Congratulations to MJ Belko, first place winner in the Children’s/Young Adult Fiction category of the 89th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's her winning story, "Wombat Wings."
Winston was a wombat who lived in a forest in Tasmania. He made his home, as wombats will, under the roots of a tree on the riverbank. At the end of the day, he came out of his burrow to munch on grass and play, rolling head over heels down the hill.
Early one evening, a rainbow lorikeet sat on a branch high above Winston’s burrow and asked,
“What kind of bat can you be
if you can’t fly as high as me?”
Winston thought for a while, slowly munching on grass roots. He scratched his nose and said,
“I can roll and swim and bite.
A wombat has no need for flight.”
The rainbow lorikeet flew away, calling as he went,
“I’ve never seen a stranger thing
than a wombat without wombat wings.”
A kookaburra had been listening from a nearby tree. He laughed, as kookaburras do, and decided to have some fun. Landing on the riverbank beside Winston, the kookaburra said,
“I think it’s just an awful shame
when a bat is a bat only in name.”
And off he flew, laughing to himself.
The next day as the sun was going down, Winston came out of his burrow, looking for something to eat. The kookaburra flew over his head and landed on a low branch. He called to the other wombats waking up and leaving their burrows.
“Other wombats learn to fly!
Are you brave enough to try?”
A joey crawled out of his mother’s pouch and squinted at the kookaburra. He began to jump and flap his arms, but he thumped to the ground and scurried back to his mother’s pouch, crying.
The kookaburra flew up to a high branch and called to the mean wombat across the river,
“Flightless wombats will have to share
with wombats that take to the air!”
The mean wombat smiled. If he learned to use his wombat wings, he could get to the best roots and grasses before any of the other wombats got there. When his belly was full and round, he could fly high into the trees and watch the flightless wombats search the riverbank for food. What fun that would be!
Winston waddled over to a tree and pulled off a piece of bark. He saw the mean wombat smiling and imagined him swooping down from the trees and snatching the tasty tree bark out of his claws. Maybe the kookaburra was right. Maybe he should learn to fly, but how? Winston watched the birds flying overhead. He looked at his strong, furry arms and his claws that were so good at digging. He didn’t look like a bird at all. He didn’t have wings or feathers. Winston didn’t think he could trust the kookaburra; but if the other wombats were going to learn how to fly, shouldn’t he?
The next night, Winston waddled out of his burrow and sat on the cool grass to think. The kookaburra landed on the ground beside him and said,
“Surely, you must have a plan
to fly as other wombats can.”
Winston hissed at the kookaburra and climbed up the side of the riverbank. Flapping his arms as fast as he could, Winston leaped from the riverbank and fell into the water with a splash.
The kookaburra laughed, as kookaburras do, and flew up into a tree.
“With no wings for flying free,
try some leaves from a blue gum tree.”
He dropped blue gum tree leaves on Winston’s head and perched on a branch to see what would happen next.
Winston held a few leaves in each claw and flapped his arms until he was out of breath. Still, he could not fly. Winston began to wonder if the kookaburra was playing a trick on him, but he did not want to give up.
Again, the kookaburra laughed as he circled over Winston.
“If you really want to glide along
try the feathers of a currawong.”
The kookaburra dropped two shiny black feathers at Winston’s feet and sat on a branch to see what would happen next.
Winston made a face and picked up the currawong feathers. He did not trust the kookaburra now, but he just had to try flying one more time.
Winston stood on a rock. Flapping the currawong feathers and jumping as high as he could, Winston fell to the ground with a thud.
The kookaburra laughed out loud and flew away, calling,
“Wombats like you weren’t meant to fly,
but it sure was fun watching you try!”
Winston kicked some dirt at the kookaburra, but it was too late. The kookaburra was gone. Winston looked across the river. Wombats were lying on the riverbank, tired and bruised from jumping and falling over and over again. The mother wombat was kissing her joey’s scraped knee. The big mean wombat was rubbing a bump on his nose.
The rainbow lorikeet fluttered to the ground and landed next to Winston. He folded his green wings, tilted his blue head and said,
“You must not be a bat at all
if all you do is crash and fall!”
As the sun came up, Winston and his neighbors crawled into their burrows while the kookaburras filling the trees laughed and laughed.
The next night, Winston sat on the riverbank, thinking about the trick the kookaburra had played. The rainbow lorikeet returned and asked:
“Have you found a way to be
a bat that flies as high as me?”
This time, Winston didn’t have to stop and think. Rolling on his back and looking at the stars he said,
“I’ve never heard of a sillier thing
than a wombat who needs wombat wings.”