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Ten-year-old Evie Hinchliffe was the worthy winner of our 2013 competition with this wonderful and moving story about a girl who buys a very special gift ... Evie joined our writing programme after winning the competition and has continued to produce brilliant and original writing. Well done, Evie!

The Gift

ⓒ Evie Hinchliffe 2013

No luck. Despite spending all day searching, the shopping centre had been completely useless.

Heading quickly home under the mackerel sky, I noticed a cosy little shop, tucked away behind a huge block of flats. I had never seen it before, but a warm, welcoming light seemed to come from the large window.

There it was. She would love it. So did I: it was just what I had always wanted. But I wasn’t looking for a gift for me; I was looking for a gift for her.

Excited and relieved, I rushed towards the orange glow of the window. I pushed open the stiff, red door, not caring that the old paint had flaked away onto my new coat. Immediately I rushed to the huge bear in the window and picked it up. It was soft and plump, and I stood for a moment, full of envy, wishing I could buy it for myself.

“Can I help you?” came a quiet voice behind me.

I startled at the noise and suddenly felt stupid about standing there, hugging a teddy bear.

“Um ... yes. I would like to buy this bear, please,” I stuttered to the old woman who stood in the dim light. “For a friend,” I added, putting on my best smile to hide my scarlet face.

“That’s six pounds, please, my dear,” came her soft, coaxing voice again.

I got out my purse and frantically rooted through all the compartments. A five pound note, a fifty pence coin, new and shiny, and a twenty pence piece came out. Not enough. I sighed, took the money off the wooden counter and headed for the exit.

“Don’t leave,” the kind old woman said, in a slightly firmer tone. “Take the teddy. I can see how much you want it, dear.”

“It’s for a –”

“– friend, I know,” she said, as I dropped the money into her fragile hands, before turning and opening the door with the lovely toy under my arm. 

When I felt the rain pelting my hood, I snuggled the bear into my coat to shelter it. Then I began my journey home. It wasn’t far, but I couldn’t wait to see the beautiful gift again.

Finally I arrived at home. I quickly unlocked the door, threw my coat aside, kicked off my shoes and rushed upstairs, the coveted bear in my loving arms. It was two whole days until Lillie’s party. That meant I had two whole days to look after the teddy bear. Sighing, I sat on the edge of my bed and stroked the toy’s soft red fur. I wished and wished she could be mine, but she wasn’t; she couldn’t be. 

That night, embarrassed as I was, I took the bear to bed with me, and when I awoke, I hugged her and talked to her as if she were my little child. I didn’t realise at first, but I was becoming very close to this stuffed animal.

The next night, I did the same thing, cuddling the teddy like I did as a small child, telling it my worries. I told her how I hardly had any friends at school, how everyone just bullied me and made fun of me. I shared how shocked I had been to receive the invitation. It was so nice to have someone to talk to and love.

The day of the birthday party came. After one last hug, I carefully wrapped the bear in pink paper, tears streaming down my face.

Walking slowly to the party, I held the present tightly. As I approached Lillie’s house, the urge to turn back became bigger. I couldn’t bear to give my new-found friend away. I gripped the present so hard that the wrapping almost tore. 

I tried to relax. Calmly, I sat beneath a big tree nearby, debating what to do. I eventually decided that I had bought the present for Lillie, not me. I stood up, wiped my eyes, took a deep breath and walked on towards Lillie’s house. 

When I arrived at the front door, I took another deep breath and knocked. Although I hesitated when Lillie answered, I handed her the large parcel. 

She tore the paper. I waited. She pulled out the bear. I waited. She looked at me and smiled.

“Wow! Thanks Esme!”

And do you know what? The sudden burst of utter pleasure when I watched her face brighten with joy was worth a million of those pretty teddies anyway.

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Eleven-year-old Jack Womack was the winner of our short story competition in 2011. Here is his winning tale:

Andromeda

ⓒ Jack Womack 2011

In the beginning, my child, there were people who lived on the land, like us, and people who lived in the sea. The people of the land lived in discontent. Back then they were selfish, violent and never satisfied with what they had. The people of the sea, however, were quite the opposite. Living hidden away under the surface of the water, they were kind, generous folk. They rarely needed to rise from the depths and, when they did, they were frightened of what they saw. The sea carried upon its shoulders the debris of war and death. At night, loud, terrifying noises could be heard across the waves. Stories were told, rumours circulated: the land was a dangerous place and should not be visited.

However, one girl wasn’t scared. Andromeda was her name. She had long golden hair and a voice as sweet as honey. Many a night she curled up next to her grandmother and listened, wide-eyed, to stories of the land – the place you shouldn’t go, the place where danger lies and where they eat little girls for breakfast. But the stories didn’t scare her as intended. Instead they gave her a passion to explore the unknown. Life in the sea was uneventful, dull even. Her heart craved adventure and she knew that she had to follow it.

An opportunity presented itself one November evening. It was bitterly cold and food was running low. The sea folk were left with no choice but to search for a type of water herb that grew near the coast. The risk of going inland was high. The tides were so strong there you could be swept away to the unknown and never return. It had happened. Children had heard the story thousands of times, but it was so old that no one really believed it any more.

A group of experienced foragers was selected to go and they were soon on their way. What they didn't know was that, overtaken by curiosity, the girl with long golden hair had crept into one of the sacks they took with them. After an hour or two the group reached the place. They were so intent on getting the job done that nobody noticed Andromeda slip out of the sack and away. Silently she left the company and swam off into the big, black emptiness.

She swam on a little way and before long found land. She headed towards the surface of the water and eased herself up onto the bank of sand that rose in front of her. The water slowly parted over her head and the cool night air caressed her. She took a gulp of it. It felt cold in her lungs and shocked her for a moment. But the excitement soon returned and she found herself going forward, eager to find more.

Didorus, a merchant of the town nearby, was the only person about when Andromeda came ashore. He had been strolling by the sea, trying to come up with an idea to make him rich again. The beach was the only place he could think clearly, away from all the noise and confusion of the town. Unfortunately for him he had just lost half his stock to a fire at his home. His family had all burned, but it was his stock that he grieved for. Didorus did not think much of love. Love does not give us money, he reasoned as he walked. Money is power and without power we are as a small and insignificant as grains of sand.

When Andromeda emerged, a shining, shimmering shape, from the water, Didorus wondered at her strangeness, her beauty – and he saw an opportunity. Not wasting a moment, he strode over to where she was standing, grabbed her long golden hair and dragged her all the way into the town, her cries of protest falling on ears blocked by greed and self-pride.

Money was what Didorus needed and it is what he got. He took the girl to the local tavern, where he auctioned her off to the highest bidder. He didn't care what they did with her. He had money in his pocket and that meant he was back in the world that he loved.

As for Andromeda, the landlord of the tavern – her new owner – kept her prisoner in his cellar and only brought her out in the evenings for the townspeople to pay and see. Night after night, they would queue to stare at her, poking their fingers through the bars of her cage to pull at her hair and prod her glistening skin. Eventually she died of a broken heart, knowing that she could never again return to her homeland.

When the sea realised she had gone, it exploded with anger. Sometimes it would crash against the land, demanding the voice as sweet as honey. Other times it would simply crawl, its foamy fingers stretching towards the village, pleading, praying, to hold the long golden hair for one last time.

 


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