Palo Alto Weekly 25th Annual Short Story Contest
Third Place Teen

About Caitlin Crosby

Short Story ContestAt first, when I was trying to write a story for this contest, I had no idea what to write about. Out of sheer boredom and lack of creativity, I typed the words “Once upon a time, in a faraway land” onto a Word document. My immediate and sardonic comment I typed beneath it. I stared at the page for a while and thought, “This could actually work.”

The idea and ending changed several times before it was finished, but I was captivated by the idea of a story being a story. Reading forms such a fundamental part of my life; I wanted to demonstrate how a simple story can affect a reader. In Once Upon a Homework, I tried to capture the different attitudes any reader feels about a book, especially when it is assigned for homework. This story was really refreshing to write, for I got to write a traditional cliché fairy tale while humorously critiquing how I wrote it as it progressed.

And finally, no, I have never forgotten about a biology test until the night before. Two nights, perhaps, but not the night before!

by Caitlin Crosby

Once upon a time, in a faraway land—

Oh, for Pete’s sake. My English teacher would kill me if I started a story like that. At least it’s not “a dark and stormy night.”

There were three brothers who lived in a deep forest.

Sure. The two evil guys and “Boots,” the fool who ends up saving the day. What is this, Brothers Grimm?

They wished to go and seek their fortunes.

I wonder if Sparknotes has a summary on this.

They bade their mother farewell, and together left their forest home.

Well, that’s new and original. Is this extra credit?

When they reached an outside village, they made a vow to part and meet again in a year with their fortunes.

Nope. It’s mandatory, dang it.

The eldest struck out west—

And came across a straw peddler.

The second, east—

To find some sticks. Get on with it, already.

And the youngest headed into the wild, undiscovered South with enough provisions to last him a month.

Ooooo, scary. Sounds like he’s got his bricks in his brain.

He wandered about in that country for six weeks, without meeting a soul.

Wait…I thought you could only survive three days without “provisions”…doesn’t a month last four weeks? Sheesh. Somebody can’t domath.

Finally, when he was reaching the end of his strength—

Though he should be DEAD—

He saw a small cottage in a distant valley.

Made of gingerbread and royal icing.

This sight cheered and revived him, and he made his way towards the far lodging.

Oh, c’mon. He should be passed out under an oak tree or something by now. Who wrote this thing, anyway? Not a doctor, I hope.

It took him three days to reach the valley.

This guy’s really pressing his luck.

When he arrived at the cottage steps, it was a dark and stormy night.

Yep, there it is. I KNEW this guy was corny.

He pounded on the door. It opened, and revealed—

Who? The fairy godmother? The wicked stepmother? Snow White?

An empty house.

Oh. A midget Snow White? But eight dwarves would be hard to hide…oh, great, now I’m being corny.

He was exhausted, and, finding no host to welcome him, collapsed on a solitary bunk to sleep.

Never to wake again NO! FOCUS!!!

In the morning, he awoke—

No, he slept. Why is this dragging on?

And re-searched the house.

Or researched the house, hardy-har har.

He found nothing but dust bunnies.

Which he named Fluffy, Buffy, and Muffy.

Suddenly, on his way out of the bedroom, he stumbled across something in his path.

Probably his foot.

He knelt down, and, to his surprise, found a trapdoor!

Way to be observant, Boots. You would never pass any science class with those skills. SCIENCE! I forgot about my bio test tomorrow! Ohman oh man oh MAN! I better finish this quick. Maybe if I read the last page of the chapter…

The king and queen had tears in their eyes as he married their daughter. And they lived happily ever after.

I could’ve told you that, Shakespeare. I guess I actually have to read this, then. Where was I?

He picked up the toad and said—

I love you madly…that wasn’t it. Wait! Dust bunnies…ah, here we go.

He raised the creaking trapdoor and slid into the darkness.

Ominous…creaking doors in the dark. Did this author go into horror movies?

He stumbled down into a majestic cavern, where he found—

A magic lamp with a blue genie. Is it midnight already?!

A small mouse.

Should I fail English or bio? Not read the dumb chapter or not study for the chapter test? This should be an easy decision, right?

As it scampered away, he followed it through the deepest part of the cavern. Suddenly, before his eyes, it transformed into a large, squat toad.

Ah, there’s the toad. I’ll just see what he says to the toad.

He picked up the toad and said, “You are obviously magical. Will you help me make my fortune?”

That wasn’t so great. Maybe one more sentence…

The toad replied, for indeed it was a magic toad—

No duh, Sherlock. C’mon, the toad said…

“I would be willing to help you, for I have the riches to help a million men make their fortunes. However, you must prove yourself worthy of my assistance.”

Ah-HA! The “prove you’re worthy” shtick! That beats bio any day!

"What must I do?” asked the eager lad.

Well of course he’s eager— he’s just been told he’s holding a rich magical toad.

“You must enter that tunnel,” said the toad, pointing to one on his right—

How does a toad point?

“—and and leave out of this tunnel,” he finished, gesturing to one on his left.

