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Dream Quest One Writing Contest
Third Writing Prize Winner Summer 2012


For the short story titled,
Embers Burning

Ella’s potent lavender and honey perfume clouded the air, creating an aura with a purple hue surrounding her. In her early forties, Ella lived a short twenty-minute drive from London, alone in a massive brick house atop a green-grass hill, overlooking a blooming meadow. Thick brown vines were strewn everywhere, even across the third story windows, concealing any potential view of the countryside. As usual, lounging in a comfy chair in her library, Ella was flipping through a tattered copy of War and Peace. The novel was so old and she had read it so many times that she claimed it was no longer an interesting read. She perused her coffee table, delicately picked up a crisp copy of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and flipped through it before settling down on page one. This was her second attempt at the famous American story.


Ella spent the majority of her time in the library, her favorite room. It contained thousands of books, with assorted colors, sizes, and subjects and consumed over half of her estate. One would believe that Ella was proud of her extensive collection, but she insisted on considering her reading time a secret rendezvous with her books, her cat, and herself. No one knew about her obsession with literature, except her young niece, Cassie, and one other dear friend.


A few years ago, Cassie, seven at the time, intruded upon her aunt’s quiet reading time, resulting in insolent and debilitating comments from an irate Ella. Cassie’s curiosity had simply overtaken her while she was visiting her aunt (her dad and new step-mom were on their honeymoon). So, she benignly went exploring. As she slowly poked her head around the ornate door, only the gray and white striped kitten noticed her and began meowing in a futile attempt to browbeat Cassie. But she was persistent. As Ella nonchalantly stroked the kitten’s fur, Cassie snuck inside the library and marveled at the extensive collection of books. She adored reading just as much as Ella, for she was quite astute for her age. She spotted a corner full of classics, and proceeded to yank each book off the shelf. Devious as usual, she brought them to her bedchamber, setting them on the armoire. After many trips, the pile of classics grew to the ceiling. On Cassie’s final trip, one book slipped and it landed with an echo on the ceramic tile floor. Without any rugs on the floors, even voices penetrated through the house. Ella heard the thud and the remote shuffling of pages, and, just as shrewd as Cassie, snuck around the bookshelves.




“Aha!” Ella screamed behind Cassie’s head. Cassie whirled around, and, trying to remain calm, stammered explanations.


“Madame, I...”


“Would you care to tell me your explanation?” retorted Ella.


As Ella interrogated Cassie, she began to quietly admire the young girl. Although not candid enough to admit it, Cassie reminded Ella of her childhood self. Remaining imperious, she scolded Cassie for being so disobedient. Out of the corner of her eye, Ella glimpsed the vacuous shelves of her classic section, yet refrained from asking Cassie where they had gone. Ella’ s self-control surprised even herself— she was notorious for her spiteful anger when anyone broke the rules. Cassie, staying aloof, returned to her bedchamber, and for the rest of the evening, she feasted her eyes upon the well-known stories.


Ella slowly returned to her large and lavish armchair and sank into the plush cushions. Staring deeply into the fireplace, she lingered before opening her book, watching a small pile of embers burning. Suddenly, she felt remorseful towards Cassie. Ella spent her entire life reading because she wanted to escape her fears and forget her past. She lived a lonely life, seldom socializing with others. What fueled Cassie’s passion for reading? Why did Cassie enjoy indulging in fantasies so much? Ella knew that Cassie’s father certainly wasn’t her inspiration. He was immature, even for being Ella’s younger brother. Learning was far from his priority. Ella considered him a superfluous addition to the family. She never wanted a sibling. She knew his new wife couldn’t be much better — Ella had a single conversation with her, and that was enough. Moreover, she was anything but congenial. Cassie’s mother had died in a car accident when Cassie was only three. She could barely conjure any recollection of her. Ella couldn’t restrain her curiosity. Without a responsible parent, who was Cassie’s mentor? Or was Cassie’s mind naturally and exquisitely deft?


Ella, tenaciously trying to procure the source of Cassie’s inspiration, knocked on her bedchamber door. Cassie, in the midst of indulging the failure of Jay Gatsby’s love for Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, took no time to linger, and shoved the tomes under her four-poster bed. Ella rapped on the door once more, and Cassie calmly swung it open to reveal the now stark bedchamber.


“Why hello again, Madame,” said Cassie courteously.


“How do you do, dear?” Ella calmly questioned.


“I am well, and you?” Cassie continued.


“Now that you ask, I... well, I have a question.”








“Have you ever heard of the story Cinderella?”


“Of course. It’s the classic tale of how a young girl meets her true love and...”


“Very well. What about The Secret Garden?”


“Oh yes! I love how Frances Burnett vividly describes the...”


“I’m impressed. Where did you learn such classic stories?”


“As it turns out, I visit the libr…” Cough cough cough...


“Pardon me! I read them in school.”


“You mean to tell me that you read an over two-hundred page novel in your Montessori school? You’re only seven!”


“It’s a very advanced school, Madame.”


“For the second time today, Cassie. Would you care to tell me your explanation for this?” “No.”




“I’d rather show you.” Cassie responded chuckling.


And with that, Cassie grasped her aunt’s wrist, giggling as she dragged her to Ella’s underused automobile. She instructed Ella to drive to 31 Granby Street, Town Centre, Loughborough. Ella perplexedly drove, as instructed, to the Loughborough Library.


