Elk Rapids High School – Senior
William R. Montgomery Fiction Scholarship Award
Gresham liked books. He always had.
He liked the way his glasses slipped down the freckled bridge of his nose when he read, as if he was being sucked in, bit by bit. He liked learning about insects, or tsunamis, or magic wardrobes. He liked the way that words spun around his brain and filled up all the quiet spaces.
In fact, one could say that Gresham loved books.
Though he enjoyed reading about them, Gresham was rather friendless himself. Most of the other ten-year-olds in his class did not love books; they were too preoccupied with showing off their new phones and pelting dastardly aimed spitballs at the teacher’s sweater. It was confusing to them that he opted to shove his nose in a book instead of joining them on the swings. He had no siblings either, unless he counted Herbert, who was seventeen years older and directed sloppy film adaptations of perfectly good novels. His parents were nice people, the kind that made their own pie crust and polished their briefcases, but they were not people with time. And besides, they were far more fond of Herbert’s movies than they were of Dickens.
So, Gresham read.
He had learned many years before that his questions would not get a reply. Of course, if he would ask something simple, such as “Mother, are we out of milk?” or “What time is dinner?” there were always answers in supply. But Gresham already knew what time dinner was, and it is quite obvious if one is out of milk or not, so the only questions he had left were the ones that he did not have an immediate answer to. At first his parents and teachers were amused, hailing him as clever, a genius even. This did not last long. They soon tired of discussing, say, metamorphosis, or post-war reconstruction, and would instead hand him a book. It was easier than telling a child no taller than the cosmetic bureau that they hadn’t the slightest idea.
So, Gresham read.
He read about the free market system, phytoplankton, and heroes. He read about love, time travel, and geometry, and every time he had a new question he would read some more. His father would crane his head over the back of the recliner, one of Herbert’s films flashing from the television, and look to his wife with a chuckle.
“Reading another one of those books,” he’d say, and turn back to the screen, confident that Gresham must be very content indeed. Gresham’s mother would hum a nod, then return to the movie.
Gresham, however enthralled by every page he consumed, was not completely content.
He wanted a friend.
Monday after Monday slid by, along with the school year, and Gresham was beginning to worry; he did not want to spend another lonely summer helping his mother make pie crusts. He thought about this as he walked to the library on a particularly rainy day- big, frustrated droplets smacking at his umbrella- until he reached the establishment. Gresham grabbed the brass doorknob, plain and worn to tarnish by the hands of hungry minds, and pulled.
It was seven o’clock at night and Gresham, though clad in his pajamas and comfortably nestled underneath his quilt, could not sleep. He could not sleep at all.
“I did it.” he whispered to himself, “ I really did it!”
He rolled to his left. From his bedside table, a biography of Teddy Roosevelt glared up at him. “I did it, Teddy.” He whispered again, the picture of the president unmoving in reply. “I found a friend!”
Gresham’s stomach plummeted at his own words. He still did not know anything, not even a teaspoon’s worth, about being someone’s friend. He hadn’t had a real friend since first grade, when Max Turrel moved away to Idaho. What if she didn’t want to be his friend anymore, once she figured out that he was completely deficient?
Yes, his new friend was a girl, and she was beautiful. He met her at the library, which he believed was fate, if not an act of God.
He first saw her, perusing, in the non-fiction section. Her skin was a color he had never seen before, except in books; it was dark, like hot chocolate, and her teeth were perfect rows of glistening pearls. He wondered why none of his classmates shared her glowing features. The whites of her eyes popped against her skin, making it hard for Gresham to break eye contact, his gaze always floating back to their brightness. Gresham wished that more people in his world looked like her. He wished that he was not so pale and freckled, and instead had half-moon dimples on cocoa cheeks. He wished for his dark, flat hair to spring up in wild curls a and a gap to appear between his pearly front teeth.
“Why are you staring at me?” she said, interrupting is thoughts. A wizened expression creased her forehead, as though she had intercepted his staring before he realized that he even was doing so. Gresham froze. He had not anticipated that she would actually notice him.
