Read the winning short stories and poetry from Rotary Club of Summit County’s high school writing contest |

Read the winning short stories and poetry from Rotary Club of Summit County’s high school writing contest

The Rotary Club of Summit County announced its annual High School Short Story and Poetry Contest winners at the club's breakfast meeting April 23. The club also presented Summit County High School junior Misha Martin-Williams with the student achievement award for nonacademic talent. She played two pieces on the violin for Rotary members. Pictured from left are third-place story winner Ian Hans, Rotary member Marcy Woodland, second-place story winner Jack Kliegerman, first-place story winner Katerina Lee, second-place poem winner (tie) Audrey Anderson, achievement award winner Martin-Williams, first-place poem winner Freya Schlaefer and second-place poem winner (tie) Isabelle Tarrant.
Courtesy photo

First-place poem

“Ice” by Freya Schlaefer

it is the dangerous slickness
hidden under the light snow
blanketing the road.

it is the light glinting
off the sharp, shimmering stalactites
dripping from the edges
of roofs.

it is the pattern of frost
littering the glass of windows,
painstakingly crafted
by some elf, stealing away
into the night.

it is the hard casing
clutching the heart
in the chest of
an unfeeling, quiet boy.

it is the wall you
see in her eyes when
she turns from you
scorn radiating from her
like cold from the snow.

yet all ice must
soft warmth must always return
to the hearth
and the earth
must grow pliant
once more.

Second-place poem (tie)

“My Mom” by Isabelle Tarrant

“No mud, no lotus.”
These words,
They mean so much to her,
She practically lives by it.
Her spectacular soul is stuck in the mud,
Working hard day and night like she’s cemented in a continuous loop.
Struggling to release herself,
To reach the lotus,
To reach the reward,
To reach the light at the end of the tunnel.
Three jobs,
Five doubles a week,
Her feet are beaten and battered like the soles of over-worn shoes.
Her head pounding from exhaustion because of all this effort,
Simply to keep a roof over her daughters’ heads.
People constantly saying,
“Oh how do you do it?”
“I just do.” My mother replies.
And it’s true,
She makes it work.
We, together, make it work.
“We’ll figure it out.”
She always says and you know what?
That’s what we’ve done,
And are still doing,
Every single day.
For the past several years,
It’s just been the 3 of us,
Myself, my sister, and my mother.
We’re like a super trio,
Or the 3 musketeers!
We respect each other,
We support each other,
But most importantly,
We love each other,
To the moon and back.
And I feel so clever,
Creating this poem for the best mom ever.
And yes I know this sounds cheesy,
But maybe for her it wasn’t so easy.
She had to fight for her place,
Within this new space.
Her determination mixed with motivation,
Sprinkled with passion and love,
Formed a beautiful lotus that no one could’ve ever crafted,
So delicately as she has.

Second-place poem (tie)

“White” by Audrey Anderson

White is emptiness,
The longing for something that’s not there,
The empty void in your heart that will never be filled,
The hope for something you can never have.

White is like sorrow,
The feeling of loss when someone dies,
The cold empty silence in the night,
The thought that you will never do anything right.

White is loneliness,
A blank canvas that will never be painted,
A cloudy sky that covers the sun,
An avalanche that consumes everything in its path.

White is like hopelessness,
The idea that we will never reach the stars,
The idea that we will never find happiness,
The idea that we will never succeed,

White is a feeling,
The feeling of sorrow,
The feeling of emptiness,
The feeling of loneliness,
The feeling of hopelessness.
But yet,
it’s all just a feeling…

First-place short story

“The Cavern of Gods” by Katerina Lee

A man will go his entire life searching for fulfillment, some never find it, and some come away from it changed in a way they had never expected. Fulfillment: a vague word handed out to optimists as lollipops are handed to children. We seize upon it, devoting time to it without considering the meaning until afterward. Men devour it, teenagers dream of it, and old codgers wish that they had found it. For me, fulfillment was the label I gave to what I sought, but it was only a small portion of what I found.

