The second annual Anderson Park Short Story Contest, a competition for middle school students, asked students to write stories that incorporated the park in some way. Friends of Anderson Park sponsors the contest. The judges were Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs; author Sharon Dennis Wyeth; author Nancy Star; and Ann Anderson Evans, an author and descendant of the parkland’s donor.
“The Wishing Willow,” by Vaurie Wilson, a sixth-grader at Glenfield Middle School, is the third and final winner of the Anderson Park Short Story contest to be published in Montclair Local this spring:
I was the oldest of my siblings. My sister was 2 and my brother was 5. So I didn’t spend too much time around the house. Instead, I spent it with Oliver and Lucas, my two best friends since we were in grade school. Every day we would meet at the weeping willow tree in Anderson Park. The branches draped down over us as if we were shielded from the world.
It was a day like any other day. Oliver was making us laugh and Lucas was trying to climb the tree. Lucas had always been fond of climbing, though he wasn’t very good. He had been trying for hours when he finally gave up and slid down. His hands were scraped and beaten up. “I wish I could just get to the top,” he said, dusting off his hands.
“When you grow a foot taller, then you can,” Oliver laughed.
And that’s when it happened. Lucas got up, not listening to Oliver. He started to climb and climb and climb. He couldn’t control it. He looked like he had been doing it for years. In a matter of seconds, he had made it to the top. We were all stunned, especially Lucas.
He climbed down in shock. “How did I do that?” he asked, confused. We were all confused. I thought over what had just happened. Lucas wished he could climb to the top. And Oliver said he could when he grew one foot taller.
“Lucas, come here,” I said. We stood back to back. Lucas and I were always the same exact height. But not anymore.
“You’re a foot taller!” Oliver said in awe. We all thought over what had happened.
“Okay, make a wish,” I said to Oliver.
“Maybe that’s not the best idea,” Lucas said hesitantly.
Oliver didn’t listen. “I’m going to wish for something cool,” he said, putting his hand on the tree.
“I wish for a new baseball hat,” he said, closing his eyes. We looked away, bracing ourselves. It went dead silent. We waited and waited, but nothing happened. I opened my eyes and there it was. Sitting on Oliver’s curly brown head was a new hat.
“Oliver, it’s there, it’s really there!” I said.
“It is!” Lucas said, jumping in amazement.
Oliver reached for the hat with a grin and said, “You know what this means? This means we can do whatever we want!” We all started jumping around and celebrating. I was already thinking of everything I could get. Maybe a new bike or better new siblings.
The next day, we walked to school looking different. I had a fresh new outfit on. I had all the answers to the algebra test tattooed into my mind. At home I had a rock climbing wall, a water bed and a TV in my room. It was awesome. Oliver came to school with his new baseball hat, and new, golden cleats that looked like they cost a fortune. He told us about how he could hit the ball harder and farther than any baseball player he’d ever seen. Lucas also came to school looking cool. He had always been the nerdier one of our group, but now he was the opposite. His hair was cool, his outfit was cool, his walk was cool. When we got to school kids were looking at us. Not like how kids look at each other with eyes of jealousy, but with amazement.
It seemed like our life was going to be perfect … until we saw the twins. Jonas and Matthew, the two meanest boys you will ever meet. They stared at us, sizzling with anger. We ignored them, still trying to be confident.
When school ended we ran to the tree. We wished for everything we could possibly need — candy, money, looks, strength, confidence, smarts.
We walked to school the next morning feeling the best we’d ever felt. But our faces dropped when we saw Jonas and Matthew waiting outside the school with a crowd around them. They had evil grins on their faces. Jonas was shooting fire from his hands, while Mathew was doing push-ups with one finger. We immediately realized that they knew about the tree.
A burst of anger shot up in all of us. Oliver pushed through the crowd. Lucas and I ran up behind him. We were holding him back from strangling the twins. I whispered under my breath to Oliver, trying to calm him down, but he didn’t listen.
“How did you know about the tree!!??” Oliver yelled, his face turning red. We couldn’t hold him back anymore — he jumped on both of them. “Tell me!”
Their faces turned white for a second, then regained their color. They both grinned.
“What tree? We don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jonas said, chuckling. I started to pry them off of each other.
That’s when Oliver saw a shadow above his head. It was Mr. Tenio. He was a cool teacher. He understood things that most adults wouldn’t. He didn’t wear a suit like other teachers; he usually wore sweat pants. “Boys, boys, boys, settle down!” he said. “You can tell me what happened in my office.” Oliver stood up, dusting off his pants. Jonas and Matthew scrambled to their feet.
They followed Tenio through the hall into his office. “I can see there’s been some disagreement,” Tenio said.
“I don’t know what happened. One second we were standing there and the next second we were on the ground,” Matthew said in a sad voice.
“Oliver just jumped on us,” Jonas added, as he shed a fake tear.
Oliver was speechless. They all waited in silence for a long time, until Tenio sighed. “I’ll let you off the hook this time, but next time it won’t be so easy.”
“Thank you,” Oliver said as we ran off.
Later that day the twins started to get bad. They used their powers for harm. They knocked over everyone in their way, they set Nico Brown’s hair on fire. It was out of hand.
We went straight to the tree after school. Something had to be done. We had to find a way to take their powers away. A few minutes after we arrived, the twins came.
“Hey, losers,” they said as they got off their bikes. We looked them dead straight in the eye with hate.
“How did you know about the tree?” Lucas asked.
Jonas laughed. “We knew something was up. All we had to do was follow you after school.”
My fist tightened and I hardened my stare. “Go. Away,” I said sternly. The twins laughed as they shoved Lucas. “Stop it!” I yelled. They didn’t listen, instead they pushed me, too. I fell to the ground, scraping my knees and hands.
“We plan on doing something even more fun with our new powers. Maybe break into a few places or even better — ”
Oliver cut Jonas off. “We can’t let you do that.”
Oliver, Lucas, and I were all thinking the same thing. The tree did not belong to any of us. It wasn’t right for any of us to have its power. We were just kids …
“What are you doing?” the twins asked in a shaky tone as I pulled a box of matches from my pocket. I lit my match, then the tree. It burst into flames. Ashes began flying into the air. We all stepped back. My vision went blurry as I started to cry.
“What are you doing?! You fools!” Jonas yelled, falling to his knees.
“It had to be done,” Oliver said. We were all crying as we watched our favorite place in the whole world quickly being destroyed. All of our powers were gone. Worst of all, the tree that we loved and had grown up with was gone, too.