February 2023 Issue Home


Camouflage – Zoe Anthony-Redman (age 23; New York, United States) 
Neolithic Revolution – Elizabeth Ayrey (age 18; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Beauty of the World – Saanvi Samal (age 09; Salt Lake City, Utah, United States)
Still Life – Ryan Agarwal (age 16; San Francisco, California, United States)
The Magikoa Woods – Ava Bogard (age 12; Murray, Kentucky, United States)
Mum’s Cooking – Christina Livermore (age 12; Wellington, Florida, United States)
Where Am I? – Nala Delgado (age 09; Bethesda, Maryland, United States)
Homes Left Behind – Savarna Yang (age 14; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Home to the Heart – Lily C. Zhang (age 12; California, United States)
The House – Yemaya Gaspard (age 17; South Florida, United States)
Contemplation – Ryan Agarwal (age 16; San Francisco, California, United States)
A Day in the Life of a Doorknob – Natalie Leuschner (age 12; Glendale, Arizona, United States)
Road Trip Villanelle – Emma Philips (age 17; Ararua, Northland, New Zealand)
Condemned Houses – Sarah-Kate Simons (age 17; Southbridge, New Zealand)
Rain – Ryan Agarwal (age 16; San Francisco, California, United States)
The Walking House – Eliah Kim (age 14; San Diego, California, United States)
Desert Drifter – William Bittner (age 17; Birmingham, Alabama, United States)

Nonfiction column

Opinion Article: ChatGPT Is a Tool for Education, Not a Threat – Ryan Chen (age 17; Mercer Island, Washington, United States)

Special: Flash fiction mentorship programme

Introduction and acknowledgements – Melanie Dixon and Jack Remiel Cottrell, project organisers
Free At Last – Angelica Sabili (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)
Carnival Poppies – Jaedyne Mayion (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)
Barren – Ava Porter (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)
Flower Fields – Erin Aralar (age 15; Hauraki Plains, New Zealand)
Royal Blue – Delta Johns (age 15; Auckland, New Zealand)

Feature interview: Discussion with our newest editors

Camouflage – Zoe Anthony-Redman

Zoe Anthony-Redman is a 23-year-old artist living in New York City. She enjoys illustrating animals and nature. In her free time she likes to birdwatch and take walks in Central Park. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2021.

Neolithic Revolution – Elizabeth Ayrey

The sun glances
along the earth’s arched spine
a faultline shifting, undulating
ecstatically beneath the soil.
We stagger down the slope
drunk on adrenaline. Not thinking
of the city, the skyscrapers, the dust,
only the ground rolling like the wake
of a snarling jet boat.
The hillside shines
like spun gold wheat fields
around which we used to build houses
and coliseums, and worry
about quake-proof engineering.
There is no shaking out here.
Just the rippling caress of dried grasses
when we are thrown joyfully
to the ground. Reddened earth, muddy and
The scent of new life lingers
long after the sun sets.
The fire we built to ward off predators
sputters and smoulders
under the moon’s heavy-lidded glare.
We tell ghost stories and wait
for the archaeologists to find teeth marks
in our bones.

Elizabeth Ayrey is an eighteen-year-old poet from Ōtautahi Christchurch. Her work can be found in places such as ReDraftGiven Words, and a fine line. She was a 2021 winner of the NZPS international competition.

Beauty of the World – Saanvi Samal

Landscapes are wherever I go, they can even be snow
They can be yellow or blue, everything feels new
There are very tall mountains, taller than water in a fountain
A prairie is wide open, just like a long ocean
Pink, orange and red sunsets, children play with puppets
Nighttime is dark, even in the park
Sunrise sprinkles light, time to wake up and shine bright
Yesterday is gone, don’t you cry or mourn
It is almost tomorrow
So let’s start the day all over again
Without sorrow

Saanvi Samal lives with her family in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. She loves to dance, loves baking, art, ice skating, and above all she loves school.

Still Life – Ryan Agarwal

Ryan Agarwal has been passionate about art since he could first hold a crayon. He loves to do it during his free time and has also studied at the Artworks Fine Art Studio in San Francisco for nearly a decade. He is a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco where he lives with his parents and his dog Valentino.

The Magikoa Woods – Ava Bogard

Today is the day. My twin sister’s and my twelfth birthday, the birthday we have been looking forward to since we were six. It is a day of adventure, too. May 1, 2021—the day Marisol and I get to go into the Magikoa Woods.
I have heard the legend a thousand times. Every time I visit my grandparents’ house, or one of my mom’s friends comes over, we are told the story of the Wishing Tree in hushed, reverent tones that dance in a child’s ear. It is said to be found in the Magikoa Woods, just half a mile north from my house. Mom has never let us travel into the woods because she doesn’t believe in the Tree, and she doesn’t want us to be disappointed when we don’t find it. But we kept nagging her to go. When we were eight, she gave in and told us she would let us go when we turned twelve. She has always hoped we would grow out of believing in the Tree, but we never have. We are determined.
The Wishing Tree grants one wish to anyone who comes. Marisol and I have had the same wish in mind for ages—I want Dad to come back. He left for Afghanistan seven years ago to fight. I can still feel the warm bear hug he gave me at the airport, trying to silence his tears. I can still see his green and brown camo uniform moving through the gate room.
Marisol and I have never told Mom our wish—we have always told her we wanted to wish for money or new makeup. We didn’t want to make her sad by telling her what we wanted most was Dad. She can’t stand seeing us missing him and being upset.
When I woke up today, just a few minutes ago, I jumped out of bed and tumbled onto Marisol’s bed. I landed on her arm, so she groaned and pushed me away. She massaged her arm and quickly realized what day it was. A humongous, excited smile spread across her face.
Now we are running down the stairs towards the kitchen. The smell of pancakes and bacon surges through my nose as I run behind Marisol. We make a sharp turn and arrive in the kitchen. We watch Mom slide pancakes onto our plates and place a giant platter of bacon in between us.
“Happy birthday,” she says with her warm, signature smile.
We wolf down our meal, excited for the day to come. Marisol and I don’t want presents for our birthday. We don’t even want a party. All we want is for Dad to come home.
After breakfast, Marisol and I slide into jeans and T-shirts, tying hoodies around our waists. It is not long before Mom woefully says goodbye and we walk out the door.
A breeze blows my long hair around. I take a hair tie from my wrist and use it to pull my hair up into a ponytail. Marisol and I face the woods, giddy and excited.
We sprint to the tree line then start walking north. We leap over logs and thorny bushes, and soggy leaves squish under our boots, mud bubbling up above the soles. The view from the inside of the woods is amazing. The trees are everywhere, overlapping each other, which makes the woods more like a forest. The sunlight becomes tinted green when it passes through the trees’ canopies, illuminating everything with a soft, chartreuse glow. Dragonflies and bees zoom through the bushes and trees, avoiding the slow, fluttering butterflies.
According to the legend, the Wishing Tree is taller and thicker than the other trees, adorned with pastel pink flowers. When you make a wish, you’re supposed to place your hand on the trunk and tell the tree your wish. Simple enough.
After about twenty minutes of walking, I spot a thick tree trunk in the distance.
 “Over there!” I yell, pointing. “Look!”
We jog to the trunk and look up at the branches. I cannot explain just how much excitement I feel when I see the trademark pastel pink flowers that bloom on every inch of every branch. We found the Wishing Tree. It really does exist.
Marisol and I exchange a meaningful, toothy smile and our eyes glimmer with childish glee. She outstretches her hand to touch the tree. I stay silent, watching her.
Marisol closes her eyes and says, “I wish for Dad to be home.”
I swear I see the tree sparkle a little. Marisol removes her hand and motions for me to make my wish. I then place my hand on the trunk and close my eyes, just as Marisol did. The bark is rough and scratchy, with tiny splinters poking my skin.
This is the moment I have always been waiting for. “I wish for Dad to be home,” I say.
I remove my hand and grin. Marisol and I bow to the tree, just as the legend instructed us to do. We begin our journey back to the house, following the same route we had taken to get to the tree. I only had one wish, and I used it for the biggest desire of my life. Now all I can do is wait.
When Marisol and I reach our house’s yard, we see a taxi pulling out of our driveway. They probably went to the wrong house. I turn the doorknob and I am surprised to see my mom hugging someone in an army uniform.
Marisol and I run up to him, our eyes flooded with tears. He encases us in one of his signature bear hugs. I breathe in his warm scent: apples and cinnamon, with a hint of pine. It is a familiar scent, one I smell when I bundle myself in his old, fleece blanket at night. Love and happiness course through me, overpowering everything else. My dad is home. My family is whole again.
Wishes do come true.

Ava Bogard lives in Murray, Kentucky, United States. She is 12 years old and attends a public middle school. At school, she participates in Academic Team, Future Business Leaders of America, and Student Council, and her favorite subjects are math and science, although she enjoys all of them. Ava has a passion for writing and art, which she shares with her best friends.

Mum’s Cooking – Christina Livermore

I came home to a new smell today
Something sweet and spicy in the same sniff
I follow the scent that leads me away
Until, I turn and suddenly go stiff
My mum is standing next to the black stove
My mind automatically thinks “Oh no.”
I run to the door and hop to the grove
But as I run, my mother yells “Don’t go!”
Immediately, I come back and sit
After I wait, my mum hands me a plate
At first, I hesitate; then I try it
Usually, it sucks, but today it tastes GREAT!
I applaud her amazing chicken bake
She looks down and mumbles, “It was a cake.”

Christina Livermore is twelve years old and lives in Wellington, Florida, United States. She wrote this sonnet about her mother’s cooking for her creative writing class.

Where Am I? – Nala Delgado

I am tired. Very tired. And sleepy. Flying for twenty-four hours is not fun. My wings are sore. They look dull green, and not as sparkly as I like them to be. It’s probably because of all that dirt in the air.
Ouch! Now my throat hurts too. I probably lost a lot of the red feathers covering my throat! This is why I didn’t want to fly with the other hummingbirds from Chicago to Mexico. Plus, my parents and I are always behind the other hummingbirds, since my little brother flies like a turtle (if they can fly).
Why do we have to fly to Mexico? I miss Chicago already. Here in Mexico, all the hummingbirds like the nectar of my favorite flower: a red tube that looks like the balloon dogs that balloon artists make in birthday parties. And there are only a few of these tube-flowers in one place. I have to muscle my beak around bigger hummingbirds to find a flower with enough nectar to eat.
In Chicago, I can feast! There are wooden houses or glass plates attached to windows and trees. People put insects and sugary seeds in them. And there is water inside that is just for birds (and greedy squirrels)! There are so many of these food heavens that all hummingbirds have their own spots so I don’t have to squeak by them for food.
Also, the spiders in Mexico scuttle around the market stalls where abuelas make tacos. I am not fast enough to catch and eat them. Chicago spiders like to sleep after they finish spinning their webs near the birdhouses. They’re easier to catch. And tastier too!
I remember arguing with my parents when they demanded that I fly with them to Mexico, but I wanted to stay in Chicago.
“Why?” I chirped angrily.
“Because it will be winter, and it gets icy cold. You will get really sick,” my mom said.
“But, I’m older! I have more feathers to keep me warm,” I insisted.
“You are coming with us!” my dad shouted!
“Nala, please come with us,” my little brother softly tweeted.
I’ll do anything for my little brother.
“Fine,” I grumpily agreed.
At least we are almost in Mexico! I can see the mountains. The calm sea. Green trees. Clay houses. Blue skies.
But wait! This can’t be! Where am I? Where is everybody? Where are my parents? My brother? Why is it cold? Freezing cold. And why does the water look gloomy and mad? Is that white powder on the grass? What happened to the green trees? An….an…and is that gray-black skyscraper the John Hancock Tower? Am I back in Chicago?
What is happening? I need to think. But, the wind. I can’t think with this frigid wind bruising my wings! And my eyes! I can’t see through this white powder.
A strong gust slams into my wings. I hear my wings crack, and I can’t move them!
I’m fa…fa…falling!
Now I understand Chicago winter and why we need to leave Chicago!
Still falling!
My beak is about to smash the pavement! I just want to see my parents and brother.
I close my eyes.
“Nala, we’re here in Iguala! Wake up, sleepy-bird!” That voice sounds like Mom.
“Nala! Nala! I know it’s tempting to continue flying while sleeping, but you may bump into a house and hurt yourself. Wake up!” That sounds like Dad.
“Wake up, farty wings.” That is definitely my little brother.
I blink. “Huh! Wha…Where am I?” I blink again.
I see mountains. The calm sea. Green trees. Clay houses. Blue skies.
But, best of all, I see Mom.
And my little brother.
I know where I am!
I am with my family.
I am home.

Nala Delgado, age nine, was introduced to writing at age 7. She is funny, weird, and friendly, but she is also shy and sensitive so don’t expect a full-on “OMG!” or loads of questions when you meet her. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, United States, with her annoying brother, but considers Chicago home.

Homes Left Behind – Savarna Yang

Savarna Yang is fourteen and lives in Ōtepoti Dunedin, New Zealand.

Home to the Heart – Lily Zhang

Fumbling across the blank lined pages
My hands scribble for my sanity’s sake
They shake more than they have in ages
Leaving a script like something a child would make
I don’t care for how it looks
Or what my peers would think
My thoughts that have filled up entire books
Come to life with multicolored ink
Every worry, every desire
Every hope and every fear
Ideas that burn through my head like fire
Live inside my notebook here
“I disagree with what he said.”
“Why would she do such a thing?”
“My classmates are so far ahead!”
“Everybody laughs when I’m singing…”
“I think the homework’s way too long!”
“Why is he so cold to me?”
“Is it because I did something wrong?”
“What is it that I don’t see?”
“I never wanted this for anyone.”
“Why can’t they leave me be?”
“Is this topic overdone?”
“Maybe he secretly still likes me?”
Thus, I force paper to house it all
Jotted down to be analyzed and read
In an attempt to quiet the turbulent squall
Yet the chaotic thoughts still raze my head

Lily C. Zhang is a twelve-year-old living in California, United States. She likes to write and help her classmates, but taking care of her dog is her top priority. She lost access to the fantastic world of Teyvat last year, so she turned to her thoughts for magic instead.

The House – Yemaya Gaspard

My daughter shut the car door, not hard enough to be a slam, but hard enough to make the car rattle a bit. On most days after soccer practice, she didn’t want to talk. I figured she was beating herself up about whatever small mistakes she made on the field, but I could never be sure, so I left her to her own thoughts and rarely ever said a word.
“Are we going to the house?” She asked, a grumble hidden in her voice. I was caught by surprise that she said anything at all.
“Where else would we go, Mila?” I replied, almost jokingly. I saw her shrug before sighing and turning to stare out the window, tracing her fingers against the raindrops from the inside. I took her question as an invitation for conversation.
“So how was practice?”
“Fine. Only blocked four out of the five goals.”
“But that’s great!”
“Dad. Only four. Not great. Disappointing.”
“If you say so.” We didn’t talk for a bit, and the only thing breaking the silence was the rainfall.
“The next game is the 11th, Saturday.” It sounded like an invitation, but you never know with Mila.
“Wow. I’m off of work that day.”
“I know, Dad.”
I smiled at the stoplight and turned to look at her.
“Do you want me to come?” I tried to hold in the excitement, besides letting the smile form on my lips. I looked at her with hopeful eyes for one last second before pressing on the gas when the light turned green.
“If you want, you can come,” she said. I noticed her fingers return to the raindrop-covered window.
“Okay, great. Maryssa and I can come cheer you on.”
“Nevermind, actually. Maybe go to the next one. My playing’s not as good as I want it to be anyway.”
She was quiet for the rest of the car ride, and I decided not to push. A few minutes later, we arrived at the house, and she stormed through the puddles walking in. That night, I tried knocking on her door, but there was no answer. I assumed she was asleep, so I left her alone.
The next morning, she knocked on my door saying, “Grandma’s here. I’m gonna leave. See you later.”
I didn’t get a chance to answer before I heard her footsteps on the stairs, so I gave my mom a call.
“Hey, mom. Thanks for bringing her to school. I’ll pick her up,” I said over the phone.
“I thought Millie was,” my mom replied.
Millie is my ex-wife, Mila’s mother. I don’t think Mila liked the back and forth—it seemed like she felt like she was on a carousel, never knowing where it would stop. We were freshly divorced, so everyone was still adjusting, especially Mila. It had only been a few months since we actually started living apart, but emotionally, we’d been divorced for longer.
“Oh. I just thought since her game’s Saturday—”
“Hi, lovebug. How’s my favorite eighth grader on this fine Friday?” I heard her say.
“I’m good, Grandma.” Mila’s voice was muffled through the phone speaker.
“Dave, uh, I’ll talk to you later. I’m sure Millie’ll get her, though. Bye.” I imagined my mom clicking the “hang up” button before I tried texting Millie to confirm the plan. No response. For hours. So all I could do was hope she was okay, and better yet, hope she was able to pick Mila up from practice.
I didn’t find out until I went to the game the next day.
Mila wasn’t playing goalie today, but she was a defender, and she did an amazing job. Maybe I was biased, as her father, because everything she did was amazing. I couldn’t stop being proud of her.
At halftime, Mila and her teammates walked to the bench, dipping their hands in the ice cooler, pulling out water bottles. Millie rushed over to give Mila her reusable bottle instead of whatever plastic the cooler had. I didn’t even notice that she was a few rows below me in the bleachers, and I wondered if she noticed I was above her. I got up to go talk to Mila when I was greeted with a lip-lined smile. It was Maryssa.
“David, dear, hello!” She pulled me in for a pretty rough hug.
“Maryssa, hi. I’m sitting up there,” I gestured toward my row before trying to move out of her way and get to my daughter.
“Oh, but where are you going?”
“Just to say hi to Mila.” I kept walking, but I felt her warmth behind me. I approached Mila and Millie, wearing a pre-printed smile, but Mila looked up at me with disappointed eyes, and my smile faded.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, even looking to Millie for an answer.
“After this, do you wanna get some ice cream, Mimi?” Maryssa interrupted, placing her hand on Mila’s shoulder.
“I told you I don’t like it when you call me that,” Mila replied, looking to her mother with a call for help painted in her eyes.
“Mila, I have something in the car for you. Let’s go.” Millie looked me in the eye for the first time in months, but it wasn’t anything good. I hated how similar their eyes were, Millie and Mila. I couldn’t look in the eyes of one without thinking of the other.
I returned back to my seat, cheering for Mila at every moment, trying not to be that one embarrassing dad. An hour passed before her team won, and the eighth grade girls all huddled together, cheering with bright smiles.
I wiped sweat off my forehead before running off the bleachers to congratulate my daughter, but her mom beat me to it. I heard Maryssa’s heels crunching on the grass not too far behind me.
“You did so good, baby!” Millie pushed a strand of Mila’s blond hair back and wiped the sweat off her pale forehead. It appears that she got the sweat glands from me, and her eyes from her mother, because despite the hot Arizona sun, Millie didn’t sweat a drop. Her baby blue sundress was dry, and she smelled like daisies. I wish I could have said the same for myself.
“Thanks, mommy. Can we go home?”
My heart dropped. I hadn’t heard that word come from Mila’s mouth in months. She never said it. Not with me. She would only say house.
“Your father’s or mine?” Millie asked, side-eying me.
“If you come with me and your father,” Maryssa interjected, “we can get that ice cream we talked about.”
We didn’t talk. You did,” Mila answered before turning to her mother. “Mom, I wanna go home with you. Can I visit dad’s house next weekend?”
“Why don’t you wanna come home?” I asked. I didn’t know what the answer would be.
“I do want to go home. With mom. I’ll go to your house another time.”
“My house? It’s yours too.”
“Sure, Dad. Is your girlfriend going with you?”
“Probably not,” I replied. I could feel Maryssa looking at me, but I tried to ignore the strain her eyes put on me.
“Dave, I think we’ll go.” Millie said to me. “Enjoy all of that,” she gestured toward Maryssa, who walked away to talk to the soccer moms.
“No, Mill, wait. I want to talk to Mila.” I grabbed her arm. Her face contorted with a confused look.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Millie replied.
“Dad, your house isn’t a home. It hasn’t been since Mom left. It’s empty. It’s quiet. Except for Maryssa, who talks too loud and too much.”
“But—” I began.
“Let her speak,” Millie said.
“Not that I want Maryssa there, either, but she’s the only life in that house. It’s not a home. A home has two parents and me, and I don’t have that. I can’t have that since you left my mom for Maryssa.”
“Mila!” Millie exclaimed, and her cheeks flushed. Mila walked toward the parking lot, and only Millie and I stayed, staring at where Mila stood before.
After a few moments, Millie said, “I think we’ll leave. Bye, Dave.”
Mila’s words rang—no, banged—in my head.
I don’t have that. I can’t have that.
I stood on the soccer field, alone, before driving back to my house. It wasn’t a home. Not for Mila. And without her, it wasn’t a home for me either.

Yemaya Gaspard is a seventeen-year-old creator in South Florida, United States, who has been writing since she was in kindergarten. She loves to capture her own stories, the stories of others, and the fictional stories of characters she creates.

Contemplation – Ryan Agarwal

Ryan Agarwal has been passionate about art since he could first hold a crayon. He loves to do it during his free time and has also studied at the Artworks Fine Art Studio in San Francisco for nearly a decade. He is a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco where he lives with his parents and his dog Valentino.

A Day in the Life of a Doorknob – Natalie Leuschner

A creak we hear from the doorknob that’s near
It’s good friends with door, who makes it less bored
The Stinky Hands make the doorknob shudder with fear
The poor old knob hates its job, it feels so ignored
But when the most frightening thing appears
The doorknob feels fear and trepidation
For the unwashed hands have now reappeared
The doorknob can’t escape the situation
As the hands approach, it accepts defeat
But all of the sudden, someone says: “Hello!”
Then the other person stops their feet!
The doorknob holds its breath waiting to know
The stranger leaves, and the danger is gone
The doorknob sleeps peacefully until dawn

Natalie Leuschner is a twelve-year-old sixth grader who plays soccer, violin, and loves to bake. She two has siblings, an older brother and older sister.

Road Trip Villanelle – Emma Philips

To return home you first must leave
We spent our summer falling off the map
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe
Into the world we set forth, young and naive
Our ute packed with Queen CDs and sandwiches in plastic wrap
To return home you first must leave
Over mountains and across plateaus our path did weave
We walked the longest swing bridge to cross a river filled gap
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe
From traveling there was no reprieve
Ever onwards we wandered, through blistering heat and thunderclap
To return home, you first must leave
And on one darkening silent eve
Round a bend comes a familiar tree and we hear our dog’s welcome home yap
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe
For those past days of exploration we do not grieve
For our realm of dairy farms and Kauri trees is no trap
To return home you first must leave
And sometimes I wonder if our adventures were make believe

Emma Philips is seventeen years old and lives in Ararua, Northland, New Zealand. Previously she has been shortlisted in the National Flash Fiction Day youth competition and won the 2022 Smart Alex writing competition run by the Turnbull Library. When not writing she can be found reading, drawing, or helping out on the farm.

Condemned Houses – Sarah-Kate Simons

so much can depend
variegated wallpaper
in the back of an antiquated
chanced on by
an explorer
in muddy gumboots.

Sarah-Kate Simons is a writer from rural Canterbury, New Zealand. She is widely published in journals and anthologies. She has been shortlisted and placed in many writing competitions locally and internationally, and was a judge for the 2022 New Zealand Poetry Society competition. Her hobbies include ballet, art, and verbal sparring matches with her characters.

Rain – Ryan Agarwal

Ryan Agarwal has been passionate about art since he could first hold a crayon. He loves to do it during his free time and has also studied at the Artworks Fine Art Studio in San Francisco for nearly a decade. He is a sophomore at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco where he lives with his parents and his dog Valentino.

The Walking House – Eliah Kim

Yes, there is a walking house
It’s not as comfy as others
Or as big
But it’s a house
A walking house
Said walking house
Carries its weight, with legs
Unlike anything you’ve seen
These legs are small
Smaller than yours
The house’s legs are smaller than yours
Do you have big feet?
Of course the house can’t balance
With one pair of legs
So it has twenty
Twenty pairs of legs
Each taking step by step
Runs and walks
Just like you and me
However, there’s a catch
The house has legs
The legs are small
The legs have a catch
If one leg goes down
The other does too
One leg goes down
The other does too
The house can’t walk
What will it do?
The house is normal
The house is normal
It doesn’t like to be
It wants to be free
Venture the world
With what used to be the house’s legs
The house doesn’t have legs
The house is normal
The house feels sad
The house is lonely
The house has guests
The house has guests
The guests are human
The house is surprised
The house welcomes them in
A father, mother, and two kids
The father, mother, and two kids
Are called a family
The family love the house
The house loves the family
The house enjoys being normal
The house… is happy

Eliah Kim has grown up in San Diego most of his life as a tennis player and an anime lover.

Desert Drifter – William Bittner

Some people really couldn’t care less about who you are: man or woman, young or old, black or white. These are the people that keep the world from spinning off its axis. These are the people—or, perhaps, person—that slide out of the bathtub faucet and make themselves at home.
More accurate than “person” might be “creature”, though no one knows for sure. In Melinda Alvarez’s case, it really did slide out of the faucet. There she was in her windowless bathroom, freshly naked, the door locked and the AC clogged with dust bunnies that could keep a space station pressurized. What did she turn around and see in the bathtub? A pile of neon jackets in a head-splitting array of colors. A beard like a barbed wire fence spilled over them from beneath a tilted Stetson. They got into a little contest, her screaming, it drowning her out with a sudden bout of snoring.
By the time the neighbors came to investigate, the creature had quit the apartment. All that remained was Melinda, faint on the floor. Sweat puddled around her. She told paramedics there had been a man in her bathtub, but when the police showed up before any evidence did, she decided she didn’t believe her story either.
The local news, at least, tossed her a bone. They ran a lunchtime story the next day, the kind that’s really just white noise for nervous dogs left inside on hot days while their owners run to the grocery store. It was sandwiched between a profile of a local centenarian who came third in the national Scrabble tournament and the announcement of an ice cream parlor opening up on Parson Street. It was the middle of a southwestern July. Ice cream got a stronger response.
The next next day, Mayor Richard Alvarez (no relation to Ms. Melinda Alvarez) took to Twitter to address the residents of Placeholder, Arizona (also known as Placeholder, New Mexico—the border cut the city into the shape of a headless deer and a roughly equal deerless head). In a proud, tearless speech, he regaled the previous night’s intrusion into his home. Upon hearing a strange noise from downstairs, the Mayor kissed his sleeping wife, grabbed his 1994 Division II Championship bat, and snaked through the house with the precision of a Navy SEAL. A flipped lightswitch revealed a wild vagabond rummaging through the fridge. Fortunately for all involved, the figure fled. This frightening incident will not interfere with the Mayor’s campaign nor distract him from his continued dedication to serving his constituents.
Within a week, two dozen reports had come in. Streetwalker Liche Alvarez (again, no relation) tripped on her heels and skinned her knee while running away from a client’s car. The creature had been sleeping in his backseat. He didn’t see it, bystanders didn’t see it, the police didn’t see it, but it was there, she swears it was there, she saw it and she ran away, he killed that person, she could see the body, why does no one believe her?
Marcus Sweaty (who actually was distantly related to both Melinda and Richard Alvarez) was an HVAC artisan on his way to the Big City when he plowed into a sedan. The creature had opened his hood and climbed out of the engine in the middle of rush hour traffic, blinding him to the Honda Accord whose rear he was rapidly approaching. The damage was pretty bad, but he knows a guy who’ll fix it for cheap even without insurance. He can always buff out the scratches and dents on his own and his grandson is coming next weekend and he needs to teach him to work on an engine, so he might not even need to do that if the boy still has a good pair of hands and a bit of sense in his head like his grandpa.
They started calling the creature the Desert Drifter, on account of its roaming from red-rock house to sun-stained car and everywhere in between. It never did anything to justify a more intimidating name. An investigative team from Phoenix concluded that it was a living ghost. A team put together by the local ranchers at Sammy’s Bar to the tune of stale ale and jukebox rocking agreed. Windows stayed shut, doors stayed locked, eyes stayed open and guns stayed loaded. The creature appeared all the same.
Each time it slipped through a window or out of an ice machine, its garish garb took on different patterns. The only constant was its beard. The investigation went nowhere, with Sweaty claiming to see ectoplasm on a neighbor’s wall, which turned out to be an AC leak that drew his attention away immediately. Jake Zonnie, a reclusive fundamentalist from the reservation, knew for a fact it was a modern-day Diyin Dine’é, angered and on the loose. Spencer Wells, smelling a demon and in need of a stroll, set out for the Gila Valley Temple on foot, a Bible and a Book of Mormon in hand.
The first real lead, the pin that set off the snare and almost snagged the rabbit by the foot, came from Miss Karen Alvarez.
Miss Karen Alvarez (no relation to the other Alvarezes) was known in town as “that crazy old bat,” and folks liked it that way. When a baseball flew over Miss Karen Alvarez’s fence, as far as the kids were concerned, it ceased to exist. Her property was a snug thing. The roof of her house hung over the plywood fence so that no sunlight got in except for a single corner where a garden grew. Bored teenagers in last period joked that it wasn’t that no one knew if she was alive; no one knew who knew. They tried to wrap their pot-addled heads around that until the bell rang. Placeholder Farm and City Credit Union must have been too scared to call in her mortgage, because she never left for work or got welfare in the mail but somehow kept the house.
It was in that house that the Drifter next appeared. Beard treacherous as usual, it snuck into the house while she was working in the garden, pampering peppers that made the most delicious mole. A burning stench ambushed her as she finished up on the patio and pulled off her rubber boots. A look through the faded screen door revealed the Drifter lounging in the sink, reading a flier from the fridge as his hat sizzled on the stovetop. For the first time in local memory, Karen fled her fortress, ran with one boot all the way to the fire station, and, remembering the logo on the flier the Drifter was reading, told them with the foresight of a grandmother where it was headed next.
The Placeholder Catholic High School gym was the site of an all-out war. Daniel Alvarez and Luna Alvarez (their same last name fortunately a coincidence) were intrepid vanguards, forging ahead into the trench-crossed Ardennes of their sexuality as their tongues crashed in great airbursts. This was the awkward scene the Drifter stumbled onto. Rather, slid onto, as it unscrewed the air conditioning grate with its fingernails and slunk down the wall, cushioned by rising sound waves as the grate crashed and quivered on the floor.
The lovebirds turned. The Drifter let himself break in two and be absorbed by their disbelieving eyes. From there, he strolled to their brainstems and slid down them like fire poles before jumping through the thinnest skin where bony, youthful backs were accentuated by vertebrae, and helicoptered to the gym floor, wiry beards becoming wings. From both Luna and Daniel sprung a brand-new drifter. They turned to face each other as a reflection faces itself in a second mirror.
Before the confused Alvarezes could turn around and scream, the doors burst open and floodlights bounded in, police, sheriffs, troopers, marshalls, and every other shade of uniform following on their heels. They reached the teens before the light did, and they were knocked off their feet for the second time that night. One shepherded Luna into the arms of her grandmother, Miss Karen Alvarez. One shepherded Daniel into her glare.
The officers surrounded the Drifter and its clone in a circle of tasers. The Drifters were tranquil statues. A lieutenant wanted their layers off to sniff out weapons. The officers’ arms unbuttoned, unzipped, grabbed and pulled at linen and memories of satin and hats and scarves until their muscles burned and the clothes pile was taller than the Drifters. At last, a pair of gray sweatshirts were removed and the Drifters’ forms voided from reality, their clothing falling limply as stale air slid out from where their bodies should have been.
Up above, sharing drinks with its newborn brother, the Drifter made a toast to beginnings. The pair looked down through heaven and chuckled, not maliciously, but contentedly, happy with the knowledge that Placeholder, Arizona (also known as Placeholder, New Mexico) made a little less sense than before.

