“Education is what you get from reading the fine print. Experience is what you get from not reading it.”  --Unknown
Three's a Crowd

By Elizabeth Pagel Hogan
I knew that dropping a daddy longlegs on Inky’s sketch book would totally freak him out. But he’s my best friend and I
also knew he wouldn’t be angry at me for long.

I cupped the daddy long legs carefully in my hands. You can’t pick it up by the legs because the legs just rip off and it
can get away.  Inky was only a few feet away, sitting in the shade under the slide of his old swing set, totally
absorbed in his drawing.

I crept toward the swing set and got in position. I decided I’d dive-bomb the daddy longlegs on him and then make a
fast get away. I took off running but at the last minute my foot hit a root camouflaged in the dry brown grass.

“Ahh!” I screamed. Three things happened at the same time: 1. Inky looked up and screamed because 2. the daddy
longlegs was flying right at him and 3. I hit the dry, hard ground with my face and bit my tongue.

I laid there on the ground and my tongue throbbing but I couldn’t help laughing as Inky jumped from foot to foot,
whipping his arms around even though the bug was long gone.
“Is it on me? Is it on me?” he screeched.

I tasted blood and dabbed at my mouth with the edge of my t-shirt. Another blood stained t-shirt wouldn’t surprise my
mom. She told me once I kept that stain remover company in business all by myself.

“Relax, it’s not on you,” I called over to Inky. He stopped dancing and stood there panting. Then he turned and glared
at me.

“What did you have to do that for, Tony?”
“I was bored!”
“So you throw a spider on me?” His eyes bugged out behind his glasses.

“A daddy long legs isn’t even a spider,” I reminded him. He crossed his arms. “You shouldn’t let a little old bug scare
you so much. You don’t want people at school to think you’re a baby.”

“Like you’re not scared of anything,” he rolled his eyes. “I know exactly what you’re scared of.”

Inky was my best friend and I knew he was terrified of spiders. But that also meant he knew I was still totally scared of
the dark. But I also knew he’d never tell anyone.

“Ok, sorry,” I sighed. I stood up and went over to his old tire swing. He picked up sketchbook and looked at his
“You owe me another apology for making me wreck my drawing,” he frowned.

“Sorry sorry,” I flopped on to the swing. “But I’m still bored. And it’s so hot out here,” I complained. The scab on my
elbow itched but I forced myself not to scratch it. Instead I pressed my tongue against my teeth to see if I still tasted

“If you wore shorts you’d be cooler.” He turned to a fresh page in his sketchbook.

“I don’t want to get sunburned,” I reminded him.

“Right, sunburn.”

“It’s true!” Kids like Inky with tan skin didn’t understand how pale kids like me feared sunburn. I already had enough
scabs, I didn’t need gross peeling sunburn skin, too. Not a good look for the start of middle school. I changed the

“When is your cousin getting here?”

Inky’s mom had said she would take us mini-golfing today, but she cancelled our trip because Mara, Inky’s cousin, was
coming. The arrival of Mara was a surprise, like my last dentist appointment that my mom claimed she forgot to tell me
about. Her arrival just about confirmed that the end of summer fun was here.  Me and Inky still hadn’t done the big
stuff on our bucket list: 1. We hadn’t finished our new comic. 2. We hadn’t beaten the Combat Duty video game and 3.
We hadn’t camped out by ourselves in Inky’s backyard. I didn’t know Mara, but I knew having a girl hanging around for
two weeks meant none of that would happen.

“Not sure.” He didn’t look up from his drawing.

“And why is she coming?”

“Family emergency,” Inky said. “Her dad’s hurt. But my mom said we shouldn’t talk about it. We just have to be nice
and hang out with her.”

“That’s it then. Summer is done.”

“We still have two weeks left.”

“Doesn’t matter, dude. Three’s a crowd.’”

“What does that mean?” Inky asked.

“It means two people can have fun together but three people is too many.”

“We’ll still have fun with Mara,” Inky said. “She and I always had fun together when we were little.”

“What kind of stuff does she do?”

“Regular stuff.”

“Is she cool?”

“Pretty cool,” he said. “She older than us. She’s going into eighth grade.”

