Young Creatives Awards 2023 - Young Writers

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Winner Ages 12 to 15 - Tape by Sepia-Hope McGovern 


Tape by Sepia-Hope McGovern


When I was 10 years old, I stole duct tape from my father’s toolbox. Despite being overwhelmed with guilt, the roll was carried up to my room. Strip after strip was ripped off the roll, each ending with a tug from my teeth. Stomach tied in knots, duct tape was carefully placed on every inch of my torso. When I was only 10 years old, I placed my cross on the floor.

On my 11th birthday the tape started to itch. Black strips began to curl, twisting on patchy flesh. Cursing softly under my breath, I rushed into the bathroom.

“Are you okay Darling?” A voice rang through my mind’s murky mist, dragging me back to reality. Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I tried to reply but an alien voice called in my place.
“Yeah Dad, I’m fine.” It retorted, feminine resonance invading my throat. The voice echoed down the hall, lapping walls like ocean waves. With my hand resting on my voice box, I watched the strips of tape crumple off me in a leaf-like motion. Mind racing, I couldn’t help but stumble over the sound of my reply.
‘Was that really my voice?’ I think to myself, holding back tears.
Strips of midnight pooled on my bathroom floor, that voice choked my throat once more.
‘Why do I sound like that?!’
A disjointed gurgle escaped my lips as salty streams streaked south on my cheeks.
‘Shut up.’
Barely uttering words, the sobs built up in my throat. Trembling hands reached for the hem of my shirt, and I slowly pulled it over my head. I wrapped the tape around my torso, tender flesh burning red with every layer. Around the tape my organs swam away, rearranging themselves with each laborious breath. With a gasp that voice creeped out of my lips, fuelling the fire to a crescendo.
“Shut up!” I screamed, mummifying my arms through rivers of tears. Dragging my eyes upwards, I fell down onto the bathroom floor. My reflection betrayed me that day; was this all part of God’s plan? Despite the calendar reading a Thursday, I clasped my hands together and begged to the crucifix on the wall.
“Forgive me F-father…” I mumbled, words thinning and falling apart.
On my 11th birthday my prayer was left unfinished and unanswered.

When I was 12 years old, I would apply new tape every night. Rising with the moon, the pain was straight heroin. With a high that would last seconds, the urge was inescapable. The tape infected my torso, thighs, arms, throat… and cortex. Noir strips were applied so tight I couldn’t breathe; movement was a luxury I could not afford. Wrapping my waist so tightly it displaced my organs, limbs a soft shade of blue. Every inch I was pushed and shoved, tears pooling in the corners of my eyes. Never once did my smile falter; I deserve this, I love this, this is my salvation from hell. Sting of adhesive on my tender flesh was a different breed of pain and yearning. Yearning to be loved, to forget, to be rid of my femininity. The pain of realising nothing will ever change.

Shallow breaths escaped my cracked lips as I tugged the tape tighter. Duct tape sunk its teeth into my pores, tearing apart my aching tissue. It took chunks of skin away from me, painting my pale figure with bleeding lacerations. If I scraped my bones together, would I get fire? Slowly sinking into crimson, I forced the corners of my lips upwards. Every single night the stumble to the bathroom grew harder. Was it the actual distance between my bed and the bathroom mirror, or was it what I saw in that hunk of glass? Clawing my way across hard wooden floors, the last of my strength got used on pushing the bathroom door open. Body maroon and swollen, every night was another night spent on the bathroom floor. In the corners of my vision black spots swelled up; perfect, ever-growing blotches of ink. Mind slipping through my fingers, unconsciousness wrapped its arms around me like a warm blanket. Prayers escaped my lips fearfully; I tugged on the cross around my neck. Fingers turning white, tears puddling in the corners of my eyes, I pleaded to the God who never answers. The more I prayed it seemed the less he cared; long ago did God turn his back on my kind. So why did I still try? Fragmented phonetics fall apart when pushed together by my vocal cords, building up and blocking my airways, only to spill out like vomit.
When I was 12 years old, I lost my religion.

I thought 13 would never come. Sucking in a dry breath through my teeth, my mind was made. Desires and urges for the tape drowned me; for a roll which was nearly empty, a cardboard centre visible through a thin layer of midnight. I spun it between my fingers and sighed, before chucking it in the bin. Placing one foot in front of the other, I cautiously made my way to the bathroom mirror. Sight of my mummified corpse was not a welcome one, yet lay necessary in the lagoons of my heart. Slowly tape started to unravel off my tender flesh, each shard of coal floating elegantly downwards like plucked feathers. Hours I spent in front of the mirror, picking years of duct tape apart. Black swelled on my floor; cloudy tiles invisible. For the first time in years, I saw my body in full. Black and blue skin pulled over cracked bones, I observed every error. Like every day before that one, I saw a girl staring back at me. She blinked, uncomfortable and nervous. The urge to cover myself with duct tape grew, until someone else caught my eye.

A boy. A beautiful boy, not made of tape, but made of my own flesh.

When I was 13 years old, I stopped hiding.

(Inspired by Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me)

Winner Ages 16 to 18 - A Modern Hauntology by Emily Wu


A Modern Hauntology by Emily Wu

The present is haunted by the metaphorical “ghosts'' of lost futures. Derrida asks people to consider how “spectres” of alternative futures influence current and historical discourse, and acknowledges that this “haunting” – or the study of the non-existent – has real effects. Ghosts, who, because they’re outside of time, are the only ones with time.

When the power went out, we hung lamps from ceiling hooks as substitute lights. When the cold air chilled bones, we stuffed greeting cards and newspapers into broken shoeboxes to line the thin walls. When the bills arrived as a flock of carnivorous birds threatening to peck out our entrails, my mother and seven aunts and I shared two bedrooms and rented out the slaughterhouse basement to a series of ghosts and their last memories. People often spoke of vindictive, hungry ghosts condemned to innumerable lifetimes of suffering, who in a previous lifetime, were greedy women who refused food to passing monks and travellers. Necks stretched thin by hunger, they would regurgitate fierce flames with mouths full of inextinguishable embers, swaying like a palmyra tree in the wind, caught between the blurred lines of afterlife.

