Jim Adams Scholarship competition brings out top-notch short stories — Breen places first

ECHO Staff

The winner of Trinity’s annual Jim Adams Scholarship short story competition is junior Connor Breen, who wrote the suspenseful work entitled “The Yard.”    

Junior Daniel McCarthy
Junior Daniel McCarthy
Junior Connor Breen
Junior Connor Breen

Second place went to Daniel McCarthy’s “Brothers in Blood.”  McCarthy will receive a $25 gift certificate to Carmichael’s.

English Department co-chair Mr. Gary Owens, who heads the Jim Adams committee, congratulated the winners.

Breen’s story in its entirety is below:

                                                            The Yard

I scurry from my desk to my dresser in a frenzy, getting my stuff together. It’s somewhat difficult because of the clutter everywhere; I haven’t cleaned my room in weeks. Before I leave my mess of a room, I make sure that I haven’t forgotten anything by patting my jeans pockets. Phone, wallet. Check.

I slip my shoes on, run to the front door and grab my keys off the key rack. I rip the door open and run, pulling it closed behind me. Hurry, I think to myself. I have to hurry. I sprint to my car and open the driver’s side door. I hurl myself inside and shut the door. I check my phone. No new messages. It’s exactly midnight. “Twelve minutes,” I mutter breathlessly. I shove the keys in the ignition and turn. The engine sputters as if it has something caught in its throat, and can’t get it out.

“Oh, God, c’mon, don’t do this to me now. C’mon,” I say. I let go of the key, and turn again. The sound the car makes suggests that it’s been an avid smoker its whole life. I curse under my breath, “C’mon, you ancient piece of metal, start.” As soon as I exclaim “start”, the engine roars to life with a newfound ferocity that surprises me. It’s like the car understands what I have to do. It knows that I’m on a mission. A smirk almost forms on my face, but I realize that I have no time to take solace in this tiny victory. I shift into reverse, peel out of my driveway, and stop after I have the car turned in the direction I need to go. I’m coming.

I turn onto the main road and accelerate. I’m exceeding the speed limit by at least fifteen miles an hour. Then twenty. There are no other cars. It’s just me. Even so, in the back of my mind, I know that I’m probably going to get pulled over. The local police officers on patrol aren’t that lenient. But I have to risk it. If I don’t… If even a single second it wasted…

He was acting so normal today. He smiled. He laughed. He cracked jokes. Nothing was different. He was the same. Wasn’t he? Or was it always like this for him? Was he just keeping it bottled up inside as it ate and tore at him? Did he feel, regardless of the tons of people at school who admired, respected, and cared for him, completely and utterly alone?

Did I ever really know him? Truly know him? All these years, did I honestly try to see  him? To understand him?

Is this my fault?

As this morbid thought comes into consideration, I take another risk and check my phone. Still no messages, and it’s already 12:03. It’s usually a fifteen minute drive from my house. Of course, this is when there is the occasional leisure driver in front of you and you’re not going fifty– I check my speedometer again. Nope, fifty-five– in a thirty zone. I don’t focus much on my driving. It’s like I’m on autopilot. I’ve been given a destination, and I’m on course. I just know that I have to get there in time. After awhile, I look at the clock on the dash. 12:08. I can make it. I’ve given up looking at my phone. He’s not going to contact me again. He knows I’m coming. But why tell me in the first place? I wonder. I keep thinking that he has some ulterior motive in mind, but what is there to gain by telling me?

Just then, the light at the four-way intersection I’m coming towards turns yellow. I can see the cars that have already been waiting edging towards the crosswalk with anticipation. “No, no, no, no, please, no.” I’m barely 300 feet away when the cautious yellow shifts into an abrasive red. I hit my steering wheel with a grunt, biting back words of unreserved contempt and abhorrence, and come to a reluctant and sudden halt at the stoplight.

My eyes begin to widen with realization. Stop. That’s what he wants.

When I left my house, I just knew that I had to get to him in time. Now I have a much clearer objective. I glance at the dashboard and see that the time is now 12:10. I reallocate my gaze to the stoplights. The light adjacent to my lane’s light turns yellow.

Don’t worry, I call out in my mind. I’m coming for you. But please, please, just wait a little longer. Endure. Live.

 My light shines a liberating green, and I slam my foot on the gas. I burst forward with a conviction I never knew existed within me. A gold rush of emotions passes through me. Happiness because I will make it there on time. Sheer terror towards the possibilities at hand. Anger at myself for not noticing before.

But I know better now.

I turn off the main road into the hidden entrance that leads into his neighborhood. I speedily, but vigilantly, drive to the end of the cul-de-sac. I turn left into the asphalt driveway, and park behind his black Charger. I take a quick look at his house, a sense of familiarity and longing washing over me. There are things about his house’s appearance that always surprise me whenever I notice them. It’s a two story, but it looks misleadingly diminutive because of the large, sprawling willow tree in his small front yard. It’s almost as if the house itself is being swallowed up by the giant, solitary plant. It’s hard to envision two bedrooms (one of them his), a spare room, and a bathroom on the second floor. There are always half-alive branches and leaves in his front yard, unless it has just been mowed. He always mows the lawn; it’s one of the many short straws he’s drawn. Yet after he picks up the branches and casts them away, it doesn’t take long for new ones to take the place of their predecessors. I stare at the branches that have already fallen.