William Bittner is a high school senior from Birmingham, Alabama, United States. He enjoys writing absurdist essays and short stories. He has been published in Parallax, Crashtest, Paper Crane, and others, and has been recognized by the Alabama Writers’ Forum.

Nonfiction column

Opinion Article: ChatGPT Is a Tool for Education, Not a Threat – Ryan Chen

ChatGPT is on track to become one of the most popular applications in history, reaching 100 million users just two months after its release. The chatbot uses artificial intelligence to generate text based on prompts. The resulting text is convincingly human—causing consternation amongst educators, who worry that students could be using ChatGPT to cheat. In response, school districts in New York City and Seattle, among others, have banned the usage of ChatGPT on school networks and devices.
But ChatGPT doesn’t mean human-generated text will necessarily become obsolete. In fact, ChatGPT itself is trained on vast quantities of human-generated text. Its writing style seems convincing, but it’s currently incapable of generating true, original knowledge. The CEO of OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, acknowledged this himself last December, tweeting that ChatGPT was “incredibly limited”.
ChatGPT may be able to generate a high school-level essay on, say, the themes of Romeo and Juliet that looks convincing at first glance. But a closer read will likely show an inability to back up arguments with specific textual references, circular reasoning that doesn’t actually make sense, and perhaps even plagiarism. (All issues that plague human writing as well—so maybe it’s unsurprising that our AI reflection picked it up.)
Limited or not, AI-generated language isn’t going away any time soon—it’s the home of the future. In fact, it’s already used in everyday applications like auto-generating text suggestions for emails. Its accessibility and efficiency, combined with improvements in computing, mean that the role of generative AI will only increase. Students must understand this technology and how to best apply it.
Therefore, some educators are taking the route of critically assessing what ChatGPT can do and how they can incorporate it into their classrooms, instead of the extremes of completely banning ChatGPT or wholeheartedly embracing it. For example, Marilyn Ramirez, a high school English teacher in New York City, says she isn’t worried about ChatGPT. She compared it to Google Translate, which her non-native-English-speaking students use in her classes: an important tool, but with limitations. Another high school English teacher, Kelly Gibson in rural Oregon, told her students to use ChatGPT to generate an essay analysing a text—and then take it apart and improve it.
Taking ChatGPT’s text as a starting point for outlines, ideas, prompts, lesson plans, and more, for students to respond to, is common among educators who use ChatGPT. This can also help address writer’s block, which is very challenging for students for whom writing is not their strong suit. ChatGPT can be used to generate text about whatever the writer is stuck on, providing scaffolding for their arguments and a starting point to look at the topic from a fresh perspective and glean insights.
ChatGPT also has a “regenerate response” function, where it can create new text for the same prompt from scratch. By providing multiple answers to the same question, students can identify the strongest elements, consider the bot’s arguments, and respond to what it says, honing their discernment skills and making the writing process seem less intimidating.
And while this may change as language learning models become more powerful, currently, ChatGPT’s database of accumulated knowledge is limited. The tool can’t do Internet searches and scrape the resulting information, so it has limited knowledge of world events after 2021. But it still has a broad base of information and can be used to provide a wealth of examples to students. Students can build on that by connecting the information they get from ChatGPT to real-world examples they’ve pulled from the news and personal experience—information ChatGPT can’t access. By functioning as a powerful search engine, or a writer’s version of a calculator, ChatGPT can be a home base of knowledge and resources for students to expound upon in their own, personal way.
As ChatGPT gets stronger, society must adapt with it, not against it. Like ChatGPT’s “regenerate response”, educators must continually reassess their standards and rules to keep up with AI. As large language models (LLMs) advance, the chatbot may very well “graduate” from writing high school and undergraduate papers to generating hypotheses, designing experiments, and even synthesising new information. ChatGPT’s texts have already been criticised for inaccuracies. While ChatGPT will likely become more reliable with time, this underscores the need for multiple forms of verification, much like peer review.
But unlike individual researchers, ChatGPT as a whole can’t be held accountable for saying something inaccurate or plagiarising another person’s work. Therefore, researchers and students should be transparent about how they used AI language generators throughout the process and disclose whether it was used to partially come up with ideas, revise, or write the piece. Educators should also explore LLMs beyond just ChatGPT to provide different points of comparison. Tech companies could do their part to improve LLMs as a pedagogical tool by being more transparent about the database and code used to build them.
Ultimately, ChatGPT and other forms of artificial intelligence are strongest when paired with a person. This isn’t a new revelation; the 1991 paper “Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies” discussed the benefits of “intellectual partnerships” between humans and machines. This includes effects with the technology (advancements in collective knowledge, or scholarship) and effects of the technology (advancements in individual knowledge, or education). Currently, LLMs like ChatGPT are better suited for the latter because of their unprecedented ability to digest and see patterns in written text.
That also means humans aren’t going anywhere, as the ultimate originators of the information powering ChatGPT. But ChatGPT and similar tools are here to stay too, and they should be regarded more as exciting new challenges, not potential threats. Instead of demonising it, let’s learn how to use artificial intelligence—intelligently.

Ryan Chen is a junior at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, United States, and has a passion for journalism. His writing on homelessness received a Silver Key at the Scholastic Art and Writing awards. In his free time, he loves to read, watch football, and play cards with his friends.

Special: Flash fiction mentorship programme

Introduction and acknowledgements

These stories come from students mentored as part of a year-long project to bring flash fiction to schools across the country. Funded by the Mātātuhi Foundation, we offered workshops free to schools either outside major centres, or below decile six in the cities. These workshops were then followed by a series of mentorships to hone students’ stories for publication—we are delighted to share some of these stories below in this special feature at fingers comma toes.

We aimed to deliver eight workshops and mentor five students, but when we put out the call more than thirty schools applied.

Between five writers, we ran thirteen workshops in schools in Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Wairarapa, Tasman, Canterbury, North Otago, Central Otago, and Southland. We were also able to provide mentoring to ten students. This publication features work from several of these students.

We would like to thank the Mātātuhi Foundation, who provided funding for the workshops and mentoring, and the NZATE, who offered further funding to cover some of the transportation costs. Of course, the project would not have been possible without the hard work of all the writers, teachers, and mentors:

Lynda Scott Araya

Paul Clark

Lola Elvy

Michelle Elvy

Ronnie Karadjova

Kate Mahony

Anna Scaife

Catherine Trundle

We would particularly like to thank Lola Elvy for not only bringing her experience to the project and being one of the mentors, but also giving our students space in fingers comma toes.

This issue is dedicated to Paul Clark, who passed away at the end of May. Paul’s contribution to the project in its early stages helped us get it off the ground, and his passion for teaching radiated through our many Zoom calls.

Thank you to teachers and students for contributing to this project.

Mel Dixon and Jack Remiel Cottrell, project organisers

Free At Last – Angelica Sabili

If the heart is the strongest muscle, then why is it so easy to break?
Life used to be beautiful. On monsoon mornings, I held her hand, so she didn’t slip at the bus stop. And then we never let go. This girl—bubbly, beautiful, lovely—was someone I knew would grow old with me forever, I thought.
“Wake up, bro. Just move on and you’ll find someone better than her,” they all told me. I knew I was just letting everyone down.
“Hey, Alden, you are my top student, but I’m wondering why you have been failing exams. Not turning in your homework, not interested in any school activities. How can I help you? You can talk to me,” Miss Valmonte said.
I wanted to excel but I didn’t have the energy even to be fatigued. The shadows of nightfall seemed more sombre, my mornings less buoyant, and I couldn’t even imagine the possibility of me getting out of bed. One minute it was an outburst of anger, next thing, tears would start flooding my eyes. It’s all my fault. What’s the point? You are just a nobody, worthless, and nobody in this world deserves you. Those were the words that kept repeating. Thinking of her made me tremble and have trouble focusing clearly on anything. I thought I was healing and moving on. The truth is, I was feeling depressed.
Recognising that I was depressed was essential to get the right help. I started dealing with my emotion and shared how I feel with someone I trusted—my whānau. My family helped and provided me with their aroha, comfort, respect, and concern. On days when I felt really down, as if I couldn’t get out of bed, physical activities helped boost my energy levels. Every day, I set small goals and accomplished them. I started to listen to music, spent time with nature, and had a wonderful time with my whānau. I opened my eyes and allowed the people I shut out of my life back again.
Two years have passed ever since you decided to leave me. Now, I’m finally free! Everything is clear! It’s incredible!  It feels like I’m wearing a new pair of shiny glasses. You see, that must be the significance of tears. To clean our eyes for us to reveal that we weren’t meant for each other. I realised that everyone was right. Starting this day, you are a learning memory to help me move on. Starting this day, I won’t be crying because of you. Starting this day, I won’t rush myself to give every effort to follow you because you left me. I promise myself that starting this day I will not allow my world to revolve around you. Because I’m free at last.

Angelica Sabili is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Carnival Poppies – Jaedyne Mayion

“Benny-boy! Ya still got those drinks?” Baz called out.
“Oh course, Bazzy!” Ben handed out mini champagne bottles.
“Guys! I got the cotton candy! Thanks, Miguel!” Lance rushed towards them, waving the candy victoriously.
“Lance, those are mine! Give them back!” Miguel tried to catch Lance but Lance skillfully avoided his grasp.
“Miguel, stop chasing Lance. You’re causing a scene.” Allen sipped his champagne.
“But Mom—” Miguel slapped his hand over his mouth.
“What was that, Miguel?” Allen raised an eyebrow.
He’s so dead, everyone thought.
“N-nothing, Allen!” Miguel hid feebly behind Lance, who glared at him.
“That’s what I thought. Lance, pass around the cotton candy, please,”
As the cotton candy was passed around, conversation gradually increased.
“How’s the cotton candy, Kevin?” Allen asked the youngest of the group.
“Good as always, sir! Super sweet and fluffy!” the sixteen-year-old eagerly replied.
“That’s great to hear!” he softly smiled.
“Baz’s got the best shot out of all of us, he should go!” Miguel handed the pebbles to him. Baz aimed at the stacked cans some distance away.
PING! The first one fell. PING! Another down. Ping! The last one followed.
“Crikey! You have some great aim, good sir! Here is your prize!” the stall owner declared, dramatically presenting Baz with a purple plushie.
“Why thank you, Madam Macie!” Baz snickered while doing a curtsy.
“I’ve told you, it’s Mac!” The group exploded into fits of laughter.
“Oh come on, Mac! We’re just joking!” Lance slapped him on the back. “Isn’t that right, Kev?”
“Y-yeah! W-we’re j-just j-joking!” Kevin wheezed.
“See?” Lance grinned.
“Wow, so convincing,” Mac rolled his eyes.
“Oh, don’t be like that, Mac! Loosen up! Live a little!” Baz laughed.
“Hey, sarge! Care to join our little carnival?” Ben offered the weary sergeant a bottle.
Ammunition acted as plushies. Coconut oat biscuits were pretend cotton candy. Rationed water was illusive champagne. For a moment, the raging battlefield was a carnival fantasy.
“What would I do without you eight?” the sergeant sighed, taking a swig of water.
“Probably die, sir!” came a reply.
“Oh shut it, Jack!” he yelled back.
“Haha, you know I was joking, sir!” Jack shot him a cheeky grin before playfully tackling Lance to the ground.
“Ahh, sibling love.” Mac pretended to wipe away a tear while Kevin giggled at the sight of Lance and Jack wrestling on the ground.
“Jack, Lance, cut it out.” The sergeant rubbed his temples. “I swear, y’all are giving me wrinkles fifty years early.”
The echoing gunshots stopped abruptly.
That’s seven minutes too soon. What happened to the barrage? This isn’t good. thought the sergeant.
“It’s time, boys,” the sergeant declared.
“Oh, don’t be sad, sarge! We ain’t gonna die!” Kevin smiled innocently.
“Heh, then I’ll see you later, okay, kid?” He ruffled Kevin’s hair.
“Sir yes sir!” Kevin saluted.
“Form up, men!” the sergeant commanded.
“Yes sir!” they replied in unison.
“SOLDIERS, ADVANCE!” the sergeant yelled, his voice cracking a bit.
Beside the trench, eight poppies grew.

Jaedyne Mayion is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Barren – Ava Porter

Barren. That was how to describe what lay before Lucy. The sky stretched out dark and ominous and the cobwebs suspended between the carnival rides glimmered in the moonlight. It was deserted, and the creepy feeling made Lucy shiver. The Ferris wheel creaked, and that’s when it started. Lightning cracked right beside her, purple winged creatures came flying at her from nowhere, small fluffy clouds rocketed towards her. An invisible force yanked her over and pulled at her feet, dragging her across the hay floor. Lucy tried to scream, but nothing came out.
Lucy sat bolt upright in her bed. She had broken out in a cold sweat like she did every morning after waking from the same dream. But despite the horrors of the night, it was like heaven compared to the day ahead.
Lucy managed to get to school and find her friends. They messed around while they waited for the bell and for the shortest time she felt alright. She would usually sit in the corner, watching rather than taking part. She would mull over her thoughts, praying that no one could see beyond her solemn outer shell. But today Lucy joined in, talked, laughed along with the other. The cloud full of failure, anxiety, and depression that usually lurked over her dispersed as she was distracted from all her worries with the laughter and chatter of her friends. But when the bell rang the cloud surely returned, as Lucy faced what she had to do next. She pushed her way through the stampede in the corridor, her head dropped low. Lucy reached her destination and tentatively pushed the door open.
“Hey, Lucy,” a sweet-voiced woman said from behind the desk.
“Hi, Miss Eagle,” Lucy whispered, nerves flooding her body.
“Take a seat,” Miss Eagle said, smiling kindly and gesturing to the seat opposite her. Lucy closed the door firmly behind her and sat down. She gripped the armrests tightly and her knee started jiggling hastily.
“So, let’s talk through this, okay, Lucy?” Miss Eagle said in a kind, reassuring tone, starting what was sure to be a difficult conversation. Miss eagle had a vibe about her, one of confidence and trust. Lucy took a deep breath. It was worth a shot. She nodded.
That night, like every night, Lucy was back at the carnival. The desertedness was still creepy, and the lack of life sent shivers up Lucy’s spine. She knew it was coming but it terrified her all the same when the lightning hit the ground centimetres from her bare feet. It terrified her when the screeching winged creatures came rocketing at her from all directions. It terrified her when the icy mist swept her hair into knots and gave her goosebumps all over. It was hell. As she hit the ground, as she felt the unseen force grab her ankle, as she was dragged across the rough, disgusting earth. Lucy opened her mouth wide, wanting desperately to release her pent-up feelings through a loud scream. And she did. Not a proper scream, just a quiet, timid scream, a scream that was a baby wanting to grow. Lucy had never been able to scream before in this dream. While her mouth was letting out the small scream, her eyes glinted with relief and hope. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Ava Porter is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Flower Fields – Erin Aralar

May 13, 1881
Spring neared its demise.
Dominic trod through the emerald-dazzled forest. He hadn’t visited for a year. He couldn’t bring himself to return. Dominic still hadn’t processed everything.
Golden rays shone through the tall canopies, giving plants their ‘glowing aura’. He frequented this place because of its solitude; with admirers always flocking him, the forest offered  asylum. He never understood why people were so vain; all he had was his striking appearance. Other than that, he was no different than the average man.
“Watch your step!” a soft voice exclaimed.
The sole of Dominic’s shoe hovered over a flower. As he stepped aside, he turned to talk to the stranger. Dominic had never been bewitched by someone so beautiful. Her dark, wavy hair increased her crimson lips’ intensity. He found it challenging to look away from her doll-like, cerulean eyes as they gazed into his. The cool tones in her eyes juxtaposed the warmth she radiated.
“I apologise for that, Miss. May I ask for your name?”
“Angelica Fields.”
“It’s a pleasure meeting you, Miss Fields,” he said with a pleasant grin.
“With all due respect, don’t you remember me, Mr. Flores?”
            Had they met before? He thought long and hard, but Dominic shook his head. Though Angelica kept a smile on her face, her eyes, full of sorrow, left his.
“How unfortunate. Sorry for the intrusion. We shall part ways.”
Dominic couldn’t take his eyes away from her. As she was walking away, she turned her head over her shoulder and stole a glance—their eyes met once again. As her figure faded away, he longed for another encounter.
A few days later
Dominic braced himself in fear of his devotees as he entered the grand hall. Though it was unlikely, he hoped to see Angelica here… And there she was, the chandelier shining upon her. She wore a burgundy velvet dress, which intensified the blue in her eyes.
He approached Angelica. “May I have this dance?” Gasps echoed through the room. As Dominic’s fans grieved, she smiled widely at his request.
“I would be overjoyed, Mr. Flores.”
“Please, call me Dominic.”
“Then I wish you’d call me Angelica, Dominic.”
The moments which flew by turned into minutes, then hours. They waltzed the night away, gliding across the ballroom. Though Dominic had only met her once, it felt as if they’d danced together their whole lives. As the moon reached its peak, they walked hand-in-hand through the garden.
Her hands feel a little cold, he thought.
Angelica laughed, and Dominic heard the sound of bells. He thought about her bashful smile, her flushed cheeks, her beautiful blue eyes… He was the happiest he’d ever been.
Dominic felt something hard hit his boot.
Below him stood a grave stone.
It read:
Sacred to the Memory of
Angelica Fields
12th of May 1856-13th of May 1880
Lover to Dominic Flores
The cold sensation in his hand disappeared .
He turned to his side.
Nothing was there.

Erin Aralar attends Hauraki Plains College in Waikato, New Zealand.

Royal Blue – Delta Johns

Diana stared deeply at the blank canvas in front of her. She hummed her favourite song and tapped the beat on the floor with her foot. She began dipping her paintbrush into her paint which was a rich royal blue colour. She then splashed the paint into the centre of her canvas and began flicking her wrist at the paint in an awkward yet artistic way. Stuck in her own world. She stared hard at what she had created. “Not good enough, the judges will hate this,” she muttered under her breath. She sighed and ripped off the paper. She started again, dipping her paintbrush into the rich royal blue, but to her surprise, she was running out of paint. She brought the last of the paint to the paper, but the minute the two things touched, Diana knew something was wrong.

Before she realised, wet droplets coursed down her cheeks. She wiped her cheeks in confusion. Her tears were not the normal colour, they were royal blue. Was she becoming demented? First crying for no reason and now her tears were royal blue. She rubbed her eyes and gazed at her clock: 12:42, already past midnight. She must be just tired. Maybe she should go to bed and buy more paint in the morning. As she started packing up her stuff, she noticed her paintbrush was royal blue, not brown. She looked around and saw all her art supplies that she had touched were royal blue too. Panic flooded through her. She looked down. Her body was royal blue. She screamed as the floor came closer to her. Her body had become all mushy like mashed potatoes. She then began feeling all wet and sticky and before she knew it she was on the ground.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you alright?” said the cashier.
Diana’s eyes suddenly flicked open, “Uh…y-yes, sorry.”
“So is this all for today?” the cashier said impatiently.
Diana then brought her gaze to the two cans of royal blue paint. She began breaking out into a cold sweat. “Actually, I don’t want to purchase these, thanks.”
“Okay, well, hurry up. I have a big line of customers behind you.”
Diana then turned to leave the shop. Behind her, a long line of fellow art students were each holding two tins of royal blue paint.

Delta Johns is a year-ten student and attends Waitākere College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Feature interview: Discussion with our newest editors

Introducing our newest editors at fingers comma toes
Thomas Charles Cairncross | contributing editor since 2022
Joy Tong (童诗佳) | contributing editor since 2022
Hannah Scovell-Lightfoot | arts editor starting 2023

Lola Elvy at fingers comma toes: What inspires you to create? What kinds of things do you like to create, and why?

Joy Tong: It’s hard to say! I’m inspired by lots of things, but lately, it’s been other pieces of art (a good song, a cool painting, an insightful piece of writing by somebody else). If I’m ever in a creative block, writing or creating something as a response to another work usually helps me to get back in the flow. In general, I tend to focus on very personal, specific topics—I find that pieces that dig deep into someone’s self actually resonate powerfully with their readers. I’m most struck by unique voices that arise from exploring the inherent power and political nature of personal stories. My go-to form is poetry or short prose, which really lets me hone in on a specific moment or feeling, and continue from there, letting me unpack and understand ideas in ways I haven’t before. I also enjoy experimenting in the playground of language and structure, seeing how words sit on a page, the kinds of images they create, or the way they sound aloud.

Thomas Cairncross: Silly ideas inspire me. When you sit with the people you are comfortable with, and you joke, you build on the ideas of your companions, those are the ideas that inspire me, those are the seeds which grow and get scribbled into the journals or onto scraps of paper —doomed to be placed somewhere safe, then probably lost.

Seeing a billboard, or reading something, that makes you stop and think Huh—that inspires me. For example, I was wandering through town, and saw a business named Lennox Bathrooms and thought that would be a wonderful name for a D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) character, and from there came a personality and a whole backstory.

I like to create. But most of the stuff that I create never makes it to pen and paper, and of those that do, even less is crafted into something readable. My creativity lies in brainstorming, spinning an idea out of bits and bobs, adding and refining as time goes by, and while there may not be any lasting records of this process, it’s a fun process! Sometimes the process is the most enjoyable part of the story.

Hannah Scovell-Lightfoot: I feel inspired to create quite simply by the emotional experiences I have as a human. Pain, more than any other feeling, is a big catalyst for my creativity—I’ll create a dance out of it, or a rather tragic painting or sing it to a minor key. At the other end of the spectrum, I love to laugh. I find myself and all of us quite amusing which inspires me to create comedic characters and skits that often make fun of how seriously we can take ourselves and encourages us to lighten up a wee bit. Sometimes I press record on video and see what character comes out of me.

LE: Let’s talk about reading—what do you like to read and why? How does what you read affect what you write?

TC: As part of my study, I just read The Brimstone journals by Ron Koertge, to and with a class of sixteen-year-olds. I enjoyed it because of the variety and authentic feeling of the voices within the text, and found it quite worrying as someone who is entering into education. Texts like The Brimstone journals can help readers to understand the individuality of characters and how they mesh together to create a complex and human narrative.

Science fiction holds a place in my soul. On reading Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, I was reminded of how a different world can be so odd, of how imagination can fly and take an idea to a place very strange. After reading Voltaire’s Micromégas  I saw how our own mundane world can seem outlandish from afar.

I like to read and write pieces that take me from my desk, and drop me deep into the narrative, within the workings of the author. Also, pieces that are just plain weird—experimenting and getting things wrong sometimes are valuable experiences for a writer in the process of finding something quite cool.

HSL: I enjoy a range of reading. At the moment I’m reading (again) Inquire Within, a spoken word poetry book by IN-Q. I like it because it is heartfelt and moving and true to life while not leaving me feeling hopeless about where we’re all headed, as some writing does! I also enjoy reading books like The Little Prince, novels that are succinct and offer timeless wisdom. What I read affects my writing in the way that I usually feel inspired to journal about what I have read. I find journalling a great creative outlet because I can get everything that’s rattling around my head out and in front of me. As I put words to my experiences and feelings, I often access greater clarity around the respective situation. Sometimes what I’m writing about morphs into a poem or a rap. I usually have some kind of bio-hacking health book on the go, as I am fascinated by the human body and how I can optimise my own to be as functioning and vibrant as it can.

JT: It’s been harder to actually read for enjoyment in between all the exams and assignments, unfortunately. I’ve always had a rather eclectic taste in reading: my adolescence was filled with fantasy and historical fiction (which taught me lots about narrative devices and plot), I love a good poetry collection (Ocean Vuong, Sylvia Plath, Nina Mingya Powles, and Grace Nichols are favourites), and recently, I’ve been reading bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions (amazing so far, would highly recommend). The media I consume, books or otherwise, plays a big part in my own style. This isn’t only at the language level, where I am constantly trying to learn new ways to imbue words with meaning, but also to look at how certain tropes or views work. Being cognisant of things I like or don’t like, as well as why I feel that way, is an important way for me to develop my own writing.

LE: What do you look for in others’ work—in a story, essay, or poem, or in painting, photography, or other visual art—when you’re reading or seeing with an editor’s eye?

HSL: In visual art I look for content that speaks to the heart. I enjoy seeing pictures and photos that genuinely capture a person or people. For example, a painting of the face of an old woman in whose eyes can be seen an entire life of experience and resulting wisdom. Or simply a candid photo of two friends laughing. I appreciate the skill and time and energy taken in creating visual art, regardless of whether it personally reaches me, so I look for that, too. For example, Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory is not one I’d hang on my walls because it disturbs me; however, his work does move something uncomfortable in me, which speaks to the power of his style and his skill as an artist.

JT: A well-paced storyline that compels me to keep reading, a turn of phrase that makes me see or think about something in a new way, usage of figurative language that evokes a fresh, vivid image—I love anything that surprises me. The elements I look for will vary based on genre, but if I am engaged throughout the piece or perhaps there is some kind of underlying, thoughtful development, I’ll probably be a fan. I’m swayed by creative, intentional explorations of language or syntax—in other words, clichés or vagueness don’t usually click for me.

TC: When reading poetry and prose, one of the first things that stands out to me is, how does this piece sound when it is read aloud?

A big part of storytelling is in the telling, so the voice of the text is important. I say the voice of the text rather than the voice of the author, as an author may write differently depending on the day, mood, or topic of their subject piece. But the voice of the text should be relatively consistent, or at least make sense within the narrative.

