Palo Alto Weekly 25th Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Chil

About Zoe Skylar Weiss

Short Story ContestI am a 5th grader in the Spanish Immersion Program at Escondido Elementary School, age 10 .

I was inspired to write a really long version of my story, "Hawk Lover and Golden Horizon: A Story of Friendship," after spending several days at a camp in Coloma  with my fourth-grade class learning about the California Gold Rush.

My teacher, Kristina Mundera, encouraged us to write creatively about our experiences and since writing is my favorite thing to do, I went for it. I have even done illustrations for it.

I wanted to tell a story that used humor to capture my reader’s attention and to make them feel like they were one of the four grandchildren sitting on the rug listening to the two grandmothers, one Native American, the other a Chinese immigrant, tell about how they became friends. I found it really interesting how so many people who were involved in the Gold Rush had such different stories to tell – and how difficult and scary it was for the true locals and for women to just survive during that time.

I brought the story with me to Florida to read to my grandmother and she loved it. I love sharing my stories and I love writing poems and song lyrics too. When this contest was announced, at first I thought I would write a whole different story – but then I remembered how much my family liked this one and so my mom who’s a former newspaper editor said we could edit it down to fit.  Thanks Mom!

Writing is my most favorite thing to do – it doesn’t seem like work to me at all and I lose all track of time. I like to write because unlike a conversation – no one can interrupt you or disagree with you – it’s just you putting your thoughts down on paper for whoever would like to read it.  I also do lots of other activities like ballet, hip hop, soccer, tae kwan do, basketball and flute. I love to act and sing so maybe I’ll write a play next.  Thank you for selecting my story.

Hawk Lover and Golden Horizon: A Story of Friendship
by Zoe Skylar Weiss

In a wooden house, in two rocking chairs, next to the fireplace sat two grandmothers, one Chinese, one Native American. On the purple- and green-striped rug sat their four combined grandchildren, two each belonged to the grandmothers. The only sound was the crackle of the fire and the slurping down of their hot chocolate. Four-year-old Trisha broke the silence. She asked her Chinese grandmother:

“Gwandma? When and how did you and Wawk Wover become best fweinds?” The grandmother responded with a twinkle in her eye.

“Whoo hoo! Lovely question, Sugar, and speakin’ of sugar, who wants a Twinkie?”

“Oh, yes, please!” responded the children joyfully.

She gave them out and said, “It was a long, long, long, long,...”

“We get it,” Trisha interrupted.

“...time ago...” almost finished the Chinese grandmother. “During the Gold Rush, I was 12.”

Trisha, with a funny expression, protested: “Why, Gwandma, you couldn’t have been twelve, you’re a gwandma.”

“Oh, Darlin’, but I was! Anyways, where was I? Oh, yes!  Here we are...back in the Gold Rush...”

Twenty minutes later.

“Aaaaaah, Grandma?” asked the 12-year-old boy Collin, Trisha’s brother. “What happened next?”

“That’s all I remember, Honey Bunches.”

“Here, let me help you out,” said the Native American grandmother, Hawk Lover.

“I was wandering through the forest where my tribe was. I had decided to take a walk. I did all of the things I normally did, for example, collecting pinecones, picking and eating berries (which, by the way, were a bit more sour at his time than usual because it was winter) when I saw a pine. I played my usual game with it ...”
“Why would you want to play a game with a pine?” asked the sassy 16-year-old granddaughter, Melissa.
“Well, I invented it for fun --“ responded Hawk Lover, in an insulted sort of way.

“Why?” asked Melissa again, rudely. “’Cause they didn’t have phones yet?”

“Stop interrupting!” exclaimed the Chinese grandmother, Golden Horizon.

“Whatever,” said Melissa, while putting her headphones on to listen to music.

Hawk Lover began again. “The way you play is you sing a song in my native language that goes like this in English: One leaf, two leaf, three leaf pine! Four leaf, five leaf, six leaf pine! Seven leaf, eight leaf, nine leaf, pine! On every ‘pine!’ you pick up a leaf...”

“Well, I was walking around the pine tree and I came across a tall man with a heavy leather whip and a bag full of money -- coins and gold!” He was the tax collector.”

“What’s the tax collector?” asked Samson, Melissa’s brother, who was 5 years old.

Hawk Lover answered: “The tax collector is a tall and scary man that collects taxes from the people. He’s an American and can do anything he wants to get the money of out the people’s pockets, even kill them.
“We met eye-to-eye and to my horror he opened his giant mouth and yelled, ‘Git her!’ I started to run, but the miners blocked me and it was of no use to fight. They all had guns and they were all strong, sweaty men -- some teenagers, some older. I was only a weak runt, and there was nothing I could do about it.

