Palo Alto Weekly 35th Annual Short Story Contest
Teen Honorable Mention

Second Rate

by Benjamin Wu

Author Bio

Benjamin Wu is a seventh grader at J.L.S. middle school in Palo Alto. While he is not writing stories, Benjamin Wu also enjoys reading (especially fiction novels), exercising, and playing piano. Moreover, Benjamin is interested in history, politics, and economics.


My inspiration for this story came from the books that I read. I typically read from a diverse range of genres. However, my story was inspired by the great works of Mark Twain and C.S. Lewis. I was motivated by their tales of excitement, adventure, but sometimes also tragedy. I kept my experiences from reading these books in mind while writing my own story. In addition, I wanted to convey a good and positive message through my story. Overall, I tried to have a character who would be faced with a traumatic experience and learn from it.

"You have been cordially invited to a high school reunion for Classroom 549."

That is what the first line invitation I received in the mail read. I had never been fond of my high school classmates, mostly a jumble of misfits, we did not have much in common, and we had all gone our separate ways for 20 years.

"Why would someone invite us to a reunion now?" I wondered.

I picked up the invitation and read it. It took place on some private island in the Caribbean, owned by one of our classmates Ellie Angevin, who founded a relatively successful start-up making Spanish Dictionaries, and tickets were already included.

As I drove to the airport the next week and boarded the flight, I wondered how Ellie even knew my address. I had never told her, but I suppose she knew some people who knew some people. I just got off the plane and reread the invitation and it said "Go to Warf Wharf". I hailed a cab and was driven to the dock just one mile away. There I saw Chloe Bruce, a successful writer of many books; Carol Stewart, a math teacher; Tim Gordon, a biologist; Tom Clegg, a historian; Terry North, a musician; Jordan Ramsey, a celebrity chef and Bill Fung, an athlete as indicated on their name tags. Looked like most of my classmates ended up professionally succeeding in their field of interest from high school. We shaked hands and greeted each other as we were friends back then.

"So," I said, "When is the boat going to arrive?".

Tom said, "Well, that’s what we’ve been asking ourselves."

"They should have arrived 28 minutes ago"! Bill whined.

"Be patient Fungus. It will arrive eventually!" Tom said.

A tiny steamship pulled up, and a small, rather eccentric captain spoke,

"Welcome aboard the Evgreen. This will take you to that reunion." Tim looked puzzled. "You mean Evergreen, right?". The captain coughed and said, "nope, that’s the name of the ship."

"Where’s Hunter?" Chloe suddenly piped up. She was right. One of our classmates, Hunter Edbin, was missing.

Terry smirked, "You mean booger Hunter?" a few of us chuckled at our old nickname for him.

"This reunion would probably be better without Hunter anyway" said Jordan.

"Forget him," said Carol. "If he was 30 minutes late, then he won’t be going to this party. Let’s go!".

We shuffled on board the ship which and as we landed on the island, it seemed mysterious and deserted.

"Ellie isn’t here to greet us," I noted.

"Bah," said Jordan, "I guess she is probably in the mansion."

We walked over to the mansion and opened the door. However, instead of a welcoming Ellie, we were met by a gruesome sight. Ellie was impaled on a model of a bull, stabbed through the back. Tim screamed, Tom ran out the door, and Carol was deathly pale. Bill finally broke the silence

"Our host is .... dead."

"Yes," said Jordan, "but this was clearly no accident. She was murdered."

"Well!" Carol said "you don’t know that for sure".

Jordan’s eyes flared "How could you get stabbed by a bull statue by accident?"

We explored the rest of the mansion, but we did not find anything unusual; however, we did find rooms, each marked with our names.

"The captain is coming back in a week," Tim said, "I think we should fully utilize these rooms and stay in them until he comes back."

I was preparing to go to sleep when I heard a scream. I ran over to see what was going on and was greeted by a copious amount of steam. I rushed inside the bathroom where the steam was coming from. I, along with some others, saw Jordan sitting in a bathtub, dead.

"The water is boiling," Tim observed.

"Okay, okay," Chloe said. "Who was the closest to the bathroom?".

Carol explained, "I was. I walked over to use the bathroom, only to find this".

"A likely story!" Bill hissed. "Carol could be the one who did it. Are you?"

"What if she was actually going to the bathroom?" Tom offered.

I insisted, "It is probably one of us. Do you think we should watch each other in pairs?"

Immediately, there was a deafening crash, and we all rushed over to see what was happening. We ran down the halls to the rooms where the sound had originated. One by one, we opened each room to see where it came from. Terry was lying in bed, crushed by a grand piano.

Bill stammered, "Everyone except Terry was with us in the bathroom, right?"

"I don’t think it is one of us now. We were all there and watching each other. Nobody did anything that would trigger the instrument to fall," I declared.

We soon all went to bed, and nothing happened. I could hardly fall to sleep, but wonder who it was. There was nobody on this island except us. Which one of us could hate so much that he or she would want to kill his or her classmates?

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast. Everyone’s eyes were red, a sign of lack of sleep. In addition, no one had too much of an appetite. There was plenty of food in the fridge, but nobody had eaten much since arrival.

After breakfast, Bill said, "This house is trapped. From now on, I’m going to stay outside in one of Ellie’s tennis courts". Bill opened the door leading to the outside tennis courts, but suddenly a tennis ball machine loaded with baseballs turned on and started firing at a lighting speed.

"AHHH" Bill screamed, but he didn’t get out of the way in time. Baseballs pummeled his heart, and straight away, he hit the ground. Dead. Now there was just Tim, Chloe, Carol, Tom, and myself.

