Palo Alto Weekly 16th Annual Short Story Contest
1st Place - 9-11 year olds


by Gabriel Durbin Lewis

The storm tossed the Discovery about like a toy boat. Sheets of rain pounded like thunder on the deck of the small wooden ship while flashes of lightning illuminated sailors fighting to take down the sails. Light glowed from the tops of the masts, later to be known as St. Elmo’s Fire. Below deck, barrels, or anything that wasn’t tied down, were rolling as if possessed. People were scurrying around not

About Gabriel Durbin Lewis

Gabriel Durbin Lewis moved from San Francisco to Palo Alto during kindergarten and now is a fifth grader at Fairmeadow Elementary School. He spends much of his free time reading.

Lewis' favorite reads include "Gone with the Wind," "Dracula," and "The Once and Future King." He also enjoys basketball, soccer, and drawing.

Despite losing a finger to cancer treatment at age two, Lewis plays classical Suzuki guitar, sometimes working in a little blues and Elvis.
Lewis wants to be a naturalist when he grows up, his mother told the Weekly.

-- Erik Wong

knowing what to do. Some old-timers were sitting in their quarters playing cards and trying to ignore the typhoon and to act as if they had seen worse. Suddenly, one brilliant bolt of lightning lanced down and hit the main mast, which caught on fire. A powerful gust of wind carried a chunk of burning wood onto the deck, which soon ignited, and the smell of bubbling tar rode the air. It kept on raining, but the fire defied all water. It sputtered, but kept growing, yard by yard on the deck and soon the smell of burning tar wafted below deck. At first the crew wondered what it was and began to suspect what had happened. The crew stormed out onto the deck only to find that half of the deck was burning. The panicked sailors took pails of brine to try to douse the fire. The fire, now consuming more than half the top deck, started to burn its way down below. Many sailors, knowing that the ship could never be salvaged, leapt free of the ship only to be lost in the writhing waters.

The Captain bellowed out unheard orders as there was a desperate scramble for the lifeboats. It was a free for all with every man for himself. Grunts of pain, while the sailors kicked and clawed and bit and punched, were punctuated by the crackling and booming of thunder. The boom swung back and forth, delivering lethal blows to anything in its range. Ropes snapped and cracked like bullwhips over the burning deck. The fire was finally put out by the huge waves that loomed up like the unspeakably terrible monsters in a young child’s darkest nightmare that would leave him whimpering with terror. Huge walls of water they were, crashing with splintering force. Although the fire was out, it was too late for the doomed ship. The fire had done its work. The deck was charred black and burned through in many places. One especially large wave rose and enveloped the whole ship. The wave crashed down and smashed the ship to splinters. Human bodies rose briefly, then sank to the bottom of the sea, where strange things lurked to guard their eternal sleep at the bottom of the watery deep.

Amid the foaming water, one bedraggled figure clung tightly to a board as it was thrown up and down by the waves. In the morning the storm calmed down considerably. Sharks swarmed around the lone sailor who was trying desperately to paddle with his hands to get away from the deadly predators. They circled relentlessly around the one board craft like vultures circling ever closer, but not quite touching. These heralds of death would not be content to wait for their victim to die. Soon they would be hungry and the end would come swiftly. For days he floated in agony from sunburns doused in salt water along with many cuts and bruises.

Three days later, the sailor was almost dead. He kept hallucinating images of ships and islands coming into view. He shut his eyes and remembered his home in England and how he had left it to seek his fortune, but it was all over now. He was to die. To die on the ocean with naught to eat or drink. His arm slipped off the waterlogged board. It scrapped something. It took a full second to register. Scrape means rock. Rock means shallow water. Shallow water means – "Land!" croaked the sailor hoarsely. He rolled off the board and lurched toward the island. The starved sailor scrambled up the sand and plunged into the jungle, or rather, the hidden stream in the jungle. For half a second he lay stunned in the cold stream water, then he laughed and slurped the cool water until he was full, then he retched it out and drank some more.

The sailor finally looked up at the wildlife that was looking at him. All of the parrots had stopped screeching and stared intently at him. He tried to ignore their almost human stares. It was as if they were hosts looking at a very rude guest. He was, as the sailor reflected, a guest, a guest to the island. The traveler crawled out of the stream and up to a palm tree, cast a final glare at the parrots and fell asleep.

