Year 9 1st place – Power – Danica Bryant – Napier Girls’ High
“Give me a chip, and then we’ll talk,” Dawn smirked.“How’s summer?” Ivy called, lazing back against the wall. Her hair was scraggly, still dripping from the surf, and she had already scored fries as Dawn approached, wearing a baseball shirt so baggy the hem sat at her knees. Dawn lunged out in one swift movement to snatch a chip, but Ivy’s reflexes were lightning-fast. They both laughed into the sweeping wind.
“Go get your own!” Ivy laughed. Obediently, Dawn wandered into the dairy, sighing at the blast of air conditioning that rolled over her. Time seemed to be rolling slow and smooth, like honey, this summer. She didn’t bother browsing.
Sunlight spilled through the windows behind the counter, and she had to squint to pick out the right change. The man serving scowled as he handed over the fries, sourly double-checking her change.
Ivy grinned from outside as Dawn made her way towards the door. “Hey, did you hear-”
Suddenly, an ugly shouting exploded from behind. “Get back here!” Instinctively, Dawn whipped around, only to find the checkout man diving for her. There was no time to react. His clammy hand locked around her wrist, dragging her backward. The chips slipped from her grasp.
“What’s going on?” Dawn exclaimed, floundering for an escape.
“You’re a thief! You paid a dollar short, and I bet you filled your pockets too!”
Dawn opened her mouth to protest, but nothing came out. It was completely plausible. She’d struggled to count out her change in the sun.
“She didn’t steal anything from your stupid shop.” Out of the blue, Ivy burst inside. “Come on, Dawn. We’re leaving.”
And suddenly, Dawn was awake. Half of his accusation was reasonable. But she had definitely not ‘filled her pockets’. Panic was blooming in the pit of her stomach, an ultraviolet flower coming alive. She couldn’t form a single word.
“Girl can speak for herself,” he snapped. “Your friend is a rotten thief. Empty your pockets.”
The blow hit in a sudden motion. Dawn wasn’t the same as him. If Ivy, with her pale complexion, had paid a dollar too short, it’d be dismissed as a simple mistake. But Dawn’s skin was caramel, darker than theirs. And this man used it to define her.
Anger tore through her like lightning. She pulled up the baggy shirt to show him the shorts she wore; no pockets. Then she dug out all the change left in the pouch of her shirt, slapping it into his hand.
“I’m South African,” she snapped. “That doesn’t make me a burglar. I made a mistake, and you criminalised me instantly.” Inside of her stomach, the panic was starting to wither. Power raged inside of her, bucking and heaving, an energy to crush all mankind.
“I’m innocent.” Tears began to split her rage apart, knocking down the floodgates slowly but surely. Dawn stared down the man one last time. And in silence, she turned and ran.
Year 10 1st place – The Night of the Wrong Answers – Kayla Campbell, Freyberg High School
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” he screamed.
Through the whirling rain, the cold gleam of metal glinted in the light of the moon’s unblinking eye. The wind drove into crescendos, exclamation points like spears of dark fortune on their ears.
A challenge. Silence. Click. Checkmate.
Unstable home life. Bullied. Outcast. Suicidal.
Damien Ross sat in the uncomfortably still courtroom, listening to the excuses of a girl who could no longer be present through the propaganda mouthpieces of those who had once lived in her vicinity. He sank lower in his seat, trying to fit the bent pieces together.
But there was nothing that made sense. Of course it didn’t. Nobody had known Leith Rose.
Damien ran a hand through his hair, scrutinizing the sums on the whiteboard and slotting the numerals in the right places. He glanced at the girl beside him, at the dark hair shrouding her face, the pencil clutched in her pale hand.
Leith Rose. She had always seemed somewhat complicated. He was halfway to cracking her code—he would always solve the sum in the end—but she was a difficult one.
Class dismissed. Damien watched Leith pack away her books; slowly, as if her world was rimmed with silver; like if she got too close she’d cut herself on the edges. He swung his bag over his shoulder. He was patient; he had time.
He had never failed to solve an equation before.
They asked him to speak, but he had nothing to tell. Legs juddering like the support beams of a building ready to collapse inwards, he made his way to the witness box. There was nothing like the feeling of the eyes locking onto him.
He remembered the tiny origami butterfly Leith had passed him that fateful day, the small handwriting: Meet at Two Tree Point. 8pm.
What was wrong with him, they wondered—pressing him for words, pushing him forward onto the cold wood of the witness box. He was suffocating and afraid and the silence screamed in his ears like the wind at Two Tree Point on the Night of the Wrong Answers.
“Damien, you’re the smartest kid in our class,” she said.
Damien stared at her, unsure of what she meant. The wind and rain spun around them in a flurry of 8 o’clock darkness. “Um…”
Leith slid something from her pocket, pressing it to her temple. The metal glimmered darkly, reflecting off the city lights below them. She looked at him coldly. Damien was numb, but he knew his jaw was slack. He knew his eyes were wide. He knew so many things and yet none of them were of any use…
“Damien,” Leith said, “Tell me why I shouldn’t pull the trigger.”
Damien Ross stood, unspeaking, before the uncomfortably still courtroom. Leith Rose spun in his mind, her words—the impossible question—echoing eternally. The silence before him was loud.
As loud as the bullet that had followed in the wake of his wrong answer.