AUGUSTA — It pays to write well.

Just ask Maine high school students Amanda Dickey, Brianna Housman and Gaelyn Lindauer. Each student received a check for $2,500 on Thursday for their winning entries in the Maine Community College System’s “A Journey Into Writing” contest.

Dickey and Housman are juniors at Searsport District High School, and Lindauer is a junior at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish. “A Journey Into Writing” is open to all high school juniors and home-schooled students of the same age.

Six finalists were chosen from 151 entries in this year’s contest, representing 45 high schools. Other finalists were Alex Lurie of Brooks, a junior at Mount View in Thorndike; Olivia Dubois, a junior at Old Orchard Beach; and James Austin of Farmingdale, a junior at Hall-Dale. These three received $500 each.

Dickey won for her short story “No One to Hear Her.” Housman also wrote a short story, “She Fell.” And Lindauer won for a poem, “The Bottle.”

This is the eighth edition of the contest. Judges were Maine writers Susan Kenney, Bill Roorbach and Lewis Robinson.

Community College System president John Fitzsimmons joined Gov. Paul LePage in honoring the students. “We are very proud that this contest promoted excellence in writing,” Fitzsimmons said in a statement. “Over the past eight years, more than 1,800 Maine high school students have shared their work with us.

“It’s a thrill to know that the contest has generated interest in creative writing and encouraged students to prefect their writing.”

‘No One to Hear Her’

 By AMANDA DICKEY

Searsport District High School, Searsport

She wanders through life, in sync with the world. She is always at the top of her class, the most stylish girl in school, dating the popular guys and leading her squad to triumph. But everyone knows her only as what she seems to be, and nothing more.

She walks down the hall, Prada heels ticking against linoleum tiles; no one knows she had to shoplift to get them. Blue, white. Blue, white. Her hand is limp, knuckles bumping carelessly against blue lockers, lazily thumping over hinges. Dashes of rosy pink, flawlessly brushed across porcelain cheek bones, mirror thirsty, blood-red lips. A mouth stretched into a picture smile. Ocean blue eyes, hinted with flecks of green. Hair bouncing with jealous volume, golden curls showering her shoulders. A daisy-yellow skirt flows behind her, tucked over a creamy blouse, half-covered in a light-blue cardigan.

A flock of rednecks has already migrated in front of the Art Room. Her eyes follow a grubby, worn, once colorful hacky sack being thrashed about between feet. It’s slung between black DC sneakers, grayed with age, and heavy, brown work boots. She passes swiftly with a light descent, as if floating. A warm breeze of fruity floral perfume sways with her hips, catching their attention. The hacky flops to the floor in a heap of beads encased in knitted thread, as they gawk at her; some are gape-mouthed, some grinning: they’ve heard the rumors. She glances in her peripheral vision, just long enough to catch their eyes, and the words they exchange, often followed by the squawk of a degrading whistle. Hot. Prep. Skank. She does her best to swallow the cold, dry lump that has begun to form in her throat; it goes down like a tight ball of unchewed oatmeal, raising a fraction of a tear, which settles just above her lower eyelashes. She feels the urge to wipe away the drop of water, but refuses to let them bring her to this, not here, not now. She can feel their eyes follow her away, penetrating her invisible force field, reading her thoughts.

She lifts her head and carries on in feigned confidence. To her right she distinguishes a gathering of about twenty students. They are sprawled out across the hall; some are leaning against a barrier of lockers. As she passes, she gathers bits of dialogue revolving around the communist government in China. Others lay on the floor with their noses buried in Shakespeare or science fiction. These are the eccentrics, she categorizes to herself. A group of people with an unconscious obligation to excel in nearly everything, especially the arts. Some of the ugly ducklings gaze at her as she strides by, for they do not exceed in beauty.

