2nd Prize Winner - Ages 12-14 years

December 2023


Judges’ comments: The judges found this story to be so enjoyable. The idea was original, topical and humorous, and it made them laugh out loud!


What if He Survived

by J. Turner

Living in the 22nd century is scary. Your life is constantly at risk from everything wrong with the world. Tornados, flash floods, mass shootings. We may as well live at the Unley Community Safe House. We hardly ever stay at home for longer than a week before some other disaster strikes. Mum said it’ll all stop soon and I’ll be able to go back to school, but I'm doubtful. We just got back home after another tornado, and I can hear the neighbours rambling on about how the atmosphere is “going to collapse soon”. If these are my last years on earth, I’m not going to be cooped up the whole time. So I'm packing my bag and heading off to my favourite place one last time.

“Mum, I'm just going to have a quick nap!” I yelled down the hall from my bedroom.

“Ok Pipes! Do you want me to wake you up later?” My mum called from the kitchen where she was cooking my lunch.

“Um, no thanks! I’ll just set an alarm!” I quickly shut my door. I knew my voice had been shaking, it’s amazing she didn’t suspect anything. I slung my bag over my shoulder and slid open my window. I looked back into my room. I really hate lying to my mum, but this is something I have to do for myself. Besides, it’s not that bad, really. I know some kids who are doing way worse. I sighed, then climbed through my window.

Walking down the path along the edge of Unley oval, I start feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt. I'm not meant go out by myself, especially in such an open area, but this is my favourite place to read. I remember when I would come here with Dad and Felix. We’d kick a footy around, bring a picnic, and end the day just lying around reading. I haven’t come here for years, but I can’t dwell on memories. I just need to focus on staying alive when I'm out here, but I'm only going to be, like, half an hour. I've got my first aid kit, and I'm right under an old gum tree, perfect to climb if it floods. I dump my bag down and lean up against the trunk. I breathed in a big sigh of freedom, savouring the smell of grass, dirt and crunchy gum leaves. I'm just about to open my book when a massive gust of wind blows my hair behind me, and the pages in my novel flip frantically. I grab my bag and start to run, but a huge counter wind knocks me back down, like the air was being sucked back in. I push my hair back over my head and look back down the hill. A type of sinkhole has formed a few metres away from where I'm lying. It looks like something has plunged into the earth, but I don’t know what could have that much of an impact.

I struggle back up to my feet and walk carefully towards the edge of the hole. It looks like it couldn’t  be more than 2 metres across, but it goes down a good 3 metres. I look down into it and see a metal sphere, no bigger than a basketball. I’m not unfamiliar to space junk entering the atmosphere and coming down to earth, but it usually burns up on impact, or it is just a small scrap of plastic. This looks fully formed though, not like its broken off of anything. I look behind me, and then make the slow descent down into the earth. I know I can’t just leave it here, it’s a mystery in itself that it could be so hot but not have any visible damage to it, apart from a few scratches on the side. I've always liked a good mystery. When I was little and some sort of disaster struck, my dad would take it upon himself to keep me and my brother educated. We focused on sciences and problem solving, like morse code and word games.  He made me and Felix a little card each with a morse code key on it. I carry it everywhere, but I haven’t really looked at it in years. He and Felix disappeared years ago, after the factory explosion. It took thousands of lives, but we never got to identify the bodies. Mum just assumed they were driving by and some debris fell on the car. I don’t think they really died though.

I look at the scratches on the side of the ball again. They don’t look like marks made on impact. They look purposeful, like someone had taken a blade to the metal. It’s crazy, but it’s not like I have anything to lose. Tucking the ball under my arm, I use my other to pull myself out of the hole. When I reach the top, I heave myself over the edge and sit on the side with my legs hanging down into the pit. Leaving the ball in my lap, I dig through my bag and find the card with the morse code key. I look down at the scratches on the metal.

Dot dash morse code for what if story by jessica turner

I haven’t deciphered morse code in years, but this is definitely not just a coincidence. Don’t worry about being the fastest, take your time. I hear my father’s voice in my head, remembering when Felix would be figuring a problem out faster than me and dad would comfort me, saying I’ll get there in my own time. Slowly, I start working through the dashes and lines.


I. M.                       Space.                   A. L. I. V. E.          Space.                   F. E. L. I. X.


I feel my heartbeat speed up. In my shock, the ball rolls off my lap and falls down into the hole, hitting the earth with a loud thump. I barely pay attention to it; my heart feels like it’s about to fall out of my chest. He’s alive.

My brother’s alive.