News from the
Pennsylvania Curriculum Exchange
I am pleased to announce the winners for the Fiction Writing Contest. It was a lot of fun to read through the entries of so many budding writers! There was a variety of genres submitted: fairy tales, action adventure, allegory, fantasy, humor, historical fiction, drama, and literary pieces.
For the age group 15-18, there were 15 entries (13 girls and 2 boys)
**The First Place winner ($50) is Joshua Orsi of New Oxford, age 15. His novel excerpt from God Help Us, It’s Happened is posted below.
**The Second Place winner ($20) is Elizabeth Gormley of Ephrata, age 16. Her short story “Nearer to Thee” will be posted on Sunday, March 27
**Honorable Mention goes to Keara Kobzowicz of Carlisle, age 16, for her flash fiction “A Hospital Room.”
For the age group 11-14, there were 29 entries (22 girls and 7 boys).
**The First Place winner ($50) is Becca Craven of Mechanicsburg, age 14. Her short story “Operation Midnight” will be posted here tomorrow, March 26.
**The Second Place winner ($20) is Amanda Zook of Newmanstown, age 14. Her novel excerpt From One World to Another will be posted on Monday, March 28.
**Honorable Mentions go to Caleb Veinotte of Chambersburg, age 14, for his short story “Bound in Darkness” and Emma Whiteford of York, age 12, for her novel excerpt from Forgotten.
Congratulations to all the winners!
And thank you to all the students who entered. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t win. Writing is a lifelong learning process. I was a terrible writer in school (my teachers told me so) and now I write and edit professionally. If you enjoy it, just keep writing! 🙂 In my opinion, the best way to improve your writing is to read lots of good literature.
I would also like to thank Karen Stoner, Mandy Perfetto, and Brittany Stoner, the judges who helped me to make this possible by volunteering their time and expertise. I think we all enjoyed the process and learned ways to improve it for next time.
And now for our first place entry for the 15-18 age group:
Joshua Orsi of New Oxford, age 15
God Help Us, It’s Happened
Filtering through the spreading leaves of the palm groves, the rays of late afternoon poured lazily across the garden. Enclosed by a lofty stone wall and shaded by stands of green trees, the ornamental flower beds and flagstone walks provided a sequestered retreat from the harsh Indian sun.
In the center of the spacious compound sprawled a large, elaborate bungalow, surrounded by a broad veranda roofed with thatch, overlooking a meandering river just below the bluff. Raised three feet off the ground on a foundation of adobe brick, the peaceful lodge stood only one story in height, its high ceiling gently sloping to form a soft curve at the ridgepole, only broken by the balustrade of the flat roof terrace. Tall windows stood ajar, their damp grass curtains rustling in the intermittent zephyrs.
Abruptly, the creaking of the gate in the wall interrupted the symphony of mosquitoes and sighing breezes. It swung wide, then closed after the entry of two men.
One, a native servant, bore a parasol that shielded his master from the heat of the waning sun. His master walked briskly, countermanding the lethargy of the twilight hours.
He stood over six feet tall, with enormous shoulders and a powerful core framing his barrel of a chest. Sprouting from his torso reared a neck with the strength and suppleness of a lion’s, tanned brown from life in the tropics. Hands shiny with callus swung at his sides, one loosely grasping a punkah made of peacock feathers, with which he occasionally fanned his tan face.
A square, handsome jaw characterized his visage, supporting two rows of glistening white teeth, graced by the presence of a waxed moustache, the same color as his glossy black hair. Despite his middle age, only a few silver flecks grew at his temples, and liquid eyes as fiery as burning coals glittered under his elegant eyebrows. A Roman nose projected from his face, which, despite its hard look, appeared pleasant and quite handsome. In all, the Englishman was excellently proportioned, even down to the breadth of his nostrils as compared to that of his chest.
As the pair approached the house, the master dismissed his servant, and stood in the shade of a palm near the veranda, fanning himself. Gleaming in the light, a pith helmet covered his head, enameled to keep out the tropical rain. He wore baggy white trousers and a loose tunic of vivid colors arranged in floral patterns, all made of Indian cotton, an excellent choice for the brutal climate.
Once he had satisfied himself that all in the garden stood in order, the man strode up the bungalow steps to the shaded porch. Large, swinging punkahs, woven with beautiful designs, swayed in unison, the work of an invisible punkawallah. Interspersed among these, several bell lanterns, made of glass, oscillated gently in the breeze.
The man reclined with a sigh of pleasure in one of the rattan chairs sitting on the porch, then leaned forward and rested his arms on a table, doffing his hat. A servant, from his dress and demeanor the steward, exited the carved double doors of the house and approached, bowing in the customary Indian fashion.
“Good afternoon, Nanib,” the man addressed him in a rich bass voice, making a simple bow from his recumbent position.
“Sahib,” murmured Nanib respectfully.
“I’ll take a gin and tonic today, with ice. And my hookah, if you will.”