So, when I read a poem that has structure, and with word choice that allows me to read it aloud without tongue twisters, then I feel I can relax and fall under the author’s spell.

When I read prose that sounds like it’s being read to me by a friend, I feel comforted as if lazing by a campfire. Or perhaps the narrative voice is eerie and provoking, and I feel anxious or spooked.

When I read essays, or non-fiction, there’s more impact when the topic is thoroughly broken down and made relevant to the context and to me. Explanations are important with this genre of writing, and writing with the idea of explaining your subject out loud is a nifty wee tool to have.

Writing about yourself is quite hard. It forces introspection, which can be somewhat confronting. But this is a good activity, and a positive process. As writers, creators, and people, it’s important to ask ourselves who we are, now and again.

Also, as writers, don’t forget the key rules: Break all the rules, experiment with writing, and have fun.

LE: When it comes to your professional lives, you’re each pursuing different goals: Thomas, a Master’s of Teaching at the University of Otago, after finishing your Bachelor’s in English and Classical Studies; Joy, a degree in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry at Duke University, with a special focus in healthcare; and Hannah, a year-long theatre programme in Christchurch. What motivates you each in your studies or draws you to these particular fields?

TC: Stories are something I’ve always held dear, whether it was hearing the myths of Loki and other gods, or my Dad’s science fiction collection. Books, stories, and tales have always been there nurturing me. Through stories we can experience and live lives that reach to the edges of imagination. Through stories we can learn: Aesop’s fables are wonderful; The Tortoise and the Hare is nearly universal, and gives the valuable lesson of persistence! Stories are how we discover the exploits of our Whānau, our family, and how we form bonds with the people around us.

And through all that, stories allow us to pass our passions, our voices, and dreams on and into the world around us.

I like learning, and I like learning with people. One of the aspects of teaching is to be constantly learning with and for your students. If I can learn some stories with my students, well, that sounds rather fun to me.

The name English is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than teaching the English language, I aim to teach stories and foster the ability for students to think critically, and to express themselves, their ideas and thoughts. With English, I want to show how brilliant and expansive the world is (perhaps by showcasing some of the works submitted to fingers comma toes) and to challenge the students to question and create in the space around them.

Classical Studies is typically a foray into the Ancient Greek and Roman societies, including art and mythology. I would love to broaden that to include some ancient science, and bring in the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. The wider the scope, the better the framework of our understanding.

But at the end of the day, rather than teaching English and Classical studies, I want to teach students.

JT: I’ve always enjoyed science and engineering for how it lets me tinker with things, and also slowly start to understand how the world around me works—particularly how we function as humans. I’m interested in pharmaceuticals, particularly the science and technology of actually delivering therapeutics to different bodily targets. There are so many things we still don’t understand about ourselves, and I enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of tackling this challenge. Healthcare research really excites me, but it also has very clear deficiencies. In a field that is often unethical, male-dominated, and doesn’t include the experiences or voices of people of colour, there is a need to make sure that our work actually serves underrepresented communities. While I don’t necessarily know how to address that yet, it’s an important guiding principle in how I approach advocacy and research.

HSL: I’ve always has a passion for acting. When I was little I’d put on shows for anyone who’d watch, often (forcefully) bringing my younger brother on board for involuntary collaboration. As mentioned previously, I have always liked to make up various characters that are comedic in nature. Playing these characters feels very natural and there’s an essence of doing it that just feels “right”. I took drama in high school to explore more of my natural enthusiasm for acting, and, having taken a few years off academic study, I am inspired now to explore this passion and see where it leads!

LE: How does your main area of work/study apply to your creative work, either solo or in the community (with fingers comma toes or  elsewhere)? Are there any overlaps?

HSL: Just as theatre comes alive through the witnessing presence of an audience, so does any other kind of art. With this awareness, importance is placed on the visual aspect of whatever is being shared and can be applied to other creative works such as paintings or photography. In theatre I look for acting that is believable and has a sense of soul, and I look for this same essence in visual art.

TC: As an editor, a climber, and a teacher, I find joy and meaning in supporting people pursuing their passions. fingers comma toes has given me the fantastic opportunity to read through and review the work of young writers. In my stint as an editor, I have seen work from writers as young as eight, and as old as twenty-one, and in that medley there have been works that warmed my soul, and those that pulled me through chilling narratives. And through those literary adventures, my joy is in the reading and the writing of comments which may help the authors in growing into more confident and competent creators; and with each submission it seems I have more to learn than I have to teach.

As a climber, it’s my privilege to see new climbers enter the game, to see them tackle difficulties, and to coach them through. I’ve taken part in assisting a couple introductory courses, designed to give people their first contact with outdoor rock climbing, and the range of people I’ve met, and seeing the elation on their faces as they overcome the next hurdle, is sublime.

And as a fledgling teacher, well, it’s pretty much the same as my philosophies as an editor and a climber!

But how does all that work with my creative process? My creativity is not something that comes from nowhere, it’s sparked by the people and happenings around. The creativity that I value is not necessarily my own, I quite value working with the creativity of others.

JT: I’ve actually played around with incorporating scientific ideas and vocabulary into creative writing—the unexpected ideas and contrasts are fun to work with. I’ve written poems about a rat dissection, or a short story that included bits and pieces of a biology course. The analytical and creative frameworks learned in science/engineering are also skills that translate well into writing and editing. In the end, science isn’t inherently uncreative. There are still plenty of moments, whether it be an in-class experience or an entire paradigm, that offer something to build upon.

On a slightly different note: in our current age, where anyone on the internet is a self-proclaimed expert (we all know someone who diagnoses themselves or others with random websites), I think it’s increasingly important that the STEM community learns how to be empathetic, trustworthy, and clear communicators. This might not fall into the creative side of writing, but it certainly demands a thoughtful use of language to make research more accessible.

LE: Joy, apart from working with fingers comma toes, you are also Associate Editor for your university journal The Archive, and a musician. Tell us a few words about your roles in your creative community—how do these creative endeavours of yours intertwine? What’s special about these different creative communities that excites you?

JT: To the consternation of my parents, I’ve always had divided passions and spent too much time on all of them. In the writing community, being both a writer and editor has helped me grow in both roles. It’s an honour to read a wide variety of voices and subject matter, and be inspired by stylistic approaches and devices that I’ve never seen before. Music has been a big part of my life, as someone who grew up as a pianist and took up voice later on. I’m currently part of an a cappella group on campus, and throughout earlier years I’ve always been part of some choir, orchestra, or other ensemble. These experiences inspired much of my earlier poetry, and lots of my imagery was rooted in music. I particularly love opportunities where groups get to share their love for different arts and support one another. This year, I’m the Events Chair for Duke’s Asian Students’ Association, and a highlight of this role has been creating space, in the form of showcases or festivals, to celebrate student artists. I think what consistently draws me into these creative communities is the drive to create something meaningful together and the love for our craft—whether it be a moving performance, a powerful collection of writing, or a striking piece of visual art. Creativity in all forms can tell transformative stories, and (at the risk of being cliché) is integral to being human.

LE: Hannah, before the COVID-19 pandemic, you were travelling frequently. How did travelling influence your sense of creative community? How does creativity create community, both within and across cultural boundaries, and how does this sense of community change when travelling? 

HSL: When I was travelling, I felt more belonging to the web of life.  Music jamming was an experience that really highlighted to me the way that creativity can traverse our personal differences, and even identity. Music offers an opportunity for people from all walks of life to come together and find a collective groove where everyone speaks the same language. Despite not even talking to some of the people I played with, I felt deeply connected and part of a community during the musical exchange, if only for a fleeting collection of moments.

Life itself is act of creativity. Because of its direct relationship with existence, I believe creativity is actually what creates community in the first place and has the power to establish connection that transcends differing personal histories because of its primal nature. Travelling revealed to me that deep down, no matter where we’re from, we all want to be seen and feel connected to others. Creativity is something we all are capable of that can beautifully fulfill this need, no matter our cultural boundaries.

LE: Thomas, you’re very active in the climbing community in Otago. Tell us about this—how did you start, and what is it about this activity that particularly excites you? In general, do you find having a connection to the natural world fuels your creativity?

TC: I’ve been climbing for about eight years now, with some gaps for injuries and the business of life. Starting on plastic holds and wooden walls, and then dipping my toes into the terror of outdoor rock.

My first time climbing rock was panic. After navigating through that panic and returning to the ground, I was hooked.

Climbing can be seen as an individual sport: one where you puzzle and struggle your way up a piece of rock. But climbing is also a social activity; you work with your buddies to make sure everyone gets to their personal goal, and to do it safely.

When I moved to Dunedin, to start my studies at the University of Otago, I was thrilled to meet a thriving outdoor climbing community.

After climbing with one group for a wee while, I was invited to climb with the Alpine club, on their social Tuesday nights. The people at these nights were more mature, more sociable, and more my speed. After a while climbing with the Alpine club, I started to help out with the organisation and safety. Making sure everyone gets home safely is important.

Sliding your hands along a rock face, trying to find a pocket, a ridge, or bump to carry you upwards. Shifting your position multiple times per hold, to hang onto balance. And working systematically up or along, climbing becomes a dance of one. Yet the people around are also dancing, they listen to the rock with you, they encourage, and you respond. Climbing challenges you to look outside of yourself, to examine your surroundings, and work out how you fit in with them. Climbing helps you to reflect on your own workings, how you move, how you think, and how you feel. Through climbing (for me, anyway) there’s a sense of freedom, and creativity can show itself there too.

Thomas Charles Cairncross is a tinkerer of words and stories, following a wandering path of working with friends, peers, and strangers in the pursuit of shenanigans and teaching. He enjoys stumbling up rocks and the occasional pleasant chat with the physiotherapist. With science and speculative fiction stored deeply in the memory banks, Thomas is on the lookout for investments.

Joy Tong (童诗佳) is a writer, musician and professional cat-petter from Tāmaki Makaurau, currently pursuing a Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry double major at Duke University. Balancing her passion for STEM is her tendency to explore inexplicable thoughts with poetry and short stories. On campus, she serves as Associate Editor for the university literary journal, The Archive. Her works are published in LandfallMayhemStarling, and Signals, as well as A Clear Dawn, an anthology of New Zealand-Asian voices.

Hannah Scovell-Lightfoot takes great delight in climbing trees, the barefoot existence, asking questions, rollerskating, and bearing herself to the rollercoaster ride of being alive. She most commonly finds herself floor-sitting doodling, organic shop perusing, improving her already rather extensive morning routine, having passionate conversations, journalling, hitchhiking, and engaging in satiric banter.

Thank you, Thomas, Joy, and Hannah, for participating in this discussionand thank you, our audience, for reading. Wishing you an exciting, creativity-filled 2023 from our team at fingers comma toes

2021 National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition

Adult winners published at nationalflash.org/winners


1st place:

for anna – Kirsten Liang (age 13; Georgia, United States)

Runner up:

The multi-coloured sheep – Lucia Murphy (age 15; Wellington, New Zealand)

Highly commended:

Have you seen Abdullah? – Omar El Eraki (age 16; Cairo, Egypt)


Loss – Finn Kelly (age 09; Kapiti Coast, New Zealand)
Next Exit – Kirsten Liang (age 13; Georgia, United States)
Pocket-Sized Black Holes – Oshadha Perera (age 16; Invercargill, New Zealand)

Short list:

As cold as trees – Emily Burt (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Barnacles – Penelope Duran (age 18; Frankfurt, Germany)
Crocodiles – Chloe Morrison-Clarke (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Gravedigger – Theo E. (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
House by the Railroad – Matthew Califano (age 14; Vermont, United States)
The Sock – Jorja Rosser (age 18; New Plymouth, New Zealand)

Highlights from the long list:

Antinous in a Coffee Shop – Khristina Cabrera (age 16; New Jersey, United States)
The Fisherman – Hunter Haynes (age 16; Auckland, New Zealand)
Quick Fingers – Miro Williams (age 17; Dunedin, New Zealand)
The Rainbow Egg – Lexia Roy (age 08; Clinton, New Zealand)

1st place:

for anna – Kirsten Liang

i’ll make us a shrink ray so we can get tiny, you said,

strawberry jello lips. if you were tiny, you’d sleep on a marshmallow, take a bite out of it once you awoke. if i were tiny, i’d ride hamsters like dragons, wear a thimble as a hat. we’d wake before dawn to watch the morning star over the fields, the sunflowers nodding to us: yes, this is how life should be. i said, giggling, if i were tiny, i’d roll down hills and braid us crowns of alligator

weed. you say, we’d wear skirts made of flower petals. i’d grow my hair out and never cut it, even once it got down to my ankles. every time someone came to get us, we’d fold ourselves in half. tiny, tinier. away from the grown-ups who garble into their phones, from the textbooks left cracked open on desks, from the numbers and the waiting rooms and the broken traffic lights. the tiger swats at us,  a claw shearing a few of your auburn curls. I pull you closer. we fold. once in half, and then once more. tinier, tinier. away from the glares and the closed
doors. the molecules sear through, tearing off our limbs, making us tinier, tinier. anna, every time we fold ourselves in half, we’ll be safer. i’ll hold you tight and holden will catch us before we fall. and we’ll keep folding, on and on, turning these bodies into origami sheets. tulip fold, crane base. until we’re small enough to use dandelions as parasols, to dance on someone’s fingertips. until we’re small enough to

remain unseen. they’ll never find us here. fold and fold and fold. small enough to hide from it all. small enough so that they will feel us in every breath they take.

Kirsten Liang is a 13-year-old writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys playing with her pets, watching movies, reading, writing, and asking her parents when she can get a dragon. Miss Liang‘s work has been recognized by numerous competitions, and she has won a national medal from the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Runner up:

The multi-coloured sheep – Lucia Murphy

The sheep sat there, a splotch of colour amongst the other wacky pieces of art. It stood out, the puzzle pieces of colours interlocking to create a smooth skin. Even its eyes had little splashes of colour across them, the vibrance of its world shining through.
“Do we want to get it?” Mum asked. “I can’t really see where it would go.”
“It’s too expensive,” said my brother. “I don’t think it’s worth getting.”
I said nothing, but I watched Dad. I saw his face light up with a not-quite-suppressed grin. I could even see that splash of colour in his eyes, that view into the enigmatic world of the sheep.
“I think we should get it.” The joy in his voice was obvious to everyone in the family. I knew that the sheep would be coming with us, before my mum even opened her mouth to protest.
Patting the sheep on the head, I grinned. I could already see its place in our home, nestled up under the TV. The family sprawled across the sofa, chatting back and forth, stealing glances at the sheep.
I squatted down to look the sheep in the eye. “Looking forward to coming home with us?” I asked. I hadn’t expected a reply, but I could have sworn the sheep gave a tiny nod of its head.

Lucia Murphy is a high school student who hails from Wellington. She loves curling up with a good book and a warm muffin on a cold day.

Highly commended:

Have you seen Abdullah? – Omar El Eraki

Have you seen Abdhullah in the decrepit land where one cannot escape the sun’s golden strike? Even in the lilliputian common area where a large formerly-white sheet hangs from the tilted metal rods to shade the thick wool mats sodden with yesterday’s sweat, the heat still forces itself in as if accustomed to Syrian hospitality. Perhaps he is playing with the little boys who kick a deflated football around out of melancholic optimism, shooting in between two stones acting as goal posts. Yes, he must be playing with the little boys who are indifferent to the scrapings they receive from the rough sand and the dirt their faces are greeted with which is washed away by an agitated mother, only to return the following day. Or perhaps he is with his sister and the other women who occupy themselves kneading bread and watching it expand in the stone oven through fatigued eyes, pried open by the rigidity of the ground and its sudden pangs of consciousness. His father could have taken him to buy a chicken, although it isn’t likely his father would place him in such danger, for the markets are repeatedly raided by the hoodlums. Surely he cannot be with the hoodlums who repeatedly and unsuccessfully try to creep their way across the border into Turkey, getting shot or captured by border control in the process. Oh if he is with those hooligans I’ll show him! Perhaps he is with the elderly folk waiting at death’s door, preoccupying themselves by sharing anecdotes of a greater time where economic hardship was not such a culminating burden. Oh where could Abdullah be amidst this multitude of people expelled to isolation from a world that has given up on them?

Omar El Eraki is a 16-year-old high school junior from Cairo, Egypt. He has written this piece to commemorate those harmed by the poor political and socio-economic climate in the Middle East. Aside from his literary pursuits, Omar is a self-proclaimed historian who enjoys learning about different philosophies as well as investing in the stock market. He believes writing allows him to broaden his horizons.


Loss – Finn Kelly

Birth, life, death. These three words circled throughout Caleb’s mind, swirling around like a hurricane. As the sun turned into the moon, he slowly drifted away into a world of dreams. His grandfather had passed away and he had just found out about the news.
He woke up in the night multiple times thinking about his grandfather, his arm hanging off the bed like a rag doll. Caleb tried to get the thought out of his head, but he struggled to since he’d never experienced anything like this before.
He woke up to the loud chirping of birds perched on the leafy branch outside his window. They were sort of forming a melody, almost like a choir. As Caleb looked up at the birds they stared back down at him, tilting their heads. Caleb smiled weakly. He put on his clothes and left his room.
When Caleb entered the lounge his mum, Lisa, was sitting down on the breakfast bar in her distinct purple bathrobe holding a half-empty mug of tea. Caleb’s dad, Nigel, was spreading marmite on a piece of toast. That’s when his mum spotted Caleb looking around the room. She sighed and said sadly, “Come here.” Caleb walked towards her, the familiar floorboards creaking beneath him.
Lisa wrapped her arms around Caleb and apologized for what had happened. Then after a few moments she let go of him. “Now, what do you want for breakfast?” she said, attempting to smile.
But Caleb knew she was just trying to make him feel better. “I don’t have an appetite,” he said sadly.
Mum nodded her head and said quietly, “Ok. Ok.”

Finn Kelly is nine years old and lives on the Kāpiti Coast with his family, chickens, cats, tropical fish, and Archie the dog.  He is in year five at Raumati South School where he enjoys writing, maths, art, and sport in particular. He gets fantastic writing mentorship and encouragement from his two older siblings, Elsa (12) and Arlo (14), who are also keen writers. Finn avidly follows and plays soccer with his dad and friends, and in the weekend when he’s not playing premier club soccer he enjoys Minecraft, board games, and reading.

Next Exit – Kirsten Liang

9:58 PM.
ETA: 10:13 PM.
Almost home.
Spiralling alteration of five school arches, names blending together.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Cartoonist! Lawyer. I’m interested in the American justice system.
Highway cat-eyes narrow, how could I ever–
“How was the interview, *bǎobèi?”
My lips part, the chatter dances around my molars simply to perish midway.
Interviewer’s thistle tongue dips into memory—Why do you want to attend Randall Academy?
Because my Bàba says so. Because he’s always right and I’m always wrong. It’s the best place for me to accomplish…
Blink. Tear-swollen rivulets trace over themselves.
A stream of red eyes, beckoning to nowhere. A horn declares its fury.
Don’t look back.
“You’ll do better next time, bǎobèi*.
I’m so proud of you, his eyes whisper, though his monologue returns to “you need to be successful”–whatever the hell that means–to live the life he never had as an immigrant boy in Pennsylvania, speaking only Mandarin and some Taiwanese swears. Go back to Thailand, they sneered.
He stayed.
“I won’t always be here to drive you home,” he says, words like my old favorite sweater I can’t burrow into anymore.
The way he did before. Bike-riding, trips to tournaments, recitals, competitions, and joyrides at midnight–
Always behind the wheel. The tears rush, and I grab his elbow. The SUV veers right–
“Bàba, wǒ bùyào nǐ zǒu!”
Papa, I don’t want you to go.
I want to draw like Raina Telegemeier, Hergé, and Schulz, ten-year-old me declared. You can’t do that, said he. Why not? Bàba just shook his head. Yes, Bàba.
We’re heading home, but what if we take the next exit?
What if we drive without looking back?
And cruise evermore, if we take the next exit.

*Mandarin Chinese for “baby” or “treasure.”

Kirsten Liang is a 13-year-old writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She enjoys playing with her pets, watching movies, reading, writing, and asking her parents when she can get a dragon. Miss Liang‘s work has been recognized by numerous competitions, and she has won a national medal from the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Pocket-Sized Black Holes – Oshadha Perera

That night when autumn leaves started dancing in the wind, playing freeze tag with the smooth ground, you told me that we wouldn’t leave each other until the sun became a red giant and blasted into a black hole, sucking us all in. But even in that cosmic power, we promised that we’d be holding hands until all the light was pulled into a vacuum. When you whispered, “How you doin’, mate?” to the sky, the sun almost sent an enveloped letter in the wind, saying, “Good, how ’bout you?” so I figured that it had an x amount of time left until its death, where x = the number of pixels in the horizon at sunset.
Traffic lights were making the night sky illuminate like a professional artist joined forces with a 2-year-old (the kind of 2-year-old who goes to bed with a multicoloured face) when we reached your house. You were knocking on the door when the sound came, the irresistible click click click click click.
Your hand break-danced on the way to your jean pocket, but your sharp-featured face had the same smile, as you mouthed a sorry and glanced at it.
Just one tiny glance.
You didn’t look up from the 100% brightness screen for a number of hours and I won’t even bother explaining what y equals to.

Oshadha Perera is 16 years old and comes from Invercargill, New Zealand.

Short list:

As cold as trees – Emily Burt

Orange leaves cover the forest floor. I helped pitch the tent in a clearing. It was as cold as the Arctic in the middle of winter.
Mum and I unpacked our bags and got ready for bed. I jumped into the warmth of my sleeping bag, like a warm breeze coming to me and only to me.
When I woke up to a noise that sounded like machines and fire I wanted to scream and wake the world, but I didn’t. I just sat up and tried to wake mum.
Mum woke up and said, “What is it?”
I said, “I don’t know.”
She laughed and poked her head out of the tent. So did I. The trees—they were all gone, just stumps.
When I screamed the world woke from a never-ending sleep. I wanted to leave this world forever but I couldn’t.
That morning the world went grey. The life with trees had ended.
As cold as the arctic when the world froze.

Emily Burt is 10 years old and comes from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Barnacles – Penelope Duran

A fallen mast.  A tattered sail.  A punctured bow.  The sailboat was a shamble.  Sighing, the sailor stroked the part of the hull that used to read Penelope.  His grandfather had always been so proud of the delicate cursive letters.
He recalled days when he and his grandfather side-by-side on the pier would scrape barnacles form the boat.  For hours, the arthropods provided relentless work.  When he asked how the boat had received her name, his grandfather grinned.  The vessel was as resilient as the weaver of legend, engendering faith that it would return from every odyssey.
Glaring at fading storm clouds overhead and armed with needle and thread, the sailor tended the mutilated sail.  Over and under.  Yet his mangled stitches would unravel as soon as they touched the fabric.  Perhaps this voyage would be the ship’s last.
The sailor considered scuttling the boat.  Perhaps he could grant Penelope a dramatic exit.  However, the barnacles lured him to cast such thoughts aside, recalling his grandfather’s light-hearted complaints.  Stubborn little creatures.  They hang on no matter how hard you pull.
A saw.  Broken planks.  A thousand nails.  The craft would never be the same without her sail.  The sailor would miss riding the winds, but he nevertheless found himself fond of the steadfast fishing boat.  He could envision adventures ahead.  Lulling swordfish from the deep.  Catching flying fish.  Gliding down the river.
As the sailor conjured in his mind the new tales, white cursive script glistened faintly in the sunlight as barnacles suckled the side of the boat.  Not a single one had fallen victim to his knife.  After all, they were just like him.

Penelope Duran’s educational journey began at Dyer St. Kindy in Lower Hutt, Wellington.  As a child in a U.S. diplomatic family, she has also lived in the Philippines, Egypt, Poland, and Germany.  She is educated in the German school system and has achieved recognition for her poems, short stories, and personal memoirs in English and German.  In addition to creative writing, Penny’s other passion is physics and she is the co-coordinator of her school’s weekly podcast on various forms of discrimination.

Crocodiles – Chloe Morrison-Clarke

When we were smaller, we played crocodiles. Feet darting over cracks in benches, ankles always at risk of the wide slats. Crocodiles lurked below, waiting for an opportunity to catch a reckless fool.  The courtyard rang with adrenaline soaked shrieks of those who made their move just when the stars had snapped out of alignment.
When we were bigger, our shovels pummelled hard earth, sliced thin roots of the apple tree.  I once sat in its branches, balanced above the threshold for tag, closer to the sky than ever before.
We replaced the wound with a time capsule, covering new tin with layers of dirt. The scar faded away.
When we were a bit older, the crocodiles took human form. This time, it was our conscience darting between the wide slats. If anyone were to be pulled into a world of crime or hatred, at least their ankles would be safe.
The sky seemed a little further away.
Last week,  we returned to the apple tree. We slit open an old scar, shovelling until we heard the clang of metal on metal. We remembered strawberry sticker collections, all the treasures buried in the sandbox—bracelets stolen from older siblings, shells we dug from the beach.
Speeches were made, toasts given. Our glasses full of sweet nostalgia, we prised open the metal tin.
I waited for ancient treasures, memories of witty remarks, childhood games, memoirs of friendships built to last.
We opened the lid to find a piece of playground bark, someone’s rusted toy car, a mouldy, shrivelled apple core, a plastic crocodile,  and a picture of a familiar-looking kid sitting amongst the branches of a young apple tree.
The sky still seems far away.

Chloe Morrison-Clarke is 14 years old and comes from Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Gravedigger – Theo E.
He knew he shouldn’t. It would be shameful. It would hurt his ego. It was just sitting there, though, unguarded, unable to defend itself. The warm summer breeze blew across his slick forehead, needling through his hair. He told himself he deserved it. That he needed it. He had been working so hard in the heat after all. He looked over his shoulder out the window to see the menacing-looking hole in the ground. He knew what he was going to use it for. That didn’t matter yet. He turned his head back around to the prize. He knelt, levelling himself with it.
“Oh, whatever.”
He swiped the can. The small fizzy tss tss, could be heard, closely followed by desperate gulping. The light popping of the fizzy liquid being poured down his throat, some slopping down his neck, seeping into his top. When no more could come out of the small lip of the can, he threw it at the wall.
“Back to work.”

Theo E. is 13 years old and comes from Christchurch, New Zealand.

House by the Railroad – Matthew Califano

No one can quite remember when the stately old Victorian house by the railroad first began falling into disrepair.  Once the pride of the county, the mansion’s gleaming white facade now stands blackened from soot, its windows boarded up, broken, or left open to the elements.  The Kataras own it, but they’ve been down on their luck since Lord-knows-when.  They seemed like perfectly nice folks.  Nobody ever had a bad thing to say about them.  Sometimes your luck just runs out, I guess. You know it when it happens, and there ain’t nothin’ you or anyone else can do about it. They’ve kept to themselves in that old house ever since. Now, every time the train comes by near the end of each month, starting about four months ago, one of them disappears. It started with the youngest son. He slipped in the tub and drowned. Then, his elder sister went walking up by the gorge one fine spring morning never to return.  Next, their father fell down a flight of stairs before breakfast one Saturday. One month ago to the day, the grandfather was talking to his wife, Old Mrs. Katara, in the kitchen. He went to fetch a book, and, when he came back, there she was, sprawled out dead on the floor. You might ask if anyone in this town did anything but watch as this tragedy unfolded.  The answer is no.  One look at that crumbling pile, and you just know this is a family whose number’s up.  There’s no help for it. Folks are just glad it’s not them, yet. Only two Kataras are still in there: the grandfather and his eldest grandson.
Oh, don’t go yet.  Just wait a while. The train comes by at noon.

Matthew Califano is a sophomore at Craftsbury Academy in Vermont. He is an avid writer, runner and student of the ancient world. His play No More Worlds to Conquer about one man’s self-destructive obsession with Alexander the Great won Dorset Theatre Festival’s 2020 Young Playwrights Competition.  His writing has also received both regional and national honors from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the National Junior Classical League.

The Sock – Jorja Rosser

A small sock lies in the middle of the road.
The sock is discoloured and muddy, so worn out it wouldn’t do much good anymore. Its wearer must have been a small child, so small that the sock would fit on a man’s thumb, but there are no children around at the moment. Nobody is coming back for it. Nobody is coming back for anything.
The sock has been there a while. It must’ve been dropped, dropped in a moment of panic, a moment of desperation, the moment families were told to pack their most precious belongings and leave. The soldiers didn’t take no for an answer. If you wanted to live you packed your belongings and left. The sock must’ve been dropped by one of the mothers, choking back tears, disbelieving, trying to appear calm for the children. Nobody saw the sock in the dark of night.
The owner of the sock must have been crying and screaming, not understanding why he was hoisted onto his mother’s hip in the middle of the night. The child wasn’t the only one crying, or the only one who didn’t understand why they were being hoarded like cattle toward the trains.
The sock is across the road from the local post office. Echoes of gunshots replace the sounds of laughter from the schoolyard around the corner. The town is more quiet now, and anyone still here carries about their time silently, carefully. Nobody wants to be noticed. Being noticed means you would likely end up another body on the pile. There is no aim other than survival, and at times even that seems pointless and impossible.
A small sock lies in the middle of the road, and the world burns around it.

