Short Story Contest
All winners

Jessica Gasiorek
Jessica Gasiorek was getting rave reviews for her story "Silence" before she ever thought of entering the Weekly's contest.
"I sent it out to my friends via e-mail and got positive responses, so I decided to send it in," she said.
"Silence" is a mature story about a violent, imperfect world, treating such weighty issues as alcoholism, child abuse and suicide. It tracks a day in the life of a young girl as she encounters the many dangers of growing up in a tough neighborhood.
Jessica hatched the idea for her story after watching the film "Armageddon." "I became really annoyed at how everything turned out perfectly in the end. In real life it doesn't always happen perfectly," she said.
For Jessica, 14, the creative process consists of letting ideas flow and following them wherever they lead.
"Most of any writing that I do tends to come from one line, from segments. Then I just start writing, and the ideas come," she said.
Jessica said she's been writing off and on for quite a while but that this is the first "serious story" she's completed in years. "When a story isn't going the direction I want it to, when the words aren't coming out right, I just pitch it or delete it," she said.
For Jessica, the challenge in finishing stories is making time for them in her busy life as a sophomore at Palo Alto High School. "School assignments are basically all I have time for," she said.
Jessica is a member of Paly's badminton team and, in addition to writing, lists drawing, painting and surfing the Internet as her hobbies. She is also involved in designing sets for the school's dramatic productions, most recently Thornton Wilder's "By the Skin of Our Teeth."
--Matt McKillop


by Jessica Gasiorek

I flinch involuntarily as the glass, in small shards now, rebounds off the wall. My arm is raised instinctively to block the thin slivers headed for my eyes and face. I can feel the tiny projectiles contact the flesh of my arm, stinging as they penetrate. I wince against the pain, knowing it would do no good. Various other pieces embed themselves elsewhere, through the thin material of my shirt, and down my side.
"Lazy bitch! Get the hell out of here!" The source of the broken bottle's voice is raspy, but not without malice and authority. I turn my head the other way and repeat a daily ritual I grew tired of long ago. Arrive, wait for an arrival, speak, screams and hatred, broken bottles and broken hearts, then flee into darkness. Come back and do it again.
The cold rush of air in the alley is a welcome relief. Heat is pain, suffering, and reminiscent of eternal damnation. The adrenaline that has been rushing through my veins begins to lessen; I am out of immediate danger, and I am no longer in need of the extra power the rush of chemicals would provide me. I intake a breath, then exhale slowly, trying to calm my racing heart. No longer in danger of death, no longer in danger of pain. I cast my eyes up and down the abandoned alleyway, as if the shadows can provide me with the secrets to nirvana. Or oblivion.
I release my breath once more, content that I have calmed myself. I take a tentative step out from under the overhang. The wetness of the ground is evident by the shine created by a far-away street lamp, but I cannot feel the wetness, as I am sure many can. 'Lucky', the raspy voice rings in my head. 'Not on the street; in here. Lucky.'
I shake my head to clear it, the haunting voice ringing out clearly in my mind. Before I can think further, I force myself away. I need to escape, away from the source of pain, hatred, and suffering. Away from the lonely alley, and towards the light. My legs pump, and there is a distinct thump as my shoes contact the street.
Noise ... noise ... noise ...
I stop, breathing hard. There is never silence in the ghetto. Cars, trucks, people, pistols ... silence is not allowed. I hear the crack of a shotgun in the distance, and I am thankful that today, it was not me. The scream, the cut-off cry or the pleading voice, begging for a reprieve, is not me today. Nor will it ever be.
Screaming is for those wanting help; I know there will be none. Cut-off cries are for those who try to call out; I have learned not to. And pleading is for those with hope for something better; there is none for me. If there is something better, I will never see it. Not in this day, not in this lifetime.
Born here, die here, always.

The street is a blur, the cars passing quickly and without regard. Anyone here at night should watch themselves well if they plan to live until morning. I go on, without regard. If I don't live until morning, no one will notice. I turn a sharp corner, my destination set. The sidewalk is a blur beneath my feet, and my eyes never leave it. My feet shuffle along the cracked pavement, and I hear the slurred voices of the drunk and poor, begging, questioning and praying for us all. I dismiss them with less than a glance. There is nothing they can do with words. Words are worth nothing.
Bodies have worth, money has worth, weapons have worth. A prayer sent up to a god unknown is nothing more than a request to a rich man. If there is God, I'm damn sure he doesn't care about us. If he cared, we wouldn't be here.
Prayer is for those with a chance.

The man is short, thin, and his dark, scraggly beard is untrimmed. He sits against a urine-stained wall, eyes closed, looking peaceful. I regret the need to approach him, but have no choice.

The man turns, chiseled features barely distinguishable under the wrinkled folds of skin on his old face. His eyes slowly open, as if it is the most grievous effort to spare a glance in my direction. I approach slowly, a small smile lighting my face, as it always does in his presence.
"Nieta!" A smile lights his features, and he holds his arm out to me. I give him a brief hug, and sit beside him.
"Are you all right, abuelo?" I look him over, concerned. He has grown thinner, and his face has taken on a gaunt appearance.
He smiles a toothless grin, and nods. "Si, si, of course, mi pequena nieta. You look wonderful!" He refuses to see the black eye, the bruises, and the dried blood. He always does.
"Thank you, abuelo." I allow the smile to fade, as it naturally does, into a look of pain and indifference. No one ever sees the cuts, the bruises or the scars. Oblivion is the answer, I have learned. I turn and wrap my arms around the old man. "Adios, abuelo," I say, getting up.
He smiles at me, having already forgotten.

The streets become darker; the blood pools more frequently in this side of town. There is an odd quiet about the place, which settles over you like a suffocating shroud. I dislike this quarter, but it is where my business lies tonight.
I approach the man silently, and we discuss our transaction in whispers. An exchange is made, and I turn to leave.
A shot rings out behind me.
I keep walking.

The stars shine above me, twinkling with glee. I cannot fathom what make them so happy, but I realize something must. My gaze lowers to the ground, a safer location for all purposes. I watch a rat scurrying across the ground, and I hear it's feet scratch the asphalt.
There is never silence in the ghetto.

My destination is reached: an old building on an older street. I sit on the wooden stoop, the green paint long since peeled off. I stare up at the building, abandoned now.
In a flash, I see a happy young girl, giggling as her brother chases her through the hall.
I see an angry man yelling, empty bottles littering the floor while the little girls and boys huddle together, away from him.
I see an older girl, smiling at the boy next door, as he hands her a flower, blushing.
I see the girl and the boy, hand in hand, and a preacher on the doorstep; I see a kiss.
I see a new home and new hopes; I see the chance to escape the madness.
And I see a bottle.
I see screams, pain and suffering.
I see so many empty bottles.
I see the young girl, all grown up, cowering in the corner once again.
Now, I see the girl, on the doorstep of yesterday, and on the brink of tomorrow.
And I see that now, after so many years of searching, the girl has found her escape.
I place the pills in my mouth, and they are cold on my tongue. They taste like nothing and everything, good and evil, the past and the future.
Sometimes, everything you can do isn't enough.

Wow! "Silence" is like a prose poem with wonderful sparseness of language and powerful imagery. The story comes from a deep place in the writer and feels very honest. Its dark feeling is consistent and well crafted.
--The judges

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