Emptiness, written by Róisín Burke (aged 12)
With illustration by Sean Connolly (aged 9)
My earliest memory of my home is from when I was about one year old. It isn’t very distinct, but there are a few details that I remember. The smell of the grass, still slightly damp from a shower of rain. The sweet sound of birds whistling in the trees above. And, most memorably, the warm embrace of my mother, her trunk wrapped around me to stop me from falling into the water hole. It was a lovely place, my home. There were tall, lush trees as far as the eye could see, and when the sun shone it would bounce off of the water, making it glisten like a diamond.
My mother cared for my brothers and I. She was so gentle, so loving. Everything seemed perfect. But then, the hunters came. Myself and my brothers were playing on the grass with our mother watching over us when a loud bang went off somewhere deep in the forest, causing us all to jump. Then there was silence. The others didn’t seem too concerned and went back to playing, but I could tell by looking at my mother that something wasn’t right. She looked panicked, her pupils dilated in fear. Before I could ask her what was wrong, there was another bang, though it sounded much closer this time. She started ushering us towards the water hole, trying to hide her increasing hysteria.
Suddenly, we heard a loud crash from behind us as a vehicle broke free of the forest and I realised why my mother was so terrified. There were four men, all wielding large guns, sitting in a truck. Then we were running, sprinting faster than we ever had to escape from the people that we had heard so much about. A flurry of bullets rained down on us, barely missing their targets. We sped up, flattening bushes and shrubs as we ran. I risked a glance behind me and, to my horror, saw that our pursuers were reloading their weapons. I was beginning to tire now. The adrenaline was starting to wear off and I noticed for the first time just how sore my legs were.
Suddenly, another round of bullets were shot in our direction. I thought that we had evaded them again until I heard a thud from beside me. I glanced over and stopped dead in my tracks. There, lying in a pool of blood, was my mother. The others were screaming for me to keep running, but I couldn’t. All that I could do was stand and stare in horror as I tried to process what had just happened. Mother was dead. I could never talk to her, or hear her laugh, or feel her comforting embrace ever again. My brothers had left at this point, clearly wishing to save themselves. Just before the truck reached me, I walked slowly over to her body and lay down beside her, trying to feel her warmth for the last time, but I only found emptiness.