Award-winning YA crime story

Article | Nov 2023

The Thunderbolt Prize for Crime Writing is a national award for unpublished short-form crime writing in three main categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction and Poetry. One of the three special awards is the Youth Award, for writers under 18 years.

Good Reading is pleased to publish this year’s 2023 young adult winner, VIOLETTE AMOUROUX. Her short story is titled ‘The Lacquered Box’.

Why not enter next year’s award. Pens out, fingers to the keyboard, and go!

 

The Lacquered Box

 

The girl stepped into her ebony-coloured leather pants, slipped on her jacket made from the same material, buckled her watch, and looked through the files one more time before adjusting the pin fixed to front of the jacket. The plastic pin spelled out the word ‘Leader’. She received it last year for winning a game at Emily’s party.

Swiftly, Leader, which was the name she had chosen for herself after being inspired by the pin, pulled her black straight hair back into a high ponytail. She gave herself a final once-over in the mirror, turned the silver doorknob and headed out into the hallway. She was a girl on a mission. The satchel slung over her shoulder was filled with essentials: flashlight, a hand-written copy of the plan, a walk-talkie and a small penknife. When she told her friends about her mission, they looked at her like she was crazy. Easy for them. They didn’t have to go to extremes to claim back what was theirs, for her it was becoming an almost regular occurrence.

She was a girl in pursuit. Leader started to softly pad along the hallway. She wasn’t quite halfway down when she heard a door behind her creak open. In one quick move, Leader was pressed against the wall, letting the shadows cover her presence. Grasped in her left hand was the penknife from her satchel. It was her most prized possession. The black handle was smooth and lustrous, having been cleaned the day before. The knife had an assortment of blades, all polished. Leader was ready to flick the serrated blade at any threatening signs.

Slowly, carefully, Leader peeked out of the shadows. A grey figure passed her. She had feared this and knew it needed to be stopped. This was her mission. The grey figure was just ahead of her now. Leader sprang out of hiding and pounced. In comparison to Leader’s soft, fast footsteps, the grey figure’s feet crashed through the silence. Leader snapped her penknife to the dullest blade, the worst damage it could do was to leave an indentation in the skin. Leader caught up to the figure and slowly placed her knife at its throat.

Black Sheep looked around frantically, her mind whirring. The clock on the wall at the end of the hallway ticked a rhythm.

On closer inspection, the intruder was a girl, no more than eight years old. Her grey outfit wasn’t professional looking like Leader’s. No, not at all. It was, in fact a pair of fuzzy pyjamas. Around the younger girl’s head was a grey bath towel and her feet were encased in oversized, silver Doc Martens boots that clomped heavily when she walked. Hanging around her neck on a piece of string was a square of grey coloured cardboard with the words ‘Black Sheep’ written on it. Leader couldn’t help but ask, 

‘What on Earth are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in bed. And why are you wearing my Doc Martens inside? You’re scuffing up the floor, Mum will be furious.’

Black Sheep made motions to imply that she could not speak because of the blade still at her neck. She looked both annoyed and scared. Leader let go and retracted the blade. 

‘Explain,’ she hissed. 

‘I put on these boots because I didn’t have any grey or silver shoes to match my outfit, but I think they look pretty cool,’ whispered Black Sheep, moving a foot around in the air so the shoes could sparkle in the moonlight. ‘Not that you’d understand,’ Black Sheep added, looking at the older girl’s outfit in disgust. Leader didn’t react, this wasn’t the time to engage, so she responded, 

‘Go back to bed. Now.’ But Black Sheep wasn’t having it. 

‘No!’ She retorted. 

‘Yes!’ Leader shot back. 

‘No!’ 

‘Yes!’

Leader clamped her hand over Black Sheep’s mouth and threateningly raised her knife. They stood there in silence. Eventually, Leader let go and withdrew the blade; she had a mission.

Time to work the charm, thought Black Sheep grinning victoriously while turning to fling her arms around the older girl’s middle. Her arms encircled the air. Leader had gone. Black Sheep looked around frantically, her mind whirring. The clock on the wall at the end of the hallway ticked a rhythm. The hands told her it was 9 o’clock. Time to chase the leader and be a part of the action. Despite what she had told Leader, Black Sheep regretted her choice of footwear. She didn’t care about the scuff marks on the floorboards, but the boots made her clumsy and loud. As she kicked them to the side, the towel wrapped around her head fell off onto the floor unveiling her mass of blonde coloured curls. 

Leader’s mouth was set in a grim line as she spun around, her ponytail swishing as she melted into the shadows.

