Live Arts Contest Winners
The Live Arts Contest is a competition for young aspiring writers. Greenville College hosted the contest primarily for high school and college writers around the area, but it was also open to Christian institutions all-around the country. The age groups range from freshmen in high school to seniors in college. The Live Arts Contest winners are published by Greenville’s online journal: The Scriblerus.
Name: Colby Rouchka
Title: Plague of Winter
Grade: Junior (High School)
School: Edwardsville High School
The Plague of Winter
As the brisk winds wash over the earth,
Death becomes abundant.
As the plague of winter courses upon him,
He knows this is the end.
For him, and many others like him, death comes slowly.
It is the same process each time:
First with the freezing of his creaking limbs,
Followed by the loss of his summer coat.
Soon the lifeless ground is covered with fallen leaves.
He is now left with but one leaf,
One small leaf holding him back from death.
And with a swift breeze, his anchor to life is gone.
As the balmy breeze returns to the earth,
Life becomes abundant.
As the blessing of spring reaches him,
He is brought back to life.
Name: Siqi Liu
Title: Pictures of the Heart
Grade: Junior (High School)
School: Naperville Central High School
Pictures of the Heart
As I walked home from school one dreary afternoon, the usual pool of black liquid and human waste sitting outside my apartment building caught my eye. There was a fresh green leaf that somehow got mixed in with the sewage. It was the size of a rose petal and as delicate as baby’s skin. Stooping down, I leaned closer to study its translucent veins.
“Kuai dian!” My grandmother called in Mandarin, urging me to hurry up. “It’s lunchtime!” I raised my head and peered at the sixth floor window, the one that belonged to our kitchen. She hated it when I was late for her carefully-prepared meals.
I looked back at the leaf, biting my lower lip with the vague sadness of a child. Something told me that it didn’t belong with the dirt and feces. It belonged on the top of a tree with all the other leaves, soaking up warm light and drinking clean dewdrops. It belonged to the splendor of the sun and the madness of rain.
But my backpack was getting heavy. “I’ll come back for you, my little leaf,” I whispered under my breath. Gnawing on my six-year-old nails, I ran up the staircase to go home.
Eight years later, I still had the bad habit of biting my nails. The staircase was darker and narrower than I remembered, which made me a little nervous. I took each step carefully, for the naked cement wore a layer of grime that made my shoes slip. I tried to remember if this was always how it had been. Did this wall have the red-crayon graffiti of an elephant when I used to live here? Were the windows always patched up with wooden boards?
On a few occasions my grandparents forgot to tell me that they were going to be out on errands. When I came home from school, I would be locked out of the apartment for up to hours. Those were the dreaded times. Dark, frightening stories that I had heard paralyzed me as I waited alone in the stairwell. I squeezed my eyes shut and thought of kidnappers who take children to faraway villages. I held my breath, listening for conmen with butcher knives who cut off little girls’ hands. I could never muster the courage to look behind me, remembering stories of robbers who strangle witnesses and bury their bodies.
Even now, as I climbed the last flight of stairs leading to my old home, I could feel an irrational urge to fear something intangible lurking in the musty air. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my memories, I recalled spooky stories that used to haunt me. The wave of raw, childish fear that seized me out of nowhere was deliciously intense. I haven’t outgrown my overactive imagination after all, I thought, smirking to myself. There was some comfort in that realization. It was proof that the little girl who used to live in this place still lived in me. I wasn’t so sure anymore, since I rarely hear her voice nowadays.
Thankfully, the sound of my mother and grandfather’s approaching footsteps reassured me that I was not alone. Instantly, the comfort of human company made the dark stairwell seem much more benign. When we arrived in front of the door of my childhood home—located on the sixth floor— my grandfather took the knob and thrust it against the splintered wood in a hard, swift motion. Its puke-green paint was almost faded to white, and a mist of dust quietly drifted down from above. The door opened with a croak, as if it were a piece of playground equipment that had forgotten what it was like to be touched by children.
The apartment was now a hollow shell of a home. It was shocking how small everything was. The bookshelves that had been giants in my memory only came up to my chest, and the living room was about the size of the master bedroom in our home in America. The walls were disappointingly white; the rainbows and dogs and words I had scrawled on the wallpaper had been purged so completely there was not a trace of color on the pallid surface.