"Okay," Tom said, "I didn’t like Bill that much, but I didn’t want to kill him."

"Wait!" I exclaimed. "I figured it all out. Ellie was first in Spanish, then she died from a bull, and isn’t bullfighting a popular sport in Spain? Jordan was first in cooking, then he was boiled alive. Terry was first in music, next he was squashed by a piano. Bill was first in Physical Education, subsequently, he was killed by baseballs. It seems like our untimely deaths are based on which subject we were first in high school, what’s the reason behind this?"

Tim muttered, "Which means I’m going to die from science, and Tom is going to die from history."

Chloe started to cry out loud, "We need to get off this island. That captain of the boat may have left, but Ellie might have a private yacht or something".

Shocked, I said "Whoever is doing this is smart, I think they would have predicted that we would go to a boat if there was one. You are going to get killed!"

Chloe walked over to the door, ready to open it and check. At once, a huge bookcase fell unexpectedly on her.

"My theory is proven once again!" I exclaimed, "Chloe was first in English, and she was killed by books. I think someone in our class did this. After all, the only way to know which subject we were first in is either a teacher or another classmate. Is there anyone we offended back then that would want to exact revenge"?

Tim responded. "I am going to get some hot water. This is just too much to take in." Tim walked over to the sink, poured some water and took a small sip. "Ow!", he called out "too hot." Tim went to the fridge to pour some ice. However, as he bent to drink from the cup, the water blew up in his face, and Tim was dead.

Carol gasped, "The water exploded!".

Tom announced, "Wait! The ice must have had pure sodium encased in wax. The hot water not only melted the ice, but the wax, causing the pure sodium to explode in his face and suffocate him. A scientific death for sure".

We were exhausted and weary after such a long day. However, no one dared to sleep in the rooms. Instead, we all gathered and fell asleep in the kitchen where we had witnessed both Tim and Chloe’s death.

The following day, we tried to be as safe as possible. No one was brave enough to leave or change clothes, no one walked around too far, and we just drank and ate as little as possible.

Carol eventually stood up and screeched, "my legs are getting sore. I’m going to walk for a bit."

I yelled, "Are you out of your mind? Don’t you remember what had happened to the others? Are you going to risk your life just because your legs are sore?"

Carol screamed back, "It won’t kill me if I walk 50 ft, okay"? That was a mistake. Carol walked down a hallway, and out of nowhere, giant blades chopped her in half.

"First in math. Divided up," I cried and muttered

"How about we try to swim home?" Tom said. "We might not survive the distance, but we definitely won’t survive another night here."

At that moment, an old rifle used in the civil war on display turned itself toward Tom and shot him. I ran outside to escape, lest the gun shot at me. Running toward a cliff, I was about to jump off and swim to safety, but suddenly I saw Hunter with scorn on his face. He was mysteriously absent since we boarded the boat.

"You did this?" I took a bold guess and questioned him, "Why?"

Hunter was seething with rage. "Great, let me tell you why before I send you to heck. It’s because I was always second. Second to my father, who loved my older brother so much that he never cared about me. When my brother scored a 90 on a test, he would congratulate him. When I got a 100, he didn’t even notice. Then, when he finally died, I was left out of his will entirely. I was second in school in every single class, no matter how hard I tried! Do you think it is bad for Bill Fung to be called Fungus? Well, try being called Booger Hunter every single day of your life!"

He continued, "When I applied for a job, I was always second to another person who was better than me. When I found a girlfriend, she dumped me for another guy. To the world, I am always second, Second, SECOND! I hate being second, but not today. Today, I will assert my dominance. Today I am first."

"It was easy to lure you to this island. Ironically, the security system I used to keep watch over you this entire time, had very lousy security, I was able to hack into it in four minutes, and it was easy to send a fake invitation to all of you simpletons, who look down on me, everyone looks down on me! Lastly, I think you have already noticed the ship which brought you to this very island, the Evgreen; Evgreen is an anagram from revenge. Now, tell me how would you like me to end your life?"

"No," I cried out loud, looking where I could run, but then he raised a six bullet revolver.

"I was being rhetorical! I will shoot you to death. You beat me in woodworking, even though the armchair I made was much better than your bench. This revolver is loaded with bullets made from the same bench . Time to die." he shouted.

Hunter started to fire his first bullet. As I was expecting it, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. He fired while I was running toward a rock for cover. Since I was going to hide behind the rock, he fired again. Then, Hunter promptly ran up to my face.

"Oh, no escaping this time!"

I jumped up and grabbed his hand tightly. He fired two more shots, and as the gun came close to my head, I dodged. That was it. Hunter had used up all six of his shots, and he didn’t have a seventh.

I was on the side of the cliff closest to the sea, and as Hunter rushed toward me, he slipped on a small smooth pebble, fell off the cliff, and landed in the shallow part of the sea. Hunter was dead. I looked at his dead body from a distance. However, I finally ran toward the dock, jumped aboard the boat, and I escaped.

Reflecting on that tragedy, it had been haunting me for years. I always had those appalling episodes in my mind as if it just happened yesterday. I thought it would never have happened if our classmates had treated Hunter with decency and respect, no humiliating nickname; it would never have happened if our parents and our society had given enough love and care to someone like Hunter; it would never have happened if he had encountered a good counselor or mentor to guide him before his psychological problems were torn to the extreme, or if he had ever found a value or a recognition to make him feel good about himself. I could not stop my obsessions particularly when I came across the island where it all happened. My life experience had evolved so much that I did not feel like the same person anymore.