Writing Challenge Winner: The Worst But Somehow the Best Summer Ever by Amy Rogers

Amy Rogers is a twelve-year old writer who participated in the 2022 Seafarer’s Writing Challenge in which she wrote a 5,000 word original short story this summer. Amy’s contemporary story explores a young girl’s unexpected summer with her aunt which turns bloodier than expected.

Read the full story below!

Original artwork by Amy of her main character, Ana

I was happy with my life. No, I wasn’t just happy with my life, I loved it! I had indoor plumbing, electricity throughout the whole house, a comfortable smelling house [you know that nice scent when you come into a clean inviting house], and best of all I got to watch television and play video games! I didn’t have to worry about goats needing milked, and leaky roofs needing fixed, or even any chores at all. In short, I was a lazy, selfish, entitled princess who only cared about herself and nothing else.

But one day, a week before summer break, my father and stepmother told me something that changed my life forever…

“Ana, your stepmother and I are going to spend the summer touring Europe and we thought that you could go spend the summer with your Aunt Jane in Kansas,” my father said excitedly.

I exploded! I knew that my Aunt Jane lived on a ranch outside some tiny town in Kansas. I remembered that she had a good deal of plants and animals. Animals are disgusting! but the worst thing was that all the electricity she had was for lights, fans [she didn’t even have an air conditioner!], and a fairly small amount of kitchen appliances. There were no CD players, DVD players, computers, TVs, nothing with a screen or electricity that was used for entertainment. I hated her ranch, and I didn’t like her very much either. She believed that everyone should work, even if they didn’t have to, because she thought that no one can be truly happy without having some work to do.

“Arianna Victoria Osborne! Your Aunt Jane is very nice and has a beautiful ranch! If you hate work and being outdoors that much, then I know you need to stay with your aunt.” my father said in an angry tone, when I started ranting about how terrible my mother’s favorite sister was and how her ranch smelled and was disgusting.

“What?!” I asked quietly. I was very used to getting my way, and I was astonished that my father had gotten angry at me and didn’t immediately give me my way by saying he was going to book another plane ticket to Europe, so that I didn’t have to go to Kansas. [Now looking back on this I can’t believe I ever didn’t want to go to the ranch. I also can see I was a very spoiled brat]

“You are going to spend the summer with your aunt, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” My father stated in a firm voice. I quietly ate my dinner and then ran upstairs to my very large room. I dramatically threw myself onto my bed and cried myself to sleep. I was sure this was going to be the worst summer ever when in truth, it was going to be the best summer, I had ever had in my small life of eleven years.

The next week speed by and I was growing more sullen by the day. I dreaded the end of the school year, when I was going to leave my comfortable life in the city for an awful farm girl’s life. On the last day of school, I dragged my feet as I walked home, the next day I was moving to my aunt’s house for the summer.

When I got home, I heaved myself around the house, moaning and groaning about how terrible my summer would be. All the servants ignored my whines, as my father had instructed them to. I am now surprised that no one left the household after how terribly I acted that week.

That night I didn’t sleep very much. I tossed and turned dreading the next day. In the morning I ate as slowly as possible, as if to make my time in my home longer, but eventually I did finish and my butler, Jerry Stewart, whisked me away from my comfortable life.

After a car ride, then a plane ride, and yet another car ride, I finally arrived at my Aunt Jane’s ranch. I was surprised by how pretty her house and its landscape were. The house was surprisingly large. It had two stories and a large wrap-around, wooden porch. On the left side of the house was a tall, round, stone turret with two large windows, one on each level. I masked my pleasure with the house by remembering how mean and filthy my aunt’s animals were. [I was such a drama queen].

“Welcome Ariana!” a blond woman who looked to be about thirty years old said, waving. She ran to me and gave me a big hug. “Oh, how I’ve missed you!” my Aunt said, squeezing me tightly against her thin body. At first, I wanted to shove her away, but I didn’t. I hadn’t had a hug like that since my mother had died, and it felt good. When my Aunt Jane finally let go, I went back to being a grump. My aunt frowned at me and asked what was wrong. I answered by saying I didn’t want to talk about it. I knew she wanted to try harder to find out what was wrong, so I ran inside, carrying my stuff all the while. My aunt was definitely not what I expected or remembered. I think I believed my aunt was terrible because my father never took me to see her.

