Palo Alto Weekly 16th Annual Short Story Contest
1st Place - 9-11 year olds
by Gabriel Durbin Lewis
The storm tossed the Discovery about like a toy boat. Sheets of
rain pounded like thunder on the deck of the small wooden ship while
flashes of lightning illuminated sailors fighting to take down the
sails. Light glowed from the tops of the masts, later to be known
as St. Elmos Fire. Below deck, barrels, or anything that wasnt
tied down, were rolling as if possessed. People were scurrying around
| About Gabriel Durbin Lewis
Gabriel Durbin Lewis moved from San Francisco to Palo Alto
during kindergarten and now is a fifth grader at Fairmeadow
Elementary School. He spends much of his free time reading.
Lewis' favorite reads include "Gone with the Wind,"
"Dracula," and "The Once and Future King."
He also enjoys basketball, soccer, and drawing.
Despite losing a finger to cancer treatment at age two, Lewis
plays classical Suzuki guitar, sometimes working in a little
blues and Elvis.
Lewis wants to be a naturalist when he grows up, his mother
told the Weekly.
-- Erik Wong
knowing what to do. Some old-timers were sitting in their quarters
playing cards and trying to ignore the typhoon and to act as if
they had seen worse. Suddenly, one brilliant bolt of lightning lanced
down and hit the main mast, which caught on fire. A powerful gust
of wind carried a chunk of burning wood onto the deck, which soon
ignited, and the smell of bubbling tar rode the air. It kept on
raining, but the fire defied all water. It sputtered, but kept growing,
yard by yard on the deck and soon the smell of burning tar wafted
below deck. At first the crew wondered what it was and began to
suspect what had happened. The crew stormed out onto the deck only
to find that half of the deck was burning. The panicked sailors
took pails of brine to try to douse the fire. The fire, now consuming
more than half the top deck, started to burn its way down below.
Many sailors, knowing that the ship could never be salvaged, leapt
free of the ship only to be lost in the writhing waters.
The Captain bellowed out unheard orders as there was a desperate
scramble for the lifeboats. It was a free for all with every man
for himself. Grunts of pain, while the sailors kicked and clawed
and bit and punched, were punctuated by the crackling and booming
of thunder. The boom swung back and forth, delivering lethal blows
to anything in its range. Ropes snapped and cracked like bullwhips
over the burning deck. The fire was finally put out by the huge
waves that loomed up like the unspeakably terrible monsters in a
young childs darkest nightmare that would leave him whimpering
with terror. Huge walls of water they were, crashing with splintering
force. Although the fire was out, it was too late for the doomed
ship. The fire had done its work. The deck was charred black and
burned through in many places. One especially large wave rose and
enveloped the whole ship. The wave crashed down and smashed the
ship to splinters. Human bodies rose briefly, then sank to the bottom
of the sea, where strange things lurked to guard their eternal sleep
at the bottom of the watery deep.
Amid the foaming water, one bedraggled figure clung tightly to a
board as it was thrown up and down by the waves. In the morning
the storm calmed down considerably. Sharks swarmed around the lone
sailor who was trying desperately to paddle with his hands to get
away from the deadly predators. They circled relentlessly around
the one board craft like vultures circling ever closer, but not
quite touching. These heralds of death would not be content to wait
for their victim to die. Soon they would be hungry and the end would
come swiftly. For days he floated in agony from sunburns doused
in salt water along with many cuts and bruises.
Three days later, the sailor was almost dead. He kept hallucinating
images of ships and islands coming into view. He shut his eyes and
remembered his home in England and how he had left it to seek his
fortune, but it was all over now. He was to die. To die on the ocean
with naught to eat or drink. His arm slipped off the waterlogged
board. It scrapped something. It took a full second to register.
Scrape means rock. Rock means shallow water. Shallow water means
"Land!" croaked the sailor hoarsely. He rolled
off the board and lurched toward the island. The starved sailor
scrambled up the sand and plunged into the jungle, or rather, the
hidden stream in the jungle. For half a second he lay stunned in
the cold stream water, then he laughed and slurped the cool water
until he was full, then he retched it out and drank some more.
The sailor finally looked up at the wildlife that was looking at
him. All of the parrots had stopped screeching and stared intently
at him. He tried to ignore their almost human stares. It was as
if they were hosts looking at a very rude guest. He was, as the
sailor reflected, a guest, a guest to the island. The traveler crawled
out of the stream and up to a palm tree, cast a final glare at the
parrots and fell asleep.
