Hugh gazed happily at his creation. Yes. He’d done it!
“Leah, come look at this!” he called, holding the kite for his nine-year-old sister to see. Leah gasped out loud.
“Whoa!” she breathed, admiring his handiwork. Her eyes traced over the delicate needlework on the smooth fabric.
“Pretty cool, huh?”
“Yeah…” She leant out an arm to touch it.
“Don’t touch!” Hugh quickly whisked the kite up above her head and safely out of reach.
“I like those flaps over there. What are they for?”
“They’re to give it added lift,” he said proudly.
“You’re going to win for sure this year! You’ll even beat Maude Lesley!” Leah cried, dancing around merrily. The thought of beating Maude Lesley at long last made his head spin with happiness. His kites had always come second to hers in Kite Fest. But not this year! No, he would win for sure. Kites were his favorite hobby. Yet somehow, despite his intense effort, Maude’s kites always seemed to be better.
* * *
“Have you seen Maude’s?” stuttered John.
“No, but I don’t need to. My kite is far better than hers, John.” John shrugged uneasily.
“I don’t know…”
“Well I do,” Hugh confirmed resolutely.
A thought suddenly sprung into John’s head. Yes, this would make Hugh see sense. “Do you want to go see it? If you stand on tiptoe and peer over her garden wall you can see it. It wouldn’t be cheating… just comparing. Then you’d know for sure how unbeatable it is.” Hugh was best friends with John, yet he couldn’t believe how narrow-minded John was being. Shrugging, he followed John over to Maude’s house. Feeling like a burglar, Hugh stood on tiptoe and peered over the wall, not knowing what to expect. He did not expect what he saw. Maude was crying, her tiny frame shaking uncontrollably.
“It’s… not… fair!” she managed between hearty sobs. “It took… me a whole year… to make!” Her mum was desperately trying to calm her down.
“Maude, sweetheart, it’s only a…”
“A whole year!” she wailed. Her trademark plum-blue eyes were filled with tears. “I don’t understand where it could have gone! We’ve searched all along the riverbank yet my kite’s not there!” Hugh backed away from the wall in shock. He knew that he should be feeling sorry for Maude, yet he couldn’t help feeling smug. This was great! With Maude Lesley out of the competition he was sure to win!
* * *
“Thank you. Oh, it’s heavy. Yes. Talented? You insist I’m a talented kite flyer? And maker?” Hugh pretended, talking to his chocolate Labrador, Moochy. Moochy showed his agreement by cocking his head playfully to one side. Hugh could just imagine the large golden trophy, glistening magnificently in the sun. The river was a favorite dog-walking location for Hugh, and the twilight turned the normally hectic and joyful river very mysterious and beautiful. Before Hugh could do anything about it, Moochy was tugging hard on the lead. Hugh tried to yank him back, but a fully grown labrador is a lot stronger than a skinny eleven-year-old, so, much to Hugh’s dismay, Moochy ran wild. Sighing frustratedly, Hugh sped after the happy dog and found him in some tall reeds, sniffing at the ground quizzically.
Yanking on his collar, he spat, “Bad boy, Moochy! Come on. We’ve got to go home. I said come on, Mooch!” Moochy was resistant and stayed, with his bottom planted firmly on the ground. Mumbling bitterly, Hugh got down onto his hands and knees and parted the waving reeds. His stomach seemed to drop. It was Maude‘s kite.
* * *
Hugh broke into a run, eager to return home. Moochy thought this all a splendid game, so he bounded along happily. Why should he return the kite? After all, it wasn’t as if Maude had never won before. Yes, if he kept it he would be doing a greater good, allowing other participants the chance to take home the trophy. It was unfair, unjust that she won every year. Hugh’s eyes traced over the magnificent kite. It was shaped like a traditional Chinese dragon, with a large open mouth and sharp white teeth. Maude need never know it had been found. Hugh might just be able to copy some of the design elements. He didn’t even really care about the copying, just so long as he won, and not Maude. It was all down to him whether or not Maude would win. He had arrived home and slipped inside noiselessly, and sprinted up to his bedroom. Stowing the kite under the bed, he made a quick decision. He would keep the kite, not return it. He had waited a long time for the title of Kite Champion, and this year it would go to him.