“Woah, do you remember this?” my mother exclaimed, moving toward a glass panel that separated the kitchen and the living room. There were circular pieces of aqua-colored wallpaper that covered its surface, carefully arranged and pasted onto the glass. “I cut these pieces myself.” She scratched the glass with her nails. “I figured it would be cheaper than buying a whole sheet of wallpaper…”
As she reminisced, I tried to picture my mother as a young woman nearly twenty years ago. She and my father moved into this apartment when they were first married, and this was where I was born. Soon thereafter, they both left to work in the United States, and my grandparents moved in to take care of me. The first time I remember seeing my mother was when I was six years old—she had come to visit me as soon as she got her Green Card.
I told an acquaintance about this particular episode of my life at a dinner party a few months ago. He was the son of my mother’s coworker, so I felt obliged to carry on a conversation with him. The first words out of his mouth were, “Wow, it must’ve sucked to have your parents leave! Do you, like, hate them now?”
“You should go to sleep. It’s eleven o’clock,” my grandmother said, drying the dishes.
I stood on the little stool in front of the sink. The mirror above it was rectangular and dirt-speckled, and I peered into it at my reflection. “No,” I said defiantly. “I’m waiting for Mom.” Mom. The word sounded foreign, a title that belonged to somebody I didn’t know.
I picked up my toothbrush and squeezed a blob of toothpaste onto it. At that moment, there was a knock at the door.
“Hello, Dad!” The woman had a purse in one arm and a huge suitcase in the other. Her eyes scanned the room and found mine.
“Oh, my baby!” She quickly walked toward me and wrapped me in her arms. My face sank into her bosom. She was perfume and softness and everything I did not know.
The answer is, no, I do not hate my parents. I love them because they were brave enough to leave behind the only life they knew. I love them because they were willing to compromise their own happiness so that I could have a better life. I love them because although they missed my childhood, I could not imagine spending those wonderful seven years any other way.
I reached out a hand and touched the chalky walls. They were stripped of their skins, barren and raw. The childhood posters in my memories were gone as if they were never there. The windows, which I recalled as grand pieces of glass, were really no more than three feet in length.
My grandpa touched my shoulder. “Let’s go see the balcony.”
The balcony faced fabulous rolling hills and a factory in the distance, where a thin thread of white smoke stretched toward the bluest piece of sky. It was my favorite place as a child. Standing on the topmost floor of the apartment building—although it was only six floors tall—I had felt like I was at the top of the world. I was the pilot of a plane lifting off the runway, the captain of a ship sailing into the watery horizon, and the free-spirited adventurer standing at the edge of the greatest precipice on earth.
I had loved watching sunset from the balcony. As the great, orange gem fell into a dark pool somewhere beyond the horizon, I often had wondered what lay outside this cement patch of apartment buildings. The world in my childish eyes was unexplored, raw, and full of possibilities. Life itself was a curious thing to me. Now, with the sticky July breeze whispering against my ears, this same feeling stirred somewhere deep within my heart.
It was a typical summer afternoon that seemed to go on forever. The sweet air swelled with the scent of lavender and cicada’s chimes, and the sun was so hot that even birds stayed in the shade. I stood on the chair and leaned forward so that my upper body hung entirely over the railings. “Wheeeee!”
“You’re going to fall,” the boy said lazily, draping his arm nonchalantly around my grandmother’s flowerpot. His floppy bangs—black as sesame seeds— had an oily shine. He came over to my home for so many dinners and play dates that he practically lived here.
“You try it!”
“I’ll do it after I go to the bathroom.” He paused, scratching his head. A devilish grin lit up his face. “Hey, can I go to the bathroom here? It looks like your first-floor neighbor’s cucumbers need a little watering.”
For the rest of the afternoon, we exploded into a fit of giggles whenever we looked at each other.
I was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of dizziness as I looked down at my first-floor neighbor’s garden. It was strange that the older I got, the more acrophobic I seemed to become.
The three of us strolled quietly along the newly paved road. Grandpa and Mother walked side by side. I lagged behind. The sunlight kissed my forehead, filtering through the lush green canopy. They had only been saplings when I had moved. A block away, the pond where I had spent so many afternoons had been replaced by a majestic, sixty-floor office building. My elementary school down the street had been torn down as well, leaving nothing but an ivy-cloaked wall.