“I-I didn’t mean to, I-” he stuttered as she chewed at her lower lip and cocked her head. “Never mind.” She interrupted him again; this time his words, not his thoughts.
“I’m looking for a book about Georges Mèliès. Have you seen one around here?” she chattered on, lifting onto her tiptoes to read the titles on the top shelf. “He created some of the very first movies, like ever.”
“I know.” Gresham replied quietly, deftly sorting through the second row of books. “My brother talks about him all the time. He makes movies too.”
“Wow.” she said, pulling free a burgundy colored book. She gave the title a quick scan and then slipped it back onto the shelf, letting out a “Tsk” of impatience. “I bet your brother talks about Mèliès to make himself sound smart. I’ve heard that directors are like that sometimes.”
Gresham looked to the floor for a minute, blinking. People were usually impressed with his brother, but then again, most people couldn’t pronounce Mèliès correctly either.
“Ah.” the girl said, returning from her tiptoes to the balls of her feet. “I think I was rude again. I’m sorry. I keep on telling my mouth to stay quiet, but lately it just …”
“It’s fine.” Now Gresham had his turn to interrupt. And he was smiling. “You’re right. And Herbert -that’s my brother- turns all of my favorite books into love stories. Anyways.” He stiffly reached out his hand, which was clutching a biography of the famous filmmaker.
This was his moment to make an introduction.
“Here’s your book.” Come on, he urged himself. Just your name.
She thanked him and took the book, and then she was gone before he had time to say anything else.
Gresham groaned. He had been so close.
“Oh, I almost forgot!” A head of wild curls popped back around the corner. “I can’t believe that I made a friend and didn’t even think to introduce myself.” She smiled and half-jumped, half-slid over to Gresham in her excitement. “I’m Layla.”
Gresham didn’t really remember much of what happened next.
All he knew was that he ran all the way home, arms spread wide- an eagle- heart spinning like a reel of film. Soaring.
Honey was a woman with fire in her belly. That’s how Layla described her grandmother to Gresham on their way to her house on a sunny, green, Tuesday afternoon. Even though they had been playing together for weeks, this was the first time that he had ever gone over to her house. With each footfall, Gresham tried to make sure each shoe hit each sidewalk square only once. Being of very small foot, and the squares quite large, it was turning out to be a more difficult task than he had anticipated, so he was too preoccupied to really think about what she said.
What? Fire can’t be in bellies. he thought distractedly before brushing it aside. He was coming to realize that when Layla talked, she said things that weren’t actually real. But they were always true things, so Gresham assumed that he would find out what she meant when he actually met Honey. He wasn’t expecting flames, but he repeated stop, drop, roll in his head a few times over, just in case.
Earlier that morning he and Layla had tumbled into his house, with bare knees stained from slides in the grass, breathless from their race inside. At the sight of them in their soiled glory, his mother exhaled an abrupt cough, the same noise she made when her dough didn’t rise properly in the oven.
“Gresham.” she warned in exasperation. “I’ve already told you to stop running around in all that dirt. You’ve gone and stained another shirt.”
Gresham, though breathless earlier, found himself suddenly too full of air, as though all of the panting and sprinting were being sucked back inside of him.
“My Grandma says that running around is good for kids.” Layla piped up. Her cheeks still held the luster of their romp, and her eyebrows perked up confidently. Gresham could tell that she had something more to say, and his stomach flipped. As far as he could tell, she didn’t have any qualms about challenging grown-ups.
“That’s nice.” his mother replied evenly, filling two glasses of orange juice for them. Gresham, however, could sense her surprise. He knew that she was not used to children who disagreed.
“Yes.” Layla continued matter-of-factly, taking a sip of juice before setting down her glass. “Honey- that’s her name, you know- says that if you don’t let us run around when we’re kids, we’re just going to run away as adults.” Layla, seemingly undisturbed, took another sip. “What do you think?” she asked Gresham’s mother, who had paused with the refrigerator door half-open, juice carton still in her hand.
“I think…” his mother trailed off in reply, returning the carton to the refrigerator before finishing her sentence.
