Bella Finkel - Age 11
Second Place Winner
Young Voices Foundation Tell A Family Story Contest
Storee Wryter is happy to introduce you to a talented young writer. Bella Finkel is from New Port News, Virginia. Her short story, Phoenix, took second plase in the Young Voices Foundation Tell a Family Story writing contest earning her a $50.00 cash award. Like Storee, Bella loves writing.
"I began identifying myself as a writer in the third grade when I became interested in poetry, although I have written for as long as I can remember.
Writing releases a part of me that I can then bring to life on paper. It allows me to take bits of what I’m thinking and create a person or a situation inspired by my thoughts.
By doing so, I learn about myself as a writer and, more broadly, as a person.
I feel that one of the best things about writing is that it allows you to take pieces of your life and emotions and create someone who you can relate to and understand, even though they are a completely different person from yourself. This requires you to be observant of your own emotions and reactions, as well as the emotions and reactions of those around you. The difficult part is applying those emotions to situations you’ve never experienced, and continuing with accurate descriptions throughout the story.
Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a book that I would strongly recommend. The quality of the writing is wonderful, and it corresponds perfectly with the setting, characters, and overall message."
Writing Prompt: Write a short story about a person who reminds you of a particular animal. What traits do they share?
What would happen if they became that animal? What conflicts could arise because of their transformation?
Here is Bella's Prize Winning Story
Shimmering moonlight filtered through the open window, mingling with the moist heat generated by the Maryland sun on the third of July. I was sitting on my bed, letting my mind wander out with the stray dogs and barbeques that were occupying the world that was oblivious to my thoughts. Just as my mind floated back to my bedroom a cry of anger shot from the hallway.
“Eric! Stop flushing my hair ties!”
The voice was unmistakable, and so was the raspberry that followed. As I got out of bed and peered into the hallway I was unsurprised to see my older sister Karen glaring down at five year old Eric, who was clutching a handful of dark brown hair ties.
"They isn’t yours.” He said defiantly. “They’re Erin’s.
“Oh you little snot.” I muttered, entering the bathroom.
“You said it, Erin. “
“Geez Eric, where do you get these ideas, flushing hair ties, seriously?”
“I was bored.” He replied, and at that he blew another raspberry and ran off towards the kitchen.
Feeling as though I had just lost a difficult battle, I slumped to the floor and began collecting the contents of Eric’s previously hair tie filled hand. Just as I plucked the last one from the rug, Eric came racing through the hall, clutching an Independence Day sparkler.
“Look what I got!” he said gleefully, brandishing his starlit metal stick. “
Eric! Be careful!” I shouted one moment too late.
A runaway spark hit a corner of the curtains, the sparkler went out, and the curtain burst out in flame. Too stunned to move or speak, I watched Eric dart into his bedroom to escape the dancing wall of flame. Smoke curled around the doorway, forming a dark curtain between us.
“Eric!” I coughed, fighting my way through the billowing clouds of smoke. “Eric!
The voice that answered me was small and faraway.
“Erin, Erin help.”
I tried to move closer but a pair of hands grabbed my shoulders and pushed me to the ground. I was getting pulled, pulled out of the room, pulled away from Eric.
“No!” I tried to shout, but could only manage a strangled cry. I coughed, trying to rid my lungs of the fire’s vapors. “Eric!” I struggled against the hands that were dragging my suffocating body “Eric!” I heard a door open and felt my legs being dragged down cement. “Eric!” I took a gulp of air, feeling pure oxygen settle in my lungs. My mind emptied, and everything went black.
I awoke a few moments later to discover myself lying on the grass, surrounded by my family, but they weren’t looking at me , they were looking at the house. The house, the smoke, the fire, everything came flooding back to me in a wave of horror.
“Eric.” I murmured, sitting up. Immediately I regretted it. As my spine curled into a sitting positionmy stomach lurched and my head began to spin painfully. I forced my eyes into focus and looked around at my family. My mother and Karen, huddled together, silent tears glistening on their somber faces. My father was standing up, staring at the house, worry sparkling in his sky blue eyes.
“Daddy.” I whispered, hoping he could offer comfort, tell me all of this was just a dream, that I was safe in my bedroom and all I needed to do was turn on the light. Slowly, he bent his knees and arranged himself in a squat.
“Erin.” He said, putting his arms around me. “Oh, Erin.” It seemed that his soft arms and gentle hand that stroked my hair squeezed the tears out of me. I began to sob, softly at first, and then louder, and louder, until even the moan of the fire engines couldn’t be heard over my wails of grief.
