Ripples Short Story Competition 2024: Secondary

The quality of entries for the inaugural Ripples Short Story Competition made judging a difficult task. Around 100 entries came from 17 schools across the Central Coast area, as well as via parents. The judging team were extremely impressed with the variety of ways that students dealt with the topic, as well the high standard of entries. It is exciting to see so many students engaging with the creativity that comes from a love of literature; something that Words on the Words strives to grow in our local youth.

Winner: The Ripples Ripper Award

Beneath The Ripples by Emma B, Year 9, Lakes Grammar

It was the heart of summer. In the garden, bees danced from flower to flower, their busy buzzing harmonising with the chirping of cicadas. Stepping out onto the grass, I felt the blast of the summer sun, it’s heat quickly evaporating the lingering cool from the air conditioner inside the house. The perfect hot, sticky afternoon for a swim.

“Wait up!”

My little brother Olly squealed from behind me as I took off at a run for the dam. I giggled as I dove into the cool water and floated onto my back, staring up into the blue sky and taking in the tranquillity surrounding me. Overgrown white moth vines hung from the branches of towering ironbark and eucalyptus trees, throwing uneven shade over the long native grasses that covered the bank and flowed with the slightest stirrings of hot breeze.

Olly quickly reached the edge of the dam but stopped to stare dubiously into the water as mum and dad caught up. “Are you sure there’s no monsters in there?” he asked anxiously.

“Only this one!”

Dad scooped Olly up and tossed him into the water. Olly screamed in protest before submerging, then popped back up, splashing wildly at dad. Laughter carried across the water and filled the air.

I find it hard to believe that was five years ago. Five years since the water took my little brother down. Down below the depths of the murky waters, where he would forever remain. My throat tightens. I swallow back tears as a rush of overwhelming guilt consumes me.

I saw ripples. But I didn’t believe him.

No one did.

The remnants of late afternoon sun once again shine down on the dam’s calm, glittering surface as I stand at its edge, remembering. But all these years later, on this winter’s day, it lacks the warmth of summertime and family fun.

I fiddle with my pocket knife, flipping it back and forth. A cold, lonely breeze blows through me, rustling the bushes, drying my tear-stained face.

Olly had sworn the ripples in the water had belonged to something large. Something with scales.

What if he really did see something?

I gaze into the dark depths.

Olly’s body had never been found. Why hadn’t he been found? The dam was large and deep, but there should have been some trace. I’ve spent a long time thinking about Olly’s words since that day.

Too much time.

If some dam-dwelling monster caused Olly’s death, it has to still be in there. Lurking beneath the surface.

I have to know.

The sun is setting into the horizon, its fading light clinging to the edge of the mountains. The wind picks up, slicing a sharp shiver down my spine. With a deep, trembling breath, I clutch my pocket knife tightly in my hand and dive into the water. The temperature is glacial, causing my entire body to ache as I scour the dam for its secrets. I search until the encroaching darkness forces me to swim for shore.

Nothing. 

It’s what I’d expected, but I am left disappointed. I’m still without answers. I propel myself back down under the murky water on my way in –one last look.

A piercing shriek has me dropping my pocket knife and covering my ears, an agonising pain shooting through my skull. I kick for the surface, desperate to escape it, but something has hold of me. I thrash and twist and make out long, pointy fingers gripping my ankle. My mind struggles to make sense of the shockingly malevolent creature with ghostly pale skin, empty black eyes, and mouth full of sharp, jagged teeth as it floats into view. Long strands of greasy hair glow with luminescence, illuminating everything in a sickly green glow.

In a swift motion the thing tugs me down. All remaining oxygen is immediately knocked from my lungs, and I force back a scream. My body convulses violently with the need for air and escape.

I’m going to die.

In that instant, as I fight to keep conscious, I become dimly aware of a light approaching. Another shriek, angry and ear-splitting. But the creature’s vice-like grip on my ankle softens, before it releases its piercing nails from my damaged, waterlogged skin. A warm, golden glow surrounds me, spreads through me.

