CREATIVE writing students at Harlow College have been researching, devising and illustrating their own short stories for children – and who better to judge which are the best than young people themselves.
A panel of judges led by Alfie Locke, aged 13 and his brother Haiden, aged nine, selected two winners Glacier by Bobby Halls and Boo, the Witch’s Apprentice by Olivia Baker.
Reporting on Glacier, Alfie said: “I liked this best because it is my favourite genre and the story has a lot of depth. Each character’s emotions and story line are very well written and described in only a few pages.”
Referring to Boo, the Witch’s Apprentice, Haiden said: “This is my favourite story because I like the moral – it is better to be unique than make no impact at all. I also like the happy ending.”
Alfie and Haiden are pictured above and the winning stories are printed below.
Glacier by Bobby Halls
“Son of Alexander Glastrikov himself…and you can’t hit a bullseye for anything!” Dima exclaimed, gritting his teeth in anger and slamming his hands down onto the wooden surface of the table he sat at.
Ivan sighed as Vlad walked into view, munching on an apple he had found while hunting. “With a crossbow, too.” He mumbled, his mouth filled with fruit-flesh. “Ay, you wouldn’t want to work with the girls, would you Ivan?” Yana added, smirking at the boy as he stared down at his feet and turning her gaze to Tash. “Well, in case being a knight is too hard…they wouldn’t mind someone else washing the uniforms. I- they…could do with a little more muscle, carrying around all those heavy armour pieces.” Tash said. “Yeah, muscle” Dima replied, causing an eruption of laughter among the other three.
Ivan, however, stayed silent; he was still staring at the ground in shame. There might’ve been a bug on the floor, but I doubt a worm or an ant would’ve been enough to distract him from the sheer wave of embarrassment that crashed over him once the rest of the group had left.
Ivan now had to walk home, back to Grandfather. He was certain that he’d receive another verbal tidal-wave, given how poorly his training went. He opened the door to his house, a small cottage on the edge of town. The walls of the living room were decorated by swords, maces, breastplates and all sorts of beautiful works of blacksmithing art. A deep and aggressive voice bellowed out from the kitchen, prompting Ivan to nervously trot towards the door. He opened it slightly, peeking his meek head in and uttering a little squeak. “Grandfather…?” Ivan asked shakily.
“Ivan! What’s all this I’ve heard about you and that crossbow? Mr. Kavkas told me himself that you missed each and every one of your shots!” Grandfather yelled, frowning at the boy. “What would your father think? If he was still here…oh, the disappointment on his face!”
The boy winced, speaking out again. “I’m only fourteen, Grandfather…” he croaked, causing Grandfather to begin shouting yet again. “When I was your age, I could hit five men at once…using a longbow! With my eyes shut!” Grandfather continued his boasting, which flew straight through Ivan’s head like a stray arrow. Eventually, Ivan returned to his room, his lonely castle. His eyes darted around the room until focused on the portrait of his father hung up on the wall.
It’d been a year since Ivan’s Father had died, every day felt just as bleak as the last. He knew he’d never be able to live up to the huge reputation of his father, the legendary Alexander Glastrikov. He lied in bed, tossing and turning with every passing thought. His friends thought he was a joke and his Grandfather was embarrassed to even associate himself with him. It was over. Or, at least it felt like it…then again, when did it not?
He stood up, picking up a wooden sword he had kept in his room since he was young, swinging it around and pretending he was a valiant soldier…yet the feeling of uselessness wouldn’t go away. He lied down again, dropping it to the floor and wallowing in his own silence, submerged in sadness. His eyes began to close and he slowly drifted off…
Ivan fell asleep, the thoughts in his head continuing to swirl around like a thunderstorm, memories and regrets flashing like lightning. Soon, he had entered deep sleep, imagining himself riding on his very own horse, brandishing a humungous iron great-sword. His Father was by his side, his white armour shining like a beacon of light on the battlefield. “Ivan! Look ahead!” He shouted, raising his blade into the air. “The Beast of Zelf!”