Sometimes, I felt their limping feet tugging my chest as they passed over me in the still of the night, expelling the breath from my lungs. Other times, while passing through the mill of people in the dim laneway, I could look into a stranger’s eyes and see nothing of my reflection, betraying nothing but deep, black darkness.

My mother’s ghosts were always gentle.

The first ghost came with a collection of fine china—coloured to match any time and weather—and refused to use the toilet, saying that she once knew a woman who drowned her baby in a toilet. Instead, the ghost pissed into quince-tea jars that she duct-taped, saran-wrapped, and then buried in our backyard. One night I followed her to our bathroom, where she stood hook-spined over the toilet and wept into it, attempting to flush down her own hands. My aunt called the old plumber, who extracted the ghost’s broken hands with a pair of oversized pliers. Years later, I sometimes thought I still saw the first ghost walking up my garden path with jars swaddled in her arms, the way she would dig a grave for it with her dirt-charred hands, and plant white bulbs of tulips in that tiny patch of soil.

The second ghost was a butcher and said she liked our basement because of the meat hooks, which reminded her of earrings, silver earrings that the house wore when it was ready to get married. I saw that she wore earrings that were miniature meat hooks, that her ears were the texture of steamed mutton. She liked to point up at the sky and slice it apart with her fingertip, the flat of her hand cutting the blue like a meat-cleaver. One morning, my aunts found the second ghost hanging from the meat hooks, the flesh of her shoulders balled into fists, her feet sparking against the ground, and when my aunts tore her down, we saw that her mouth was open, and her teeth were missing. And when they re-buried her in the cemetery up on the hills, my aunts said the second ghost was never going to reincarnate, because she was buried unwhole, and that she would forever search our house for her teeth.

The third ghost was younger than me. My mother stroked his hair and brought him a soft blue night-light to illuminate the windowless basement. He was bloated and pale, hair feathery, skin dark, clad in black shorts and a ragged grey shirt, arms and legs bony. Where he moved, the concrete floor darkened with brine and trickled into the creases of the floor. I always thought that he reminded my mother of the son she had before me, but every time I mentioned him, she said nothing and pulled out a small, crumpled photograph from breast pocket. Him in a military uniform, his smile pieced from shark teeth — while my mother inspected his face, I inspected the dark stains on the edges—was it blood or ink?

The fourth ghost was hairless and wore a silk scarf she’d bought a decade ago in Xi’an, a blue scarf that looked like the surface of a swimming pool, wired with light. She told us that she had no hair because years ago she’d fallen into a dream, a dream so deep that her husband sent her away to be cremated. The crematorium had wrapped her face carefully with her scarf, and in the end, her face remained pristine in the ruins of her body. My aunts gifted her twenty jade bracelets in hope to smooth her marred skin, while I dreamed of a beautiful woman with arms encircled by green waves.

Every week, the fifth ghost snuck another of her five sons down into the basement: She told us she only had one, but every week we heard a new voice in the basement, and for weeks we thought the one son was speaking to himself, until one day we caught all five of them eating the oranges off our shrine, and my mother beat each of the boys with her back scratcher and told the eighth ghost not to come back.

The sixth and last ghost was pregnant and told me stories of how her mother-in-law tried to force her to abort the baby by swallowing paper clips, a whole box of paper clips, because the idea was that they would snag on the foetus and drag it out of her body. My mother says: Some mothers are fishhooks—they’re shaped to raise you, raise you out of the water for slaughter. Once, the basement flooded and my mother and aunts ran around the house with buckets, trying to scoop out the water faster than it could rise, and the sixth ghost did not run from the flood. She ducked her head under the water and swam down, and when the water finally drained out, we could not find her, not even after we pulled the floorboards up to search.

My seven aunts began weaving silk scarves around the hooks, knotting them again and again until they became cocoons dangling down from the ceiling, gnarled and pearl-round. When they weren’t looking, my mother tried cutting down the cocoons they’d knotted, but nothing could cut through their silk, not even garden shears, not even meat scissors. The cocoons rotated on their own, scarfing the shadows in the depth of the basement. One day I walked down with a baseball bat and beat the cocoons until they ripened, unseaming to reveal ghosts born with translucent skin and eyes open as broad as palmyra trees, praying.

I broke the walls of the basement trying to fashion makeshift windows and begged them to leave, that they were finally free from the world, but they never woke. They hung in the dark, eyes haunted. Inky black.

(Inspired by K-Ming Chang’s Gods of Want)

Winner Ages 19 to 24 -  Eight Metaphors of the Émigré Writer by B Fung-Ling


Eight Metaphors of the Émigré Writer by B Fung-Ling


It’s like being an astronaut, floating between Earth and the moon. Caught between two opposing gravities, my direction is entirely subject to the forces beyond my control. Unlike people accustomed to the surfaces of planets, I don’t put one foot in front of the other and expect solid ground to push me forward. Most days I wave my arms and kick my legs randomly. I got here because I wanted that astronaut perspective, but I didn’t foresee this loneliness and uncertainty. Mission control on Earth has marked me as missing, and will treat me as an extraterrestrial threat if I return. Mission control on the moon doesn’t know who I am yet, and will treat me as an extraterrestrial nobody if I land.

It’s like leaving a religion for progressivism. Everyone in progressivism knows me as the one who left the religion. Everyone in the religion knows me as the one who joined progressivism. The two worlds have found one thing they agree on, that I’m a traitor. I truly am the bridge between two worlds.