Since the beginning of western culture, we have sought for our history, something to tie us to a world before, something to ground ourselves, and to prove that we are more than just specks of dust in an unforgiving universe. This insatiable need to know the past carried on through history passed down from the world of Europe to its cultural child in Mexico.

In my youth, I was an avid learner; devouring stories, legends, and the true stories of history. It was unexpected, then, when I followed my passion to study anthropology and history in Mexico City. My career flourished and with every passing year I became more devoted to my studies of the Mayan culture in the Yucatán peninsula. My name is Víctor Segovia Pinto, and this is my tale of search, discovery, excitement, despair, and fulfillment.

• • •

There is a now famous city in the Yucatán peninsula; the city of Chichén Itzá. As a relic of Mayan culture which is beautifully preserved and full of cultural importance, it draws archaeologists from around the world. In 1965, I was presented with the opportunity to not only go to the famed city but to also search the surrounding area for evidence of Mayan presence. I arrived in June with a handpicked team of graduate students from the university I taught at and was warmly received by the site director. In no time we were scouring the land around the city. For days we walked through the jungle, looking for a hint that any piece of ground would be worthy of excavation. Our hours were spent hiking, looking for snakes, and avoiding the dark corners which every dense forest presents. Days turned to weeks. We began camping for several days at a time before returning to the city, occasionally setting up long enough to excavate an area and prove that there was nothing there.

Weeks turned to months, and we had found almost nothing of importance. Our efforts had been rewarded only with dust and dirt. It was with disappointment that we had just abandoned our latest failed excavation and were hiking back to Chichén Itzá when we found it. A water break requested by a student who leaned on a rock wall quickly turning into a celebration among a group of academics who had worked hard for a discovery of any kind.

Little more than a mile from the main city, we found Balamkú, “The Cave of the Jaguar God.” The cavern was immediately recognizable as a site of Mayan importance. There were carvings in the cliff face lightly covered with lichen and greenery. Just inside I could see traces of artifacts: small pottery shards half buried by sediment.

I immediately sent word to our patron in Chichén Itzá via two of my graduate students, telling him of our discovery and asking him to furnish the two students with extra supplies. In the meantime, the other students and I began to set up a temporary camp at the cave entrance. Four small tents with an additional tent for shade in the center created our own mark of civilization in the midst of an untamed jungle.

Just before nightfall the students I had sent ahead returned to our cavern bearing rope, flashlights, archaeological tools and a number of other small items. That night we planned our first expedition into the cave, the seriousness of planning quickly dissolving into an impromptu celebration.

At first light, our preparations began. It had been decided that I, as the most experienced archaeologist of the group, would enter the cave while the rest would remain outside (there was scarcely enough room for one man to crawl on his stomach, let alone multiple). If I ever found anything of archaeological importance I would return and guide the students to it. One student would remain outside holding the rope to ensure that I would not lose my way. After a short period of time, however, it was determined that the cave was too large for this method to work for long, and so I began to map the cave instead.

Days were spent in this manner as I mapped the cave, only venturing forward as I became familiar with the paths of the cavern and could be sure that I would not lose myself within the seemingly infinite maze. I was certain that every corner held a new mystery, a discovery of immense value, something more than the carvings on the wall outside. On the seventh day, I was rewarded.

I had been crawling through the cave system for what I measured to be three or four hours before I emerged in a suddenly large cavern. Among a multitude of stalactites scattered across the floor were Mayan bowls, statues, incense burners, plates and so much more.

I stood up shining my flashlight across the floor in wonder and excitement, but I scarcely had time to process what I was seeing because in that same moment the walls around me began to shift. It was as if paint was flaking from the cave walls, revealing something which had always been behind them. Light sprang into the room as torches appeared on the walls. Dark rock shifted into carved brick as beautiful as the Mayan pyramids. Stalagmites and stalactites reached to one another and formed columns, sturdy and square.

