might kill you this time!”
Quinn stubbornly disagreed. He replied, throat hoarse: “I’d rather die trying to save myself than rot away here. I can take it.” Phoebe wanted to object so Quinn wouldn't risk his life time-travelling. “Fine,” Phoebe said reluctantly. “I’ll make a potion to force a time jump.”
After a while, the potion was done. Phoebe gripped two glass vials filled with a smoking purple substance and offered one to him. “This will take us back to the year before the temple was demolished, and when the healing magic still worked.” Phoebe and Quinn each grabbed their glass vials, uncorked them, and drank. The warm liquid gushed down their throat, enveloping the two in a bright swirl, transporting them into the past.
Part 3: See
In 1284, two figures appeared in the sky. They fell to the ground, clothes billowing in the wind. They landed unharmed, cushioned by a magical force.
Phoebe looked up from the grass she and Quinn had landed in. A snowy mountain stood tall just a few metres away. “There! That’s Kibijo Mountain!” she exclaimed. She looked down at Quinn, who was still lying on the ground. Her joyous expression quickly morphed into fear when Quinn started convulsing, coughing blood into the grass.
Phoebe frantically hauled him up in a moment of panic. “Are you alright?” Quinn groaned in response. His nose was bleeding and bruised. Phoebe teleported them to the mountain peak, not sparing any time climbing. She was willing to use all her power to save Quinn.
On top of the mountain stood a grand temple, complete with an altar to Khyros. There was a purple crystal placed on the altar, in front of a statue of Khyros. Phoebe laid Quinn down on the floor of the temple and approached the crystal. It pulled Phoebe towards it like a moth to flame. She placed her hands on it and was pulled into an unpleasant memory.
A plagued village. Wailing children. The scene haunted Phoebe’s dreams. It all came back to her in a gut-wrenching rush. A golden-haired girl wandered around, yelling for help. Phoebe wanted to reach out and stop the girl from seeing her mother, but she was helpless. The girl rounded a corner and saw her mother lying on a pile of lifeless bodies, covered in marks of the plague.
The girl broke down in sobs, screaming in anguish. Just then, an old man appeared beside her, glowing like fire. He placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. The girl faced the person, recognising him as Lord Khyros.
“Child, do you wish to have the power to seek justice for your people, and ensure history will not repeat itself?”
“Yes, please, I want to save them.” replied the girl, trembling. “Tell me how to save my mother.”
Lord Khyros nodded in satisfaction. “Very well. I shall grant you powers mortals could only dream of. You will help people for as long as you live. Do you accept?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then tell me your name, and you will possess these powers.”
“My name is Phoebe.” said the golden-haired girl.
Phoebe heard Quinn gasp next to her from where she was observing the scene with teary eyes. Suddenly, they were transported back to the temple with a bright flash.
Back at the temple, Phoebe was in shock. “How much did you see?” she asked hesitantly. Quinn’s silence said everything. “Ignore it. We’re here to break your curse, not mine. You don't deserve this.” Phoebe said.
“Neither do you! You should use this to save yourself, you were a kid! Khyros tricked you to curse yourself with immortality!” Quinn replied heatedly.
“Enough! We’re using the crystal to save you only. This power isn’t enough for both of us. Let me help you!” Phoebe angrily exclaimed. “If I can’t even do my job right, it wasn’t worth it.”
Phoebe put both hands on the crystal and awakened it with her powers. She started the incantation: “With this crystal, I call upon the power of Lord Khyros, great lord of time.” Quinn reached for Phoebe’s hand, but he was too weak, nearly unconscious. “Please, just save yourself. I’ve lived enough as a mortal.”
Phoebe shook her head and continued the incantation. “On this day I ask you to resolve the curse of a man who has long suffered,” Quinn spoke up, interrupting Phoebe’s words. “Save yourself,” pleaded Quinn. “You still have the chance to live your life as a mortal!”
And for a moment, Phoebe considered it. A life of freedom. A life where she could live out her lifetime and die with her loved ones as the universe intended. Then she saw Quinn lying on the floor, and the choice was clear.
“I ask you to break Quinn Harding’s curse and grant him health and a safe journey to his original time.” finished Phoebe. And with that the crystal’s light expanded, engulfing the temple in white.
Part 4: Help
Quinn awoke in a field, sunlight shining upon his face. For the first time in a while, he felt rejuvenated and healthy. He glanced at the sky, where a familiar mountain stood tall in the distance, snow glistening at its peak.
“I’m going to help you, Phoebe. Just wait.”
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Set around the premise of time travel, it is rare to come across a story that manages to also appreciate the historical links - albeit fictional - and esoteric, metaphysical ties between the past and the present in the pursuit of time travel. I enjoyed how the characters were constructed to be well learned, passionate individuals rather than mere thrill seekers. Supernatural elements and motives further added much complexity and dimension to this story, which I found very enjoyable." - Yumnah
"The dialogue was natural and engaging, while the writing succeeds in inducing a sense of urgency that I found myself looking forward to the next chapter. Good work!" - Celiste
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Boey Qi Qing
School: SMJK Yu Hua, Kajang
Title: Blood Of The Covenant Is Thicker Than The Water Of The Womb
As angry shouts echo across the streets and reach Finn’s ears, he’s alerted that Mikko has yet again, stolen something from the townspeople of Beckinsdale.
He sighs, begrudgingly wrenching the door of his forge open, letting the warm, mid-autumn breeze into his work space. Predictably, Mikko dashes past him and into his shop soon after, dodging behind Finn and peeking out from behind him. Looking at Mikko with a quirked eyebrow, he sees his bright blue eyes peering back up at him, mischievous and coy.
The assistant from the bakery down the street staggers into view before him, her face red and her dark hair messy from chasing Mikko all around the marketplace. Huffing, – partly from running, partly from her anger – she glares at Mikko, his impish grin making her scowl deepen.
“I see you’re still housing that thief,” she spits, looking at the both of them with disdain. Finn isn’t that offended. It’s no secret that the majority of their small town doesn’t like Mikko for his unruly thieving habits, and by transit of property, Finn himself.
“Always a pleasure to see you too, Anne.” he greets amicably, brushing some soot and grime on his scarred, calloused hands onto his overalls. “How may I be of assistance today?”
She scowls at him. “He stole a donut. He owes me five coins.”
Finn chuckles. “You chased him all the way here for a donut?” he laughs, heading to his cashier. Mikko shuffles out of the way and hops up onto one of his counters, eyeing Finn with curiosity.
“Stolen goods are stolen goods, blacksmith.”
Finn shrugs, dropping some coins into a small leather pouch. “That’s not an insult you’re hoping it is, Anne. It’s just my profession.”
He hands the pouch to the baker. She sniffs haughtily as she dumps the gold out of the bag and onto her hand, counting the shiny coins. “You can’t count properly. I said five, not eight,” she says, reluctantly taking out three coins and shoves them back to him.
Finn smiles, dropping them back into the leather pouch. “For your troubles,” he says.
He watches as she grumbles out her thanks, hurriedly rushing back to the bakery. Only then does Finn close the door, sighing exasperatedly.
“Finn, you didn’t have to give her the extra money!” Mikko pouts from his spot on the counter, stuffing the stolen donut into his mouth.
“I didn’t,” Finn agrees. He gets a glass of water and sets it down next to Mikko, hoping to the gods above that the boy doesn’t choke. “But she did run all the way here, and I’m fairly sure you stole more than just one donut.” He ruffles Mikko’s hair, making the boy shout indignantly.
Mikko flushes, his face heating up as he angrily swallows the rest of his pastry.
“Hey! I didn’t, I’m an honourable man!” He aims a kick at the older, sulking when he simply laughs, mockingly pinching his cheeks.
“Honourable men don’t steal, kiddo.”
“No, honourable men don’t get caught stealing,” he corrects slyly, sneaking two rolls of bread out of his pocket, eliciting a fond chuckle from the older man. “I’m a crime boy, what’re you gonna do ‘bout it, coward?”
Finn shakes his head fondly, ruffling Mikko’s messy blond curls. The boy screeches, trying and failing to reach Finn’s head to mess up his own cropped brown hair. “I can pay for your stuff, you know. You need to stop stealing, you’ll get in trouble with the guards eventually and I’ll have to bail you out of jail.”
The boy’s mood sours a little as he glowers weakly at Finn. “You’re not my family. You’re not responsible for my stuff.”
‘Family.’ Now isn’t that a touchy subject. Trust Mikko to unintentionally hit right where it hurts.
Family was a hard thing to keep when the kingdom had been in the middle of a war. Family had been even harder to keep when he enlisted into the army to serve the royal family, to fight for his home. when he returned to his town as a war veteran, he had found his home abandoned, no trace of his family anywhere in the kingdom.
Technically, Mikko wasn’t wrong. As much as Finn treats Mikko like his own, he has no clue where the boy came from. Nor does he know where Mikko’s real family is.
Mikko showed up at his forge one day, demanding he make a sword for him, claiming he had the money to pay for it. Solely based on how ragged and dirty he had looked at the time, Finn had a feeling that he was getting scammed.
(He’d find out later on that Mikko was absolutely planning to run for the hills the moment the sword touched his grubby little hands.)
Still, he retrieved a short sword he’d made a while ago, offering it to the boy for free. Mikko had seemed shocked when no pay was demanded of him, befuddled when Finn began giving him tips on how to properly use the weapon.
After that encounter, Mikko would show up frequently at his shop, sometimes bearing stolen gifts. Food, small trinkets, shiny objects, cold hard cash… Finn remembers that time when he was handed a pouch containing far more than his monthly income. He hadn’t had the heart to tell Mikko to return it when he had looked so proud of himself, the boy smiling toothily at him, awaiting praise and thanks.
Mikko had slowly become a constant in his life. Finn knows that since taking Mikko in, his reputation had drastically decreased. He’s no longer known as ‘the retired soldier lost his family,’ now more commonly addressed as ‘the blacksmith housing the town thief.’
He finds that he doesn’t really care.
A room was prepared for Mikko in his living space above the forge, though the boy mostly uses it to hoard his ‘loot.’ The boy usually finds refuge in his room when he has to lay low, just long enough that the townsfolk’s ire decreases and he doesn’t get reported to the Royal Guards. Mikko scarcely stays overnight in the warm, safe space that Finn has carefully crafted for him. Instead, he leaves as dusk falls over the kingdom, showing up again at Finn’s door with a grin at dawn.
Brother. There’s no other word that Finn would like to describe Mikko with.
“You are kind of my responsibility, though,” Finn says, averting his gaze from the blond under the pretence of checking over his stock. “We’ve looked out for each other for so long, and you’re just a kid. That’s what brothers do, isn’t it? I’d be a bad person if I didn’t take care of you, really.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Finn sees the younger scrunches up his nose. “Don’t say that.”
“What, that we watch each other’s backs?”
“No, that we’re brothers! We’re not related!” Mikko sulks.
“We don’t have to be blood related to be brothers.”
Mikko’s head snapped towards Finn, so fast that the older worries he’d hurt himself. His eyes are filled with something akin to wonder and shock.
“…You don’t?” he asks bashfully, lacking any of the boisterous flair he usually holds. Finn chuckles, resisting the urge to pinch his cheeks again. He forgets how vulnerable Mikko is sometimes, the topic of ‘family’ equally as sensitive to the boy as it is to Finn.
“You don’t,” he confirms.
“Then!” Mikko shouts suddenly, scrambling to stand up on the counter, almost kicking Finn’s face in the process. Finn, used to the boy’s theatrics, doesn’t bat an eye.
“I hereby decree!” He tries to imitate the Royal Messenger, holding out an imaginary scroll out in front of him while talking in the deepest, poshest voice he can. He fails when his pre-pubescent voice cracks, much to Finn’s entertainment. “That I, Mikko ‘Atlas Danger’ Canfield, am now brothers with you; Finn…”
Mikko pauses, leaning down to be at eye level with the older. “What’s your last name?” he whispers urgently.
“Brixton,” Finn replies, amused.