I laid back on tire swing. My legs hung way down over the side and my shoes dragged in the grass. I kicked my foot
against the dirt over and over and twisted the ropes of the tire swing into a tight coil then lifted my foot and spun
around and around. The wind cooled me off. I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my hair and my face as the cicadas
made a racket in the forest behind Inky’s yard.

“Sixth grade is going to be so much better than fifth,” I said.

“I liked fifth grade.”

“That’s because no one called you Scabs,” I muttered. I had prayed that all my scabs would heal over the summer and
people would forget that stupid nickname. But every time one got better, I tripped, or fell, or bumped into something
and a whole new scab started. It was hopeless. I couldn’t get rid of the scabs, but maybe I could do something else
that people would notice. Something cool.

Inky didn’t answer. His pen scratched on the paper of his sketchbook.

“We should do something cool in sixth grade,” I announced.

“Like what?”

My tire swing slowed down but I kept my eyes closed as I thought.

“What about safety patrol?”

“Really?” Inky said. “Do you think I might get picked?”

I realized that if both of us got picked for safety patrol, I could get a better nickname. Was Captain Caution cool?

“I bet we could both get picked. Being on safety patrol would be awesome!”  

“Seriously? You want to be on safety patrol?” said a new, girl voice.

I opened my eyes and saw a girl version of Inky. She had his tan skin, like my mom’s coffee when she poured in the
cream and long dark hair. I stared into her dark eyes and a tidal wave crashed over me. I tried to stand but my rear
end slipped down and I fell on the dirt with my legs sticking out of the center of the tire swing.

The dark-eyed girl laughed at me.

“Mara!”  Inky hurried over. They could’ve have been twins.

“Ian!” she said. Ian is Inky’s real name. She gave him a little noogie.

“What are you doing on the ground, Tony?” Inky asked.

Mara giggled.

“I think I scared him.”

“No, you didn’t.” I scrambled to my feet.

“That’s just Tony, he’s a total klutz,” Inky said.

“I am not!” The words exploded out of me.

Inky looked surprised. “But all your scabs-”

“I just do dangerous stuff, that’s all.”

Mara looked at me with interest. “What kind of dangerous stuff?”

“Um,” I scratched the back of my head. 

“You have some blood on your teeth,” Mara pointed at my mouth. I wiped it with the back of my hand.

“How did you get that?” Mara asked.

My eyes shot sideways and I met Inky’s glance.

“We were just fooling around. We got a little too rough.”

“You? Rough?” Mara raised her eyebrows as she looked at Inky. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” Mara turned back to

I held out my palms. The constellation of tiny scabs on my palms were only a day old and still pinkish red.

“How’d you get those?”

“Some rocks,” I blurted out.

“Rock climbing? Cool!”

Inky snorted. Being a rock climber was cooler than falling on the gravel getting out of my mom’s minivan.

“Any more?”

“Any more what?” I felt like a parrot.


“He’s got lots more,” Inky said.

My usual outfit of long sleeves and long pants hid the scrapes on my shin and the scab on my elbow. I did not want
this girl calling me Scabs, too. 

“Can I see them?” She smiled and my cheeks burned red-hot.

“You want to see my scabs?” I gulped.

“Why do you want to see his scabs?” Inky asked. “They’re gross.”

“No, scabs are awesome,” she said. “Because when they get better you have scars. My dad is in the Army and he told
me scars are like badges of honor to show you went through something tough and made it out alive. So, kid, let’s see
your scabs.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was surprised…make that delighted… to receive this submission of Middle Grade Fiction. The stakes
are just right for so fourth through sixth graders. The dialogue sounds authentic. The tone is works. If you are an
adult, let this draw you into your past, share it with your kids, and delight in the intense innocence that is at the heart
of this story.

AUTHOR’S BIO: Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan is a writing mom on the run. Her non-fiction appears in FamilyFun,
AppleSeeds, Children’s Writer, PTOToday.com and Odyssey. Pagel-Hogan has won awards for adult fiction and poetry
but this is her first middle grade novel.
Content that leaves a reader wanting more.
Content that shows potential.
Mechanics that show professionalism.
An intangible quality we call voice.
We think these two pieces qualify. Another two winning selections will appear in the Spring (Mar-Jun) Issue.

