Highly Commended Story - Willow
“Willow” by Hazel Willms, ABA – An IB World School, Oman, is the Highly Commended story in the junior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2019.
Hazel is an 11 year old who loves to read and write. Her favorite books are ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Hunger Games’. A result of reading these books she has always wanted to travel around Europe. She would especially like to go to London or Amsterdam. Another reason she really wants to travel there is because it is always chilly and she loves snow and anything cold. Her favorite things to do in winter are to ski, sled and drink hot chocolate!
I look back as I drift through the open expanse of sea in my father's rickety little boat. It has been 5 weeks since my father died. My mother was taken by surprise when she got the news that he had been shot in a riot. Since then, everything has gone downhill like rain to the sea.
My mom lost her job. My oldest sister dropped out of school. We starved every night like street rats. Our happiness levels are plummeting to the ground like stones. But there is one thing that is still with me, and it is the only thing that keeps me going every day.
The sea. My dad loved the sea. He would sail and fish in the large expanses of blue. I love the sea too. As I grew up, my dad would take me out on boats and teach me how to sail, how to fish, and how to swim. Unfortunately, my mom snapped all of our fishing rods in half like thin sticks as they reminded her of Dad too much. And she burnt all our canoes. Except for this one.
This boat Dad made. He hid it in a secret shed and showed me it when I was 8. He said, “Willow, when I die, this boat is yours. Take care of it, use it and remember that even the most ordinary things can hide a beautiful secret.” I asked him to tell me more about the secret, but then his friend showed up with his daughter, Sierra, and I forgot about it. Until now.
I was driven out of the house by my mom and Rose, who were shouting at each other. I ran to the shed, tears streaming down my face like rain. I pushed the boat out to sea and hopped in, letting the waves carry me away, away from my family, away from my friends, away from my life.
Right now I’m resting in the boat, the waves rocking me. I suddenly realize that I am hungry and I forgot to pack food. I checked under a little hatch my Dad made in the boat. Yep, he was prepared for everything. There is a box of cookies, some water, some dried apricots, and some beef jerky. And also a note. It looks old and weathered. Half of it is tucked into a wooden slit. I pick it up like it is a piece of thin glass that may break any moment.
I open it and read it.
“Dear Willow (or whoever is reading this),
If you have found this, I have probably died. Please don’t let it destroy your life. Follow these directions to happiness.
Simply keep going north and then turn east when you reach Monkey Island. Dock the ship on the next island. Explore.
Love, Dad (Peter)”
I screw my face up in confusion. However, I turn the boat around so I am facing north. I paddle and make sure that the sails are catching plenty of wind. They billow out and look like big balloons. I reach Monkey Island in minutes. The grass is green and the monkeys are all asleep like babies. I turn the boat so I am facing east. I turned too fast! I’m tipping over! I shift my weight over to the other side of the boat and it evens out. I’m soaking, but continue.
I have never been this way before. Dad never let me. The island slowly comes into view, growing larger every second. Trees surround it like knights and the wind blows, making them dance in the night.
I dock the boat on a nice little handmade wooden platform. My Dad made it. I could recognize his woodwork from a mile away. I walk down a little dirt path which looks like it was once well taken care of, but is now abandoned.
The sun is slowly coming up behind me, and I am still waking. Slowly, smaller trees come into view and then I see it. The sun hits it, and it looks extraordinary, like something out of a movie: multicolored wood treehouses around a little plaza with boats, fishing rods, swimming floaties off to the side, just waiting to be used. There is a little river that trickles along quietly and birds that sing tunes of love. I feel like I have faint memories of this place, as a toddler.
I climb up one of the ladders into a hut and once seeing the inside, the memories flood over me like a dam that just broke. This was my room, where I lived until I was 5. Then the war started and everyone who lived here wasn’t safe any longer. I remember it so clearly. And then it hits me. Dad wants us to come back here, where we are safe and there is food - fish, produce, and animals. But without him. This would kill mom. Or would it? Would she like to be back here? With all the memories of Dad, her friends, and her children? I don’t really know. I never really understood her.
I fly out of the house and up a little hill until I come skidding to stop on the top. I look down. My breath stops. Down below there is a pond, surrounded by willow trees, rose bushes, tiger lilies, asters, and ash trees. One for each of my siblings: Rose - my oldest sister, Lily - my second oldest sister, Willow - me, and Aster and Ash - the twins.
I walk down to the bench, in a daze. Memories start coming back. Neither of my parents nor my parents' friends have talked about this pond in years, as this is where Jack, Sierra’s brother, drowned, but I remember coming down to this pond to swim. I stumble over something, a small box. I pick it up and look at it carefully. I recognize it immediately. This is the ring box my dad made. I have only heard it described but seeing it is surreal. I look up and out across the lake. This is where Dad proposed to Mom!
I run back planning to go get my family immediately. Then I come across another path. I follow it and end up in a forest of willow trees. Off to the side is the spring that feeds the river. Sunlight dances on the ground and I suddenly realize how tired I am. I lay down in a blanket of soft grass and feel happier than I ever have for quite some time. The sounds of the river rock me to sleep as the willows dance in the early morning light.