I looked around at the entry way, it was beautiful. I felt as though I had stepped back into the early 1800’s in England. There were some modern things in the entry way, but it still felt like stepping into the 1800’s. I was entranced by its beauty. My aunt walked in as I was marveling at the how pretty her house was. “It’s beautiful isn’t?” Jane asked. “Yes.” I murmured before I could stop myself.

After a couple more seconds of silence, my aunt abruptly said, “Come on.” And she grabbed half of my luggage and quickly walked across the room to a winding, wooden staircase. Jane then began to ascend the staircase. I grabbed the other half of my luggage and followed her up the stairs to the second floor. The first room up there was an office. It had a bookshelf full of old classical books. There was also a large mahogany desk.

We walked right past all of it, and went into the room beside it, this room was inside the turret, it had a bed, a built-in bench right under the window, and a tall dresser with a rounded back so that it could fit up against the wall. I loved the view the room had, I could see the whole front yard and even the road that eventually led onto the highway. I finally felt as though I might have an almost relaxing summer, but man was I wrong.

“Ariana unpack your stuff and meet me outside.” My aunt told me, in an impatient tone, as she left the room. I quickly and carelessly unpacked my stuff [I had never had to unpack anything other than my backpack]. I then ran down the stairs and through the front door. I had no idea what was in store for me.

Amy’s original sketch of Aunt Jane’s horse

Outside I met my aunt and the biggest-looking horse I had ever seen [I hadn’t seen many horses back then so really a horse only fourteen hands tall still seemed huge]. The horse was a bay-colored Morgan who looked very strong and imposing.

“What is that?” I asked in a disgusted and frightened tone.

“This is Philomena, and you are going to learn how to ride her.” My aunt said excitedly, ignoring my tone.

Most girls would be very excited to have the opportunity to get free riding lessons by their aunt who was a renowned horseback rider, but not me. I was absolutely disgusted by the idea of even touching a horse.

My aunt encouraged me to mount Philomena. I continued to be stubborn and refused to even go near the horse, but finally, after a long and agonizing argument, I did mount the horse. And to my amazement, when I ignored my fear, I actually enjoyed riding Philomena. I then spent the whole afternoon learning how to ride Philomena and learning all the names and uses of the horse equipment.

In the evening we went inside, tired, and sweaty.

“Now that I have given you a treat, you must do some work. I need your help in the kitchen.” My aunt said.

“Excuse me?! Did you just say that riding a dirty animal for hours is a treat?” I asked horrified.    

“Yes, that is exactly what I said.” My aunt patiently answered.

“What!?” I asked. I was astonished by her answer.

“Come with me to the kitchen. We need to make dinner” Aunt Jane said. I followed her only because I knew that I must be obedient to her. Even if I had to be obedient it didn’t mean that I had to do it cheerfully.

That evening I found out how hard it was to cook your own food. I was angry then that I had to work and change my usual lifestyle, but now looking back I am very glad that my aunt taught me all the things she did that summer. Cooking definitely was not a hobby that I was willing to take up, but it was an important skill to learn.

After dinner, I dragged myself to bed. My whole body ached from the day’s work. Little did I know that this was an “easy” day and that tomorrow would be even harder.

The next day my aunt awoke me at about six AM.

“I need your help feeding and caring for the animals. I usually have farm hands around but severely are sick or out of town on vacation.” she said very cheerfully.

I mumbled something and tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but my aunt then dragged me out of bed and made me get ready for the coming day. She dragged me down the stairs for breakfast.