Ivan readied his weapon, witnessing the gargantuan beast in all its terrifying glory. It was more like a lion then a man, although it had horns like a devil. Its thick fur and massive frame made it look like an impossibly huge cloud of sheer terror. A roar emerged from its jaw, its hands and legs beginning to move as it charged towards the two warriors. Ivan’s father took the lead, leaping onto the beast’s back and beginning to thrash at its neck to no avail. “Agh!” he cried, gripping onto one of its horns.
Ivan panicked, unsure of what to do. “Father!” he called out, his horse mimicking his fright. Ivan’s Father grunted in pain, his voice spilling out of his mouth in a struggle. “Ivan, the Lightning Arrow!” He directed his gaze towards the quiver on his son’s back. Ivan reached behind him, brandishing the mystical Lightning Arrow and loading it into his crossbow. He took aim and set his sights on the monster’s eye. He took a deep breath…and fired.
The Lightning Arrow zapped and zoomed around, heading for the beast…though, it seemed to arc upwards towards his Father instead. Ivan shrieked, watching as a flash of light enveloped the entire area. “Ivan!” He heard his Father cry, the sound echoing throughout his mind and slowly transforming into a deeper, raspier tone.
“Ivan!” the voice called out again. Ivan opened his eyes, letting out a confused ‘Huh?’ as he sat up. Grandfather was stood at the foot of the bed, frowning as per usual. “You’re going to be late for training, Ivan. Knights don’t go into battle in a pair of pyjamas, now get up and have some breakfast!”
Ivan ate his breakfast, made up of a slice of bread and cold soup from the previous night, adjusting his uniform and kicking a pebble across the dirt path leading up to the barracks. ‘What if I disappeared?’ Ivan thought to himself, ‘What if I just vanished? Would anyone care? What would Grandfather do?’ His mind was soon overwhelmed by another thought-tornado. It was only then that, as he slipped away into his own head again, that he felt a hand grab his shoulder.
“Ivan!” Tash chirped, standing awfully close to the boy, “Walking to the barracks, hm?” She asked, noticing the distressed look on his face as she kept her hands firmly placed on his shoulders. Ivan opened his mouth to speak, but the girl was faster than him in her blabbering. “Oh, dear! Did I startle you? Sorry!” She blurted, stepping away from the boy and fixing her coat.
Beautiful, rich and utterly clueless. The softest blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, it was like an angel had fallen from heaven and left its common sense behind…and smelled like all the different flowers Ivan could name. He forced a smile, “Um…no Tash, its…” “Oh! Don’t tell me, it’s that horrible Grandfather of yours, isn’t it?!” “…Yeah.” The boy mumbled.
Tash sighed, returning her hands to his shoulders again and standing at his front, making sure that he was staring deep into her eyes. “I just can’t fathom why he’s so…horrible! If he ever spoke to me like that…my Mother would most certainly have a word with him.” She announced, bringing her hands to Ivan’s cheeks and giving them a squeeze. “Look at me, keeping you here…I suppose I shouldn’t stop a future knight from receiving his much-needed training…farewell, Ivan!” Tash let go of his cheeks and stood back. “But…uhm, if you ever wish to take up another occupation…I can help you! I’m sure Mother wouldn’t mind another helping hand!” She exclaimed, happily waltzing off back towards the village centre.
Ivan then began walking again. Tash had a fair point…what if he did work for her Mother? He’d be sure to earn a huge wad of money, Tash’s family had enough money to buy the entire village, after all. But…what would his Grandfather think? What would his Father think? Here came the storm of thoughts yet again.
Ivan finally arrived at the barracks, spotting Vlad outside. Vlad was Ivan’s right-hand man. Black hair, like Ivan’s though shorter, with a pair of friendly brown eyes. His uniform was different to that of Ivan’s, being a red tunic in opposition to Ivan’s green tunic, given he was a bowman. He approached the other boy, balancing an arrow on his finger. “G’day, Ivan.” He said, throwing the arrow like a dart onto a nearby target and hitting a bullseye. “Hi, Vlad…what’re we doing today? Have you spoke to Mr. Kavkas?” Ivan asked, a wider and more natural smile on his face. “Dunno…wait, swords and that. Yeah!” Vlad expressed excitedly. “Swords?” A feminine voice inquired from behind the two boys; they turned their heads around, revealing none other than Yana, who was listening in on their brief conversation. Yana wore a green tunic, much like Ivan did. Her hair was a dark brown colour, on the shorter side compared to most of the village girls. She liked the company of the boys rather than the girls, preferring to swing maces and axes rather than washing clothing and picking fruits.