Before I was aware of what had occurred, the transformation was finished and I stood in a room which looked as if it had been finished yesterday. Artifacts sat lightly on the ground all around me, renewed and painted in vibrant reds and blues.

“I thought you might enjoy this place as it had been before,” a soft purring voice said behind me, stirring me from my shock. I whipped my head around only to be confronted with a sight nearly as strange as the shifting walls. A jaguar sat calmly on his haunches looking at me with a cocked head, waiting for me to respond.

“It’s beautiful is it not?” he said, prompting me.

“Yes. It truly is, but I must ask, who are you?” The jaguar laughed jovially.

“I am the jaguar god of the people whom you have labeled the Maya. I have made myself known because you trespassed and I would like to give you a chance before I kill you.” I was startled at how calmly he spoke of killing me. He laughed and gave me the gift of seeing this cavern as it was, and yet he threatened my life.

“You see,” he continued, “I sensed you had entered this cave several days ago. I was intrigued by your curiosity for culture, but I will tell you that it is one of my many duties to protect this sacred place. I would ask you to explain why you have come here.”

“It is a long story,” I said, bowing my head to the god.

“Then come. Sit, and we will speak.” Drinking chocolate in intricately painted mugs materialized in front of the jaguar and he gestured with a paw to the place in front of him. With that, I began to explain the concept of archaeology. Everything from the concept itself, to my involvement in it and how I had come to be here. As I spoke animals filtered into the cave and watched me with rapture, enough for me to be convinced that they too were gods. A large cobra sat coiled upon itself in from of the opening through which I had entered, its head lifted to regard me. Several parrots and rabbits grouped on the edge. Another jaguar and a black panther also appeared.

By the time I had finished my explanation the room was crowded. I finished speaking and the jaguar stretched out and then looked towards the sidelines before returning his gaze to me.

“Your people are grave robbers. You call your graves sacred and yet desecrate ours to remove our people and examine their bones. You call yourselves explorers of a noble cause, and yet you disregard our ancient laws on which nobility is based. You seek knowledge, and yet you ignore all wisdom. You seek to protect, and yet you kill. All this I know from the time before, when your people first visited mine,” the jaguar paused at this, looking to his fellows.

“Despite all this, I sensed an innocence within you. You exude curiosity and it was for this reason that I allowed you to speak. Do you truly seek to understand our culture and nothing more?” I decline my head, feeling for the first time guilt for tracing my roots to Europe, “Yes. That is what I wish.”

The jaguar looked once again to his fellows and I felt as if a conversation was taking place from which I was excluded. After reaching what I believed was a conclusion, the jaguar spoke.

“Very well. I will allow you to continue your research, but with several stipulations. You will remain in this room for only one hour, after which you will depart. You will keep anything you learn to yourself and your fellows outside of this cave. When you leave Balamkú, you will not return and you will seal the entrance. We reward curiosity, but we cannot have this place harmed. This room is sacred to us, and to the people who lived here long ago. Archaeology, as you have explained it, I may support, but I will not permit you to remove the relics from here. If you do, you are no better than a thief or grave robber.”

I felt immense relief wash over me as I realized I had been holding my breath. Up until that point I had done my best to stifle my fear, hoping that the jaguar would not have killed me. Despite his relaxed demeanor, however, I feel certain that had my answers to his questions been unsatisfactory, he would have. I quickly expressed my thankfulness to him.

Slowly the other gods drained the room until only the initial jaguar remained. Just as he was about to leave, I felt the urge to ask one more question.

“You said you rewarded curiosity. Will you explain your culture to me?” The jaguar turned and I could almost see a smile on his face.

“Certainly,” he responded warmly. The two of us sat together in that room for the allocated hour as I questioned him about the relics, the people, and the cave itself. When my time was spent, he guided me back to the entrance of the cave before disappearing back into the darkness. I watched him as he went, his paws padding silently, his tail swishing. I felt at that moment, joy for having been granted such an opportunity, but also sadness for never being able to return.

