The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2023 Winners Anthology, Enter the Imaginarium here.
“Once There Was a Boy” by Ivy Marsden, Monroe Middle School
First Place, Middle School Level, 2023
Once There Was a Boy
Monroe Middle School
Let me tell you a story, little one.
Not the truth, but a story.
A story that you must never forget.
Once there was a boy, young and ambitious. A gleam in his eyes, with the hope of changing everything for the better.
Once there was a boy who shattered the world.
His name is in history books. Mothers tell their children to fear him. Mothers warn their children never to make the same mistakes he did.
Benjamin Brystal. He wore trouble like a crown.
Once there was a boy who believed in everything he did, even once he realized that everything he did was wrong. He ended countless lives, little one. He destroyed the world that we have weaved together so carefully. He crumpled it up like a piece of paper. He held more power than all of mankind together between his fingertips.
Once there was a boy, his name was Benjamin Brystal, and he was a villain. He had dreams of being a hero, and no one knows why they turned around.
Once there was a boy who made countless mistakes and was not forgiven.
Now let me tell you the same story, little one.
But let me tell it differently.
You deserve to know what really happened.
Once there was a boy named Benjamin Brystal. This boy, little one, was your father.
Your father was a good boy, little one. I want you to know that. He had a dream of a great world. He saw kindness behind all people’s shadows. He saw hope where others saw doom. He was, to the onlooker, a normal child, perhaps even better.
But he was not normal. He himself could not explain the delusions he had. He could not explain the strange cravings he had in the late hours of the night. He could not explain why he was constantly repeating the same four words to himself:
“I am not insane.”
Benjamin Brystal struggled. He struggled to keep up the act of being kind and compassionate. He struggled to be someone he wasn’t. Until he met a girl.
Once there was a girl who befriended the beast. That girl was named Audrey Sorrel. Yes, little one. That girl was your mother. That girl was me.
The girl named Audrey Sorrel and the boy named Benjamin Brystal bonded. Their friendship was sometimes thought by the townsfolk of Arnis as more intimate, but they ignored the whispers about them.
It wasn’t only that Audrey was funny and sweet and pretty and played the piano well and always let him talk—Benjamin felt like he could be himself around her.
He let out all that he wouldn’t dare to show the people of the village, and Audrey understood. She, too, knew what it was like to live a dual life. She, too, knew what it was like to be someone other than the person on the outside.
But after a few months, Benjamin started to change. The feelings that he had worked so hard to push away started to blossom, and new tendrils started to grow, wrapping around his heart and mind in a firm grip, refusing to let go no matter how hard he tried to keep them down. He blamed Audrey, he blamed the nights he had spent with her, telling her everything that he kept locked away deep within him.
The townsfolk noticed this sudden change.
And so did a strange woman from the outskirts of the village.
Once there was a woman who tried to tame the beast. Her name was Sylvia Maeryn. That woman, little one, was your godmother.
One day she came to Benjamin, and she told him the secrets that had always been buried deep inside of him, just out of his reach, just out of his knowledge.
“You are a monster,” she told him. “You are a beast and you will bring discord to this world. You hold great power, but you must learn to use it.”
But he denied it. Every time she visited him, he would reply, “You’re wrong. I am no monster. I am a normal human.”
And she would leave. She would leave him to think about this, she would leave him to wonder, if he was a normal human, then what were all the thoughts he had when the town was asleep? What were the sleepless nights he had spent, telling himself:
“I am not insane”?
But one day, when Benjamin Brystal replied the same way he always did, Sylvia Maeryn decided to fight back.
“You’re wrong. I am no monster. I am a normal human,” he said.
“That is foolish,”she countered. “I have known what you are since the beginning! I have always been able to sense the chaos that lies deep within your soul. You were born to spill blood, boy.”
And she took his hand and said, “Come with me,” and he had no choice, so he did. But he wasn’t brought somewhere new and promising like he expected, he was instead led to a place he walked by every day on the way to school.
He was in the square where he had spent summer afternoons playing with his friends. He was in the square where he sometimes went with his father to sell bread. He was in the square that was such a major part of his childhood that he could walk through it blindfolded.
Benjamin Brystal had not expected Sylvia Maeryn to bring him here.
Sylvia grabbed both of his hands, she looked him in the eye and gestured at the many people in the town’s square and commanded him with such power—
Benjamin Brystal did not do anything—at least he didn’t think he did. But in less than ten seconds, all the people who had stood before him seconds earlier were dead.
His hands were smeared with their blood, dark and lucious. The shadows of their lives were smeared on his fingertips. The sticky dark red substance was all that was left of the people he had known his whole life, of the people he had grown to love. He stared down at his messy hands in horror.
“What did you do?!” And the woman smirked. She even laughed a bit. She shook her head at him almost pitifully.
“I didn’t do anything. This was all you.”
So Benjamin left Sylvia and ran as fast as he could until he found Audrey’s house, and to his relief, she was there. And he told her everything.
He told her that they had to leave. So together they ran, farther than the reaches of the town and farther still. Only when they couldn’t remember what they were running from did they stop.
Audrey Sorrel looked at Benjamin Brystal, and she knew she was looking at a murderer. She knew that even though he had not tried to kill all those people in the square, he had enjoyed it. He had left to make sure he didn’t end people he cared about.
But somehow, Audrey felt safe with him. Strangely, she felt at home with him. Because of some sort of strange feeling, she knew that he would not try to do anything to her. So she asked him,
“What if this happy little life we have made together, what if all our efforts to leave the past behind us fall apart?”
He gritted his teeth and shook his head but did not look at her. When he spoke, his words were filled with something that the people who read about him in history books would never imagine. When he spoke, his words were filled with love.
“Then we build it back up again.”
That is the truth, little one.
Once there was a boy, his name was Benjamin Brystal.
Once there was a boy, little one, who was painted as a villain.
But let me tell you, Rielle, your father was anything but that.
“Skyline” by Natasha Dracobly, South Eugene High School First Place, High School Level, 2020 Skyline By Natasha Dracobly South Eugene High School “I think friends…