A bell signals the beginning of block 1, and she gallops to Algebra 3. Thirty students congregate in the fluorescently lit room where she finds herself surrounded by math brains. The most unattractive among them is a scrawny boy with horrendous posture and pasty white skin. He looks as though he hasn’t been outside a day in his life. Half-grown patches of tinted peach fuzz grow above his top lip, which is cracked and chapped from the weather. More than 50% of his face is dominated by hot red patches of irritated skin. He wears crooked glasses that are too big for his thin face, that require him to keep readjusting with his index finger. Smudged and scratched with age, they magnify his alert, brown eyes. He smells of thick, prescribed ointment and stale sweat from the day before. He is dressed in a yellow and black striped, long-sleeve polo, with white cuffs and collar. No wonder the jocks call him “Bumble Door”. His shoulders are speckled with light flakes of dandruff, which fall loose from his dried scalp every time his body thrusts with a sneeze. Whenever he speaks to a peer about logarithms or exponents, his voice cracks with an unsure squeal. She looks away and focuses on the black board, repulsed…

“Good afternoon, girls. I am running cheer this year. You can call me Sara.”

She strides up in a dark purple track suit, her long brown hair gathered in a pony tail; clutching a black boom box with her left hand, and a dark blue mesh bag over her right shoulder.

She sets the stereo on the bottom bleacher, and the ‘ting’ of impact vibrates throughout the metal bench. She sits down and loosens the knot on the bag, revealing blue and white pom-poms. Each girl grabs a pair, selects a song on the boom box and takes center stage.

After tryouts, Sara announces that Abby will be leading them to another year of triumph, and she is appointed head cheerleader.

Later on, Bethany, Lily and Abby are headed across the field to the parking lot when the senior captain of the football team jogs up behind her, brushing her hand with his fingers.

“Hey,” he whispers in her ear. As if a secret.

“Since you’re the head cheerleader, and I’m the team captain, I am obligated to get your number. It’s a team rule,” he grins with straight, white teeth, and winks at her with his baby blue eyes.

“Okay,” she says, intrigued.

Abby takes a pink ballpoint pen from her backpack and scribbles her number on the inside of his wrist.

“I’ll talk to you later,” she says, and she sways off to catch up with her friends.

She meets up with them at Lily’s red Jeep Wrangler, her 18th birthday present; they’re leaning against the driver’s door.

“Lance Evans. You lucky tramp,” Lily slurs with a grin. Abby blushes and squeals,

“I know, right!”

Bethany lifts the handle of the passenger door, and swings it opened dramatically. She rolls down the window and blasts the radio.

“Oh don’t be jealous, Bethany!” Lily shouts over the music. She pulls open the door and hops into the driver’s seat.

“Abby, you coming?” asks Lily.

“No, she’s too good to ride with us, remember?” Bethany snaps.

“I’ll just walk,” Abby responds. She never went with them — and she had her reasons.

It’s almost dusk when she reaches her part of town. Sleek glass buildings turn to crumbling brick, and cobblestones to cracked cement. Her elongated, feminine silhouette follows her. The lonely cry of a police cruiser haunts the air. Abby stays close to the buildings, tracing the crevices of brick with her fingertips, over violent clashes of graffiti. There are dark gaps between buildings, and she can often make out groups of men, consumed by shadows; or an expensive car pulsating heavy rap from its smoky interior.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watches as seven large figures step onto the sidewalk, emerging from the shadows into the dim light of a crooked street lamp. They remind her of the rats that gather in groups and infest the sewers. She holds her head high with feigned confidence, and thinks of her cell phone, lost in her purse, which is buried in her duffle bag, slung over her shoulder.

She slips inside her building unnoticed. Her Converse sneakers glide down the familiar path, down the endless hallway toward her apartment. She fumbles with the keys, stumbles inside, and secures the locks with the ease of signing her name. She looks around and the scene is the same as the day before. Her four younger siblings surround her with hugs and stories of the day. She glances over the tops of their heads, searching for her mother. She spots her hand, hanging over the arm of the faded green couch. A half empty bottle of brandy sits on the coffee table, as if she could find happiness at the bottom.

Abby takes the worn blue blanket from the chest, and pulls it over her mother’s shoulders. She kisses her forehead and wanders down the hall to her bedroom. She sits at her vanity, gazing into the mirror as she carefully untangles her braids. She slips out of her preppy yoga outfit and into frumpy grey sweats and an apron.

At around midnight, she sets down the broom and dustpan. She creeps down the hall — peeking into the room which holds her siblings — and slides under the covers.

