Third Place: The Three Swalamparyteers
It was a quiet afternoon at Herman Elementary School, and the building was devoid of children. Except for three students. Mike, Jason, and Emily were practicing for their talent show and got left behind. As they waited for their parents, tired & bored, the kids decided to play a game. Jason had some playing cards, but the trio didn’t quite feel like playing just a game of cards. Loitering around the school grounds, they saw somebody’s dental packet – the kind you get after a dental appointment. For ten minutes they sat there, staring at their box of cards and the bag with tooth paste & brush. Suddenly, Emily exclaimed, “I have an idea!” She then suggested a game: the players would each take turns in picking a card, putting their initials on it, strategically placing toothpaste on it and throwing it overhead. You could not, however, place toothpaste on a face or multiple edges. When all the cards ran out, the person with the most cards stuck on the ceiling would be the winner. The game began in right earnest. They didn’t run out of cards by the time their parents arrived, but at that point, Emily and Jason were tied. The trio left, proud at their ingenuity in creating a game. But, little did they know what lay ahead.
The next day, when they arrived at school, they found that some of the cards were still there, on the ceiling, though no one had noticed. Jason had brought more playing cards – it seemed a pity to quit when they could be perfecting their skills. The school day went by as usual, and they soon found themselves in the same position, stranded at school, except that this was not by accident. There was another difference. A little first grader was marooned with them, this time around. They asked,” Are you lost?” The first grader replied almost immediately, as if he was expecting the question, “No, my mom is often late.” Feeling bad, the trio decided to invite their little friend into the game. He understood the rules fully and, when it was time for questions, he only had one – “What’s it called”? The trio was taken aback by the question. There was no discussion previously of “a name.” Then Jason quickly glanced around for ideas and saw a map with some alphabets missing and only the letters S W A L MAP RY legible. It seemed like it had been defaced, but a word was forming in his mind. He blurted out, “Swalampary! The name is Swalampary!” Emily and Mike both looked at Jason, puzzled. Jason whispered, “Just go with it.” They then continued to play a round of “Swalampary,” and straight away, the first grader won. They played many rounds, and almost always, the first grader won. By the time they were on their 21st round, their parents came, leaving the first grader all alone.
The next day, they found that all of the cards were missing, and that the ceiling was spotless. The sighed a breath of relief and figured their secret was safe with the custodian. However, they also noticed an alarming number of tubes of toothpaste and playing cards in the students’ lockers, and Jason swore he heard at least one person say “Swalampary.” They exchanged curious glances with each other but then explained it to themselves as their nerves acting up – it was a convenient explanation. The strange murmurs continued unabated throughout the day.
By lunchtime, they could no longer dismiss it. Mike couldn’t take it anymore. He went up to a group of people and asked about it. After repeated inquiries, from a few groups, what he discovered was shocking. It turns out that the first grader had revealed the game to a group of people who, in turn, had spread it further. By the end of the day, every student in the school knew about it. When the dismissal bell rang, instead of racing outside, anticipating pickup, everyone piled inside the auditorium, cafeteria, and gym to play Swalampary. Today, Mike, Jason, and Emily’s parents were all on time and were ready to pick up the trio. This time, however, they had a bad feeling about what was to happen the next day.
Sure enough, the next morning started on an ominous note. As soon as they entered the building, the ceiling was covered with toothpaste and playing cards, and so was the floor. The principal was already standing there, his face red. He seemed very upset, and to be honest, why wouldn’t he be? The students were all whispering and pointing as the trio walked past. The principal then began to notice the approaching group and said, “Who is responsible for this?” Emily proceeded to explain, “We are very sorry, sir. We were just bored one day and devised a small game, not expecting it to grow to this scale. We were not aware that the game would become this popular among our peers, and we hope that we have your forgiveness.” The principal stopped to think for a moment, then replied, “Very well then, but this game will no longer be permitted on this campus. And also, please do not bring any more toothpaste or playing cards to school.” “There will be a notice put up,” the principal said. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fortunately, those who learn from history can be spared the trouble of repeating it. The Three Swalamparyteers had learned their lesson for life and a thing or two about trajectories & flight patterns. They later launched much bigger payloads. This time into space. While they never talked about that day in the restroom, or the fact that launching cards was in a way responsible for launching their careers later, they always looked at the ceiling and laughed whenever their “paths crossed”, during their intergalactic travels.
Jay Singh is a budding entrepreneur and aspiring scientist. He loves math (winner in Math League contests). His current interests are quadratic equations and trigonometry. With an objective perspective, he’s good at peer mediation. Jay helps with his family’s businesses and loves engaging with clients. He also plays the cello.
Second Place: February 29th Incident
It was February 29th. A cold winter breeze sweeps across the bustling town. Cars honk in the distance as children run inside to escape the cold. My family lives in house number 2591. Mom was cooking, Dad was fixing his car, and my oldest brother Victor was typing a report on some dumb book. Matthew, my youngest brother, was trying to teach his imaginary friend, Swalampary, how to pick his nose with his toes and I was trying to stop him.
