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Centennial Writing Contest Winner: Home

Here is the story that took first prize in our Ray Bradbury Centennial Writing Contest, originally announced on Saturday, August 22nd, 2020.



Welcome! The purpose of this page is to formally recognize the winning submission of our Ray Bradbury Centennial Writing Contest! We would like to express our deepest appreciation for everyone who participated in this writing contest in the honor of our prolific hometown writer, Ray Bradbury. He truly would have been proud of all of your hard work and passion that you put into your submissions. 


Below you will find our first place submission: 

Essence by Jeffrey Lyons 

Jeff Lyons was raised and has lived in and around Green Town his entire life.  His appreciation of Ray Bradbury grew from an early age through much family support. It flourished with direct correspondence with Mr. Bradbury during school years and the author's visits back to Waukegan. Mr. Lyons is very honored to receive this recognition and thanks the Waukegan Public Library for its continuing dedication to Ray Bradbury. 


Attention writers! Be sure to mark your calendars for our October Bradbury Writing Contest, more details to come soon!


By Jeffrey Lyons


She laid back and opened her eyes. 

The heat of the blazing August sun was drifting away now as dusk settled on the 

Midwestern town. Nestled on the shore of Lake Michigan, the cool lake breezes usually 

buffered the brutal heat, but not today. Even so, it was starting to cool as orange turned to blue 

turned to black. The rest of the world was drab with drudgery, political fighting, and a general 

uneasiness. The backyard offered color and goodness. That goodness now shown as the manic 

dance of fireflies which was slowly being overtaken by the brilliant starlight in the skies above. 

She spread her arms out, taking in the familiar and happy smell of fresh-cut lawn and 

gently nudging the well-loved telescope discovered in her grandfather's attic. She missed him. 

The pandemic had taken a lot of things: school, time with friends, freedom to leave the house, 

but worst of all were the loved ones it took away. Took them away without a second thought or 

even a chance to say goodbye. The months of isolation were taking a toll on everyone, but it 

seemed especially cruel to her. Not only was there the fear of this invisible threat, but an 

indescribable loneliness... even in a world so technically connected. She felt lost and without 

direction. Seventeen was supposed to be fun and carefree and yet she carried so many 

burdens. It was dark now, and the New Moon made way for the stars and planets that were 

especially intense. The brilliance pushed her burdens aside at least for a little while. Jupiter 

shone clearly... but Mars was her favorite. She propped up the telescope and set her sight. 

The red planet always enchanted her. Her grandfather told fantastical stories of grand canals, 

towering mountains, and of an extraordinary civilization that had existed before his 

grandfather's grandfather. How he possibly knew of these things, she never questioned. She 

simply reveled in the stories of Martian music and art, of science and magic, and of a society 

that lived together in peaceful support of each other. 

Their shared love of the red planet carried over to attentive interest in the Mars 

Missions. As the country ventured back into human space flight, the goal was always to put 

people on the surface of Mars. Early efforts at the Midwest Spaceport were exciting and 

successful beyond expectation. Shiny new rockets, sleek space capsules, stylish spacesuits and a 

brave and bold generation of explorers ready to take on new challenges. Even amidst the gray 

that permeated day-to-day life, the entire world was beyond excited when the MARS ONE team 

launched and made their way to Mars. There was hope, and possibility, and promise that hadn’t 

existed in hearts and minds for a long time. Excitement turned to devastation when that very 

first and only team was lost due to a catastrophic failure that the space agency could not or 

would not explain. It was an overwhelming shock to the world to lose this shared aspiration. 

After the loss, everything spiraled from bad to worse around the world. 

With the fireflies settling down and Mars now lined up, she put her eye to the scope. 

There it was! Beautiful, bright, red and full. She imagined what it must be like there planet-side. 

She could see in her mind the amazing landscapes as shared in photos from the rovers that had 

crisscrossed the surface. Those were great images but nothing recent had come back now that 

the space programs were all shuttered. She made a minor focus adjustment and looked 

again-FLASH! She jumped back, nearly knocking over the scope. What was that? Half scared but 

more curious... she tentatively stepped back to look again. Red planet. Nothing going on 

here-FLASH! She jumped back again. She definitely saw it. She looked up in the sky, then looked 

around the yard. Nothing but stars and fireflies. She had definitely seen a bright flash of 

red-white light that looked to be coming directly from the planet. In fact, it seemed bigger the 

second time. 

He sat back and opened his eyes. 