Is this how he feels on the inside? His life scattered and unkempt, and then only temporarily organized and neat for me? Have the branches always been there? Does he only take care of himself- casts the branches aside- so I can’t see just how much they’ve taken him over?

The pending situation jars me out of my trance. I have to help him pick up the branches. He doesn’t have to do it alone. Not anymore.

I steel my guts and get out of the car. I make haste to his front door and swing the outer door open. I use the doorknocker to make three metallic booms on his door.

“Luke!” I bellow. “Are you in there?” There’s no answer. I start to get a panicky weight in my chest, and push down on the door handle. There’s no resistance; the door is unlocked. “I’m coming in, Luke!” I push the door open and rush in. I take in my surroundings. To my immediate right is the office where his father works. His father started his own business, so he works from his home office. You’d think he’d be home more often. In front of me, the hallway continues a short distance, leading to the kitchen and dining room area. To the left of me is a mirror on the wall of the narrow foyer. It spans five feet long, and is about four feet wide. My reflection is cut off at my shoulders; I outgrew it long ago. Only one pair of shoes litters the floor below it. A pair of black Nikes, with yellow highlights. He’s home alone. Just next to the mirror is a staircase that leads to his and his sister’s rooms. I figure that he’s in his room; it’s one of the most private rooms in the house due  to its remoteness from the kitchen, which leads into the family room. Both of those rooms have several windows, and the set in the family room doubles as doors that lead to the backyard, so they don’t have any blinds. If I were him… I’d go where there was no chance of being seen.

I cautiously climb up the staircase, which shouldn’t take long. I mean, there are only six green, carpeted steps. I’ve jumped the entire flight of stairs before. Yet, the lack of space between the two walls of the staircase, and the dim, ominous ambiance I feel contracting around me, makes the ascension seem abnormally lengthy. The air gives the impression that it’s trying to push me back down with each step I surpass, almost as if I’m not welcome. At the top of the staircase, I stop and stare intently at his door in front of me.

He’s in there.

I tiptoe in order to close the short gap quietly. One inch stands between me and the door itself.

I don’t hear anything.

The worst comes to mind.

It already happened.

I consider knocking on the door. I raise my hand in a fist. Instead I un-ball my fist, and trail my fingers down the wood of the door. I lay my palm flat on the surface. I softly rest my forehead on the door. In this moment, this instance, this critical time… I don’t know what to do. I had a handle on it before; I knew what I was doing, and who I was doing it for. However, right now, my mind blanks. I have no mission. I feel no hurry. I only feel dread and doom. I shut my eyes tight and tap my head against the door. Thump.

“It’s open.”

My eyes open wide, and I go rigid in shock. I almost forget to breathe. He’s here. He’s still here.


“You can come in, dude.”

“Oh… are you sure?” What an imbecilic question. He called you here in the first place.

“Of course. I want you to.”

“I– I mean,” I stammer out in an attempt to break the tension, “You seemed kind of down, so I thought a friendly face would do the trick.” I hear muffled chuckling from the other side. He’s laughing. At a time like this? Understatements are always humorous, I suppose. “Is this a bad time, man?”

He’s still laughing when he answers, and does so in an amused and playful tone, “All of the times are bad. But come in anyway.”

I’m stalling. I know that I am. Yet, the idea opening the door right now, given the circumstances, seems a bit… rude. It’s not like he’s in the middle of changing, or anything, but I still feel like I’d be violating some sort of courteous commandment. It’s as if a sort of sacred barrier has been placed between him and me. Is it right to break through? Should I?

“Please,” he sniffles, beseeching and earnest. “Help.”

In those three words, I notice tears. I notice desperation. I notice a penury that is infused  soul. I notice loneliness. He has no one else to turn to at this point. I know this. And I understand.

He needs me.

Without even thinking, I lower my hand to grip the doorknob. I turn. And push.

The only light present in the room is the moonlight shining through his blinds. I see the silhouette of my best friend curled up in a ball on his bed. He’s sitting upright, and I can tell from the scarce, lunar aura surrounding him that he’s wearing grey sweatpants and black Nike socks. A plain green t-shirt adorns his torso.

He hasn’t changed his clothes. Has he been in this position since after school?

An inaudible swallow makes its way down my dry throat. With care, I begin to make my way towards his bed, when suddenly my foot is caught on something hollow and cardboard.

“It’s kind of messy. I’m sorry,” he croaks. It sounds like he’s in pain when he talks. The door acted as a filter, blocking out the sorrow that was in fact present in his tone. I use the moonlight to help maneuver myself to the window shade. I turn the blinds open slightly, and look at the room behind me. His things are scattered everywhere. Shoeboxes, clothes, his backpack, his schoolbooks; everything. The carpet is periodically visible across the room, but in its entirety…

It’s like his yard.

I feel a hot tear emerge from my left eye, beginning to roll down my cheek. I look down at him, and he’s still in a vertical heap on his bed, which is surprisingly neat. His head rises up from his forearms, and he reveals himself. His true self. I look into his teary, bloodshot eyes and see only hurt. Hurt… and a cry for help.

I sit next to him and do the only thing I can; I wrap my arms around him in a gentle embrace. I pull him in tight, and he begins to sob raw and desperate tears against my shoulder.

I shush him and rock him back and forth. “I’ll help you pick everything back up.”