Whump! Whump! The sailor woke up instantly. "Pirates,"
he thought. "Theyre firing at our ship!" He opened
his eyes in time to see a brown cannonball plummeting toward his
leg. He moved just in time, and the sailor was happy he had, or
he would have been crippled for life. The cannonball hit the ground
with a spray of sand. "Sand?" he thought. The islander/sailor
looked around and remembered what had happened. The sailor then
looked at where the cannonballs should have been and saw that they
were coconuts. From that day on, the sailor never slept under a
In him awoke a great hunger, as he had not eaten anything for days.
He had heard that coconuts made excellent meals. But although he
had tried many different methods of opening them, none of them worked.
Finally, in frustration, he took a sharp rock and tore at the coconut.
Suddenly, some white coconut milk gushed out of the messy hole in
the coconut. The sailor put his mouth to the hole and drank the
juice in one gulp. The sailor then took a stick and carved out and
ate the flesh on the inside.
When he later caught a fish with a homemade sugarcane spear and
roasted it over a fire, he decided that he was eating better than
he had on the ship, where they ate a moldy biscuit, a wormy apple,
and some murky water.
Days passed, and the sailor discovered that sleeping out in the
open gave you mosquito bites so thick that it looked like chickenpox.
The sailor found it terribly painful when his old mosquito bites
were replaced by new ones every time they healed. Finally he came
up the answer to the mosquito problem. One day, he took some time
from catching fish and thought about how to stop the mosquitoes
from eating him alive every night. He scratched his head (and arms
and chest and legs) and thought. While he was thinking, he saw a
spider on its web. Soon a mosquito came along, flying around erratically
in its usual fashion. Suddenly it flew directly into the spider
web, into which it became entangled. The mosquito struggled desperately
to escape, only to become more entangled in the sticky strands of
the web. The sailor scrambled closer and watched the spider creep
toward its prey, with that unmistakable jerky, sprawling walk. "I
wish I had a net like that," he thought. "Hey! I can make
The sailor set about finding a suitable large-leafed plant. Finally,
he came upon a plant with leaves that went from his heel to thigh!
What he did next was very simple. He stripped one of the leaves
into long thin strands to use as thread. After that, he sharpened
a twig and poked holes all along the leaf edges to accept thread.
Then he sewed all of the leaves together.
At night, he crawled up into the crotch of a tree (as protection
against the wild boar, which had a nasty habit of charging around
for no apparent reason) and fell asleep under his homemade mosquito
net. No mosquitoes buzzed in his ears that night.
In the morning the sailor awoke to a whimpering noise, like the
mewing of a cat. On a nearby tree was a small fuzzy cat-like creature
mewling for its obviously dead mother draped over the branch. Poised
over the tableau was a large, black -and- yellow striped snake ready
to strike, its mouth wide open showing its pink insides and sharp
fangs. Without thinking the sailor took one of his fishing spears
and hopped to the ground. He snuck closer and closer until the snake
was in range. Then, moving fast as lightning, he struck the snake
a fearsome blow, knocking it out of the tree onto the ground, where
it twitched once, twice, and lay still. The sailor speared the snake
to make sure it was dead, and looked back upon the fuzzy creature
that was still mewling. It was greyish white with darker spots,
low slung somewhat like a cat, but with shorter legs. Its snout
was longer, like a dogs but smaller in proportion to the face,
and its claws were sharp. Its bushy tail was about 60 centimeters,
slightly shorter than its body. The sailor took the little thing
out of the tree and held it close. The sailor, or shall we say islander,
roasted the snake and ate some of it. He offered some to the little
creature, whom he named Fuzzball. Fuzzball refused the meat. The
islander realized that Fuzzball probably only drank milk, as it
was not old enough not to be weaned. But the closest thing he had
to milk was coconut milk. Fuzzball lapped up the coconut milk, and.
then snuggled closer to the islander.
Over the years the sailor (now islander) met many hardships. As
looked back on the time before he came to the island, he felt very
sad, because he had left behind his old house, his old friends,
his old life. He had known all of it for such a long time. But he
had begun a new life, a life with different challenges and different
solutions. In some ways, this life wasnt any different than
his old life. But he did like the island life better. He liked the
sun, the trees, the beauty of the nature-- instead of the smog,
smoke stacks, and oppressive buildings. Before, he was always ordered
around by the captain, the schoolmaster, even his parents. But now
he took orders from nobody except nature.
He never did get rescued, but then, that was how he liked it.
The beginning of the story seems like an opening scene of a
movie. The story has drama, action and a real sense of the storm.
It's wonderfully fast paced. The attention to accurate details impressed
us. The author does a fine job of using sensory information to place
the reader in the heart of the story. Tense and dramatic but also
humorous. -- Caryn Huberman Yarowitz, Katy Obringer, Nancy Etchemendy