Imagine falling off a cliff. I’m shouting at the people I’ve left behind, watch out! But they don’t hear me. They stand there on the precipice, silhouetted against the sky. Even as I speed away, I can make out the shapes of men, women, and children. But they don’t hear me. They don’t know to watch their step. Then, one by one, they fall from the cliff, bodies floating like dark clouds in the shapes of men, women, and children. I scream at the top of my lungs, be careful, please! Even as I near my death. But nobody hears me. The further I fall, the more impossible it is for my voice to penetrate the wind and reach the people I love the most. So they keep dying at the cliff.

I’m the saddest soprano in the world, because I work next door to the cinema. If I’m lucky, I get a noise complaint, which means someone in the cinema actually heard me. In the cinema sit the most lovely, artistic, opera-loving people on earth, who grew up singing every morning before school. For unartistic reasons, my performance cannot be shown on their big silver screen. Instead, I perform outside in the freezing air. Sometimes, huge crowds from elsewhere gather to listen to me. I am grateful, but these folks aren’t normally opera listeners. They don’t know what it’s like to grow up singing every morning before school. Every time I sing, I imagine my true audience, for whom my music is a direct language to the soul, but they only give me the occasional noise complaint.

Ai Weiwei tells me his interpreters are as useless as his cancelled Chinese passport. I tell him his art is as useless as his cancelled Chinese passport. He says he wants to create a piece where he Google translates the thousands of articles written about him, and scatter them over Shanghai from a helicopter. The piece will be titled ‘Last Resort, Please Listen’. I say it’s a great idea, and it’ll make it to the Guggenheim, but no one in Shanghai will remember it for more than two days. China expels anything with your name on it. How about we burn all of your art in the Guggenheim? Ai Weiwei shrugs. He squats at the end of the conveyor belt that exports world-class artists strictly for non-Chinese consumption. The belt is labelled ‘dangerous waste’ on the Chinese end and ‘high art’ on the foreign end, and I seem to be strapped to it by my wrists and ankles.

I’m a terrible comedian. Humour comes from observation of the world and lands where people relate to the observations. Well, my jokes come from one world and land in another, so I have to explain why they’re funny every time.

Imagine a scientist’s distillation lab. Imagine glass tubes and alcohol lamps on a workbench. A delightful blue solution that has been through endless stages of heat and pressure finally emerges at the end of the funnel. That blue drop, like a tear, contains important lessons learned through experience. It has a name and form. It wants to return to the reservoir where it came from, and add some beauty and poetry, and make things a bit clearer for everybody. But suddenly, an ugly bird with aluminium wings crash lands on the bench. Utterly unscientifically, it gulps the blue drop down its throat. It then leaves for some quiet museum far away, and deposits that blue pearl in a collage of jewels, titled ‘Selected Voices From the World’. Back on the scientist’s workbench, everything has returned to a nameless grey. The heat and pressure continues. The next drop is waiting to be made, and again, lost.

I’m in a taxi on the Champs-Élysées, and the driver tells me he’s writing a memoir. Nothing outside the window reminds me of Prague, but I think about Milan Kundera leaving his beloved Bohemia for France. Kundera’s French taxi driver said he was writing a memoir. I tell my driver that one of my friends published a memoir back home, before the authorities shot him. I’ve heard, the driver says with a nasty grin, don’t they also cut off your fingers or something? Send you to the gulag? At that moment, Kundera’s face appears outside the car window, flashing his signature, nasty grin. Well done, Kundera’s face says, small talk with strangers is necessary in Western society, as I have come to learn. Would you still write your memoir, I ask my driver, if you’d lose your fingers for it? The driver’s grin fades into an offended look. No, he says, and falls silent. Outside the window, Kundera’s face froze like an old photograph, and disappeared. The taxi went around the Arc de Triomphe, like an astronaut in orbit, around and around. Yet I’m no closer to my destination.

(Inspired by Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

Runner Up Ages 12 to 15 - Hurting, Beautifully (A Collection) by Jordan Steel


Hurting, Beautifully (A Collection) by Jordan Steel


This is Not a Love Poem

Tiredness seeps into the edges of your voice
and your irises glow like they can’t decide
whether to reflect the light or not.
Dust motes swirl in fractals in beams of light
and the tips of your fingers are rough
and this is not a love poem, but also it is.

I listen to the musical and the band you like,
little pieces of you scattered across the notes,
and wonder whether you listen to them differently.
I am floating aimlessly in subliminal space,
a tattered trail of stolen moments tethering me to-
What? You? Me? Both of us? Everyone else?
The edges of this memory have gone slightly fuzzy,
watermarked, dissolving, slipping away.

If my oxygen runs out this far out I’m dead,
but I’d rather not think about that.
Pulling up planks of wood and testing for rotten ones,
walking through my memories and seeing what creaks.
I sit in a moment, think, I’ll remember this forever,
as if I could will my brain into complying.

Someone hit me, once, and I fractured into shards;
like glass, you see, cut open my heart and see
what’s growing inside, and are you breathing yet?
How much of any of this is actually mine?
I climbed into the inside of your head once,
falling into a nest of vines because I wonder
if I even know you at all and I’m
growing, sprouting, shrinking, crying, fracturing,
but my thoughts are still too logical and somehow
I can’t make no sense, even if I try.

Maybe we’re all rotten at the core, and maybe
it doesn’t matter anyway. Purpose in
meaninglessness and meaninglessness in purpose.
Cheese and birds and iron and a tree that we both
fell out of, landing somewhere in the between of
why and because and how could I not have loved you?
How could I have? I’ll take a knife and carve it out
but there’s weeds sprouting from my falling blood
and I want to scream and I could, but I can’t
and yes, yes, it’s all in my head, but can’t you see
that’s what makes it all so terrifying
cause I could dig forever and never find the end of this
and I’m not even sure I want to but I’m standing here
with mud-covered hands, begging, maybe,
for some of it to somehow feel real again.
There’s dirt under my nails and it’s the same as blood, really
but I’ve never grown anything so what am I even saying
except that this is not a love poem but also, maybe, it is.