“Finn Brixton!” Mikko yells again, bowing deeply to an imaginary audience. Finn claps loudly, if only to humour the idea of an audience being present. “Thank you, thank you!”
Mikko hops down from the counter, squawking when he almost trips over the untied laces of his worn boots. He recovers quickly, reaching an arm up and resting it on Finn’s broad shoulder. It immediately slips off due to the height difference, though that doesn’t deter the boy from trying again.
“So, brother mine,” he beams brightly, his eyes sparkling. “Let’s go steal some food for dinner. What say you?”
Laughing rowdily, Finn places his own arm around Mikko’s shoulders. “I say I pay for dinner at the tavern, and you can order whatever you like.”
The blond whoops loudly, punching his fists in the air. “Race you there, brother!” He dashes ahead of Finn, yanking the forge door open before turning back to grin at the brunet. Finn smiles fondly, so wide it kind of hurts, so wide that the faint scars decorating his face warp and meld. He follows his brother out of the forge.
Family, Finn thinks; as the sun sets over Beckinsdale, as Mikko snuggles further into his warm bed in Finn’s apartment. Family is a nice thing to have.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"The story is mostly heartwarming and light-hearted, exploring the concept of family beyond blood ties. Consider introducing a subtle conflict or challenge for the characters to overcome together. This could add depth to their relationship and create a more engaging narrative." - Arissa
"THIS STORY IS. SO. CUTE! I couldn't help but say aww! Amazing use of dialogue, the wittiness and playfulness of it really brings out the personality of the characters. It was a very simple premise but the execution of it was perfect!" - Edria
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Tan Yu Liang
School: Paragon International School, Johor Bahru
Title: For the Greater Good
Andy slammed the front door in utter disappointment. How could his mother have said that she wished he had never existed. It wasn’t his choice to be born. It wasn’t his fault that his father had left them and disappeared. He was constantly bullied in school because of his fatherless status. He had no one to confide in, as his mother was either too busy working or drinking. He faced more difficulties than most children of his age did, and yet he had never complained. His mother, however, had always complained to him about their financial situation, and being thoughtful, Andy never asked for much. They were in this state together, since he could understand this fact, how could she, a middle-aged woman, not understand. How could she have spoken such venomous words?
Andy was overwhelmed by rage and sadness like he never felt before, so strong it threatened to consume him from within. For now, he just wanted to get away from home, have some time alone to let his boiling anger dissipate. It was raining, but he didn’t care. Random strangers waved to him, smiled at him warmly, gesturing for him to take shelter, but he too didn’t care. He didn’t believe in humanity anymore; he didn’t dare to hope anymore. He just wanted to run until his legs couldn’t take it, until his heart couldn’t take it anymore.
By the time the rain had stopped, Andy had run so much that he was drained, both physically and mentally. Panting heavily, he collapsed onto a field he had never been to before. Slowly but certainly, he lost consciousness, the world around him seemed to be lost in a vortex as his mind slipped into an abyss of nothingness.
When Andy woke up several hours later, he thought he had died. Everywhere he looked, it was just plain emptiness, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen or heard. There was white mist dancing and twirling everywhere, and a slight breeze ruffled his hair. Surprisingly, it wasn’t cold at all, instead all he felt was a pleasant warmth. Andy stood up, and he quickly realized that he was feeling brand new. His legs weren’t aching at all, as if he hadn’t run a single mile. His shirt didn’t have a single sweat stain on it, and it even had a faint floral scent on it.
As Andy pondered about the state that he was in, a whirlwind of emotions passed through him, from wonder at the strange place he was in, to an unspeakable sense of tranquility. He didn’t know why, despite the eerie silence, he wasn’t feeling the slightest bit of fear or anxiety. He suspected that it was because he felt sure that he was in heaven.
Suddenly, a flash of light caught the corner of his eye. As quickly as it had come, it was gone. In its place now stood a wizened old man, with snow-white hair cascading down his shoulders, a pair of twinkling eyes which were filled with wisdom, and a warm smile painted on his face.
Before Andy could make sense of whatever was happening, the old man pulled him into a tight hug and said in a soothing voice: “You’ve been having a rough time, Andy.”
The old man pulled away from a stunned Andy, before he continued to speak: “You’ve been exceptionally strong, and I’m so proud of you.”
Andy realised that his cheeks were wet.
“There’s no need for tears now, is there? You’re safe now,” the old man said reassuringly while patting Andy’s head gently. Andy nodded in response, while wiping his tears and snot on his sleeve.
“Now that’s better. Have a seat,” said the old man. Andy turned around to find that a couch had mysteriously appeared out of nowhere behind them. The old man sat on it, and gestured Andy to do the same.
Now that the both of them had settled comfortably onto the couch, the old man spoke: “I understand that you’re curious about your current situation. But I need some time to fully explain it to you. Do you promise to be patient throughout my explanation?” Andy nodded, and with that, the old man started his lengthy speech.
“I believe you ought to know that it is by Fate that you are destined to live a hard life. That’s why I’ve been watching over you, ever since you were born. A while ago, you were close to dying from over exhaustion, but I’ve decided that you are worthy enough, so I’ve saved you, and brought you here, a place where only we exist, so no one can overhear our conversation. Before I send you back though, I’ve decided to give you two options.”
The old man paused for a moment to catch his own breath before he continued speaking.
“The first option is to bring you back to a certain day in 1988, which I believe will be most fundamental for you to get a better understanding of what your mother went through. I will then send you back to your normal life in 12 hours. The second option is to return you to the present now, without the memory of us meeting. So… What will your choice be?”
It didn’t take long for Andy to make up his mind. He cleared his throat, and the answer came out, clear and crisp. He had chosen the first option.
“Very well. Do keep in mind that you mustn’t interact with anyone, or you’ll change the sequence of events that happen in the future. If you ever decide to influence anyone’s thoughts somehow, make sure it is worth it, as you will cease to exist. I believe you will do what is best,” said the old man. He snapped his fingers, and the world slowly vanished away from him for the second time that day.
“Wait, you haven’t told me who you are yet.” Andy said anxiously.
“I believe there’s a part deep inside you that already knows who I am,” the old man replied, while giving him a mischievous wink.
With that, Andy was transported back in time.
When the world had stopped spinning, and when his foot touched solid ground, Andy immediately knew where he was. He was standing in front of the house that he would inhabit in the future, only it looked much newer. As he stood in silence, observing his home, sweet and bitter memories flooded his brain, a tear formed in the corner of his eye.
Andy snuck closer towards the house and heard agitated conservations taking place. He heard a woman shouting. Not just any woman, it was his mother. He peeped through a window to get a closer look.
“You can’t leave! You’ve got to be responsible for our kid,” Andy’s mother shouted at her partner—— his dad. She was much younger then, and prettier too, with lesser wrinkles crawling over her forehead. Time and stress would eventually take away his mother’s beauty.
Her partner snapped back at her. He said in the meanest tone he had ever heard: “Who says I’m going to be responsible for it? You’re the one who’s pregnant, not me. Who says I must be responsible, hmm? You? Who says I must listen to you?” He grabbed his backpack, and walked briskly out of the door, slamming it on his way out. His mother was left gaping at the door in despair. She buried her head in her hands, and droplets of tears seeped through the gaps between her fingers.
The scene Andy witnessed reignited the fire within him. His hate towards his father was immeasurable, and his pity towards his mother was even greater. He had been given this rare opportunity, and he had to make use of it to its fullest. He fumbled around his pocket and found a ballpen and a piece of crumpled paper. He wrote a simple message, telling his mother to do what’s best for herself, opt for an abortion if necessary and to stay strong. Before slipping it under the door, he added the finishing touch, which was to state that it was from someone who cared.
Andy stayed on until his mother finally noticed the note. The way she smiled to herself, and the way her eyes lit up with courage and determination to live a better life, meant that Andy had completed his mission.
Andy lay quietly in a nearby field, admiring the dazzling stars that decorated the night sky. The old man appeared by his side once again and spoke with his usual gentleness: “I’m sorry to say that your time’s up. But I’m really proud of you.”
As he felt his body disintegrating into thin air, Andy muttered the words: “It’s for the greater good.”
In a matter of seconds, the teardrops that stained the grass were the only evidence that Andy had ever existed.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Your story is heartbreaking and a definite tear-jerker. I empathised with Andy a lot, which proves that your writing successfully gets readers to care and continue reading! Andy's feelings and thoughts were very relatable. The ending was something that caught me really off-guard! Consider adding more descriptions to your writing, such as the setting for when Andy and the old man sit together, it would really enhance the reading experience when visualisation is included. Great job!" - Aliah
"This story really hits hard. Conveys an original, eye-widening plot with a great message on how our mothers suffer through so much too. Very realistic and heartbreaking character development. Consider working on pacing towards the end. I absolutely adored this story!" - Edria
MYAA 2023 SENIOR MERIT
Name: Ammar Bin Azhar
School: Sekolah Menenengah Sains Banting
Title: The Dragons and the Knight
Genre: Magic and Fantasy
Deep within the Dracovulgares Forest, a young knight was traversing the forest floor.
"You will be paid handsomely for your exploits, I assure you."
So were the words of Haşim's employer, Prince Artyom of Zastova before sending him off to kill a Dragonfolk. It had been two weeks since Haşim had accepted this gruelling quest. Dracovulgares Forest was, the stories told, endless. Now he knew why. Searching for the Draco Imperium in this vast labyrinth of trees was like searching for a needle in a haystack. It also didn't help him that the vast majority of this forest's denizens were actively trying to turn him into dinner. Nevertheless, he carried on. By the time the moon was up, his armour was covered in blood.
Exhausted, Haşim spent the night inside a hollow tree which, much to his delight, was as wide as a small hut.
• • •
The sun rose and Haşim resumed his quest. Having had a good night's sleep accompanied by a dream of golden coins indulging, he was determined to end this quest within the week. By noon, he had managed to cover more ground than he had during the past two weeks.
Drenched in sweat, he settled for a break under the shade of a large Dracopellis tree. Resting his sword against its trunk, he relieved his head of his helmet, his blond hair rather messy with how long he's worn it.
"Much better." He uttered, feeling the sunlight against his face.
Slipping his hand into his pouch, he pulled out a map and unfolded it onto the ground before him. Tracing his fingers across it, Haşim deduced that he should be arriving at the Draco Imperium within the next two days. He folded the map and returned it to its domain. The knight re-equipped his gear and carried on.
• • •
It was dusk when the knight found himself standing before a gigantic dragon skull. The very gateway separating their realm and the Draco Imperium, so the tales are told. It was, of course, under a spell to keep outsiders out. Only those who knew the incantation, of whom were mostly Dragonfolk, could freely enter and leave. Haşim, fortunately, knew the exact words of the incantation.
"Dracosanguis, servus ignis, ego redii."
Nothing happened. Haşim repeated the incantation. Still, nothing happened.
"Ah Tanrı aşkına—"
Haşim repeated it again, and again, and again. All the same he was met with nothing. Perhaps his helmet was muffling his voice too much, he thought. Removing it, he repeated the incantation. The skull remained unchanged.
He was starting to get irritated. He repeated it again, this time in a louder voice. Still nothing. He repeated it slowly, word by word. The same results. Fed up, he slammed his helmet against the ancient skull, causing it to crumble into dust.
"THREE WEEKS!" Haşim yelled. "THREE WHOLE WEEKS AND THIS IS WHAT I GET?!" He was pissed. In the midst of all this, he heard the faint sound of a twig snapping.
Without missing a beat, he drew his sword, his senses on high alert.
"Who's there?!" The knight demanded. "Show yourself!"
Yet nothing did. Perhaps it was just a deer. Maybe he was overthinking it. Reluctantly, he sheathed his sword. He faced the skull—what remains of the skull once more.
He had barely opened his mouth when he heard yet another twig snap. This time, it was closer. Before he even had a chance to grip the hilt of his sword, something hard slammed against his head. Everything soon went dark.