There’s someone there.

Olly!

His smiling face swims before my fading vision. Calm. Reassuring. Except, it’s not quite Olly.

He has… scales.

He extends an arm and I reach out, feel the brush of his fingers. The world dims. Uncontrollable coughs break loose from my throat in between gasps for air. My teeth clench and my throat clogs against the need to be sick. I quickly sit up and look around, see the familiar surroundings of the dam. My gaze sweeps over the dark water and my heart thumps heavily in my chest, the terror once again surging through me.

Did that really happen?

I examine my throbbing ankle and make out the purpling skin in the shape of fingermarks, the blood trickling down to my foot from the bite of its nails. I hear a splash and I freeze, look up. My vision is impaired by darkness, but then the moon emerges from behind a silver cloud, pouring brilliant light onto the glittering water.

Shining golden hair, a round, baby face, iridescent scales. A little boy smiling back at me, proudly holding my pocket knife in his webbed hands. A swirl of emotion overcomes me, love, relief and pure, incomparable joy. I laugh, eyes blurring as they swell with tears that fall from my eyes and warm my frozen cheeks. I push to my feet, my balance unsteady. I have to get to Olly! But with one last heart wrenching smile he tosses the pocketknife at my feet, waves webbed fingers in my direction and descends back into the water, leaving nothing but a small ripple behind him.

Judges Comments

A very clever interpretation of the theme, the story taking place at a dam during the heart of summer. The descriptions transport us to an idyllic setting and we experience the joy of a lovely cooling swim which turns to tragedy. The feelings we experience become sinister as we read “ I saw ripples.”

Characters are well developed, we feel the horror of Olly disappearing below the ripples, never to be seen again. The plot keeps us in suspense as we are brought forward five years to experience the horrifying reality of what lurks below and discover Olly’s fate. There is love, heartbreak, relief and pure incomparable joy.

Runner-Up: A Whale of a Tale Award

The Ripple Effect: One action can have big consequences, Mathias W, Year 7, Wyong Christian Community School

One action can have big consequences.

One day, imagine you are going for a light stroll. This shouldn’t be too hard, as long as you have a brain. There are a group of children playing around, about thirty paces ahead of you. This mental image will be the first of many pictures you will imagine as we take a dive into a magical journey inside of yourself. You are about to see the ripple effect of your internal systems when you come down with something like Rabies, The Flu, or even the odd case of a common cold.

In this case, you are about to come down with a bacterial infection after the simplest little cut on your hand allows you to be exposed. You are now going to see firsthand the ripple effect that your immune system experiences all without you even knowing.

So, back to the stroll you were walking on. You are walking past the group of boys and girls playing a ‘casual’ game of soccer. One boy kicks the ball into a spiky Yucca plant. Being the nice person that you are (and that the ball is about two metres away from you) you move to retrieve the ball and cut your finger on the way out on the spiky plant. How annoying. You hand the ball back to the children and finish your walk. Little do you know that little bit of pain you feel in your finger represents a sacrifice you could never imagine.

If only you knew what your immune system is about to go through.

This small cut has literally ripped their world ripped open, sending poor, helpless cells scattering. The bacteria on the plant and now on the surface of your skin, are so pleased that this big, seemingly defenceless mountain of flesh came by to pick the ball up. The Bacteria has just found this amazing wormhole into a nice, warm, comfy VIP Bacteria lounge. What a load of luck!

However, they couldn’t have been more wrong.

All the dying or dead civilian cells scream for help, using special chemical signals known as cytokines. The main defenders (probably because they are the only ones at the moment) run (‘run’ is a figurative term – cells can’t run as they don’t have legs) up to the invading bacteria. They begin to throw themselves at the bacteria and eat them alive (if you would call a bacterium ‘alive’).