Savoring The Broken Parts

I don’t know how to explain that I walk outside in the sunlight
and cannot help but somehow think of you.
I don’t know how to explain that I am constantly falling to pieces
and yet you somehow manage to catch every one.
It feels like you are perpetually asking permission to touch,
asking: Where am I allowed to put my hands?
How can I put your body back together without
cutting myself on all the jagged pieces?
And meanwhile in the background I am always asking:
How can I love you without losing myself?
There’s blood on both of our hands, love, but let’s just pretend
it’s light instead. We’ll call ourselves gods.
I would set this world ablaze and rebuild it for you in a second
but you already know that. Stop pretending you don’t.
I have this certainty that everyone will eventually just leave,
and yet I blame myself for it every time anyway.
Let’s just sit in the sun for this singular suspended moment,
and not concern ourselves with what happens next.
Peach juice running down our chins and twigs tangled in your hair,
incessantly hoping to hold onto this feeling of longevity.
I am sometimes overcome with the urge to push everyone away,
simply because of a strange desire to suffer alone.
There are dark things with claws raking their way up my throat,
but for now, could we not just have this?
An instant of sunlight suspended in fragile spun glass,
treasured close to my chest but it still shatters.
Shards tumbling to the ground, outlined against the pavement,
filled with an excess of light, blindingly empty.
The dimensions of my body are made of piles of simple moments,
but right now, this feels like the only one worth anything.

On Desire and Hope (And If There Is a Difference)

It has taken me a very long time
to want to be alive.
When I was born, the world
tied weights to my ankles
and waited patiently for
my own grief to drag me under.

I don’t know if I have lost enough
for this feeling to count as grief.
What is there to be missing,
except the fragile hope that I seem
to continually build only to smash
with a single, clumsy step.
Surely there are those who have
lost much worse than this.

There is a hole somewhere.
I keep falling into it.
Maybe this floating sensation
is just my consciousness losing
awareness of the drop.
I keep waking up empty.

There are moments, where for a
single, suspended minute
I feel like there is nothing
that any human could ever do wrong.
Maybe you exist to save me from
this aching fallacy. Maybe our
shattered promises are their own form
of grief. Empty space. Poetry, perhaps.

On New Year’s Day I cried by a river
because I realised that I wanted to live.
Maybe this shouldn’t be a revelation.
Maybe if I just reached a bit harder
then I could drag everything back again.
Maybe I should have understood
that just because I want something
doesn’t mean I feel like I deserve it.

(Inspired by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This is How You Lose the Time War)

Runner Up Ages 16 to 18 - Gods, Monsters, and Girls by Isabel Steele


Gods, Monsters, and Girls by Isabel Steele


Rosy-fingered dawn broke over the mountains, stirring the mist and dew across the fields, parting curtains, and waking the sleepy town. Nestled in a river valley between two imposing mountains, the town was lively, full of farmers, artisans, and children. It boasted a small school, several stores, and a bustling marketplace which merchants from across the country came to visit. By far the most impressive feature of the town was the church. It was a great, dark building, with meticulously detailed stained-glass panels depicting the gods casting colourful shadows over stone pews. Despite this, the town was not religious. There were no sermons and no worshippers. The only one who entered the church was the girl.

The girl lived in the church, under the watchful gaze of the gods. The girl lived alone, she always had, for her entire 12 summers. She had even had her own name, ‘Ilse’. Ilse would sit in the fields to watch the clouds pass during the day, and during the night she would join village festivities, dancing till her feet bled, or she would go home to her church to talk to the glass gods. Ilse didn’t have a family; she didn’t have friends. She didn’t have anyone. No one in the town paid her any attention, like she wasn’t there at all, but that was fine because Ilse liked her own company better than anyone else’s. Her presence brought light into the dark church, the final worshipper to forgotten gods. She basked in the attention of their stained-glass likeness. She compared herself to their semblances, her long brown hair like him, her crooked nose like another, and her round face alike to a third. She didn’t have a family, except these visages, she was the amalgamation of all of them, created and pressed into one human body. Almost forgotten, just as they were.

Ilse couldn’t cook, she didn’t have an oven, nor did she have the motivation to learn to cook, but she had an easy solution. There was a plate at the end of some tables at dinner, though no one would sit there. She would sit with the families of the town, taking serves of their food, silently thanking them for remembering that which had been nye on forgot. They never saw her, but she didn’t care.

Ilse’s life was full of ease, she could always do as she wanted. She always got what she wanted, whether it be food or clothes because everything she took was forgotten just as she was. But she couldn’t have everything. Luka was the son of the town baker. He was tall, taller than she, even at a young age, with tousled brown hair. He was sweet, friendly, handsome, everything she wanted. But she couldn’t speak to him. He couldn’t speak to her. He didn’t know she existed. She had taken to eating with his family, almost every day, imagining he was talking to her, looking at her seeing her. The years passed, she grew, becoming taller than Luka for a short few months before he shot up, growing taller than her once again. He lost the puppy fat of childhood, his face became sharp, his body toned. She grew too, developing in the ways girls do, but she paid no attention to herself, only to him.

It was cold, the church casting shadow across the village, creating an ominous, dark ambience. An icy breeze blew through the town, slamming doors and sending children in early. A cat, white as snow, followed Ilse as she opened Lukas's door, slipping into the homey warmth. But there was someone in her seat, a young woman she didn’t recognize. Ilse watched as everything unfolded before her. She watched as they made the arrangements. They were to be married, Luka and this new woman, her Luka and this intruder.

