Read the winning story from the Toronto International Festival of Authors' annual improv storytelling competition for creative writing students
Students from the University of Guelph have won the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ annual interactive storytelling competition Lit Jam for a second straight year.
Each year students improvise stories based on audience-prompted scenarios. First prize is $750 in cash and publication on nowtoronto.com. The second-place team takes home $500 and the third place winners receive $250.
This year’s winning students were Britta Badour, Matthew Cook and Nathanya Barnett. Read their winning story below.
Audience prompt: “Shh I said, as I slipped the grasshopper into my jacket pocket.”
Matt W Cook:
I don’t like the outdoors as a rule but I was driven out there because I knew that the grasshopper was somewhere out in the field. My heart was pounding. I knew that I was in the worst trouble of my life if I couldn’t find this grasshopper and it was all gonna to be my fault!
So I burst out the door and saw the big, big field in front of me. I went out and I thought, “If I was a grasshopper, where would I go?” Well, maybe in the grass! So I started looking in the grass. I didn’t find anything hopping.
And when I didn’t find anything hopping I realized, Hey maybe I should check higher up in the trees. So I started to climb a tree you know sorta like I’d seen on Planet Earth the way the leopards do. And then I started thinking about how leopards are usually alone, and I started to feel super alone. And actually, come to think of it, this was my first time in twelve years that I had ever been alone without my bigger sister. I needed to find my sister, who was the grasshopper!
How did she turn into the grasshopper? I will soon get to that point. But at this moment I need to tell you about how I was dangling on a tree just like a kite stuck in a tree, as if you’re flying with your parents and then it gests stuck and you get frustrated—I was super super stuck in this moment because I needed to find my sister and I just didn’t know where she was.
But then I heard it. You know, that little kha-kha-kha-kha? That sound of grasshopper legs when they rub together? I can’t make it, I’m a person. And I turned my head and there I saw it, on a branch just a little bit taller than me and I’m very short I’m twelve. And I see this grasshopper.
I’m like, “Uhhh, Sis? Siiiis?”
And the grasshopper does the grasshopper chirp and looks at me. And I can tell that it’s my sister! OK, here’s the thing, my sister has glasses. They’re like really big and really round and she thinks it’s a fashion statement—I don’t understand teenagers—and I can see on the grasshopper’s face is the markings of her glasses!
I’m like, “Oh thank God!” And I carefully lifted my sister off the branch that’s taller than me and I put her in my pocket. And I was like, “Shh shh, Sis, I got you. I’m going to fix this. I promise.”
And so there I am with my little sister grasshopper in my pocket kinda going like this because I don’t want to squish her, but I’m also in this tree hanging like a kite. So I just really really really gently lower myself, kinda twisting my leg like this and I get to the bottom.
I’m like, “OK. Step one is done. I got my sister in my pocket. Now I just need to figure out how to turn her back human which is really really going to be hard because I’m not 100% sure how she turned into a grasshopper in the first place. I mean I got a basic idea.
But I say, “OK. At the very least I’m not going to get anything done in the field.” So, walking like this, I go as fast as I can back home and I figure my first step will be to go to the bathroom and check the medicine cabinet because I know Mom and Dad have all sorts of weird things in there that I’m not allowed to touch and if I’m not allowed to touch it, it means it’s very powerful and important and something there is probably going to turn her out of a grasshopper.
And I started thinking about how Dad always says, “My biggest fear is that you will reveal my fears.” And Dad is always saying how he’s afraid of snakes, afraid of desert insects, and I can’t come home showing up with my sister as a grasshopper! Dad will totally freak out. Not at the fact that she’s turned into a grasshopper, but the fact that I’m holding a grasshopper in the first place! He won’t even listen to me. So I started to think. What could I do to bring back my sister into the human form. And I started to think about how kids come into the world with all the answers to all the questions our parents never wanted to learn the answers to. So I started to think really really deep. What is something that my dad and my mom have always said?
Well, they’re always talking about when the United States put the flag on the moon. And I started thinking, “Well what if I were able to create one small step for grasshoppers and one large step for grasshopperkind?”
So I took my sister the grasshopper to the playground. Because I was like, “What’s on the moon? Dust, right? And, like, dirt? Like a sandbox. A sandbox is basically the moon!”
So, I get to the sandbox. And I put my sister on the sandbox.
I’m like, “C’mon, Sis. Giant leap! Giant leap!”
And she does a giant leap, from one side of the sandbox to the other side of the sandbox. It should not be possible for a grasshopper but—she did it! And she got to the other side. And I was just—I was so proud of her. And I know that’s weird, because I’m the little one. But I was proud of my big sister. She accomplished something I could never have accomplished. And I looked into her little grasshopper eyes.
And I said, “Sis! I love you, and I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry!”