• • •
Haşim woke up hours later and found himself in a completely unknown land. The sky was bright but lacked a sun. It was a peculiar sight yet it was still beautiful nonetheless. It was an enchanting shade of purple, vastly contrasting the sky of the Imperium Humanum. In the midst of his admiration, he was suddenly reminded of his mission. He quickly reached for his sword, but found it absent from its scabbard.
"Tanrı adına ne—"
He looked around. Walls was all he saw. No sword was in sight. Surveying his surroundings, he deduced that he was in a roofless hut. Fortunately, the hut wasn't lacking an exit as it was a roof. Jumping to his feet, he stole across the dirt floor and soon felt the sunless light against his skin. He found his sword just a few metres away from the hut. He made for his weapon and hung it at its rightful place.
The knight braved the unknown realm.
• • •
It wasn't long till the knight came across the first sign of life he'd seen in a long time.
About 10 metres in front of him, he saw a lone, crimson scaled, winged creature kneeling before what seemed to be tombstones. Haşim soon realised that he was looking at a Dragonfolk. This was it. It was his chance to finish the job. He could easily behead the creature right there and then. But he didn't. It somehow didn't feel right to do so. Easing his grip on the hilt of his weapon, the knight approached the Dragonfolk.
"I see you've awoken." The Dragonfolk spoke, as if sensing his approach.
"...where am I?" Asked the knight.
"The Draco Imperium."
"I do not."
Haşim looked around. Ever since arriving here he hadn't seen a single Dragonfolk besides the one before him.
As if sensing Haşim's confusion, the Dragonfolk turned towards him, her crimson red eyes meeting his ocean blue ones.
"For hundreds of years my clan has lived peacefully within this forest." Said she. "Now, I'm all that remains. Courtesy of humanity's bloodlust."
The knight was left standing aghast. All the tales he's heard, the treatises he's read, none of them suggested the extinction or even a decline of Zastova's Dragonfolk. Yet, here he was, standing before the last of their kind. His confidence that was once unswayed had all but crumbled upon the news.
"Have at it, you foul being." Jeered the Dragonfolk. "You came seeking my realm to finish my kind off, did you not?"
Haşim didn't want to. Not anymore. It no longer felt right. Of course, he's killed plenty of times before. But none of his deeds has led to the extinction of an entire species.
"What's the matter? Goblin got your tongue?" She mocked. "To think they sent a coward to kill—"
Eyes widening, it was her turn to be left aghast.
"Surely you jest—"
"I do not!"
For three weeks he had thought his quest was to kill just a single, troublesome Dragonfolk. Nothing had suggested that he was wiping off an entire species! What's more, the last Dragonfolk, the one standing before him, was innocent of any crimes against the Imperium Humanum.
He didn't know why or how he knew this. He just did.
"Humans truly are a peculiar species..." He heard her chuckle. "One moment they're hellbent on erasing my people, the next they suddenly want to save it."
Haşim remained silent.
"It's honestly amusing—"
Her ears suddenly twitched.
Haşim was fast to act. Much faster than the arrows flying towards them. Within the blink of an eye, he threw himself onto her, using his body as a shield to fend off the incoming projectiles. Fortunately, his armour protected them from the worst.
The arrows soon stopped.
Without any words, he took the Dragonfolk by her hand and started sprinting as if their lives depended on it. Well, they most certainly did.
The arrows resumed their onslaught.
"Damn that Artyom!" Haşim cursed. "Sending assassins to kill me so he doesn't need to pay up!!"
"I thought they were with you—"
"They most certainly aren't!" The knight felt an arrow graze his left cheek.
Within 5 minutes of sprinting, the two found themselves before the roofless hut once more. They ran inside.
"Can you fly?" Asked he.
"...unfortunately, not anymore."
Haşim didn't need to be told why. He saw an arrow lodged deep into the Dragonfolk's right wing.
"Damn it!" He cursed. "Stay here! Don't leave until I've killed them all!"
"Why go so far for me, human?"
Haşim's heart skipped a beat. He was embarrassed to admit it, but he had been a victim of love at first sight.
"It's because, I—"
Without warning, an arrow lodged itself deep into the knight's shoulder.
• • •
Haşim, despite being wounded, made quick work of their assassins. He was, after all, an Ağaçstani knight. After the whole fiasco, the two settled down and tended to their wounds. It was during this did they exchange names. Clementine La Aelfhun was the Dragonfolk's name. It was, Haşim admitted frontally, a beautiful name. It was also during this period did Haşim reveal why he went so far to help her. This, of course, was done with a bright red face. Clementine's face, however, was far redder.
The two spent the night in the Draco Imperium.
• • •
The next day, with Clementine's assistance, the two left the Draco Imperium through the actual gateway connecting their realms. With Haşim being the more knowledgeable between them, he was of course the guide out of Dracovulgares Forest.
They spent the next three weeks traversing the forest floor.
• • •
The quest to leave Zastova took a whole month. Fortunately, it was only a month as they were on horseback. Where they got the horses from was a mystery only known to God. They had decided to settle in the knight's hometown of Madinahtul-Akhir.
"In Ağaçstan, you don't have to worry about persecution. The laws protecting the Dragonfolk are quite strict, courtesy of the sultan." Haşim said as he helped Clementine off her golden Akhal-Teke.
"You've done so much for me, Haşim." Said Clementine. "I don't know how to thank you..."
"You can do so by living your life normally." Replied the knight. "Just as you had, once upon a time."
Clementine fiddled with her fingers, averting her gaze briefly before facing him once more.
"...a Dragonfolk at my age would normally have a mate."
Haşim's face flared at Clementine's words.
"So...Haşim, will you be my mate?"
Dracovulgares - Dragonfolk
Dracosanguis, ignis servus, ego redii - Dragonblood, servant of fire, I have returned
Draco Imperium - Dragon Sovereignty
Imperium Humanum - Human Sovereignty
Dracopellis - Dragonskin
Haşim - Hashim
Ah tanrı aşkına - Oh for the love of God
Tanrı adına ne - What in the name of God
Ağaçstan - Woodland
Ağaçstan - Ajach-stan - (Pronunciation)
Akhal-Teke - A Turkmen horsebreed. They have a reputation for speed and endurance, intelligence, and a distinctive metallic sheen. The shiny coat of the breed led to their nickname, "Golden Horses".
Names (proper nouns):
-Clementine La Aelfhun
-Prince Artyom of Zastova
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Such a captivating story that takes me, as a reader, on a thrilling journey through this magical world. The character development of Hashim really adds depth to the narrative. Also, I loved how he ended up protecting Clementine instead of fulfilling the quest. The ending was super heartwarming!" - Edria
"The world-building is intriguing, with a mix of magical elements and political situations. To enrich the world further, consider integrating more details about the different kingdoms, cultures, and histories. Additionally, consider incorporating moments of vulnerability and shared experiences that deepen the characters’ connection to elevate the romantic tension." - Arissa
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Yong Qing Qing
School: SJK(C) Foon Yew 2
Title: Tides of Remembrance
Genre: Ghosts and Ghouls
Chapter 1:Work or Vacation
“Yay! I can finally go to the Oregon coast!” I exclaimed, lips curling into a contented smile. My primary purpose was to study the local ecosystem, but a hidden desire lurked beneath the surface — the opportunity for a brief getaway to the enchanting landscapes I had only seen in pictures. The allure of Oregon Coast’s beauty had always captured my imagination. Now, despite being seven months pregnant, the promise of uncovering its secrets left me breathless.
As I packed my luggage with my husband, images from the internet filled my mind. Suddenly, a strange vision of a young sailor with aquamarine eyes flitted through my mind. I found it peculiar, but the unsettling feeling was soon chased by excitement.
The train ride to the Oregon Coast felt like a journey through time. The rhythmic clatter of wheels against tracks served as a backdrop to my thoughts, which danced between anticipation and curiosity. My mind drifted back to the vision of the young sailor that had startled me earlier. Who is he, and why did his image invade my thoughts?
Chapter 2: Whispers of the Past
Arriving on the Oregon Coast, the salty breezes and cobblestone streets welcomed me, each step increasing my yearning to explore. At the heart of the town, the aged lighthouse, stood tall and beckoning. Within its walls, aged logbooks and photographs whispered forgotten tales.
As the sun set, I settled into the cozy inn. Somehow, my mind was still dwelling on the sailor, unable to shake off his emotional compulsion over me. Out of the blue, a voice whispered, “The feelings will only grow stronger.”
“Huh? Who is that?” My heart raced, and my gaze darted around nervously, but there was no one.
Chapter 3: Echoes of Remembrance
During my expedition to Enigma Cove, intense visions led me to cut the trip short and return to the inn. Even in my dreams, the images persisted, connecting me to the island and the enigmatic sailor. Finally, I decided to investigate the lighthouse.
As soon as I stepped into its dusty interior, I could feel the electricity in the air. I whirled around, only to find the sailor from my dreams standing before me, flickering like a spirit. His striking blue gaze held recognition as if we had shared secrets across time. Guided by an inexplicable force, I approached him. Our connection held mysteries, promising answers long sought. "W-Who are you?" I said in a tremoring voice.
"I am Liam, a sailor intertwined with this island's history. Memories bind us, Mia," Liam's voice echoed.
"How do you know my name and why do I keep seeing you?" I whispered.
Liam's eyes held hope. "The visions bridge souls, revealing what was lost. Oregon Coast's secrets are ours to uncover."
I did not know what he meant, but a surge of emotions swelled within me. Under the stars, hordes of flickering maritime spirits surrounded us, marking the start of our shared quest.
Chapter 4: Whispers of the Wind
“FIND THE SHIP… ASK ‘IT’... FREE US…” I heard them. The sounds. The whispers. The cries for help. The cryptic message from the spirits echoed in my mind. With each passing moment, the weight of their plea grew heavier on my shoulders. Determined, I decided to uncover the truth once and for all.
As I walked along the shore, a hole opened beneath me and pulled me underwater. Gasping for air, I was startled to find that I could breathe easily in the waters. A hulking silhouette in the distance caught my eye. The Ship of Voyages… I had never seen the ship in my life, but the name surfaced somewhere deep within my subconscious.
My heart raced as realization dawned on me. What if "it" referred to the ship itself? What if the answer lay in discovering the ship's untold story?
Encouraged by the breakthrough, I swam towards the sunken ship. Something was glinting in the seabed – a necklace with a heart locket. As I pulled it from the sand, an electric jolt shot up my spine. Memories from a different life played before my eyes as I finally unveiled the heart-wrenching tale of the pirate Miana and the sailor Liam — a forbidden love, a journey cut short…
Chapter 5: Secrets and Revelation
“I know it. I know it all,” I gasped as the memories returned to me. I knew who held the answer I was looking for all along, and I found him waiting for me at the lighthouse.
“My dear fiancé,” I blurted out, my vision blurry with tears. “We were star-crossed lovers. You were born on the Oregon Coast. My grandparents were pirates who looted treasures your family guarded for generations. It was by chance that we met here, but it was love at first sight.”
Liam’s sorrowful eyes tugged at my heartstrings. “Yes, I was about to sail off to retrieve the lost treasures. We met up at our secret cave, as usual. It was that horrible storm that threw us apart, and left your parents’ ship at the bottom of the sea."
“The sailors swore an oath to return the treasures. Until we complete the quest, our souls will be trapped here forever.” His pleading gaze fell on the necklace, my family heirloom. “You hold the key to the pirates’ bay. We need it to free the crew. Allow me to take it, Mia, or should I say Miana?”
“Of course, dear Liam. It has been decades. You are still a ghost, neither living nor dead.” My hands trembled as I placed the necklace over his head. “After the quest, you should be able to be reborn, and we will never meet again.”
Chapter 6: Goodbye, and Hello
It was time to head back home. Time flew by, but I was still haunted by memories of that fateful day. After I gave Liam the necklace, I had never seen him since. I knew that when I left, the memories would fade. My heart ached at the thought of forgetting Liam. But I had to go home, back to my husband and my new life waiting for me.