Jorja Coyote Rosser is eighteen years old and attends Sacred Heart Girls’ College New Plymouth. In her spare time she enjoys baking, listening to music, and playing inline hockey, a sport for which she has represented New Zealand on several occasions.

Highlights from the long list: 

Antinous in a Coffee Shop – Khristina Cabrera

His eyes were like blue fire, burning with righteous fury and a passion that would’ve torn anyone else apart, just from a mere look. His features were sharp and angled, with a permanent frown etched into the bow of his lip and his marble cheek, all the way down to his clenched fists, if hands knew how to frown. I was struck by the sudden feeling that I knew him from somewhere, perhaps Greek mythology or some vague folklore, passed down for hundreds of years through parted lips and ardent tongues. As he continued to glare at me, dark roast coffee soaking through his thin white button-down and my plastic cup lying at his feet, I hastily offered to retrieve napkins from the counter.
“Sure,” he muttered, in such a petulant way that I had to press my lips together to hide a smile.
I brought back the napkins, stacked one on top of the other, and offered them to him as if presenting a gift before a king’s court. Our fingertips brushed together as he took them from me. He wadded them up in his frowning hands and scrubbed, but the stubborn stain remained, right in the middle of his shirt. As he stormed out, leaving a trail of blue fire in his wake, I indulged in the selfish thought that I had left my mark on this startling god, dressed as an ordinary mortal. The door swung shut. My fingertips thrummed with the restless tingling of a freezing burn, the only proof that he had been in the coffee shop.

Khristina Cabrera is 16 years old and lives in New Jersey, United States.

The Fisherman

Perched upon a rock, the ocean’s lap tempts the man of the past. His beard matches the seafoam spit, his eyes tears of salt, skin curled like a turtle. Upon his grip, the rod tantalizes sweat, dancing a jive as the waves beat his lure. His orbs, firmly set upon the horizon, watching the sun beat down into the abyss. Behind, a young boy, perhaps an eighth of his age, crawls forward to interrogate. He moves swiftly, like a cat in the night, and positions himself next to the man.
Do you expect to learn from me young boy? he asks weakly, with a raspy tone, somewhat harsh, like his tongue is layered with thorns.
Yes, the boy responds, twiddling his fingers nervously, his eyes unable to focus on a specific point in time. I don’t know how to fish.
Why do you think I’d know? The man chuckles to himself, pushes his knees up from himself and lumbers away from the rock. The boy sits in silence, the waves providing no greater answer.

Hunter Haynes is 16 years old and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Quick Fingers – Miro Williams

As the saloon door swings open and the blinding sun of late afternoon is cast onto the rough-sawn timbers, an interruptive hush spreads across the room. Before the presence of the newest newcomer, even the loutish farmhands quit their ill-mannered debate over which barmaid has the “nicest rack”. While he bends his head forward, so as not to give himself another bruise on his forehead, his derby brushes against the top of the door frame. Taking the comically-large cigar from his lips he yells his order to the barman.
Jimmy! Fire it here, he says.
Jimmy slides the whiskey bottle down the wooden counter in one swift push, as he does every afternoon, and in one fluid motion the newcomer picks it up, flicks the cork off with that giant thumb of his, and drains the entire contents in a matter of moments. Despite the unnaturalness of such a string of events the bystanders bear no surprise. They’ve seen it all before.
He makes his pilgrimage through the fog of bodies and tobacco smoke, and passes saloon girls and old buggers frowning through great, bushy beards and too-poor-to-be-gambling men gambling away their fortunes in a fortnightly game of poker, which they were losing, not without frustration, to that dirty Mexican, Antonio.
He places his hefty frame on the seat, his feet on the pedals, and his ever-so-famous, giant fingers on the black and white keys. He removes his hat, revealing that bald dome of his, and then tilts his head back and laughs. His signature whiskey-voice bellows straight from his soul, and with its arrival comes the dancing and cheering from the rest of the cantina. Tunes weave into the night.
And the night is eternal, for this is Alfonso and Alfonso plays forever.

Miro Williams is 17 years old and lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Rainbow Egg – Lexia Roy

Once upon a time there were two little children. There was a boy and a girl. Their names were Tom and Rosie. One day when they were outside Rosie spotted a rainbow egg. “Hey Tom!” exclaimed Rosie. “Come and look at what I’ve found!”
Tom ran over with a smile on his face. “I wonder what type of egg it is,” Tom said. They started to think.
Rosie jumped up. “I’ve got it!” Rosie exclaimed. “It’s a unicorn egg!”
Tom looked up at her. “Unicorns don’t lay eggs,” Tom reminded her. “Anyway, they aren’t real.”
“Oh yeah.” She looked down sadly.
“I’ve got it now!” exclaimed Tom. “I think it’s a dinosaur egg!
Rosie scratched her head. “I don’t think that’s a dinosaur egg. Dinosaurs are extinct.”
Tom paused to think for a moment. “Yes, you’re right,” he admitted. So they waited to see what it was when it hatched. Finally the egg hatched. It was a dinosaur with a unicorn horn and mane. “I wonder what it is,” said Rosie. Tom carefully lifted the creature out of its shell. When Rosie looked inside the shell, she said, “Wow! The inside of this egg looks like the inside of a paua shell!”
Just then they heard a sound. “What was that?” said Tom, looking around shaking.
“I don’t know,” squeaked Rosie. The children hid behind a tree, grabbed the egg shell and left the creature behind. As the monster approached, the children realized that the creatures were the same. The monster sat down and smelled the little creature.
“What and who are you?!” Tom was brave enough to shout.
The monster turned its head to the children. “My name is Pearl and I am a dinocorn.” Pearl took the small dinocorn and left.

Lexia Roy is 08 years old and lives in Cinton, South Otago, New Zealand.

About the guest judge:

Youth competition judge Kerry Lane is a poet and playwright living by the sea in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa. Current projects include a puppet theatre piece about Minnie Dean, a long-form podcast about the end of the world, and an experimental poetry-ish project about memory.

Read interview with Kerry Lane here

NFFD YouTube channel – see authors read their stories

2020 National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition

Guest judge: Hannah Daniell is the winner of the 2019 National Flash Fiction Day Youth Competition, and an active member of the Christchurch writing community.


1st place:

Exhaust – Minha Choi (age 17; Daejeon, South Korea)

2nd place:

Fish Hook Scars – Derrin Smith (age 16; Rangiora, New Zealand)

3rd place:

The Ballad of Light – Natalie Wang (age 17; Texas, United States)
Dragon Rider – Denika Mead (age 16; Lower Hutt, New Zealand)

Highly commended:

Do you remember? – Phoebe Robertson (age 18; Wellington, New Zealand)
These are my leaves – Samuel Turner-O’Keeffe (age 18; Auckland, New Zealand)


The Beans – Cadence Chung (age 16; Wellington, New Zealand)
On One Particular MRT Ride – Thee Sim Ling (age 13; Singapore)
Sugar High – Amanda Kay (age 15; California, United States)

Short list:

The Crazy Chemist – Izzy Harrison (age 09; Auckland, New Zealand)
Fairy Lights – Sophia Zhang (age 14; Chicago, United States)
Grey – Jorja Coyote Rosser (age 17; New Plymouth, New Zealand)
Islands – Eva de Jong (age 18; Wellington, New Zealand)
Narcissus – Stella Li (age 16; New Jersey, United States)
Puppeteer Awash in Salt – Penelope Duran (age 17; Frankfurt, Germany)
The Taniwha – Lucy Kennedy (age 12; Auckland, New Zealand)
Tea for Two – Hannah Wilson (age 16; Wellington, New Zealand)
Trek – Yejin Suh (age 17; New Jersey, United States)

NFFD awards night

Youth discussion panel

NFFD YouTube channel

Exhaust – Minha Choi

I am exhausted from this race. Each lap spews out oil and I gulp it down in gallons, afraid my mother might get a whiff. This course is one of deception—smiles that fracture into filial ruins, crimson paint staining the ground. In her broken tongue, Mom says, “Ddal*, make your bloodline proud.” And it’s always with the undertones of “marry a citizen”, like some tragicomedic fantasy we share as Asian immigrant women.
I’m a broken yellow daughter, for in my dreams, I picnic with girls.
In this race, I’m illegal. An alien. We don’t talk of invisible demons or loving girls in this household, of the visceral fear of being chased by time.
My heart tears, sinewy like the doe my father skidded over on our Busan trip, back when I could breathe my native acrimonious oxygen. In this soil, defects are eradicated with machinery. It’s embedded with ghosts—girls, and that doe in the mirror.
Heartburn, heartache, how I wish collision would occur.
I don’t deserve the airbag. I close my eyes—and slam the entire weight of my leaden bones down on the brakes. The doe is alive, not bursting apart, no scathing dust tearing its lashes. I’m done, the race has stopped, I vomit out ten years’ worth of shuddering gasoline—
Umma, I don’t want to become a white man’s porcelain accessory, and the closest I’ve felt to heaven is with a girl.
But even in this dream, I keep my tail lights on. I imagine my light-waste tainting the starglow of my lineage, my siren-sobs polluting my mother’s hymns.
And I decide they are my roars: sputtering, defying the holy sun with 13-volt light of my own, and maybe a faint wish that she will look for me when my engine fails.
*(Korean, “daughter” or “girl”)

Minha Choi is a 17-year-old writer from Daejeon, South Korea. She lived in Austin and San Diego for the majority of her childhood, and she is currently attending an international school, working as the editor-in-chief of Ampersand Magazine and the school newspaper. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Fish Hook Scars – Derrin Smith

There’s seafoam slipping on my cheeks and bubbling from your throat. You’ve had too much of the saltwater. You’re not thinking clearly. We really should go home. But the current is tugging at my waist and longing latches over me like a net.
It’s too early to go home!
I’m not hard to persuade. There’s streetlight dappling on the curb, and with your lightweight laughter, I can’t see a drop of bad intentions. Plus the washed-out city sights have a certain charm. There’s always something we could see again. Pearls, prizes, promises. I just hope we won’t get lost.
The constellations can guide us.
It’s an unnaturally brilliant night on the town and the moon is out in full force trying to tug us to the surface. But you’re right, as usual. The stars can still be made out so I agree to stay to lighten the mood.
Don’t worry so much.
You get a headache from all the light while we drift through downtown. The evening takes back its knife-edge and you’re pulled into a temperamental riptide. Yelling washes over the line in the sand; the roadside coral goes pale. As waves punch down you smell more of smoke than sea spray.
This is all your fault.
We come out of the fight in a place I’ve never seen. In the watery light of some back-alley, your fingers look like fish hooks. Oil is smudged beneath my eyes. Tied around my throat is a line to reel me back in.
I swear I didn’t mean it.
Come morning, when the city is beached on the sand, it rains hard enough to take the colour from my clothes. The hues blur together until they turn bruise-coloured and litter my skin.

Derrin Smith is a 16 year old student at Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery who’s currently working towards achieving her lifelong goal of becoming a cryptid.

The Ballad of Light – Natalie Wang

No one understood the towers for what they were. That was what the man said, after all, pacing in front of our porch like he was trying to pry apart our very house.
“You’ve seen the towers,” he asked me, in the rare times he acknowledged my presence.
I bobbed my head up and down frantically like I was starving. I should have gone inside the house long ago. The man never drew close, though; he watched the sunset with me, the auric flushing out into a deep indigo gradient.
“The towers,” he began, and I resigned myself to a night on the porch, “are—have you ever been Far East? To China, Mongolia, Arabia? They have very strange architecture. They mold it out of—” He paused. “Beautiful stone. Ancient stone. You catch it at the right angle and it glitters. The sun beams along it and the place lights up like a lantern.”
“I see,” I answered. If I closed my right eye the sun would look like it was melting on Ms. Kaine’s roof; if I squeezed my left eye shut, the sun would break into golden splinters on the long runs of Mr. Korschafe’s daffodils. And if I closed both eyes, I imagined I could reach out for a world beyond a backwater town weathered by the heat, its roads spiraling out like a tendril of mist. At this time of day the street sloped downwards at a gentle angle, like the plane of the earth had tilted toward the cosmos’ chasms, and we were all inevitable pins and balls rolling to our fate. For now the man and I stood steady, grounded by the buildings around us and the flesh and bone knitting beneath our skin, but one day we would become dust.
Natalie Wang is a seventeen-year-old rising senior currently residing in Texas. Her writing has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art and Writing Alliance, the New York Times’ Learning Network, and the Iowa Young Writers Studio, as well as several international and teen magazines. In her free time, she enjoys reading through film scripts and catching up on the latest books and webcomics.

Dragon Rider – Denika Mead

My sister laughs and I turn to look at her. I grin, my laughter mingling with hers as adrenaline courses through our veins.
Her face is radiant with joy as the dragon soars up, climbing higher and higher through wisps of cloud. She grabs my waist as the dragon dives, plummeting towards the haze of green marking the ground.
The dragon throws out its wings and we float on the air currents above a carpet of green. Winding blue rivers cut through the forest.
I glance at my sister. Her eyes are as bright as the dragon’s scales. We soar towards the horizon, lined blood red as the sun sets. We glide through the never-ending sky on a creature whose wings glimmer molten golds and sunset reds.
My mum touches my shoulder and I jerk upright on the couch. As I meet her eyes, fresh tears spill over my cheeks.
“It’s time to go.”
I nod. My legs are weak as I follow her to the door. I catch sight of myself in the mirror. Dressed head to toe in black. The only spot of color is the golden dragon brooch on my right shoulder. My sister had loved dragons.
My chest constricts. I run my hand over the brooch’s cold surface and follow my mum out the door for my sister’s final flight.

Denika Mead lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is 16 and has an unrelenting passion for fantasy and dystopian writing. She published her debut novel Royal Orchid, The Death-Hunters, in October 2019 when she was 15. The prequel to Royal Orchid, Into the Flames, was released on April 3rd, 2020. Her third book is in the early editing stages and is due to be released late 2020. Over the past few years, she has won and been a finalist in several youth writing competitions, including being a two-time finalist in the New Zealand Youth Laurate award 2018. Denika was a finalist in the Best New Talent category for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2020. www.denikameadauthor.com

Do You Remember? – Phoebe Robertson

Do you remember being in Year Two? When we would pretend to be animals? Horses galloped across playgrounds that turned to meadows. Sandpits were the home of volcanic eruptions. Wooden structures would become homes, as we played pretend and crafted families of our own conception.
We turned into mothers and fathers. Looking after each other, we would mime the familiarity of life outside the classroom. Baking mudpies and concoctions from every color of the paintbrush. We would return with mud-caked hair and holes in clothing, but youth was enough to patch them, and ease our worries when they eventually opened back up again.
It didn’t take long for the mudpies to go stale, the concoctions to be tipped down the drain. Color running down the sides of volcanoes to fingertips and leaving nothing but black and white trails. The families split as cracks formed in reality and we grew further apart. No longer a collective, now shattered fragments of a once-perfect household.
Searching for the feeling of simpler times, liquor bottles scattered around rooms like the irregular patterns of a wild horse’s coat. We still ran, only it was to escape a reality that hunched shoulders and crushed backs under the weight of expectation. We walked a path to the future, full of brambles that ripped into clothes and made tears far too large to be patched by a mother’s sewing needle.
Connection was lost as the fragments scattered across the country, finding comfort in the contact of strangers. Those days of pretending seemed more like fiction than reality, as families were split and never heard from again. The occasional grain of sand in a bed sheet, mud trapped underneath fingernail, the only reminder of what once was.

Phoebe Robertson is poet studying in Wellington. Her work has previously appeared in Poetry NZ Yearbook, Flash Frontier, and Young NZ Writers. She spends her time loitering at Ivy.

These are my leaves – Samuel Turner-O’Keeffe

We went to the lake for a swim. It was cold. The horizon yawned and stretched its arms out, expecting to find nothing, but instead it plunged into a distant clump of greens and browns and dullness that lurked around the drop. Inside, the water sat and stank in its juices. Flaccid and flat.
The others scrambled to unroll the picnic blanket. Whooping, they dumped their clothes and their towels and their other things, and dashed towards the gloom. Sand kicked out from under their feet. Their fading laughter flashed, leering, cut in freeze-frame.
We took refuge behind a tree.
And it was under those branches, in the wind which blew through our hair and let your longer curls tickle my cheeks, that your eyes sparkled. You smiled. You murmured my name and snuggled closer. Your lips were centimetres from mine. And I nodded vaguely in acknowledgement. Uh-huh. I was watching the volleyball players behind your head, watching that younger one smack the ball hard over the net, watching this older one shrug and reply, watching the kicking sand and the laughter…
Do you remember
how I took your wrist instead of your hand?
I doubt that you even considered the prospect
that taking your hand was what I had planned
taking your hand on the flocculent sand
my face being kissed by your wandering strands…
I would have. I wish I had.
Now I’m scrambling on ice. Here I am, look at me! I’m green and brown and dull. These are my leaves. And those are my arms, stretching out
expecting to find your warmth
hoping to catch your fading, flashing laughter
plunging into nothing at all.
Samuel Turner-O’Keeffe is a university student from Auckland, New Zealand. A big fan of literature, he recently began writing creative pieces and hopes to continue doing so into the foreseeable future.

The Beans – Cadence Chung

The summer had come and gone; it was now winter, and the dry wrath of the sun had morphed into a blind white bitterness that tinged the edges of trees with frost. In their field, the beans trembled on their stalks, tossed by the wind as if leaning towards an elusive lover.
But there was something else, something that waited in the air like a slit-eyed beast. Not the searing summer nor the blinding winter, but something infra-black, a fever of malice. It trampled over the land with black paws, burning the trees and dousing the fields with sweet chemicals of oblivion. What is this creature, the beans wondered, that covers our home with such bitter waste?
This something else, it changed the humans, the hulking giants that routinely ripped their brethren from their homes. They would whisper to each other in hushed tones and hide in deep holes when the beast was nearby. What is this creature, the beans wondered, that frightens the humans so?
Yet the humans still followed it, chasing that charred-black, fiery beast with eyes chemical and hungry. They readied their metallic pods, releasing seeds in a rhythmic spray of death. Red stained the soil.
One day the beast came to the field, dropping fire onto the trees from above. The beast howled, and there the beans saw its trickery that fooled the humans so perfectly. It promises bravery, the beans thought, yet brings only pain. It promises glory, yet destroys everything that is glorious.
As the fiery death decimated the field, the beans hugged one another in their pods and prayed. Blackened with soot and set alight in flaming passion, the beans wondered, why do the humans follow this beast so blindly?

Cadence Chung is a high school student who loves storytelling, especially through poetry. She is inspired by classic literature and finds it fascinating how our past has influenced so many of our current-day attitudes.

On One Particular MRT Ride – Thee Sim Ling

The businesswoman tapped her smartwatch irritably. At the speed this train was crawling along, she would be three minutes—three minutes—late for her meeting! If she couldn’t make it in time, if she couldn’t secure a deal, if she lost the job which was her everlasting pride…it would be over. She needed her job. She wanted her job, not like the man with the cheap watch sitting two seats away. She would do anything—break a bone, sell her home, even risk her life—to succeed.
The entrepreneur glanced at his timepiece, the $5 plastic watch bought at a pasar malam, when he was a carefree child, like the schoolboy sitting opposite him. At the speed this train was zooming along, he would still be three minutes late for his meeting. Ah, whatever. The meeting had better be quick, though. He fished out his wallet, smiling at the miniature photo of his family. He would do anything—break a bone, sell his home, even risk his life—for his family.
The schoolboy checked his phone and groaned. After a long day of tuition, he was dragged to yet another cumbersome family gathering and he could do nothing about it. Like the useless fly outside the window. Why must he be forced to endure hours and hours of tuition—just for one moment in time called the “exams”? Why couldn’t he just have fun? He would do anything—break a bone, sell his phone, even risk his life—to have a little fun for once.
The fly outside the window flapped its wings desperately. It didn’t care about its job. It didn’t care about its family. It didn’t care about having fun. It only wanted to sur—
An insect hit the window.
The insect fell off.
Thee Sim Ling is a thirteen-year-old from Singapore, and this story was inspired by the local Mass Rapid Transport trains in her country. Her work has been published in KidSpirit, Skipping Stones, and The Stone Soup. She is currently addicted to puzzle-solving, website building (lucindathee.com), and finding out how to do mental math fast.

Sugar High – Amanda Kay

On a summer day, I sip ice cream like soup from the carton. The warm liquid rolls down my tongue. The kid beside me is sucking on a lolly, the red tip of it peeking out of his closed lips. I hear laughter from my right side, from my left—they are all so sweet. Artificially sweet, but still.
These are my friends, who revel in saccharine spirits, who dance on burnt marshmallows, the sticky substance leaving residue on their toes. They dance like fairies; they dance as if life was as sweet as candy itself. As if we weren’t broken, torn things. Sinners.
The afternoon sun bakes us into the red dirt, the remnants of the night before untouched. We are the gods and the devils, the angels and demons. Our dreams are all so blurred that I can’t tell one person from another. We are one living, pulsating organism, whose metabolism feeds on sugary sweetness, who pretends like the world around them isn’t all bitter.
Colors flash before my eyes, the world laced in syrupy sugar. I still remember the time so long ago when I spilled cola on your shirt, the brown liquid seeping into your pink shirt, a stain that no detergent could remove. I remember so clearly the effervescent bubbles, rising up and up until all we could dream about were the beginnings of stars in a fairy floss sky, their wings extending ever higher, leaving behind wisps of sugar on the earth below.
Amanda Kay is a writer based in the Bay Area. She is a rising junior at Santa Clara High School. Her work has been published in The Rising Phoenix Review, Second Revolution Magazine, and The Foredge Review, among others. In her free time, she enjoys walking sandy beaches and drinking tea hot enough to burn her throat.

The Crazy Chemist – Izzy Harrison

“Hmmm, based on my calculations, I think we should add some more of this.” Squirt. “Let’s stir that in, just a little of this one, I think. Let’s test it in the Testinator.” Tom felt nervous, he might have found a cure for COVID-19! He stirred it up and poured it into a test tube, then slotted it in the Testinator—whirr, click. “Hmmm, it’s gone green and the machine says it is a cure! I am going to save lots and lots of lives and lockdown will be over!”
“Tom, what is this mess!! All of these leaves on the floor, and my best china cups, and also my blender! What is your dad going to say! Please tidy up and wash your hands!”
Tom’s daydream might have ended, but who knows, he might grow up and actually become a ground-breaking scientist! Go Tom!

Izzy Harrison is nine years old, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Fairy Lights – Sophia Zhang

That time, we caught fairies. Sun sinking, pinks and reds dancing across the sky above the rustling grass fields. I was wearing gingham, and she was too—that tiny fairy whizzing around my head in a brilliant buzz. Her wings and eyelashes fluttered prettily as we watched, enraptured. Naturally, I had to keep her. I gently perched her on my shoulder and we returned to the picnic table, where there rested slices of toast. I took the strawberry jam and emptied the entire jar.
The fairy sat on the rim of the jar and dangled her legs in the glass pit, peering down hesitantly. I nudged her in and screwed the lid tight. Her limbs grew limp as we passed by with other fairies in other jars. The messy nest of red yarn lay tangled on her head, drenched with sweat, yet still she glowed true. I brought her in and out of life, each shock of my fingers flaying bone and blood of her soft body, carving chambers into her Tinkerbell heart. The jar lit up, lustrous strawberry-gold light finally freed. When darkness came about, we arranged all the luminous jars around us in the fields. That night, we ate strawberry toast by fairy light.

Sophia Zhang is a rising sophomore at Walter Payton College Prep and is fourteen in age but five at heart. She has been weaving stories and poems in her head since the dawn of time and is absolutely ecstatic to share them with others. Besides writing, Sophia spends her days playing piano, volleyball, or watching her favou0rite TV show on Netflix.

Grey – Jorja Coyote Rosser

The fourth horseman rides fast across the land, carving its path to mark its journey through our world. I’ve heard the gossip, but it’s just a flu, who cares? I lounge lazily in the sun as I half-follow a conversation my friends are having, waiting for the bell to ring. Minutes pass and we fight the steady flow of traffic to homeroom, not bothering to say goodbye, as we will see each other the next day.
The horseman crosses the sea, ravaging our towns, our people. Schools are closed, communities are closed, our world is closed. We are in a war zone. Masks and scarves cover faces, nobody can be trusted. A sideway glance is cast as the neighbour who pets my dog crosses the road to avoid me. The sun shines and the sky is clear, but there is no colour. Life has become grey.
 The horseman has many faces: your best friend, your neighbor, your own mother. He is nobody, he is everybody. This is what we read about in dystopian novels. We fight this modern battle. I sit in my house with my family, grasping at any small purpose I can find. I am waiting for everything to return to normal, for life to resume. Although the walls are only slightly off white, it just feels grey.
The horseman fights, but he cannot break our walls; our mana cannot be broken. We are not fooled by his faces; our united solitude scares him away. Defeated, he surrenders, fleeing across the land. The colour returns to the world. The sky is blue and the grass is greener than I’d noticed. The sun warms my bones and the exciting chirrup continues. My friends and I head to class. We make sure to say goodbye as we disperse.
Jorja Coyote Rosser is seventeen years old and attends Sacred Heart Girls’ College New Plymouth. In her spare time she enjoys baking, listening to music, and playing inline hockey, a sport for which she has represented New Zealand on several occasions.

Islands – Eva de Jong

Over a socially-distanced morning tea break, Max tells Mary he loves her. Mary is looking into her coffee when he confesses: “I love you, Mary.”
Mary pulls her dark hair behind her ear and removes a single AirPod.
“I’m good Max, how are you?”
“What?” he gasps, and then, “I—I’m good.”
Two metres of hollow space separates their tables. It is a government-ordered chasm, a distance that sets everybody apart for their own good. It could have been an ocean.
“Lousy isn’t it?” Mary holds up a limp mask between her fingers. Max thinks again about how she has the most beautiful pale hands he has ever seen.
“Lot of good it’ll do me; I can barely breathe in the bloody thing,” she sighs, and
Max gulps back the last of his coffee.
“It’s hard—it makes it hard, you know, to in some ways…breathe,” he agrees.
Mary looks at him blankly.
“Yeah,” she says, “You alright, mate?”
The curved points of Max’s ears are shiny and red, and he runs his hand over his glistening forehead.
“Yeah. Fine.” He drops his hand into his lap, eyes staying fixed on the wall ahead.
“I think the extra shifts are getting to everyone,” she says gently.
Max can feel her green eyes on him, soft and blinking.
“I better get back to work, Mary,” he whispers hoarsely. Then he leaps up from his seat and yanks his mask back over his mouth.
“Oh. See you soon then, Max!” She calls.
Max turns from his table and walks quickly away. There is a single moment, between turning and walking, when he could reach her table across the two-metre gap.  He could touch the hand that rests there, wrist upturned and the palm glowing white, like light pulsing from a bacteria-ridden angel.

Eva de Jong is eighteen years old, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Narcissus – Stella Li

The first time I met you, we were knee-deep in clay. I held you tight that day, maybe too tight. Do you remember? The smell of earth and silt and mirrored love. I wondered if you would ever know what it feels like to hold yourself in your own palms.
It was easy for the first few years. I taught you to ride, your chubby thighs straddling the silken muscle of Pistol, that speckled Appaloosa with a chestnut forelock. You shrieked in delight, you wanted more even after dust coated your lashes and your knees had begun to crumble. I had to repair you that night, wrapping your joints in new mud.
We were alike. Maybe too much so, the way you sneezed at the light and laughed with your head thrown back. You picked fights. Held grudges. You were too easily dented by others’ touch.
The first time we fought, I could see everything I never wanted you to be: cracked, crumbling at my fingers. It was something about a boy; you said the word freedom like it meant something. It was late at night; the fireflies had flickered out and the moths had begun to gather around the porchlight. You missed curfew twice after that, but each time you were gone again before morning, leaving a smattering of dust in Pistol’s stall.
It was an obsession. I couldn’t—wouldn’t—see you differently; there were times when I wanted to smash you to pieces just to know what it felt like. But then I wouldn’t be able to hold myself again; there would be nothing left of my art. This is my burden: you sitting on my loamy shoulders, my fingers caked in slip.