Ilse ran through the town in the dark, ice coating her skin, clinging to her lashes and freezing her tears in their tracks. She could feel her heart breaking, sending stabbing pain through her. She threw the door of the church open and threw herself at the feet of the statues of the gods. She cried her lament, clutching at her chest, as the pain and sorrow twisted and changed inside her. Changed to something she had never felt before, something burning and vengeful. Pure, unbridled rage bubbled up inside her, warming her frozen bones and filling the hole where her heart had been. She sat at the feet of the statues, her rage filling the room, melting the ice on the windows and drying her tears. She turned towards the cat, where it stood in the door of the church's ancient kitchen.

She entered the abandoned room, following the white cat to the counter. To the cleaver, laid out by an invisible hand, sharpened to a perfect edge. The cat leapt up, rubbing itself against her arm, and then, with a casual flick of an elegant paw, it pushed the cleaver over the edge of the counter. Ilse surged forward, grabbing the blade before it could hit the ground, crying out as it bit into her palms. Blood dripped from the wounds, twisting around her arms like crimson tattoos. The cat looked at her, expectantly. Ilse wrapped her bleeding palms around the handle of the knife and began to walk.

She walked back through the town, houses falling silent as she passed, lights flickering out in windows as if the chill of her presence blocked out any potential warmth. Her bare feet became cut and bleeding as her path led her across broken glass and sharp rocks, but this meant nothing, blood was nothing to her even as her wounds stained the ground, creating a bloody trail. Luka’s house was bright and warm, as if the joy inside was immune to Ilse’s icy fury. The door opened on its own accord, and Ilse stormed through, a vengeful deity.
The cat sat on the windowsill, staring in, watching, and waiting.
The woman was still there, sitting in Ilse’s seat, hand resting possessively on Lukas's arm. She didn’t see as Ilse’s arms came around her neck. She didn’t see as the knife dragged across her throat. She saw the blood that poured down her chest with unseeing eyes. She didn’t have time to scream. The reality of what she had just done hit her, but she didn’t regret it. She would do it again. The cat leapt off the windowsill and disappeared in the night.
Luka’s eyes lifted in silent horror as he looked,
actually looked,
at Ilse.
A monster.

(Inspired by Brahm Stoker’s Dracula, Sarah J Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Homer’s The Iliad and Odyssey)

Runner Up Ages 19 to 24 - METAMORPHOSIS by Oliver Whitehouse


METAMORPHOSIS by Oliver Whitehouse


Content Warning: self harm



YOUNG LILY (6), dressed in white pajamas, is woken by the static sounds of a TELEVISION. Otherwise, the room is silent. The lights are on. There is a dining table, and a few scattered chairs. Lily looks past them, at the dark kitchen, then approaches the television, reaching her hand out towards the static.

The Television briefly flickers between channels, spitting mumbled dialogue from weather reports, adverts and movies.

(distort)...The weather tomorrow is looking sunny all day, despite a cold front-(distort) make sure your plant grows strong and healthy, use Grow-plus 5 in 1, and don't forget, make sure it gets plenty of water and sunlig- (distort)...I feel stuck, Charles. Like my feet are planted to the groun- Krshhhhhhh

Dad? Mum?

Lily bumps into chair, and WINCES in pain, rubbing her leg. Suddenly, the Television goes dark, and the static stops.
Young Lily takes a step back, then runs to her parent's bedroom door, knocking twice.


No answer. A curtain flutters in the wind. Lily rubs her leg some more, where a bruise is forming already.

The bedroom door creaks open, and Lily's FATHER emerges, looming, face out of view.

Lily? What's going on?

(sheepishly) I had a nightmare.

Do you know what time it is?

Can I come in?

Her Father sighs and shakes his head.

Go to sleep Lily.

The bedroom door closes, leaving Lily alone.

Lily walks into the living room kitchen, still rubbing her leg. She stands on her tiptoes to grab a glass from a cabinet. She walks over to the fridge, opens it and reaches for a carton of orange juice. She hesitates midway, and looks down at her bruised leg.

Underneath the skin, along the bruised flesh, are countless blooming flowers.


STEVEN (35) is awoken by the sound of RUFFLING from his bedside. He blinks a few times, frowning at the alarm clock on his bedside. The red numbers read 3:49. Beside the alarm clock is a framed black and white photograph: him and LILY (32), on their wedding day. Neither is particularly smiling.
Lily comes into focus, wearing an ankle length nightdress, her silhouette outlined by the pale moonlight spilling from the window. She is sat upright on her side of the bed, body turned away from Steven.

Lily doesn't seem to notice.

Lily? What are you doing?

Lily turns to look at Steven. Her hair is disheveled and her eyes, distant and solemn, seem to look through Steven's body.

...I had a dream. At least I think it was.

Lily undoes her dress and it gathers in a pile at her waist. Steven starts turning to face her.

Lily? What are you-

Pale bruises mottle her back and arms.

A vision of Lily, violently enveloped in blooming flowers and vines, flickers for a split second, colors inverted, with a SHARP NOISE.

The flowers disappear, replaced by the bruises and the quiet. Steven falters.

How did you get those?

Lily doesn't turn around.

I don't know. It's been a while. They haven't faded.

They're all over you. What happened?

I don't know.
I must've knocked into something without realizing. I thought they'd go away but they haven't. I think they're getting bigger.

Doesn't it hurt?

No. Not at all.

Steven reaches out as if to touch the bruises. In the moonlight, they look almost like flowers pressed into her skin.

Steven stumbles over to the light switch and flicks it on. A single fluorescent light bulb on the ceiling flickers to life. In the harsh light, the bruises are even worse.

Should I go to the hospital?

Steven thinks about this, taking his time.

LILY wraps her arms around her back in a subtle effort to cover her body. Steven stops staring.

You don't need to go to hospital. How would you explain them anyways?
If it doesn't hurt you'll be fine. They'll go away.