I arrived home after a week of staying on the Oregon Coast. For some strange reason, I couldn’t remember parts of my trip. I figured it might be due to my pregnancy, and shook it off.
My husband picked me up from the train station. We were both excited to be around each other once more. Two hours into the drive home, I hit labour. Fortunately, a hospital was nearby. I was on the verge of fainting and blacked out as soon as my back hit the stretcher.
Several hours later, I woke up with a startle. My husband handed over our baby boy. I was surprised to find that he had ocean-blue eyes, even though both my husband and I were brown-eyed.
“Mia, what should we name our baby?” my husband asked.
A memory flitted through my mind, fading just as quickly as it surfaced. “Liam. “
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"The way this story is structured is so impressive! Filled to the brim with cryptic messages, mystery, and a concoction emotions, the vivid imagery used creates a pathetic fallacy between the serenity and longing of the character and the nostalgic, historical setting of Oregon Coast. I loved this so so much!" - Yumnah
"The story had a great arc! I loved how the story of Liam directly tied into Mia's preganacy. Furthermore, the idea of star-crossed lovers made the story even more intriguing! Overall, I loved how this is a story that transcended across the ages, making it even more of a joy to read. Great work!" - Nicole
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Isabel Lim Yu Tong
School: Sekolah Rendah Seri Presbyterian Batu Pahat
Title: Woven In Fate
Genre: Magic and Fantasy
In a realm touched by the lingering influences of deities, two families stood as eternal foes. Descendants of Poseidon wielded the power of the sea, while Athena's lineage commanded wisdom and strategy. With divine magic coursing through their veins, these families clashed across continents – from Greece to Malaysia – in an intergenerational struggle.
In a world where destiny's threads are intricately woven, a young boy named Aenon stands at the crossroads of fate. His eyes mirrored the unfathomable depths of the ocean, and his raven hair whispered of lineage-bound sagas. Cloaked in a makeshift monster costume, he spun and laughed. He was the very embodiment of unadulterated joy.
"Father, I'm a monster!" he exclaimed, a grin playing on his lips. Yet, in the presence of his father, a repository of strength and wisdom, Aenon was gently reminded of his heritage's heroism. "My son," his father's voice carried the weight of legacy, "you're no mere monster. You carry the mantle of our lineage, anointed by Poseidon's grace. Your purpose transcends: it's to face Athena's progeny, illuminating their veiled darkness with your light."
Aenon's gaze turned skyward, contemplation etched on his features. His path was clear – to confront the descendants of Athena and be a beacon amidst their shadows. The stars above held both secrets and assurances and Aenon was poised to script his own heroic saga.
As the river of time flowed steadily, its current sculpted Aenon into a paragon of strength and resilience. He immersed himself in the hallowed pages of ancient tomes, forging his muscles and determination into an unbreakable amalgam. Through days that stretched into years, his unwavering valor became legends, whispered eagerly across distant lands. Aenon's name evolved into a synonym for courage, a living reminder of humanity's capacity for unyielding hope, inspiring all who heard his tale.
Ismene emerged on the opposing front, an enigma shrouded in Athena's lineage. Her hair held the essence of the night, while her eyes harbored veiled secrets, carrying the weight of generations past. From her father's lips came a steady refrain, "Dearest Ismene, our heritage is intertwined with Athena's purpose. You are ordained to stand as a bulwark against Poseidon's descendants, preserving equilibrium in the tapestry of existence."
Then came a missive, bearing her father's seal, urging her to orchestrate Aenon's downfall, molding him into the very adversary that their bloodline had combated across eras. Guided by Athena's lineage, Ismene deftly spun a web of manipulation around Aenon, her night-dark hair and calculating eyes veiling intricate schemes.
"Aenon, can you not sense the injustices?" she whispered, deepening their connection with each encounter. Sharing stories of perceived wrongs, she fanned the flames of his resentment, shrouding his convictions in uncertainty. Their alliance evolved, Aenon's purpose shifting under Ismene's skillful direction.
"This is your chance to restore balance," she urged, fanning the flames of his anger. As vengeance consumed Aenon, Ismene's artistry became evident – his heroic narrative twisted to her design. Amidst the dance of shadows and destiny, Ismene herself found her heart drawn to Aenon, an unforeseen emotion woven into the tapestry of manipulation and fate.
Beneath the stars' gaze, Ismene and Aenon's eyes locked, recognition sparking between them. "Is there more beneath your surface?" Ismene inquired. "Perhaps," Aenon replied, intrigue in his tone. "Isn't there always?"
Amidst constellations, love transcended their forefathers' feud. Yet, this love would unwittingly unravel Athena's dark design. "Promise me, Ismene, your heart beats only for me," Aenon pleaded, hands entwined in the lunar glow. She hesitated, torn between authenticity and artifice. "Our hearts are intertwined," she confessed, words woven with both sentiment and manipulation.
Within the heart of bustling Kuala Lumpur, a pivotal moment unfolded against the iconic backdrop of the Petronas Towers. Guided by a love that had consumed him, Aenon stood amidst the city's vibrant streets, his power swirling like a tempest. The air hummed with street food scents, as Ismene's manipulations transformed love into a force that threatened the balance between cultures.
Ismene, torn between her affection for Aenon and allegiance to her heritage, cast anguished glances at the towering skyscrapers. As Aenon's emotions roiled, his power surged, distorting reality. Amidst patterns of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures harmonized, responding to the energy coursing through him.
In the marketplace, whispers spread as vendors and shoppers sensed an otherworldly presence. At Temple Thean Hou, friends fell silent, tension in the air. "Feel that? Something's wrong," one muttered, glancing at the temple incense. At Batu Caves, families felt the earth shift beneath them, blending Hindu rituals and natural wonder in uncertainty.
Amidst bustling streets around the Petronas Towers, panic erupted as someone urgently cried, "Run! The ground's shaking!" Pedestrians fled, tourists awed yet confused. Whispers and questions spread like wildfire. Unfamiliar tremors and no earthquake history in Malaysia left all in bewildered uncertainty, reality disrupted, and norms shattered.
Abandoned rooftop restaurants bore witness to Aenon's crescendo. The city's fusion of cultures trembled in acknowledgment, the diverse people of Malaysia sharing a collective heartbeat in chaos, a reflection of the dance between human emotion and cosmic forces shaping destiny.
In the ruins of a city once teeming with life, Aenon's heart resonated with regret, his turmoil mirrored in Ismene's gaze as she approached. "Aenon," her voice, a fragile tether in the midst of destruction, carried a mixture of love and pain. "Father, I'm a monster," his anguished admission merged with the distant scream that shattered the eerie calm, prompting Ismene and Aenon to run together towards the source, yearning for redemption.
Among the debris, they discovered a trembling girl, her existence a fragile beacon of hope. Kneeling beside her, Aenon's reassurance blended with the weight of promises yet to be fulfilled. "We're here to help," he vowed. "Hello. My name is Amaal. Mummy says that it means hope." Aenon and Ismene, in the shadow of the girl's words, found a renewed connection, as Amaal's innocence reframed their perspectives.
"You're not a bad guy," Amaal's soft affirmation, a spark of understanding, bridged their own divide, heralding a shared journey of renewal amidst the shattered cityscape. As they helped Amaal navigate through the wreckage, the remnants of their world, they discovered the power of compassion to mend not only shattered buildings but also wounded souls.
With Amaal's laughter mingling with the sounds of reconstruction, the city's rebirth became a testament to the enduring light that emerges even from the darkest times. The stars above watched over their shared path, a reminder that fate is not solely a tapestry woven by the gods, but a mosaic shaped by the choices of those who dare to rise above the darkness.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"I loved this piece! Your way of describing emotions, setting and characters flow smoothly throughout the text and don't feel awkward at all! The characters you used, with the deep lore behind them, made for a great relationship between them. Overall, this was a well-written story, keep it up!" - Nicole
"Such an intricate attempt at world-building, with an effective and concise backstory that doesn't cut into the center-stage of the plot and the incorporation of vivid, carefully selected fantastical vocabulary creates a gripping and immersive experience for the reader. I especially enjoyed how fantastical elements came together to acknowledge the vivid culture of Malaysia as a power, one capable of destruction but also rebirth." - Yumnah
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Charmaine Min Hyun Hee
School: SJK(C) St. James, Likas
Title: A Swan and Death
Genre: Animal Tales
Chapter 1 – Shock and Denial
“No! Please! Stop!”
They wouldn’t listen. CRASH! A large, red and heavy stone went whizzing through the air and crashed onto a nest beside a sky-blue river, almost hitting a mother swan and denting the beautiful foliage around the roost. “Stop! Stop!’ The mother swan honked. The father swan, furious, charged at the attackers hissing loudly and flapped his great wings at them. The gang of teenage vandals responded by throwing rocks at the bird, shouting obscenities and laughing. The father was lost in absolute rage, trying to rip the hooligans apart when he heard a loud crack and a piercing scream.
“NO!” It was too late. One of the fiends had taken careful aim and shot a brick into the cradle, crushing three out of six bluish-gray eggs. The father swan heard the cry and shot back to the roost. The mother swan was wailing in misery, desperately trying to move the heavy brick while the father simply stared in shock, getting more and more agitated as realization sank in.
“WHY?” The mother screeched, ignoring the other. The father was panicking. He opened his beak wide to say something, but nothing came out. The pen’s shrill voice pierced the air. “COME BACK! PLEASE!” The pen sobbed, tears pouring down her face.
The father, unable to handle the stress, sat down with his wings over his head and tried to say something. The mother was in hysterics, repeating “GIVE ME BACK MY CHILDREN!” The criminals were walking away laughing amongst each other and pointing at the birds. The mother was hysterical. Barely a few hours passed, but for them it felt like centuries. The parents wept for the entire day, paying no mind to incoming danger or their growling stomachs. That night, they couldn’t sleep. A storm of thoughts raged in their heads. They lay awake and thought until they couldn’t think any longer. With heavy hearts and a life left unfulfilled, sheer exhaustion put them to sleep.
Chapter 2 – Anger and Bargaining
The next day passed, with the birds’ only motive left being to protect their children. Throughout the day they spoke nothing, not daring to even look at each other. Ducks and hens often passed by, laughing at the swans. Bugs and parasites swarmed around them and it was agony when they stung. Despite their struggles, their three eggs motivated them to go on. “It’s going to be alright,’ the cob whispered. “There might be some hope.”
“Are you really sure?” The pen replied.
“You didn’t even meet them. Why do you care so much?” A voice in their head interrupted. The mother at first was confused, but then felt an unbridled rage enter them and went somewhere else to lie down. She felt dizzy and her chest quite literally seemed to throb with pain.
Barely a few weeks passed before a stray dog arrived. “What a feast! I’ll never go hungry again.” It exclaimed, looking at the birds and their children. The hound had just reached the nest when the father swan swooped over and stood in front of him, trying his best to look threatening.
“What do you want?” The canine sneered.
“Leave. Now.” The swan replied.
“Make me.” The other growled. Without saying a word, the bird started to peck at the dog’s leg, scratching them with the spur at the edge of their wing. This caused the hound almost no pain. He tried to shake the bird off, but annoyance started to show on his face when he found that it wasn’t working and shook harder. Still, the avian persisted and kept on pecking. Finally, the dog had enough and with a roar he flung the poor bird into a rock, snarling. His entire body was sore, but seeing the dog look back at his eggs, he was filled with rage and pecked at the dog’s eyes, blinding him. The canine gave up and staggered away, but crushed another egg while fleeing.
The pen got weaker and weaker, their heart and breathing rate often speeding up and slowing down and complaining of increasing pain in her ribs and upper body. “Get over it!” The voice taunted. The pen didn’t want to waste energy arguing, so they remained silent. The male didn’t have it any easier either. Everything was a mess. The stress was overwhelming. He knew he couldn’t do this anymore.
Chapter 3 – Depression and Guilt
The next day, the mother swan awoke to find the father gone. He had disappeared, leaving nothing except a few feathers he had shed. “Pitiful.” The voice said. “Though, it is your fault for not protecting your children better.” They said.