She grinned at Ivan, lightly punching his shoulder in a friendly manner. “I’ve heard you’re a decent swordfighter, Ivan,” Yana began, “Must be genetic! Hah!” Ivan shrugged, which caused her to giggle. “I’m still gonna beat you, though!” She joked, leading the boys through the encampments and towards the training grounds. From there, they met with their commander, Mr. Kavkas.
Mr. Kavkas was a large man, quite possibly the tallest man in the kingdom; he looked more like a bear than he did a man…though, a friendly bear. His stern attitude reflected a sense of responsibility and care for his men, contrary to what most of them believed. He greeted the young knights with a smile, happy to see that they had all shown up for training. “Ah, children,” He began, turning his head in the direction of one of his assistants who was handing out swords to the teens as if they were freshly baked loaves from the local bakery. A voice called out to Mr. Kavkas from within the encampment office, “Commander Kavkas, a visitor has requested to see you!” The man bellowed, causing Mr. Kavkas to begin walking over. “Well children,” He yelled behind him as he marched over to the office, “Just pick up a weapon and swing it around, I’ll be back in a jiffy!”
Yana, Ivan and Vlad each snatched their own blade, carelessly thrashing about with clangs and slashes and slices and bangs. “Aha!” Yana shouted, thrusting her sword towards Ivan’s chest, causing him to dodge nimbly, “Careful!” He yelped, regaining his posture and performing a sweeping hit towards Yana’s abdomen, which she promptly blocked. Through deep breaths she spoke, “They weren’t joking when they said you were pretty good at this…” She said, stepping away for a breather. “Who’s ‘they’…?” Ivan asked, now curious about his potential gossip. “The other boys, Ivan,” Yana added, “They think you’re probably one of the best swordsmen in training!”
Her compliment hit his chest like a wild boar charging headfirst into an apple vendor’s supply. For a moment, it was just Ivan and those words, the stormy weather that had been cultivating in his mind cleared away for no less than a minute. Though, his sunny-spells quickly clouded over once he caught a glimpse of Dima, sneering at him from afar. That once-in-a-lifetime burst of confidence snuffed out by a mere pair of eyes.
“…Ivan?” Yana mumbled, waving her hand in front of the boys face to pull him out of the trance, “Is something wrong?” She turned around to locate just what had sucked Ivan into this unending spiral of stares. “Oh…forget about him, Ivan!” She said, chuckling. “He’s just a…well, an idiot. He’s a soldier, and that’s all he’ll be. Don’t give him any attention.”
“You’re right…” Ivan muttered, forcing a small smile before readying his weapon again. “My turn!” Vlad exclaimed, walking into Ivan’s view and preparing his own sword for use. As the boys exchanged a pre-battle smirk, a recognisably booming voice emerged from the encampment office…
Ivan waddled into Mr. Kavkas’ office, sheepishly sitting down in front of the man. “Hello…Mr. Kavkas…” He mumbled, looking in all directions but his North. “Calm down, boy, you’re not in trouble.” Mr. Kavkas said, leaning his elbows onto his desk. “It’s…well, we noticed that recently you’d been struggling with keeping up with the rest of the trainees…”
Ivan sighed, “I’m sorry…” He replied, sulking. “Don’t be sorry, Ivan.” Mr. Kavkas announced, clearing his throat, “I had a visitor come by, and they’ve given me an interesting proposition.”