Amy’s original artwork of the farm

Outside in the farmyard, I could hear that all of the animals in the barn were awake. I was able to hear the horses, some chickens, bulls, pigs, goats, sheep, cats, and a few dogs. I saw that there was also a rabbit hutch. I was not at all excited to meet all the animals in the barn and in the pens around it.

“First we need to feed the twenty chickens.” My aunt told me.

“Twenty chickens!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, I have twenty hungry chickens,” Aunt Jane said, “Come along.”

I hurriedly followed my aunt to a large chicken coop. The coop was almost the size of a large shed. It had a tin roof and wooden walls with chicken wire covering every opening except for where the door was. Around the coop was dusty dirt covering the ground with claw marks all over.

“I keep half the chickens, my Leghorns, who are the egg layers, out here and the rest, my Cornish hens, who are used for meat, are in the way back of the barn. The chicken feed is in that barrel, beside the coop.” my aunt said pointing to a large plastic barrel with a twistable lid.

I went to the barrel and got a handful of the feed. My aunt then showed me how to correctly open the pen and how to feed the chickens. Feeding the chickens was almost fun, until the rooster came to eat the food. He was very scary and began to chase me around the yard trying to make me through more food for him. He didn’t stop until my aunt caught him and picked him up.

 After we fed the chickens, my aunt and I fed the LaMancha goats. We milked the goats in what my aunt called the “milk room.” The milk room was a separate room of the barn used only for milking the goats. It had a milk stand for the goats, where Aunt Jane showed me how to milk the goats. After we milked the goats my aunt pasteurized the milk in her home-size pasteurizer, while explaining how to properly pasteurize the milk and the importance of pasteurizing milk.

Throughout the rest of the day, I helped feed a cute flock of Dorset sheep, four huge Texas Longhorns, a litter of cute, little Japanese Bobtail kittens and their mother that lived in the barn loft, two beautiful Morgan horses, a litter of tiny spotted piglets and their rather large mother, and the sweetest little Rex rabbits I had ever seen. I also helped feed a family of eight Border Collies, and one old German Pointer. My aunt told me that the German Pointer used to be a bird hunting dog but was retired now and had just moved to her farm from my Uncle George’s farm. Of course, at the time all I could think about while I was doing this was how gross the animals were and how much I wanted to go back to a lazy life that involved no work whatsoever. Yet, I did in the back of my mind realize that all the things I had I thought about my aunt, her animals, and her ranch was all wrong and untrue. They were all so wonderful.

My aunt gave me another horseback lesson late that afternoon, this time though I was still a little reluctant to ride Philomena, I didn’t protest as much as I had done the day before. As I went around the large plot of land that my aunt owned, I began to discover an unknown love for nature. The newfound beauty of the world astounded me. The way the wind blew the branches of trees, the sounds of the birds, and the prettiness of the wildflowers; all of them were so stunning.

At the end of the day, I could no longer feel my limbs but even that did not dampen my joy over the discovery of the beauty of nature. I fell fast asleep as soon as my head hit my pillow, but I was soon awakened around midnight. I didn’t know what had awoken me, until I heard it again, a squawking noise coming from outside. I terribly wanted to stay put and ignore the terrifying animal sounds, but I also had this small curious part of me that wanted to find out what was going on. In the end, the curious part of me won, so I dragged my aching body out of bed, and I tip toed out of the house, out into the farmyard to find feathers and chicken bodies everywhere.

I then screamed so loud I was sure the entire world could hear me. Aunt Jane ran outside in her nightgown and asked “What’s wrong? And why are you outside screaming like there was a…” My aunt did not continue because my answer was not needed. My aunt had seen the horrifying mess.

“Oh, no!” my aunt said quietly. Seven of my Aunt’s Leghorns had been killed. There were feathers everywhere. Some of the birds could no longer be recognized as chickens or even birds at all because of how torn apart they were.

“What could have done this?” I asked, appalled by the chicken massacre.

“I don’t know! None of the times that my chickens have been killed has it ever looked like this!” My aunt exclaimed.

“Your chickens have been killed before?” I questioned my Aunt Jane.