Winners earned $100 and are able to add the fact that they won this contest to their query letters. I know I advertised that the top 3 would earn $100, but I found 4 winners, and all 4 earned $100. Anything can happen in a Writer Advice Contest.

NOTE: I would be honored to forward your comments to these authors.
What wins in Writer Advice's Scintillating Starts Contest?
By Jonathan Werre

CHAPTER 1 -- The End
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Writer Advice
         The end of the world as he knew it came two days before the Eve of the Nativity of our Lord. 

As a pastor, the Rev. Josiah Jordan expected the End of the World and the Second Coming any day now.  At least in theory.  But right now
what was on his mind was the end of the Church Council meeting.  This was a small church.  Which meant it should have short meetings.  At
least in theory.  But when he looked at the clock, he saw that they had been at it for over two hours.  Men often complain how much
women talk-but get a group of men together in which each feels the equal of the other and there will be enough hot air to fill the
Hindenburg…only without the explosion.  At least, Josiah thought to himself, I hope there are no explosions.

The chairman took a look at his watch.  “Gentlemen,” he said, “Sports are happening that I am missing.  So let’s finish this up!”  By sports,
he meant hockey.  As far as he was concerned, there were no other sports.  That was enough for them to wrap it up and let the pastor
close with the Blessing.  Josiah locked the church doors and drove home.

The Jordan’s neighborhood was the kind in which a swing set in the backyard and a minivan in the front seemed like zoning requirements.  As
did the petty quarrels, unhappy wives and disappointed husbands.  After seven years of living here, the Jordan’s had been assimilated

Walking into the house, he realized they would have to take off for the airport right away.  So he began his John Wayne imitation.  “All right,
you little pilgrims, time to saddle up and ride on outta here!”   Walker T, his wife, came around the corner and he stayed in character, “Well,
lookee there!  That’s the finest little filly I’ve ever seen on these Alberta prairies.  Hey, little missy, how about spending a little time with this
ol’ cowboy?”  He was about to make a comment that involved a horse and a saddle but stopped when he looked at her face.  It was the
face of a woman who had had a bad day.  But then, most her days were bad days.  Maybe it was the long darkness in this part of the world
during winter.  Maybe it was all the little hurts that had accumulated over the years and hardened but nevertheless still kept growing, like a
coral reef.  Only without the pretty colors.   At any rate, any reference to their love life would be the wrong thing to say.  And had been for
a long time.

“Keep an eye on the weather,” his wife said, more like a command than a concern.  “A storm is coming.”

“You channeling your Ma Ingalls’ sensibilities again?” he said, trying to tease her into playful mood.

She just stared at him.  “The TV says a major storm is coming over the mountains.”
He slipped back to his own voice and said, “It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  It’s fine.  When did they say the storm was supposed to

“Not until tomorrow.  But, still.”

“Sure you don’t want to come along?”  She just looked at him.  So he slipped back into his John Wayne voice and said, “Well, ma’am,
you can bet your last cup of coffee that this ol’ cowboy’s going to take real good care of these chillin’.  And we’ll bring your mama back, safe
and sound.” 

He opened the door leading to the garage and out slipped his three children.  “I get to ride shotgun!” said Martin, his oldest.    After a
stop at Tim Horton’s for coffee and donuts, and a quiet two hours on the highway, they found themselves at the Calgary International

Excitement filled his children as they walked along.  “Do you think gamma will bring us any pressies, like a kittie?”  asked Mia, his five year

“Grandma isn’t going to fly up here with a cat on the plane,” said Katherine, her older sister, who was usually very quiet but did speak up
when she thought it important enough.  And correcting her siblings usually qualified as important enough.

The festive Christmas atmosphere was all around them.  It made Josiah smile, as they walked along.  It seemed that everyone in the airport
was feeling it.  Peace on earth, he thought, good will to men.  

