Posted on December 15th, 2017 by Dayna Anderson
My sixth grade class marches into the amphitheater, an outdoor stadium with a crumbly center stage, at the same time the Piedmont Challenge theme song thunders through the speakers. Grandma Kitty said I would freak out when I saw all the banners and balloons, probably chew my nails right down to the skin. But my nails aren’t even bleeding, and the amphitheater looks perfect. Just the way I imagined it.
Well, except for maybe one thing. My name won’t be listed on any of these bleacher seats. Mine will be marked with number 718 to match my uniform shirt, my books, and everything else at school. And that’s so annoying. Just once I wish I’d see Kia Krumpet written someplace. It’s like my name isn’t even real.
Principal Bermuda stands on stage wearing a suit that barely buttons over his belly. Next to him stands a lady in a purple dress. I’ve never seen anyone’s hair piled that high or with so many purple ribbons woven through it. She must be from Piedmont University. I tighten my ponytail and march up the bleachers as straight as I can because Grandma Kitty says winners have good posture and hold their heads high. When all the seats are filled, Principal Bermuda flings open his arms and a siren blasts so loudly we cover our ears. Before I have time to wonder what’s happening, an aero-car zooms straight for the amphitheater, but it screeches to a halt high above the stage. The motor quiets to a hum, whirring like an old-fashioned ceiling fan, and lowers a golden sign:
Welcome to the Piedmont Challenge!
Think More. Work Hard. Dream Big.
I smile as the aero-car flies away. One of the winners of the Piedmont Challenge invented the first flying car like twenty years ago, and she was a girl—a fifteen-year-old girl. I could be like her someday. Only I would be Kia Krumpet, the girl who invented the first underwater bubble bike—at age eleven.
Grandma Kitty always tells me, “Butter Cup, the best inventions come from thinking of things you already know and dreaming up ways to make them better.”
Well, I do know a lot of things. Like, nail biting is a habit people do when they’re nervous, but it’s also a sign of being a perfectionist. And when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter you’ll always get 3.14— that’s called Pi. Oh, and I also know best friends can stab you in the back without even owning a knife. Just ask my ex-best friend, Charlotte Montgomery. Her stabbing skills are stellar.
But I didn’t know the sun would scorch my head so much that my ponytail would feel like fire. This is the Piedmont Challenge, though. I don’t care if these sun-fried bleachers burn my legs right through my uniform skirt. This sunshine is going to bring me luck in the competition; I know it is. The sun is one of the brightest stars in the universe, after all.
Principal Bermuda taps the microphone and combs his greasy hair with his fingers. So gross! Doesn’t he know some of us have butterflies in our stomachs? Mine almost force my morning oatmeal onto Charlotte’s lap. It would serve her right for sitting next to me, though, and for being the best-friend-turned-traitor that she is. But I can’t throw up. I have to think about solving my first task of this competition, and puking at the Opening Ceremony wouldn’t be smart at all.
“Welcome sixth graders, to the 50th Annual Piedmont Challenge!”
The theme song roars through the amphitheater. I’m not looking at Charlotte, but I can feel her looking at me.
“Psst,” she says.
I don’t answer.
“Kia,” she whispers.
“Shh! I’m listening to the music.”
“I want to tell you not to be nervous. None of us are going to win anyway.”
I glare at her as hard as I can.
“No one from Crimson Elementary School has ever won a Golden Light Bulb.”
“I know that.”
“Everyone knows this competition is cursed or something.”
I barely move my lips. “It’s not cursed.”
“In fifty years, no one from the whole town of Crimson has ever won. Why else would that be?”
Maybe if I ignore her, she’ll stop. I stare at the trees towering above the amphitheater and see the shape of a light bulb woven into the branches.
“Well?” she says. I sit up straight. “That’s because no one from Crimson has ever tried hard enough to win.”
She stares at me like I just flew in from Mars.
Amberjack Publishing, founded in 2014, is an independent small press of fiction books with offices in New York and Idaho. Amberjack’s books are distributed by Midpoint Trade Books, one of the largest distributors in the industry.