How does a toad….oh, never mind. There’d better be some monsters or traps in those tunnels or I might just re-prioritize.

The boy soon agreed to this easy task.

Huh. That’s what he thinks.

He drew his sword and ran into the tunnel on the right.

He hasn’t eaten for two weeks, three days, and one night and now he’s dashing into tunnels. Couldn’t he have used that sword to kill something to eat before he’s heading to…wherever he’s going?

As soon as he stepped into the tunnel, the entry closed behind him. He blindly made his way forward. After groping along one hundred yards, he came against solid rock.

Well, so much for his fortune. Now let’s see: an ecosystem is a system formed by the…something of a something… of organisms with their…natural environment? No, that’s not it…

Undaunted, he reached above to feel the ceiling. When no rock met his fingertips, he began to climb the sheer rock in front of him.

Still on an empty stomach. Is it a physical environment? Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t multitask!

He climbed and climbed.

Hurry it up, already. If I finish this quickly, I might actually have time to study.

Suddenly, the wall sheared off, and he clambered onto a stone ledge.

Sounds like a video game. Maybe I should retry my level 20 of …NO NO NO! FOCUS!

He made his way toward a glimmer of light in the distance.

What is this guy, a moth?

However, when he came within twenty yards of the flicker of light, it extinguished. A great rumbling filled his ears. He felt something swirling around his legs.

Has this author ever heard of compound sentences?

The tunnel was being flooded!

Eek. Gasp. Shriek. But maybe…

He sprinted downstream, in hopes of finding an exit.

Sprinting? Wading, panting, struggling, dying…now that sounds right. But sprinting? Still on an empty stomach?


How else?

He caught sight of an enormous floodgate about to close. By the time he reached it, however, the only way he could slide underneath was to prop it up with his sword. Thus, while saving his life, he lost his precious sword.

Ouch. Talk about incompetence.

Undaunted by this experience, our hero continued down the tunnel.

Our hero? He may be your hero, buddy, but he certainly ain’t mine. My heroes are competent…yet it’ll be interesting to see how he survives all this.

After fifteen minutes and no confrontations, he began to relax.

Smart Boots. He’s in a dark mysterious tunnel without a sword and what does he do? He relaxes. And just when I was starting to get used to this guy.

He stopped in his tracks. Was that a growl he heard?

Wait a second…

A light suddenly flicked on, and he found himself face to face with a horrific monster.

HA! A monster! I knew it! I take it back! I take it ALL back!

Right behind it, he could see the toad waiting for him. He decided to make a break for it.

Okay, I admit it! This is SO much better than bio! GO BOOTS!

He took a deep breath and prepared to run. But suddenly, another monster appeared by its side and completely blocked the tunnel.

YES! YES! More action! I LOVE it! Take that, biology! Boot’s number one! He’s number—

He studied the monsters carefully.  They had fangs dripping with venom, tails as tough as whips, skin like armor, and claws so sharp they
appeared to walk on tiptoe.

Number two! Just kiddin’, we love ya, Boots!

He studied his situation cautiously.

That’s okay! Take all the time you need! YOU CAN DO IT!

He came up with a plan.


He took off his boots and threw one at each monster. Distracted by the sight and smell, they darted apart, leaving a small exit path.

GO! GO! GO! Wait…boots? Whatever. GO! GO! GO!

As he ran between them, however, they turned upon him with their claws.


Wearily, he fought them off and crawled his way towards the impassive toad.

Is he hurt? He can’t die now! BOOTS! HOLD ON, BUDDY!

He gasped out, “I have done your will, magical toad. I now ask you for my fortune.”
The toad smiled. “You have done well, my brother.”

Oh, good, he’s…WHAT?!

Before his eyes, the dying boy watched as the toad transformed into his eldest brother. “I’m sorry about the deceit,” the once-magical-toad said.

As you should be! Wait, did he say dying boy?!BOOTS!

“But,” he continued. “You have broken my enchantment, and now I can return to my waiting bride and receive my fortune, which is large enough to cover your loss of funds. I knew you wouldn’t get it anyway. You were always incompetent, but,” he laughed, “I shouldn’t complain now. Farewell, brother.”

How DARE he call Boots incompetent! How DARE he use him like that! How DARE he become evil! How DARE he….DARE! ARRRRGH!

The eldest brother climbed out of the tunnel and into the cottage, which was really an enchanted castle of an ancient kingdom. As the princess came running to meet him, he swept her up and carried her to the nearest church. The king and queen had tears in their eyes as he married their daughter. And they lived happily ever after.

But what about Boots?! He just can’t abandon him like that, can he? Or can’t he? Did he die or not? Were there more magical things?

Chapter Two.

Oh, yeah! Oh……no! NO! NO! NO! I still have biology! It’s past midnight! I’m in high school!  I just can’t abandon all of my homework for a few chapters of a puny little poorly-written maybe-not-so-happily-ever-after story, right? RIGHT?

Twenty years passed. Then, one day, a young page in the castle discovered a mysterious trapdoor.


Judge's comment

"A piece of experimental prose that successfully intertwines a witty commentary and a clever idea."




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