Leader on the other hand had hit a roadblock. Creaky floorboards were sprawled out before her. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t noticed them during the day. Groaning, she wondered how she could have overlooked these in her planning. She tried backflipping over them, but she landed short with a loud thud. She froze, fearing discovery. Silence. She ran her hands through her ponytail and rapidly went over her options. After that near-death experience she did not want to try any more acrobatics. Tiptoeing? Nope. Praying? It never amounted to much. Shame she didn’t have an ability to climb on walls and ceilings like characters do in the movies. Leader wanted to give up, to abort the mission. As she started to turn around to return to where she came from, a voice whispered, 

‘You don’t know how to pass the creaky floorboards do you?’ It was Black Sheep. Leader spat, ‘Leave me alone. Get out of my way.’

‘I can help,’ said Black Sheep quickly while reaching up under her pyjama top to pull out a pillow. Leader’s eyes opened wide. Perfect and brilliant she thought. Black Sheep smiled smugly as she tossed the pillow carefully into position above the groaning floorboards and clumsily stepped on top before treading carefully off the other side. Leader gracefully followed the same moves. 

‘Thanks,’ she muttered, ‘you can leave now as I must continue my mission.’

‘What? Not fair!’ cried Black Sheep forgetting to whisper. 

‘Quiet! If you want compensation I’ll sort you out later,’ responded Leader.

‘No! I don’t want a reward, I want to come with you.’

‘Forget it Black Sheep, I have to succeed, and I don’t need you hindering me.’

But Black Sheep wasn’t backing down. She raised her right leg up high threateningly, ready to stomp her foot down hard.

‘Fine,’ glared Leader, ‘you can join me.’ Black Sheep’s face glowed triumphantly. 

Leader’s mouth was set in a grim line as she spun around, her ponytail swishing as she melted into the shadows. Black Sheep scurried after her whisper-shouting ‘Leader, where are you?’ No response. 

‘Leader? This isn’t FUNNY!’ Still no response.

Leader ignored the young girl as she crept along the hallway, trailing her slender fingers on the walls, as if checking for ridges that may indicate an entrance to a secret room, like in mystery novels. Leader shook her head to refocus her thoughts back on the mission’s objective – her determination to get back what was stolen from her was sky-high and she was ready to wreak havoc.

Gabriella Toussaint, the mistress of the house, had been feeling a little peckish. Normally she respected a strict dietary regime that consisted of four well balanced meals a day, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and a light dinner. Tonight, she had a desire for a little something extra, something usually forbidden by her regime. She sat up in her four-poster bed, slid on her slippers and headed to the kitchen. After glancing over the benchtops, opening the cupboards and looking behind jars, she found it. A small powder blue coloured lacquered rectangular box with a silver clasp. She knew she shouldn’t, but the temptation was so strong. 

Gabriella was the most elegant person Leader knew. She could perfectly prepare an eight-course meal, pairing each dish with its correct silverware, and could taste the difference between an Australian and a New Zealand grown carrot. In addition to being the queen of etiquette, Gabriella had style. Her spacious wardrobe was filled with immaculate pieces cut from linen in neutral colours, and the design of her home was straight from the glossy pages of a magazine. 

Leader entered the light filled room and examined the scene before her. The creature in front of Leader was not her mother. Lying in the middle of the four-poster bed was a lady wrapped in a robe stuffing her mouth with chocolate after chocolate. Little gold foil wrappers were strewn around her. Leader heard Black Sheep sharply inhale air behind her. 

Indignation rose in Leader’s chest as her eyes travelled to the bedside table and rested on the lacquered box with its silver clasp ajar. 

‘Mother, explain yourself,’ she said coldly. Gabriella cleared her throat nervously.

‘I, I was feeling a little peckish,’ she said hesitantly, unable to meet Leader’s eyes.

‘You know full well that box of chocolates was given to me as a gift from Dad, you have stolen them from me – again.’

Leader dug into her satchel and retrieved her walkie-talkie, all the while looking at her mother. 

‘Hello? Hello, Sergeant Johnson. I want to make a citizen’s arrest. What crime has been committed? Well, let me explain …

 

THE END.

 

ABOUT VIOLETTE AMOUROUX

VIOLETTE AMOUROUXMeet Violette Amouroux, a 10-year-old living in Newcastle, NSW. Born in Paris, she moved with her family to Australia at the age of eight. She devours books of all genres with insatiable curiosity. When she’s not immersed in pages of words, her interests are diverse.

You can find her enjoying basketball, surfing, drama, and rock climbing while hanging out with her friends and dog. This is her first entry in a writing competition and she has plenty of ideas for more stories.

ABOUT THE THUNDERBOLT AWARD

New England Writers’ Centre manages and promotes the competition. New England businesses support the Centre. Traditionally, the submission window opens in June and closes at the end of September. The NEWC’s website contains further information. Including previous years’ winners.

Visit the NEWC’s website to find out more

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