“Victor, are you almost done with your report? I could really use your help in the kitchen.” Mom yips.
“I still have 764 words left; ask Lillian!” He doesn’t even look up as he hollers back.
“Sorry Mom, kind of busy making sure Matthew doesn’t eat the carpet. Go ask Dad.” I pry Matthew off the floor and pull lumps of carpet out of his mouth.
“Ugh, I’ll just do it myself!” Mom’s words of frustration are forgotten as Dad bounces into the living room.
“I did it! I fixed the car. It should be running good as new. After supper, let’s all go for a drive!” He is about to implode from happiness, and I take a few steps back.
“Fine, just help me before I burn the meat.” Mom ushers Dad into the kitchen as Victor heads upstairs.
I look around for Matthew to make sure he’s within arm’s length, but I cannot see him anywhere. I frantically start searching the house for him. I look under beds, on top of cabinets, and everywhere in-between, when I hear a commotion outside. I bolt out the door and see him, in his Halloween costume, throwing what looks to be playing cards at a cat, howling, “Feel the wrath of my ninja stars, you evil villain!” I grab the back of his costume and drag him inside.
“I have a right mind to tie you down. Give me those!” I grab the playing cards and put them in my pocket.
“Wait, give those back. Those are Swalampary’s!” Matthew cries.
When I get him inside, I hear Victor yelling from the bathroom, “Mom we’re out of toothpaste again!” I hear a long groan from the kitchen.
“Victor, take Lillian and Matthew to the store to get toothpaste.”
When we get to the store, Victor heads off to find the toothpaste, and I’m left to monitor Matthew, who wants to touch everything in the store.
“Matthew, stop knocking everything over,” I say for the umpteenth time as I grab his hands to keep him from breaking something.
“It wasn’t me; Swalampary did it,” he exclaims each time. At this point, I lose it!
“Matthew Willaghburrow, I have had enough! You are too old to act like this! I’m not going to babysit you like you’re two! Now I want you to go sit in that chair, and don’t move!” He instantly sits down. “I’m going to find Victor and when we get home you’re in big trouble!” I shake my head. Swalampary, where in the world did he come up with that?
When I find Victor, he is headed toward the register with a tube of toothpaste in his hand. He looks at me puzzled. “Are you ok? Your face is all red. Where’s Matthew?”
I point to the chair.
“Uh, sis, that chair’s empty.”
“What?!” I look at the chair, then back at Victor, and then I see Matthew bolting out the front door. “There he is!” I yelled. Victor and I start a mad dash after Matthew.
We hear the cashier shout, “Thieves! Stop those children!” Neither of us stop, as we run out of the store, carrying a stolen tube of toothpaste.
Matthew runs until he reaches the shipping factory. He looks back and sticks out his tongue as he slips inside.
“Hurry up Swalampary! they’re gaining on us!” He pushes the empty air in front of him and races up a flight of stairs. I follow up the stairs and Victor circles around to flank him. Victor drops the toothpaste and leaps forward to grab Matthew. He flees under Victors legs and I try to grab him when my foot lands on the toothpaste tube. Toothpaste oozes out, and I slide face first into the wall. The playing cards, which I had forgotten were in my pocket, fly out all at once. Victor grabs Matthew just as a group of cops come running in. I look over and see the last playing card slowly fall, landing into the packaging machine. It starts to smoke, then catches on fire. Cops are yelling, sirens are going off, and Victor, Matthew, and I are running out of the factory as fast as our feet will take us.
At the police station, we are questioned for hours.
“Ok, explain it to me again?” the cop asks. We all groan in agitation.
“Well, you see mister,” Matthew starts in, “my friend, Swalampary, said we should run into the factory because my sister yelled at us, so –”
Victor interrupts, “Then we chased after him. I forgot I had the tube of toothpaste still in my hand. Then I drop it in the factory to –”
“And the playing cards I took from Matthew earlier –” I start in.
“THEY WERE SWALAMPARY’S!” Matthew yells.
I continue, “I slip on the toothpaste, making the playing cards burst out of my pocket and land in the machinery, causing it to catch on fire.”
The cop raises an eyebrow. “So, you’re telling me what happened today was caused by toothpaste, playing cards, and whatever Swalampary is?”
“YES!” we all say at once.
The cop sighs and presses a button on the intercom. “Sally, call these kids’ parents and tell them to come get them.”
After that, the event was published for the local newspaper. The lawyers convinced the factory owners not to sue. As a compromise, a sign appeared on the factory door restricting toothpaste, playing cards, and, what do you know, Swalampary from ever entering the factory.
Isabella Rose Trentacosti lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her parents and her two cats, Panthro and Figaro. She enjoys sewing, manga inspired drawing, reading and the theater. She is an editor on her school’s yearbook committee.
First Place: A Leap Day Surprise
“How was school?” Mom asked. She had just picked me up from school and was now driving me over to the nursing home to see Grandpa.