I greeted my graduate students and told them the story. I’m certain that more than one of them thought that I had gone mad, but they helped me to seal the entrance out of loyalty to me and the year we had spent together. That night I returned to Chichén Itzá with a story a failure to tell the site director, who was more than disappointed but was understanding.

My time in the Cave of the Jaguar was short-lived, but my life pursuit was reaffirmed and I continued to research the lives and culture of the Maya. There is a power residing in that cave, one which I feel humbled to have interacted with. Despite this, I feel that at the same time there are few who would have obtained the jaguar’s mercy in today’s world of hateful, greedy and power-hungry.

• • •

The cave of Balamkú is a true place located just south of Chichén Itzá. Víctor was also a true person who discovered the cave in 1966. He, however, sealed the cave entrance and left very little record that the cave ever existed. In March of 2019, the cave was rediscovered and contains over 150 of untouched Mayan relics. This has been my attempt to explain why Víctor sealed and mysteriously left the cave.

Second-place short story

“Muscle Memory” by Jack Kliegerman

Admiral Urian Neilos had sat at his command throne for several hours, staring into the void that lay before him, the monotony interspersed by the occasional administrative dealing or junior officer coming to him with communications from other ships. It was a dull time and one in which very few events, naval or civilian, had occurred.

The bell tolled, four distinct cracks above the din of the bridge, signalling a shift in the time, and therefore, one of the few times out of the day where he was granted a short reprieve. One, two, three, four, the bells came, and in that same rhythm, Neilos brought himself to a stand before being relieved by his newly arrived executive officer and making for his cabin.

The metallic fingers of his right hand closed around the inner door of his cabin, bringing it to a close as he sat down and undid the top buttons of his uniform, breathing deeply as he closed his eyes and relaxed for a moment.

It was times like these that his mind went backwards. Times when there was nothing to occupy his mind when his past returned to his thinking. He looked down to his right arm, torn fully from the socket, a prosthetic had remained in its place for well over twenty years. It was all well and good, he figured, as long as they both functioned the same. Indeed, there was very little difference in function between the two that he could remember. The replacement did not require months of recovery from injuries. The flesh and bone version would tire and pain when it was overworked, while the steel addition could act as long as possible. By any accounts, it was superior to the original. Neilos, however, had never thought of it that way.

The arm was never used for anything besides basic tasks. It was stable enough to hold and use a pen, unflinching during target practice, yet it was never given anything of a true test of its ability. Neilos himself had not done much to challenge himself in any area for months. His eyes darted to the corner of his room to a black rectangular case which sat against the wall by his cot. Frayed edges displayed the wood which made up the hard case, color faded beyond resemblance of its original, yet it was not the case that mattered to him. He rose from his chair and took hold of the case.

As soon as the metal latches were undone, the real value of the case was laid before him as it had so often before, although the frequency had waned significantly as the years drew on. Simple, it was. Simple, yet beautiful nonetheless. A violin, his violin. The faded varnish and worn down fingerboard all outfittings and traits that he had come to know and identify with over the years they had been together. The case was airtight and did not allow for moisture to seep through the cracks, so the wood was always in the same condition as it had been when his parents had purchased it. The tone, as a result, had not changed a jot, despite the appearance growing more haggard and shabby as constant playing had worn down the neck and parts of the body where his hands had frequently eroded.

Months had passed since he had even picked it up. As a result, a quick pluck of each string revealed them all to be terribly out of tune. The best was a half step out, and the worst was such that it had gone slack as the peg had slipped from the headstock. With thumb and forefinger he slipped the peg back into its holes and twisted it forward, tuning the string and embedding the peg into the headstock. The rest of the strings were simpler and easier to fix, and before long, the open strings rang out, an open fifth as he plucked them back and forth, grinning with satisfaction.