“Hugh? Dinner!” called his mother. Feeling content, Hugh made his way downstairs and into the dining room, where a delicious meal of roast chicken was awaiting him. He sat down and sunk his fork into the tender meat. As it travelled down his throat, it stayed in a lump. His mouth had gone dry, and suddenly he didn’t feel hungry in the slightest. Only guilty. He took a gulp of water and blinked twice. Don’t be an idiot, Hugh, he thought. You’re doing the right thing, so why are you feeling guilty?
* * *
“And the winner of the 2012 Kite Fest goes to… Hugh Willows!” Hugh raced to the podium, where he accepted the trophy joyously. His eyes scanned the audience. Hugh saw a small child curled up in a ball and sobbing broken-heartedly in the distance. The child’s head rose and he saw who it was. Maude. Suddenly the floor gave way and he was hurtling through a fiery tunnel, until he dissolved into a screaming nothingness. Hugh’s eyes snapped open. Just a dream, he thought emptily. Just a dream. He looked at his watch, which read half-past six. That meant that the competition was in less than three hours. He just couldn’t do it anymore. If he was to win then he would do so honestly. He checked under his bed. The kite was still there. Holding it under one arm, he crept daringly down the stairs, careful to avoid the creaking floorboards. Hugh pulled on a woolen jumper and some Wellington boots, and unlocked the front door. Once he was into the cool morning air, there was no stopping him. He practically flew to Maude’s house and pressed the doorbell. He waited. The door swung open to reveal a tired-looking middle-aged man, wearing a checkered dressing gown and matching slippers.
“Hugh, right? You’re in the year above Maude at school, I believe. What are you doing up so early? Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, I’m Hugh. Everything’s fine. I found Maude’s kite down by the river. I heard she’d lost it,” he said, handing over the dragon kite.
“Oh, thank you, Hugh! You don’t know how much this means to me! Poor Maude was distraught when she realized she’d lost her kite.” He turned his head indoors. “Maude! Come quick!” He looked back at Hugh. “She’s in the sitting room, watching telly. She hardly got any sleep she was so heavy-hearted.” Maude came plodding to the front door. She quickly rubbed her blotchy, tear-stricken face when she saw who it was.
“Maude, look what Hugh found,” her father cried merrily. As soon as Maude saw the kite she embraced Hugh, in a hug so tight, Hugh thought that he was going to pass out.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m so glad you found it, Hugh!” Hugh smiled bashfully.
“See you at the competition, Maude.”
“Yes, see you!”
Hugh turned around, smiling sadly. He’d done the right thing.
* * *
The sky was kaleidoscopic. Kites of all colors, plum, chartreuse, alabaster, and vermilion, speckled the sky, like paint splatters on a canvas. Hugh’s persimmon one was flying almost higher than the rest, tugging ferociously to get away. The hooter blew, and there was the quick raveling of the twine, and soon everyone was holding their kites. The smiling old lady who annually judged Kite Fest was holding a large trophy, and two medals.
“This year has been the closest year yet. However, we must pick a winner, and a winner we have picked!” Hugh’s heart seemed to have stopped beating. Even the rustling of the wind in the trees had stopped. “In third place… Jonathan White!” A tall boy of about fourteen emerged out of the large crowd and came scampering over to the podium to collect his medal. “Between second and first place there were just two points! In second… Hugh Willows!” He blinked back a tear. Taking a deep breath, he walked coolly to the podium, smiling at his friends in the crowd. “Well done, young man,” whispered the old lady. It came as no real surprise when she announced that the winner of Kite Fest 2012 was Maude Lesley. As Maude stood next to Hugh and Jonathan to have their photo taken, she squeezed his hand.
“I couldn’t have done it without you, Hugh.” And it was true. She couldn’t have.