The first place winner of our Fall 2021 National Teen Storyteller Contest, presented with the student-led and founded Decameron Project! We invited young writers to share a story responding to the theme of Friendship.
San lived in a strawberry. It was a large strawberry, plump with a spongy outer skin and as grand as a boulder. To make her home, San had gutted the berry inside out, dug into the soft red flesh with a shovel, and husked out flat yellow seeds before filling the tiny crimson space inside with a table and a cot.
San’s strawberry was next to an abandoned mine. Glittering crystals grew from the ceiling of the mine, furling to the ground with their ruby hues and sheens. At night they glowed and shimmered, beckoning someone to break them, carve out the glimmer they sheathed within. Sometimes San was the one who broke them. She chipped the blue crystals into a rocky turquoise salt and crushed the red crystals into a powder which she sprinkled over boiled pumpkin and thick soups.
San had lived in a lot of places. She was a nomad, a drifter between worlds and realms, never settling in one place and always on the move. Even now she was searching for a new settlement, already tightening up her glass vials and sorting out her preserved herbs and vegetables in preparation.
Bert was different. He was a gnome by blood and that meant he was supposed to be short and have stubby legs. He would have lived his entire life in the same forest if he was born just like his brothers and sisters. But Bert was different. As a young gnome boy, Bert kept on growing and growing, not stopping until he towered over his siblings and had two slender legs the size of tree branches. Long legs meant he could move easily and quickly and as soon as he turned 18, Bert left his forest and started exploring the vast world outside.
“Hello again,” San said shortly.
Bert was standing by the dining table, looming over her with his tremendous height and watching her skeptically. Bert hadn’t planned on stopping by today, but something nudged him towards San’s strawberry house. Maybe he missed San’s rambling conversations. Maybe he liked the way her face was structured. Maybe it was because he had no one else to go to.
There was an unspoken agreement between Bert and San. Bert kept her company and she let him stay. She did the talking while he listened. She was sharp and quick-witted while the gnome was mild and gentle. She went while Bert followed. They were both outcasts, drifting on the edge of society while toeing the line separating solitude and loneliness, but together they felt less alone in the vast world, together they were something greater.
“You’re moving again?” Bert questioned.
He fiddled with the red pointy hat on his head, a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation.
“Why not? I messed up the watering period, so the base didn’t grow right. Also, it’s been over two months and the floor is starting to rot.”
San gestured towards the floor which had taken on a rather dull, greyish color.
Bert wrinkled his nose.
“Have you ever thought about settling down or something?”
San pushed over a wooden ladder to reach the top of a shelf.
“There’s a pot of tea on the table if you’re thirsty.”
Bert took a seat by the table but reached for a package of lemon seeds instead. San always had packets of fruit seeds strewn around her living space. The little script on the package claimed that the lemons would grow fat and juicy, perfect for lemon meringues and lemon pies and all sorts of sweet, tangy citrus desserts. San hadn’t enchanted the seeds yet.
“I can help you pack if you like.” Bert offered, placing the seeds back down.
There was no response. For once San was silent.
“San?” He turned towards the smaller girl.
She shook her head. San had stopped what she was doing and was frowning, her forehead wrinkled as she chewed her lower lip feverishly. She was holding something in her hand.
“I need a bleached crystal,” San murmured. She looked away.
“It’s a crystal that I use to teleport,” she explained. “The problem is I only have one. It won’t be enough for the two of us to go together.”
She held out her palm, revealing a circular white gem that gleamed under the hazy moonlight.
“Oh.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“But it’s okay,” San said hurriedly. “The mine might house one. I haven’t explored it fully, but I have read that the crystals grow near the center of caves. Something about magic trickling downwards and whatnot. Anyway, we just need one bleached crystal. It can’t be that difficult to find one, right?”
He didn’t respond.
San refused to meet his gaze. To look at him would mean she would have to face the impossible choice. Instead, she got up and went outside, heading towards the entrance of the mine. Bert trailed after her. The air was cool and crisp and freckled with tiny fireflies.
She stopped at the center of the entrance. The inside of the cavern pulsed and bled light, seeping and whispering strange secrets between the shiny crevices. There was something down under, something tugging her towards the damp darkness sheltered underneath the earth. Somewhere a wolf was howling, searching for its companion.
“San, what are we?” Bert blurted out. It was a question he had thought over and over again.
San was silent.
“We’re friends.” She whispered. She hadn’t used that word in a long time.
It was strange, foreign on her tongue, yet oddly familiar. Now she had somebody she could lose.
San outstretched her hand towards the gnome. Bert studied the curve of her face and the splattering of black freckles on her collarbone and suddenly felt happier. He was glad he was with her, and he was glad she was with him. Bert interlaced his fingers with hers, relishing the warmth of her touch. Together they took their first step forward.