He breathed a sigh of relief as he looked up now to see he had the good sense to loosen the bow before placing it away. His old teacher’s constant nags had not gone to waste and the bow, besides lacking in rosin, was otherwise in perfect condition. He wrapped a metal finger and thumb around the screw before tightening the bow until its alabaster hairs grew taught. He removed his rosin from the case, scratching it and bringing out the dust before running it over the bow hairs.

Thoughts of the past and memories of times long gone drew further away as he brought his violin up to his shoulder, standing to his full height in the proper and dignified yet relaxed posture that had been embedded in his memory since childhood. His muscles remembered the position and sank into a familiar ease once he had taken the stance. A reserved smile crept over his face as he raised his bow. Though it never felt as natural as with the real thing, the prosthetic arm grasped the bow in the same way. A deep breath brought his entire torso up to before releasing as he threw his arm around in a circle, bringing the bow down swiftly, striking an open A before a slur brought the piece into a rapid succession of the scale, finally ending the phrase on an elongated D#, a wild vibrato accentuating the note for a spare moment before the rest of the piece began to take shape.

It was an older tune, one he had learned shortly after joining the Navy. E major was the key, and 4/4 was the time. The piece continued from the last phrase with a rapid succession up the scale, shifting between strings and repeating phrases as it went.

One, two, three, four , the notes came, two, two, three, four a grace note sang out along a high E before the piece moved back along it’s upwards dynamic. Three, two, three, four , a half note brought the song to a halt for a spare moment. Neilos closed his eyes as he let the note ring for its allotted time. When the rest of the measure, and the rest of the piece followed, he did not open his eyes. His hands knew the piece. The ghost memory of his right arm was still retained in his metal appendage and his eyes were not needed to guide either.

He reached a rapid successive phrase on his E string and remembered a horribly flat note which was followed by a half measure rest. The incorrect sound echoed throughout the hall and turned his cheeks red such that he was terribly out of time when he picked it up at the end of the rest.

One and two, three, four and … his mind sang as the same phrase flew from his hands. The error was a long memory, and one not maintained by his muscles any longer. Memories of the his long practice hours correcting that very phrase leapt back into memory, vivid and real, as if his younger self were in the very room.

One, two the rest ended, three, four , it picked up with a new melody. The lower strings now received extended treatment as the piece dropped in tone. Elements of the first melody still rang out, but they were shadowed, darker and richer in sound. They fell from his G string with biting and rapid notes flowing from an anchor note which formed the bulk of this section, always the phrase returned to it, and all the subsequent parts flowed from and around it.

His memories traveled and danced with the violin as he played. More memories of his times practicing in engine rooms so as to not disturb the other midshipmen brought him a quick chuckle in between a string crossing. Gruff and portly senior officers complaining about the racket as he found time to practice as a Lieutenant. It was this final memory which finally gave way to a different thought, one he had avoided for as long as possible. A flat note rang out like a nail on chalk as a familiar, uneasy feeling fell upon him. It was the same feeling as had plagued him when he first sat down and his mind fell to wandering earlier. He could not stop playing, he felt, so he continued counting, more clearly this time, as he regained his place in the piece.

His timing was impeccable as always, though now that the memory was at the forefront of his mind, there was little that counting could do to save him.

One. The ship jolted as an auto cannon raked the hull.

Two. A hastily loaded cannon exploded to his left.

Three. Shrapnel tore his Gunnery captain in two as the ship’s bulkheads screeched and collapsed.

Four, silence.

Only silence followed as a short tremolo section ended in a measure of rest. Neilos opened his eyes as the memory came to play out. Not even visual stimuli could distract it. He continued playing after the rest. One, two, three, four. One, two, three and four and…

One foot fell in front of the other in a staggered waltz as he struggled to get to his gun. The majority of his crew lay strewn about the gun deck, body parts trapped and torn across every section of the deck itself. His gunner remained, crouched behind the firing mechanism, knuckles white as they gripped the massive weapon desperately as the ship burned around him.

