Gary Paulsen Northwind Storytelling Contest winner: Storyless

In celebration of literary legend Gary Paulsen’s birthday on May 17th, we are thrilled to announce Rebekah Lower as the winner of the Gary Paulsen Northwind Storytelling Contest for her submission "Storyless." Rebekah is a fourteen-year-old writer from Clinton, Iowa, and has always wanted to be a writer.

The runners-up are Addileigh McAlvey, Bruce Elvin, Phoebe Zivcovich, Joanna Mieling, and Shira Kremer-Godelnik.

About the Contest

by Rebekah Lower

There is something about hearing the elaborate stories of others that makes us feel less sure of our own. Like we could never share our own story, because it couldn’t hold a candle to the tales that other people have to share — stories about high stakes, running for their lives, having some dramatic life-changing event that completely alters the course of the universe, and here you are, listening to all these stories, without having one like it. And so you think that you have nothing worth telling and thus become Storyless.

And thus was the case for the girl who was called Merium, who tried to appease her Storylessness by reading and seeing and hearing other people’s stories, though it only made her feel worse about her own lack of them. Her parents tried to convince her that she was amazing in her own right, and she didn’t need to know about literally every single other person in the universe if she didn’t really know herself. But she refused to listen, believing that this was the only way to be if you were Storyless.

And yet things are not always as they seem. For a Storyless person is a person who has a story locked inside them, but they refuse to find the key, contenting themselves with the forged keys of others. A Storyless person, in fact, has the greatest story of all, but they do not know it, and it is this not knowing that leads them to being Storyless as Merium is. But she is about to find her own key — she is about to find her own story. She just didn’t know it yet, as we all do not know. But the things we don’t know are the things most likely to happen.

She paced the rocky shore, wet sand clumping on her feet in a thoroughly unpleasant way, the sky a cloudy gray and the wind whipping her hair in her face, a cell phone in her hand which she frantically waved at the sky, which threatened to dump at any moment.

“No signal. None.” With a frustrated sigh, she plopped down on an outcropping of rock, blowing her hair out of her face and feeling the need to throw her cell into the churning water. It was a bit cold to be wearing shorts and a tank top, but she had been hoping to get some good pictures to make it seem like her story was every bit as interesting as everyone else’s.

And that would obviously not happen now.

What a lovely day, murmured her inner critic. I’m sure that everyone will be absolutely enamored to see what you’re up to at such a beautiful place.

Bored and angry, Merium scanned the seaside, not focusing on anything in particular, feeling like she should have stayed home from this trip, when her eye caught something — something so unremarkable that she at first didn’t know what she was looking at until she stood up and walked over to discover that it was…a piece of driftwood.

How utterly fascinating, whispered her inner critic.

She was about to turn away when her cell phone slipped from her fingers and landed in the wet sand right next to the piece of driftwood, and Merium freaked, falling to her knees and picking it up, dusting off the tiny bits of sand as best she could, when she noticed something about the driftwood.

Were there…were there pictures carved into it?

Intrigued now, Merium lifted the piece of wood out of the sand where it was half buried and brushed it off. Tiny grains of sand caught in the lines cut into the smooth, polished wood, but driftwood just didn’t come pre-shined, polished, sanded, and drawn on. Someone must have made this…but who? And why?

She squinted, trying to make out some of the pictures, worn down with age until they were almost indecipherable. There seemed to be…a boy, a boy in a canoe. A camp of sorts. A huge black ship. Whales leaping out of a bay and coming back down with a thunderous crash. A giant chunk of ice, floating in the middle of the ocean. Salmon and a barbed spear, then a spear without barbs. Ravens and seagulls. A fire with handmade racks above it. A whirlpool in the middle of a river. A bear in a blackberry patch. Killer whales creating a bubble net and herding fish inside.

And dozens of carvings besides, carvings she couldn’t make out because they were so tiny and detailed and almost invisible after what must have been hundreds of years.

With each new picture she realized, Merium’s eyes widened, and her very soul seemed to grow and expand and grow hungry, thirst for more — more stories. More real stories. Not made up in an attempt to impress people, not because you needed a fancy story to ever get anywhere in life, but just to be — just to be a story, to tell what happened for no real reason whatsoever other than you have a story, so tell it.

You don’t have a story, her inner critic reminded her. You’re just a Storyless person who has no real good tales of her own. You lack what everyone else has — keep looking at them having it, and you might just earn it yourself. But this was untrue, and, staring at the storyboard in front of her, Merium finally understood why.

