Literacy Week: Too Small for Conflict

For Literacy Week, January 23-27, students competed in a short story contest for the chance to win a pair of  Apple Air Pods. Of many deserving submissions, the top honors go to Ava Johns for “Terms of Agreement,” 2nd place to Mae Denson for “The Ghost Writer,” 3rd place to Gavin Walker for ‘Navane Naivety,” 4th place to Bryan Fist for “Too Small for Conflict,” and 5th place to Vidya Bandoo for “Partly Cloudy Skies.” Congratulations to all of our very talented creative writers!

The wind was always the most brisk in the morning, Malik thought. The lake was lightly frozen, and he wasn’t sure he put on enough layers. 

“Hey, M! You beat me here, didn’t you?”

 He smiled. She came. 

 “Guess I did. How’s retirement?”

“Boring. A part of me’s still with you all on the ground, but that’s behind me now. Tell me, how’s the resolution coming?”

There were few people that Malik looked up to more than her. An elder stateswoman in every sense of the word, she got him his job as a Coordinator in the first place. 

“Not the best. I can’t get the Americans on board in the slightest, and even the Chinese Coordinator barely has them as it is. I doubt we’ll be able to pass anything, at this rate.”

“That’s tough. What’s the sticking point?”

“That’s not important right now. I accepted your offer for a walk to get away from that, heh. How’s retirement?”


 There was a silence. He rubbed his eyes. They weren’t even halfway around. Something, maybe grass or maybe snow, crunched as they walked.

 “What’s the sticking point, M? Tell it to me straight, I can help.”

“It’s nothing, just the same old song about sovereignty. You know them, they barely care about anything not bordering them. They’d be out of everything we’ve built in a second if they could convince their people.”

“Makes you wonder if they even remember the war.”

“Tell me about it. It’s just, this is what brought us here in the first place! We all kill each other, we swear not to forget, we do, we kill each other again. Thirty Years War, Napoleonic Wars, World War One, Two, Three.”

“You know it’s not like that. We built things to stop that ever happening again. That’s our job.”

“We built things before. Congresses, Treaties, Leagues, Organizations. Did they work?”

They walked around a knotted tree. Near them was a bench. He was tired enough to sit, but he walked by. They had to finish walking first.

 “Who invented war?” 

“What? Some state somewhere in the Middle East, I guess.”

“You’re closer than you think. Ramses II fought the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh. It was massive – the largest chariot battle ever fought. So old that it’s the best documented battle we have, and we can’t even begin to say a number for the dead.”

“Who won?”

“That’s the thing. Both sides say they did. We have no clue.”

“Even back then, we’d distort things for more war.”

“That’s not even the first one.”

“Then what is?”

“After the battle, both sides were in ruins. Neither, seemingly, got the victory they wanted. So instead, they made the world’s first peace treaty. In all humans have done, there’s no greater civilization than Egypt, no greater Egyptian than Ramses II, and no greater of his accomplishments than this. Both nations agreed never to attack each other again. They never did.”

“So when was the first war?”

“There never was a first war! Maybe you’re right. Perhaps it’s just human nature to fight, and fight, and fight until we’re scraps of dust. But we stop that. War may be our default state, but we can create peace. It may be difficult, but we can create it. We’ve got to be vigilant, but we can create it.”

 They still had so far to go. Wild whistled through some trees. It sounded like voices. 

 “I can’t.”

 “I can’t. I can barely convince them to keep me on, much less begin to follow law, stop making arms or slinging nationalist mud. I can’t. You could. Others could. I can’t.”

 They walked by ducks. They seemed to be listening. 

 “How are you sleeping?”

“Barely. The WDC’s in a week, and I’ve frankly barely prepared. There’s still the report I need to write.”

“How long has it been since you’ve gotten six hours of sleep?”

“A month or two, maybe.”

“Do you get any help with your work?”

“I wouldn’t wish what I’m doing right now on anybody.”

“I’ll do it.” 

“What? No, it’s fine. I’ll do it.”

“Not a question. I got you that job, I’m doing it. M, you need to sleep. Get me a report on that.”

“It’s okay. I wouldn’t want to burden you. You just retired, you deserve rest —”

“God, M, I’m trying to help! Let me help you. You’re impossible sometimes.”

 It was cold. 

 “I’m sorry. I can’t do anything.”

“It’s not your fault. I should be sorry. I spoke too harshly.

I don’t want you to say that, okay? I vouched for you for a reason. When you say that, you hurt me. You’ve got a hunger to work to make things better that I haven’t seen from anybody else. Don’t sell yourself short.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’ve got a feeling that you didn’t invite me here on a whim.”

“You would be correct.”

 It was quiet. Peaceful. The whole world, moving and rustling and flowing, seemed on pause. The winter had a kind of magic, and there was still time left to enjoy it.

 “What’s the sticking point?”

 Malik took a breath, and left one. He could see the path it took.

 “Where do I start?”