The next remaining hours passed in a haze. A sweaty car and stale turkey sandwich swept vaguely over my consciousness. I dreamt of a strange boy being surrounded by flames, a bald crow soared above the smoke, calling out. “Erin! Erin!”
I awoke in a cold sweat to a strange room. Daylight had just begun to filter through the curtains, and a woman’s voice echoed through he hallway. “Erin, you up? We’re having pancakes, they’re ready when you are.” I rose and pulled on the loose grey t-shirt and baggy jeans that had been left at the foot of my bed, after examining myself in the mirror I turned the brass doorknob and followed the smell of pancakes down a long dark hallway. I rounded a corner and glimpsed the kitchen, feeling a lump rise in my throat. Mom and Dad were huddled together over a single cup of coffee, Karen was hiccupping loudly across a glass of orange juice, Eric was nowhere in sight. I felt my legs carry me across the carpet and onto the linoleum, stopping short at the edge of the table. My father’s eyes met mine, then sank back into his coffee. “ Eric’s in the, hospital.” He whispered hoarsely.
As I sank into a chair a woman stumbled into the kitchen, carrying a tray of overdone pancakes and burnt bacon. “Erin!” she bellowed. “Glad to see you up! Here, have a pancake.” She swiped a spatula under the top layer of the pile and slapped it onto a plate with and unappetizing plop. “Here you go.” She said, scanning me thoughtfully with her chocolate brown eyes. “My you’ve grown, I haven’t seen you since you were, oh, five or six. I don’t suppose you remember me, do you?” she asked before continuing. “No, of course you don’t. I’m your Aunt Mauleen, your father’s sister, and that” she said, gesturing at a tired looking man emerging from the hallway, “is my husband, your Uncle Henry.” At the sound of his name the man gave me a weary smile that quickly turned into a yawn. “Any coffee left Mauly?” he asked, pulling up a chair beside me. “Plenty dear.” She said, planting a kiss at the top of his balding head before hurrying off to the coffee pot. I could feel Henry’s eyes looking curiously at the side of my head, but I couldn’t seem to make myself care.
I grabbed the fork and knife that lay on either side of my plate and began to attack my flimsy pancake, struggling not to picture Eric, burned and bruised lying in a pale white hospital bed. I forced the image out of my mind and stuffed another bite of pancake into my mouth, noticing as I did so that everyone had left the kitchen except Henry and me. Feeling that this was my cue to go, I left my rubbery pancake and followed my parents’ voices out to the front porch where Mauleen was ushering them into an old white Corolla. “We’re going to the hospital to visit Eric. Mom said in a high-pitched voice that didn’t belong to her. “ They only allow the parents in, but we’ll be back in time for supper.” The doors slammed and the car backed out of the driveway, taking my parents with it.
Suddenly tears welled up in my eyes, Eric was gone, and now my parents were leaving too. I pressed my body against Karen, who put her arm around me. She too had tears glistening on her cheeks. “I love you, Erin.” She said softly, resting her head on top of mine. Her silky red hair flowed down my face, camouflaging itself in mine as it swept away my tears. “I love you.” The afternoon and evening passed in an uneventful episode of checkers and cards. Dinner was a quiet affair punctuated by my mother’s teary sniffs and Mauleen’s bold attempts at conversation. Needless to say I was glad when Karen and I were dismissed for bed. I snuggled onto my cot and quickly settled into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I awoke in the early morning to a chilly bed and full bladder, cursing myself, I rose and staggered down the hallway to the bathroom, greatly anticipating the moment I could get back in bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I emptied my bladder and walked in back to my room, burying myself in covers, but as I pulled the blankets over my head, a soft sob echoed from the opposite side of the room where Karen lay. “Eric.” She murmured, “Eric.” Although her lips quivered and her head tossed from side to side, she remained in a deep slumber. I rose and walked over to her, placing my hand in hers. “Karen.” I whispered, stroking her hair. “It’s okay, it’s okay.” She rolled over and let out another loud sob. “Eric!” I tried to grab her hand but she pulled away at my touch. “Eric! No! Eric!” Her voice cracked into a multitude of tears, I resumed my petting of her hair, and slowly, she quieted. Her eyes began to open, scoping out the room before looking at me. “Oh Erin, I’m sorry, it’s just… Oh Erin, I pulled you out of the fire, I pulled you out of the fire, I pulled you out of the fire just like I did, but Eric…” Her eyes swelled with tears at the mention of his name. “Oh Erin, I left Eric, how could I take you and leave Eric? How could I abandon my little brother? How could I…?” Before she could finish her sentence, her words were overcome by a flow of tears. “Shh” I whispered. “You’re okay, Eric’s okay, everything’s going to be okay.” And I knew it would be.