Moments after the lights go out, the cruel words creep out of her subconscious and infect her heart. Suspended in time, she props herself up, locked inside the four walls of her own mind. She clasps her hands around her face, and sobs until she is nearly drowning. The heat of breath against her palms softens the tears and makes it a challenge to inhale. Every now and then, a desperate whimper escapes from her throat.

She cries and cries, with no one to hear her.

 

‘She Fell’

By BRIANNA HOUSMAN

Searsport District High School, Searsport

It wasn’t the first time she fell. I remember her falling many times before then. My memories are very strange. They are like sharply outlined shadows. Very few are vivid enough to recall, and the rest are left in a cold, gray, uneasy fog. These memories trail behind me every day. They have become a dark, hunched, lanky figure with his hands in his pockets. I can always feel him breathing chilly air onto the nape of my neck, and occasionally he slowly runs his crooked, jagged nails up my back while he chuckles softly. Occasionally he will attack, grabbing me around the throat and flinging me to the ground. He stands behind me with his arms crossed, the corners of his thin mouth turned down and his eyes just two burning embers. I clutch my chest and stomach and rock back and forth, back and forth, and gasp for air. He doesn’t attack often, but when he does, it’s with a hard and violent anger. I really wish he wasn’t around. I wish he would follow someone else. But I still remember. I remember when she fell.

It was the middle of December. It was the coldest, hardest, and bitterest of winters. The kind that makes bones creak and muscles ache with a pulsing soreness. There were about four to five feet of snow. Plows had pushed loads of it into breathtakingly tall, virgin white piles. My chin and cheeks were hidden securely and toasty warm within my thick parka, and I was plodding down my driveway after the bus had dropped me off after school. I gave the front door a hard kick — it was always getting stuck — and went in as my dog, an elderly Scottish Terrier named Frankie, walked up to greet me. Even as a young pup she always walked. She never ran up to see me, or even “trotted” like some other dogs do. She just walked. She walked like a queen walking among her people, with a air of quiet dignity and self-assurance. She was always an old soul. She died a few months after that. I bent down on my knees and gathered her close to me, cradling her sweet, furry face in my hands and whispering softly. I got up and unloaded, pulling off my snow-caked boots, my hat, my jacket, and my gloves.

I heard the couch creak in the living room. I stopped momentarily, then proceeded to take everything else off, a little more quickly, left with only my T-shirt and ripped blue jeans on. I gathered all of my school supplies and headed to my bedroom. The living room was the only room in between. Keeping my head bent, I watched my feet move — well, shuffle — across the living room’s hardwood floor. No matter how quiet I tried to be, the floor was always noisy. I was halfway across the floor when I heard a guttural moan. I looked up and dropped all of my things. She was bent over a pot of hot water, her palms resting on the edge and her fingers sunk in deeply. She was breathing hard. I could see it was hard. It was very hard. She looked up, and her eyes were heavily hooded and clouded. I hated that look in her eyes. I hated that look more than anything. With effort, I looked at her right back. She looked down, gulped, and took her hands out of the water for me to see. I stopped breathing. The tips were at least three times as large as they should have been, and blotched with angry red. She put her fingers back in the water and closed her eyes.

She had frostbite. I knew that, but later my father told me the whole story. She had walked outside in her nightgown because she wanted to check the mail at the end of our driveway. She slipped on a patch of ice and couldn’t get up. She just couldn’t get up. She passed out and woke up two hours later, then dragged herself back inside the house and managed to heat up water for her frozen fingers. The next six months were absolute hell for her. She laid on the couch all day, every day, and sobbed, holding her fingers under her armpits. She screamed at night; that was when the pain was the worst. I remember her saying it was worse than childbirth. She couldn’t drive, and even when her fingers healed, she wore gloves when she drove, because her finger tips were so sensitive. She couldn’t do anything. It was hell for all of us.

There are other shadows. Other memories. One night she fell off the couch and hit her head on the coffee table, drawing blood. I led her to the bathroom, set her on the toilet, cleaned her cut with alcohol, then covered it with a Band-Aid. She mumbled something. I asked what she said, but she had passed out. Her head fell between her legs, and her arms hung like spaghetti at her sides.