Places can’t hold memories because they don’t have the capability to stay frozen in time, I realized. They are but raindrops suspended in midair for only a fraction of a second and leaves that change color through the seasons. People come and go. Walls get torn down and rebuilt. My childhood home was only a shadow of what it had been, but in the midst of this strange neighborhood, I had found a small piece that belonged to me.
As I walked through the quiet streets, I felt more at peace than I had in a long time. All the mundane things that had cluttered my life for the past several months—schoolwork, friend drama, and a smattering of typical teenager issues—seemed incredibly insignificant at that moment. In the end, the little girl taught the teenager a lesson. No matter which corner of the world life takes me, no matter where I end up, no matter who I love, there is always one place where I can find myself: home. And when home becomes nothing more than a memory, I just have to look inside my heart for those richly colored walls.
That little girl who loved watching sunsets and nearly cried over a piece of leaf? Thankfully, she’s still here.
Name: Julia Fowler
Title: Secrets of Eugene Onegin
Grade: Junior (Undergrad)
School: Southwestern University
Secrets of Eugene Onegin
The air was full, and it was full incomparably, with light and clarity and wide open spaces of sound and color. Suddenly, all these things gathered together and burst apart, cut through by a single blank tone coming from a small box sitting on a thick countertop in a room full of ceramic and steel.
“Anna, hey. The money wants to hear you do the letter scene and then the finale with Kokhlov. I don’t know how they think they’re going to hear it from there, but I don’t really have time for this, so both of you just Skype it in, ok? Listen, don’t bother calling back; I’m going to be really busy for a while. Break a leg.”
Anna Korsakov sniffed, leaned back, and shut the lid on the piano, her long fingers gliding over the smooth whorls and patterns on the dark wood. Soft night drifted in from the open window, caressing her face and her hands, clinging to her with the sickly fervor and assurance of a desperate mother to a grown child with whom she is well acquainted, and wishes to remain, always, entirely dependent.
On the stand above the piano rested sheets and sheets of tan paper, which together with their notes and rhythms, made up the love letter of a child; of Tatyana to her Eugene Onegin. Beneath it lay the scene of her grand Polonaise, and there in that darkened room, the thought of even that transitory triumph, was as far away from the woman whose voice gave it life as it was from the hopeful child in whose voice it was written.
Anna Korsakov, premier Russian soprano engaged to sing the role of Tatyana at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, gazed down at the pages before her for a heavy instant before releasing them, and walking softly away, gently shutting her bedroom door behind her.
“Come on, Kokhlov! You love this woman, and she’s marrying someone else—she has married someone else! Please, God, look sad!”
Sergey Kokhlov, Eugene Onegin, was a bear of a man. Russian in the width of his shoulders, and the depth of his voice, and the way he walked across the stage as if it were an icy wilderness, untamed and unconquered, except by him who strode across it with careless and assured complacency, crushing the snow beneath his feet. How could such a man as himself be familiar with sadness? It must be foreign to him; the only emotions disturbing the face of his rugged calm those of pride and stasis. He was Russian—so were they both—but he did not remind Anna of home.
She remembered her home. She remembered the wilderness, and she remembered the people; thin, sallow faces in the winter, ice on the road, and snow. Darkness transfigured into a living being on the plains of Siberia, beneath the Verkhoyansk Mountains. The cold air of the Siberian High pooling in the hollows of the earth, and the image of her escape; tall mountains, reaching up to the sun. She remembered the wolves; the winter that killed the blue hare and the reindeer and caribou, when they came down from the high slopes, deprived, and desperate for the prey that, weak and less hardy than they, had been claimed by the ice and the freezing cold. Four hundred of them came out of the wilderness, and by sundown on the fourth day had taken thirty horses from their stables.
“Anna,” A voice spoke to her from the pit.
She glanced down at it, then at the man hovering nearby. “Victor. It’s fine. We can do it again, from the entrance.” She turned, swept her full, glittering skirts behind her, and moved toward the wings.
The small man in the pit yelled out again at the big Russian baritone, “And this time, for God’s sake, at least try for a little jealousy! You have a performance in two days!”
Victor Thierson’s eyes followed Anna, “No, no. Jealousy would be redundant, and two days is not enough time to learn it properly.” He slid off the podium he had been leaning against and climbed onto the stage. He stood; smiled, “Try for despair.”