Stella Li is a rising senior at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North in New Jersey. An alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and an editor of Ephimiliar Journal, she has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the Kenyon Review Short Nonfiction Contest, the National Poetry Quarterly, and her mother, among others. When not scribbling angsty poetry out at 1AM, she can be found in her bed, under the covers, dreaming about dipping her feet in the Temple of Dendur water pool.

Puppeteer Awash in Salt – Penelope Duran

The shopping cart bucked in my sweaty palms, seeking to escape as I circled the aisles. Apples. Milk. Paprika. Salt.  Four items and then I could leave this hell.  Ben used to shop for Mom.
Apples. Milk. Paprika. All I needed was salt.  On aisle five, I stood paralysed as memories consumed me: saline crystals coating the kitchen tiles, Mum’s ruthless scolding echoing through the house. Ben defending me, saying my mistake did not call for a scene.  It was only salt.
Ben was right.  There was no need for theatrics.  With clenched fists, I walked to the shelf, where packets of salt stood like sentinels.  My hands burned as I grasped a package and then dropped it to extinguish the invisible fire.  The floor shimmered in a familiar sheet of white.
Like a ragdoll, I collapsed to the floor.  Ben flashed through my mind.  His eyes were empty, his neck twisted like a marionette’s.  An icy hand still clutched the steering wheel.  Ben would not have driven to the store if I had not spilled the salt.
A comforting hand touched my shoulder, and with it were assurances that my error was not grave.  It was only salt.  As I lifted the remains of the package, grains filtered through my fingertips, cleansing the venial sin.
Apples. Milk. Paprika. Salt. Gathered together, I rose, a puppeteer entangled no longer.
Penelope Duran’s educational journey began at Dyer St. Kindy in Lower Hutt, Wellington.  As a child in a U.S. diplomatic family, she has also lived in the Philippines, Egypt, Poland, and Germany.  She is educated in the German school system and has achieved recognition for her poems, short stories, and personal memoirs in English and German.  In addition to creative writing, Penny’s other passion is physics, and she enjoys ballet and ballroom dancing.

The Taniwha – Lucy Kennedy

“Bye, Mum!” I call as I walk out the door of my house. I’m going on a morning walk, to get some fresh air and to get away from the large pile of homework sitting on my desk.
I am at the opening of the nature walkway (it is a new one that I have never tried before) when suddenly from behind a kauri tree jumps a strange-looking man who wears long, brown robes like the trunk of a rough tree fern, and a hat made of ferns with a tui feather tucked into the flax strip that is acting as a hatband. Tangled in his long, white beard are bright red pohutukawa bristles, and his eyes shine like paua shells glistening in the sunlight. He holds a branch wrapped intricately with flax strips, with shells hanging, jangling in the light breeze. At his feet slinks a taniwha, sleek and slippery, with shiny curious eyes slyly gazing up at me.
As I stare at him in awe, he reaches into his robes and hands me a wooden box that smells of wet rain in the bush. He winks at me and stamps down his staff, and in a puff of honey-coloured smoke he is gone. I open the box and inside is a beautifully carved pounamu, cold in the palm of my hand… I put it on and gasp as the slinking, shimmering taniwha, which was hiding behind the kauri, comes to me and sits at my feet. I understand that ancient, powerful magic has brought us together, and that he is mine now, forever and ever.  I must take care of him.
Lucy Kennedy is 12 years old and was born in Auckland, New Zealand.  She loves cats, cups of tea, chocolate lamingtons, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (would recommend), and Tim Burton movies.  Lucy enjoys writing short stories and is currently working on her first novel.

Tea for Two – Hannah Wilson

You look at her and wonder. She’s like a toy adult. Elfin, big eyes made bigger with the help of mascara and liquid eyeliner, lips impossibly red. Red like the roses you gave your wife on her seventieth birthday.
She’s supposed to be a child. A child. You always associated childhood with tree climbing and pigtails and note passing in class. It’s different now, you’ve been told.
You steal another glance. You don’t want her to catch you looking, but you can’t resist. Then you look away, focusing instead on the tea pot, milk jug and cups in front of you. Tea for two. Your gaze flits to the empty chair opposite you.
You can’t bring yourself to drink the tea.
Turning towards her again, you notice the people seated around her for the first time. They’re all angled towards her. She’s a magnet, and not just for you.
Your gaze zeroes in on the slice of cake before her. Obscenely sweet and chocolaty like the ones your wife used to make. You never liked chocolate cake. But somehow it tasted good the way she baked it. Chocolate cake and tea for two.
Maybe you should order some cake. You wouldn’t have to eat it. It could just be for show. Like everything else in this modern world.
What’s she drinking? You allow your gaze to wander beyond the slice of cake. A martini. She raises the glass to those impossibly red lips, and then stops to pick something out before handing it to her mother. The olive.
Shaking your head, you turn back to your own beverage. Tea for two. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be. But it’s still as lonely as you are.
Hannah Wilson is a 16-year-old high school student living in Wellington, New Zealand. She has loved reading and creative writing her entire life, and hopes to continue writing and also become a psychiatrist when she has finished high school.

Trek – Yejin Suh

“I’ve never been on one where they won’t tell us why we’re here.”
“Me neither.”
“So why do you think we’re here?”
“Well, I’ve been on a lot of these. I’ve made a list of, you know, all the possible reasons.”
“What are they?”
“First, natural resources.”
“We’ve no gear.”
“Bounty hunting.”
“No guns.”
“And looking for new homes.”
“On a planet with no civilization? No way.”
“Then…that’s it. That’s my whole list.”
“Do you think…”
“No, tell me—”
“Do you think we’re in danger?”
“They’d—well, they’d tell us if we were, obviously.”
“How is that obvious?”
“Why would they—”
“Stupid, I know. Nevermind.”
“Do you think we’re in danger?”
“No. All we’ve been doing is walking. And the planet’s nice. Well—it’s nice, but it’s—”
“Quieter… she might hear us.”
“Sorry. The planet’s nice, but it’s kind of…”
“I’ve noticed, too. It’s—well, the obvious thing is the river…”
“There’s no way that’s a river. It looks like—”
“A mudslide? I know. It’s disgusting. There must be some kind of backlog.”
“And the glints.”
“The silver glints, they’re everywhere. In the trees, the ground…”
“Huh. I didn’t even notice.”
“What are they?”
“I don’t know…probably mineral deposits.”
“I heard that some planets do that on purpose. Push out silver everywhere. So from outer space, it just looks like a part of the stars. Camouflage.”
“That’s neat. Like it’s alive.”
“You don’t think—?”
“It could be—”
“Too loud—she’s looking back at us—”
“Sorry, sorry. You don’t think it could be alive?”
“Imagine the river…”
“The river…”
“…full of dead meat, people acidified alive…”
“…the silver glints, little bits of tech that the planet couldn’t digest…”
Yejin Suh is a student from New Jersey whose writing appears in Half Mystic, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Polyphony Lit, among others. She recently founded a speculative fiction publication, Wintermute Lit (www.wintermutelit.online).

NFFD Awards Night

Part 1: Guest readers and musicians
Part 2: Finalist readings (hosted by Renee Liang)

Youth discussion panel: Writing in short forms

See youth discussion panel here

Lucy Kennedy (age 12; Auckland, New Zealand – short-listed in 2020 NFFD youth competition)

Lucy Kennedy is 12 years old and was born in Auckland, New Zealand.  She loves cats, cups of tea, chocolate lamingtons, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (would recommend) and Tim Burton movies.  Lucy enjoys writing short stories and is currently working on her first novel.

Denika Mead (age 16; Wellington, New Zealand – 3rd place in 2020 NFFD youth competition)

Denika lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She is 16 and has an unrelenting passion for fantasy and dystopian writing. She published her debut novel Royal OrchidThe Death-Hunters, in October 2019 when she was 15. The prequel to Royal OrchidInto the Flames, was released on April 3rd, 2020. Her third book is in the early editing stages and is due to be released late 2020. Over the past few years, she has won and been a finalist in several youth writing competitions, including being a two-time finalist in the New Zealand Youth Laurate award 2018. Denika was a finalist in the Best New Talent category for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards in 2020. www.denikameadauthor.com

Penelope Duran (age 17; Frankfurt, Germany – short-listed in 2020 NFFD youth competition)

Penelope Duran’s educational journey began at Dyer St. Kindy in Lower Hutt, Wellington.  As a child in a U.S. diplomatic family, she has also lived in the Philippines, Egypt, Poland and Germany.  She is educated in the German school system and has achieved recognition for her poems, short stories and personal memoirs in English and German.  In addition to creative writing, Penny’s other passion is physics, and she enjoys ballet and ballroom dancing.

Freddie Gormack-Smith (age 19; Christchurch, New Zealand)

Freddie Gormack-Smith is a poet and flash fiction writer from Christchurch NZ, currently in his first year of an English degree at the University of Canterbury. Before that he was a student with the School for Young Writers in Christchurch from the age of 11, who successfully converted him to flash fiction and he hasn’t looked back since. His work has regularly appeared in the annual Re-draft anthologies and Write-On Magazine, where he had the privilege to be a featured writer in 2019.

Samantha Jory-Smart (age 19; Christchurch, New Zealand)

Samantha Jory-Smart currently studies at the University of Canterbury and is an established poet. Her poetry has received many awards, including first place in both the New Zealand Poetry Society’s Anthology open junior section 2018 and the We Could Be Heroes Poetry Competition 2017. In 2018, Samantha worked with Ōtākaro Ltd. to curate a poetry mural on Armagh Street. The poems were linked through their multi-faceted approaches to the topic of climate change. Last year, she spoke at the Enviro-Past conference about the intersection between art and climate change. She has also worked with the School for Young Writers throughout high school.

Moderator: Lola Elvy writes music, poetry, and other forms of creative fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing, she is passionate about language, mathematics, and the environment, and speaks English, German, and Swedish. After living and travelling for seventeen years on a sailboat, she is now based in Dunedin, studying Music and Physics at the University of Otago. Her poetry has been featured in Fast FibresOlentangy Review, and The Larger Geometry: poems for peace (anthology, 2018).

NFFD YouTube channel – see authors read their stories

January 2020 Issue / Artwork: Red


[Untitled 01] – Ruby Allan (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand) 
New Zealand Fairy Tern – Ava MacKay (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Whisper of the Wind  – Kimberly Currie (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled 01] – Jana Thea (age 15; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Ice – Alexander Foulds (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Blue Duck / Whio – Tom Nalder (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words – Sophie Yu (age 21; Auckland, New Zealand)
Star Girl – Sylvie King (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Pieta Bayley (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled 02] – Jana Thea (age 15; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Storm at Sea – Natsuki Hastie (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled 02] – Ruby Allan (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Things That Bugged Bob – Eliza Sellier (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
A Silent Cry – Oshadha Perera (age 14; Invercargill, New Zealand)
[Untitled 03] – Jana Thea (age 15; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Naglfar – Pieta Bayley (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Still Life with Violin – Sophie Yu (age 21; Auckland, New Zealand)
Keep Calm and Carry – Charlie Knight (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Yellow-Eyed Penguin / Hoiho – Tom Nalder (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Feature interview: E Wen Wong and P.S. Our Beaches

[Untitled 01] – Ruby Allan

Ruby Allan is twelve years old and lives in Christchurch New Zealand. She has loved drawing and writing for as long as she can remember, and has been published in fingers comma toes and a few other writing companies.

New Zealand Fairy Tern – Ava MacKay

small, white, grey and black
feathers flutter wildly
twisting over the ocean
looking for a fishy prey
feet and beak shine
like newly minted coins
as they dive towards
the shimmering ocean
their ovoid eggs lie waiting
like hidden treasure
in a sandy dip
by the shore
Ava MacKay is eleven years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She enjoys reading many different books for inspiration for her writing. She also loves singing and is learning the piano in her spare time.

The Whisper of the Wind – Kimberly Currie

The whisper of the wind
slowly moves towards me
I glance out at the views
birds floating around me
I walk down the misty street
Raindrops glisten
a streetlight blazes down on my eyes
I fall further and further into the dream
my memories fly by
like a cloud on a windy day
I look up at the sky
the rainbow falling
down to the big pot of gold
at the end

Kimberly Currie is twelve years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled 01] – Jana Thea

Jana Thea is fifteen years old and lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Ice – Alexander Foulds

Cracks in the ice
Deep cuts like a saw
Big ball of white and snow
Feasting on a seal
Cracks grow wider
Joining together
Narrowing the escape of the bear
And the ice plate breaks off like a crumb of a cookie
He’s stuck
This is where he will sadly die
Reduce your fossil fuels and greenhouse gases
Save the bears

Alexander Foulds is ten years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Blue Duck / Whio – Tom Nalder

He calls you with his wheezy whistle
from the mountain river
of the Kepler track.
He begs you to catch
the caddis fly
for his lunch.
He dives into the river
and swims away
then towards you.
“Come and catch me
if you can.”

Tom Nalder is eleven years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. His favourite colour is yellow, and he really likes cheetahs and would like to learn a lot about animals. He would also like to be a scientist.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu is a fourthyear medical student studying with the University of Auckland. Art has become a visual language that portrays her growth in ideas and experiences to all viewers. With these as her inspirations, she’s been able to create more original works that hopefully inspire others and evoke her viewers’ own interpretations.

Star Girl – Sylvie King

They have always said that no one can hear you scream in space. It is often used as a threat, but I never saw it as a comfort, until I was 10 years old.
Asteroids. Planets. Stars. A world of confusion. A dark, eerie setting. A home.
My tears group into asteroids, frozen ice from the soul. I have no one to hold on to but the comfort of the ever-burning sun. I lie awake at night, upon the surface of Mars, dust storms keeping me warm as I watch the Earth rotate by. Holding up a telescope, I look down to my long-gone home. I see the Commonwealth, the water, the grass. Every year, I turn the lights off. I put a pause on all energy. I make Earth whole again, because here up in space, I have control.
I have been here so long, the stars accept me as one of their own. I rest with them, I glow with them, and I burn with them. My friends are the planets, the exoplanets, the protoplanets. I watched my human friends burn up in the STS missions, Challenger and Columbia, and watched them land on the moon, Lunar in the Apollo missions. Every step humans take leads them closer to me, so I take a step backwards, shielded by the darkness and infinity of space. I climbed here myself after Earth didn’t accept me. Here, space took me in, protected me, taught me.
Some days I look down on Earth with jealousy. I see my brothers and sisters in the Royal Commonwealth, and I wish I was down there with all humanity, although peace no longer reigns. Then, I remember the connection I have up here, the spark of the shooting star that is my heart. I shield myself up here, and I watch, and I wait. And then I wait some more.
In years and years to come, I will be joined to the Commonwealth. I will be lonely no more, my screams and tears comforted by more than just the infinite, dark stretch of space. In years and years to come, I will run out of supplies, run out of the spirit that led me here. In years and years to come, I will return to what I once called my haven. In years and years to come, gravity will pull down on me once more. But for now, I live only with who accepts me. Hydrogen and Helium, the majority of space, accept me.
I place my star-crested crown upon my head, willing gravity to abide. I look through a mirror planet, see my graceful reflection staring at me. The crown rests slightly above my head, and I can see it rotating in my reflection. It spins slightly to the left, and I see the tiny gemstone that is my last piece of Earth. It was a gift to me from the Royal Commonwealth when they funded my solo space exploration. I treasure my last thread of connection to the Royal Commonwealth, my long gone home. I treasure it with my life.
I tether down my telescope to the surface of Mars. The Martian dust is eager to release my telescope from its grasp. I direct my equilateral frame up to Earth, the weight leaning towards Polaris, the Northern Cross. I look down towards Earth, and strength fills my mind. The telescope is so strong I can see the continents and countries. I see England, New Zealand, Africa, the Commonwealth countries, and I glance one more time at the life I used to have.
They say it takes years to call it “home”, but for me, it only took flying to the place I saw through my telescope. I have seen the unseeable, done the undoable. But here I am, in a world created years ago, in a world I recreated to include myself inside it. Here I am, the girl of the stars. Here I am, in space, looking down on humans, looking down on who I once was.
Here I am, in my home.

Sylvie King is thirteen years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Pieta Bayley

we’re building an altar to a broken world, I tell you. we’re pretty sure we can fix it.
but we wish we didn’t have to.
we’re using torchlight on our phones for candles, I tell you. the rage behind our irises
is fiery enough as it is.
we’re standing on its polished bones, digging up its ashes.
someone cremated it with fossil fuels while we were moonfaced and giggling
in a cradle they built for us from the thing that cost the least.

Pieta Bayley is fourteen years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She enjoys stories in all their forms—and, when they hide, will resort to telling them herself.

[Untitled 02] – Jana Thea

Jana Thea is fifteen years old and lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Storm at Sea – Natsuki Hastie

Waves crashing with anger
Sucking up dust
Clouds flying fiercely
The typhoon threatens my waka
My waka drinks the waves to make
Sure I stay warm and dry
I say a karakia hoping the typhoon will stop
A green blur in the distance
It’s land

Natsuki Hastie is 10 years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled 02] – Ruby Allan

Ruby Allan is twelve years old and lives in Christchurch New Zealand. She has loved drawing and writing for as long as she can remember, and has been published in fingers comma toes and a few other writing companies.

Things That Bugged Bob – Eliza Sellier

There were certain things that annoyed Bob. Bob was a worm. He hated how bees got so much attention, like water for the bees, or people saying, ‘Aren’t we lucky to have bees that turn nectar into honey?’ But actually, he had grown the beautiful saffron flowers himself. It made him nearly explode when the gardener put a net over the scrumptious cabbages or the superb snow peas—it looked so ugly. He screamed when the violet flowers were crooked. He hated parsley, it made his eyes water.
He made his decision…he was going on strike!
Eliza Sellier is a passionate ten-year-old vegetarian from Christchurch, New Zealand, who loves everything to do with animals, be it playing with them, reading about them or writing stories about them. While she loves bugs, her favourite animals are monkeys and orangutans!

A Silent Cry – Oshadha Perera

A silent cry within the heart
A massive loss for the world
Sad news for all of us
When a green tree is cut
The wail of animals fills the air
The cry of nature fills the world
The howl of the sky, the charge of fury
When somebody chops a tree
Tons of oxygen will be lost
Nature’s beauty will reduce
Food and fruits will be scarce
When somebody cuts a tree
Global warming will increase
Temperatures will rise high
Hazards, disasters will strengthen
When somebody chops a tree
Every single tree is irreplaceable
Every single tree is valuable
With every chop you place on them
You slowly lead humans to extinction

Oshadha Perera is a high school student at Southland Boys High School and has a passion for writing. An avid chess player, he likes to read in his spare time.

[Untitled 03] Jana Thea

Jana Thea is fifteen years old and lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Naglfar – Pieta Bayley

A Character Examination From The Wrong Side Of Ragnarok
Hel was glad to see the ship crowded. The sheer volume of beings on the deck did a good job of concealing its hideousness. The entire vessel was huge and grotesque, made of toenails instead of wood. They were mainly the toenails of outlaws and peasants who died alone with no one to remove their nails postmortem. Hence the material for the ship was poorly manicured, obnoxiously long, scraggly and yellowed. They were cold and hard; broken at the tips and sharp to the touch. They linked and folded over each other like roof tiles. She had no doubt some of her subjects could identify their own nails in the mess. The newer ones were much better, their translucent forms rounded and clean. One still sported the chipped remains of vibrant pink nail polish. She looked away immediately. She didn’t need another reminder that these had belonged to someone. She could hardly look at her feet without retching.
Jormungand seemed to think this was a grossly amusing paradox. “All those years among rotting dead folk? I would have thought you’d be more stoic at the sight of this.” His long, serpentine body curved toward her, gently shoving her in his best impression of elbowing.
“I’d have thought so too,” she said, shuddering.
Jormungand laughed. “It’s good to see you again. I missed you all a lot.”
“I missed you too.” She was painfully aware that his existence had been the loneliest of them all, trapped beneath Midgard. No subjects, friends. A pang of guilt writhed uncomfortably inside her. “At least we’re all together now. For the end,” she continued.
Jormungand approximated a smile. “Yeah. I’m glad. I mean—I’m scared. But if I’m going out by my family’s side, I’m okay. Not happy, certainly. But better than I would be alone. I’d be terrified to die alone.”
Hel ran the back of her hand under her right eye. It came back wet.
“I suppose so,” she said.
Jormungand gave her a little nod. “Good luck, sister,” he said. “Be brave.
“I will.”
He coiled his neck back towards the rest of him, slowly curling into himself like coiling string around a finger. His scales glistened beneath the icy waves.
She straightened purposefully, addressing the assembled draugr.
“I presume none of you are leaving now?”
The crowd rippled with shaking heads.
“Good,” she said. “I need not remind you; this isn’t a fight between good and evil. It’s just a fight. You’re here because you want retribution and, honestly, I don’t blame you. Perhaps you didn’t die like a warrior to get here. But it’s the end of the world today! Am I right?”
 From their grey lips sprung resounding cheers.
“Let’s die like warriors now!”
She punched the air, as their enthusiasm grew and overtook hers.
Móðguðr stood in the front row and clapped. She had to drop her axe to do that. Her smile was sad and proud. 
Hel’s heart fluttered as she mirrored that smile. She spent long as she could mapping the stars in Móðguðr’s eyes and decided Jormungandr was right. If this was Ragnarok—if her endless, inevitable, unavoidable death was just about to seize her—it didn’t seem half so tragic around the people she loved.
A person stood as close as they could to the figurehead of the ship. It was a dragon with a fanged mouth twisted outward near the jaw to form a crescent moon arc, as if someone had turned its lips inside out. Its eyes were hollow and its long, narrow tongue hung hungrily from its mouth.
The person was alone up there; perhaps to isolate himself, or to distinguish himself as a leader on the ship, or to be the first to see the battleground of Ragnarok. Fenrir stepped forward, but a hand reached out swiftly to stop him. 
“Don’t,” said the voice that hand belonged to.
He exhaled indignantly, facing the voice in anger.
“Why n—Mother?”
Angrboda’s hair was wild and black, caramel face showing no sign of windburn. Her eyes narrowed against the snow. Her demeanour was characterised by fierce determination. She allowed herself the barest hint of a smile at seeing her son again.
He leaned his silver head on her for a moment, the closest the two of them would ever get to a hug. They were the kind of prideful creatures who didn’t need words to express how much they cared. The kind of people who’d each spent sleepless nights wondering if it was possible to save their family and friends on Ragnarok by fighting hard enough. People who worked on the assumption that you knew they’d die for you. 
They stood there a moment, mother and son, nearly grinning at their reunion, nearly crying that it had to happen then. At the end of the world.
“Are you afraid?” Angrboda asked.
Fenrir shook his head. “Doubtful? Yes. Afraid? Never. And certainly not now. I’m too angry to be afraid.”
She brushed the hilt of her heirloom sword. “Let’s give them Helheim.”
He grinned a little, before remembering why he was there.
“Why can’t I go over there?” He tipped his head toward the lone person at the front of the longship.
“It’s not a good time to disturb him,” she explained.
Fenrir ducked her hand. “Too late.”
“Fenrir!” called his mother.
He turned.
“Don’t be shocked by his face,” she said. “It isn’t what you’ll remember.”
Fenrir scoffed. Of course it won’t be, he thought. We haven’t seen each other in decades. Shocked by his face! Gods, it’s Ragnarok. I won’t be shocked by anything.
Still, he braced himself upon approaching.
As he drew nearer to the person he began to feel worried for him.
He had the pinched and disproportionate look of someone who’d been very thin for very long and was only now recovering. He looked like a broken animal, shoulders shaking with sobs. His hair was bobbed in rough lines, cut with a blunt knife. His skin had a ghostly pallor.
Fenrir shivered.
He was inches away when he was heard; the figure spun abruptly to meet his eyes.
He jolted.
From the ridge of the person’s nose, it spread down his cheeks like tears: scar tissue, pink and raised, marring the skin like a battleground.
Fenrir’s gold eyes widened.
The figure hastily wiped the sorrow from his expression, running his hands over his tears and wincing when he touched the peculiar wounds. He smudged the black makeup that circled his eyelids and painted lines from eye to cheekbone on each side of his face. He rested his hand on Fenrir’s neck.
“I haven’t seen you in aeons. How’ve you been?”
Fenrir dodged his gaze. “Does it matter?” he said.
The figure’s brows furrowed, fears confirmed. “No,” he said. “I suppose not.” He didn’t even attempt to conceal the lie. It mattered infinitely to him, but if Fenrir didn’t want to talk about it…
His hand shot up to the scarring on their face, a reflex response to imagined pain. It was becoming a habit. “We’re chained monsters of a feather, you and I,” he said.
Fenrir shuffled his feet.
“How have you been?” he asked, afraid of the answer.
He laughed quietly and bitterly. “Does it matter?” he parroted.
“Was it—” Fenrir indicated with his head to the horizon, where the gods would meet them.
“The gods? Yes. It was the gods. And I was a fool.”
“I’m sorry, Father,” Fenrir said.
His father, Loki, chucked once more. Each time he expressed some shadow of his former self he seemed more ghostly.
“For what?” he asked quietly.
“That this happened. Any of this,” Fenrir said.
“It’s not your fault. This happened to us because of what we’re about to do. Let’s make the most of it.”
Fenrir started to leave, but a nagging feeling dragged his feet to a standstill.
“He’s my friend. Tyr. No; he was my friend. It might destroy me.”
“It’s going to destroy us all,” Loki said.
“How am I going to do it?”
Loki paused for a moment. “How do you feel?” he asked.
Fenrir replied, “Like all the rage in the world. And still, I could never hurt him over it.”
Loki could not kneel parentally. His son was heads taller than he was. He looked up and said with all the honesty he could, “I know how it feels to be fighting all your friends. It’s the most stinging guilt you’ll ever feel. The conflict of being a traitor. Because you think that, even though it’s not what you want, you should do what’s best for them. You should protect them. Because they’re your friends. I did what I wanted to anyway. I got endless revenge on them… Because they were bad friends. They really were. But I also loved them. I know that Tyr liked you far more than my friends ever did me. He was a good friend to you. He didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Fenrir dropped his head.
“But neither did you,” Loki continued. “And now you must die at each other’s hands.”
“It feels like it’s supposed to happen. Gods, I want to make them pay,” Fenrir said. “And it feels so wrong too.”
“It feels unfair.”
Fenrir nodded.
Loki sighed. “I don’t know why it has to be this cruel, but it does. The inevitability of all of this…that’s what killed us. My blood brother was eaten by paranoia because he knew that this was how it ended. He’d do all this—” He made a sweeping gesture to the crew of the Naglfar, wronged and hurt by the Allfather. “—to delay it. I’m sure when it comes it will feel like relief. Completion.”
“I just need the strength to face him,” Fenrir said.
“You want my help with that?”
The two stood in silent contemplation, on a ship that came from nightmares.
“Just think,” Loki said. “Is Tyr fighting you?”
“He will be.”
“Then you’re gonna fight back.”
Fenrir left. He thought about asking his father why he’d been crying, but decided not to.


Pieta Bayley is fourteen years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She enjoys stories in all their forms—and, when they hide, will resort to telling them herself.

Still Life with Violin – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu is a fourth-year medical student studying with the University of Auckland. Art has become a visual language that portrays her growth in ideas and experiences to all viewers. With these as her inspirations, she’s been able to create more original works that hopefully inspire others and evoke her viewers’ own interpretations.

Keep Calm and Carry – Charlie Knight

Keep calm and carry a quiet noise
like ninjas running along rooftops
acoustic guitars playing in the background
closing my eyes and looking into the empty abyss
watching movies flicker before me
feeling the wind rush through the open window
seeing the trees sway around me
colouring the blank canvas of people’s lives
walking down lonely roads
feeling the grass below my feet
water washing up the shore onto my toes

Charlie Knight is twelve years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Yellow-Eyed Penguin / Hoiho – Tom Nalder

She wears yellow sunglasses
Her black wings as smooth
as stone,
her chest as white as hail.
She loves to sing in Akaroa Harbour
and hide in dark side caves
under hanging cliffs.
This NZ bird of the year
is as brave as justice.

Tom Nalder is eleven years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.  His favourite colour is yellow, and he really likes cheetahs and would like to learn a lot about animals.  He would also like to be a scientist.