Gresham eyed both his mother and Layla nervously. He didn’t want his only friend and his only mother to argue.
“I think that it sounds like Honey would appreciate your conversation. Why don’t you two head over and talk to her?” his mother said, shooing them. Her wrists were spindly and her palm flung about in the air dramatically as Gresham and Layla rose from their seats and made their way to the front door, orange juice abandoned. “Run along now.”
Gresham halted. He could not help but remember the philosophy book he had read the previous week. That’s called Tu quoque, he thought, when someone says one thing, only to act in an opposite manner. He opened his mouth in response, for he could not help but address the lapse in logic. “But you just said that I shouldn’t be running.”
“Gresham, you know what I — oh! There go my pies — burning!” his mother replied with another dismissive wave, hurrying the two children outside. Clearly, she was not in the mood to philosophize.
So that is how Gresham, on a Tuesday afternoon, found himself counting sidewalk squares and wondering about the nature of Layla’s flaming grandmother. He looked up from his feet, wincing as one of them stepped on a crack, at the shouts of Layla, who had picked up the pace to a run and was headed towards a compact bungalow situated on the far corner of the street. On its front porch stood a tall woman with broad shoulders, which were shaded by a wide-brimmed gardening hat.
Quickly, Gresham surveyed the house and the woman on the deck, who he could now see was smiling. There were no traces of smoke, and he did not hear the crackling of flames. So far, so good.
Interlochen Arts Academy – Junior
Community Foundation Leslie Lee Nonfiction Scholarship Award
Lake Ann in Three (or more) Fires
When my brother Sean and I had first moved into our family’s new apartment in Lake Ann, Michigan, it was hot. So unbearably hot. We’d just come back from a boy scout summer camp, complete with horrible plumbing, humid outdoor tents, and enough bug bites on every square inch of our skin to draw constellations. Needless to say, we were at the peak of discomfort.
Our parents and two younger siblings were already stationed at the house long before that day. They’d been setting up the entire house for at least a month in advance. The apartment was relatively small, so moving everything from our spacious property back in Swartz Creek into this second-story building would prove a daunting task: one I would be glad not to participate in. Still, It didn’t feel right not setting up our rooms. At some point I thought that maybe the new house would be a pleasant surprise, or at least something to fill in the gap of the old one. Something that when the curtains were pulled, I could say “Oh, Gosh I never would have thought!”. That was the hope, at least.
Of course, hope flickers easily.
The first settlers of Lake Ann (also known as Almira Township) were named John and Alec Heather, who came down in 1862. However, no one built a single building until later that year, when settlers Andrew and Almiral Burrell built a house near the northern edge of Sancrainte Creek, a place somewhat northwest of Lake Ann known generally by the name “Sancrainte Hill”. They would be the first in many to build the foundations of what would be Almira Township.
Dad had moved to northern Michigan around September of 2014, a year before our arrival. He took some bare necessities, a few keepsakes, and a good portion of the packed-up luggage. He would start working at the job he’d managed to get: a head chef position at a Baptist summer camp. The rest of my family and I stayed back in Swartz Creek, continuing the packing process while my Dad made the new house livable.
I remember becoming a second father to my family, stepping in to help when Mom had trouble filling the role of two parents. Afterschool, I would clean the house the best I could. I would read a story to my brothers, tuck them in if I remembered. And I knew it wasn’t Dad’s fault. This was just how transition worked. We would sometimes Skype Dad, crowding on our parents’ bed around the one laptop in the house, watching him laugh at us as we reenacted any scene we could think of: pirates sword fighting with pillows; Darth Vader killing Obi-Wan, Obi then hiding under a blanket as his robe hits the mattress; TV salesman attempting to sell spray-on Cheez Whiz. Part of it was trying to cope with the distance. The other part was just to fill that gap. The one that, for young boys, can’t be filled by anything except a father. Maybe it worked?
Still, it was a long year.