“It was fine.” I said, “Nothing special for Leap Day though. I guess today’s just a normal day after all. But at least I get to go see Grandpa at the nursing home!”
After Mom stopped the car at the nursing home, I jumped out and said bye. I walked in, ready for just a regular talk with Grandpa, only to drop my baseball cap in surprise at the barricade of chairs stretching from one end of the lobby to the other. What is this for? I thought. Scuff marks lined the barricade. On either end of the barricade was a group of elderly residents in wheelchairs, all holding canes. One person on each side had a stack of baseball hats on top of their heads. As I watched, the two people with baseball hats started pushing their wheelchairs very fast along the barricade! As they neared the middle, they lifted their canes to point them at the opposite side. While I watched, one man swung his cane and whacked the baseball hats off the other man’s head! An outburst of cheering, laughter, and clapping issued from everybody in the room. I held my sides, shaking with laughter. Was this how older people normally acted!? It was hard to believe. Then I saw Grandpa beckoning to me. “Come on over, Kyle! Join the fun!” I trotted over, thinking to myself, Grandpa does this too? Wow, Leap Day at the nursing home is pretty exciting!
“Hello Grandpa!” I called, “What are you guys doing? And when is your turn?”
Grandpa guffawed. “We call it swalampary. You ever seen anything like it? My turn comes in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, how about some target practice?” He pointed to a row of playing cards stuck on the wall. In front of each card was a microphone stand with a tube of toothpaste in it. As I watched, an old man squeezed a tube. Suddenly, a jet of toothpaste squirted from the mouth of the tube and headed for one of the cards. It hit the corner of the card. “Nice job, Charles!” Grandpa said. Turning to me he said, “Do you want to try?”
“Sure!” I said, though inwardly I wasn’t so sure. I stepped up to one of the stands and squeezed the tube hard. A toothpaste geyser zipped toward the card I had aimed at. It missed by an inch! I tried again. This time the toothpaste bullet hit the very edge of the card.
“There you go!” Grandpa encouraged. A broad smile cracked his wrinkly face, and he gave me a thumbs-up. “Thanks!” I yelled, before beginning the attack again. Grandpa came over and had a try. He hit the card right in the center. “How’d you do that?” I asked.
“Oh, practice makes perfect, as the saying goes,” he replied.
“Harold and Katherine, time to swalamp! Take your places!” A booming voice sounded from a platform at the front of the room.
“Be right there, Benjamin!” Grandpa shouted. It must be Grandpa’s turn! I thought. I hurried to get a good view. It was then that I noticed two nurses standing in a corner, surrounded by three veteran residents standing at attention and holding their canes like guns. One nurse gave me a helpless and pleading look. I grinned. There was no way I was going to stop this party!
I turned around just in time to see Grandpa and an elderly woman speeding towards each other in their wheelchairs. I cheered, “Go Grandpa!” There didn’t seem to be winners, but who cared! When the round was finished, Grandpa came up to me.
“My, my, that Katherine is certainly a good swalamper! Do you want to have a go?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, “I don’t want to hurt anybody!”
“Oh, you won’t. We oldies are made of tough stuff, you know!”
“Okay, if you’re sure!” I walked over to an unoccupied wheelchair, stacked some baseball caps on my head, and sat down. “Can I use your cane, Grandpa?” I asked.
“Here you go!” he said, as he handed me his cane.
“Thanks!” I wheeled myself to the starting line. An old man in a tie-dyed shirt sat opposite to me. He beamed.
“Ready…” said the announcer, “Set… Go!”
As I started to push the wheelchair forward, I found it was harder than I had imagined! I found myself going left and right, every direction but forward. The old man was already halfway down the barrier! I finally figured it out, but I had forgotten to raise my cane! The old man swung his cane and the pile of hats that sat on my head collapsed. I slowly wheeled my way to the other side, where Grandpa met me.
“Nice try!” he said, “It takes practice.”
I laughed. “It takes practice just to use a wheelchair!”
At that moment I happened to glance out the window. I saw Mom’s car driving up to the main door. Uh-oh, if Mom sees this… I looked around. “Bye, Grandpa! I’d better go before Mom comes in. If she sees this she’ll have a heart-attack!”
“Bye, Kyle! Be sure you’re here next Leap Day!”
I vaulted over the barricade of chairs, grabbed my hat, and walked out the door, suppressing the smile that kept trying to show itself. I opened the car door and jumped in. “Hello, Mom.”
“Hello!” she said as we drove away. “How’s Grandpa?”
“Oh, good as normal.” I said, smiling to myself.
A week later I had my next visit with Grandpa. As I walked into the lobby, I observed a sign hanging on the wall that said, “NOTICE! Due to the unfortunate kerfuffle on February 29th, toothpaste, playing cards, and swalampary are no longer allowed in this building. Thank you for your cooperation.” I looked back at Grandpa. He winked.
When Caleb Vogel is not reading or playing chess, he loves to be outdoors biking, camping, and kayaking. He also enjoys playing piano at a nearby nursing home every month, which is where he got the inspiration for the setting and characters in his story!