For the next two weeks each day passed just like every other. We got up and ate breakfast, Mom and Dad visited Eric at the hospital, and Karen and I killed time until their return. Dinner was eaten, dishes washed, and Karen and I retired to bed. We followed this schedule until the fateful day that Dad found us an apartment.
“My darling daughters, I have an announcement to make.” We sat in a circle on the living room rug. Dad stood at the front, talking in a manner that sounded uncannily like our state congressman. He looked around at us and beamed, pausing for dramatic effect. “Eric’s been discharged.” Karen whooped and laughed aloud, I felt tears well up in my eyes. “Eric’s…?” “Discharged, that’s right, and to celebrate, I have rented us an apartment with a two year lease.” A smile spread onto my face and my mind began to race. “When do we move in?” I asked, happiness flooding through me. “Well we see it tomorrow. You and Karen and I will drive there while your mom picks up Eric. After that we’ll unpack what’s left of our stuff, buy a few new things, and start living in our own house again.” We were living in our own house again, we were going home.
The car bumped along happily, bouncing us higher with every cheerful word we spoke. The conversation bobbed through the air, floating on a cloud of laughter and hope. We pulled up in front of a small apartment complex. Although unimpressive, it was neat and clean, with a row of petunias lining the chalk white sidewalk. “Here we are family, welcome home.” Dad smiled and unlocked the car doors, beckoning us to exit. I climbed out onto the sidewalk and looked around at the building, three blocks of solid red brick, blue lace curtains peeping out of sunny windows. We followed Dad down to the sidewalk to the very last door, entering our house through a large sitting room with bright yellow walls that reflected the sun as it beamed through the window. I looked around in awe at our new home, it seemed amazing that we could live together again after what had happened. That we could still be a family after the fire that tore us apart. The doorbell rang, and my excitement soared, I raced to the door and hurled myself at the handle, revealing the figure that stood at the threshold. “Can senator Harrison count on your vote this upcoming election?” Unaware of my rudeness, I turned around and slammed the door. Disappointment flooding through me, I walked back down the hall and into my bedroom, flopping down on my mattress. I closed my eyes and let myself sink into a deep daydream.
I dozed until late afternoon when I was awoke to a rustling noise next to my mattress. “Erin, wake up!” My eyelids recognized the voice before my ears did, popping open to look into the face of a smiling Eric. I leapt up and pulled him into a bone-crushing hug, feeling him wince under the pressure of my arms. His left leg was wrapped in bandages and his complexion was pale, but he still wore the sandy brown hair and cheeky smile that always accompanied his boyish face. “Eric!” I cried. “You’re home! You’re wonderful! I love you!” Eric blushed. “I love you too.” I pulled him into another hug, careful not to squeeze him quite so hard this time. “I missed you” I whispered into his hair. “I missed you so much.” He was about to reply when we were interrupted by a knock at the door and Karen strode in, carrying an air of self importance. ‘Stir fry for dinner.” She announced, pulling us each into a one armed hug. “And chocolate ice cream for dessert.” She smiled and walked out of the room, beckoning for us to come. We followed her into her into the living room and squeezed ourselves into the lawn chairs that served as makeshift furniture. “I spy…” Karen started, but her words were interrupted by Mom’s call of “Supper everyone!”
We hurried into the kitchen and began devouring our food, and though dinner passed in few words, our ice cream was accompanied by many glad exchanges and plenty of laughter. When it came time to retire to bed, our stomachs were full of good food and happy prospects.
I laid myself down and zipped up my sleeping bag, falling into slumber almost immediately. Although I slept fast my sleep was not deep, and I awoke late into the night. Moonlight shimmered through my window and mice scampered through the walls, keeping me awake. At around midnight I heard my door creak open and felt a warm little body curl up next to me. “Erin,” It whispered. “Erin, I am scared, I don’t want our house to catch fire again, I don’t want us to burn.” “We’re not going to burn.” I said softly. “And our house isn’t going to burn either.” I placed a hand on top of his head and gave his hair a gentle ruffle. “Don’t worry.” He sighed and snuggled closer to me, his breathing became deep and steady, but just as I became certain that he had drifted off to sleep his voice echoed through the darkness. “Erin, why did I survive?” Suddenly the peace fell away and the air became thin. I paused, looking into his ocean blue eyes, it seemed that there was something beneath their depths, something dancing to some unearthly rhythm, glowing and sparkling like a hot coal. Eric had flames beyond his eyes, flames that had ignited not our house, but our lives into a roaring inferno of love and hope. “Because you are an angel.” I whispered. “Because you are our phoenix of gratitude and wonder and joy.” Eric nodded and smiled, as though to light the flame of our new life together as a family.