The first, most disastrous fire in Lake Ann History erupted on the 4th of July, 1897. The fire destroyed over 88 buildings, the town’s main depot, almost 2640 feet of railroad track, and a mass of homes too many to count. Almira Township’s firefighting force was not enough to combat the heat, and nearby Traverse City had to be telegraphed for reinforcements. The fire started in the engine room of Habbler Sawmill, belonging to one William Habbler. The mill was one of the most prominent sources of income for Lake Ann, so at least there was some irony to hold onto.
Many people died. Lake Ann’s population before the fire was around 1000. After, in the low hundreds. Charcoal bodies dotted Almira, to be cleaned up in the aftermath (though they never found all). Large amounts of the scars Almira endured never were repaired. Blackened supports were nailed together with wooden beams. Scorched walls were merely painted over. The shadows left behind by buildings and people would not fade.
The day we were finally all together in a new house, when we all stood around a white plastic table baked in heat, it was the 4th of July, 2015. We had settled in as best as we could, though every room was incredibly small. The apartment was a second story addition to a historic building that had been around for several centuries. By the time we moved in it had already been long since converted into a party store.
My parents had not intended to have us there during the 4th of July, but some God-ordained force allowed it to happen, I guess. The city next to us, Traverse City, was hosting a festival known as the Cherry Festival. This festival was held every year from June 29th to July 6th, July 4th being an obvious summit of events. There were attractions that kept the festival busy: live bands, hot food, carnival rides, etc. The problem was, they all cost money. Having recently moved into a new house, cash was a little tight. So the only real reason Mom brought this festival up was for the one event familiar enough to settle us in: the 4th of July fireworks.
Our family typically has a hard time getting all six members into the car in a timely fashion. Because we had nothing to do, however, we were perfectly fine with rushing all at once down the creaky set of white wooden stairs. We ran down the stairs in one group, shaking the shoddy steps so hard it seemed they would collapse. We piled into Dad’s black SUV, which had been baking outside under the blaring sun for hours on end. We didn’t seem to mind.
The second fire started during 1914, the same as the first. William Habbler had purchased a second mill father northeast from Almira, promptly after the last fire had taken place. This was presumably an attempt on Habbler’s part to avoid starting another town-razing fire. Sadly, it did not follow through. The fire in part grazed over some of Habbler’s unfixed damage, merely finishing the job. The rest of the fire destroyed Lake Ann’s business district, which had already been decreased with the last fire. Once again, the repairs were flimsy and lacking. Even though the fire took significantly fewer lives, it still was no less harsh, and many of those businesses suffered further from poor structural integrity, some threatening collapse.
Before the fireworks, our busy bodies needed fuel to burn. So we decided to travel to a bar and grill, somewhere close to the outskirts of Traverse City. Walking in, the place was surprisingly packed for an “outskirts” kind of place. I can’t remember what I ordered, but it wasn’t of importance. One of my younger brothers, not concerned enough to decide his meal, resorted to drawing on his kid’s menu with some crayons. Halfway during the meal, he was aggressively filling in some large drawing with a red crayon, when he pushed too hard and the crayon snapped.
My brother was not sad: he was old enough that random accidents didn’t make him cry. Still, he whined to Mom about his crayon crisis. She told him to just use the blue one instead. My brother, upset, wanted the waitress. Our parents were understandably against the idea: it was a busy night, and the waitress wasn’t even on our side of the restaurant. My brother fussed pestered his point across, but we eventually got him to calm down. It took almost forty-five minutes for the waitress to come back. By the time she did, my brother had completely forgotten, resorting to wrapping the two rosy crayon halves in paper napkin. He didn’t care. When we eventually paid and left, we switched the cool interior for a hotter environment. After we left, we started walking to where the fireworks would show. It was as hot outside as that morning had been, and I was hoping that the large dinner I had just eaten wouldn’t be making a guest star appearance in the night’s fireworks display.
The third fire and last fire in 1918 was probably the most forgiving. In total, it only managed to cover less than half of Lake Ann, which excludes the previously burnt business district. This fire burnt down the prominent Congregational Church, leveled several nearby homes, and (for the third time) completely ruined William Habbler’s Sawmill. The firefighters of Almira alone were able to put out the flames alone, but the damage to the church and the mill had already been done. They never got rebuilt to what they were.