“I saw the tax collector raise up his knife and I shut my eyes tight and started saying my ‘thank yous’ and ‘goodbyes’ to the world when suddenly I heard one of the men talking to the tax collector. Then I opened my eyes. He was the smallest of the miners and he said,  ‘Stop, sir! You don’t know what you’re doing. This is a person.’ But it was of no use.”

The tax collector responded: 'This ain’t no person, this is pure cash!'

“To my surprise, the man jumped on the tax collector’s leg. The tax collector kicked him off and almost shot him. All of this brought the attention of the other miners, and I saw my second chance to run.  I felt my feet pounding on the dirt and gravel beneath me. I didn’t stop running until I was certain I had gotten away.”

“Good beginning, said Samson. “A little creepy ... but ... I’m interested.”

“What happened next?” asked Trisha anxiously.

“Well, I loooooved my way of life soooo much I couldn’t risk it being taken away from me, so, I decided to dress up as a Mexican miner. Even though they still had been treated poorly at least they were not hunted. I would have tried to fit in as an American miner, but I didn’t have the right color skin for that” -- reminisced Hawk Lover.

“Sweet, so you were like a dude, right?” asked Collin.

“I guess,” said Hawk Lover in her most boyish voice. “I was going to be a Mexican miner and I needed a plan!”

“I changed my name to Jose Serrano. The only problem was I didn’t have anything to make me look like a man. And I couldn’t just walk right into the General Store. Someone would kill me!”

“Anyway, that is the moment which I saw the man who saved my life,” said Hawk Lover. “Still very nervous about what I was doing, I walked up to the lonely looking miner and said the only words I knew in English, I heard the miners say when they greeted each other. I didn’t know what it meant:

'Hey Paydirt! Got some good nuggets?’ I pronounced it very poorly but he understood me, I know because he looked up. He could barely understand me, but then I looked at his face. He didn’t look like the other men. He was from China. I felt a strange sense of relief. I made a signal using my hands -- a kind of sign language -- so he would know to come over and hide in the bush with me.  He seemed to be able to understand the gesturing with the hands and in a short time I had explained everything to the man. About the head hunting tax collector trying to kill me, thanking him for his kind deed of saving my life, but, most importantly of all, my plans for disguising myself as a Mexican man."
Hawk Lover asked him if he would do her the favor of going to the General Store and getting the following: a joke mustache (if they have those), a giant Mexican hat, some boots, a colorful shirt and heavy slacks.

“Then something came to me,” Hawk Lover continued, “I couldn’t bear to think about it -- it was terrifying. It was unbelievable (beyond belief) It was…"

“What was it???” exclaimed Samson excitedly.

“It was the fact that we didn’t have any gold to buy anything. But then I remembered my uncle giving me something yellow, heavy and shiny. And there was a lot of it. Then I asked what it looked like to the man. He showed me a pouch with gold in it. I ran like the wind to my kaway and lifted four pieces of wood, moved a heavy rack, dug into a worn bag “for emergencies” my uncle had said (this was definitely an emergency). I ran back with the bag of gold and knowing I could probably trust him, he was off. It seemed like forever had passed and I was getting kind of afraid that he just took my gold. But soon, he came back with the things I needed. He smiled and began to take off his large hat. He showed his head. It was not hairless how I had predicted; it was a twirled bun at the top of his hair clipped together, with a long pin with blue, pink, and golden flowers. Then he told me in our sign language.
'No more secrets.  I am a girl.'

I couldn’t believe it. He was a she?! At that moment I knew we were going to be great friends. We laughed and laughed and laughed. We were so happy that there was someone just like us standing right in front of us. We told each other our real names (Hawk Lover and Golden Horizon) and our fake ones (Jose Serrano and Kai Chung). She helped me and I helped her. Then we went on a search for a perfect claim.
“We saw some men say: C’mon, Billy! This place ain’t got no gold! Let’s go find ourselves a better claim.” Golden Horizon translated for me. I was amazed.

'How do you know their language?' I asked. And she said she went to school.

'I can teach you if you like.'

I nodded my head in agreement. Then she said 'let’s go, and find ourselves some gold' and she pointed at the empty claim with a big hole in it.

'Why should we do this claim, when they already did not find any gold?'

She said yes, but they are 'lazy, sticky rice heads' and don’t dig but an inch deep. We started digging: hard work, hot sun. While we were digging she taught me some English words and finally I knew just as much as she did. One day, we saw something shimmering in the dirt. We swirled it in a pan of water and found it was gold! 