Nanib bowed again and left, robes flowing against his legs. His liege produced a tin of fine Turkish tobacco from his pocket and meted out a precise amount into a measuring spoon. Reappearing with a tray, Nanib set the requested drink, chunks of ice clinking against the glass, on the table before him, and handed him the device. The Englishman dismissed him with a gesture of thanks, to which the servant bowed and moved inside the house.
Now alone, the man poured the tobacco into the pipe and lit it, blowing a long puff of cool white smoke into the sultry afternoon air. He paused, and sipped his drink, and with a grunt of enjoyment blew another puff. He continued this alternation several times.
“George,” an Englishwoman’s sweet and musical voice drifted across the veranda toward him. George glanced up.
Radiant in her flaxen-haired beauty, a lovely woman of statuesque figure and bewitching face moved slowly toward him, fanning vigorously with her punkah. A little behind her, to the left, a young native girl kept pace with her memsahib. With a nod, she dismissed the servant, then at a faster pace approached her husband, who set down his glass and rose to meet her.
“Cordelia,” he replied, kissing her delicate white hand. “Normally I would not return home at so early an hour, but with the party being tonight, I left our Maharajah to himself.” He smiled tenderly at her. “How are you?”
“Hot,” she rejoined, fanning even more vigorously. “I’ve been waiting for you in the tehkhana all day.” She adjusted her European blouse under her Indian sari.
“Ah, well,” replied her more acclimated husband, “The cool season will be here before you know it.”
“The hot only just started,” she glared, the corners of her mouth turned down in a pout.
“July is only a little more than a month away. Come, it’s not so bad, is it?”
“You don’t understand,” she retorted, then spoke again, “Sometimes I wonder why I ever left England.”
“I don’t know,” replied her husband dryly, “I’ve never been there.”
Cordelia giggled. “You always know how to cheer a girl up, George,” she dimpled, “which is why I love you.”
Her husband swept her into an embrace and planted a kiss on her upturned lips. He only just heard the soft patter of feet as they approached his side. He tried to break away, but Cordelia remained oblivious.
“Hello, father,” the cheerful voice of a young boy broke in on his parents’ moment of passion. “How was your day?”
The startled couple snapped back to reality at his voice. Cordelia blushed. George himself seemed a trifle ruffled, but regained his composure instantly.
“George,” he boomed, picking up his twelve year old son in his mighty arms. “Absolutely dreary, to answer your question. I couldn’t care less about where to build a rail line, at point x or point y, only so much as it gets built, and soon. How was yours? I hope you’re holding up better than your mother, eh?”
“I was helping Nanib fix the thermantidote,” the boy related eagerly, “he showed me how it works – it’s brilliant!”
“The thermantidote?” his father frowned. “It’s broken? We can’t exactly host a party well without it. Well, at least not one where people aren’t dropping dead from the heat.”
“The laundress poured a whole bucket of dirty wash water into it by accident,” his son explained, “and my, was it all gummed up. We had to take it apart and clean it, and now it’s good as new.”
“Excellent,” he smiled, setting him down. “I must say, I can’t rightly remember how one works myself, though I’m pretty sure I once knew. You’ll have to tell me tonight, though, because your mother and I were just discussing something. Run along now, and tell Nanib to give you some ice. You’ve got to be in excellent shape for the party tonight.”
“Parties are boring,” little George’s parents could hear as he walked back inside. “Always adults – and no children.”
George turned back to Cordelia and was about to sweep her up again, but she playfully pushed him away. “Come on now, no time for that; there’s work to be done.” She began to walk down the veranda, her husband following. “We have plenty of ice, freshly imported from America,” she tallied off, “and quantities of gin, port, Madeira, et cetera in the tehkhana. The servants have been busy all day with the preparations. Cook is preparing a feast fit for the Maharajah himself – he isn’t coming, is he?”
“No,” smiled her husband, “I told you, this party is only for our English friends. We can invite the Maharajah next month.” He stopped her and cupped the back of her head in his great hand. “Now we were discussing –”
“George!” Again both spouses whirled around, this time to look down the flagstone walk.
“Blast it, Hotchkiss,” roared George jokingly. “Can’t a fellow show endearment to his wife without interruption? You’re a regular Abimelech!”
“Yes, I suppose I am,” the elderly yet virile gentlemen chuckled as he scaled the veranda steps, the numerous claps of his General Service medal glinting in the sun. “The twenty-sixth chapter of Genesis, eighth verse: ‘And it came to pass –’”
“How can I ever forget you are a minister?” boomed George as he clapped his old friend on the shoulder. The reverend kissed Cordelia’s outstretched hand. “How fare ye, Mrs. Tomes? Putting up with Sir George since last Sunday service, eh?”
“I’ll leave you two to talk,” she winked and waltzed back inside.
“I don’t hope I’m intruding by arriving early,” Hotchkiss addressed Tomes, his sharp blue eyes twinkling in his wrinkled, yet attractive face.