The fireworks were going to be starting in a few minutes, and we had completed our long walk through town. It had been an exhausting trip, but I had tipped a jazz musician playing beautifully on the street, so I felt content. As we came upon the beachfront, we passed another man: this time, on the ground with two officers. The man was incredibly hammered, one officer at his side while another in a neon green safety vest was talking over a radio. Some people there were drinking; some of them, even drunk.
I started to speculate, something my brain decides to do at the worst possible moments. I speculated that the man might be an angry drunk. Maybe he would get up at any moment and knock the two officers flat. Maybe he would run into the crowd and start hitting people, hitting me. It may have been because of the newness of the situation, or how unfamiliar this place was. I started thinking up strange situations, things only feasible to a stressed and tired mind. I pictured the fireworks coming at us and singing the beach, set explosives blowing up certain parts of the shore, making people run all over. My mind was in a perpetual blur.
And in an instant, a bright red light shot up into the sky, followed by a sharp boom.
It started like a chain reaction.
The third fire came from the residence of Alex Frazer. More specifically, from Alex’s defective chimney. That night, he must have set a large fire. A strong wind heading northwest caught a hold of some embers. Carrying those embers, the wind ran along many of Almira’s resident’s houses, catching aflame every roof it touched. The fires produced there created more embers which got carried away to create more flames. Eventually, the fire caught on the Congregational Church, and it took its full form. It was truly horrifying. It was fascinating. A brilliant part in mother nature’s final raid on the town.
Each and every explosion left me in awe, each color within a color, each yelling burst of chemicals. I was watching the night sky come alive. And most importantly, I stopped thinking. Nothing was about people, or weapons, or hiding from killers. Everything was about what I was straining my neck so hard to see. Whatever it was about the fireworks, it did its job. And I’m glad it worked.
That night, something distinct happened in my brain I can only vaguely remember. Because the apartment was small, we had to double up two brothers in each bedroom. I was stuck in a poorly-inflated air mattress with Sean. The room was humid, the fan provided no cooling, we were both sweating in the summer air, and the scene began to look and feel a lot like it did at the beginning of the day. Yet somehow, my eye caught on the nighttime stars outside. I thought back to the fireworks, and my mind began to wonder in the way that it does. I thought of how hot fireworks get when the explode. I thought about how they even make fireworks, and what happens to the cardboard after you set one off. And even though the room was so unbearably hot, my 13-year-old mind slowly drifted away….
Benzie Area Historical Society and Museum. History of Lake Ann Michigan. Facebook, 29 October 2018, www.facebook.com/BenzieAreaHistoricalSociety/posts/1853552298215130. Accessed 8 November 2018.
“History” The Official Website of Almira Township, www.almiratownship.org/history.asp.
Accessed 8 November 2018.
Leary, Richard. “One Hundred Years Ago: Lake Ann Devastated by Fire, 1918.” Grand
Traverse Journal, 1 Apr 2018, www.gtjournal.tadl.org/2018/one-hundred-years-ago-lake-ann- devastated-by-fire-1918/. Accessed 10 November 2018.
Grand Traverse Academy – Senior
Robert and Marcy Branski Poetry Scholarship Award
To the White ’95 Dakota Sport my Sister’s Father Used to Drive
When you were there
Parked haphazardly, not quite between the lines
On the blacktop of the Meijer parking lot
It meant he was there
Sitting in your driver’s seat, staring at us through
I can still see you
And the colorful faces
On the slab of wood my grandfather painted
Zip-Tied to your grill
And caught between headlights
I remember you
Outside my second home
Beside the neighbor— his friend’s house
Whose music blared when it got dark; and in front of
The tiki torches he insisted to buy which
Eventually caught fire sometime
Late at night
You meant trouble in my six year old mind
You were idle
On the pavement
Waiting outside his work while
We came to visit him
And you stood still as voices grew
Icy, harsh, loud
And palms slammed against windows before
He jumped on the hood of my
Mom’s car as
We tried to drive away