“Excuse me?” The mother exhaled, breathing heavily as if she didn’t have enough air.
“You heard me.” It replied. “You didn’t do anything to protect your home…” The mother swan tried her best to ignore the voice. Suddenly, there came a fierce, sharp pain in her bosom that forced her to lie down again. She felt completely helpless, as if her entire life was falling apart.
Days passed as she lay starving on the bed of sticks without any food or water. The voice constantly bothered her as well, coming just to torment the swan. She often experienced physical pain, especially in her chest and sometimes passed out due to lack of food, water or for sometimes for seemingly no reason at all. The nights were dark and lonely, and she dreamt that she was still with her kids playing happily together amongst fragrant flowers only to awake to reality soon after. In the mornings, she spent her time wrapped around her remaining egg awaiting the inevitable.
Chapter 4 – Acceptance
One day, the voice didn’t appear at all. This was a relief, but the day was unnaturally silent. You could hear a pin drop. The bugs and animals had gone. Not a single soul could be seen except for a black figure sitting on the bank. “Where is your partner?” He asked.
“Swans mate for life, but I can’t see him or his spirit. He must still be alive.”
“Did he just leave you alone with…” The figure looked down at the brick and the one remaining egg. “..this?”
“He couldn’t handle it.” She sniffed. “Neither can I. Only one little egg is left.” Silence like nothing she had ever heard before followed.
Tearing up, she pointed her head towards the ground, not daring to look. “Death. You’re not here for my child, are you?”
“You’re here for…me. Right?”
“This is more than you can take-“
“…What?” The swan settled down, her breathing slowing and hearing soft ringing in her ears. Lying down and facing the last egg, she closed her eyes and felt her heart snap in two. “Please forgive me, my child.”
And with that, she took her final breath and the world went dark.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"This was so heartbreaking to read. The emotions I felt throughout this entire text were conveyed well through your choice of vocabulary and descriptive detail. Furthermore, by titling the chapters over the 5 stages of grief, I found it as a welcome addition. The ending is particularly somber and readers are left with a sense of sadness and regret. Honestly, this story is well-written and has a great arc. Keep up the great work!" - Nicole
"A mother's love for a child surpasses all and to see that captured through the eyes of a swan sacrificing everything is something otherworldy and unique. Simply poignant and heartbreaking!" - Sharanya
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Woo Gin Lynn
School: SJK(C) Kuen Cheng 2
Genre: Mystery and Adventure
The night is still.
I wait for the call behind the oak tree by the sidewalk. My green eyes glow in suspense behind my hummingbird mask. This is my greatest mission. Vengeance is my ulterior motivation to keep going, after all these years. I am here to avenge them.
“Agent Hummingbird?” My earpiece buzzes.
“Target locked.” I take a hairpin out of my hair and swiftly pick the lock. The door opens ever so slightly, but they don’t notice. I peek through the gap. A woman sets a cake down on the table and lights a candle. Two children, a boy, and a girl, both probably about five, sit on their father’s lap.
I was five too when they were killed. The reminder makes my chest ache with the memory, the flashback starts again.
“Stay here, Ari, darling. We won’t be long. It’s just a few guests.”
The banging on the front door grows louder. They close the room door and I hear the lock clicking into place. I am confused. I don’t know what is going on, but my gut feeling tells me something is amiss.
I press my ear to the crack to listen. I hear no dialogue, only crashes and shouts. I start to panic. Why have they locked me in the storeroom? Why are the guests breaking things?
The screams stop. Everything goes quiet, not a sound to be heard. Suddenly I realised what had happened. They are gone.
The tears run down my face in furious streams. I’m all alone now.
I hear a tap on the window. It creaks open, and a man climbs in. He is dressed in all black, except for the eagle mask that covers his face. I scream.
“I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.”
I don’t believe him.
I grab a hammer from the toolbox and hold it in front of my face. “I will hit you!” I threaten weakly.
He chuckles. “There’s no need for that. I’m only here to bring you somewhere safe. Your home isn’t safe now. I will protect you, and when you are old enough, you will avenge your parents.”
I did not know what ‘avenge’ meant. But I was sure it was something significant. I was still wary of the eagle-masked man, but what choice did I have?
I slowly stepped forward. “Where will you take me?”
“To your new home.”
The Eagle had brought me to his headquarters. He raised me as his own, and trained me to become one of his best agents.
Agent Hummingbird. Strong, swift, and resilient.
I was in training until I was sixteen. I’d been in the field for three years, and never failed a single mission.
This is my big break. I spent fourteen years waiting for this moment, the game-changing mission I prepared for my whole life. It is so top secret that it cannot even be given a name. This is Operation 02-157-43.
My hummingbird, he’d said to me before I left, spread your wings. This is the furthest you’ve ever flown.
I grab my pistol from my belt. Open the door, aim, shoot. They wouldn’t even have any time to realise what was going on.
I observe their movements. They sing ‘Happy Birthday’ together, as the father makes a wish. The smiles on their faces match mine all those years ago.
This family reminds me of my own. Of how happy we were.
You’ve left the nest; you can’t fly back.
I rest my hand on the door handle. On three…
I suddenly feel like I cannot breathe. Sweat beads my forehead, trickling down my face.
I bite my lip. “Three seconds, Agent Canary.”
The parents are laughing with the children, their smiles broad and bright. How could I kill them all? They’re innocent. The guilt will shadow me forever. But can I give up what I worked for all these years?
If I do this, I will no longer be innocent. Will it be better to just forgive and forget? It’s been fourteen years. I doubt they even remember.
My palms feel clammy and numb. My fingers falter on the trigger, my heart hammering. The Eagle was right. I’ve flown so far now. I can’t turn back. I can’t return to my nest. But I can still save theirs. Free them, and I free myself.
After all, is falling really such a crime?
This is it. But it isn’t. This whole time, I believed I was flying free, when my wings were clipped. I can’t do this anymore.
I turn and run.
I don’t know where I’m going, or where I’m headed. The world is merely a haze, the houses and roads blurring into a lush green forest.
The wind whistles loudly in my ears, blowing my sleek black ponytail into my face, but I can still hear the frantic beeps of my earpiece. “AGENT HUMMINGBIRD! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
I curse under my breath. I forgot that they could track me. I pick up my pace, praying that my black catsuit blends with the dark trees.
The stars are blinking in the night sky. An owl hoots. The reality of what I’ve done starts to set in.
I’m a deserter.
Even if they don’t find me, where will I go after this? I have no future, only a past.
“ARIA! GET BACK HERE!” The sound isn’t coming from my earpiece anymore. The Eagle has found me. But I’m not returning to my birdcage again, no matter what. My boots thunder against the uneven mud, leaves battering my face. How long can I run before I’m caught?
I whirl around. That isn’t the Eagle’s voice.
Agent Raven stands in front of me. Spies don’t have friends, but he was mine. We grew up together, lonely orphans given a purpose. He’s one of the best among the ranks too, the Eagle’s right-hand man. “Agent Raven! You nee-”
He moves too fast. I barely have time to register it. He holds out his pistol, pointed straight at my chest. His nimble fingers pull the trigger. The bullet seems to fly in slow-motion.
My brain clicks into place.
I’m going to die.
That millisecond feels like an eternity. Finally, the pain kicks in, an unbearable stinging ache.
I press my hands to my chest, feeling my own blood soaking my palms. I careen backwards, falling to the forest floor.
“Why?” I rasp.
“You’re a defector. I’m not. I obey the Eagle.” He attempts to look cold and unforgiving, but I can see the sorrow in his eyes.
My heart hurts, because of both the wound and the betrayal. I weakly lift my own pistol. He turns to run, but even while dying, my aim is still shockingly precise. It hits him square in the back, and he falls too.
Isn’t it ironic? We were once each other’s best friends, and now each other’s killers.
“Those weren’t your parents’ murderers.”
I turn to look at Agent Raven in confusion.
“The people you were supposed to kill were the Eagle’s rivals. The Eagle killed your parents. He used your desire for revenge to get you to kill them. They were never involved. I want you to know that.” His rattling breaths came to a gradual stop, and I knew he was gone.
A heavy weight lifts off my chest. I no longer feel guilty for not avenging my parents. I can die knowing I did the right thing in the end.
I look up at the gleaming constellations overhead. It is a beautiful place to die. As I take my last breath, I swear to myself: “This can’t be the end.”
But it is, this is my downfall.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Words can't express how much adrenaline that rushed through me while reading this story! It was a fun thriller, action-oriented story, with such a tragic twist in the end. It's mature themes of murder, violence and manipulation was executed so brilliantly with Agent Hummingbird's memories, choices and actions shown in ways that made me root for her so bad. This story's a masterpiece." - Lee Ann
"This was SO good! I was so intrigued in Hummingbird's backstory and her reasoning and you managed to provide answers for that through the flashback. The relationship between Raven and Hummingbird is especially heartbreaking to watch as well. I think the twist at the end was utterly amazing, it was pulled off precisely and did make a lot of sense! This story was such a thrill to read and I enjoyed every second of it. Wonderful job!" - Nicole
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Ho Jie Qi
School: SJK(C) Tsun Jin
Title: The Wrong Train
Genre: Ghosts and Ghouls
“You guys need to remember, it’s the 11.50, direct to London. Now, you guys have to stay safe.” said Mum, who just received a message from her boss telling her that there is an important meeting later.
“Don’t worry, mum. Bye!” said Lily and Jessica before mum left. Lily and Jessica were going to stay with their grandparents during the school holidays. Jessica, who was a year older than Lily, took a careful note of the train time on her pink notebook.
Now, here they were, with their bags, standing on the station platform, playing truth or dare.
“I pick dare. Oh, wait! There!” said Lily. The electronic indicator flashed the destination: “London” with the time beside it. The train drew in and they climbed on board. Lily looked out of the window as the train pulled out. “Erm……sis. It’s weird that there’s still a lot of people standing on the platform but holding a ticket to London.” said Lily. “Relax, maybe you saw it wrongly, right?” replied Jessica but she started panicking.
Everyone was wearing clothes from the nineties. But, there’s only one man wearing a thick brown coat was reading a newspaper. Jessica was still solving the riddle from the back of the man’s newspaper.
“Hey, Lily, what can honk without a horn?” asked Jessica. “I don’t know. I’m scared, I think we were on the wrong train.” replied Lily. “You think? I don’t know what to do now.” said Jessica.
Then, someone opened the sliding door from the corridor. “Tickets, please.” said the inspector wearing an old suit. Jessica gave him the tickets but he ignored her. “Thank you, ladies. Thank you, sir.” said the inspector while the women wearing old puffy dresses and the man gave him old blue train tickets. “Well, that’s rude. Wait, those tickets don’t look like our tickets. Weird.” said Jessica.
The train stopped and they saw a big black house. The exit door opened, Lily and Jessica took their bags and wanted to have a closer look. They stepped a little closer to the door. Suddenly, someone pushed them, they flew through the air, down on to the grass. The train then disappeared.
They looked up and saw a creepy house. It’s covered with spider webs, there were broken windows and broken wood pieces on the floor. There were no other houses. “The phone says we are here, that means this is grandpa and grandma’s house.” said Jessica. “I thought they bought a new house, not an older house. Should we go in?” said Lily.
Strangely, the door opened. “Hello?” yelled Jessica. “I’m a bit busy, but I’ll be here soon.” said someone, it sounds like a girl but they can’t see her. After ten minutes, they were still outside waiting. “Are you done? Can we come in? asked Jessica. “Coming!” said the person and they saw a shadow that looks like a young lady standing beside the stairs but did not talk. “Is that Aunt Lyra, I thought she had work to do. Why is she here?” said Lily. But twenty minutes past, the shadow disappeared and the person still didn’t come down.
