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Winning Stories - Henrietta Branford Writing Competition 2019


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The Branford Boase Award for

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by Rosa Johnson aged 11 years

The air was thick with the sound of something being torn apart: a wrenching, screeching, groaning sound that made the earth tremble. The smell of smoke was so strong it caught in my throat and pooled like acid on my tongue.

It was scary - terrifying - but exhilarating. After all our work, it was finally happening.


Sadly, this story begins with tears. The tears of a girl grieving after loss. She flicks through a scrapbook of old, dog-eared photographs, her tears staining the pages as she attempts to fill the vacancy that cruel Death has created. Scarlet stops at a page approximately halfway through the collection. A woman’s face full of joy of warmth and a tiny baby with a screwed-up face. The woman’s black hair and green eyes mirror the distraught expression that gazes down at her. She misses everything about her. Her hugs, her hearty laugh... but most of all she misses the magpies. That careless rhyme that sang Scarlet to sleep each night, counting the magpies that flocked outside her window.

One for sorrow, two for joy,
Three for a girl and four for a boy,
Five for silver and six for gold
And seven for a story that remains untold.

They used to crowd around her mother. They spotted a kindred spirit. Her mother was as free as the breeze. She has not seen one since her mother’s decease.

But sorrow never reigns forever. After months of grief, Scarlet found a fierce determination to get her mum back. No one had ever risen from the dead but neither had anyone proved that it was impossible. The grip of loss on Scarlet has affected her in a way that no one could quite put their finger on. Once the idea had set in, there was no stopping her.

A cacophony of clatters and thumps rand out from behind her locked door over the next few days. Her dad was sick with worry. In science, she wanted to know about life expectancy. In D.T., she tried to recreate humans. Her teachers were bewildered. You have probably guessed by now that Scarlet was was embarking on a mission far greater than ever before. Scarlet was trying to resurrect the dead.

After a week of tireless working, Scarlet stood in front of the nearly completed machine. A wrenching, screeching, groaning sound made the earth tremble. Scary, terrifying, exhilarating. After all her work, it was finally happening. It was late into the night, so she decided to wait for the next day. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she imagined all that was at stake. She made a final note in her diary and then lay down on her bed. Miraculously, she soon fell into a deep sleep.

That night, Scarlet dreamt of a magpie. The first magpie since Mum. A talking magpie, and it was talking to Scarlet.

“We know of your plans. We know what is to come. We know of a girl who is on the verge of creating life beyond life. Stop your plans before it is too late. You are interfering with the intricate web of time.”

When Scarlet woke up, she was sweating uncontrollably. The magpie has touched her soul, revealing a lost fragment of Mum. They were right. No matter how much she missed her mum. Full of bittersweet resignation, she turned to her machine. Where it once stood was thin air. It had disappeared, vanished, been stolen away in the black of the night, along with her diary.

The next three days passed in a blur. A chemical scent, dropping to the ground, flashing lights, “Witch!”, endless conferences, tears, “Witch!”, a courtroom, her dad, “Witch! Witch! Witch!”

A swirling vortex of time until it came grinding to a halt.

“This girl, Scarlet Eleanor Heckleworth is accused of treason. How do you plead?”

“Of what?” Scarlet drowsily replied.

“Of being a witch.”

Scarlet stared at the drab, grey wall. The day’s events had been too much for her. Somehow, her raven black hair shone in the dull grey tones of her prison cell, glimmering in the few wisps of sunlight the window’s iron bars allowed her. For a night and a day, nothing happened. The only thoughts that crossed her mind concerned the foolishness that had landed her in this pitiful place. And thoughts of the next day.

Exactly 12 hours later, Scarlet would be executed in front of hundreds of people with millions more watching on television. They all wanted a penalty of death after finally catching the first ‘witch’ since the 17th century. Apparently, her diary describing the machine and the magpies confirmed everything.Her grief-stricken dad upon finding the items had panicked and turned her in. Scarlet had never been very close to her dad since he divorced her mum. Pathetic idiot, thought Scarlet.

Peering through the iron bars, Scarlet saw the angry-looking clouds pass by, as they did everyday. The tiny prison courtyard splashed with moonlight, as usual.

And a sickening crack.

Before Scarlet had time to register this considerable change of scene, she was plummeting away from the rusted, snapped window bars and slicing through the icy night air.

Falling. Falling rapidly. Falling to her death. Metres away. Still falling. Inches. Centimetres. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the inevitable arrival of Death. Until delicate, feathered talons clipped her hands. Magpies.

Scarlet was soaring up, up, up, wishing never to come down again. There was no way that physics had given its permission for seven birds to hold a teenage girl in midair, but Scarlet didn’t care. The stars were welcoming her into their midst, up into the night. Her story remained untold, like the song of the magpies around her.

And, at that moment, Scarlet knew that her mum would be smiling.

20th Anniversary !

Vranda Radia |  Rachel Byrne  |  Ben Robotham  |  Rosa Johnson  |  
Libby Mercer |  Sonya Clutton Mendias