“In fact, they can tell you it themselves…Natasha!” He called out, Ivan’s face turning paler than a vampire’s skin. In walked Tash, who stood behind Ivan and placed her hands on his shoulders, a grin on her face. “I spoke with Mr. Kavkas this morning and I…uhm, we decided it’d be best if you worked for my Mother and I for…let’s say…a week?” Tash said, grinning wider as she informed Ivan of her wonderful plan. “A day, Miss Novorovsky.” Mr. Kavkas grumbled, Tash nodded in response. “Ivan, for the rest of this week, I’ll be placing you in a few spots around town and you’ll have to report your experiences back to me by Sunday. Sound fair?” Mr. Kavkas said, crossing his arms over his chest and raising his eyebrows, awaiting the boy’s response. “Uhm…I suppose so…” “Good! Off you go then, Ivan!”
Out he went, Tash sticking closely to his side. She was one of the taller girls in the village, Ivan…well, was lacking in the height department; he had to admit that it felt rather strange of him to be trailing alongside someone roughly his age and looking like a lost child whilst doing so. After a good ten or so minutes of walking, they had arrived at the Novorovsky residence. Ivan wondered, as they stood in front of the gargantuan wooden doors of the house, why anyone would need such a large house? Regardless, he was sure it was a better accommodation than he could have ever dreamt of. After all, the entrance looked more expensive than half of the entire village.
The doors swung open, revealing Tash’s Mother; evidently, Tash was a spitting image of her Mother. Ivan was a little lost for words, he’d always been awkward around adults…especially if that adult was a bigger version of Tash.
“Uh…Hello, Mrs. Novorovsky…” He mumbled, hardly able to retain his eye contact with her. “Awh! Hello, Ivan!” She chimed, reaching over and squeezing his cheek. Was this some sort of rich-person greeting that Ivan was too impoverished to fathom? The boy stood aimlessly as his face was played with for precisely three seconds (or something similar) until Tash’s Mother began to speak in a sickly-sweet tone yet again. “Ah, Natasha has told me all about you! You’re a knight-in-training, yes?” She blabbered patronisingly, Ivan’s head bobbing up and down in affirmation. “Of course you are,” She began, “Your Father was…an elegant man, I’m very certain you’re just as skilled as he was…”
“Mother!” Tash exclaimed, her eyes piercing through Ivan’s soul, his spiritual being impaled by the bright-blue metaphysical spears of vision. “Enough, can’t you see you’ve made his face redden? Do stop this flattery, he’ll faint!” She joked, the two women cackling as Ivan succumbed to a state of mindlessness…in other words, he couldn’t stand the sound of it.
“Oh, dear…well, Natasha, why don’t you take Ivan upstairs, hm? Show him a little hospitality…” Tash’s Mother suggested, winking to her daughter as if an elaborate scheme was taking place behind the scenes. Knowing Tash, she was most likely planning this encounter months beforehand. “And Ivan,” Tash’s Mother added, “It’s ‘Miss’, please.”
Up a flight of stairs, the two youngsters went, arriving in a heavily decorated room the size of a miniature stable. Tash’s bed was far too large for any girl her age to be sleeping in, her walls were decorated with paintings that she had created herself, clothing and trinkets and jewellery and everything the common man would never be able to afford. Tash stopped in front of Ivan, turning her head back towards him and beginning to speak in that same sickly-sweet tone her Mother did. “Ivan, do you mind helping me take my coat off?” She purred, watching as the young man acquired her coat and hung it up on the chair positioned near her desk, which was littered with paper and various paints. She sat at the foot of her bed, beckoning Ivan to accompany her, crossing her legs as she pointed at the various displays of wealth that engulfed the walls.
“I painted all of these, you know…” She boasted, smiling smugly at her artistic masterpieces. Ivan could only imagine the mountain of gold she’d amass if she ever decided to auction any of them. If any sound was to escape his mouth whilst he gazed upon the sheer volume of portraits and landscapes, it would be a gasp. A really elongated gasp, much longer than a normal human should be able to gasp for. Really long.
“Tash…this is mental…I mean, you’re…” Ivan was unable to speak, lost within the various watercolours. Tash smiled, not a smirk or a grin, but a smile. A genuine smile.