Four and… One, two, three, four armsmen sprinted past Neilos, shouting commands and terrified warnings to anyone still living. The majority of the cries were drowned out by the moans and high pitched whines of the broken ship, but what he could hear, he wished he hadn’t. Out of the mix of shouts and screams, a single word could be discerned, “Boarding.”

Three, two, three, four. Another round of shells splattered against the outer hull, sending three of the armsmen sprawling to their stomachs on the blood drenched floor as the fourth held on tight to one of the guns. He opened his mouth a final time, though whatever he had to say was never heard. One metallic smash rang above the cacophony. Two. Three. Four. The firing upon the hull ceased. What followed was even worse.

The Admiral reached a key change and the entire piece began a new section, beginning with a measure of detached, short, middle notes. The song stumbled along with the same original melody coming back to accent the new direction of the piece.

Five, six, seven, eight creatures burst forth upon the gun deck. They were humanoid in shape and stature, but were not men. The creatures in front of him were torn and mutated shapes, far beyond any mortal recognition. Their legs were bent backwards and ended in flesh covered talons. Their armor was all different colors of magenta, gold, and black, though not made of any ballistic or metal material. Chitin like bone and flesh adorned their bodies. The carrion armor moved and twisted with every motion, shifting its very structure and shape with every passing second. Red, purple, the blood which flowed like a fountain from their armor. Gold, the out of place finery which ribonned and bordered their cloaks. Black, the dead and festering flesh which grew from their armor.

Black, he closed his eyes and saw nothing but it. Screams forced his cowardly eyes back to view the scene as his gunner was torn away from his weapon before being thrown across the room with the strength of a giant. An armsman howled a challenge before firing a single burst from his lasgun. The beam of light scorched the warrior at the head of the group, turning a violet pauldron a darkened shade before the beam passed. The flesh screeched and blood boiled as the beam scorched it, and a new layer had grown up and replaced it within a second. The armsman would not get a second chance to renew his attack, a lightning quick repeater round punching through his skull and reducing his head to naught but his lower jaw and wriggling tongue.

One, two, and three , the remaining armsmen, regaining their footing, began firing short and rapid bursts at their armored opponents. In response, one of the boarders leapt from his group, violet and gold shining like a sunset as a wickedly curved blade flew from his scabbard. His weapon, carried by superhuman speed, sang as it cut through the air, blood and pus dripping from it like an endless fountain.

The center armsman’s intestines spilled from his open torso. He screamed, but was silenced when the selfsame blade pierced his temple. The two remaining armsmen backed away before raising their weapons. The left was quicker, and it was him that the corpse wrapped warrior chose as his next victim. His left arm flew forward and knocked the lasgun’s barrel off target, a red burst splattering onto the deck below. A thrust carried the monster’s blade through the man’s lung, snapping through ribs as it did so. A short choke followed before the killer tore his blade upwards and freed itself after cleaving through the armsman’s shoulder.

Four. Only one remained now, and as the false human turned to face him, it was with stunned terror that the final armsman fell. Frozen and unable to act, he proved the perfect plaything. It took him by the throat before closing its fist and dropping the armsman. Lying flat on his back, arms tearing at his crushed windpipe, he was only able to look up long enough to catch a glimpse of the creature’s clawed foot as it came down and flattened his skull.

Neilos closed his eyes, though terror and curiosity forced them open again. His fate lay before him, his final judgement waiting mere meters from him. He opened his eyes just in time to hear a final flat note screeching across his E string, a final, out of place and out of tune note to finish the piece.

His breathes became gasps and his hands trembled at the memory, though he knew there was far more to it than that. There were some events in his life that, no matter how vivid or horrible, could never be remembered completely, and this one was no different. He did not desire to remember the rest, though a certain part of him knew he needed to. What he recalled as he played however, was the most complete of the memory as he could recall, and that alone was something significant. Always fractured and segmented before, but now they lay before him like an almost completed puzzle.