“We’re coming in!” said Jessica. There’s no response. They walked into the house. They saw some old furniture and blood stains everywhere. “Today I burned your old love letters, I burned them gently one by one……” They heard the same voice from just now singing “Your Old Love Letters” by Johnny Bond while bathing in the washroom. They can’t find the bathroom. So, they went upstairs to find it and the voice became closer but they saw no one. No one was in the washroom and there’s no water stains on the floor. “Mir…ror!” hissed a voice in a loud whisper. They looked at the mirror, the mirror then turned red. They saw an old woman with a creepy face turned her head upside down wearing clothes with blood stains. “Are… you… looking… for… me? asked the old woman. Lily and Jessica were terrified and ran as fast as their legs could carry them. The old woman chased them while yelling: “Don’t go! Why? Why? Why? He used to be my sister’s husband and he became a psychopath. I still remember that my sister will always be standing beside the stairs when he came. My sister suffered a lot of pain for that brat and he killed her!”
Lily and Jessica saw a portal in front of them, so they stopped but they had nowhere to go, they walked into the portal and the portal took them back to the train station.
Here they were again, with their bags, standing on the station platform, but not playing truth or dare.
The electronic indicator flashed the destination: “London, 11.50” The train drew in. “Should we climb on board, I mean is this the right one?” asked Lily. A lot of passengers got on, Lily and Jessica followed them. Soon, they arrived at their grandparents’ house. “Grandma! Grandpa!” yelled Lily and Jessica while hugging their grandparents tightly. They looked up and saw the same house but it’s painted bright yellow and there’s a red roof on top. They walked inside and saw beautiful furniture with no blood stains everywhere, especially no creepy old woman that can turn her head upside down in the washroom. Lily was chatting with grandpa in the living room while Jessica helped grandma in the kitchen.
“Grandpa, is this a haunted house before you and grandma moved into here? asked Lily. “Hmm……I’m not sure about that since the seller didn’t tell me about it. You really have good imagination, Lily." said grandpa. Lily laughed, but she’s still curious. “Dinner’s ready!” said grandma. Lily and Jessica were as hungry as a wolf and ate their dinner in the dining room.
At 10.00 pm, they putted on their pyjamas and got ready for bed. Their grandpa came in and said: “Let me tell you a strange story. When I was like twenty years old, I wore a thick brown coat and saw two kids just like you two while reading the newspaper but they disappeared later.” Jessica and Lily looked at each other giggling.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"I love creepy time travel elements in horror fics so I was very excited with your story. Through every horrifying twist and turn, you stuck to the theme well and worked brilliantly in the sense of flow. I did think the ending was slightly confusing as I had a lot of questions left unanswered. Well done with your story and keep improving!" - Dharyaasri
"Literal chills!! P.S. I absolutely loved the climax. Great job!!" - Sharanya
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Zaid Asad Khan Bin Muhammad Ali
School: SK Bukit Damansara
Title: The Sun and The Moon
Genre: Magic and Fantasy
It all began long ago on Earth. The attractive and eternal god and goddess of the cosmos and stars came together. They made the decision to reside on Earth, where they would be accorded royal treatment. They were insanely in love. They constructed a palace atop a mountain that overlooked the planet. There was a royal nuptial.
A few years later, the moon sorcerer Xander and the sun sorceress Alicia were born as twins by the goddess of the stars. Xander frequently wore blue and indigo clothing and had hair as white as snow and skin as pale as a ghost. He read books in the dark and kept to himself most of the time. Alicia, on the other hand, had brown skin and red hair. She frequently wore gold clothing. She adores having fun.
Alicia and Xander didn't reach adulthood until 18 years had passed. As Alicia and Xander approached their birthdays, Xander was getting ready. Sparkling lights illuminated its decor. Everybody was present. Always, he threw lavish parties. Alicia dressed up, looking stunning in her golden gown. To midnight, the celebration continued. The duration seemed to be endless. From a select people, Xander and Alicia received amazing gifts.
Everyone who had arrived at the party was welcomed by Xander and Alicia. The event had ended. As a gift from their parents, Xander received a moon phoenix and Alicia received a sun fox. Their parents cautioned them, "Be careful with your familiars, as they grant you the ability to use magic." The fox was nestled in the warmth of Alicia's palm while the moon phoenix sat on Xander's shoulder.
Alicia received the power of fire, light, and control over the sun, whereas Xander received the power of ice, darkness, and control over the moon. A villager stopped Xander as he attempted to return home. "Sir, why don't you utilize your magic to give us perpetual night? Aren't your abilities greater than those of your sisters?" a villager asked with a sneer. Upon hearing the statements, Xander was astounded and told him to get out. He desired to return to bed. Something distorted his thinking. “Is it real? Can I overwhelm Alicia?" he pondered. After having such notion, he fell asleep. It was morning when his phoenix turned to face him, its face displaying a desire for nourishment. Xander gave the moon phoenix some berries. He still adored his familiar, regardless of how it acted. He prepared himself and entered the kitchen to prepare breakfast. He turned to face the sun, angered by its glare. He suddenly remembered Alicia and the villager's remarks. Xander muttered angrily, "Ughhh." He stormed right into Alicia's bedroom. “Let's stop with this crap. Lower the Sun, or I'll freeze you to death,” said Xander.
“What's going on, brother. You are aware that I am unable to accomplish it. The world's equilibrium will be upset,” according to Alicia. “I DON'T CARE,” Xander growled. Alicia lowered the Sun out of fear. “Finally! I will rule supreme,” Xander grinned evilly. Xander remarked, "Now for you, you can stay here... FROZEN!" Xander froze his sister without a second thought. Xander mumbled "pathetic" as he observed his sister's frozen form. He went and caused the moon to rise and remain there indefinitely.
He had no idea that the villagers' situation was getting worse. The evening was really chilly. He had his phoenix flying around the palace at will. On his bed, Xander was engrossed in his favourite novel. Xander cheerfully sighed, "Ahhhh, the darkness." "XANDER, what is this," his mother yelled. "Yeah, explain," his father added.” “What did you do??!!” his mother questioned him angrily.
“Oh my God, parents, I only begged for darkness and serenity, but I understood you didn't ask for anything; you had to do it on your own. So, I froze Alicia and blah blah blah," sneered Xander.
“You had no right to act in this way. You will disturb the natural order of things, and you had no business freezing your sister” his mother yelled indignantly. “I COMMAND that you immediately defrost your sister” advised his father. "Parents, please don't make me freeze you as well. “You'll be frozen on the spot with one more word,” Xander warned.
“NO! Enough. I'm done now. You put us in danger and disturbed the universe's delicate balance. Without your assistance, I will defrost your sister,” his mother said angrily. Alicia burst into the room with a flick of his mother’s fingers. His father added, "Let me show you what had happened when the sun was not there." He used a magic pearl to demonstrate to Xander the consequences behind his actions. The people were running into objects that hurt them. They were very cold. One elderly peasant suffered from hypothermia. "Oh no," Xander cried softly. “I never intended for this to happen,” Xander sobbed.
"We appreciate your sincerity, but you deserve to be punished for what you did. The choice of your punishment will be made by your sister," his father said. "I've got one in mind already." Alicia encircled Xander with a ring of flames. “You're never getting out of this room,” Alicia remarked. Alicia added, "As for your moon, lower it and I will rise the sun and let it stay there." Xander dropped the moon firmly. With their parents by her side, Alicia departed.
Day after day, the sun shone. In the clear sky, the sun merely sat there. In her lap, Alicia was holding her pet fox. Alicia was playing with her fox while sitting on her bed. Alicia's father entered out of the blue. Her father instructed his daughter to lower the Sun. Alicia asked a question: "Why?" “Let me demonstrate. Regarding these couple days, villagers’ circumstances were getting worse. Some of the villagers are going blind from the sun's brightness, and the locals are suffering from heat stroke,” her father added worriedly.
With a sigh, Alicia replied, "Okay.” She was aware that she needed to let go of Xander in order to restore the balance. Although her head was urging yes, her heart was refusing. She felt ambivalently. She told her father, "Wait a second.”
She hurried over to Xander's bedroom. “I'm hoping you've learned from your mistakes, Xander. I will release you. I need you to rise the moon, because we need to keep things in balance, "Alicia added. "Alicia, I sincerely apologize for what I did. I hope we can maintain the status quo from before the catastrophe” said Xander. Alicia said with forgiveness in her heart, "It's okay.”
The residents started to feel better after the moon rose. "Look, observe the villagers quietly. You two are equal. You must rule with integrity,” her mother advised.
With that, Xander and Alicia continued to rule with purity and sincerity as the moon and sun takes turns to rise each day and night.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Your story has a strong foundation and a meaningful message about balance and responsibility. Consider refining your narrative by expanding on the central message of the importance of balance, this will help clarify the moral or theme of your story. Additionally, providing more insights into each character’s personalities and motivations can make the readers more hooked and attached. Overall, terrific job!" - Arissa
"There was a great moral value behind this story and it tied in neatly into the real world. Furthermore, I think the relationship between brother and sister grew with time, making the story arc complete. All in all, great job!" - Nicole
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Jaybriel Cheng Yu Zhe
School: Sekolah Sri Tenby Setia Ecopark, Shah Alam
Genre: Mystery and Adventure
Chapter 1: Swarming The Hive
The screams of scientists echoed through the once quiet walls until the laboratory finally spat out humans—well, not really. They looked like trouble. Having human faces, they were pale, and their eyes reflected a reddish-yellowish hue. Scientists and guards acted like they were possessed by an unknown spirit.
I was on the run, desperately finding a way out of this base in Norway. I jumped over a barrier placed by soldiers who were uselessly firing bullets at the creatures. But the creatures pounced on them and devoured them. Suddenly, the soldiers woke up as if nothing had happened. They looked at me with yellow eyes and bloodied faces, then rushed at me. It was a gruesome sight—one that would definitely haunt me.
I continued my run. My mind turned to the events 3 weeks ago. It all started when they brought in the ice. I saw some black particles floating in the ice. They mentioned that it was a ‘zombie virus’ and that it had been there since the Ice Age. I didn’t believe it at first until the ice melted. The gruesome killings that were unfolding before me now proved me wrong.
I found a safe place to hide in the drainage system. It was damp and musty. It wasn’t the best place to avoid an apocalypse, but I wasn’t complaining. I had a bite-like scar, but I believe it came from an accidental scratch.
Chapter 2: There’s Something About This Lab
7:47 am: I flung my eyes open before my watch alarm rang. It was early, but down in the drains, the darkness disagreed with my time. I got up with a feeling of dread. After securing some canned food from the office pantry, which had been surprisingly untouched by the horde, I built a little ice wall at the drain entrance to conceal my presence. I observed the zombies as they scavenged the parking lot. I had my shotgun ready. There were no other signs of life. From my observations, the undead were fast, agile, and strong but not very smart. I also discovered their weakness from a recording in the research facility. Their weakness was noise above 130 decibels.
1:38 pm: I was looking for supplies when a weird-looking, maroon creature covered in translucent slime blocked the doorway. Though it resembled a regular zombie, it gave off a vibe that made my blood run cold. Suddenly, its limbs started to twitch as if possessed. It evolved from an average zombie into a full-grown embodiment of apocalyptic disaster. The temperature dropped and white particles began to fall. I grabbed my gun. Just as I was about to add “involuntary seizures” to my mental list of zombie weaknesses, the disgusting animal lunged at me with a scream. I dodged and fired a round of bullets. It was unfazed.
I rushed out and down the corridor. The monster was catching up, and I was running out of breath. I entered the lab and slammed the doors shut. I thought I was safe, but a liquid slipped through the door gaps. and transformed into the monster. I fired another round, but its tentacles lashed out at me and destroyed everything it touched. Barely dodging them, I threw a grenade, which got flicked away like a toy. The big explosion caused a small dent in the monster.
Suddenly, the fire that started made the monster shriek in agony. Flames engulfed its body, and I could hear its skin sizzling and shriveling. It stumbled out of the lab and all was quiet. Even the usual grunts of the zombie horde seemed to have subsided.
I heaved a sigh of relief. I had finally found out its weakness.