“Come inside,” exclaimed Cassie, yanking Ella’s hand. “I want you to meet my best friend, George, the librarian.”


Sure enough, sitting at the front desk of the library with his nose in a crisp copy of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was a man in his mid-forties. His Old Spice cologne had a penetrating aroma that could be detected from across the room.


“George lives by himself, right next door. He loves to read so much! It’s hard to imagine him without a book in his hand!” Cassie giggled.


“Oh does he now?” Ella pondered.


Ella casually strolled up to George, and, behind his head, she loudly repeated “Aha!”


Lowering her voice, she continued “What a book you’ve got there, George!”


George jumped straight up out of his chair with a start and his hair stood up on end.




“Why yes, Madame!” cried George, who was still very confused about who this woman was and how she knew his name.


His short-term memory didn’t serve him well, but as soon as he caught a glimpse of Cassie slyly peeking around a bookcase with a smile on her face, his eyes twinkled and his cheeks grew red with embarrassment. Half forgetting, half ignoring Ella’s presence, George opened his arms and Cassie bounded into them.


“George! You wouldn’t guess what I read!” jabbered Cassie.


“What is that, my dear?”


“Well, I started with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What a hooligan he is! And then, I read Moby Dick. Oh! I forgot about The Great Gatsby. But I didn’t finish that one because…”


“Ahem!” said Ella, feeling quite disconnected from the conversation, “Cassie, would you care to formally introduce me to this gentleman?”


“Pardon me, Madame!”


“You may call me Aunt Ella, if you would prefer.”


“Okay, Aunt Ella. This is my best friend, George. He does marvelous things. He even taught me to read. He says I am the library’s “very important visitor,” isn’t that right, George?”


“Definitely, little miss Cassie!” replied George.


Directing the conversation towards Ella, George inquired, “Have you read the newest release from America? These foreign novels are spell bounding!”


“As a matter of fact, no! It looks as if my librarian didn’t do his research this week and find me the best books one could own. Perhaps I need a new librarian,” joked Ella.


“I could take care of that you know,” George offered.


“He could be your friend, too, Mada I mean Aunt Ella!” added Cassie.


“Splendid!” Ella exclaimed, “George, may I speak with you please? In private?”


“Yes madam,” replied George.


Ella and George retreated deep into the rows and columns of bookshelves. George began opening his mouth, but Ella immediately laid her index finger across his lips and began to speak.


“I would like to thank you, sir, for being the — uh — mature, adult-like figure in my niece’s life. I know that I have avoided her... to an extent, and I — I uh — know that you have a great influence on her. I am so glad that it is a positive influence. I just want to — urn — thank you for... guiding




Cassie in the right direction. I am certain that I wasn’t her guiding roadmap, and I would be afraid to know how lost she would have become without you. But, if it is allowable by you, I would fancy to become a roadmap in Cassie’s life…”


Then, going into her own little world, Ella continued, “She is such a brilliant child, so mature, responsible and self-reliant in so many ways. She even reminds me ofme, when I was a young one. And, that drive to read It will take her so far in life - ”


Ella’s speech finally trailed off.


“I would be honored to have you join me in leading Cassie to success and happiness in life. Speaking of the devil, I hear her snooping right now!” said George eagerly.


George and Ella poked their head around the aisles of bookcases to find Cassie, once again, in the classics section surrounded by tons of books circling around her. She sat in the center of the circle with the heavy, over one thousand page, War and Peace in her tiny lap. Ella recognized it to be her own. They snuck up behind Cassie.


“Aha!” exclaimed George.


“Put that old book down. Don’t you two want to read the riveting new release of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry with me?” George anxiously asked Cassie.


Cassie vigorously nodded her head up and down. With a smile of acceptance from Ella, George gently tossed two brand new copies at them.


“I’m on page thirty-eight. Read along with me,” stated George enthusiastically, as he began reading.


Ella will never forget the day when Cassie dragged her to the Loughborough library and introduced her to George; the day they all three sat reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Since then, Ella and George have often caught up with each other at the local coffee shop sharing some hot chocolate and conversing about their favorite books.


Today, there was Ella, still lying across the arms of her comfy chair with her feet dangling over, scratching her cat’s back. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry had fallen in her lap. She glanced down and saw her book had closed. Snapping out of her reminiscence, she flipped through the pages and continued reading aloud to her cat...


“Mama took my arm and pulled me up. ‘Over here Cassie,’ she said, directing me to a chair next to the fireplace… I lingered before opening my reader… watching a small pile of embers burning.”
# # # 

About the author:

Hello, my name is Lexa Armstrong. I'm 13 years old and attend a Middle School in my hometown of Dunedin, Florida. I live with my mom and dad and two pets. I am in the full-time gifted program at my school and certainly thrive there. I have received straight-A's my entire academic career. My hobbies include dance, ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop styles, piano, (since I was 3 years old), 4-H, volunteering, and writing! I am passionate about my hobbies and schoolwork, and constantly inspire to improve. My accomplishments include being recognized as a National Medallion winner in the Duke University Talent Identification Program in both 5th grade and 7th grade and recently being accepted into he American Ballet Theatre's 5-week summer intensive in New York City.