Soon after that incident, I started sleeping upstairs in my father’s room. Downstairs, at night, all I could hear were crashes, thuds, her voice murmuring, and at times her shouting loudly and angrily. I was too afraid to sleep. I always slept up there occasionally — my father had a mattress upstairs just for me — but when she got worse I slept up there every night. I remember one night when she came upstairs (and she never came upstairs — that’s why I always slept there). I heard her walking up the stairs, and I covered my head with blankets. She called to my father, and I heard him get up and walk over to her.

“I want to see her,” she slurred.

I was hiding under the covers, trying to keep very still. Trying to disappear.

“No,” he whispered viciously.

I didn’t hear her say anything, but I imagined her glaring at him. I heard her walk down the stairs one by one. When I didn’t hear her anymore I jumped up and crept down the stairs. She was leaning against the wall. She pushed off with one hand and staggered to one side, then the other. Walking a little bit forward, and failing to find something to hold, she fell sideways into a chair, her legs flying up in the air. She pushed herself up and took a few steps forward, then leaned and fell directly into the bookshelf. I started down the stairs, and I felt my dad grab my arm gently.

“Don’t,” he whispered.

I looked back. She opened the door to her room and leaned her back against the frame, grasping it on both sides. She slid down slowly and hit the floor with a sick plunk, then leaned her head back. Her face was bathed in sweat, and small tendrils of her long hair had stuck to her cheeks and forehead. She was gasping. Her head sagged to one side, and she looked at me. I looked away.

I always looked away.

A few months later, when I came home from school, she wasn’t there. When I walked into the kitchen, my father was there. He was sitting in one of our wicker chairs. His elbows were propped up on the table and his face was in his hands.

“Dad, where is she?” I asked.

“She fell.”

“What?”

“She fell down the basement stairs. And hit her head.”

I sat down in the other wicker chair. His back was hunched and his shoulders quivered.

“Where is she?” I repeated.

“At Lewis’s house,” he said. Lewis was one of my mother’s friends. I was furious and dialed Lewis’s number. I heard her mumbling on the other end.

“Mom?”

“Um-hmm, yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“At Lewis’s house.”

“Mom?… MOM?!”

“Yeah.”

“Did you go to a hospital?”

“Nooooo.”

“Mom! You could have a concussion! Don’t you know how dangerous that is?!”

“Shhhhh,” she said. “Don’t be nasty.”

“Mom, go to a hospital, please!” I was crying.

“No,” she said. “I’m … I’m all right here.”

I hung up on her.

We had fallen apart far before then. We had all become hollow. All of us. As empty as the bottles my father and I found hidden behind her dresser and underneath the kitchen sink. We were falling. We were falling with her.

It wasn’t the first time she fell. She would fall many times after that. Down the stairs at my grandmother’s house. Out of bed in a rehab center. Slipping away.

I remember when she fell. I remember when we all did.


‘The Bottle’

By GAELYN LINDAUER

Bonny Eagle High School, Standish

One afternoon

some fisherman

with worn nets

pulled up a bottle

of sky-blue glass.

With sun-worn eyes,

one fisherman could see,

squinting,

a piece of paper inside,

algae stained,

with the words

“I’m alone.

Somebody

please help me.”

They laughed about it,

they shrugged a little,

they brushed it off like dust.

They continued

pulling up silver flopping fish

like they had that day

and all the days before,

the bottle tossed to the side

where it rolled in a semicircle.

The fishermen

had a rich day

the creatures

with wide staring eyes

lay piled in barrels.

Giddy with fortune,

the men drank and sang,

the bottle, neglected,

clinked against the hull

with every lap of evening waves.

Before they turned in,

the most sober

picked up the bottle,

looked at it, thoughtful,

and let it fall back

to the water,

like a small fish,

where it shed bubbles

as it drifted down

out of sight.

In the depths

where it sank,

a watery hand

reached out

grabbing hold of

the glass body.

Slender arms clutched it to its chest,

sad, pensive eyes stared up

at the rippling reflection

of the lonesome moon.