She doesn't respond for some time. Steven flicks the light off and climbs into bed.

You'll be okay.

Lily takes the dress gathered at her waist and starts placing the thin shoulder straps back on. She climbs into bed and pulls the duvet over her shoulder, facing away from Steven.

The MURMUR of a passing car intrudes on the rooms quiet.

(whispering, to herself)
...I hate this place.

Hm? Did you say something?

Lily hesitates.

I hate this place.

Out the window, we see countless identical high-rise buildings, reduced to silhouettes in the darkness.

Glimpses of the city. The sleeping monoliths seem to GROAN, unceasingly, in a mono-basso tone that numbs the mind.

I hate living in the high rises. I think it's doing this to me.

Doing what?

The bruises.

Don't be silly.

Thousands of identical windows come into view. No lights are on, no signs of life.

Seven hundred thousand people all crammed together.
I feel like I'm withering away.

I don't think seven hundred thousand people live here Lily.


Memories of Lily appear in glimpses:

- we see kitchens, ceilings, toilets, bathtubs.

- Lily on a balcony, looking out at the high-rises.

- Empty streets and darkened windows.

- Lily waiting at an empty pedestrian crossing.

I hate how everything's the same. The same buildings, same kitchens, same ceilings, toilets, bathtubs, balconies and lifts. It's like everything's replaceable, like we're just temporary.

I thought you wanted to live here.

- A younger Lily and Steven browse snacks in a convenience store, Lily excited, smiling at the selection.

- An older Lily browsing alone, in the same store.

I did. I used to dream about living this close to so many people. I thought cities were the place to be. There's music, and cars, and things to do. And people. There was life in cities. That's what I used to think.

What do you mean 'used to'?

- A memory of Lily and Steven driving in silence down an expressway bridge, under a darkened sky. Lily presses her head against the passenger seat window, gazing vacantly as cars blur past, driving to nowhere.




Lily pulls her blanket a little closer.

...I don't know. (beat.)
Maybe I was just afraid of being alone.

Steven stays quiet.

Do you remember that time we got a plant?

No, I don't.

The potted one we had. We put it on the balcony.

I don't remember any plant.

It died a while ago. I tried my best to keep it alive. I watered it everyday, replaced the soil. I did everything the store owner told us to do. I don't think it mattered.
It still died.

How do I not remember any of this?

You probably forget right after we bought it.
You never bothered to water it.

Both go quiet for a moment.

I haven't seen any plants in the high-rises. Have you noticed?
(beat) Not one.

Steven shuffles and moves to face away from Lily.

Lily. Go to sleep.

You never asked me about my dream.

Steven stays quiet, gradually falling asleep.

It was a memory. I was very little, I think I was six. The Tv had woken me up and I was terrified, but my father told me to go back to sleep. No one was there to help me. And there was a bruise. Only it looked strange to me. It looked like there were flowers underneath my skin.
They were beautiful. All I could think about was how much I wanted to get them out.

The two stay silent for some time. Steven asleep, Lily staring at the wall.

I feel like I don't even exist when you're away. That's why I could never leave you. That's why I haven't. This used to work, right? We used to be happy, I think. Even if the flowers stayed under my skin.
I just want to be cared for Steven. (beat)

Steven doesn't respond.


Steven doesn't respond. He is asleep.

Lily turns around to face Steven. She reaches out with a finger to touch Steven's face, then hesitates. She takes her hand back and climbs out of bed.


The kitchen is dark, apart from a single lamp hanging from the ceiling. Lily sits at the dining table, staring at the bruises creeping up her arms.

Brief flashes of her dream appear in silence: Television static, A curtain fluttering in the wind, flowers unfurling underneath skin.

Lily digs her nails into her left arm, drawing blood. She GASPS. Colors invert, a SHARP NOISE, then silence.

All along Lily's arm, flowers bloom.


Librarian's Choice Ages 12 to 15 - The Trench by Maisie Morrison


The Trench by Maisie Morrison


It was Hali’s first night aboard the sub, and she felt calmer than she ever had. Her daily duties were completed, though there hadn’t been much to do at this stage. Earlier she had collected a couple of samples and sent some status reports to the surface, now she was free to appreciate what would be her new home for the next month. She stood at the helm, staring with quiet reverence at the sea outside. She had always been fascinated by the ocean - not just the inviting green waves that lapped at the shorelines around her hometown, but the dark tumultuous waters of the Atlantic. The air of mystery that surrounds the great deep drew her in, and she developed a hunger for exploration. She was desperate to uncover its secrets and had decided to study marine biology in her teens. However, not in a million years would she have guessed that the paper she published would have garnered national attention, that her photo on the website would catch the eye of a director hunting for young talent, that any chain of events could lead her here. To the deepest point in the ocean, the Mariana Trench, doing what she had always wanted to do. Studying the deep sea and its creatures, uncovering the mysteries the waters were yet to reveal. The headlights were shut off and nothing was visible outside. Despite the absence of anything discernible, Hali was enthralled all the same. The void looked like it could swallow you whole. It beckoned her. It was the absence of anything that was inviting. Outside was so black it was almost eldritch, and the sub was silent apart from the low hum of machinery. She felt completely at peace.

After three weeks aboard the Moros, Hali was feeling… off. She didn’t know if it was the lack of contact with the surface, or being stuck inside for so long, but she felt a profound itch under her skin. There weren't any tasks scheduled for today, so she took the opportunity to have a day of relaxation, hoping to be more energised and efficient The Trench tomorrow. Lying in her bunk, she attempted to concentrate on her book. To focus on anything other than the ocean enveloping the sub. But her mind kept returning to the outside. Giving in, she lay back and allowed her thoughts to spiral. She hadn’t slept at all last night, irrational fears plaguing her mind. Aside from paranoia, she felt a nagging fear of returning to the surface. She was comfortable here, away from everything and immersed in doing what she loved. Sometimes she caught herself struggling to remember what life had been like before she had come down here. Sometimes she didn’t want to remember.

