by Anna Renee Stump
Second Place – Level B (5th – 6th grade)
Tiberius didn’t mean to run. If he had another chance—a chance in which he could think of something but his own panic and at least attempt to do something to save his little sister—he would try, he knew he would. Yet in that split second of decision, when the bomb had fired through the ceiling, rubble tumbling and smashing all about him, he hadn’t thought clearly. Blinded by his terror, he fled, aiming at nothing but escape.
He recalled stumbling down a chill, black street, tears burning tracks down his cold cheeks, the searing knife-like realization that his beautiful, dark-eyed, trusting sister was dead. And as agonizing as the thought was, what was worse was knowing he had allowed it to happen. It was his fault—not that of the Allies who bombed his house, not that of Mussolini or of Hitler or of whoever had immersed Italy in this world war, but his.
Ever since the break of morning, when he had discovered he was trudging along the white gravel road he was now on, which was as lifeless and soundless as the top of the world, the poor knowledge of his failure had dissolved, leaving behind a formless misery. He felt as though he was lost in a dream, and the only way he could ever escape would be to fight through his senselessness by getting to the end of this lonely road. If he kept on and made it to the end, something would happen to make life real again—an intangible instinct whispered to Tiberius.
He pushed on. He pushed on through the deathly loneliness smothering him and the terrifying stillness, struggling forward towards the mocking horizon, forever despairingly blue and unbroken. On he pushed, though his legs felt ready to collapse under him. Tiberius kept his head down because of its heaviness, unable to lift it to search for the end of the road. The descending sun was dragging his head along with it.
Crouching by the side of the road was a grimy little boy. He was tired and confused, miserable even, like a fledgling bird whose nest had been torn off its tree, ripped apart, and trampled. At that moment, the little boy raised his tousled dark head for the first time and saw Tiberius. As their eyes locked together, Tiberius felt an ice-cold shock over his head, jolting him back into reality. Then, he realized with a heart-flooding ache that the dark-brown stunned stare meeting his own was like…so like…
The instant Tiberius realized this something, it caused the boy to release a scream that fell onto Tiberius crying bitterly. Taken aback for a moment, Tiberius remained there, uncomfortable and uncertain in the middle of the road with the desolate four-year-old now clasped around his legs. What on earth was he supposed to do with this helpless little boy? Taking him wasn’t an adequate option, was it? He most certainly would wish to find work once he reached wherever he was going, and with a four-year-old, his chances of obtaining a job would only limit him more. He felt awkward. Tiberius thought about unlocking the child’s grasp and bolt. That would put a swift end to this embarrassing situation. Then, gazing down at the bedraggled little head, all his objections melted, and, on an impulse, he did what he would have done for her.
Bent, Tiberius gathered the boy up and held him against his chest. They set off along the road anew, facing the blazing west. As he strode along with the sniffling child nestled in his arms, he recognized his second chance with courage and confidence.