“Yes, a couple of times my dog, you know the German Pointer, Oscar snuck into the chicken coop and wrung some of the chickens’ necks but that was always in the coop, and it was never…um…so…” my aunt searched for the right word.

“Gory?” I finished for her.

“Yes.” My aunt replied quietly.

After cleaning up all the bodies and rounding up the chickens that were still living, I finally went back up to my room, but I couldn’t sleep. Even as I lay on the bed with my eyes closed trying to get myself to sleep, I kept on replaying the scene of the dead chickens in my mind. “Who would have murdered the chickens and then just left them like that? Maybe it was Oscar and he just wanted to change the way he killed them? No, an animal wouldn’t change up his way of life like that, would it? Or could it have been a wild animal? Most likely not, they wouldn’t have left the bodies and not eaten very much of any of them, right? What if a human did it and made it look like an animal had done it? But what would be their motive? I’ll ask Aunt Jane if she has any beefs with anyone tomorrow,” I thought.

Once I had formed some guesses about what had happened, I finally went to sleep.

The next day, after finishing all of the dreadful chores, I asked my Aunt Jane several questions about herself and if she had any enemies. She said that she didn’t have any known enemies, but that she did have a few rivals from some of the competitions she had been in over the years, though she was sure that none of them would ever do anything to harm her farm.

Aunt Jane is being way too optimistic.”  I thought.

“I have won the flower competition the last ten years. Emily Jackson and Pepper Salt, both have either been in second or third place for about ten years, but they are both my friends. Neither of them would ever do anything to me or to hurt my farm.” My Aunt Jane sincerely answered.

I wasn’t completely convinced, but it did seem that it was less likely that a human would have killed Aunt Jane’s chickens.

“Oh, dear! I forgot to feed the dogs!” My aunt suddenly exclaimed, slapping her forehead. “Ana, can you go feed them for me?”

 “Sure, I guess I can.” I answered.

I walked to the dog houses and began pouring out dog food into the dog bowls. The six Border Collie puppies and their parents bolted to the bowls as soon as they heard the sound of the kernels of dog food clinking on stainless steel, but Oscar didn’t come even after I had finished pouring the food and water. I walked to his doghouse and found him moping and whining in his doghouse. His head was laid pitifully on his paws.

“What’s the matter boy?” I asked. Oscar looked up at me and whined. He then slowly got out of his doghouse and walked to his bowl. I saw then that there were chicken feathers all over his bedding.

“Aunt Jane, come here!” I hollered toward the house. My aunt came running to me and asked, “What’s the matter?”

I answered her by pointing into the doghouse.

“Oh, Oscar what have you done?” Aunt Jane scolded Oscar, “You’re in trouble, boy!” Jane tied Oscar to his doghouse and left him like that for the rest of the day.

That night I woke to the crying of dying chickens, “Not again!” I thought. I jumped out of bed and ran outside and there I found the rest of Aunt Jane’s Leghorn chickens dead. They were completely ripped apart. Feathers were everywhere. It was so disgusting that I vomited up.

After that gross moment, I went to the doghouses and there I found Oscar fast asleep and still tethered on a long chain to his doghouse. I had lost all my suspects and I wasn’t in the mood to investigate the scene of the crime. I didn’t bother with telling my aunt what had happened, I just went straight back to bed. On my way back to the house, I did pass the chicken coop and I noticed a precise hole cut in the chicken wire. I also found claw marks on the dirt around the coop as well as some racoon droppings.

The next day my aunt was furious that I didn’t tell her what had happened right when I found out and also that I hadn’t even cleaned up the dead bodies. My aunt made me weed her very large flower garden that was in a county flower competition, because I had not told her. While I was weeding, I found several more important clues.

I found a rather large boot print, too large to be Aunt Jane’s or my own, right beside the flower beds. As I worked in the floor beds, I found even more boot prints as well as chicken feed scattered around. Some of my Aunt’s flowers were also trampled and surrounded by what looked like chicken scratches. “Why would they kill the chickens if they were wanting to destroy her prized flowers? Could someone be making the chickens destroy my Aunt’s plants and then be killing the chickens? No! That’s very unlikely! Right? Well, maybe, it could happen.” I contemplated.