The piece echoed throughout his mind. Always, the same notes out of key, and always the same memories ringing out as they never had before.

Third-place short story

“Goodbyes” by Ian Hans

Part 1: Collection

The delicate shell lays on a green leaf. I don’t know where they are from, Mom says they come off of some insect but I don’t really care. All I want is the shells, knowing where they come from ruins the fun. They could be from some tiny monster from another dimension that leaves behind its skin in ours. Or they are some creature that gets scared of me and tries to turn invisible, but I still see it because I am clever.

Ever so carefully I pick it up, I learned my lesson to be careful after breaking so many. My favorite part is holding it in my hands. I have it, it’s mine now. I can do whatever I want with it. In this case, I will bring him back home to add him to my growing collection. I need something to put it in, but what?

Grandma probably has something. She has lots of things. Mom said she is kind of a hoarder whatever that means. I think when you get older all the things you get you don’t want to get rid of. I’m only 7 and have plenty of things, like the wood fire truck I got for Christmas. I don’t ever want to get rid of that.

Walking through the porch door I can smell that smell. I don’t know what it is but it is always around old things. Maybe it is just the smell of old. I love this smell because grandma and grandpa smell like that and I love them.

“Grandma!” no response. She must be in the basement or upstairs. I should try the basement first. I don’t run down the stairs, they scare me and I don’t want to wake up the ghosts. The basement has a wonderful smell. Laundry is all done down here so the smell of soap is heavy. “Grandma?” whoosh whoosh click click, the dryer is running. “Grandma?” whoosh whoosh click click. I’m getting scared, I know there are ghosts down here. I don’t want to be here alone. Whoosh whoosh click click.

“Yes?” Oh, thank goodness, I’m safe she appears from around a corner. “What do you want?”.

“I need a something to put this in” I lift the shell to show her my prized possession.

“Oh well I think I have just the thing for it,” she said this slightly disgusted but still happy. She leads me up the stairs in a slow fashion but I don’t think it’s because she’s scared. If she is she would not live in this house. In the kitchen I see Mom making something for lunch but I don’t care all I want is that container.

We turn to go up the curvy staircase, this one reminds me of a castle staircase. Grandma’s going slower than I would like on this staircase but I don’t mind. She is giving me a gift after all. Turning the corner of the stairs we begin to speed up. The shell lays delicately cupped between my hands like it is a secret that only Grandma and I know about. Finally, we reach the bedroom. Grandma sure does have a lot of things. In her closet, she has clothes on clothes and many drawers with who knows what in them. There’s even more stuff in the attic where I sleep with the squirrels in the roof, or is it more ghosts?

“I think I have it in here…” Grandma says as she looks through a drawer. I try to peak over there but can’t get a clear look at what she’s got in there. “Here you go,” she says pulling out a small red box. It’s the perfect size for the skin of my insect husk!

“Thank you, Grandma,” I say reaching for the box. This thing is awesome! “ do you have any more?” I can’t have just one because it wouldn’t be much of a collection.

“Well sure, I just have to look some more”. She is so awesome, always giving me stuff. I guess it’s because you get so many things in life that you can’t help but share what you have got with other people. When I am older I guess I would want to do the same thing.

Part 2: Chess

“Can we go to the bookstore?” I love going to the bookstore with Grandpa he always gets me something.

“Do you want to play chess?” Grandpa always wants to play chess. It must be because he does not have a lot of other things to do. He doesn’t have to go to school, lucky. But it must get pretty boring.

“Sure grandpa,” Mom says I should play with him because it helps exercise his brain. I like chess but don’t love it. I am not very good at it like my friends are. Grandpa must be pretty good though seeing that he always wants to play it. I don’t like losing but I’ll do it for grandpa.

“Do you want to play chess?” He has Alzheimer’s, Mom says that’s why he forgets things a lot. It can get annoying but I know it is not his fault.

“Yeah, I’ll get the board”. I think it is in the drawer behind the table. Yes, there it is, I hope all the pieces are still in there. ‘Let’s play”.