A month in, Hali deployed the UVVs with a simple push of a button. After a month of acclimatising to their new world, the delicate machines were released and descended onto the seafloor. They would – hopefully - spend the next couple of years mapping the seafloor and going where a human in a cumbersome machine couldn’t. Hali was jealous of them. That’s absurd, said a small voice in the back of her mind, but she had started ignoring that voice long ago. She wanted more, craved the feel of the magnetic icy water embracing her body, yearned to breathe it deep into her lungs. She longed to drift unburdened across the silt and live among the other deep-sea creatures. She wanted to exist in this world forever. She hated the people on the surface, with their scripted responses and empty, detached encouragement. The people down here were much nicer, they understood her. They wanted her to join them. Faces pressed up against the glass, and Hali rose and pressed a hand to the pane, staring into the deep eyes of the figure outside. It wordlessly beckoned her. It reassured her that she would be much happier down here. She knew.

Hali stood at the Moros’ escape trunk. The voices had grown too loud to ignore and she knew the figures outside the sub would welcome her with open arms. She couldn’t go back to her past life, forever longing to be down here. She had to stay, far beneath the trivial concerns of the surface world. She would live and observe and learn and breathe the ocean, she would be swallowed by it and surrender herself to it- become a part of the water itself. Become part of its pure and unbridled beauty. A grin split her face as ecstasy bubbled up in her throat and forced its way out in uproarious laughter. This was it; she would be free. Tears welled in her eyes, and she knew she was ready. Warning alerts blared as she opened the first reinforced door, but she paid them no mind. Water quickly filled the chamber, cold and exhilarating. She welcomed it, revelled in the sensation. Soon there was only a small air pocket available for her to breathe. The wheel dogs released her quickly, the idea being that her suit would rapidly inflate, and she would be shot to the surface with as little exposure to the intense pressure as possible. But Hali did not intend to reach the surface. She had little time to comprehend her death. She felt herself collapse as insane weight crushed her in a painful embrace. Her vision swam, shifted, congealed and dispersed as dizzying colours filled her eyes. The most prominent was a deep, all-consuming blue. And suddenly she felt very light. She died with the ghost of a smile on her face and the vague sensation of flying. The cameras saw only a lone body, frail and unnaturally twisted, drifting in her ragged custom jumpsuit and a plume of cherry red.

The following month, an interesting study was published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association about the effects of deep-sea pressure and isolation on the speed of degradation of the human psyche.

(Inspired by Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate)

Librarian's Choice Ages 19 to 24 - The Immigrant’s Daughter by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson


The Immigrant’s Daughter by Joseph Hathaway-Wilson


Sophie is hemming a pencil skirt. She unpicks the stitches and pulls out the threads. Her mother is walking through the house like a crazy person in a children’s TV show, cloaked in a ski jacket with sweatpants tucked into Ugg boots, reading feverishly from a hand-written page of dot-points; the interview is tomorrow. Her focus breaks as she enters the room. She smiles gratefully, then sandwiches the back of Sophie’s chair as she wraps her arms around her chest and gently presses her right cheek into Sophie’s left. The tailor grins.

‘You’re going to make me stab myself.’

‘Sorry, you’re right,’ her mother says.

Outside on the street below, a designated Sunday-roast chef – hands full with one too many reusable shopping bags – resorts to their head as a means of closing the car boot. Elsewhere, a father yells at their television before releasing a series of thunderous claps that echo onto the street. Up on her concrete veranda, a yia-yia scrutinises passers-by, nodding slowly at those who wave. I turn my attention from the window back to Sophie to ask if I can do anything to help. She smiles and shakes her head.

The immigrant’s daughter fixes her hair and checks her teeth. She will not invite her date inside, no matter how often he insists on meeting her parents. Everyone thinks they can jump the language barrier until they are staring it in the face; very few languages, however, fall into the same family as English. It does not compute to other languages like Italian to Spanish, Hope to Desperation, or Aggression to Silence. No, the immigrant’s daughter will tell her parents she is going out with friends.

Sophie slides a ruler over the fabric and, after a few small shuffles, marks the skirt’s new length. For a moment, as the sunlit dust lingers in the air behind her, she looks as she did when we first met.

In high school, Sophie’s mother was a phantom, omnipotent but absent, only appearing occasionally in her daughter’s world to conjure a cataclysmic tragedy. A whole year passed before I met her – the only time I picked Sophie up from her mum’s house. The woman cracked the door open, only as much as one would to let in a pet from outside, and glared at me from behind the security screen. Deep crevices were etched into her cheeks and the skin beneath her eyes was grey. She did not return my hello; she just scrutinised me with an opaque expression until Sophie came running outside. Later that day, Sophie told me that she was in the midst of a divorce, and that her step-father was not signing the settlement. I remember thinking that it was Winter, and her mother had been bare foot when she answered the door.

For the immigrant’s daughter, adulthood is the practice of building walls: walls between the past and present; her professional and personal lives; what she thinks and feels and what she says. The walls, however, do not protect her from harm so much as they prevent those harms being known to others. They do not protect her from men or bad medicines or other malevolent people or things that regard her with callous indifference. On the day she becomes a mother, she is completely alone.

There was a time after we finished Year 12 when Sophie would sit on the curb across from her mother’s house every morning. They had not lived together for a long time then. I don’t know how long it had been since they had last spoken. Sometimes she would wait for minutes, sometimes for hours – pacing the footpath, tying her shoelaces, mumbling greetings to delivery men – only leaving when she saw a sign of life from the residence. I have lost track of how many plans I made for my girlfriend’s mother: plans to get her out of the house, into rehab, away from prison, back to work. So many unrealised plans I made for a woman I hardly knew. It didn’t matter what strategy I employed or how often I reasoned that ‘if it was my mum.’ At the end of the day, it wasn’t.

