Palo Alto Weekly 33rd Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Teen

Skipping Stones

By Sydney Ling

About Sydney Ling

Sydney Ling lives in Palo Alto, and is currently a 7th grader at the Girls' Middle School. She enjoys, reading, writing, blogging, and drawing. Her love for writing developed last summer, when she began writing poems for a writing workshop.


The inspiration for "Skipping Stones" came to me in the middle of the night. I was writing in my notebook, scribbling down whatever came to mind, for I had not been able to sleep that night. As I finished a piece, I was searching through my mind for some idea. My friend's poem she had sent me about pebbles that day came to my mind. I thought, "Pebbles, pebbles, what can I do with that?" An image came to mind, of two kids skipping stones by a lake. And with that, I began to write.


Judges' comments

By focusing on a revelatory moment, this story compactly explores the complex relationship between two siblings. Filled with beautiful descriptive language.

The lake lies silver in the bright light of the noon sun, not a perfect oblong like a looking glass, but amorphous like an ink-splat on starched white paper. It is a mirror of the surrounding coniferous trees, with a surface as smooth as glass. A fresh, earthy, pine scent floats in the air. The weeping willow, the wispy clouds above, all become a Monet. The landscape is a painting of dappled, impressionist brush strokes of muted hues from snow-pea green to silvers with blue undertones. Your eyes gaze to where the sun-speckled water blends into the horizon, where blue meets blue. You and your brother used to love to come here to play, escaping the frenetic movement of the rest of the world.

At age fifteen, your brother, Caleb, still wants to compete with skipping stones against you, even though you are two years younger. He still enjoys the glory of beating his lesser, still enjoys destroying your pride.

He picks up a stone and tosses it into the water. As the stone skips across the still water the radiating ripples catch the sunlight.

After three skips the stone sinks; then once again the lake looks like glass, making you picture gliding on the cold surface in your socks.

Caleb keeps skipping stones, while you look down at the sea of slippery, glistening pebbles of various sizes to face the difficult task of finding the perfect one. Each one is a different hue of grey, brown, and black. Some are streaked; others are marbled.

After a few minutes of searching, your back is already aching, so you sit down and watch your brother.

He's squinting his eyes, spinning the stone off with the exact coordination, like the expert he is. The dark grey stone dives into the clear water, with a little splash, sending ripples in ever-widening circles each time it skips. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Nine times. Nine skips. "Score!" your brother hoots, throwing his hands up into the air in triumph, and runs over the rocky shore to you.

"Try to beat that," he gloats, with a smug smile.

"Nine skips? Even a five-year-old could do that," you say.

"Prove it," your brother says. You're lying, and he knows it. The highest number of skips you've made is two.

You look back at the stones, and you feel defeated already. You go on all fours and start picking stone after stone, pebble after pebble. You don't even know what a perfect skipping stone is. You only know that you want to beat your older brother.

A stab of pain scorches your right thumb as the sharp edge of a rock slices it. You wince and suck your thumb to release the stinging pain. Your mouth tingles as the metallic taste of blood blooms. When you draw your thumb back, you see tiny droplets of dark crimson starting to slowly seep from the fresh cut, blotching your pale skin. It hurts, but no matter. You have to beat your brother. You pick up another rock, and the cut stings again. Blood starts to trickle down onto the stone. This one is flat, holding it feels like you're holding a sand dollar. It is a speckled grey, with a white streak in the center. Smooth. No cracks. It is the one.

You rub your good thumb thoroughly against the smooth surface. The rock is almost too perfect to skip. Too perfect to throw into a pool of water, breaking the surface, disturbing the eerily calm setting with its splash, where it will sink slowly, eventually lying amidst millions of other stones just like it.

And it will lie there, for years, centuries, millennia, until it will resurface onto the rocky shore you had found it on.

How do stones skip, exactly, you wonder? How do they move so speedily at shrinking lengths across the body of water, before surrendering, sinking down to their ends? Almost like a deer trying to escape. Leaping into the air before landing swiftly on the surface, galloping away. Each jump done precisely, with a strange, almost incalculable rhythm. Each beat, each skip of the rhythm like the flashing of the white tail of the galloping deer. Each skip's sharp sound gently fades away, like the sound of hooves pounding into the distance. An echo on the water. Skip. Then the stone is into the air again. Skip. And then it disappears into the water's open arms.

"What are you waiting for, Abby? Stop standing there like a moron," your brother jeers.

You try to ignore him, but the words still sting. You try to resist yourself, but your feet start moving towards the edge of the water, your hand still clutching the light grey stone.

Your brother looks at you, a sneer across his face, with a look of triumph. That he had won, that you would fail, that the rock would not skip even once, but instead plunk itself once into the water and sink to the bottom.

But no, you could not let him have that. You could not; you would not, let him have his win, his victory.

You grip the perfect, smooth, now dry, skipping stone, with your right hand, the one you had cut, take a last look at it, and with all your attention and might, let it fly out of your grasp. You realize you have flung too hard, but it is too late. The cut stings. You hold your breath. All you can do now is wait.

Expecting it to disappear into the water, you look away, not wanting to see your brother's gloating face. You wait for him to mock you with his sardonic voice for saying that nine skips was nothing.

But instead, you hear him let out a little "woah."

You turn your head back to the sparkling water, and watch the stone move like a deer, swiftly and flawlessly, across the smooth glass surface, barely creating any ripples. The stone jumps into the air with each ascent, then dips downwards to lightly kiss the water and release, creating a bouncing path by which the stone threaded sky into water.

Four. Five.

Your brother isn't sneering anymore. He isn't gloating anymore. He has a different look on his face. What is it? Anger? Jealousy?

Eight. Nine.

You have reached his level. You are tied. It didn't matter if your stone sank right at that moment, that blip of time. You have won. You look at your brother. He looks surprised. Yes, that was it — definitely jealousy. Maybe even regret.

The stone keeps going.

Ten. As you watch it, almost in slow motion, the eleventh skip, the stone does not go further. There is a splash. A splash of water. Just a tiny one, but it is still a splash. Specks of water fly a few centimeters into the air; white foam rises. Then all is quiet.

The water settles. The ripples disappear. The surface is as smooth as ever.

And your stone, your perfect stone, is gone.

Stay informed.

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