Whump! Whump! The sailor woke up instantly. "Pirates," he thought. "They’re firing at our ship!" He opened his eyes in time to see a brown cannonball plummeting toward his leg. He moved just in time, and the sailor was happy he had, or he would have been crippled for life. The cannonball hit the ground with a spray of sand. "Sand?" he thought. The islander/sailor looked around and remembered what had happened. The sailor then looked at where the cannonballs should have been and saw that they were coconuts. From that day on, the sailor never slept under a palm tree.

In him awoke a great hunger, as he had not eaten anything for days. He had heard that coconuts made excellent meals. But although he had tried many different methods of opening them, none of them worked. Finally, in frustration, he took a sharp rock and tore at the coconut. Suddenly, some white coconut milk gushed out of the messy hole in the coconut. The sailor put his mouth to the hole and drank the juice in one gulp. The sailor then took a stick and carved out and ate the flesh on the inside.
When he later caught a fish with a homemade sugarcane spear and roasted it over a fire, he decided that he was eating better than he had on the ship, where they ate a moldy biscuit, a wormy apple, and some murky water.

Days passed, and the sailor discovered that sleeping out in the open gave you mosquito bites so thick that it looked like chickenpox. The sailor found it terribly painful when his old mosquito bites were replaced by new ones every time they healed. Finally he came up the answer to the mosquito problem. One day, he took some time from catching fish and thought about how to stop the mosquitoes from eating him alive every night. He scratched his head (and arms and chest and legs) and thought. While he was thinking, he saw a spider on its web. Soon a mosquito came along, flying around erratically in its usual fashion. Suddenly it flew directly into the spider web, into which it became entangled. The mosquito struggled desperately to escape, only to become more entangled in the sticky strands of the web. The sailor scrambled closer and watched the spider creep toward its prey, with that unmistakable jerky, sprawling walk. "I wish I had a net like that," he thought. "Hey! I can make one!"

The sailor set about finding a suitable large-leafed plant. Finally, he came upon a plant with leaves that went from his heel to thigh! What he did next was very simple. He stripped one of the leaves into long thin strands to use as thread. After that, he sharpened a twig and poked holes all along the leaf edges to accept thread. Then he sewed all of the leaves together.

At night, he crawled up into the crotch of a tree (as protection against the wild boar, which had a nasty habit of charging around for no apparent reason) and fell asleep under his homemade mosquito net. No mosquitoes buzzed in his ears that night.

In the morning the sailor awoke to a whimpering noise, like the mewing of a cat. On a nearby tree was a small fuzzy cat-like creature mewling for its obviously dead mother draped over the branch. Poised over the tableau was a large, black -and- yellow striped snake ready to strike, its mouth wide open showing its pink insides and sharp fangs. Without thinking the sailor took one of his fishing spears and hopped to the ground. He snuck closer and closer until the snake was in range. Then, moving fast as lightning, he struck the snake a fearsome blow, knocking it out of the tree onto the ground, where it twitched once, twice, and lay still. The sailor speared the snake to make sure it was dead, and looked back upon the fuzzy creature that was still mewling. It was greyish white with darker spots, low slung somewhat like a cat, but with shorter legs. Its snout was longer, like a dog’s but smaller in proportion to the face, and its claws were sharp. Its bushy tail was about 60 centimeters, slightly shorter than its body. The sailor took the little thing out of the tree and held it close. The sailor, or shall we say islander, roasted the snake and ate some of it. He offered some to the little creature, whom he named Fuzzball. Fuzzball refused the meat. The islander realized that Fuzzball probably only drank milk, as it was not old enough not to be weaned. But the closest thing he had to milk was coconut milk. Fuzzball lapped up the coconut milk, and. then snuggled closer to the islander.

Over the years the sailor (now islander) met many hardships. As looked back on the time before he came to the island, he felt very sad, because he had left behind his old house, his old friends, his old life. He had known all of it for such a long time. But he had begun a new life, a life with different challenges and different solutions. In some ways, this life wasn’t any different than his old life. But he did like the island life better. He liked the sun, the trees, the beauty of the nature-- instead of the smog, smoke stacks, and oppressive buildings. Before, he was always ordered around by the captain, the schoolmaster, even his parents. But now he took orders from nobody except nature.
He never did get rescued, but then, that was how he liked it.

Judge's Comments:

The beginning of the story seems like an opening scene of a movie. The story has drama, action and a real sense of the storm. It's wonderfully fast paced. The attention to accurate details impressed us. The author does a fine job of using sensory information to place the reader in the heart of the story. Tense and dramatic but also humorous. -- Caryn Huberman Yarowitz, Katy Obringer, Nancy Etchemendy

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