In the movies she once watched, bad things are either learning curves or means to an end. Addiction, like a cheating husband or a family tragedy, marks a character’s demise or a moment of truth. In reality, life continues despite these things. It simply continues as a half-life: a life of violent divorces and runaway daughters, void of employment or greater meaning. The immigrant’s daughter watches the world melt into a blur of lights and memories. If this can be called life, then yes, life continues.

Sophie brushes the skirt, shakes it like a picnic rug, and holds it up to the light of the sunset. She looks at me for approval, as if I have even a sliver of tailoring expertise, and I give a double thumbs-up. She calls out and her mother walks in, grinning as she sees her daughter holding the adjusted pencil skirt before her. The older woman kicks off her Ugg boots, drops her sweatpants like I’m not in the room, and steps into the garment, gently wriggling it over her thighs as if anticipating that the waist will snap. It does not snap. The skirt fits perfectly.

‘I’m going to look so professional!’ she giggles.

She kisses her daughter on both cheeks before doing the same to me. Fat, wet kisses I would not have thought the woman at Sophie’s door all those years ago was capable of. I blush and look out the window, wondering for a moment how many lives the yia-yias, footy-dads and Sunday-roast chefs have lived before they arrived on this street at this point in time. When I turn my attention back to Sophie and her mother, they are sharing a silent embrace. For the first time in a long time, I say nothing.

(Inspired by Shaun Tan’s The Arrival)

Librarian's Choice Ages 19 to 24 - Let Go by Jackson Ronchi


Let Go by Jackson Ronchi


A long plank of wood lays across the wonky outdoor table in his backyard; he rules with thick, black marker the line where he needs to cut, and reaches for the saw. He hoists his leg onto the table and clamps one end down with his left boot.

“Line it up carefully”

His left hand steadies the plank; his right lets the sharp teeth of the saw find their place along the margin. He straightens the blade so that it shares the same path as the ink below.

“Start it off nice and slow.”

With long and careful strokes, he guides the saw towards him; the teeth chattering along the unbroken grain. After several draws, a ridge begins to form where the black line used to be. The blade sits nicely now across the width of the plank; he leans in and plunges forward.

“Let the tool do the work.”

The saw glides lightly through the deepening groove in the timber. He feels the churn of his body sink into the steady rhythm set by his shoulders and, with his muscles active, his mind wanders; he recalls a photograph from his History textbook in middle school - a black and white image of two rugged men sawing through a colossal log in early Australia - and remembers musing on how long and arduous the journey, from his lowly branch to their perch on the apex of masculinity, seemed to him at the time. Yet here he was, twelve years later and some kilograms heavier, performing largely the same manoeuvre.

Not everything is paralleled between their cuts and his; the saw nursed in his grip boasts much newer technology than theirs, and the scale of their undertaking dwarves the homemade nature of his, but their accomplishments remain fundamentally connected. Absorbed in the relative effortlessness of this ostensibly gruelling endeavour, and under no illusions about his own stature, he considers the influence of technique; the generationally refined method for cutting wood, passed down from the men in the photo to their children through to his father and on to him; once demanding his full attention to comprehend and apply, he now adheres to unconsciously as though it were instinct alone.

The saw jams awkwardly in the wood - he pauses lightly and dwells; it has been some time since he thought of his father, even longer since he last relied upon him.

As a boy, no step on the journey to manhood unfurled without the permission and guidance of his father. Riding bicycles still reminded him of the day his father first removed the training wheels; diving under waves still felt as though his father had dived under just before him. Tying his laces in a double knot, handwriting in cursive, making pancakes on a Sunday morning; to do any of these things was to honour the presence of his father within himself, and so he hasn’t, not for a long time.

His mother had said for a long time that his father was a bad apple; that his conduct and behaviour were owing to imbalances outside the scope of genetics; that her son should not have to fear about becoming his father.

It had been many years, since he last rode a bicycle or flipped a pancake. He had taken up skateboarding, developed a love for the still life of harbour beaches, and learned to cook French toast instead of the warm and fuzzy tradition that pancakes used to represent. Sometimes conscious, sometimes not, he had eradicated slowly and surely any trace of his father from the man that he was trying to become. All of this flashes through him as he pauses, the saw still lodged in the wood.

“Don’t forCe it.”

Flecks of his father, repressed and twisted, entwine themselves with the voice inside his head. He recognises the words, not as his own piecing together of the puzzle in front of him, but as the once warm wisdom of his father now rendered cold and frostbitten by what became of their relationship. He starts trying to free the saw, his frustration liberating him from obedience. How could she promise he would turn out any different?

“Be gEntLE oN THe bAcKDraw.”

He sees the gentle and loving face of the man who offered him patience and understanding in those earlier years, then he feels the blunt strike across his cheek of that same man’s fist following the announcement that afternoon. Process escapes him as he fills with a blossoming rage, frantically tugging at the stuck blade and feeling streaks of red pulse within him. He has known for a long time what she could never see; that he wields the same powers his father did. The plank budges with every jerk he makes, caught awkwardly between his flexing boot and the top of the bench.

“LeT iT WiGgLE FReE.”

His fury turns now to all them; his father, his mother, himself. How could his father let one detail mangle the love for his son? How could his mother choose such a monster to bring into her life? How could he let himself embrace once again the path his father walked before him? The gritted teeth of the saw begin to cave to his struggles, the voice from beside barely audible through the immense headache swarming through his mind right now.


All at once, the blade lurches from the plank and he topples backwards into the soft cushion of Liam’s arms. Trembling, he looks up and clutches at his partner’s sides.

“You’re okay.”

He sobs into his arms.

“You’re going to be okay.”

(Inspired by Fatherhood)

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Page last updated: 17 Nov 2023