Winning Short Story Entries of The New Frontier’s Writing Competition

Panhavoan Reth and Andres Guerra

In The New Frontier’s first writing competition, we received numerous entries from talented writers in different grades. We want to thank all of the people that submitted entries for this competition. We enjoyed reading your writing! The first-place winner for the short story entry is “Stained Glass Windows.” It is written by Panhavoan Reth who is a senior at John F. Kennedy High School.

“Stained Glass Windows”

Nestling my head on my grandmother’s lap, I took in the pleasant smell of rain-soaked Earth as the monsoon wind whistled through the window. Pure joy tugged at the corners of her lips as she began to narrate Cambodian folktales and reminisce on memories of French-colonized Phnom Penh like she always did on these cold, gloomy evenings.

I saw these stories as crystal fragments. One by one, I collected them from my grandmother and neatly pieced them together in my mind into a window – a portal into different pockets of time and place. Every moment of my childhood was spent gazing through it, fascinated by how random words can be meticulously strung together into fragments that projected such beautiful views. My grandmother was a skilled craftsman and I wanted to be just like her.

And so, I started to forge my own fragments. From fairytale retellings published weekly on Wattpad in middle school to thrilling bedtime adventures that instantly put my siblings to sleep (for all the wrong reasons), my love for storytelling grew, eventually shapeshifting into another form: translation.

After stumbling upon the multilingual version of Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go,” I was enchanted by how languages from all corners of the world beautifully crafted their own versions of the same story. It was like dipping a fragment in a colorful palette of cultures. Realizing that my culture was missing, I grabbed a blank sheet of paper and started rewriting the song into my native language. Before I knew it, I had translated every song in Moana into Khmer.

Besides the thought that I was the Cambodian Lin-Manuel Miranda just waiting to be recognized by Disney, I found that filtering stories through languages granted me the power to see the world through infinite possibilities of interpretation. This discovery led to a new hobby. From Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to Adele’s “Hello,” I happily added songs to my growing collection of fragments.

Yet, there was always one burning question at the back of my mind: What purpose did my fragments serve?

I found my answer when I journeyed beyond my hometown to share meaningful stories with the people of Japan. There, I realized how much I took the value of my crystal fragments for granted. In Cambodia where everyone was raised in the same culture as I was, they were dull and mundane in my eyes, yet in Japan, they danced in all colors of the rainbow. During late-night conversations, I saw the sparkle in my host family’s eyes as they gazed through my fragments into a world they never knew. It was the same exhilaration I felt with every new song I translated.

My fragments had a place in others’ windows. They granted them new perspectives. All our fragments do. No matter how insignificant they may seem, these pieces give others the power to interpret their world in infinite ways. With the collections that we share with one another, we can build the most magnificent stained glass windows.

 

Comments from a voter: This short story was beautifully crafted from start to finish. It’s heartfelt retellings of the author’s unique experiences are strung together with a cohesive metaphor that helps to maintain the readers’ attention. The author has a gift of capturing moments in time and allowing the audience to partake in them through his well-written descriptions.

 

“The Depths of Grief” is the second-place winner of the short story entry.  It is written by Andres Guerra who is a freshman at John F. Kennedy High School. We also want to give an honorable mention to Ingrid Portillo’s “No Stars When Dying” and Alyssa Vega’s “Being Happy.”

The Depths of Grief

She was sitting in her La-Z-Boy reading whatever book she picked up from the library today. Her mind was wandering off to what she’d eat for dinner this evening. It was a slow afternoon, borderline boring, but she preferred it that way. She decided maybe after dinner she would take a quiet walk along the trickling creek. She walked over to her small but homely kitchen to get the dishes ready for dinner. She remained in her own mind while doing all her housework. She was eating her second forkful of potatoes when a quiet rapping came from outside.

Right before her front step, she found a frail woman with sunken eyes and a blanked out expression on her face. She took a second to notice the open door and her head guided her eyes to the person she intended to talk to.

“Hi Nancy,” the woman’s expression didn’t change from its initial solemn exhaustion. Her chin barely shifted as she spoke.

Nancy could tell something was profoundly wrong and that she would have to put in effort to help this woman, “Hey Sarah, what’s up, I was just sitting down to the table, if you’d like something I can-”

“Nathaniel’s dead.” Silence. Nancy’s barely convincing attempt at a welcoming smile was violently stripped away as toxic, viscous liquid black flowed into both women’s throats, choking out any breath or word. Nancy’s body felt heavy over her legs and she momentarily noticed the real weight of her head.

Sarah started towards her, hesitated and then stopped, her shoulders sagging further. Nancy knew what had happened, it was a habit to all of them. Don’t get too close lest you be at fault for the death of someone’s loved one. Nancy was tired and had been touch-starved for a year now. Her hands were hungry for someone to hold, her eyes were searching for someone to view up close. She remembered there was something that she had to remind herself but she couldn’t quite reach the memory. Her mood warped reality into a drab, monotonous grayscale. She was looking for something optimistic to say.

“Hey let me get you something to drink, how’s lemonade?”

“Fine.” They sat out on the porch for a while and talked about whatever they could, unsure how to address the real issue. After a while, when it was clear things wouldn’t get better from a simple conversation, Sarah drove back home to sort herself out.

Nancy crawled back to her La-Z-Boy, reclined it, and just held onto herself for dear life.

Suddenly the memory crashed into her conscious mind and she sat up, reciting the line that she always relied on, “Even when your hope is drained and you have none left, even if it is just beyond your reach, find comfort in trusting the undeniable fact that there is always reason to hope.” So, despite her cynical mind, she lay back down and allowed herself to trust hope to wake up and guide her through.

 

Comments from a voter: The author’s unique ability to capture the emotion of grief and intricately weave it throughout this short story makes this piece of work stand out from the other entries. One thing I particularly appreciated is how the author ended the story on a positive note, allowing the reader to step away from the story feeling fulfilled.