Feature interview: E Wen Wong and P.S. Our Beaches

P.S. Our Beaches – a Pollution Solution for Our Beaches (psbeaches.com)

“P.S. Our Beaches was founded by 13-year-old Cantabrian, E Wen Wong, as part of a 2016 Project Based Learning (PBL) initiative. From its humble beginnings as a plastics poetry project, P.S. Our Beaches has emerged as a diverse, nation-wide community, working to rid our beaches, waterways and oceans of single use plastics. At the heart of everything we do is a mission is to restore a positive environmental footprint for our oceans, both now and into the future.”

E Wen Wong is a year 13 student at Burnside High School. Since becoming passionate about poetry through Paula Green’s Poetry Box, E Wen has had her work featured in various anthologies, on the back of local buses, and on display in the Guernsey Airport. E Wen is on the committee of the New Zealand Poetry Society, and in 2019 placed first in the Poetry New Zealand Student Yearbook Poetry Competition and runner-up in the National Schools Poetry Award.

E Wen Wong speaking and reciting poetry at TEDx

fingers comma toes: Your website describes the project as emerging from a “plastics poetry project”. Can you tell us more about how that gave rise to P.S. Our Beaches?

E Wen Wong: In 2016, through a project-based learning initiative, I decided to use my growing passion for poetry as a platform for communicating environmental issues. I was honoured to receive two scholarships from the Bowseat Ocean Awareness programmes for the plastic pollution poetry anthologies I had written. These scholarships gave impetus to P.S. Our Beaches (Plastic Solution for Our Beaches), an organisation working to instigate change in New Zealand’s plastic pollution scene. Using this organisation as a foundation, we hope to advance the education and understanding of the effects of single-use plastics and the ways through which we can mitigate them.

fct: What are some of the other projects that P.S. Our Beaches has been involved with?

Tree planting at Styx Mill

EWW: In the past, P.S. Our Beaches has facilitated and promoted litter audits, awareness posts on sustainability initiatives and short interviews with organisations such as DoC and UNESCO. In April, we coordinated the inaugural EnviroPAST (Plastic and Sustainability Talks) Conference in which we welcomed over 100 young people to the Christchurch Art Gallery for two days of inspiration, education and action on environmental issues. The conference combined talks by leading academics, entrepreneurs and environmentalists, with workshops and tree planting at Styx Mill, thanks to the donation of 1000 plants by the Christchurch City Council and Trees for Canterbury. The support and willingness of organisations and individuals to share their expertise and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders was nothing short of incredible.

fct: In addition to P.S. Our Beaches, you’re also involved in technology and poetry, including your 2018 BIRD technology project about litter collection from beaches. Can you tell us more about that project?

E Wen Wong with BIRD

EWW: Attending the Limitless Conference in 2017 motivated me to build on the P.S. Our Beaches campaign to incorporate technology and solution-based thinking, layered between advocacy and awareness. Realising that Limitless’ guiding values of passion and purpose lasted long after the conference was over, I decided to combine my passions for technology and the environment by designing BIRD (Biomimicry Identification Robot Device), a UAV capable of detecting and georeferencing macro-plastics such as plastic bags and bottle tops. BIRD uses machine learning software and onboard GPS to provide georeferenced locations for any plastic pieces identified by the drone, which are then linked to a crowd-sourced beach clean-up app to guide users to each item of rubbish. With the intention of sharing the outcome I produce with the wider community, I hope that BIRD can serve as a further tool to inform, intrigue and inspire people to reduce your plastic usage and ensure that as little plastic as possible reaches our beaches and oceans.

Rubbish from one of the beach litter audits

fct: Is there a connection for you between the environment, poetry and technology?

EWW: Similarly to the BIRD project, the connection between poetry and the environment, for me, is also based off a drive to help build a better world, as well as the emerging youth movement. I have been a committee member on the New Zealand Poetry Society since 2017 and, through my work in this role, I am geared towards increasing youth involvement and ensuring that the perspectives of young people are incorporated within decision-making processes. Immersing myself in the arts in such ways has been empowering, as it has allowed me to draw parallels between dichotomous disciplines and ensure that I am always thinking in a way that is creative, dynamic and relevant to the world around us.

fct: You started this project when you were thirteen. What were some of the main challenges, for both the project itself and you personally, initiating it at such a young age?

EWW: One of the greatest challenges was recognising my lack of experience, being only thirteen. That, as you might expect, came with a significant lack of confidence and assurance in my actions. What helped me to overcome this was my intrinsic attitude of not being afraid to ask for help and obtain greater knowledge from environmental experts. A love of learning, as well as the environment at Burnside High School, where I am a student, meant that I was fortunate enough to be able to tap into the advice of exceptional leaders around me.

fct: What have you learned from the project?

EWW: Establishing P.S. Our Beaches and coordinating clean-ups, plantings and conferences has refined my organisational skills; it has taught me to prioritise and strive towards an end goal, to think globally, act locally and inspire change. To me, looking from this lens is invaluable as it keeps me grounded, grateful and growing while helping others to realise what they can achieve for themselves and the world around them.

Microplastics talk at EnviroPAST

Each individual project—for instance, EnviroPAST—has also taught me so much. Realising the impact the conference had on its delegates has taught me that EnviroPAST is much more than a conference. It is the collective body of people who are engaged and excited about making a difference, who are equipped with the tools they need to do so and the community that will support them from start to finish. It is my hope that the EnviroPAST conference will have a multiplier effect on our community, helping to spark similar events and actions which are led by the community we have built around the event. The experience has helped me to appreciate both the small wins and the bigger ones, the impact it has made on individuals and the wider community. I have learnt to combine creativity and environmental initiatives through poetry, virtual reality and live polls, increasing the confidence I have in communicating an environmental message. The experience has changed my attitudes by making me believe that my passion is not limited to my individual actions. The skills I have gained include the appreciation that leadership can take many forms, the importance of teamwork and critical thinking, designing runsheets, budgets and communicating with stakeholders. It has changed my actions by adding fuel to the P.S. Our Beaches movement, delving deeper into microplastics and social, entrepreneurial spins to the issue, while teaching me to use my passion for the environment as a vector for increasing public awareness about environmental issues.

Thanks to E Wen Wong for participating in this discussion. 

August 2019 Issue Space


Mx. Universe – Liberty Tidberg (age 16; Elkhorn, Wisconsin, United States) 
Morphogenesis – Josephine Parker (age 07; Christchurch, New Zealand)
A Wasteland of Beauty – Reuben Veenstra (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Space Between the Walls – Adaeze Chukwuka (age 16; Maryland, United States)
Safe Space – Adaeze Chukwuka (age 16; Maryland, United States)
Coming, Going – Chloe Henkel (age 16; Darlington, Maryland, United States)
The Museum – Matthew Marshall (age 22; Hartford, Connecticut, United States)
Vacancy – Jana Heise (age 14; Dunedin, New Zealand)
Shadows from space – Naomi Dana (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Space – Ida van Kan (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Space – Max Henkel (age 17; Darlington, Maryland, United States)
The Waiting – Sylvie King (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Mural 1 – Kaufering Bahnhof] – Montessorischule Kaufering students (ages 14 to 18; Kaufering, Germany)
[Mural 2 – Kaufering Bahnhof] – Montessorischule Kaufering students (ages 14 to 18; Kaufering, Germany)
The Clinic – Margaret Li (age 17; Auckland, New Zealand)
The Moon of Cheetahs – Tom Nalder (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Space – Rain Wang (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Reflect – Hillary Walker (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Music of Movement – Jasmine Ryan (age 16; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Lost Moon – Millie Sarjeant (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Space to dream – Emma Geddes (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Space – Sophie Yu (age 20; Auckland, New Zealand)
Meaning Is Attached – Lauren Sanders (age 16; Austin, Texas, United States)
Space is a blanket – Chloe Wu (age 07; Christchurch, New Zealand)

Mx. Universe – Liberty Tidberg

Liberty Tidberg is a rising senior at Elkhorn High School in South-Central Wisconsin. Along with having a passion for the visual arts, Libby is an active member of her local Parkour gym. She currently works as a camp counselor for the rec department and as the social media consultant for the United Way of Walworth County and Dementia Friendly of Walworth County.

Morphogenesis – Josephine Parker

In space
form shapes.
One hundred
hot planets
make one sun.
Long ago
tormented the sun.
Parts of the sun
flew away like tears
and got colder
turned white
and formed stars.

Josephine Parker is seven years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. Josie lives with her mum, dad, two older brothers, five cats, three goldfish, a pony, a dog, and too many chickens. Her favourite cat is black, fluffy, and named Ziggy. She especially enjoys writing poetry, drawing, and playing with Ziggy.

A Wasteland of Beauty – Reuben Veenstra

shimmering stars
as far as the eye can see
raging sun invades the night
colossal craters scattered across  planets
engulfs me like a warm blanket
black holes stealing stars
sweltering mars like an infinite desert
determined rockets hurtle into the abyss
mysterious  creatures scuttle across earth
a wasteland of beauty

Reuben Veenstra is eleven years old. He grew up in Hamilton and now lives in Christchurch. He enjoys playing football and writing poems.

The Space Between the Walls – Adaeze Chukwuka

Adaeze Chukwuka (16) The Space Between the Walls

Adaeze Chukwuka is a digital artist based on the eastern coast of the United States. Her work is inspired by the bright and colourful children’s books that she was obsessed with as a child. She likes to experiment with contrasting colours and lighting, creating pieces that demand to be looked at.

Safe Space -Adaeze Chukwuka

Adaeze Chukwuka (16) - Safe Space

Coming, Going – Chloe Henkel

There are a million people
And gaps the size of the sun
Between us
Are you pushing through this cluttered space
Or is it only me?

Chloe Henkel is an American artist and poet. When not writing or painting, she can probably be found playing the ukulele, listening to music, picking flowers, or catching up with friends. For more of her work, check out @chloe.creating on Instagram!

The Museum – Matthew Marshall

——Museums are labyrinths, their blueprints architected like a crossword—drawing you along each piece of the puzzle until its collection of white squares builds a solved installation.
——There is a couple behind me whose bodies, so tightly intertwined, are a Möbius strip of interlocked hands and feet. Their microscopic separation holding an infinite past.
——Paintings are one-way mirrors to interrogation rooms. Depending on proximity, you’re detective or suspect. With one canvas, you’re behind the glass, investigating, hoping the case isn’t as clear as yesterday’s clue: six letters for “we’re done.” The next, you’re wanted for questioning and see yourself in the reflective frame.
——The couple is in my elevator. One wants to view the fifth floor, the other the sixth. The disunity separates the lace of their knotted fingers. One hand, cold from the other’s evaporating sweat, touches two buttons.
——This painting, the one whose strokes demand attention like a torturous memory, is my barometer—gauging the pressure behind my eyes, inside my heart. Today, it reads: don’t text her.
——The couple splits. One is next to me, trudging through the exhibit, clinging to any image capable of distraction. The other unknowingly copies every stride from the floor below.

Matthew Marshall is a recent graduate of Michigan State University with a B.A. in English. While unpublished in the world of fiction, he has been awarded numerous creative writing scholarships and nominations, including the Anderson Essay Award, Creative Writing Award, and ultimately winning the Ambrose D. Patullo Scholarship for literary analysis in poetry. He lives in Hartford, Connecticut.

Vacancy – Jana Heise

Jana Heise (14) - Vacancy

Jana Heise is fourteen years old. She’s grown up on a sailboat and is intimate with the colour blue.

Shadows from space – Naomi Dana

Naomi Dana (14) - Shadows from space

Naomi Dana has loved space ever since a young age—she has at least twenty books on the subject, and her walls are plastered with posters about the solar system. She is fascinated with the colours that come from beyond this world, and loves knowing that there is more to life than we know. She is fourteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Space – Ida van Kan

The forever travelling sky
Dancing so the world can see
Space, please tell me where you are
I can be seen but not heard
If you look around I’m everywhere
Who am I?
I will forever look for you
What do you dream when the sun takes your place?
I’m clueless without you
Tell me where you go
I move freely but no one knows
Where I go
What am I?
And when you do, teach me how to
Dance like you
And listen to me sing like an angel
Stars in the sky that I behold
My face is the planets and
The stars are my hands
Who am I?
Space, please tell me what to do
When the sun is at its peak
Where is your starry face
That warms my heart through the troubled nights?

Ida van Kan is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Space – Max Henkel

Max Henkel is an aspiring composer. When he’s not writing music, he enjoys walks in the forest, stargazing, and playing the piano.

The Waiting – Sylvie King

No one hears us scream
The everlasting bash of supernovas
Tell stories expected in the past
Of the protoplanets
Predicted to hold life
The life that could sustain us
In an exoplanet far away
We wait and we watch
Through our telescopes
As we set them on planes in the air
And we search until someone
Calls to join us in our void

Sylvie King has been contributing to creative writing for around five years. She has been published in a selection of sources, including Otago Daily Times, Toitoi, fingers comma toes, and The NZ Poetry Box. Her passions are writing, space, astronomy, engineering, and hanging out with her friends.

[Mural 1 – Kaufering Bahnhof] – Montessorischule Kaufering students

The Montessorischule Kaufering students are between fourteen and eighteen years old, and live in Kaufering, Germany. These two murals were painted as part of a school project in 2018, and can be found in the underpass at the Kaufering train station, located near the school. Photographs: Jael Hecht. 

[Mural 2 – Kaufering Bahnhof] – Montessorischule Kaufering students

The Clinic – Margaret Li

The clinic is empty apart from the receptionist and a tired-looking older woman. Flickering lights bounce off her garish lipstick – the flaky kind you buy at the pharmacy. She picks at the plaster blistering off the walls; her belly swells under a tank. Guilty, my eyes swerve away to the posters above her. Their furled edges morph into sneers, murmuring lies like safe and quick.
Under their unforgiving glare, I sink deeper into my chair.
Somewhere down the hallway, a door creaks open and a teenage girl comes out. My heart flutters thinking it’s my sister. It’s not.
This girl is older, her apple-pie cheeks swollen with innocence. A doctor waves her toward the front desk. The receptionist – not much older than me – pushes a form and a pen in her direction.
From the back, her broad oak-shoulders shudder.
Reception girl slides a box of Kleenex at her.
A warm draught, strawberry-scented and baby-powdered, crawls into my mouth. The bitter-sweet combination lingers in my throat, choking me.
‘Th-th-thanks,’ she stutters, blowing noisily.
Reception girl smiles through sooty lashes while taking another drag of her Marlboro.
I catch myself recoiling as the new girl drops down into the seat next to me, a wad of snot-smeared tissues clutched in her fist. She is near enough that if I reached out, I could squeeze her hand. Instead, I sink deeper.
The older woman seems to feel differently. Across from me, she tugs at her tank top. Beads of cold fear glisten at her hairline before rolling down her left temple. Behind closed lids, she replays that night. That man. That moment.
The second-guessing game consumes her.
The woman moves closer to the edge of her seat as if ready to bolt, and at the same time, frozen – a deer caught in the headlights of nobody’s car. Her knee jiggles up and down.
Up, down.
Up, down.
The silent war unfolding in the scrunched-up space between her brows echoes through my head. I cover my ears. But it’s too late.
Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down.
I watch my seat rattle.
Get me out of here.
The burning gaze of the room devours me as I rise, the plastic edge of my chair digging into tartan-skirt flesh. Breathless from not-running, I slam my palms into the door and push hard.
Freedom. Finally.
The cold air rushes to hug my cheeks. It’s breath, raw and dry on my skin, knocks the feeling back into my bones. I swill it down, thirsty to purge myself of the clinic; the people in it, the taste.
But the relief is short.
And too soon, the air is nothing more than a splash of water to the face.

Margaret Li is in her final year at Saint Kentigern College in Auckland, New Zealand, and is interested in pursuing a Language and Literature degree in the UK. She reads widely in her spare time and enjoys the creative writing process, particularly with short stories and script writing. She approached the theme ‘space’ by describing the senses evoked by The Clinic, exploring the often overwhelming pressures faced by young adults.

The Moon of Cheetahs – Tom Nalder

The moon protects
a living planet of Cheetahs.
They run with the wind.
They sleep with the wind.
They chirp with the wind.
At night the moon
carries them up to a bed
of silky yellow fur.
From there they watch the moon
make shooting stars.
From there they watch the moon
light the African forests.
You can see them
through your telescopes,
sleeping between spaces on Saturn’s
mysterious rock.

Tom Nalder is 10 years old and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. His favourite colour is yellow, and he really likes cheetahs and would like to learn a lot about animals. He would also like to be a scientist.

Space – Rain Wang

Rain Wang (11) - Space

Rain Wang is eleven years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. She enjoys reading and drawing. Her artwork Space, published in fingers comma toes‘ August 2019 issue, is her first publication.

Reflect – Hillary Walker

Hillary Walker (13) - Reflect

Hillary Walker is thirteen years old. She likes swimming and photography in her spare time. She also plays netball and does extracurricular activities. She doesn’t have a lot of time for photography, but would like to start focusing on it more.

The Music of Movement – Jasmine Ryan

You pulled me back and with a sweeping motion my hand reached towards yours, circling the air as we took bounding steps backwards, astronauts in zero gravity. My body glided closer to yours. My controlled movements matched yours like symmetry as the song brought us nearer, our fingertips within reach, our arms extending towards each other.
You got so close, but you were pulled away before I could reach you. The next line was sung; it took our bodies into different steps and as the music changed, you turned your back on me, and I on you. With the great, lilting melody and dreamy, driven music, we were swept across the stage in motions and movements of grace, of a flow that matched the run of the ocean between two continents. The current brought us together and then it threw us apart. We were but helpless waves in a vast sea trying to make our way to each other, but every time we got close, the space between us was stolen in larger and larger proportions.
With a rise in the music like a tidal wave drawing into the bay, it rose only to crash down, one final, dramatic note ending the song. We stood with our backs to each other, reaching up at the air as if it held something for us, and as the music stopped we stayed like that. The choreography ended with a gap between us that seemed like the distance of the vacuum between two galaxies, and I could feel your warmth but I could not feel your touch. The audience stood to clap and cheer for our dance that had taken the stage like the poetry of movement, but I wondered why it had to end this way, why the song had to emphasise the space between the two of us when all I wanted was for us not to act like two opposing continents, planets, universes. When all I wanted was for space to be a distance that was possible to cross so I could see you up close and hold you in my arms.

Jasmine Ryan is a sixteen-year-old year 12 high school student from Selwyn, Canterbury. She has been long-listed for the National Flash Fiction Day competition, and writing is something that she uses to express her creative ideas that she hopes can inspire thoughtfulness in readers.

The Lost Moon – Millie Sarjeant

Rain tickles the misty, remote mountains.
The possums tug my hair.
The smell of ash still lingers from the flames.
Sodden leaves brush my shoulders.
Midnight shakes hands with dawn.
Moss hugs a bridge as it bends above a stream.
Leaves swirl and scatter in a distant paddock.
Turf still glints with dew from the evening frost.
Musty, degrading bark.
Fresh, bubbling water.
A forgotten waka sways.
Jubilant takahē cry to each other.
Emerald brown ferns reach out to grab me.
I should be there in the inky sky,
My arms reaching out to take you home, but I’m gone.
I’ve been swallowed by the forest.

Millie Sarjeant is very interested in space and NASA and loves writing fairy tales with a New Zealand twist. She has been doing creative writing for two years, and has been published in Toi Toi, Extra, and The Jillion.

Space to dream – Emma Geddes

Emma Geddes (9) - Space to dream

Emma Geddes is nine years old. She really loves animals and wants to be a vet when she is older. She also enjoys school, reading, and all her sports, which are netball, dance, and water sports. She loves hanging out with her friends. She has two cats, Charlie (six months old in Space to dream) and Smokey.

Space – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu (20) - Space

Sophie Yu is a third-year medical student at University of Auckland. Although she’s had to choose between science and art upon entering university, painting is something very important to her, and she hopes to maintain this hobby throughout her whole life.

Meaning is Attached – Lauren Sanders

“Physical location does not distance memory,”
a man once told me in response to my “if only…”
A hundred miles and I won’t feel this way.
Two hundred and it’s my baptism,
though I’m not religious anyways.
The moment is the only true definition,
our hours bathed in ever-shifting haze.
To hold onto these former pains is futile…
They are but ashes from the flame that, as I smile,
I call The Past.
I laugh I laugh I laugh.
I stare into the face of the cruel irony of it all—
over thoughts that once claimed my consciousness,
over a disorder that stole my identity.
This is a day that is brighter than bombs,
the day I choose to live.
This is the day all things must pass.
Today I am reborn. Today nothing lasts.

Lauren Sanders is sixteen years old, and lives in Austin, Texas. She is a guitarist and bass guitarist, as well as an indie rock enthusiast, who enjoys psychology and writing. One of her poems recently won the Texas Night Sky Festival contest and another has been published in the anthology series Upon Arrival.

Space is a blanket – Chloe Wu

Space is a blanket as soft as a feather
Space is inspiration for a bird passing by
A little tree reaches up to the sky
And says good bye
As it gets chopped down
A goldfish jumps
Over the moon
And lands in a galaxy
Of water
And flies through space
With excitement

Chloe Wu was born in Christchurch in 2011, and is a year 3 student at Ilam School (Christchurch, New Zealand). Chloe has had her poems published in the Otago Daily Times, and the New Zealand Poetry Box. Chloe enjoys reading, writing, playing piano (ABRSM grade 3), and dancing ballet (BBO grade 1).

January 2019 Issue Forest

Guest Edited by Russell Boey


Light – Sophie Yu (age 20; Auckland, New Zealand) 
Stars in the forest – Coco Brady (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Kiwi – Evelyn King (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Leaves – Tom Nalder (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Margaret O. Spainhour (age 17; Mount Airy, North Carolina, United States)
behind the apartment block – Harry Waddington (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Broken – Sophie Schneideman (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Warrior Wolf – Leela Kingsnorth (age 11; County Galway, Ireland)
the whispering forest – Johanna Holzenkampfer (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Forest Riddle – Tom Nalder (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
No Trees – Lachlan Foulds (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Forest Moths – Samantha Lascelles (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Forest – Sophie Yu (age 20; Auckland, New Zealand)
The Great Wall Of Leaves – Rebecca Howard (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Rosie Allen (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Lost – Sophie Baynes (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Red – Millie Sarjeant (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Forest Speaks – Sylvie King (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Lamia Cinus: novella excerpt – Max Deeley and Justine Lang (ages 14 and 18; Panama City, Panama and North Carolina, United States)
Dark – Sophie Yu (age 20; Christchurch, New Zealand) 
Postcards to the Rain Forest – Tom Nalder (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand) 
Belladonna – Harry Waddington (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)

Light – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu is twenty years old, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Stars in the forest – Coco Brady

Wind gushes through
the narrow trees as
the mist whispers to the
cold damp forest floor
the ferns hold down
the dying leaves as they
wish to be blown away by
the flowing wind
as the stars shine the
forest settles for night
the gushing wind stops
the mist settles down
and the ferns loosen their grip
but the stars don’t rest till
night time is dawn

Coco Brady is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Kiwi – Evelyn King

The forest was broken by the chaffinch’s morning call
A dew filled morning predicting a sunny day
Like a tiger nestling in a prey filled nest
The forest was broken by the chaffinch’s morning call
Pine and honeysuckle embrace the forest culture
Nestling, hunting, awaiting
Behind me
A kiwi scuttles to its safe place
His beak weighing him down
And his foot
Dragging along a hunters trap
He pauses, sticking his beak into the ground
Then falls and lies still
Broken by the chaffinch’s morning call

Evelyn King is twelve years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Leaves – Tom Nalder

Yellow leaves
diamond leaves
have been found
by the woodcutter.
He takes them
off the trees
and puts them
on the top
of his Christmas tree.
He makes wishes
for them.
He wishes those leaves
would have the power
to fly again
all the way to the moon.
Sometimes at night
when the woodcutter
looks up at the stars
he sees a portal
of leaves.

Tom Nalder is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled]  Margaret O. Spainhour

Margaret O. Spainhour is seventeen years old, and lives in Mount Airy, North Carolina, United States.

behind the apartment block – Harry Waddington

the jungle lies hot and steamy
where washing lines become jungle vines
where hanging socks become poisonous fruits
the apes sprawl over the front stairs
hooting and causing trouble
their eyes bloodshot
from chemicals bred in a jungle
not too different from this
metal sheets rust
but when the wind floats by
topple like mighty brazil-nut trees
the city hums
like a giant beehive
full of insects monotonously floating
through life
a homeless man lifts the lid of a dumpster
an anteater flips mounds of earth
scrabbling through the roots
to find a morsel for the next day
an elephant rolls by
picking up today’s rubbish
with its mechanical metal trunk
mosquitoes hum past
sucking the blood from society
to earn their bright red gang colours
preying on innocent creatures
robbing their bank of blood
tall buildings coat the skyline
as a canopy to the creatures below
blocking the sun from scraping the ground
the thrum of the city is ceaseless
when the tired workers come home to rest
from a long day hunting
the humming still continues

Harry Waddington is fourteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Broken – Sophie Schneideman

Leaves crunch under my feet
The tears of Tane ripple the creek
Autumn spins into winter
Rocks as sharp as the whisking wind
Leaves crunch under my feet
The smell of the pine not so fresh
Whisking, whirling, crashing, falling, broken
Behind me stumps and a single trail
My footprint engraved the mud
Leaves crunch under my feet
One footfall into the creek
One sharp stab into a soft crease
A creek that is now a bloodstream
A cold abandoned daughter
An endangered heart takes a rest

Sophie Schneideman is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Warrior Wolf – Leela Kingsnorth

Ragnar pushed forwards with his back legs, his heart pounding from beneath his furry chest. He’d almost lost it when…there! Just a glimpse, but yes. He was the fastest runner in his pack, but this year the bracken had stayed up longer, and so had the meagre plants underfoot, so deer like this one had places to hide. ‘It will cause the downfall of us wolves,’ the leader of his pack had prophesied. And truly the wolves were weaker and more hungry by the second.
So he had to catch this one.
Yes…he was gaining on it…he could see it properly now…weaving in and out through the trees…closer…closer…now it was clearly in sight…its dappled back…muzzle flecked with sweat…tense, desperate legs… Now! He was right behind it…his only chance to spring now. He leapt, his strong back legs pushing off from the tightly packed leaf litter. Now he was soaring through the air… But! His teeth met on thin air, his outstretched claws fell back to earth!
He had missed. Missed. Never, not once, had a deer evaded him in such a time of need. The pack had relied on him, trusted him, fallen back to let him catch it for them. There was no chance of him catching anything now. He had truly and utterly let them down. How, how, could go back to them now, empty handed as he was, and tell them that he had failed? He couldn’t. He just couldn’t.
It would be too shameful to endure.
He had to leave, go further into the forest, become a loner, a hermit, a vagabond. It was, to him, the only option. So he ran on, thoughts of failure crashing in his head. Here, the trees were more deciduous than anything else, not with smatterings of conifers like where he had come from, but were spaced slightly more sparsely. He kept on going, to where the dappled sunlight shone through the boughs of the huge trees, to where the fallen leaves crackled pleasantly underfoot. He began to forget his worries, to enjoy the afternoon-evening.
Then…! There was a growl and a snap behind him, he felt his neck gripped by strong sharp teeth, and he was flung to the ground.
‘Trespasser!” snarled a throaty, anger -filled voice.
Ragnar painfully rolled over to his back and saw a huge, muscular wolf with squinting, pig-like eyes scowling down at him.
‘Now, now,’ said a smooth, untrustworthy-sounding voice behind him.
A sleek, dark wolf padded into Ragnar’s sight.
‘Let’s not be unnecessarily violent. I haven’t seen him before, so he’s not” – she spat the words – “a Gumachu. Even though…” She stared curiously at Ragnar’s left ear. “…he has the marking. However, this is our territory, and, especially since he has the marking, he should leave. Right now.’
She glared at Ragnar.
Surprised, he got up and limped away as fast as he could, still hurting from being thrown down, and puzzling over the strange conversation. What marking? Did he have a marking? Who were the Gumachus? Why did that wolf hate them?
Then, a little way off, he saw an amazing sight. Another pack of wolves, big and busy. Little pups frolicked in the dust, mothers licked their young clean, fathers chatted casually. But they all stopped when they saw Ragnar. The stared and whispered:
‘He’s not one of us!’
‘But he’s got the marking!’
‘He can’t have!’
‘He does, look!’
‘He really does!’
‘But how?!’
Then: ‘Quiet!’ An old, white wolf stepped out from the crowd. ‘Quiet, wolves!’ she barked. Then, more softly, ‘Let us see what this young stranger has to say for himself.’ She then addressed Ragnar. ‘ I am Adole, pack leader. What is your name, and for what reason do you come here?’
‘I,’ said Ragnar, ‘am Ragnar, of the pack of Elfesto.’
And he told his story.
‘Well, I can tell you that the pack that caught you were the Omachos, our deadly enemy,’ said Adole. ‘But what is strange is the mark you have. Our pack, the Gumachus, bite our young on the ear at birth to mark them, so we know that they belong to our pack, and so we can beware of the unmarked ones. We, you see, are a pack of warriors, fierce, fighting warriors. And you have definitely got the marking.’
That would explain my conversation with the Omachos, thought Ragnar.
‘And yet you are so clearly from a completely different pack. I cannot understand it.’
‘Often I feel the thrill of fighting and wish to fight all the more,’ offered Ragnar eagerly, ‘I truly believe that I am a warrior.’
‘Then…I suggest that you go back to your home pack,’ said Adole, ‘and ask them where you really came from.’
——-* * *
At last he came to the glade he knew so well. The wolves were surprised to see him. Some treated him with delight, some with contempt, but most were glad that he was back.
Panting and breathless, he poured out the tale of what had happened to him.
‘I think, wolves,’ said Edaer, his pack leader, ‘it is high time we tell this brave young wolf where he really came from.’
There were murmurs of heartfelt agreement.
‘Good. Well, then,’ said Edaer, relieved.
‘Tell him!’
‘Yes, tell him!’
‘Come on, tell him!’
‘Well,’ began Edaer, ‘less than a year ago, when I, too, was a feisty young wolf, there was a great battle. The Omachos, even though it was against the law of the gallant warrior wolf, invaded the Gumachus in their home glade, taking them unawares. What followed was a terrible massacre. Most of the Gumachu were killed, and the rest ran, as far and fast as they could. When both packs had left, I went to survey the battleground. It was a terrible sight. I thought to myself, there is not a living soul in this terrible place.
‘But I was wrong. A tiny wolf pup, shielded from the battle by a tree stump, lay there, abandoned and whimpering. I brought it home, gave it a name, had the pack care for it with me. It was you, of course. I was sure that you were one of us, that you always would be. But,’ he said rather sadly, ‘it seems that it was not to be.
‘As I’m sure we all agree, the path of Ragnar’s life that he has been faithfully following for so long has split into two, and it is up to him and no other to choose which one he takes.
‘So, you have a choice: stay with us and live in this part of the forest, or become a warrior wolf and a Gumachu. Ragnar, tell us, which do you choose?’
—-* * *
Ragnar pushed forwards with his back legs, his heart pounding from beneath his furry chest.
He kept on going, to where the dappled sunlight shone through the boughs of the huge trees, to where the fallen leaves crackled pleasantly underfoot.
—-He felt a new wolf.
—-——-A warrior wolf.

