The Somber Stare – Storytale 2020 ages 9-12 Category Winning Story

Kate Frost

Thank you to everyone who took the time to write their story and send it to us. The Storytale team and our fabulous judge Nicola Skinner loved the diversity of the entries from a secluded cabin in the middle of woods in Germany 1935, to a poem, Talking in the Background, inspired by Malaika Kegode’s Background Noise.

The winning story, chosen by Nicola, is The Sombre Stare by Maahi Dodhia, which was inspired by the real life events of two off-duty fire fighters, Brian McCluney and Justin Walker who vanished while fishing in Port Canaveral. This is what Nicola Skinner had to say about it:

“I thought Maahi’s entry was highly imaginative, with a lovely use of language that showed real thought before composition. The story was genuinely frightening, and more importantly, I felt that it had ‘legs’ – eg it’s an idea that could definitely be developed into a longer story, as I wanted to know more about what was happening. Thank you so much!”

THE SOMBER STARE by Maahi Dodhia age 12

Hurry Up Damien!” Bram yells over the clamouring from his brother’s khaki jeep. I swiftly murmur my goodbyes to the wilting shadow of my father; I consolidate and comfort him by reminding him that I will be home before sunset. He is supposed to come with us, except he had just returned from hospital. He is a fisherman and his left leg had been bitten off by an alligator. I will miss him. It is tradition, we all go fishing together on the first morning of every month. His surgery cost us every cent we own; we even had to sell some of Mum’s belongings. I miss her, yet Dad always reminds me that she is resting in heaven and watching over us. It has been harder since Daisy (my older sister) left for college; Dad won`t let her leave Florida, so she is only upstate. Now I have to get the odd job here and there to help pay the mortgage. I tread over the cobblestones carefully towards the truck as the golden Princeton sun emerges from behind the majestic house. Thinking if it is safe to leave Dad here alone. Is it a good idea? Will he be okay?

The journey to the lake is tedious; I try to make conversation with Vlad, except he ignores me. Rude! In all fairness, I did step on his hamster last week.

Once we arrive at the lake, we get out our belongings and start to fish. Vlad had to wait till I was done, because he had left his reel at home. Finally, I had caught something, it is very resistant; it was making me fall into the lake. What is it? The creature then lets go of my hook and slithers into a nearby cave. I follow it. “What on earth are you doing?” Shouts Bram. I do not reply. Filled with curiosity, I stumble into the cave. I look around. It is cold and damp. I get a strange feeling that someone is watching me. I spin around and leaning on rocks is a small delicate china doll. She stares at me with curious sapphire eyes that make my brain pound against my skull. I am forced to look away. She has long raven locks, snow white skin and her lips are blood red. She looks beautiful. Almost too beautiful to be real. Silence. We both say nothing. After a few awkward moments, I back away. She doesn’t move. Who is she? I leave.

When I return, all the boys rush up to me. They ask me what happened and why I went into the cave. I feel compelled to not tell them anything about it. It is the girl? What is happening?

Later, we set up our tents near the creek and whilst everyone else is chatting carelessly and slamming poles into the ground, I realise that something is wrong. Where is Chuck? I call to the rest of the boys and we head up a nearby hill to look for him. I don’t think much of it at first because Chuck likes to go off exploring by himself sometimes. Then I see him. He is drenched in what looks like oil and he is holding a lit match. “No, Chuck!” we yell at him to stop. But we are too late.

I watch in anguish at my childhood friend being burned alive. He doesn’t move and his expression is the same as the girl I saw in the cave. I don’t know what to do. I quickly head home with the rest of the boys as the Golden ball of light disappears behind the Cliff near the Lake. When I am home my father comforts me and we both fall asleep in his mahogany arm chair all my worries are gone and I am filled with the warmth once again after what seems like eternity. The peace in the air disappears when the telephone rings so loudly that my heart nearly jumps out of my chest I slowly creep to pick it up as my warm numb feet hit the cold stone floor my stiff hands shakily. I reach for the phone so I can go back to the warmth. As I put the phone to my ear I can hear the young girls voice whispering, her voice is smooth and calming, almost hypnotising. “He’s going to jump, he should jump, do it Vlad!” Her voice became menacing what does she mean. I race downtown down the cobbled streets, I have to find him. Where am I going? Then I see him at the edge of the cliff that we used to play near. He was swaying with the wind as if he would not drop off a thousand foot cliff and onto sharp rocks and meet his death. He looks blankly at me and before I can save him his eyes roll to the back of his head before he drops onto the rocks and I am left paralysed. I feel compelled to walk home, so I stumble, half wearing my jacket and I glance around the corner of a narrow alleyway to my right and what do I see? I see Cole stabbing Bram with a four inch kitchen knife, they are both silent and cold. Bram’s body becomes cold. When Cole looks up, I do not see the young boy who hides in the corner of the classroom; I see a mindless heartless soldier. Then he stops and stares at me no expression showed in his face and drags the knife along his neck the ruby blood trickles down his chest like raindrops against a car window his body slumps against the floor as I run away. Away from this madness.

Where do I run? I run home. To my father. He embraces me into his arms and caresses me until I am all toasty inside. I look up to ask him if he is okay? But he looks at me with that cold soldier-like look in his eyes and they roll to the back of his head. Dad?

Congratulations to Maahi, on such a chilling and mysterious story! A hardback copy of Nicola’s second novel, Storm, will be on its way to you shortly.

Nicola Skinner is the author of middle grade books, Bloom and Storm. Nicola has been described as a ‘truly bold and original new voice’ and her latest novel Storm as ‘funny, moving and surprising, told with real wisdom and heart.’ You can find out more about Nicola and her books here:

Also, if you missed any of the festival events, you can still catch up with lots of them over on our YouTube channel.

Share this post


How are we doing?

Thank you for visiting the Storytale Festival website. We would love to hear about your experience of using our site. We’d like to learn about what’s working and what could be better so we can make your experience a great one!


Sign up to be one of the first to hear about upcoming events and our latest news!


* indicates required
Sign me up for the newsletter and event updates