This crazy cell that is decimating the bacteria is called a macrophage. Macrophages are pretty scary guys to be up against. As the battle rages, the Macrophages call for inflammation, which happens when a blood vessel opens like a dam, flooding the battlefield with blood and reinforcements. These reinforcements are so deadly that after about three days, they kill themselves to prevent them causing your body damage. These crazy fighters are known as Neutrophils.

Neutrophils have a way of fighting, somewhat elegantly running into the enemies to drench them in acid then eat them alive. But the scariest thing they can do is this: If a Neutrophil ‘feels’ (cells can’t think – they are just guided by biochemistry) as though the bacteria are spreading too fast, they can make this creepy thing called a NET (Neutrophil extracellular trap), sacrificing themselves in the process. First, the nucleus dissolves, meaning that the DNA or, more correctly, your DNA, can move about the cell. The cell fills up with DNA, the proteins and enzymes in the cell latch on to it. Then the cell membrane bursts, spilling the harmful DNA out creating a trap for bacteria that damage and kill them.

Although, even after literally eliminating their own insides  (the process of dissolving their DNA kills them – kind of in the same way that if your brain dissolves you would die), these cells can still fight, dying for you, so you can live.

Now we have an invisible army.

Time for another mental picture: You are swimming in a pool when suddenly, thousands of fish come and swarm around you, latching onto your flesh and leaving you without the slightest hope of getting rid of them. As you can imagine, this would not be a pleasant experience and you would not be happy with it. This is what a bunch of mindless proteins, known as the compliment system, does to bacteria.

They swarm the bacteria, covering it ‘head’ to ‘toe’ (bacterium don’t have either). Then they rip tiny holes in it, making the insides of the bacteria go outside the bacteria. Back to our wonderful mental picture, imagine this is when the fish turn to piranhas and begin to eat you, not quite what the compliment system does, but close enough.

With the combined forces of the Compliment, Neutrophil and Macrophage attacks, the bacteria are killed, inflammation calmed and your finger begins to heal. But after that dreaded Yucca plant cut your finger, and there was an alien invasion of bacteria, you casually wipe the blood off your finger and hand the ball back.

Your immune system was fighting for their, or, more correctly, YOUR life.

And you have no idea that it happened.

Judges Comments

The plot develops in a highly imaginative and intriguing way as the ripple effect of a seemingly mundane action has big consequences. The ripple effect takes place inside the human body as a simple cut has dramatic implications as the immune system is attacked by invading bacteria. Highly descriptive language and medical terminology are employed to great effect to describe the ripple effect as the invading bacteria are attacked by the body’s protective army. There is effective use of descriptive language and analogy. Unknown to the host body, the battle takes place inside the blood vessels and all ends well.

Highly Commended: Simply Swell Award

A Ripple Towards Anti-Racism by Knoa C-F, Year 7, CCGS

Thunder crackled over Krisho’s head as he walked through the pouring rain trying to avoid all the other kids his age. He could hear them screaming and laughing behind him. Swearing and calling him names was something  normal for him, he just didn’t have a way to solve it, he just had to keep his head low and not draw a crowd towards him like last time. It wouldn’t matter if he was the smartest man on earth, the strongest or the fastest, or anything  worth a title, he would still be the only Koori boy at his school, the only one that was ‘different’ from the rest. 

Finally, the voices faded away and Krisho found himself walking in his neighbourhood area. Cars sped past, and birds tweeted overhead, singing their little hearts out to the rain. The local boys were talking and play-fighting with each other, doing their own thing. Everything felt at peace, well, at least for Krisho it was peaceful. It’s kind of  something he was used to and, in a way, felt as if it was normal. Not long after, he found himself at his front door feeling safe, but at the same time feeling tired, but he ignored his emotions and walked inside. 

