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Short Story Competition 2022 School Years 11 to 13 Winner David Lester ‘The Bored Student’

Pics by Johnny Bugeja

The fearless king Aliath peered down upon his sworn enemies. He watched, aboard his spaceship, as the armies of the galaxy converged around Centris IV. The day of reckoning had come. The rebellion leader, the fearsome warrior Orion, mounted his Galaxy Horse and soared to the front of the fleet.

"Today, we will avenge our friends, our families, our worlds!" He cried.

The armies behind him cheered in unison. The colossal army closed in on Aliath, who made his final stand against his foes.

"It's now or never," he readied Edriok, the Singularity Sceptre.
"Stop!" Paul interrupted.

"You didn't like it?" John asked, "It had everything you suggested; suspense, action, and a complex story."
"That wasn't complex, it was confusing!" Paul replied, "There was no opening, no introduction; you jumped straight to the story."

"Well, my original draft involved a backstory, but it exceeded 1000 words. I needed to cut down," John explained.

Paul flicked through the pages of the notebook, trying to discern the plot from just a few words.
"None of it makes any sense!" Paul exclaimed, "You never explain who's the bad guy, Aliath or Orion. You bring up invented words and items and expect the judges to understand. Do you think the judges read weird fantasy sci-fi?"

John shrugged, "How would I know, I don't know the judges."
John snatched the notebook back from his best friend, "To answer your previous criticism, you're not supposed to know who the bad guy is. Some stories benefit from the questionability of facts."
Paul sat down on the end of John's bed, "Could you take a look at my draft now?"

It was a rainy afternoon.
"Stop!" John interrupted.
"You only read the first sentence!" Paul protested.
"And I'm already bored," John retorted, "Who cares about the weather outside? The focus of the story is inside the house, with ... "

“Sarah,” Paul finished for him, "The main character's name is Sarah."
"Exactly! The first thing the reader should learn is about the characters. You reveal certain traits immediately, like the name Aliath, and some you keep hidden until later, like the fact that Aliath is Orion's father."

"Okay, you may know all the techniques, but that story is nothing next to mine," Paul bragged, "My story is about a girl that has to write a story but can't come up with an idea."
"How is that an interesting story?" John argued.
"It's ironic! When the judges see that they'll think it's hilariously creative."

"Or," John rolled his eyes, "They'll think you're too lazy to write a real story. You can't send in a story about writing a story!"
"Well, I like my idea and I don't care if you don't," Paul folded his arms, "I'm not stopping you from sending in your weird Star Wars rip-off!"

"Okay, fine, if you insist, maybe you can improve on it; for example, add a second character, with their own story entry. You could then balance out the story with some dialogue."

Something that John said sounded familiar. With no internal prompt, Paul spoke.
"John, do you think we're characters in a story?”

After a statement as ridiculous as that, an awkward silence ensued. For the sake of continuity to the talkative nature of John's character, the silence didn't last very long.
"Did you hit your head on something?" John asked him.

"No, but think about it," Paul elaborated, "That story you described sounds very similar to our current situation. We're talking to each other and reading our stories."
"Yeah, but that was something I just came up with now, this is real life!"
"But what is real life?" Paul queried.

"Don't get all philosophical now, it's not in your character!" John answered.
"But what is my character? Think about it, this whole time I've been in your room, all I've been is an obstacle to you and your story. I'm not sure I remember what I was like before being in your room." "If this were a story," John started, "It wouldn't be very consistent; based on our story ideas, you would imagine our roles to be switched; I would believe the impossible and you would disagree." Paul shook his head in disbelief, "It's genius! It's something I would do too; our author has switched these ideals in us and made you say that as an extra comedic poke."

"Yeah, well our author is also making you or I say all these things, giving the game away and not leaving anything for the readers to figure out," John tapped his finger to his temple, "You can't underestimate the readers."

"You also can't overestimate them," Paul countered, 11Perhaps he, or she, is worried these nuances will come across as lousy writing rather than subterfuge."
"This is preposterous!" John concluded.
"More evidence," Paul cried out, "How many eighteen year olds say 'preposterous', or 'subterfuge'? It's the author's attempt to show off a varied vocabulary by using overly complicated words."

"Or a varied ability to use the thesaurus," John opposed.
Paul grumbled, walking over to the window and closing the blinds, "Without looking outside, where's your house?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Where's your house?" Paul repeated, "Tell me what estate we're in."

John scoffed at the question, "Obviously, my house is in ... " He paused for some thought, "Surely, my house must be in, um, Montagu Gardens?"
"See!" Paul delighted, "You didn't even know where your own house was, because our author never needed you to know. What else don't you know? Your uni application? How many siblings you have? Your surname? I don't know for myself!"

John stared at the ground in disbelief, "I- I don't know. Maybe you're right, maybe we are in a story. I must confess, I also don't remember anything before you were here."

"That must be the beginning of the story, which means there must be an end."

"Do you think this story also has a 1000 word limit?" John gulped.

"I don't know, but hopefully it doesn't, because we're probably getting close ... "


Winner: David Lester with The Bored Student. This story is expertly crafted. We are plunged into what seems a ‘fantasy sci-fi’ tale with the usual spaceship, galactic wars and improbable weapons. However, we quickly realise this is only the opening gambit of a much more sophisticated meditation on the nature of fiction, narrative flow and the interface between story-telling and reality.
Two friends, John and Paul, engage in a clever interchange about meta-fiction-what does writing a story entail, what is the relationship between so-called reality and the stories we tell one another? More disturbingly, the two aspiring writers consider the possibility they themselves might be characters in an over-arching story. The thought, reminiscent of an incident in Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is told she might be part of the Red King’s dream, is profoundly philosophical and intellectually challenging.
Writing about the nature of writing is always interesting and thought-provoking. ‘The Bored Student’ has all the qualities you expect from this type of composition: mature ideas, quick turns of phrase, unpredictable twists in the narrative and sudden insights. This is a sophisticated, searching and enlightening story. Well done!

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