“Nonsense, old friend. You are always welcome in our home. Nanib!” thundered George. The servant promptly appeared. “Would you care for a drink, Arthur?” he inquired.
“Being a man of God, I favor temperance. But as even our Lord turned water into wine, and good wine at that – John chapter two verse ten – I’ll take you up on your offer. Punch, please,” he requested of Nanib, “and don’t spare the ice.” The latter nodded and left silently. “These Indian summers are the closest thing we’ll get to Hell on Earth; why, I’d rather relive Waterloo than this,” he tapped his Waterloo medal as George led him back to his table. “And that was in the height of summer with wool uniforms – and with the French trying to kill us,” he muttered.
“Would care for a pipe, Arthur?” Tomes asked as he pulled up another chair, oblivious to his chum’s comment.
“I have my own,” Hotchkiss answered, “but that’s the scent of Turkish tobacco you have there. May I?”
“What I own is yours,” George handed him the tin with a smile. Nanib arrived with the glass of punch and refilled his employer’s drink as well. “Ah, yes,” chuckled the old Revered Hotchkiss, after thanking the steward, “there are benefits to being the friend of Sir George Elias Tomes, Assistant to His Princely Highness the Maharaja of Ahiwara, wouldn’t you say?”
“We were friends before, Hotchkiss,” smiled George.
For the next hour the chums chatted over their drinks and their pipes, as the golden sun sank like an overloaded ship into the vast sea of the sky. The twilight abyss grew red, an unusually bloody crimson, before mellowing to the deep purple of evening. Tinted violet, the evening sky appeared as if a purse of priceless diamonds had been spilled across it. “It’s like the vault of a cathedral,” commented the heavenly minded Hotchkiss, “with the very clerestory windows of heaven letting in the light of God.” The heat let up, too, and the cooler night breezes, blowing off the river, revived the weary occupants of the house. A multitude of candles and kerosene lamps soon blazed forth, and the glass bell lanterns made little oases of light of their own. In the garden, torches soaked in oil burned to illuminate the paved walks.
And then the guests arrived. About two dozen men and half a dozen women trickled in, the former high-ranking military and civil officials working for the British East India Company, the latter their consorts who had come, as had Cordelia, from England. Young George had been correct – no children arrived, as the presence of British youngsters was rare in those parts.
In terms of parties, the Tomes family excelled. Husband and wife received the informally dressed guests, glad to wear the lighter Indian fabrics, in the open living room of the bungalow. Crème colored wallpaper, printed in Oriental designs, plastered the walls, and dark mahogany bookshelves and furniture provided an English flair. Andirons bare, awaiting the cooler months, a great stone fireplace crouched against one wall, before it the hide of a magnificent tiger. Various pieces of needlework – Cordelia’s doing – and several framed daguerreotypes adorned the bare spaces of the walls.
To deal with the heat of so many bodies packed in one space, George had ordered the thermantidote, an early form of portable air conditioner, placed in a corner, manned by a silent servant. The guests tended to congregate here, or near the windows, due to the cool breezes permeating the damp grass curtains. Young George provided much amusement as he intelligently described the inner mechanisms of the machine.
When the grandfather clock struck nine, the servants had spread out a lavish Indian meal on the dining room table. After a blessing by Hotchkiss, the guests tore ravenously into the meal, and many ejaculations of pleasure and thanks were heaped upon the host and hostess, which they quietly deferred to the cook. The guests spread out across the yard and veranda as well as the house and tehkhana, drinking wine and smoking, some also enjoying the performances of the native dancing girls. A pretty young woman just arrived from England, single, had come to the party as well, and provided amusement by being accompanied by at least three desperate suitors at all times.
At ten, George found Hotchkiss reclining against the table near the china punch bowl. “Look at that,” he gestured with his glass to the antics of the men in the garden. “Ridiculous. Young love always is,” he clucked with a smile. “But in these parts, respectable young Englishwomen are a commodity as precious as an Indiaman full of cotton or tea. I heard,” he confided, “of a lovesick young captain so frantic for a wife he wrecked his ship trying to beat the others to her. Happened a few months ago, in Calcutta.”
“Did he?” chuckled Tomes.
“Did he lose his job? Yes. Did he win her heart? Entirely. Funny thing, love is.” He paused. “You invited her to the party on purpose, didn’t you? For the entertainment?”
Hotchkiss laughed, but then his brow darkened. “You know, there’s something I’ve been meaning to speak to you about. Perhaps we ought to go up to the terrace, eh?”
“Certainly.” Taking his hookah, Tomes escorted Arthur outside to the veranda and up the exterior staircase to the flat terrace on the housetop. From this vantage, both men possessed a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside: the rolling river just below the bluff that bordered the tiny British community, the lavish palace of the Maharajah on a small hill nearly half a mile away downstream, and about three miles upstream, the twinkling lights of the small native city to the west, surrounded by its wall.