Leela Kingsnorth is eleven years old, and lives in County Galway, Ireland.

the whispering forest – Johanna Holzenkampfer

Johanna Holzenkampfer is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Forest Riddle – Tom Nalder

I live in dreams.
I sing in tree tops.
I wear rings.
I dig deep to find food.
I write rain spells.
I never created fire.
I never built an axe.
I never invited the flood.
I never invited the earthquake.
I’ve forgotten who I am.

Tom Nalder is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

No Trees – Lachlan Foulds

The sound of a rusty diesel engine starting up
A frosty crisp day
A disturbed feeling like a family member who passed away
The smell of too much insect repellent
Chopping, sleeping, working, eating, living
A dirty forest clearing with no trees for what seems like miles
The sound of a rusty diesel engine starting up
A low paid worker
Another colony of birds lost.

Lachlan Foulds is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand

Forest Moths – Samantha Lascelles

They rise from
rosy blossoms
their eyes glow like
fluro lamp lights.
At bath time
colours spread
through their bodies
red, blue, green.
At daylight, they disappear
like they weren’t there.

Samantha Lascelles is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Forest – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu is twenty years old, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

The Great Wall Of Leaves – Rebecca Howard

Crunch I hear a stick snapping underneath me
Fallen autumn leaves block my path
Like a wall in the way of a galloping horse
Crunch I hear a stick snapping underneath me
The leaves give off a fragrance so breathtaking
Ducking crawling dodging weaving thrusting
Behind me the rushing rapids falling down the waterfall
Crunch I hear a stick snapping underneath me
A koala throwing leaves and sticks
A monkey in an all black disguise
Misbehaving like a dog without its lead
Ducking crawling dodging weaving thrusting
Pushing through the leaves
As if I were an owl flying in the dark
Maybe next time I go adventuring
I will be building Noah’s Ark

Rebecca Howard is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Rosie Allen

I’d like a garden
dark as a forest
with trees bigger than the Eiffel Tower
swaying in the storm
oak as strong as steel
a forest in my garden
with kiwis from the forest
running around
like a wild ocean
swimming away
through the trees.

Rosie Allen is nine years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Lost – Sophie Baynes

The sound of trees clashing together
Frost on vibrant green grass on a cold day
Wind like a strong sand storm
Dirt flying around the grass
The smell of minty plants
Trees crying screaming cut down into paper dying bleeding
Behind me a shadow as big as a horse, a big gorilla standing and staring
I am a scared girl in an old room
The room is creepy, a broken light is hanging
Glass is shattered everywhere across the floor
Transparent dangerous broken pieces
Soon I will get out

Sophie Baynes is eight years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Red – Millie Sarjeant

Owls hoot in the distance, barely audible over the screaming of wetas.
A cold, sour wind seeps through the fog and lashes against my face.
The fog is mysterious like seeing a shadow in a dark alley, but no owner.
Owls hoot in the distance, barely audible over the screaming of wetas.
The smell of plant oils crawls along the ground and onto the trees.
Clawing, crying, heart beating, running, watching.
I look behind me: no one, just the silver, white moon.
I see a dark shadow run across the path ahead, the footsteps clawing the earth.
Owls hoot in the distance, barely audible over the screaming of wetas.
Crying birds flee from a tree and flock into the dark, starry sky.
Heart beating, my red cape sticks close to me.
Owls hoot in the distance, barely audible over the sound of a wolf howling.
Now running, a biscuit falls from my kete.
Beady and bloodshot eyes are watching from steady haunches.
I scramble forward up the gorse path and fall into the house of my sick grandma.

Millie Sarjeant is twelve years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Forest Speaks – Sylvie King

Cold metallic grass wraps around my feet
Frail sun casts ghostly shadows of trees
Strangely warm bark cuts deep into my hands
No pattern ever the same
Soft fur of a hibernating hare
Insects crunch in the lining of my boots
Rugged socks hold my heat
No wind can extinguish my fire
Flax whips and ties up my wrists
Sharp wind scratches my icy back
My bare head nods then turns
To face the axe

Sylvie King is twelve years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Lamia Cinus: novella excerpt – Max Deeley and Justine Lang

East of the kingdom of Aurora, west of the old realms, south of the northern wilds and north of the harsh desert lies the feudal land of Caligo. This region is dominated by the extensive forest of Umbra—a forest capable of hiding many things. Thieves and bandits are prevalent, but they are far from the worst things the people in this country fear. Creatures of myth and magic hide in the darkness, out of sight of those that hate and fear them. If a person does meet another being away from the main road, then he or she should pray that the being only strayed too far from the path, for those that intentionally walk in the shadows of the trees only do so if they have something to hide. 
——-* * *
The girl has a walking stick in her hand, a cloak on her back, and beautiful, sparkling emerald eyes framed by black locks. She’s leaning against the pines with a sense of ease that suggests she is more at home here than the well-frequented trail. Just before I ask her who she is, she fires the question at me. “Who are you?” she asks bluntly.
Something pulses in my brain. Danger. Something is wrong. This girl emanates power, but I can’t tell how. Shake it away, Lamia.
“I was about to ask the same thing of you,” I calmly respond. The girl stands up straighter, in a defensive stance. Furtive flickers of green behind her half-closed eyelids suggest she is trying not to be seen. That is something that can be said for anyone straying from the path, even me.
I decide to act kind rather than defensive. I pull the cowl back from my face and tip my head courteously. “Lamia, at your service.”
The girl looks taken aback, her eyes now focused on me. Even though she tries to hide it, she can’t stop staring at my violet eyes. My statement must have piqued her surprise—and curiosity as well.
“Cass—no, Cassandra. I’m Cassandra.”
I chuckle at her stumbling over her words. “Well, Cass, where are you off to? I’m making my way to my family myself. They live not far from the Shadewell Marketplace.”
The girl seems even more surprised by every comment I make. I suppose she’s not used to meeting many people in this area of the woods. Her mouth opens and closes slightly several times before she speaks, bewildered at my address to her.
“Cass? No, that’s not…never mind. I, uh…I guess I’m going the same way.”
She looks similar to Myra. Didn’t think I would find another person that looked like her. I wonder if she is the same as us? Surely not. I ask her, “Well, how would you, Cassandra, like to accompany me to this wonderful town? I may not know you, but it would be far worse not to have someone accompany me.”
She does not lower her walking stick, seemingly wary of me. If anything, her grip has shifted, as if she means to brandish it, and I wonder briefly what other weapons she has concealed.
I am broken from such musings by Cassandra saying, “The journey is dangerous. Not many people travel this way.” She pauses before continuing. “Another companion could make it…different.”
I smile at her declaration. She is so cautious; I can tell just by looking at her. What does she have to be so worried about? Again, she reminds me of Myra, always serious. I chuckle to myself and reply lightheartedly, “So serious. People don’t go the way I’m going, or we’re going, I guess. Thieves and bandits don’t hide in the woods; no one goes by to rob. Those that do go by—well, they’re not the kind to mess with. Besides, I happen to know a shortcut if you don’t mind getting wet.”
I then gently move Cassandra’s stick down, away from where the edge threatens to poke my eye, and pull her insistently by the hand as we march.
My new walking companion yanks her hand away, quickly. “I can walk myself. I will accompany you but I don’t like being touched.”
So now she is acting exactly like my dear little Wendy. She hated me hugging her without her knowing first.
A raven croaks from the sky, breaking my thoughts. Its sound penetrates the dark clouds, even while its form is hidden behind them. Hidden even from my vision. Wait, rain clouds? The blue sky has turned grey, almost instantly, it seems. Unless Cassandra and I have been standing for longer than I thought.
“We should look for shelter along the way. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really suited to walking in the darkness,” Cassandra pronounces.
I nod in agreement and then resume walking, keeping my hand away from hers. In the ensuing awkward silence, I respond to her statement. “Strange, I don’t remember it being gray before. We should hurry; I can feel droplets already.”
With that, I continue walking through the Umbra Forest, my tall steps keeping my boots from tripping on thick oak roots. “So, the adventure begins,” I declare, my eyes fixed on the uneven ground. “The path that never ends begins.”

Max Deeley is fourteen years old, and lives in Panama City, Panama. Justine Lang is eighteen years old, and lives in North Carolina, United States.

Dark – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu is twenty years old, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Postcards to the Rain Forest – Tom Nalder

Postcards to the Rain Forest
Dear Rain Forest,
The bamboo I eat is becoming
hard to find because I need more
to feed my babies. I also need space
to hide from the hunters.
Love Panda.
Dear Rain Forest,
My family is growing smaller.
I don’t want my babies to be scared
or hurt by the big trucks
that have begun to come into our
forest to steal our trees.
Love White Tiger.
Dear Rain Forest,
I am afraid, for many of my family
are chased by hunters for their
valuable ivory tusks.
We need many more trees
to build shelters to survive.
Love Elephant.
Dear Rain Forest,
We need trees and water so we
can live in peace.
When we hear the loud saws,
we know we are in danger.
Love Tree Frog.

Tom Nalder is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Belladonna – Harry Waddington

extending from undergrowth
she lounges in a gap
nestled between the shadows
purple buds breathe frosty wind
that runs through icy woods
her black eyes move through fog-filled pines
broken light through the trees
casts a patch of light on her
she flicks her green leaves against undulating saplings
embedded near her in cool soil
her magenta flowers open into cold morning air
spiralling around towering pines
she pirouettes to echoing bird song
a wandering child exhales a warm wheeze
he plucks her with numb fingers
her roots dance in winter
for the last time
he replants her in his book
she breathes no more

Harry Waddington is fourteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

About the guest editor:
Russell Boey is a student in his final year of studies at St. Andrew’s College, Christchurch, New Zealand. He has an avid love for science and math, but despite this maintains that he will fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a struggling author. He has been published in fingers comma toes in the 2016 Issue Rust, as well as New Zealand’s national newspaper The Sunday Star Times for winning their short story competition. He likes stars, quasars, black holes, and all the places in-between. Unlike Lola and Tristan, if he ever leaves dry land again, it will have been far too soon.

August 2018 Issue Wild


[Untitled] – Georg Schreiber and Jonathan Plachetka (ages 18 and 17; Igling, Germany)
Wild river – Phoebe James (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Bells are chiming in the jungle – Sophie Schneideman (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Garden in Summer – Nika Fredrickson (age 08; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
Squishies – Jana Heise (age 13; Annapolis, Maryland, United States)
The Wild Garden – Cara Birch (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Wild Barrier – Tom Nalder (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Howl – Srinika Guha (age 08; Auckland, New Zealand)
Wild Moon – Xanthe Pearce (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Wild West – Adele Sherborne (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Jana Heise (age 13; Annapolis, Maryland, United States)
Thunder – Lily O’Halloran (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Insect City – Pierre Montelle (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Wild – Khadija Sheikh (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Jana Heise (age 13; Annapolis, Maryland, United States)
The Fire That Killed Everything – Greta Jenkins (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
When I Walk into the Jungle – Robbie de Groot-Tsuji (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Cosmina Werneke (age 17; Igling, Germany)
Wild – Lizzie Jessep (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Before the light fades – Sophie Riggall (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)

[Untitled] – Georg Schreiber and Jonathan Plachetka


Georg Schreiber is eighteen years old, and lives in Igling, Germany. Jonathan Plachetka is seventeen years old, and lives in Igling, Germany.

Wild river – Phoebe James

The angry river charges like a bull
out of a paddock.
It smashes the rocks
as if they were in a boxing match.
It throws itself over the
dam, wanting to be free.
Weeping willow branches
tackle the wild ride,
while they are thrown under
the wild river.

Phoebe James is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Bells are chiming in the jungle – Sophie Schneideman

Danger steaming all around.
King of the forest unawakened.
Not looking up to see the trees.
The outside world hunting our homes.
Me in the last unharmed tree.
I look down on my rested blue-feathered friends,
Looking back on what used to be home.
The memories of macaws soon fading,
Extinction in my eyes.
The wilderness inside me grows,
The axe takes a hit –
No time to spread my wings and fly,
I’m gone in no time.

Sophie Schneideman is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Garden in Summer – Nika Fredrickson

The garden in summer is sweet
Like chocolate
It shines like a diamond in a dream
But when it’s winter
My garden is the opposite
It has tall shadows
And it rains
With the wind blowing hard
Like I am in a forest
Leaves falling from the trees
Then it’s summer again
My garden turns as delightful as before

Nika Fredrickson is eight years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Squishies – Jana Heise


Jana Heise is thirteen years old, and lives in Annapolis, Maryland, United States.

The Wild Garden – Cara Birch

The vine climbs the fence
Each leaf a new hand
Steadying his wavy stem
As the butterfly swoops over the dandelion
Her antennae brush the stamens
Contagious fairies
Pirouette down
Plant their feet into the group
Land in first position
For a creature so minuscule
She is so daring
For wings so delicate
She is so strong

Cara Birch is twelve years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Wild Barrier – Tom Nalder

The wild barrier
is a wall
that only opens
for the wild ones.
To be wild is to be fearless
An unknown man
was determined.
A bear was fearless
and brave.
Together they walked
to the wild barrier,
to the golden city door.
The unknown man
looked determined.
The bear looked fearless and brave.
The wall cracked open
and the man and the bear
looked happy.

Tom Nalder is nine years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Howl – Srinika Guha


Srinika Guha is eight years old, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Wild Moon – Xanthe Pearce

The moon shines down on the lit pathway
Playing with the shadows
Confusing the wind as she makes her way in the sky.
During the day, she can still be seen faintly, not wanting to miss out.
She teases the clouds then hides behind them.
She breaks away then pops up full
Like lightning from the ashes.
Wilder than the wind.
Wilder than the darkness.
She fills the sky
With her wild glow.

Xanthe Pearce is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Wild West – Adele Sherborne

The Wild West with a cowboy
And a bandit. Clock ticking,
Waiting, waiting, sweating, sweating,
Bang! Bang! Bang! Cowboy shoots
Faster than his own shadow.

Adele Sherborne is eight years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Jana Heise

Jana Heise is thirteen years old, and lives in Annapolis, Maryland, United States.

Thunder – Lily O’Halloran

Thunder sounds like the clouds
are banging together and
Thunder sounds like
drumming monkeys.
When I hear thunder
I hide
under my blanket.

Lily O’Halloran is eight years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Insect City – Pierre Montelle

The crackle of the bushes in the wind –
Do you wonder what that is?
The wind?
It’s an insect city
Deep in the gorse
A young man, inhaling death, walked past
Justice patrols the park
The young man discards his cigarette
He runs
Death spreads her burden over the insects
A wild flame engulfs the park
The crackle of insects

Pierre Montelle is fifteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Wild – Khadija Sheikh

skin, silky smooth skin
venomous teeth sharp as knives
eyes pitch black
it slides through bladed grass
waiting for its prey

Khadija Sheikh is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Jana Heise

Jana Heise is thirteen years old, and lives in Annapolis, Maryland, United States.

The Fire That Killed Everything – Greta Jenkins

As the fire grew
and the forest fell,
the birds flew and foxes yelped.
People fled for their lives.
Houses burned down.
Firefighters fought the angry flames
but they grew and grew.
They danced with the wind
and fell with the trees.

Greta Jenkins is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

When I Walk into the Jungle – Robbie de Groot-Tsuji

When I walk into the jungle,
thick vines block my way.
Tall trees climbing to get to the sun.
Snakes striking
at the sneakiest possible moment.
The cassowary is fast, but
when you turn to look at him
he’s gone.
When I walk into the jungle,
I taste the sweet, sweet air
and smell the smell of rain.
The birds sound like
The Puppy Concerto
on the piano.
When I walk into the jungle,
I feel calm
like a sloth.

Robbie de Groot-Tsuji is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Cosmina Werneke


Cosmina Werneke is seventeen years old, and lives in Igling, Germany.

Wild – Lizzie Jessep

Waves crash down like footsteps
Squishing sandcastles
Black and green seaweed lines the shore
Crabs scuttle out of the storm
Into warm crab caves
Engraved in the rock
Broken nests
Dragged into the sea
Eggshells and jagged rocks
Seals retreat down to the depths
Camouflaged in their glossy backs
A cupboard with a broken handle
Damp with sea water
The wind howls

Lizzie Jessep is twelve years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Before the light fades – Sophie Riggall

I hear her soft breathing
Tinkling almost like a lullaby
Soft breath turning rapid
Her braid whipping as she runs
Hoofs bright as stars flashing past
Disappearing into the wind
All good things are wild and free
Just because her path is different
Doesn’t mean she’s lost
The colours of the wind
Swirl with the mountains
Wildness floats around her
Chasing the stars until daybreak
Swooping through clouds
Only to find her again

Sophie Riggall is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

January 2018 Issue: Unthemed


Backfield Sunrise – Jaia Harris (age 10; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
Divine – E Wen Wong (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Bryn Hill (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Te Moana – Grace Newman Holt (age 09; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
[Untitled] – Reva Hunter (age 09; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
tiny things – Jack MacKay (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand
[Untitled] – Graeme Campbell (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Eiffel at Dusk – Chloe van der Ree (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Mountains of Moon – Tom Nalder (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
An island at night on Jokijärvi – Elisa Holmstrom (age 05; Tanga, Tanzania)
Cry of the Lions – Hannah Withers (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled]  – Lila Collins (age 09; Sunshine Coast, Australia)
Italia! – Ava Deeley and Marina Haynes (ages 12 and 12; San Blas Islands, Panama and Secret Harbour, Grenada)
[Untitled] – Bethany Webb (age 10; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
The Scrapyard – Harry Waddington (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Griffin Wittwer (age 10; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
Scouting Flanders Fields – Joshua Persico (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Max Heuze (age 10; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
The Onu – Theo Cooling (age 10; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
Fȗr Beethoven – Sparsh Johri (age 13; San Jose, California, United States)
Entwined – Monica Koster (age 15; Christcurch, New Zealand)
[Untitled] – Maeva Fe’ao (age 09; Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
Fire in Winter – Xanthe McElroy (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Tree of Life – Jana Heise (age 13; Richards Bay, South Africa)
Though Sometimes We Burn – Kailani M. Clarke (age 17; Centreville, Maryland, United States)

Backfield Sunrise – Jaia Harris

Jaia Harris is ten years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Divine – E Wen Wong

Steam ascends into the air,
like the Hogwarts train
approaching platform 9 and 3/4.
Gazing at the chips,
we have the prying eyes
of seagulls.
Fireballs of impatience
linger in our stomachs,
our fingers shaking with temptation.
The edge of a chip grappled,
paper ripped,
gone in a millisecond.
Chips made to savour,
salt licked meticulously
from our hands.

E Wen Wong is fifteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Bryn Hill

Bryn Hill is fourteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Te Moana – Grace Newman Holt

Fierce undertow
She calls me into her arms
I let her take me
The colossal waves
Draw me beneath the sea
I’m gasping for breath
The waves send me back
Smashing on the soft sand bed
I have been set free
Waves build before me
Mist like a thousand diamonds
One by one they fall
Te Moana’s beauty
Can hold you and let you go
The ocean calls me

Grace Newman Holt is nine years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

[Untitled] – Reva Hunter

Reva Hunter is nine years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

tiny things – Jack MacKay

ants creeping in between cracks
of an old house
cookie crumbs sticking
to stinky feet
clear lego spuds
sucked up by a vacuum cleaner
rattle, tap, ping
pins fallen on the ground
right side up
one letter words,
speck, spider, molecule

Jack MacKay is ten years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Graeme Campbell

Graeme Campbell is fourteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Eiffel At Dusk – Chloe van der Ree

Chloe van der Ree is thirteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Mountains of Moon – Tom Nalder

The moon is protected
by layers of dusty rock.
When it is very dark
the moon comes into the sky
and shines like the sun.
You can’t buy the moon.
On the moon the telephone
is connected to earth
so I can call Mr Money.
Mr Money tells me
the earth is inside
a bottle. I pour
a glass of earth
so I can have
enough money to buy grapes.

Tom Nalder is nine years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

An island at night on Jokijärvi – Elisa Holmstrom

Elisa Holmstrom is five years old, and lives in Tanga, Tanzania.

Cry of the Lions – Hannah Withers

 I stand here with my pride
And we’re all about to hide
With these new animals killing us
We must do what we can
I’m worried about what would happen if we all ran
We’re planning on what to do
But we need to think it through
I stand here with my pride
But we need to leave
We just need to heave our heavy hearts
And go

Hannah Withers is nine years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Lila Collins

Lila Collins is nine years old, and lives in Sunshine Coast, Australia.

Italia! – Ava Deeley and Marina Haynes

Ava Deeley is twelve years old, and lives in San Blas Islands, Panama. Marina Haynes is twelve years old, and lives in Secret Harbour, Grenada.

[Untitled] – Bethany Webb

Bethany Webb is ten years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The Scrapyard – Harry Waddington

An old desert road
Littered with stones
Thrown from the wheels of trucks long passed
The scrapyard rests
Silent and deserted
Sheets of metal
Their faces marred by time
Never to be used
Old chains lock the fence
Once as strong as granite
Now falling at a slight touch
An old office crouches in the corner
Its windows dusty
Its furniture crumbling
A car’s corpse sleeps
On a bed of old bolts
The paint destroyed
Replaced by the orange flakes of rust
An old water bowl
For a dog long gone
A splash of blue and green
Showing the visitors
Daryl Was Here

Harry Waddington is thirteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Griffin Wittwer

Griffin Wittwer is ten years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Scouting Flanders Fields – Joshua Persico

Because they strap a gas mask on him lined with rabbit fur
He believes he is going on a rabbit hunt
He believes he will run across Flanders Fields brushing by poppies
Barking down holes to first expose the furry enemy then attack
He imagines the fear in their glassy eyes
Instead he smells fear in the trenches in Flanders Fields
He hears the cocking of guns and the releasing of safety catches
He sees the fallen soldiers and smells the scent of fresh wounds
He’ll never forget their eyes

Joshua Persico is thirteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Max Heuze

Max Heuze is ten years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The Onu – Theo Cooling

Theo Cooling is ten years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Fȗr Beethoven – Sparsh Johri

The Sonata in E major echoed off the nondescript walls of the room, as Ludwig van Beethoven played in concentration. The hardwood floor was masked by a thick layer of dust, music notebooks, and papers. A glass chandelier hung low from the ceiling, swaying to the four-four time of the first movement.
I found myself thinking about what another great musician had prophesied. I remembered Mozart’s words like they were said yesterday: “He will give the world something worth listening to.” Certainly, as Beethoven’s favorite piano, I could attest to that. He was a musical genius, balancing his commitment to form with astonishing creativity.
My thoughts were interrupted as he abruptly took his fingers off my keys and rubbed his hair. With a dissatisfied expression, he muttered, “No, no, that’s not right.” Ludwig experimented with a different series of notes, shaking his head each time. Finally, the perfect melody came to him, and, brightening up, he wrote the correction over the previous notes, further smearing the already blackened paper. This was how our day functioned. Sometimes a patron would ask him to perform a symphony; sometimes his day was free. However he passed the day, music was the center of his life.
One day, Ludwig came down with a serious illness. It started with some coughing and headaches. However, it soon became severe. For several weeks, he was bedridden and weak. Fortunately, he recovered, and was able to resume his normal routine rather quickly.
A couple of months later, Ludwig came home with red eyes and an upset expression. After his performance, he had not heard the applause of the crowd and left abruptly. Later, his patron, the Count of Vienpolis, asked, “Why did you leave?”
“I compose for those who appreciate me and my music, not ungrateful cavemen in fancy attire,” retorted Ludwig in an icy tone.
Sparks of anger blazed from the count’s eyes. “How dare you speak like that to your betters! The applause was thunderous! Are you deaf? Leave this place immediately!”
Ludwig was too stunned to give a final scathing reply, or do anything except comply. As he signaled a carriage and rode home, he felt the words cut into him like a blade. Are you deaf? The next day, he called a doctor. The man was very tall and thin, and had short, black hair, a beaky nose, and a serious demeanor. After an examination, the doctor confirmed Ludwig’s worst suspicions.
“Your hearing is indeed subpar. At your present rate of deterioration, you shall become totally deaf in…”
By then, Ludwig had tuned out. He stared ahead, oblivious to almost all but the privacy of his own thoughts. Like a man in a daze, he paid the doctor and showed him out.
After that, he sat in a chair, facing me and his violin. “‘Are you deaf?’” he repeated, over and over again. With a sudden, bitter grin, he turned to the ceiling and screamed, “Yes, I am deaf! I shall lose all that I value!” Ludwig took the violin bow and hurled it across the room, then put his head into his arms and sobbed.
As the years passed, his deafness grew. At home, he played louder and louder. His violin, cello, and I needed to have our strings repaired every month. His anger and anguish found their way into several symphonies and sonatas, and his overall style became more emotional.
His temperament became suspicious and irritable. He distanced himself from his friends and family. Ludwig never shared his feelings, never let anyone else know how he felt inside. He let the feelings fester within him, fueling his resentment against the world. At times, Ludwig would cease playing altogether and leave. Melodies came into his mind more easily now, but it was so hard to project those notes into reality.
His practice time reduced to two hours. He barely spoke now. Finally, all of his depression and stress culminated, on a particularly bad day, when he made thirty big mistakes in as many minutes.
“That’s it!” he yelled. “I dedicate my life to music, and I am cursed with this affliction! Well, then, I shall stop music forever! I shall sell my instruments!” And with three ominous chords, he left.
Three days. Three horrible empty days passed. He didn’t come at all into the music room, even once. The entire mansion was filled with the nothingness of silence. Perhaps he is right, I found myself thinking. Perhaps he will stop creating music. The thought distressed me more than I could convey. We, his instruments, had failed.
On the fourth day, suddenly Ludwig came back, a smile on his face. He didn’t speak a word, but from his expression, I knew that he would never abandon music. It took me some time to understand, but I finally did. Over the three days, the loud absence of music must have made him realize the value of it. Music had been the guiding light through the storms of his father’s tyranny and the escape from the prison of early rejection. Before fame, music was all he had. How could he give it up?
Beethoven never did stop being surly; it was in his nature. However, he never stopped composing. Long after his death, the deaf musician left behind a legacy that changed music, paving the way for the emotion of Romanticism and setting a foundation for the future. He accomplished all this simply by triumphing over his inner demons. No, it went deeper: he changed his destiny instead of letting it define him. On some days, I wonder if it was his pain that made him strong. Was it his loss that added meaning to his life? Maybe. Maybe not. I cannot truly say. Today, I am so badly out of tune that my C sounds like an Ab. My wood is starting to rot, and my strings are almost gone. I have played my part in history, and I hope that I have played it well. I shall soon join Ludwig van Beethoven in the eternal orchestra that plays for all to hear, the music of hope and spirit, music that transcends the elementary restrictions life chooses to place.

