Palo Alto Weekly 27th Annual Short Story Contest
First Place Children

About Julie Men

Julie Meng, who has never entered a writing contest before, wanted to include the piano and music in her story, “Music For Life,” because of her love for playing.

In the story, a boy is in a car accident with his mom and cousin. He loses his left hand and his mom goes into a coma, but awakes when he plays her his recorded piano piece.

“I really love piano — I’ve been playing since I was 4-and-a-half,” she said.

She was given the idea for the story after watching the YouTube videos “When you are hopeless, see it” and “Oscar Pistorius - 400m semifinal IAAF Daegu World Champs 2011.”

The first video depicts different clips of  people overcoming physical disabilities and the second shows Pistorius, a double amputee competing in the world championships for track and field. 

Since the first grade she has allotted time to write stories and has had a love for it.

Meng had a rough idea for the storyline and filled in the blanks once she started actually writing it.

The basic story is there for her, which she said comes easy to her because she reads a lot.

The hardest part for her was writing the beginning and ending because she wanted a beginning “that hooked the reader and an interesting ending.”

She spent about four hours writing the story and three hours editing, and she kept rewording small details until she was satisfied with the beginning and ending.

“For me, books are like a portal to another world in your imagination, and once I get in that world, if I know point A and point B and one or two key points of a story, there is just a trail of thought that I just have to pour out before it goes away,” she said.

--Rebecca Duran

Music for Life
By Julie Men


As a little boy, Charles was very talented in music. He could play the violin, viola, cello, double-bass, bassoon, oboe, flute, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, and every other instrument you can think of, but his favorite was the piano. He could play for several hours, never taking a break from his wonderful playing. He gave concerts every week and went to a special music school instead of going to a normal school. However, one day, something changed his life forever.

Souls to Heaven

“Mom, are we almost there?” I asked. I was excited but nervous for my big concert at Carnegie Hall. I had won a competition there, and in several years, I was hoping to take the International Chopin Competition too.
“Almost Charlie. Are you wearing your gloves? You don’t want your fingers to be cold, you know,” my mother scolded as her stern face looked back at me in the mirror.
“Yes Mother,” I sighed. Being a musical genius wasn’t always easy, for I had no time for other things. The only thing that I knew of was piano, but I had seen other kids my age laughing and tossing a football. Floating in my daydreams of being a normal kid, I didn’t notice someone hovering by my face. I felt a stab of pain as a finger jabbed my secret pressure point that wasn’t so secret to my younger cousin, Peter. I winced with pain, wondering what could be worse, for I had no idea that something would happen soon to me that would bring me even greater pain in my body, but especially my soul. “Stop it Peter!” I whirled around and snapped at my giggling cousin who was currently trying to poke me in the head again. Just then, I noticed the squealing sound of tires. I looked up and locked my eyes with the glazed ones of a drunk driver. I screamed and yelled at Peter and my mom as the car got closer until it finally collided with my cousin’s door as I sunk into an eternity of pain and darkness.


“Charles,” a faraway voice called. “Charles, wake up.” The voice was sweet and gentle, but not like anyone’s I knew. I struggled to open my eyes, but my eyelids were so heavy that it felt like someone had put rocks on my eyes. I groaned. My whole body was in agony.
“Charles!” a concerned voice stressed. “You must wake up now!”
But I don’t want to wake up, I thought as I drifted away again, trying to replay what had happened, but it was all fuzzy. Instead, I found myself looking up at a huge pair of double doors that said one word. Death. Peter appeared next to me.
“Bye Charles,” he said. “Keep on playing. I’ll be listening from above. It may be hard at first to play, but I know you can do it.” And with that, he left me standing on a cloud as he shoved the door open and walked in.