A loud beeping noise rung through his ears. He moved his black hair away from his hazel eyes. It was his  phone alarm next to his old bedside table. It was time for school.  An overwhelming feeling came to his stomach, but he knew he had to go to school. He got dressed in his white school uniform and looked at the colour comparison between his dark olive skin and his bland white shirt. He packed his bag, told his mum about his important job today  and kissed her goodbye. He left out the worn-down front door and into a wave of excitement for this ‘important job’.  

When he got to school, he was greeted by a short and freckled boy with orange hair, screaming racist names and spitting in his face. Krisho pushed him to the ground and spat back at him, then he ran off knowing he was in big  trouble if the school found out.

 But he couldn’t let this ruin his important day, the day that he would stop this school’s racism.  

Ding ding ding! The bell for class rang. Krisho hurried over so he wouldn’t get in trouble again by his roll call  teacher. He grabbed his textbooks from his locker and went to class. On the way there, he came across the boy and his mates. They shoved into him and gave him a deep angry stare as they walked off to class. They yelled insults and  screamed made-up racist songs. Suddenly, a wave of anger washed over Krisho. 

Krisho left class and went down to the canteen. He was ready for something bad to happen to him. He felt his  body pulsing and his heart beating. His vision focused. He scouted his surroundings for the group of boys, but no one came. He felt his anger and adrenaline wearing off. He calmed down and remembered to focus on his speech. He sat there and ate his food until he felt confident enough to deliver his speech. He checked his phone; it was almost the  end of lunch. He ran up to the assembly area and prepared his speech. He felt brave, ready to make a change for this school. The headmaster walked up to him. ‘Krisho, I’m very proud of you. For years we’ve been trying to get rid of  discrimination, but nothing has worked, but I think you’ll be the change. I’m exceptionally proud that you’ll be  introducing our new Aboriginal students to the school, and I hope you make them feel welcomed’.

A wave of  excitement washed over him. He would finally have friends and people that liked him. Even the headmaster thought he’d be the change for this school.

‘It’s time to go,’ said the headmaster.

 Krisho walked on stage. 

‘Good evening. Today this assembly will be based on racial equality.’

Students groaned.

‘We would like to invite Krisho to talk about the new students arriving, and racial equality’

Students shouted racial slurs.

‘Hi my name is Krisho, I’m here today to talk about our new Aboriginal students coming to the school’.

After introducing all the students he moved on.

 ‘At this school I have experienced racism, exclusion and bullying, all because of my skin tone and culture, and it’s time for that to change. We are all human beings. We are all one. We may not look the same, speak  the same language or have the same opinion, but we are all humans, and it sickens me that I have to put up with constant harassment from all of you because of my race. And it ends here and starts now’. 

At the start there were a few claps but soon everyone was clapping except for the mean boys and his friends. A feeling of unity from the school came together and made him feel whole, feel united. 

Years later, Krisho became a public speaker working for an anti-racism company, based off Krisho and the Aboriginal students from his old school. They went across Australia and even across to nearby countries. Him and his  team impacted many lives and reached out to people every day who regularly reached out to them about their struggles towards their race. They won countless prizes and awards such as the local business award multiple times, and many more. They gained recognition from big news corporations and even worked with government organisations  for anti-racism. Today Krisho had to interview a man looking for a job. He came down to the reception area where he was waiting. He had a familiar name, he’d swear he’d seen it somewhere. It was only until waiting in a chair was a short, freckled man with orange hair looked up and said ‘Krisho?’.

Judges Comments

Effective use of descriptive language draws us into Krisho’s world of the racism and bullying he experiences at school. We share his fear and apprehension as he faces another day of school, but he is excited as he has an important job to do that day. Once at school he faces racist abuse at the hands of a short racist boy, but he successfully presents his important speech against racism at the school assembly.  The ripple effect is demonstrated in the impact that his speech has upon others, not only on that day, but in his adult life. A successful resolution is reached when his childhood bully seeks employment with Krisho’s anti racism company.