There were a huge range of amazing submissions to last year's Student Writing Competition. This series celebrates the best of the lot. Read on for Jojo Hoban's short story Following the Dirt Road.
They argued under the melting sun. Faces turning strawberry either from the heat of the day, or the argument. I stood behind the webbing of Auntie-her flappy arms outstretched like wings. The bangles on her wrist, arguing uon themselves as they pushed each other back and forth and up and down. Auntie’s hands, like the roots on a tree, had bulging veins sticking out. Her stupid pearls hugged her neck like lotus leaves surrounding a pond. She doesn’t even like the ocean. Her outfit-pointy stilettos with like fake rhinestones and her toes were wrinkly prunes overlapping each other, trying to breathe. A frilly dress with layers of red and white, like a messy cake. At her shoulders, two clouds of fabric wobble from side to side. Red ribbons on her back entangle themselves like willow leaves. And a tall feather, sticking out of her multicoloured hair which is slicked in a hard bun, spectates disapprovingly.
She doesn’t like birds either. I could say a lot out loud; the way she walks with her head and points with her long nails, but I stick my teeth together like my knuckles when I join them. I don’t even want to look at her eyes, always squeezed to the size of apple seeds until her eyebrows meet. Judgy, disobedient, mad.
So I stand beneath her like a peasant and watch her speak for us.
“The children are happy.”
“It is time for you to leave, Mrs Porta.”
“You have no right to just kick me out!” Auntie shouted in the broken record of her voice.
“The neighbours are not satisfied you are the woman you say you are” came the earthy undertones.
“I am not moving.”
“You are not staying.”
“How dare you come into my house and act like the boss? I cannot believe-”
I drifted in and out of the conversation like ants between food and home. The argument was like fire and ice but as more words were exchanged the fire shrunk into only a glowing haze. Auntie, of course, was the fire. Her face still swelled and her ears were ripe, but her words were now only floating in her head. She sighed sharply, as her head shook in disbelief. The bangles chattered and rang like glass. She turned only her head, as flexible as an owl, tensed her jaw and walked down the terracotta steps as I counted them, “one, two, three…four”.
The lady cornered her on Auntie’s side of the car, a dirty SUV, as she hesitated to get in. Right leg up, in. Left leg up, in. She then curved around the car, putting up one youthful hand to us like the inside of a peach, and pulling up the two sides of her mouth as if she were a puppet. I watched the car disappear into the skyline.
On the deck, I moved my stinging feet and saw the clouds drift past. Finally, I felt free. As the others ran to the kitchen like dogs off of a leash, I saw a small object grow larger and larger. A car, but not the one I saw before.
This time, it pierced through the forest like a needle in my direction, glossing with newness and swallowing the grass. It had lights like electric eyes that stuck out as if it had hands, snatching me. The engine was mad as it thundered forwards. It was as if a magnifying glass was put on it. The car shrieked closer.
As it edged to our house, the nerves crept up on me like a spider. I felt my chest thump with energy nearly as if I could see it drill through my skin. My body screamed with rage. Sweat running in my hair. Panicked, my breaths were multiplying as if I was breathing fire. All I could think of was one word. Quick.
I ran and hid behind the table I set this morning, and I heard the engine of the car roar. Nothing like the tickle of the trees, the electricity of the bees, the folding of the sea. The sparrows sprung off the ground like my hands would on the sun.
“This is my chance,” My lips didn’t even unzip fully, my tongue was still on the top of my mouth. The dangerous red colour of the truck tore through the curtain of the oak trees, with only the transparent drape waving at me in between. I ran up the stairs two at a time and grabbed what was mine. What I wanted to be mine. The plum-coloured book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I thought of the things I would leave behind. I’m never going to watch the birds decorate the sky. I’m never going to get rained on by layers of golden leaves. I’m never going to scoop seashells from muddy waters. I’m never going to chase the flies and hear the chickens and duck under the arms of trees. I’m never going to be here again.
I stuffed the book in the pocket of my apron and charged out of the house. Down the steps, on the ground. Pebbles of dirt like cookies crushed in fine particles, rolling under my dirty feet. As I flicked each foot up the different textures I crossed: dirt, concrete, wood and water, my feet burned.
I ran until I saw the moon replace the sun.
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