As Josiah turned to look up at the Arrivals screen, there was an explosion.  Smoke.  Dust.  Screaming.  Sirens.  Chaos. Yelling.  Madness. 
Josiah shouted to his children, “Hold hands!  Do not let go of each other’s hands, understand?”  The children nodded, too scared to talk, too
bewildered to cry.

He paused, not sure, not certain.  There was smoke and dust and insanity all around.  What in the world had happened?  What should
he do?  It is remarkable how the decisions made in the first few minutes of a disaster set the course for how it will all unfold.  And tragically
“Come on, kids!” he shouted.  The main doors of the terminal were an impenetrable mass of bodies.  But at the far end there were doors with
exit signs over them.  That was where he rushed his children.
As they bumped and pushed their way to the end of the terminal, suddenly there was gunfire.  “Get down!” he shouted to his kids.  Then
another explosion. And another.  Smaller, but closer.   More mayhem.  More smoke and dust. Then blood.  On Martin’s jacket.  On Katherine’s
face.  On his hands.   Screaming.  Shock.  Several people in front of them collapsed, blood flowing profusely.

He dragged his children through what he thought were the exit doors.   Instead he rushed his children into the middle of a group of men with
covered heads and exposed guns. They stood by a seated, huddled group.   “Get over here!” they screamed at Josiah and his children in
such a way that they immediately did. 
There was weeping, murmuring, begging and praying  in this huddled group.  But most of all there was terror.  The quiet kind that rips
up your insides.  The kind that comes when you are suddenly in a situation that up to now has been far away, like those stories on the
evening news.  The terror of having something happen to you that only happens to Other People. “Daddy!”  screamed Mia, “I’m going to be
sick!  I’m going to be sick!”  Josiah scooped her up into his lap, just in time for her to vomit.  “Help me, Daddy!” she choked out, between
heaves.  “Daddy!” she cried in a kind of voice that a five year old should never have to use. The terror of the terrorists had found its way
into her belly.

If there was chaos outside the doors, there was chaos inside, too.  The men with the guns were arguing in a language Josiah did not
understand.  They were waving and gesturing wildly.  Something was clearly and terribly wrong

Then one of them, a man with a patch on his eye, raised his voice above the rest.  Speaking a mixture of Arabic and English, he spit out
orders.  When one of the men balked, Patch walked up to him slowly, in a friendly way, put his arm over his shoulder like he was going to talk
quietly with him.  Then he swiftly slit his throat.  As the man dropped to the floor, Josiah watched the other men become a force flowing in
the same direction, securing their position.   No one talked.  It almost seemed calm.

It was clear that holding a group of 16 hostages had not been part of the terrorists’ plan.  But war is a fluid situation.  These 16 had
become part of a battle they did not realize was going on every day around them.  However, the terrorists did not need 16 hostages.  So
while they negotiated with the RCMP, they began their own negotiations among themselves about which of the hostages should die first.  All
Josiah could think was, “I hope they talk as much as my Church Council before they make any decisions.”

But they were not a Church Council.  The executions began.  Sometimes one at a time.  Sometimes two at a time.  Until there were
only four left.  Four Jordan’s. 

“Get up!” Patch barked.

They got up.  As Josiah turned, he found himself face-to-face with one of the terrorists, looking straight into his eyes.  No, her eyes.  Chaos
filled his mind.  His belly was suddenly filled with an old, should-have-been-forgotten, sweet longing.   It couldn’t be HER, could it?  Josiah
asked himself.  That would be impossible, what would she be doing here?  It can’t be HER!  But she held his gaze a second too long. 

Patch said coldly, “Now it is time to go.”  Josiah could only wonder where it was that he meant to go.

EDITOR’S NOTE: There are several terrorist-oriented pieces coming out right now, but this caught me by surprise. The tension worked. The
build is amazing. Stakes are through the roof and I already care about these characters even though I’ve just met them. The author knows
people and motivations, and if I were an agent, I’d see that this is marketable and I’d ask to see more. 

AUTHOR’S BIO: Born in Zambia, lived in Canada, Jonathan Werre now resides in South Dakota with his beautiful wife and four children. 
Holds a Masters of Divinity and a black belt in taekwondo.  Writes children’s stories and poetry.  And now a novel.