“Thank you, Ivan.” She replied, her eyes losing their way in the red, blue and yellow mass.
“Oh! I almost forgot! I’ve painted a few portraits of you, Ivan!” She beamed, making her way over to a small chest in the corner of the room, walking back with a few more paintings. Ivan’s face lit up, his eyes sparkling in joy. “Wow! These are…” Ivan began, though he noticed one of the paintings in the pile had a rather different artistic vision. It was more of a concern as to how she could have gotten the reference for such a piece.
Tash giggled, noticing how his eyes began to widen and his apprehension rose, hiding the painting amongst the pile yet again and flashing the boy a toothy grin. “Never mind that one!” She exclaimed, placing the rest of the pictures down on her desk before sighing.
The mood seemed to then…drop. Tash was still smiling, though her eyes seemed to betray her mouth, her true feelings were beginning to show. It was as if she had simply decided she’d switch her emotional state to the polar opposite.
“I…I wish my Father could have seen this…my achievements.” She blurted all of a sudden, her smile breaking a way into a delicate frown, a face no longer obscured by a mask of excitement. “Huh…?” Ivan’s face dropped, too. The pair sat in silence as Tash recollected her thoughts, turning her attention back to the boy and taking a deep breath, before uttering her next mutter. “Ivan…why do you want to be a knight?” She asked, her eyes locked onto his, “What do you fight for, Ivan?”
He wasn’t sure what to say. In Ivan’s mind, it was what a knight fought against, not for. It had never crossed the boy to think about what it meant to hold a sword, what it meant to use that sword. “You don’t know, do you?” She said, sniffling afterwards. Ivan wouldn’t lie to her, not now. He looked her in the eyes with a worried expression as if to say ‘you’re right’, prompting her to continue.
“…This is why I asked for you to come here, Ivan. I don’t want you to become a knight. Or, at least anyone involved within that horrible war.” She croaked, her hands wrapped around his torso; Ivan’s arms remained glued to his body, freezing up at the contact. “You’re not a warrior, Ivan. Your Father was…but, don’t you think he’d prefer if you were happy, rather than…fodder?” She pleaded, her eyes akin to a puppy’s; innocent and vulnerable.
“Ivan, please! I can see, you’re reluctant because it makes you feel like you’ve given up on your Father’s dream and you’re letting everyone else down, especially that despicable Grandfather of yours…but…can you just swallow your pride? My Mother is more than willing to provide you with money, food, anything you’d like, you’ll never have anyone look down upon you again!” She begged, her grasp tightening around him.
Ivan rolled his eyes, he wouldn’t drag the conversation out any further than it had to go on for (mostly because he was tired of being reminded that he was quite frankly pants at hitting targets with crossbows).
“I’ll think about it later, after I’ve done all this work-stuff, yeah?” He groaned, succumbing to her whining. Tash’s face returned to one of utmost joy, her smile flashing back in an instant. “Great!” She shouted, “Come on then, I’ll go ask Mother what we can do!” She let go of Ivan’s torso and stood up, before instantly getting her hands on his arm and dragging him back downstairs.
Boo the Witch’s Apprentice, by Olivia Baker
Have you ever seen a cat like Boo? You probably have. She was a cat like any other, who loved to play catch, running in the wilderness all day long. At night, Boo pranced home to have her dinner, along with all of the other witch’s apprentices.
Her house where she lived is in a big, dark forest. It was dark and gloomy, but to her, it was home. Boo ran back each night, the other speedy cats hot on her tail, happy that she could be warm and cosy once again.
Her owner, the scary witch of the forest, put out the many bowls on the floor of her kitchen, ready for her hungry apprentices. The bowls are always filled to the top with all a spooky cat could dream of. Frog legs, spider eyes and pond water were just a few things that the cats would eat.
Though, one thing made Boo a little different. Something so small, so little that really, it shouldn’t matter at all.
The other cats were mean to poor Boo, all for one reason.
Can you guess?
Yes! Boo was a bright green cat, whilst the others were as dark as the night!
“Froggy!” The other cats would taunt. “You eat too many frog legs, I’m sure.”
