Two winners share the spotlight in Ashburn Magazine’s short story contest


For the second year in a row, Ashburn Magazine was proud to sponsor a creative writing contest for Ashburn students. This year, we asked students to submit stories relating to the winter season. There were no other restrictions on genre or style. 

And once again, we were charmed with the submissions we received. So much so that we have two winners this year: Hannah Chateau, a junior at Riverside High School, and Caitlin Laborce, a junior at Broad Run High School. Their submissions were similar in some ways, but very different in others. We hope you enjoy them.

The Movie

“My story … was actually inspired by a song called ‘Spring 1’ by Max Ritcher [reinterpreting] Vivaldi. I came across this song during an episode of ‘The Crown,’ and it has inspired many of my works since. To me, the story itself is about vulnerability. The movie was a way to get the main character to let her guard down, to open up and truly feel her emotions. I find the ending to be bittersweet, because — while the main character is definitely hurt and regretting her vulnerability — she’s open now. The movie made her a more open person.” — Hannah Chateau

Hannah Chateau

Once a year we gather in this tent, far away from the world outside. We wrap ourselves in blankets and bathe in the glow of the bright fairy lights. Some huddle in groups, and some sit alone, but our attention is always on the white sheet. Each year, amidst the smell of molasses and snow-covered pine trees, we’d get to see a part of the movie. We didn’t know who made it, or where it came from. Only that it was for us.

In the first year, I was alone. Isolated. I watched the opening of the movie in my own little blanket fort, impossible for any meddling boy to penetrate through. I watched the ballerina’s actions through the projection, her legs stretching out and her arms gracefully floating through the air. Such beauty, such regalness. The way her toes bounced, her eyebrows scrunched. The way her collarbone would shine at that perfect angle against the light. 

On the way home, I recreated her steps in the snow. It moved me softly, like a lullaby. It held me in a gentle embrace and even in the December chill, I felt so very warm. 

The second year, I was once again alone, huddled within my barricade of blankets. I was so excited to see my ballerina, to see her dainty feet move against cool-toned stage lights, her shadows chasing after the bittersweet music. Her arms reach, out, out, out! I found myself reaching, too, though I did not know for what.

Warm, soft skin touched my shaking fingertips. I looked to the man beside me, whose arms were stretched out, just like mine. Our pinkies overlapped and I smiled. The ballerina’s arms are caught by a handsome stranger and suddenly this is no longer a ballet, no. It’s a marvelous waltz with long twirling skirts and quick, flighty steps.

The third year, I found myself accompanied by the man from the year prior, though now I knew his name to be Victor. My thick fortress of blankets was replaced with a single one, which was draped across both of our still forms. This year, I did not watch the movie. It made me feel as if I had been intruding on something, something not meant for my eyes. So instead, I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of bells a ring-a-ling-a-ring-ring-ring-ring. 

Victor insisted I wait with him while everyone else left the tent. When we were finally alone, I watched in shock as he went to the projector and pulled the filmstrips from the reel. He moved my arm out of the way and put them in my purse.

“I want you to have this forever,” he whispered. “No matter what some group of snobbish filmmakers say.” 

Now I knew what the ballerina had been reaching for. She had been reaching for love. And hoped she’d never let it go. 

The fourth (and what was rumored to be the final) year, I walked to the tent, disturbingly alone. The once soft December chill had been replaced with something wicked, something biting my cheeks and whipping my hair. My lips are numb, my toes are numb, everything is numb numb numb. 

Just a few more steps, I remind myself. Just a few more steps and then we can finish this wretched display. 

The beautiful ballerina was alone now. I nodded, feeling satisfied. I wanted her to leap, to twirl, to shriek with glee. But she withered, shrunk like a flower deprived of sunlight. Her limbs did not stretch or float. They stayed painfully close to her body, as if she were a spider being attacked. Her one, excruciating spin caused the petals from her head piece to bleed to the ground. Snarky comments. Fingers intertwined in mine. The reel of film beneath my bed. My feet, slipping on the unreliable forest snow as he catches me. Him ducking as my blue, ugly vase flies in his direction. 

I looked up at the sheet again, shocked to feel a lump forming in my throat. I wanted to curse the ballerina for making me feel this way, for dictating my emotions all these years. Good God, I hate her so. How she looked at the camera with those sad, lonely eyes. Demanding I see myself within her. Her contagious weakness spread to me, and I feel myself begin to wither, too. 

Just as the first tear falls from my eye, the ballerina dies on stage.

— Hannah Chateau

Winter’s Walk

“I tend to write based off of music. For this story, I believe I wrote to ‘Je Te Laisserai Des Mots’ by Patrick Watson. I like to picture a scene in my mind before writing it, so it was the snowy, street lamp-lit street that got the ball rolling. I just thought a small snippet of a sweet moment would make for a feel-good story.” — Caitlin Laborce 

Caitlin Laborce

The dim streetlamps cast a gentle glow on the snow blanketing the sidewalk. Around us, snow falls in a blur of glitter and cold kisses on our noses. I hold on tighter to you, stuffing my nose deeper into my scarf. 

You look down at me, smiling — we’ll be home soon, you say, and we can turn on the fireplace like you said you wanted to. The idea alone warms me from the inside out. I’m assuming hot chocolate, as well? I mumble, relishing in the laugh you let out. But of course! 

With that thought alone, we trek on, occasionally slipping over hidden ice patches and avoiding some oddly colored chunks of slush. Despite all of these challenges, I can’t help the fun I’m having; you manage to turn each step into an adventure, blocking out the cold until even my toes bundled deep in my boots are immune — or perhaps, at this point, just numb.  

A car passes by slowly, turning the snow in front of it into a brilliant light show of white and silver; beautifully blinding. It is with this sudden excess light I can see the deer just ahead of us. Look! I whisper, slowing. Isn’t she pretty? You nod, transfixed, and I can’t help but watch you instead. The corners of your eyes crinkle up with amusement, pointing out her little tracks that were quickly being covered. I hope she finds somewhere warm to stay for the night, you muse, giving my arm a light tug so we can continue on. Because I’m getting excited just thinking of ours. 

We turn onto our street, and I can see our home ahead — the lights have been left on and I’ve never seen anything more inviting. It is when we reach our driveway that I turn to you again. Let’s do this again tomorrow. You shake your head. Sure, but I think I need to find a few more layers to put on first. 

It is a cold night in Ashburn, but your presence manages to keep me warm.

— Caitlin Laborce