We got our pockets full of gold and ran into the forest and into my kaway. We felt safe there until we heard a whip crack, the tax collector.

'Back so soon?' I asked the tall man in English as he approached us. Golden Horizon was behind me. Not hiding, but just standing there.

Step by step he came closer to us and raised his heavy whip, but instead shoved me aside and came face to face with Golden Horizon.

'You owe me $100.  Now, you will pay,' he bellowed. She had to pay him all of her gold. It was worth about $5,000 instead of $100. We really had struck it rich. Now all was lost and if we argued our lives would have been lost as well.”

There was a silent pause in the wooden house warmed by the crackling fire. Only the tapping of Melissa’s fingers on her jeans while she listened to music could be heard.

Hawk Lover stood up and asked: “Where did you get those jeans, Sweetie?”

“Next to the awesome Smoothie Place there is this really cute Levi Straus Designer Jeans store. See?" She modeled them for the grandmothers.

“Oh, I do see” said Golden Horizon. “I also see that I have a pair, too, but they are not from the clothing store you have described.” She went to her closet and pulled out a pair of worn, dusty, ripped jeans.

“There is no way those are Levi Jeans, said Melissa. “It’s not possible.”

“Oh really?” said Golden Horizon as she folded down the hip strap. And sure enough, there was a worn brownish-white tag that said in faded ink in Levi Strauss’s own handwriting.  “Levi Straus” it was signed.

Melissa put away her headphones and began to listen intently to the rest of the story. Hawk Lover took a deep breath and continued.
“Anyways, later, Golden Horizon and I decided to share our cultures with one another. I cooked her acorn mush and she made me sticky rice. One day she asked me to carry the rice while we went uphill. I wondered why, but took the rice. As I hiked up the hill I looked back and saw Golden Horizon on the ground, eyes closed, taking deep breaths. I ran to the emergency gold in my kaway, her in my arms, and had to bring her a long way to the only hospital within miles. For about an hour the doctors checked and looked, and took her temperature, and checked again -- Malaria is what they decided. And there was no cure for her.

My mind raced to my cousin who had a bad case of Malaria. My grandfather cured it with the leaves of the hubbumonkey plant. He just attached some leaves to the face and within 15 seconds he began to recover. The American doctors would not know this. They said there was nothing they could do and that she would be gone in a matter of hours.

“Hubbumonkey”, of course.  The only problem was I could get killed trying to collect it. But then, I remembered the time she saved my life standing up to the tax collector, and decided it would be worth the risk. I had to try my very best. She was my closest friend. I couldn’t lose her. I went to my Kaway, dressed really warm, packed food and water and I was on my way. It took me a very long time to hike up that mountain. I could have sworn I was going to get frostbite. Hiking and hiking, I finally reached the very top. I pushed my way through bushes and over logs and rocks and stumbled and slid on icy dirt. When I looked up, there it was, the hubbumonkey bush! Now if only I could reach it...yes, I could!

I only stopped picking the leaves when I was sure I had enough. I was so intent on my task I didn’t realize a blizzard had settled the mountain. I talked to my ancestors and asked for their help and then a strange cloud formed around me protecting me it was kind of shaped like an arrow, guiding me back to Golden Horizon’s bedside. I saw the distant lights of the hospital and then ran and ran till I burst into her room, hubbumonkey leaves in my hand.

Hovering over Golden Horizon’s bed were the nurses shaking their heads and saying it’s probably too late. I took out the hubbumonkey leaves and placed them on her face. I started to cry. had I taken too much time? But then, out of the blue, Golden Horizon coughed and blinked.

She was alive!

I was so happy I squeezed her with joy! After recovering a bit I helped her sit up and she was able to make out the words, 'Good bye.'
'Goodbye? Why?' I could not believe what she was saying.

'I cannot stay here. Tax Collector (cough, wheeze) took all the gold.' She said mournfully, “I have nothing now.“

'What do you think I was doing the whole time we were mining together?' I asked her. 'Skipping and singing? I have plenty of gold stored in my bag. I happened to not be selfish. What do you think Golden Horizon?'

I think my speech worked because she grinned. 'I am not married so I can stay with you in California. We are family. You are not married, are you?'

'No,' I said cheerfully.  Then tears ran down both of our cheeks. We hugged.”

At that moment Samson said “Group hug!” And in one big bear hug the California families -- Samson, Golden Horizon, Hawk Lover, Trisha, Collin and even Melissa sealed their history and their future together.

Judges comment

"An ambitious piece of historical fiction with a gender bending twist."

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.