I was stumped on who could have murdered the chickens and why. “Was it Oscar the dog? Could it have been one of my Aunt Jane’s flower competitors? Or maybe a coyote or a racoon?” I may have hated work, but I was curious. I needed to find who was killing my aunt’s fowl and why before anything else was destroyed. “It was probably Oscar. He had chicken feathers in his doghouse, and he had murdered chickens before… but what about the chicken feed in the garden? Ugh! This is so hard! I hate work!” I argued with myself.

I was angry at everything and everyone. I had lots of chores to do, a mystery to solve, I couldn’t see any of my friends, and on top of all that I was outdoors all the time. I thought that this was the worst summer ever in the history of the world.

After a long time, weeding, I finally calmed down and began going over the clues I had obtained. At the time I had four suspects, Oscar, a hungry raccoon, a hungry coyote, or a human who had a problem with my aunt.

I searched the yard for clues, and I found more boot prints leading into the neighbor’s plot of land. The boot marks led to the back of the house. As I rounded the corner, I found Ms. Jackson meticulously gardening in the front yard. “I have to win this year,” Ms. Jackson muttered to herself. I went behind the house so that I would not be seen. At the back of the house, I found large muddy boots. I grabbed the boots and measured them to the boot prints, an exact match!

I ran to my Aunt Jane and yelled, “I found boot prints that led from your garden to neighbor’s house. The neighbor’s boots matched them exactly.”

“What are you talking about?” my surprised aunt asked.

“I think that your neighbor was trying to sabotage your garden,” I said.

“Why would you ever get an idea like that?” my aunt questioned. “Emily has always been a friend and has been admiring my garden all spring. Yes, she has gotten second place in the competition for the last couple of years, but she would never do that!”  

“There is chicken feed in your garden, as well as chicken claw marks, destroyed plants, and boot prints that lead from your house to the neighbors!” I exclaimed excitedly.

“Show me the garden,” my aunt calmly demanded. So, I showed her the clues I had found in the garden.

“Well, it does seem to point to my neighbor, but let’s not jump to conclusions. We did find feathers in Oscar’s doghouse,” Aunt Jane said.

“What if Oscar just got to the dead chickens before us?” I asked.

“It’s possible but before we do anything else we need to talk to Ms. Jackson, my neighbor,” Aunt Jane said, “I am going to ask her to come to afternoon tea and you can ask her some questions, but please do so in a respectful manner.”

Even though I was sure that I knew who the culprit was, I still decided that I should look for more clues. I looked around the chicken coop and like I had noticed the night before a hole was cut in the chicken wire. It didn’t look like the doing of an animal could have made it, it looked like it had been cut. The night before a human had let the chickens out and murdered them. I had found the racoon droppings and the scratch marks, but I was almost sure that Ms. Jackson was the culprit.

That afternoon, Ms. Jackson, a young woman who looked to be about thirty, came for tea. As soon as we entered the living room she broke out into tears, “I am so sorry! I should have told you this earlier!”

“What should you have told us earlier?” I asked.

“The other night I saw Pepper Salt, the neighbor across the street come to your house in the middle of the night! He did something to your garden and then to your chickens!” Ms. Jackson said between sobs.

“Calm down this is nothing to cry over. Thank you for telling us though,” my aunt said trying to comfort Ms. Jackson.

“How did you know that Mrs. Salt came to my aunt’s house in the middle of the night and messed around with the chickens and the garden?” I asked, suspicious of this statement given that Mrs. Salt lived in the complete opposite direction of Mrs. Jackson.

“I saw them from my house.” Ms. Jackson abruptly stopped crying and said.

“How? Your house isn’t that close to my Aunt Jane’s and isn’t at the right angle to be able to see the farmyard,” I questioned.

“Um…Uh…I just did!” Ms. Jackson stumbled for words.