“What?” said Kokhlov.
The smile grew a hard and hungry edge, “Despair,” he said, “You know it, don’t you?” Victor Theisman, stage director for the Met’s fall production of Eugene Onegin, was not a large man. She imagined a secret in the lines of his face and the slant of his encumbered shoulders. A cursed secret; the most terrible ever to be uttered into language, and that the hearing of it and the listening, would drive all thought, in front of it, before it, until there was nothing, and would be nothing, but a whisper in the darkness, despairing. Now he stood alone at the edge of the stage, and the shadows from behind held him close.
“Forgive me, no, of course not,” he continued.
Kokhlov shrugged, “I am an actor. You wish despair, I will make despair. Eugene Onegin is a proud man. I am a proud man; our despair will be a great thing, magnificent to behold.”
Victor laughed, Anna said nothing. He walked toward Kokhlov, “I am sure it will, my fine, eager, friend. By all means, regale us with the depth of your emotion. But do be careful.”
“Care is not needed,” Kokhlov said, “This thing is required, I will do it.”
Victor smirked, “I meant for yourself, but perhaps you are right. Onegin, at least, would be far beyond care. I imagine that the realization of his own impuissance would be the most sublime and awful of his life.”
“Awful? It is love, it is sweet tragedy,” Kokhlov waved his hand, “sublime, yes. It is the music.
“I see,” Victor met Anna’s eyes and bared his teeth, “It is the music.”
New York City hangs on the eastern seaboard of the United States of America like a jewel. They call it an apple, and it is; a plum, ready to be plucked. In the summer it is hot enough, and the people who live there, or have come to find their fortune, scurry to and fro through the gritty wind blown in from the harbor, salty with the sea. The river Hudson runs through the city, slow and tranquil, but its waters are dark with the refuse from the dwellers on its shore, and it does not glitter.
Once, the streets of the neighborhood called Little Italy were filled with refugees from the old world, and a language bright with the tang of olives and the hot Mediterranean sun. Their food and their customs they brought with them, and now pavement is littered with little awnings and outdoor café tables, where harried businessmen go to drink cappuccinos from small ceramic mugs colored in stripes of red and green and white.
Anna brushed past a little boy in a dark blue shirt with white stripes, kicking a soccer ball that shined in formal regularity—black, white, black, white—across its grooved surface. His parents rushed after him, and behind them she caught sight of Kokhlov, sitting at a café with his back to the windows, facing the street, sipping from a tall, thin glass filled with ice.
She sat down across from him, and he waved to her over the table, “You’ll have coffee.”
She looked at him; it might have been a glare, “I don’t want coffee.”
Amused, without quite knowing why, he gazed at her across patterned tablecloth, “You do.
She shifted forward and continued to see him, eyes dark with tangled impotency and in-expression, “But really. Do you? Want it, I mean—really want it, so that you know that you do. I mean, have you ever not? Do you even care?”
“About coffee?” he looked at her, then seeming at a loss, shrugged.
She leaned back again, eyes straight, not wavering, “About anything,” she said.
“No” came a voice from the space behind her. She turned, and together both of them looked at Victor Theisman.
“Pardon me,” he said, “I should have said, ‘of course not.’”
Kokhlov sat up, “Theisman. That’s not good of you. I care about the music we all will make tomorrow night.”
“Do you, now” he replied, “how reassuring.”
“Yes, it should be; it will be very perfect.”
Victor smiled as he had on the stage, “It seems we will be getting our money’s worth, then. I am sure you will remember all my instructions.”
Kokhlov nodded, “Undoubtedly so. Now, if you are to excuse me, I must be meeting with the lovely madam Hayes for a last fitting of my military dress.” He stood and left as Victor took his place. Both sat in silence for some moments until Victor spoke suddenly.
“He does not know it,” he said.
“What doesn’t he know?” Though Anna did.
She looked away from him, “The world must be larger than that, for you to know such things about him.”
Victor crossed one leg over at the ankle, “Oh, come now darling, there is no hiding; he is the world.”