Chapter 3: Hallucinations
3:50 pm: I found myself walking through a black void. I turned and saw my daughter, Becky. She came over and hugged me. Was this real? I embraced her tightly, but white particles started consuming her body. Her face turned pale, and her pupils disappeared. With a shriek, she brought everything back to reality.
7:36 pm: I really wanted to escape this place, and I just got a ticket out. It had been a few days since I’d tried to get a phone signal. Other countries had failed, but I managed to contact BioTech Copenhagen Research Institute in Denmark. They would rescue me if I got past the exit. I could only get ready.
Chapter 4: Ice and Blood
2:56 pm: The sounds of the zombies were back. My plan was simple: scare the monster away, fight the zombies, and leave the base without getting infected whatsoever, so that the virus doesn’t spread to the world.
I reached the exit by slashing through zombies with my knife. At the exit stood a familiar figure hiding in the darkness, but I knew how to strike first. I threw a grenade, and it exploded over the beast. Flames scorched its tentacles. However, amidst the evident discomfort, it was eerily calm. It turned around and revealed the face of my daughter. I was flabbergasted. The face soon turned into my wife, then the workers around the bunker, their eyes bleeding. They called out, “Mike…Mike…”
“Snap out of it!” I told myself, but it wasn’t a mere hallucination. It was a distortion, morphing its face into different forms to trick me. I lit a wooden stick and threw it at the monster. It sidestepped and attacked. I dodged and ran for the exit. All of a sudden, maroon liquid covered the exit. I was stuck. It was either kill or be killed. I pulled out every grenade pin. The monster morphed into my daughter’s face. “Papa! What are you doing, Papa?”
I held back my tears as I threw all the grenades. A hundred suns blinded and scorched me. The monster’s painful screams became its final words before it went up in flames. Five minutes later, I found myself in a helicopter above the snow, looking at the sky that was painted black and orange. I lay down and smiled.
Chapter 5: Base
Surrounded by soothing gray walls, I walked uneasily through the familiar corridors of a hidden base. They were lined with faded photographs that seemed to whisper forgotten connections, some images even featuring me.
In the dimly lit office, the puzzle pieces finally clicked into place. The name Anders Jensen—a figure from my fractured past—sounded alarms in my head. He had been my boss, a merciless puppeteer orchestrating horrors. Memories surged forth, knitting together a narrative. I was actually James Harrington, experimented by Anders for my immunity for the virus, until I managed to flee and shed my old skin to become Mike.
Ander’s presence was perceptible, a reminder of a life I had left behind. I remembered the days of suffering I endured, and the life that I had before I escaped his wrath and became a security guard. It clicked, I grasped why the bite didn't infect me, and why I was the sole survivor.
“Welcome home, James,” Anders chuckled. I gasped and turned. Two soldiers loomed over me. One held a brick, and before I knew it, black took over.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"Your story is engaging and thrilling! I love your vivid imageries and descriptions, as well as the suspenseful and tension-filled battle scenes. Your writing kept me on my toes and gave me chills while I read. I would've loved to know more about what happened to Mike/James afterwards, and how he even got into this mess in the first place. It was a pleasurable experience to read your writing, hope to read more of your works in the future! Great job!" - Aliah
"Your story is gripping and intense, with elements of suspense, horror, and scientific intrigue. As a suggestion, try expanding on the hallucination sequence to create a sense of disorientation and psychological tension. Use descriptive language to convey the surreal and disturbing nature of these experiences. Additionally, emphasise the stakes and the emotional turmoil the protagonist experiences during the final climactic battle. Overall, your writing style is concise and emotionally resonant!" - Arissa
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Nur Ariana Syaffa Binti Norazeman
School: SMK Lutong, Miri
Title: The Bakery Bond
In the heart of Havenbrook, "Emma's Sweets" beckoned with the promise of warmth and connection. Emma, a spirited young woman, stood amid flour-dusted counters, her hazel eyes aglow with anticipation. The bakery represented a legacy close to her heart, a solemn vow to revive her grandmother's cherished establishment—a promise to rekindle the joy that had once filled its walls.
Liam, an architect of gentle demeanour, stepped into the bakery, his presence exuding a sense of tranquillity that beautifully offset Emma's boundless enthusiasm. Liam's visits had become a cherished routine in Emma's life, a steady anchor in the tempest of emotions that came with bakery ownership.
"Good morning, Emma," Liam's voice carried a soothing cadence, a familiar greeting.
"Morning, Liam! Ready to savour some of my latest creations?" Emma's eyes twinkled mischievously as she presented a tray of pastries.
Liam chuckled warmly. "Absolutely. You always manage to surprise me."
Their playful banter was a comforting melody that filled the air, a gentle touch between them sending a pleasant shiver down Emma's spine. As Liam savoured the first bite, a look of pure delight graced his face, and Emma's heart swelled with a sense of accomplishment.
"Emma, these are amazing," Liam praised, his eyes locked onto hers.
"Only the best for my favourite customer," Emma quipped, a playful glint in her eyes.
Their camaraderie was punctuated by shared laughter, a connection that deepened with each passing day. Emma and Liam found solace in each other's presence, their bakery becoming a sanctuary where their hearts found refuge.
One sunny afternoon, bathed in golden light streaming through the bakery windows, Emma and Liam stood side by side, preparing a batch of cookies for an upcoming event. The aroma of vanilla and warm dough enveloped them, creating a cocoon of comfort and togetherness.
“I bet the school would love these cupcakes!” Emma exclaimed as she inspected a tray of muffins fresh from the oven.
“Of course, they will! Anything you make tastes amazing, Em,” Liam replied as he carefully stored cupcakes with white pearls into delivery boxes, ready to be sent to Havenbrook High School’s celebration in a few hours.
Their camaraderie extended beyond the bakery's walls as they arrived at the event venue, setting up and displaying their delectable treats. The table was a visual feast, adorned with cupcakes in every conceivable hue and more. Liam's genuine smile captured the attention of onlookers, and Emma couldn't help but admire his unwavering dedication.
Suddenly, a van labelled ‘De James’ arrived.
"Who's that?" Emma asked, surprise lacing her voice.
"De James...I've heard of them before. They're a newly established bakery, much like yours, Emma," Liam explained as he rearranged the delicacies for display. As the van parked, Emma's heart felt the weight of an anchor.
Liam's words in the air, and Emma's heart sank. The news of "De James," a newcomer to the bakery scene, participating in the upcoming competition had cast a shadow of doubt over her.
Liam noticed Emma's locked gaze and the slight jittering of her fingers. He swiftly covered her hands with his own. His blue eyes bore into hers, filled with genuine concern. "Why? Are you worried?" he asked, his voice a soothing balm.
Emma snapped back to the present, meeting Liam's gaze. She hesitated, before confessing, "It's just...my grandmother entrusted this bakery to me. I promised her I would revive it and bring it back to its former glory, but sometimes..." Her voice trails off, and she turns her attention to the table, her eyes avoiding Liam's.
Liam's eyes glistened with empathy, recognizing his own past doubts in her words. His hand reached out to her shoulder, offering comfort. "To me, Emma, there is no one else but you who can do that," he affirmed with a warm, trusting smile. "You're amazing, clever, and incredibly talented!" His gestures emphasized his enthusiasm. "What I'm saying is, don't worry about that. There's a reason why your grandmother put you in charge. She believes in you, and I do too. Not just me, your parents, the townspeople, we all think you're doing a wonderful job."
"But what if I'm not skilled enough? I haven't mastered any of the recipes my grandmother..." Emma's voice quavered with doubt and panic.
Liam's assurance flowed like a gentle river, unwavering and calming. "Then we'll learn together," he declared, his words infused with unwavering support. "It's not like you can be good at everything, right? Let's master those recipes together. I'll help you! We can refer to your grandmother's cookbook or scour the internet for resources. We can do it. You can do it." His reassurance created a soothing harmony, and Emma felt a wave of relief wash over her. She smiled, her determination reignited.
"Thanks, Liam," Emma said, her voice laced with newfound resolve.
"Of course! Now these sweets aren't going to serve themselves," Emma added with a playful giggle, her worries momentarily replaced by a spark of enthusiasm.
Flour-covered hands and playful banter became the rhythm of their friendship. Emma's creativity blossomed as she experimented with new recipes, and Liam was her willing taste tester, offering candid critiques and heartfelt praise. Their shared passion for the bakery was the foundation of their connection, and each day spent together deepened their bond.
As the town buzzed with excitement over the upcoming baking competition, Emma and Liam stood side by side, a united front. They were determined to showcase the bakery's charm and culinary artistry, hoping to secure victory and preserve the legacy that had brought them together.
Their days were a whirlwind of preparation. Flour dusted the counters, frosting was piped with precision, and laughter echoed through the bakery. With each shared moment, their connection deepened, and their affection for each other bloomed like the confections they crafted.
The day of the baking competition arrived—a culmination of their hard work and shared aspirations. As judges sampled their creations, Emma's heart raced, her gaze often finding Liam's amidst the bustling crowd. Their connection was a source of strength, a reminder that they were in this together.
As the competition reached its climax, Emma's confections dazzled both the judges and the townspeople, embodying the essence of her grandmother's wisdom and her own creative spirit. The bakery's charm and Emma's heartfelt dedication won the competition, securing victory and safeguarding the bakery's future.
Amidst applause and cheers, Emma and Liam stood shoulder to shoulder, their smiles reflecting the sense of accomplishment swelling within them. The connection they had forged over flour-dusted counters and shared dreams had led them to this triumphant moment.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm, golden glow over the town, Emma and Liam exchanged a knowing glance, a silent acknowledgement of their remarkable journey. Their bond had evolved from a chance encounter into something profound, a connection woven with shared dreams, unwavering support, and the sweet moments that painted their days.
In the midst of flickering candlelight and the scent of victory in the air, Emma and Liam realized their connection transcended their shared passion for baking. It was a love story, etched in flour and frosting, woven through time —an enduring bond that had blossomed amidst the warmth of "Emma's Sweets."
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"This was a beautiful story. The constant referrals to the baking and the way you described every part of the story so decadently was a treat to read. You had all the main parts of a great story and the success that came with Liam and Emma's tireless efforts tasted especially sweet. Overall, wonderful piece of work. Keep it up!" - Nicole
"A heartwarming tale indeed! Filled with smooth flowing dialogue, relaxed narration and such a positive semantic field, this story is indeed the kind that leaves readers with a positive feeling, seeing the jovial and warm attitudes the characters have in support for each other. This story delivers the lesson of how important support and bonds are in tranforming our jobs or endeavours into true successes in such a lovely way." - Yumnah
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Low Qian Ling
School: Cempaka International School, Damansara
Title: The Other One
“Once upon a time”. That’s how all fairy tales begin. I thought of beginning this tale with that phrase, too. But this story is nothing like a fairy tale.
I was born in the charming town of Willowsbrook, where cobblestone roads wound through quaint houses and vibrant gardens. For years, my sister Emma had always been considered the ‘main character’ of our lives. With her straight-A grades, impeccable manners, and impressive list of accomplishments, everyone loved her. Of course they did.
While Emma basked in the glow of success, I often found myself cast in the shadows. I was the one who doodled on my assignments, the one who got lost in daydreams during class. I’d long accepted my role as the ‘other one’.
This story began on a day that seemed just like any other. As the sun’s rays painted the town with golden hues, Emma set out for her usual jog by the river.
As soon as I woke up, I placed myself at the window, waiting for Emma’s return. I’d found something interesting in our backyard, and I couldn’t wait to show her. Minutes turned into hours, but Emma never returned. I felt my heart thumping wildly in my chest, its rhythm matching the rhythm of my racing thoughts. Where was Emma? Could something have happened to her? Why hadn’t she returned yet? I raised my hand to my mouth, nibbling on my fingernails. My palms, I realised, were slick with sweat. Was Emma alright? What if she was…? I shuddered at the thought.
Word of Emma’s disappearance spread like wildfire, leaving everyone in shock. It was as if the main character of the story had vanished, leaving an unsettling void in its wake.