Everyone has a story. You may not know it yet, but everyone has something worth telling. It is merely our thoughts of what other people may say that keeps us from telling them. When we do, we share a piece of ourselves with the world — a piece of ourselves that needs to be known, needs to be shared. Not locked away where you refuse to acknowledge its presence. All stories, life changing or not, need to be shared — that is why they are stories.

Merium looked up, and she could almost see this boy, this boy in his canoe, paddling across the ocean in front of her, nosing his way through the storms and struggles of life, carving them all on this board so that others could know his story — others he may never even know. Told his story just to tell it, to let people know who he was and what he did. A story of himself as he was.

The skies opened up, pouring down sheets of rain, and within seconds, she was soaked, as well as her cell phone beside her — the very instrument that she used to see other stories to try and compensate for her own loss. Soaked to the point of no repair.

But she did not notice.

She had something else to think about, to pay attention to, and it wasn’t to the exaggerated tales of others.

It was to her own key, which she reached down inside and found, finally unlocking the story long trapped inside her heart. She thought of all the times she had failed and grown stronger, all the hard work that went into each first place medal, all the fights and arguments and how she had powered through them, managing to still stand while her world fell apart around her.

She knew her story.

You have no story.

And then Merium told her inner critic what we all need to tell our inner critics: Shut up.

She stood, and, taking the story board with her, ran all the way back to her father, leaving her old life behind, no longer Storyless.

* * *

The sky continued to pour down sheets of rain all throughout the afternoon, but Merium hardly noticed. She dashed around the small wooden beach cabin that was her most recent home all while dodging her father’s questions: What had gotten into her? Why was she doing this? What was going on?

She couldn’t tell him. He wouldn’t understand.

As soon as there was a break in the clouds, she ran outside, a pack on her back with everything one would need for a long journey, and dashed to the small dingy shed where she knew from previous explorations rested an old sailboat. The wood hull smelled like mildew, the sail was limp and frayed, and, all in all, it didn’t look like the most seaworthy thing ever, but Merium didn’t care. She simply didn’t care.

She rested her hands on the back, on top of the name of the tiny boat — the Nordgående.


Gritting her teeth, she shoved the boat out of the shed. With a thump, it landed on the gravel outside the shed, sending tiny rocks skittering down to meet the frothy waves. Logic told her to wait until the sea had calmed down, the skies lightened up, but she refused to listen to logic anymore. She was listening to something she had never heard before until she found the piece of driftwood on the beach — a pounding in her soul that had never been there, a call in her heart that could only belong to the large expanse of water in front of her.

The Nordgående slid down the shore as she pushed, grinding against the rocky ground, until finally the waves helped carry it out. Merium stood knee-deep in the water when she climbed aboard, and from the thump of shoes on wood, her father was right behind her. She turned to see him, his sandy blonde hair contrasting his heavily tanned skin. People always told her that she had inherited her father’s looks.

Merium lifted the oar at the bottom of the boat and immediately felt like she had been reunited with a part of her soul that had been lost for years. She sank the wooden paddle into the water and pushed off from the bottom, sending the Nordgående out into the sea. Once she was far enough out (she didn’t know how she could tell — it was as if she felt the ocean and the boat as extensions of herself and knew exactly where to do things and when to do it), she opened the sail and secured it down. While she was doing all of this, her father had taken the supplies they had brought and secured it to the bottom of the boat. Peeking out from the top of Merium’s bag was the story board she had found, along with another piece of wood she had brought.

She was no expert at carving, but she was determined to learn. She was determined to carve her story into the world in a way that it couldn’t be erased.

“Where exactly are we going?” her father asked, looking at the open sea that surrounded them with a nervous expression.

She grinned. “Wherever it takes us.”

The wind caught the sail and pushed them north.

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Ace Hardware

Very good story! Proud to be your classmate and friend! I'm proud of you for writing such an amazing story that won a contest. Perfect time to read it was in the morning drinking hot chocolate, that's what I did. Anyways I'm one of the many people who are proud that we know a person with such an amazing talent for writing.

Posted : May 21, 2022 01:22

Emily Kleinschmidt

Rebekah this is so amazing!!! Your so talented! I just want to read more and more of the story’s I know you have hidden in that brian of yours!! I’m so happy and proud of you!! I always believed you could do it!!!

Posted : May 17, 2022 11:07

Julie Swanson

This story was gripping and touched my heart. The descriptions of the setting and the protaganist's thoughts were so sofisticated and really transported me. What a talent the author has! Enjoy your reward!

Posted : May 17, 2022 06:47



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