Sparsh Johri is thirteen years old, and lives in San Jose, California, United States.

Entwined – Monica Koster

Monica Koster is fifteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Maeva Fe’ao

Maeva Fe’ao is nine years old, and lives in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

Fire in Winter – Xanthe McElroy

the thin arms of pines
are covered in a blanket of white
a lynx attempts a useless camouflage
a flare dances in the reflection of his lustrous eyes
he prances through the thicket
and out into the eyesight of the fiery dancer
that turns
and tumbles
he returns
hysterical to the winter desert
and into the night sky
he limps away

Xanthe McElroy is eleven years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tree of Life – Jana Heise

Jana Heise is thirteen years old, and lives in Richards Bay, South Africa.

Though Sometimes We Burn – Kailani M. Clarke

For Chester Bennington

There are days I would give anything
to be changed.
These are the days when all I see are ghosts.
I swallow them.
I catch myself on the nooses
they hang from the ceiling.
These are the days there is broken glass under my palms
and I think I put it there.
But then, harsh and brightly,
my mind is a mirror, reflecting the times before
when I kept my head above the water
and kept myself above my head
and I am grateful to have limbs
a long neck
a loved heart
so I may do it again.
Grateful too for the darkness.
Those flint teeth in me, against whom
I spark fire
which gives me words and colours
which makes the ghosts in my belly scream
and lets those screams come out
as songs

Kailani M. Clarke is seventeen years old, and lives in Centreville, Maryland, United States.

January 2017 Issue Snow


[Untitled] – Eleanor Bennett (age 20; Manchester, England)
The Changing Snow – Peyton Vernon (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Snow – Henry Russell (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Painting – Xanthe McElroy (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Snow filled – Hazel Harris (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Memories – Mel Leatherland (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Clouds – Sophie Yu (age 18; Auckland, New Zealand)
Snow – William Foulds (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
fox with fear – Bella Rose (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Snow story – Lizzie Jessep (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Super Snowdog – Sophie McKague (age 09; Canada)
The Leaving Of Snow – Emma Cawood (age 11; New Zealand)
Ice – Sophie Yu (age 18; Auckland, New Zealand)
[Untitled] Fergus Barnard (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Snow in Spain – Emma Espino (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Where have all the children gone? – Erica Taylor (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)
My friend is melting – Imogen Twiss (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)
no eyes – Ryan Tuzyk (age 26; Toronto, Canada)
Snow – Sophie Yu (age 18; Auckland, New Zealand)
Snow – Frances Stanley (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Snow Fisher – Joshua Persico (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)

[Untitled] – Eleanor Bennett


Eleanor Bennett is twenty years old. She lives in Manchester, England.

The Changing Snow – Peyton Vernon

On a cold night,
Where the world never speaks
And when you dream
You always seem
To fade into a nightmare
The only shadows there are ran away, never found
Cold is cold,
Like stones, smashing you down
But then there is change,
Snowman, sleighs, snowball fights, ice skating
Which make you smile
A warm smile
And laugh.

Peyton Vernon is nine years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Snow – Henry Russell

I come from a world no one else lives in
I’m stranded in the thick snow no one in sight
Nothing to see but long white clouds of snow
It’s like I’m a boat in the middle of the ocean
Nowhere to go
But to just slowly melt with the snow
And wave goodbye to the world I was in
Now I’m back
In my house
Snuggling close to the fire
Remembering the wonderful world I was in

Henry Russell is thirteen years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Painting – Xanthe McElroy

The blue strokes danced across the canvas
Spots of yellow swam through the deep blue
Reflections swayed in the milky water
The boat was thrust along the rough harbour
Snow fell around their steps hiding them under layers
They huddled close and dragged their tired feet along the cold icy ground
The once awake city slept under watch of the lights above
All frozen in the interpretation of an artist

Xanthe McElroy is ten years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Snow filled – Hazel Harris

outside my window
where we danced
in the garden
all afternoon.
then the look
of wonder
filled her eyes
the light snow
filled her arms
a wide smile
grew across her face
now I just
sit staring
at snow

Hazel Harris is thirteen years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Memories – Mel Leatherland

I sit in front of the cliff
My old wooden house behind me
I remember when my parents were here
How happy they were with me
How the weather used to change so quickly to hail
I remember we all ran and dodged the snow
I sit with the eagle
As sad as ever
As black as the eagle’s eye

Mel Leatherland is ten years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Clouds – Sophie Yu


Sophie Yu is eighteen years old. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Snow – William Foulds

I see snow out the window on this isolated mountain.
I would go skiing but the winds are rough and thick.
Snow piles up foot by foot to make an abominable snowman.
It clatters on the door and all the pots fall down in a bang.
I get a bat and open the door and swish, he breaks into thousands of pieces.
I stare out the window and see the sun, I think I’m wanting to go skiing.

William Foulds is nine years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

fox with fear – Bella Rose

long grass
once covered the land
no longer seen
hot nights, sunny days
were once a dream
winter nights are now a reality
a fox creeps through ancient trees
which stand above
the forest floor like burning rocks
the fox who is not wanting to touch danger
dodging bullets as the fox climbs
over trees avoiding evil
dead, broken trunks which have
fallen on the harsh ground are pathways
to freedom
they don’t go forever, they face the end
his footprints now
thick sheets of snow

Bella Rose is fourteen years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Snow story – Lizzie Jessep

The snow falls softly in the blue sky
As the snowman
Dreams of a warm day.
The sun shining bright
And the glistening grass
With little water droplets
The snowman opens his eyes
And cries but they turn into ice
Plink plink plink
Then he sees the soft cold snow
So delicate
So beautiful
He realises that winter is a time for
Fun, warmth and love
And winter is done.

Lizzie Jessep is eleven years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Super Snowdog – Sophie McKague

It is a cold snowy day and all the snowdogs are playing outside in the snow. Snowflakes the snowdog is building a snowman with his mate Frost. Everyone is having fun. After some time, Snowflakes gets cold and decides to go inside. So he leaves Frost alone to play in the snow and heads into the den. Snowflakes has no idea what is about to happen.
Just then disaster strikes. A snowstorm has come out of nowhere. All the snowdogs run inside to the safety of the den except one – Frost! As Frost stays to play in the snow a little bit longer the snowstorm gets closer…and closer… until…Ahh! Frost is covered in snow.
Snowflakes hears Frost call and dashes out into the pearl-white snow. The snow becomes deeper and feels colder. Snowflakes cannot find Frost. Frost is buried under the snow. Frost breathes in the crisp air, shivering.With the last of his energy Frost shouts ‘Help!’ Snowflakes’ ears perk up as he reaches to grab his friend. The two friends return home safe and sound. They cuddle up to the fire to have some hot chocolate with marshmallows.

Sophie McKague is nine years old. She lives in Canada.

The Leaving Of Snow – Emma Cawood

The hissing of wind
as it threw the snow into the air.
The crackling fire
as it spread throughout the house
lay only in a broken picture frame.
The burning sun now reflects off the broken glass.
The heat now covers the earth banishing any snow.
The only snow left trickles out of a crack in the picture frame.

Emma Cawood is eleven years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Ice – Sophie Yu


Sophie Yu is eighteen years old. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

[Untitled] – Fergus Barnard

Light snowflakes falling
Raging snowballs flying
Stiff glaciers crumbling

Fergus Barnard is nine years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Snow in Spain – Emma Espino

It’s Christmas time
Snow is falling
It is cold in Spain
The Olentzero is coming
To all the good kids
The hidden toy cake and the devil cakes are on the table
Waiting to be eaten
Everyone is playing outside
Making snowmen
Making angels
Time to come in,
Let’s have some hot chocolate!!

Emma Espino is nine years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Where have all the children gone? – Erica Taylor

Alone in an abandoned park,
Whispers of the past behind me, tickling my ears.
The future calling me,
Cold, damp, crying, concrete.
Memories flicker in my eyes,
Bars, Ladder, Slide,
Sleety raindrops start falling,
And the children slowly come back from the shadows,
Their smiles cause a chain reaction in everyone around.
Blizzarding down, the snow stealing the children.
Until only I am left,
And my smile fades into the white coat,
The quiescent surroundings bringing peace to me.

Erica Taylor is thirteen years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

My friend is melting – Imogen Twiss

She is ashamed to admit
she puts butter and icing sugar
on her popcorn
her breath blows avalanches
she hides in the clouds
she makes
she is my flower
she cowers in the shadows
of broad oaks
she is my early crocus
purple, blooming out beneath her eyes
over her skim milk face
her winter cheeks
too thin, too fat
she is melting away from this world
I see her through cataracts
like frosted glass
too quiet
dancing at the corners of my eyes
she appears, disappears
my arctic fox in the tundra
she lies in the mist
I think I missed
her life is spilling from her mouth
her throat is burning
she is dripping away
like an icicle in the sun
she is destroyed
my friend, why don’t you know
you are beautiful
you are my snow angel

Imogen Twiss is fifteen years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

no eyes – Ryan Tuzyk

you have no eyes
snow eyes, waterfalls
tangled in, uncover you
always a brother, you
hid it, gave it, took it
i read your book, but only pages
you have no arms
bare skin, thin lines
torn skin, broken bones
soft spoken, paper folded
i couldn’t wait, i
never did it right
i used to watch fireworks
then we started getting tense
i used to go to the beach
used to flow to it
scars heal
words freeze and thaw
the next time it snows
i’ll go, i’ll say i’m sorry
tongue out, catch the glistens
hope you listen

Ryan Tuzyk is twenty-six years old. He lives in Toronto, Canada.

Snow – Sophie Yu


Sophie Yu is eighteen years old. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

Snow – Frances Stanley

The sun is rising
And white crystals are everywhere
My boots crunch on the ground
This time it is snow, not leaves
Now all I can see is a layer of white, inches tall
Painting the valleys of crops and grass

Frances Stanley is nine years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Snow Fisher – Joshua Persico

The leaves collapse.
The first snowflakes cling onto my oars.
The thick smell of a salty sea comforts me.
My line twitches.
Behind me a flax kete with two blue cod.
The waves collapse.
The clouds start to soften.
Snow is the promise of water.

Joshua Persico is twelve years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Fingers comma Toes Logo Final

August 2016 Issue Rust


Memento Mori – Sophie Yu (age 17; New Zealand)
The Trophy Has Rusted – Maddy Horton (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Rust – Harry Knight (age 11; Christchurch, New Zealand)
the night – Lottie Heywood (age 12; Christchurch, New Zealand)
I’ll Be Watching You – Jana Heise (age 11; Lamu, Kenya)
Rusty – Maya Wylie (age 08; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Rust – Daisy Aaron (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Ant – Maia Cardew (age 10; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States)
Summer Freckles – Kristine Brown (age 25; United States)
Piano – Monica Koster (age 14; Christchurch, New Zealand)
The Rust Maker – Hugh Ryan (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Rust – Xanthe McElroy (age 09; Christchurch, New Zealand)
Rust – Millie Murray (age 04; Mount Maunganui, New Zealand)
Rust flower – Amelien Fox (age 10; Christchurch, New Zealand)
A Night in Madrid – Ellarose Riddle (age 14; Maryland, United States)
The Ladder – Jana Heise (age 11; Lamu, Kenya)
Sunflowers – Sophie Yu (age 17; New Zealand)
To a Broken Sky – Russell Boey (age 15; Christchurch, New Zealand)
He Digs with a Suit – E Wen Wong (age 13; Christchurch, New Zealand)

Memento Mori – Sophie Yu

01 - Sophie Yu - Memento Mori

Sophie Yu is seventeen years old. She lives in New Zealand.

The Trophy Has Rusted – Maddy Horton

Squeak said the mouse
Squeak said the cheese
the trophy has rusted
the moon has turned blue!
Use fire said the mouse
Use water said the cheese
the trophy has rusted
the dog said meow!
Wash the rust said the mouse
colour the moon green said the cheese
the trophy has rusted
a statue came to life!
So they talked and they whispered,
and they shouted and they yelled.
The trophy has rusted
and we know what to do!
So they all took the trophy
and said the secret words,
and the trophy became silver
shining red and gold.
Now the trophy stands
proud and tall
Squeak said the mouse
Squeak said the cheese.

Maddy Horton is ten years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rust – Harry Knight

My old house was as neglected
as a wheel barrow outside in the rain
the colour of burnt toast
like a bronze Olympic medal
smelted like old golden syrup
rusty, rickety crumbly bricks

Harry Knight is eleven years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

the night – Lottie Heywood

the vivid outline of the fascinating moon
strengthens the hope around me
the misty night sends some thoughts
shuddering down my spine
the wall between reality and dreams
never opening
the black cat creeps on the rusty board
the light of this magnificent moon
blinds me
as strong as it will ever be
the black cat creeps on the rusty board
the rusty surge comes whispering
the piercing water eddies and swirls
the black cat creeps on the rusty board

Lottie Heywood is twelve years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I’ll Be Watching You – Jana Heise

I'll Be Watching You

Jana Heise is eleven years old. She lives in Lamu, Kenya.

Rusty – Maya Wylie

Rust covers the window sill
Blocking the view of the whale.
The dog scratches at the door,
I open it.
The cold air brushes my hair
I see the whale stranded
His eye is rusty blood.
His back, hot and dry,
Burning in the sun.
I have a wish
On all stars falling
May the world of whales
Stay safe.

Maya Wylie is eight years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rust – Daisy Aaron

Today is my 9th birthday!!! And I got… oh. A
screwdriver. I’ll leave it in the garage. To be old, to be
forgotten, to be nothing.
Today is my 10th birthday! My dad told me to look in
the garage for my present!!! I got a new bike and—oh. A
rusty screwdriver. I find some sandpaper. I scrape the
rust off and it falls like morning rain. Underneath, the
screwdriver is gold. Solid gold.

Daisy Aaron is nine years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Ant – Maia Cardew

My instincts tell me not to move,
But I find myself under hoof.
While tigers, grizzlies, and polar bears
Find their bodies sold at fairs,
I tumble forever on the ground,
My body spinning, ‘round and ‘round.
I’m just a silly, blank, old bug,
To humans unworthy of a rug.
Eventually, I’m ground to dust
My destiny to die in rust.

Maia Cardew is ten years old. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States.

Summer Freckles – Kristine Brown

Summer Freckles - Kristine Brown

Kristine Brown is twenty-five years old. She lives in the United States.

Piano – Monica Koster

rustic music
___glides from yellowed keys
crooked legs sway to the beat
____pedals clunk, burnt stardust sifted
___________over metallic shapes
paint peels, plastering
___the ground with shards of age
a legato lullaby drifts… a melodic trill,
___a few staccato riffs
my fingers fumble,
the piano is rusty,
and so am I

Monica Koster is fourteen years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Rust Maker – Hugh Ryan

A clear blue sea making grains of solid rust,
a gold for fools,
a sign of intelligence and age.
A wise rusty anchor,
a rusty pipe,
the skeleton of a sunken ship.

Hugh Ryan is nine years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rust – Xanthe McElroy

like a painting
dancing upon the old metal car
complaining as the engine tried
to put itself to use
like the one that must decide
when something is too old
when something must be forgotten
the rust enjoys taking over
eating up the goodness
until it simply has destroyed
and taken all beauty

Xanthe McElroy is nine years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Rust – Millie Murray


Millie Murray is four years old. She lives in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand.

Rust flower – Amelien Fox

The land where the water flows in rusty shades of brown
the trees sing whispers to the once green leaves
the galloping horse’s shining brown back
glowing in the light of the sun
the forest of the copper winged birds
there falls the night sky where the stars don’t shine
the bodies of the fallen
the colour of the world is lost
rust grows over the remains
except for the red poppy that brings hope

Amelien Fox is ten years old. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

A Night in Madrid – Performed by Ellarose Riddle

Ellarose Riddle is fourteen years old. She lives in Maryland, United States.

The Ladder – Jana Heise

——I am not of the hard scales and fire of dragons, nor the soft, tough armor of a fish.
——I am not of the shiny, hard metal of a flashy watch, nor the over polished chrome on a power boat, hardly used.
——I still feel myself dissolve and melt in the arms of the not-so-blue salty water that chips away all my defenses. My muscles unclench, spin out and stretch. And then they seem to disappear, and I feel like exhaling. I want to sink, deeper, deeper, deeper, then below the sand and rock and coral, dead just because we like the flavor of king prawns and caviar. I will become one with it all. I will be like the ladder on the raft. The one that turned red, and flaked over the holey wood planks and then finally gave out, falling into the water, slipping down, coming to settle in the mud.
——I am not iron. Steel? Nope. Just me. A human, capable of rusting, capable of recovering, capable of disappearing beneath the waves when the water finally distorts me to the point of failing. To the point where fingers can’t cling to the surface, where lungs can’t generate enough to float, where eyelids can’t open, where no amount of WD-40 will breathe movement back into my stiff joints.
——I will reach that point. And then exceed it.

Jana Heise is eleven years old. She lives in Lamu, Kenya.

Sunflowers – Sophie Yu

Sophie Yu - Rust [Photograph; Untitled]

Sophie Yu is seventeen years old. She lives in New Zealand.

To a Broken Sky – Russell Boey

There was deathliness in the air.
This was not so simple as the stench of rot, or the colour of blood. This was a deathliness of a darker kind, one which originated from absence rather than destruction, one spawned from a vast abyss that seemed to cover this land. Ashe sighed. This was air that would chill the blood, more than any cold of the Long Night.
He stepped forward, holding his lantern high. It felt remarkably clumsy, traversing the junk with only one hand. One false step would bury him in a rain of bronzed iron. He was not built for such terrain – this was a place meant for the lithe and the fearless, not for one scrawny and exhausted.
His lantern illuminated great heaps of rubbish all around him – metal pipes, astrolabes, telescopes – all cast away in hatred or frustration. The only thing that seemed relatively stable was a toppled statue of some saint, his crossed shield providing some sort of footing for Ashe’s feet. He made for it, clambering up until he reached its melted face. One jump took him over, skidding down with the clattering harmony of iron as his accompaniment.
She certainly would not fail to notice him now.
Having crossed over the initial barriers, Ashe took a moment to look around himself. This place was not at all pleasant – the miasma that hung over it seemed stronger now that he was within. But at least some kind of pathway existed, lined by the remnants of rusted solar systems. He threw a bronze Earth away from his feet into the piles around him, listening to it clatter in steady rhythm until it struck the ground.
“Knock, knock,” a voice breathed beside him.
Ashe whirled around, hand at the dagger that was never far from him. But he did not draw it as he saw the speaker.
Nothing about her had changed, it seemed, but her voice, now hoarser – she still wore her girlish innocence, so out of place against her strangely sad eyes. “Finally decided to pay me a visit, Ashe? I’ve been brilliant, thanks. So why are you here?”
Ashe watched his old friend sadly. Perhaps something of her had changed after all. “You were not always so direct, Raina.”
“Well, I appear to have tired of you already,” she retorted. “Why are you here?”
Ashe sighed. No point in arguing with her – he had never won any of those before. “I thought you ought to hear something.”
“Did you? Out with it, then.”
“Must we remain on such bad terms—”
“Really?” she interrupted. “After all this time, you want to try to befriend me again?”
“No. But I would prefer not to tell this to a girl who hates me.”
“Just get on with it,” she hissed, and he would not argue with that voice.
“Ari’s dead.” The words fell out of his mouth with strange simplicity – her voice had surpassed all the emotions that came with saying them.
For a moment Raina stared at him blankly. He did not break the gaze.
Finally, she shook her head. “Damned fool,” she said, but her voice did not contain any vehemence. “He and you both. Idiots. Goodbye, Ashe.”
She turned, and he did not bother to call for her. She would not even pretend to act as if she cared.
He sighed again, and turned away, but for a moment his dead friend’s words played once more in his ear. My sister is not as strong as she seems.
He paused, looking back, and then up towards the heavens. The stars were out for now, taunting as ever. But all seemed safe.
“You will torment me even in death,” he muttered, and followed Raina’s trail.
For all the torment you caused me in life, he seemed to reply, laughing.
She seemed to notice him at some point, turning. “I don’t need comfort from you, Ashe!” she yelled across the plain.
Stubborn girl. He ignored her, following after her swift silhouette. Where had that girl who had run along the shores with him gone?
He supposed that no one had remained, really, after the Long Night.
A few more steps, and she had disappeared from sight. Still he stepped forward – she was no ghost, and she could not simply vanish.
His lantern was guttering. Too late to turn back now, whatever else.
But his search proved fruitless – only the dirt greeted him every step of the way. The lantern turned black.
Finally, a little fear set in. If he had only one flaw, he decided, that would have been it. Fear found its way to him far too late for it to be of any use.
Still he walked, until his legs ached and he had to sit. He had failed Ari in all else – he would ——-not fail him in this. Even if it was only for the sake of a forgotten friendship.
He could not deny that he missed their days of running in the sand.
A small smile crossed his face. The three of them had made good children together. Yet one of them lay forgotten in the dust, and Ashe seemed soon to join him. There would be no more light – morning was as far away as it had ever been, despite his best efforts. Raina was right – he was a fool, more so for bringing another into his foolery.
“God, you really are persistent.”
Ashe jumped again, but still treasured the little relief in his heart. How the girl could see him in this darkness was a mystery, but one that he did not need an answer to.
“I won’t have you and my brother both dead. Come on.” Her voice was frigid as it had ever been, but at least there was no underlying fury now. Perhaps grief had driven it away.
She was moving again, but loudly enough for him to hear. He hastened to his feet.
“How can you stand it here?” he called out, as much for her location as the answer. “It is so—”
“Deathly, I know. You get used to it. Do you know why?”
“It is empty,” he replied with little thought.
“But why is that?” At his silence, she continued. “It is failure, Ashe.” He heard her stop, and could imagine her face – tragic, in that way it had been when he had first met her. “The legacy of man lies dead here.”
They walked on in silence for a while longer, until at last a flickering light came into view. Ashe marvelled as he drew closer – it was electric, no doubt. It had been years since he had seen anything of the like.
“You’ve done well for yourself,” he commented. “Surviving here for three years.”
“Well, we both know that I can handle myself. And there are a few treasures here. More than anywhere else on this half, I think.”
As she ducked beneath the bulb, her hair was the brilliant red that it had been when they were children, and the sun had still shone. He could not stem the stream of memories that that sheen brought back, but only one among the torrent appeared in all vividness – a smaller girl, then, carried in the arms of her bloodied brother.
Her abode was similar to the rest of this place, albeit a little more structured. The walls were even, but no roof existed – though it was not as if one was needed anymore. She sat down, leaning against the old metal with a quiet sigh. “Why did you do it, Ashe, really?”
“What?” He stood uncertainly, fidgeting under her gaze.
“Come on. You’re not an idiot. When the world gets ripped in half, you begin to realise that there’s nothing much to do about it.”
“There was.”
“Temporary, we all knew that, and ridiculously dangerous. You knew that someone would die.”
“But to give up on all hope—”
“The stars themselves tore the world in two!” she cried, with a passion that she had hidden for years. Even their parting had not been so violent, despite him ignoring all that she had implored. “If there is a god in heaven, Ashe, then you are trying to fight against him. When the Earth gets halved and refuses to spin, you begin to realise that some things are beyond man.”
“You were not always so cynical,” he said.
“The world was not always like this. Sit down.”
Cautiously, he did. “How did he die?” she asked, after a moment.
“Fell. Struck the burning rocks.” Ashe laughed sadly. “How else do our kind die?”
“Our kind?” Raina sounded as if she had failed to even smile for a long time when she laughed at his words. “Do you consider yourself something different to me?”
“Noble, first. And foolish. You are right. One does not fight against gravity.”
Raina nodded, as if such a thing had never been in question. But at the sadness in his voice, she spoke. “Hell, Ashe. If you weren’t so noble, I might’ve died as a child.”
“If I weren’t so noble, your brother would be alive now.”
She changed the subject. “So why do you carry that dagger? I’ve never seen you use it before, and I doubt it would help against the Earth’s molten core.”
“Your brother gave it to me. For luck. Because he wanted to keep me safe, repay me for what he thought he owed, or something. I see that now – no one ever believed in hope but me.”
Ashe bowed his head. He’d already shed tears for this death, well and long, but the grief did not stop. It was his doing, after all – his mistake.
“I hope you are wiser now,” Raina said. “Ashe, you ought to have listened to me. That was what hurt most of all, you know – after everything, you still thought that I did not have your best in mind.”
Ashe leaned his head against the wall. “I never doubted you had my best. Only that my best was not enough.”
“Nothing’s enough, Ashe,” she replied. “You’ve travelled far to get here. You must be tired.”
“Are you trying to be rid of me?”
“No. Go to sleep. There is no point in blaming you for this.”
“Then you forgive me?”
“No. But I’m not angry with you, not anymore. Just go to sleep.”
As he lay down, he realised that his eyes had been yearning to close ever since he had stepped within. And it was safe here. Far away from the broken edge of space, from the wild, unfathomable gravity that drew them day by day further from the sun, and from the memories of his dead friend.
In a moment the sun shone in the sky above him, and he squinted against its glare. Raina’s hair glowed red in the light, as she dashed down the beach and yelled out for her brother to join her in the waves. Ari smiled his cockish smile, pushing his windswept brown hair out of his eyes as he turned to Ashe.
“I appreciate this, you know,” he said.
Ashe smiled up at him. “You do what you can, don’t you?”
His eyes followed Raina’s wild path across the sea. Hard to believe that only a few days ago he and Ari had carried her limp form to a doctor – she seemed as well as any other child.
“I don’t want to go back home,” Ari said suddenly, watching her. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to help her next time.”
Ashe grinned a little and punched him on the shoulder. “Well, you know where to find me.”
Ari watched him severely. “Do you mean that?”
“Of course,” Ashe replied.
Ari turned around with a disbelieving shake of his head. “Perhaps the world has some hope after all.”
When he awoke, Raina stood with her back to him, head bowed low.
The ground at her feet was wet, and Ashe made no comment on it as he rolled up. He was fairly sure of what he would see, but it still jarred him to see his friend’s corpse. The fall had distorted his face terribly, so that only a sliver of his brown hair still existed, and all else was unrecognisable. But Raina’s tears were confirmation enough.
“I was waiting for you,” she said, as she hefted something from the ground. He did not bother asking how she had got all this so fast – she had her own ways, now, ways far beyond him.
It was the shield, he realised, which he had clambered on earlier. The cross emblazoned on it was red with rust.
She thrust it hard into the ground above Ari’s head, her hands shaking as she released it.
“Do you have a shovel?” Ashe asked.
“Don’t need one,” she muttered. “It does not do, for him to be like this.”
So saying, she withdrew a flask of oil. This scrapyard truly seemed to hold everything. Pouring it over the corpse quietly, she turned her forlorn gaze to Ashe. “Don’t you dare go back,” she said. “I hated my parents, but then you know that well. In all my life I cared only for my brother and my dearest friend, and I won’t lose both of you.”
She raised her glass high, in some sort of mad toast. “To a broken sky and an endless night.”
Ashe looked at her blankly. “You know that I can’t agree with that.”
“Even now?” She wrapped her hand in cloth. “Don’t you see that there is no way to end them? Let it be, Ashe. We won’t be the ones to die.”
She grabbed the lightbulb, still hot.
“When your brother met me,” Ashe said, “he told me that the world still had some hope in it.”
Raina laughed. “Lot of good that did you two.” She hurled the bulb towards the corpse. It went alight in spectacular fashion as she came to stand by him.
“Raina, I—”
“Just watch,” she said.
And he did. The smoke filled the air, but he did not turn aside from the smell. Instead, he watched it rise, deep into the starry sky, far from the failed legacy of man.

Russell Boey is fifteen years old. He lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

He Digs With a Suit – E Wen Wong

He digs with a rusting spade
its face coated in cinnamon,
playing its card
as the cosmic tree of life.
He digs out a crimson heart
speckled with beads of sand,
playing its card
as hope, warmth and light.
He digs out a shard
of raw, tinted glass,
Replacing a stolen diamond
A club will follow suit.

E Wen Wong is thirteen years old, and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Fingers comma Toes Logo Final