February 07, 2018
Our sonshine Niccolo just won a 2018 GOLD KEY, the highest honor granted by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, for the short story he submitted to New York! 🔑🏆🎉 Past award receipients include Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates. This just makes us the most awed, joyful, proud and grateful parents of the moment! Yay! ♥️♥️♥️
This is his winning entry:
"Right Back at You"
by Niccolo Manuel C. Tuazon
The boss furiously storms through the office hallway. His eyes blaze, his thick brows are set in almost one straight line, and his cheeks are flushed red. His dark unbuttoned coat reveals his crumpled shirt inside while his tie hangs unevenly around his neck. He stomps onward with both his hands clenching a bulging stack of paperwork. He abruptly stops at one of the office rooms and kicks the door open.
He immediately spots his employee seated at a desk. The sales clerk is slouched backward with his head bent to the right. His computer screen is on but he obviously isn’t seeing it because his eyes are closed.
The boss is in front of him in an instant. He slams the huge pile of papers on top of the table, making a sound as loud as a gunshot. The dozing employee wakes up with a jolt to find his supervisor glaring down at him.
“What do you think you are doing?” his boss yells at the top of his lungs. “Trying to sleep on the job? Again?”
The employee can’t help but shake with fear. “I’m sorry… so sorry, Mr. Hawkes! I didn’t mean to fall asleep!” He desperately tries to hide his panic and keep his voice calm. “It’s just that I had a long fight with my brother late last night so I hardly got any sleep after…”
His boss does not bother to let him finish and growls at him. “You have slept on the job many times, Cain Linkladder, and I refuse to tolerate any more failures from a useless and pathetic punk like you who never runs out of excuses!”
Cain‘s finger shakes as he points at the papers scattered around his desk. He asks with a trembling voice, “What are all these papers for, Mr. Hawkes?”
Mr. Hawkes smiles meanly at him. “Those papers are your punishment for being the worst employee in the entire company! Your workload has now been doubled and your salary has been cut in half.” He continues mercilessly, “Stop making fake excuses using your brother. It won’t get your life anywhere. Just get out of here this second and start working on those company orders!”
Cain’s face is now completely pale. He tries desperately to explain his situation, “But sir, it’s--” Cain suddenly loses his ability to speak as he is forcefully grabbed by his collar by Mr. Hawkes.
His supervisor shouts, “Quit talking! Just get out on the field now and get your job done!”
Hawkes then releases his employee from his grasp. Cain uses the chance to run rapidly out of the work building. He flees, consumed with great fear, worry, and shame. He wants to get back at his boss, but he knows he can’t. He cannot afford to lose his job. All at once, he feels a rising hatred towards his brother.
Cain ends up standing in front of the small and cramped apartment building he lives in with his younger brother. He marches inside, climbs up the stairs and unlocks the door of the space he pays monthly rent for. As soon as he hears his brother’s voice in his bedroom, his eyes narrow dangerously.
He barges into the messy room where his brother is engaged in an online conversation using a laptop. Without a word, Cain seizes the computer and ends the ongoing call. His stunned brother protests, “Stop grabbing my stuff and give that back! It isn’t yours!”
Cain’s expression darkens. He blurts out, “I’m the one who bought this and practically everything you have, Abel! And you never even thank me for anything I give you!”
He continues lashing out at his brother, “Ever since Mom and Dad disappeared, I have been working with blood, sweat and tears in order for me and you to survive, but you just don’t care. You don’t do anything to help. You’re a useless and pathetic punk who doesn’t have what it takes to live in the real world. This is my punishment to you, so just grow up!”
Cain raises the laptop he is holding and swings it down until it smashes on the wooden floor. Shrapnel and glass from the destroyed laptop fly across the room.
In utter shock and anger, Abel charges at his brother. Cain, who is much larger than he is, easily dodges his attack and then shoves him into the concrete wall. Abel hits the wall so hard that he falls on his back in pain.
Cain does not reach out an arm to help his brother up. He instead leaves the room at once, slamming the door shut behind him. He is not heard from again the rest of the night.
Abel sobs and sobs as he lies on the floor. Slowly, he stands and cleans up the debris of metal and glass spread in the room. His sadness is overpowered by his anger and hate. He wants to get back at his brother, but he knows he can’t. He feels an overpowering need to release his rage.
The next day, Abel wakes up early, eats his breakfast, gets dressed, and heads out for school while his brother is still in bed. Abel reaches the school gates and stands by to watch the students coming and going. He finds himself setting his sight on Isaac, a skinny kid with glasses who annoys the class with his nerdiness.
He follows Isaac until the boy reaches his locker. As Isaac opens the door of his locker in the hallway, Abel rushes up to him and slams his locker door shut.
Caught in total surprise, Isaac asks, “Why did you do that?”
Abel replies, “Because I wanted to, ugly nerd!”
Isaac, his heart beginning to pound, says, “What did I do to you, Abel? I have done nothing wrong!”
“Oh yes you did do something wrong, Isaac… you know what you did wrong?” said Abel.
Isaac, now white as a sheet, asks, “What?”
Abel replies with a scary smirk. “You. Were. Born. You useless and pathetic punk!”
“No… please don’t hurt me, Abel! I’ll give you my lunch money! I’ll even do your homework! Just please, don’t hurt me!” Isaac pleads with him.
Abel merely replies with a villainous look, “Too late.”
Abel then punches Isaac in the face and throws him down to the ground. The dazed boy tries to recover, but Abel kicks him in the stomach again and again. Isaac rolls on the floor, crying for help and begging for mercy.
By the time teachers and other students arrive, Isaac is knocked out cold and Abel is gone from the scene.
The school administrators quickly have an ambulance take the unconscious child to the nearest emergency ward and call the parents of Isaac.
The father and mother of Isaac rush to the hospital and are terribly shocked to see the awful condition their son is in. The doctor reports that Isaac is suffering from a concussion and fractured ribs.
They then see Isaac’s eyes slowly open.
The father carefully approaches the medical bed he is stretched out on, leans down, and asks, “Son, do you recognize me?”
The father asks, “Do you recognize Mom?”
Isaac nods again.
The father asks one more question, “Do you remember who you are?”
Isaac softly replies, “Yes, I am Isaac. Isaac Hawkes.”
The father embraces his son and asks one last question. “Son, who did this to you?”
Isaac’s eyes fall shut. He struggles with all his might to answer, “My classmate Abel. Abel Linklad- aahhh!”
Isaac cannot continue. He starts shaking violently. The doctor rushes forward to help him, but he has already collapsed. The doctor reveals to his parents that Isaac has most likely fainted again due to the painful trauma of recalling the incident that happened to him.
The parents are overwhelmed with pity for their only child. Suddenly, the father remembers the name his son was trying to say and figures out who did it. It was Abel Linkladder who must be the younger brother of his employee, Cain Linkladder.
The father’s thoughts go whirling inside his head until the pieces come together. He finally understands what happened. He had lashed out at Cain who lashed out at Abel who lashed out at Isaac. The chain of rage and hate began with him. He was actually the useless and pathetic punk who started it all. Now, this was his own punishment.
Hawkes crumbles to the floor and weeps hard, his insides overflowing with deep remorse. He comes to a kneeling position and prays harder than he ever prayed before. With his whole heart, he asks the heavens for forgiveness for his sins against Cain and others like him. He vows to never again let his own anger hurt and infuriate others. Nobody deserves to feel like a useless and pathetic punk.
The father promises to himself that, as soon as Isaac awakes, he will shower him with utmost love, care and kindness that his son will live paying forward.