“If you were normal, you would be such a good little apprentice, but your fur colour makes you stand out too much!”
They would taunt her and tease her, saying such horrible things. When they went out for their night time hunts for the witch’s magical spell ingredients, Boo would find it hard to be sneaky. Even though she was the quietest of the lot, her bright fur made her stick out from the shadows, and scare away their prey.
“You’ve done it again!” The dark cats would exclaim. “Boo’s scared off our hunts, oh, how the witch will be upset!”
Boo would run back and cry to her mum and dad.
“Mum, Dad!” she cried, coming through the cat flap at near lightning speed. “Please help me!”
“What is it, my child?” Her Mother purred.
“The other cats don’t like me. They taunt me and tease me and treat me so rotten, just because I’m green!”
Her mum placed her paws down on her lap, bringing them away from the computer keyboard that she had been tapping away on.
Boo’s dad hurried in from the kitchen upon hearing his kitten’s cries, and stood confidently next to her mum.
“We’re sorry Boo.” Her parents said calmly, though with a sad tone.
“There’s not much that we can do to help you, but we know who can!”
Her parents then went on to tell Boo about a mysterious cat. One who lived just out of the woods, the oldest cat in the land. This cat’s name was Spook, and she always knew what to do.
“She can help you.” Her father said, “She always knows what to do!”
So, with all of her trust and hope put in Spook, she set out, making sure it was daytime, towards the small house outside of the woods.
She passed by rivers, the thick of the forest, and large cracks in the rocks that she feared that she may fall into them.
And then, after 20 minutes she arrived at a house that suck out from the surroundings. Even though it was small enough for a mouse, it had a bright red door that invited Boo closer. It was a peculiar sight, not like anything else she’d seen, and so she knew she was where she had to be.
Boo then knocked on the door, with the very tippy tops of her very sharp claws, and watched as the door carefully creaked open, showing the elder cat who resided inside.
Spook was a cat like Boo, she noticed, but she looked a lot more like all of the other apprentices back at the house.
Deep dark black fur, the same colour as the midnight sky. Her eyes were like emeralds that shined bright in the golden sunlight. Flecks of grey were scattered like stars all over her fur.
Oh, how Boo wanted to be Spook!
“What ever is the matter, little one?” Spook purred so politely. “What brings you here?”
With a deep breath, Boo found her feet and the courage to speak.
She told Spook all about what the other cats had been doing to her. All the while, Spook looked on at her, listening nicely.
Spook then invited Boo inside, tutting as she went. She sat herself and the smaller down on her rug, carefully pouring each of them a cup of cat tea.
“Boo,” Spook said, her voice husky yet comforting. “You really mustn’t worry, although it’s easy for me to say.”
She carefully took a sip from her hot tea, before speaking again.
“They are just jealous and scared, I promise you now. It’s because you stand out, that should make you so proud!”
Boo sipped daintily at her tea, holding the warm cup tightly with both of her paws.
“It is better to be unique, than make no impact at all. Don’t worry about the bullies that don’t like you, they are simply scared of what they are not!”
The elder cat then crossed her paws, one over the other, and thought for a moment. She tapped the very end of her nose, and rubbed her chin in thought.
“And also, before I forget, as I am an old cat, you see. Almost 15!”
“I am going to tell you a secret, that may solve your little problem if you tell the others.”
With a small nod from Boo, Spook pushed back the fur on her right paw to reveal—
A lime green streak of fur, the colour of Boo!
The little one shrieked and cried out in glee, thanking Spook for all that she’d seen. She knew then, that she should be proud of what makes her different, and not be afraid of it.
Once Boo got back and told the other apprentices, it changed everything. Suddenly, as if by magic, Boo was treated like a normal cat. When they went out to hunt, Boo wore a dark robe so that she could blend into the dark shrubbery too!
From then on, nobody was afraid of their differences, rather they celebrated them, having cat parties and doing spells, and eating all the food they could fit inside them.
From then on, everyone knew that Boo was just a good Witch’s Apprentice as the rest of them!