I usually stayed in the background, but I found myself being thrust into the spotlight. However, it wasn’t the good kind of spotlight. What seemed like thousands of people approached me, pestering me with questions about Emma. “When was the last time you saw her?” “Do you have any idea where she could have gone?” “Have you called the police?” “Aren’t you going to try looking for her?”
We’d called the police, and they said they’d do everything they could to find her, but I didn’t believe them. I was the one who knew Emma best. I was the one she was closest with. I was the only one who could find her.
But how would I go about trying to find my missing sister? What was the first thing I should do? Her room, a voice in my head said to me. Of course!
When I entered the room I’d once shared with Emma, to say I was shocked was an understatement. The shelves, once filled with her trophies and certificates, were bare. Clothes were scattered all over the room; it was difficult to tell which were clean and which weren’t. Who would’ve thought the room of the town’s ‘main character’ would be so disorganised?
I sat at Emma’s desk, recognising one of the books on it. It was remarkably thick and had a bright cover with cats on it. It was her diary; she’d had it since we were kids.
Flipping through the book, I smiled as I recalled the adventures we’d had as children. My smile dropped, however, when I came across the latest entry. It was dated September 12, two days before Emma’s disappearance. As I scanned the entry, I felt my heart sink in my chest.
I find myself at crossroads once again, grappling with the relentless pressure to be perfect. It’s exhausting, to maintain the image that others expect of me. What people don’t see are the nights I lie awake, thoughts of failure plaguing my mind. The number of tears I’ve cried into my pillow. Even the simplest tasks are tainted by this pressure. I used to love playing the piano, but now every note feels like it’s being judged. Every stroke of my brush, every keystroke on my computer – they’re all scrutinised as if they hold the key to my worth as a person.
Hugging the book, I sank down on Emma’s bed. Why hadn’t I seen that she was struggling? Why hadn’t I seen through her facade? I was supposed to be the one closest to her. I was supposed to be the one she could trust. Why hadn’t I known how she felt? I punched her pillow angrily.
Opening the book again, I read through the last journal entry once more. Upon closer inspection, I noticed several of the letters were bolded.
I scanned the text, hunting for those bolded letters. They had to have a meaning, right?
W. E. A. V. E. R. S. O. C. I. E. T. Y.
Weaver Society. Emma had told me stories about them when we were young. The Weaver Society was a secretive group of people comprising influential figures in Willowsbrook, including the town’s mayor, Richard Covington. Eleven years ago, my parents discovered the Society’s motives and the scandal of the past. My parents were promptly taken care of.
But what did they have to do with any of this?
A message popped up on my phone, and I quickly opened it, feeling a knot forming in my stomach as I read the message.
Want to see your sister again?
I quickly texted back, my fingers lingering for barely a millisecond over each letter. My hands were shaking so much that it took me three tries before I managed to type the message correctly: Who are you?
The sender responded almost immediately. Remember the Weaver Society?
I felt as though my heart stopped. The Weaver Society had gotten rid of my parents. What if they got rid of Emma, too?! What do you want from me?
Unlike the first time, the sender took a little longer to respond. We have been watching you, Olivia Langley. Join us, and we will help you achieve everything you’ve ever dreamed of.
I paused. If I were to join them, the town would finally recognise me as something more than ‘Emma’s little sister’.
A small voice in my head scolded me for even entertaining the idea. What about your sister? What if she gets pushed into the background? You can’t do this to her, Olivia.
I banished the voice to the darkest corners of my brain. This wasn’t Emma’s story. This was mine. I was the main character now. I typed an eager response, agreeing to join the Weaver Society, but before I sent the message, guilt hit me like a wall.
I couldn’t join these people. These were the very people who murdered my parents. I deleted my previous response, instead sending: No. I won’t.
I sat by the river where Emma had last been seen, sketching the sunset as a gentle breeze rustled the pages of my sketchbook. The evening sun painted the sky in hues of gold and orange.
“Olivia!” a voice shrieked. A voice so familiar, so unmistakeable…It couldn’t have been anyone else. I looked up to see Emma running towards me, eyes bright and arms open. Laughing loudly, I threw my arms around her.
Maybe I wasn’t perfect, but that didn’t matter. I had a loving family, amazing friends and a world of opportunities before me. What more could I ask for?
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"A tale that begins with typical sibling rivalry with one sibling seemingly perfect and the other in their shadow quickly turns into a question of what you are willing to sacrifice for them when calamity strucks. This story poses a food for thought for readers who may empathise with such a protagonist. Adding the element of a secret society of affluence in the mix furthers the stakes of the dilemma between family and gain - a conflict which is beautifully resolved by the end." - Yumnah
"Your story is intriguing and well-executed! I love the creative use of finding the clue of Emma's whereabouts with the diary entry and the bolded letters. I also particularly enjoyed that you explained both Emma and Olivia's perspective on themselves int their daily lives. I would've loved to know more about what actually happened to Emma during her disappearance. Overall, you wrote wonderfully, keep up the good work!" - Aliah
MYAA 2023 JUNIOR MERIT
Name: Cheryllea Wong Suet Lea
School: Sri Sempurna International Secondary School
Title: Wicked Fox
Genre: Asian Tales
The forest was silent as death. And that meant that it was not empty. Yasuko stalked through the trees, listening for the low hum of an engine. If Emiko was correct, her target was somewhere in the Rikugien Gardens. The young shaman had been friends with Yasuko since they met nine years ago. Emiko could summon a Yurei, a restless spirit, almost as easily as moving her hand.
Yasuko Takahashi is a 16-year-old living in Tajiri with her overly protective father, Haruto Takahashi. She is a nine-tailed fox that lives among humans, as she has for her entire life.
Yasuko held her phone to her ear. “I don’t think Kurei is here, Emi. I’ve searched the whole forest, but I still can’t spot any signs of him.” Emiko hesitated, then replied, “He has to be there. If I know my Yurei, that a**hole is somewhere in the gardens.” There was a pause before her voice came over the line, softer and laced with fear. “He murdered her in cold blood, Yasuko. With absolutely no hesitation.”
“Which is why I’m going to suck his reikon dry,” Yasuko replied harshly. She slid the phone into her pocket, but not before she heard Emiko mutter, “If he even has a soul anymore.” Yasuko crouched down low, letting her wilder instincts take over.
Before she could register what was happening, Yasuko shot forward in a sudden burst of speed, racing through the forest. She curved towards the southwest corner of the gardens, hoping she’d find Kurei before something else did. Finally, she heard it. A faint, yet clear, sound resonated through the trees. Her ears detected it immediately, and Yasuko ran towards its source.
She exploded through the trees and crashed right into her target. They rolled across the ground, dirt and mulch mixing in their hair. After a lot of struggling, Yasuko caught Kurei in a headlock and slammed him against a tree. Gasping for breath, he choked out, “What do you want with me, kitsune?” Yasuko bristled at the name. “How do you know what I am, Hito?”
“I’ve killed many of your kind,” he rasped. “I think it’s fair to say that I know when I’ve run into another fox.” Yasuko released Kurei, before grasping his throat and thrusting him against a tree trunk. He pulled at her hands, trying to free himself. “Did you get him?” A voice peeped from Yasuko’s back pocket. “Oh, yeah,” she said, slipping the phone out with her free hand.
“I’d like you to meet Emiko Yamamoto,” Yasuko hissed, shoving the camera into his face. Kurei paled visibly. “A shaman,” he said in wonder. “She helped you find me.” “That’s not the point,” Yasuko snarled. “Why did you kill Haruko?” Emiko finally choked out. “She was my mother, you murderer!”
Kurei tilted his head, confusion warring with his features. “Who?” he asked finally. “Haruko Yamamoto!” Emiko cried, eyes narrowing in anger. Her voice lowered dangerously and she bit out, “Well, of course you forgot her. My mother was just another hapless victim, wasn’t she? Just someone worthless who you would murder and then immediately forget about the next day?” “Is that what my mother is to you?!” Emiko screeched.
The entire time she had been letting loose her fury, Kurei had been looking at her with a puzzled expression plastered to his face. “I’m sorry, but I really, really don’t know who that is,” He said at last. Emiko was about to protest, but Yasuko stopped her. “Wait, Emi. I think he’s serious.” She took a deep breath and said slowly, “I’m going to let go. I trust you won’t run off because I can tell that you’re a man of your word.”
Kurei nodded briskly, his expression betraying nothing. Yasuko gently lowered him to the ground and gradually slackened her grip until he pulled away. “Yasuko, I don’t think this is a good idea…” Emiko warned. In reality, Yasuko had no intention of letting the man go. Her hunger was crowding in on her, tearing at her sanity. Still, she kept a straight face, determined to help Emiko find her mother’s killer.
Kurei took a careful step backward, testing how far he could go before the wiry kitsune chased him down. “No farther,” Yasuko warned. She doubted she could hold the monster at bay for much longer. “Alright, if you didn’t kill Emi’s mother, then who did?” Yasuko asked. “Her mother’s ghost wouldn’t just lie about her killer.”
Kurei said hesitantly, “I must admit that I did know the woman.” “How did you know her?” Emiko asked, anxious to know. “She was my only friend in middle school,” Kurei continued. “Haruko and I were always together. She was my other half, my subete. Eventually, we became... more than friends.”
Kurei glanced at Emiko before looking away hastily. “Are you suggesting that you’re my father?” Emiko exclaimed. He looked down at his feet in shame. “Yes. You’re my child, Emiko Fujita.” Her eyes had gone wide with surprise and wonder. “I still have a parent in this world, Yasuko. I still have a Chichi, just like you.” Suddenly, Yasuko went very still. “Yasuko?” Emiko said, worried. The phone dropped from the kitsune’s hand and fell to the forest floor.
“Yasuko, please no!” Emiko cried, knowing what would happen next. Kurei’s eyes widened as Yasuko’s hands snaked out and grasped his neck. She lifted him into the air. “I can’t wait any longer, Emi!” she growled, fighting to keep the monster away. “Do something!” she roared at Kurei, who reached for his knife.
With a gasp, he grasped the hilt and dragged it out of his pocket. He lifted the blade and drove it into Yasuko’s arm. She screeched and threw him across the clearing, letting him land roughly. Her vision had completely gone crimson. With a snarl, she tore the knife out of her arm. Yasuko inspected the cut and turned toward Kurei, who was buried under a pile of twigs. She fought against the demon with all of her willpower, pushing it away from her consciousness.
Finally, Yasuko fell to the ground unconscious. The beating of her heart had diminished. She had banished the monster inside her for good. But by doing so, Yasuko had extinguished the eternal fire that made up her soul. “What happened?” Emiko squeaked from Yasuko’s phone. “Yasuko, what happened?” When she received no reply, Emiko yelled with all her might, “What happened!? Someone reply this instant!”
Kurei woke with a start and stood up, scattering the sticks. He ran over to the phone and picked it up hurriedly. “Yasuko is dead, Emiko,” Kurei murmured. “Your friend is dead.” Kurei heard heavy breathing coming from the other end and said again, “Yasuko is gone.” Suddenly, a scream came from the phone and he jumped.
He quickly turned the camera towards himself. Then he noticed it. A hideous beast was standing behind Emiko. The nightmarish creature resembled a middle-aged man, with pale, wrinkled skin. Tattered clothes hung to his frame, with specks of dark blood dotting his forehead. Kurei only had eyes for the knife that the monster clutched in its hands. And the blade coming out of Emiko’s chest.
--- END ---
(This story is unedited)
Comments from Judges:
"This was chilling! The twist in the middle was done well and I was surprised that the characters switched sides so quickly. The ending was abrupt and left readers with a sense of horror. Overall, good work!" - Nicole
"Themes of strong relationship ties and vengeace tie this piece together so well amidst the mythical and fantastical premises of the story's setting. The delivery of high paced action scenes are done excellently, without gaps in the movement of the action. Unexpected reveals and the dialogue between characters create a deeply complex web of ties between them, and the tragic ending absolutely pulls the rug from underneath readers' feet. Excellent job." - Yumnah