“Oh yes,” he is really excited. I know I should play chess with him more but he can forget the rules and he always beats me anyway. I hear old people are wise and I am only ten so what chance do I have of beating him? Putting my last pawn on the edge of the board I see that grandpa has not started. “Here, I can help.”

“No I got it,” he says as he puts the rook in the wrong square. How can I remind him without upsetting him or making him feel bad because he can’t remember?

“I think that piece goes here.”

“Oh yeah, thank you” his eyebrows raised for a second putting on an expression of confusion. I offer to help put the pieces in place so we can play. I should not be inpatient it is not his fault anyway.

“There we go” the last piece goes in the right place, I think that jogged his memory because he looks excited again. His first move is his pawn in front of the queen two spaces up. I always have trouble deciding my first move so I copy him. Next, he moves his left rook out, I do my right. The game slowly advances with grandpa taking his time on every move, perhaps he is trying to remember the rules. He tries to move his bishop like it was a knight. “Oh, you can’t do that Grandpa”

“Right, right,” he thinks about it for a while and moves it correctly taking out my knight. A stupid mistake on my part but it seemed to lift his mood more so I feel good about it. As I play I start to think does my grandpa having this disease put my mom at greater risk for it as well? It is really hard to see grandpa go through this but for my mom, that would be terrible.

Thinking about it more I never really knew my grandpa before the disease, except when I was very little maybe. Mom says he was a lot different before. I wish I could know him that way. He is still a great Grandpa but not the person he was. So what if my mom gets it. Will she become totally different, I really hope she doesn’t. What if I get it? What will happen to me? Will, I not be able to play chess? Maybe I should focus more on the game.

I have his king in a corner and I still have my queen. I could really win against him for the first time! Just a few more good moves and I could get “checkmate.”

“What? Hmmf!” I did it I actually won. I would like to play chess with him more. Even though he lost he stills seems really happy. Maybe I made his brain better.

“Good game” I offer up my hand and he shakes it. “Can we go to the bookstore now?”

“Sure” Grandpa likes the bookstore also, he could spend hours in one looking for books he might never read. I think going to the bookstore helps his brain as well. Mom is always saying how good reading is for me so it must be good for him as well.

Part 3: Goodbyes

This is the last time I will be at this house. Grandma has passed away and grandpa is moving farther away mentally. All my family is here to help move things or take things that they want from the house. A good thing about this I guess is I get a lot of things for my collection of knick-knacks. I will probably be like Grandma, having a lot of things when I am older.

Going through photos is the coolest part I think, seeing Grandma and Grandpa’s life progress. I was only able to witness the ending but their stories are so much longer than what I know. We watched a tape where Grandpa was playing with my mom and Aunt, that’s the first time I saw him as a father. It was a glimpse of the man I was never truly able to meet.

Going through the basement, we find all of their zither things. Music, strings, even a few zithers which I will have to learn to play. I still wonder if there are ghosts down here. I was convinced when I was little, probably due to the night we spent down here during a tornado. It kind of hurts to think about that, but it also makes me happy. Happy that I can remember these things.

I love this house and all the memories within it, summer days spent looking for cicada shells or playing chess with Grandpa. Making my way up to the attic, I can hear the squirrels rustling about up there. I knew I would have to say goodbye to this house sometime so why does it hurt so bad?

I guess I am worried that I will forget. Without the reminder of these things then how will I remember. It’s time to go but I don’t want to leave this house. I don’t want to leave Grandma and Grandpa.

In the car Dad is pulling out of the driveway, “Goodbye Grandma” I say to myself. But why? Just because we are leaving the house doesn’t mean I have to leave her. I can hold onto those memories without the house. Just like the knick knacks I took from there. The house and those memories can stay alive in my heart even if they go away in real life. I can carry Grandma and Grandpa wherever I go, all I have to do is keep them in my heart. Keep them where they have always been and always will be.

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