I snapped my eyes open and tried to sit upright, but I couldn’t. I tried to use my left hand to prop myself up, but a searing pain shot through my arm, causing me to flop back onto the bed like a fish out of water. I was about to give up and sleep when my eyes opened in horror as I realized why my arm hurt so much. All that was left was a stump where my left hand should have been. I gasped as my eyes rolled back in my head and I was back in the dark, slipping in and out of consciousness.
When I awoke again, I felt a little better, but my head was still throbbing. I spotted a mirror in the corner of the room next to a vase of flowers. Looking at my reflection, I couldn’t even tell it was me anymore. My left leg was propped up and in a cast, my left hand was missing, my right arm was in a sling, my neck wa in a brace, and my head was bandaged. Black and purple bruises speckled my body.  I was a cripple. At that moment, something dawned upon me.
Mom and Peter, I thought. I didn’t even get the worst of it. What happened to them? With concern building up I cried, “Nurse, where is my mom? Where is my cousin? I want to see them now!” Tears were streaming down my cheeks now. “Where is my mom?” I sobbed. The nurse called to someone and they came rushing in. I didn’t know who this strange man was. He smelled like sweat and blood.
“Charlie,” the man said.
“Don’t call me that,” I interrupted. “Call me Charles.”
“Okay, Charles. About your mom. She’s in a coma right now, but she didn’t get the worst of it. Peter is...dead,” the man said as his false melancholy appeared.
“Peter is dead?” I said, unbelieving, my voice barely a whisper. The man solemnly nodded his head.
A week later, Peter’s funeral was held. I couldn’t walk and was in a wheelchair pushed by a hospital employee, but at least I wasn’t in a coma like my mom was. My dad had left us in the dust a few years ago, so I couldn’t lose her too or else I would be left all alone. I didn’t want to live with my self-conceited aunt permanently. I was lost in my thoughts and drowning in my tears when the ceremony ended. I remembered all the times he had annoyed me when he was still down here with me, but now all I remembered were the good times with regret, wishing I had enjoyed them more. Like the saying, you almost never fully appreciate a person until they’re gone.
“I want to leave,” I commanded. “Take me to see my mom.” I couldn’t bear to stay in this room cloaked with sorrow, but then again, there was another one waiting for me at the hospital with my mom.

A Promise to Dead Life

My mom looked dead. She was breathing, but she looked dead.
“Mom?” I whispered. “Are you there mom?” No answer. She was definitely dead to the world. “Mom, how can I bring you back?” I whispered more urgently. Then, I remembered something.
“Music is the key to your life, your life and mine. Without it, we would both be nothing,” she had always told me. She was nothing right now. Was music the way to make her something again? I was worth a try, but I would have to wait until I got out of the hospital.
“Mom?” I asked as I tried to look for the right words to say my next sentence. “You are dead to me right now, but I promise I’ll find a way to get you back. Promise.” And with that, I went back to my room.

A Quest of Promise

I finally got out of the wheelchair after what seemed like an eternity. I had to stay with my aunt for now. I longed to hear music again, longed to hear my own music. Unfortunately, there were a couple of problems. First of all, the only instrument I could really play and liked and could be played with one hand at a time was piano, but my aunt didn’t have one. Not to mention that all the songs I played required two hands, and I haven’t found a song that is complete with only one hand. It would be okay if my mom was alive, but she was dead to me right now. I told myself that after I brought my mom back to life, I could try to become a normal kid, but for now, my duty was to find a way to play music.
I could never sleep and night, twisting and turning in my dreams, replaying the accident in my head again and again. Not to mention the painful stump on my left arm. But one night, I had a different dream. A dream with music I had never heard before. Music pulling me and soothing me. Music from heaven, it seemed. Music I just had to play. Something I could play because the left hand had only one note at a time, but it still sounded complete.
The next morning, I trudged downstairs, logged onto the computer, and recorded myself humming the tune from my dreams. I emailed it to dozens of musicians I knew and asked them if they had heard this tune before. All of them said no.
“That means that this must have never been written down before. Did I compose in my sleep?” I mumbled to myself. “I guess I’ll just wait until tonight to see what happens in my dreams this time.” That night, I heard another unfamiliar tune, again soothing me and leaving my head in the clouds. And it was the same style as last night’s. Again, I emailed a recording of me humming it. They all still said no. That was all I needed to hear. I immediately ran to get some paper and a pen and I tried to recall every detail of the music so I could jot down and capture that sheer bliss so I could share it with everyone, especially my mom.
Several hours later, my masterpiece was done. Sonata in d minor. I could play it in my head. And I would be able to play it on the piano even with my condition. If I only had a piano.