Color bled out from the center of the room, touched the walls, and faded back again. Even here, in the heart of the Metropolitan opera, they were a dull grey, and cracks crept lazily up them toward the ceiling. Anna gazed at herself in the mirror and imagined what she had seen, and what she still must see, as she tread the boards that night; her desperation and her heartache, Tatiana’s innocence almost too much, too fragile, too false to bear. It was enough that she should receive Onegin’s letter at the end, and know that the world was as she had always believed it to be.
A shadow covered the floor, “My dear.”
“Victor,” she spoke, turning her head just barely, “A little late, are you not? Have you come, vodyanoy, to sow the seeds of your last minute doubt?”
He paused a moment before speaking, “Let us not pretend, darling. You and I know that there is no worth to this; that there is no worth to anything. What have you felt in the last few months other than choked off? What have you felt beyond pain and fear and anger? These are the only things we are allowed to feel with any real consistency; most feel nothing at all. Your purpose—our purpose—is to fool those creatures out there, those idiots, into believing that they can have lives, full of happiness and light—that if they try hard enough, these things will stay with them. That their tragedy is beautiful and will be rewarded.”
Anna lifted her eyes to his in the mirror, and his image wavered before her like smoke, “You believe that. I have to wonder why you are here.
He turned toward the door, “Simple, dear one; the same reason you are.”
He left, and Anna remained there, exactly as she was, until the bustle in the outside hallway gradually grew more frantic, and the stage manager came by for her last call before the final act. She rose, and followed the woman through winding corridors, down hallways, and under arches, until they reached the glowing portal draped in gold, which led to a world beyond her own.
Anna stepped out onto into the light as the orchestra began. She moved through the music in a haze of dark, and light, and grey, until finally, she met Kokhlov in the middle of the stage and he fell on his knees before her. His face was grave as she bade him to rise and listen to her as Tatiana had listened to Onegin when he dashed her hopes to pieces in the snow. Self-assured and remorseful, he did so, and begged her to have pity on the suffering of a man who has been punished for his transgressions. Surely the ice that consumed his soul was enough!
There was a pause, and in that pause, Anna felt the trembling of the earth that the condemned man feels when all the world is altered by his rage—that in his fury bends to his will; so that in anger he is able to claim what he never could in peace. Kokhlov felt it, saw it in her face, and the sudden spark of it drove him back from her and onto his knees again.
Anna saw him from the center of her storm once again until, at last, the knife blade fell, and, looking out over the audience, she found she could breathe again. Now sound and the blank spaces between thought and feeling came together and burst apart, before rushing through the air and the earth like a tide; relentless, indomitable, and full of light and color.
Throughout the house not a soul moved, and so even to the furthest row it was clearly heard; the dropping of a pen from a hand unable to hold it any longer, the thud of knees against hard wood—and seen; the reflected light of a dark, weary head, bowed in submission and astonishment behind a golden curtain.
 I remember there was some hesitancy in class surrounding the “Russian stereotype” that I evoke with Sergey, but that was in essence my intention. I wanted to give the reader the sense of a sort of mask, maybe even a slight artificiality, born of the arrogance of never really having had to know oneself or one’s own desires, so it felt very important to me to leave it.
 In Russian mythology the Vodyanoy are the male counterparts to the malevolent water spirits known as Rusalki (most famously known by Dvorak’s wonderful opera Rusalka), who are the spirits of the unclean dead. This includes unbaptized children, suicide victims, women who bear children out of wedlock, and those who die without last rites. Rusalki lure men to their deaths by singing and dancing, while the vodyanoy would drag those he desires down to his river bottom to serve him in slavery.
Name: Heather Burdsall
Title: A Welsh Confession
Grade: Senior (Undergrad)
School: Messiah College
A Welsh Confession
It’s not on the hillside I find him
Anointing lambs’ wounds with oil.
I can’t find him with the filthy,
Cupping their faces in his hands.
Not even in the boathouse, ready
To loosen the rope and slip
Across the lake to sit and weep.
In the dark, butter-flecked sky,
I have heard no speech, no language.
In the Cathedral, he’s left us
With only his cameo, staining the pool
Of red light that falls, bloodying the face
Of a whining boy in the third wooden pew.
But he is there—
In the sore radiance of morning, shaking
Me by the shoulders, assuring me
Of all he’s taken.
Name: Emily Petroline
Title: Dead City Radio
Grade: Sophomore (High School)
Genre: Visual Art
School: Greenville High School