“Well, the why are there boot prints to your house from my aunt’s?” I enquired.

“Ug! I knew I shouldn’t have gone right after a rainstorm,” Ms. Jackson whispered under her breath. She had talked quietly, but I had heard exactly what she said.

“You did kill the chickens and some of my aunt’s prize flowers!” I yelled.

“Uh…no I didn’t!” Ms. Jackson said, turning red.

“Ms. Jackson how could you?!” My aunt asked astonished and saddened that I had been right.

“I didn’t kill your chickens I just let them loose.” Ms. Jackson exclaimed, trying to defend herself.

“Why?!” My Aunt angerly asked.

“Um…” Ms. Jackson’s face reddened as began to speak but was cut off by me.

“Aunt Jane you entered the county flower competition and so did Ms. Jackson. From what I gather Ms. Jackson and you have entered this competition annually. Ms. Jackson was worried that you would win, so she planned to sabotage you by destroying your plants. But she didn’t want you to think that it was a human who destroyed your plants, so she sprinkled chicken feed in your flower beds and then opened the chicken coop door, letting all the chickens out. The chickens begin to attack the flowers trying to get to the feed. Eventually, Ms. Jackson left to allow the chickens to do her dirty work. Then Oscar, reliving his former bird hunting days, ran out of his doghouse and began killing the chickens seeing how quickly or maybe how many he could kill. He had to kill them quickly because they weren’t trapped by the confinements of a chicken coop, so he wasn’t as neat as he had been previously. He only killed seven because he grew tired and had to leave the rest alone. The next night I am guessing that a wild animal killed the chickens, probably a raccoon. There was a hole in the chicken wire, animal droppings and scratches around the coop that I noticed last night.” I explained to my aunt.

“That makes some logical sense.” My Aunt Jane said and then sadly turned to Ms. Jackson, “Emily is this really what happened?”

“Yes, I’m not sure about the dog part or the wild animal part but the rest is true.” Ms. Jackson mumbled as she hung her head.

“I can’t believe you would do something like this!” my aunt fumed.

“I’m sorry! I’ll do something to repay you!” Ms. Jackson blurted out.

My aunt thought for a moment considering what Ms. Jackson had said. “Well, I guess you could repay me by withdrawing from the competition this year and by helping me around the farm. I’ve got several big repairs I need to do, and more hands would help.”  

            “Thank you! I will help with whatever you need! And I’m sorry I got carried away with my hopes to finally win after ten years of losing,” Ms. Jackson said.

That night I happily slept for nine full hours because nothing woke me up. That summer I learned a lot. I learned how to do chores and care for a farm, I solved a mystery, and spent a great deal of time outdoors.

Ms. Jackson came bright and early to the farmyard each morning. My aunt definitely was furious at Ms. Jackson, but she did try hard not to show it.

For the rest of the summer, Ms. Jackson helped around the farm making it easier for me and Aunt Jane. Especially when the roof of the barn decided to leak in many, many different spots.

I had learned the importance of work. My aunt was right, “To be truly happy with your life you must first do work in your life.”

I also grew closer to my aunt that summer. Aunt Jane and I rode on horseback after all the chores were done every day for the rest of the summer. I began reading Little Women for first time with Aunt Jane in the evenings. It is really weird that it took the death of ten chickens for me to want to get to know my aunt but that is just the way it happened.

My aunt bought more chickens and none of them were killed by Oscar or any other animal during that summer. I was so thankful that there were no more dead chickens that I had to clean up.

My Aunt helped me to become a little less rude and kinder in my demeanor. She helped me so much in becoming a better person. And I’ve spent the last five of my summers with my Aunt Jane loving the farm life.

In the end, that summer was the best summer ever!!!

Alyssa Larue

Author: Alyssa Larue

I am the teen librarian at DPL and the epitome of a book nerd. When I'm not producing our teen or tween short films or getting glue everywhere while making a teen zine, I can usually be found with my nose in a classic, historical fiction, or fantasy read!

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