“Aunt Celestia, can you please take me to my house so I can play this piece on our piano?” I asked as I tried to act as nice as possible.
“Absolutely not!” Aunt Celestia snapped. “You are struggling to go up and about, and you are certainly in no condition to go play the piano. Anyway, you’re missing your left hand!”
“But Aunt Celestia,” I pleaded.
“I mean what I said. Go to your room right now!” she commanded. I slowly walked with my head down back upstairs. But I wasn’t going to give up. I formulated a plan in my head. No, I was going to play whether Aunt Celestia liked it or not.


That night, I sneaked out with my music and a tape recorder and crept to my house five blocks away. I prayed that I would find the spare key in its usual place. I staggered around in the dark, only guided by the moonlight. My hand felt a smooth but jagged piece of metal. Got it. I slid the key into the lock and the door swung open. My house had an eerie feel in the dark. It was so empty too. A chill went down my spine.
“I have to do this,” I told myself. I stole my way over to the piano. Then, I took out a book light and clipped it to the music stand. I laid the music out and sat down. After turning on the tape recorder, I played. Each note filled me with emotion. I had never felt so joyful and melancholy at the same time in my life. When I finished, my head was in the clouds. I stopped the recorder and closed my eyes. I was still dreaming when the first rays of sunshine peeked through the curtains.

Close Call

“Oh no!” I exclaimed. “I have to get back to the house before Aunt Celestia notices that I’m gone!” I hastily grabbed the music and the tape recorder and rushed out the door, slamming it behind me. I dashed down the block and went through the gate and the garden up to the back door of the house. Luckily, Aunt Celestia must have gone out to run some errands because she wasn’t home. I took the key out of my pocket and put the door in the lock. I slipped inside and stuck my music and the tape recorder in a drawer before eating breakfast. Right after I sat down with a bowl of cereal, Aunt Celestia drove up the driveway. She walked over and said,
“Let’s go visit your mom after you finish eating, okay?” I just nodded.

Dreamworld to Reality

Aunt Celestia took me to the hospital to see Mom. And this time, I brought the recording. I prayed that it would work, prayed that she would wake up. As we walked down the sterilized hallway, I began to doubt if she would wake up. I would see in just a few moments. I took a deep breath of air that smelled of chemicals and opened the door.
She looked the same as before, but a little paler. Her breathing looked so artificial. She looked so peaceful, a little too peaceful. I went up to the bed and touched her.
“Mom, I promise that if this doesn’t work, I’ll try something else, but here I go,” I murmured as I started the recording. Aunt Celestia gasped and sat down. I smiled nervously and knelt. My mom remained in her vegetative state for a while, but after a few minutes, she stirred. My eyes lit up with joy.
“Mom,” I whispered. “Can you hear me? It’s Charles.” My mom groaned. Then, her eyes snapped open as she listened to the final notes of the dream music. I gazed into her eyes, the ones that told me of her joy. I gazed into her heart, the one that told me of her longing. I gazed into her soul, the one that told me of her love. I embraced her as tears of joy streamed down my cheeks as well as my mom’s, unlike the tears I shed before.


My Aunt said she had never heard anything like my music. My mom said she woke up because of something pulling her and calling her to return. Something familiar yet unfamiliar. She was so curious about what it was, so she woke up. As simple as that. My mom saved her own life in a way. If she hadn’t told me that music is the key to our lives, I wouldn’t have thought of my plan. And if I hadn’t thought of my plan, who knows what would have happened to my mom.
Now that she was out of her coma, I could have become normal. But I didn’t. I wanted to keep playing. Fate didn’t mean for me to be normal. I was meant to be special. Like Peter wanted me to be. Even though other kids may make fun of me, I know I am special and unique, and nothing can ever change that, not even a missing hand.


Judges comment

Very well written! And very sophisticated, too. The story is full of passion and emotion, not to mention tension. It's a tale of the triumph of art, in spite of all odds, and a good one.

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