He brushed the red dust from his face, looking up at the pale blue dot from which he 

had come. He was on top of the structure that had served as his home for some time now. This 

was his favorite spot for viewing Earthrise. While leading MARS ONE was the achievement of a 

lifetime, being the only survivor was the curse. Even now he wasn’t really sure what happened 

on planet entry. Systems started failing and the ship vaporized around him. The last thing he 

remembered was being surrounded and swallowed by waves of red energy. He didn’t know if it 

was hours, days, or weeks before he realized he was still alive. What he did know is that some 

way, somehow, something here on Mars miraculously helped him survive. He had awoken to 

find himself in a room, in this structure, in a long-deserted dusty red cityscape. As he tried 

adjusting to his new normal, the loneliness was indescribable. He was, however, astounded to 

discover remnants of an amazing civilization. He was certain now that something related to this 

civilization, this place, had contributed to his survival. Of course, there were the myths and 

fairytales of a majestic and magical Martian world, but those were quickly dismissed to science 

and reason. Here it was, though, right in front of him. 

"Should I tell someone? I should tell someone.", she thought. "Who do I tell?" She took 

a deep breath and slowly moved back to the scope. It wasn't a flash anymore. There was a solid 

red-white light in the direction of Mars and it WAS getting bigger. She thought back to science 

class and the MARS ONE lessons. "It takes months to fly to Mars. Light from Mars takes a few 

minutes...", she thought. She moved back from the scope and looked up to the sky. Whatever 

this was, it was now visible to the naked eye and was clearly traveling VERY FAST and directly 

toward Earth. There was no time. As she considered her next move the light grew to fill the 

entire night sky shimmering and pulsing in a red borealis. The light washed across the sky like 

waves across the beach, the ripples eventually getting softer and paler until only the dark night 

sky and bright starlight was left. 

He thought now about how he had filled his endless days learning how the Martian 

civilization had emerged, prospered and peacefully evolved to a higher plane. It was strangely 

comforting to learn that central to their growth and success was an 'essence' revered by all. 

This 'essence' was physical and tangible, but had a red energy that surrounded, penetrated, and 

empowered him in ways his training could not explain. It seemed like a plant but wasn't quite 

organic. It was crystalized but not all the way geologic. It was quite indescribable. He didn't 

want to call it magic, but other descriptions failed him. He had a feeling that the ‘essence’ was 

what he had experienced in the crash and that it had since empowered and motivated him to 

continue. He also understood that it had helped the Martians evolve and move on to new 

potential and a future that eventually took them beyond Mars. While it seemed unlikely that he 

would ever contact or return to Earth, he never gave up hope. In fact, as he learned more about 

the 'essence', he felt that it might be possible to share it with Earth. As it had helped him, he 

hoped that it would help his home world in similar ways. He got to work on delivering the 

'essence'. The impact was immediate. She saw it worldwide and couldn't believe how quickly 

things changed after that night. It seemed that before the red waves had even dissipated, 

pandemic patients started sitting up and removing breathing tubes. In following weeks new 

cases dropped inexplicably to nothing. Doctors and scientists could offer no explanation. Across 

the world there was an unprecedented drop in infectious and chronic disease. At the same 

time, air and water purity measures approached pre-industrial levels. Flora returned to 

previously barren areas and farmers around the planet started reporting record crop yields. 

People’s spirits, including her own, seemed to be refreshed and renewed. Personal burdens 

were lifted and there was another curious group effect. As health and environment issues 

dissolved, and as people embraced a refreshed and renewed perspective, there was a gradual 

but inescapable realization that there was little benefit in posturing, arguing, or undermining 

each other. Political, racial, and religious ideological differences were acknowledged but 

respected. An era of individual and global collaboration emerged, focused on the common 

good. It was as if every living being had been infused with a certain kindness and understanding 

of our connectedness and it changed the nature of the world and our civilization in truly short 

order. The gray of the world was replaced with vibrant colors of possibility. 

As the world emerged from its poisoned and dysfunctional past, endeavors turned 

toward universal pursuits like renewable energy, a renaissance of fine arts, and a return to 

spaceflight. She herself felt inspired to pursue exploration and humanity’s renewed reach for 

the stars. She had happily accepted the position in space flight school, and at this very moment 

sat in the shadow of a gleaming silver rocket. The Midwest Spaceport was again vibrant with 

activity having been renewed and restored. It was positively electric right now as teams 

scurried preparing for launch. She marveled at the reflection of the blue sky and sparkling lake 

in the massive rocket. She absorbed the warmth of the spring sun and appreciated the cool 

breeze off the Great Lake as reminders of her home. As the newest and youngest crew member 

she would be leaving soon for the red planet of her youthful dreams. She was briefly 

reminiscent of her grandfather's stories about the civilization on Mars and how there was a 

similar feeling of hope. She smiled at her memory and knew he was smiling back. While 

familiar, her drive and dreams and future were uniquely her own and it was time to move on. 

She grabbed her pack and headed toward the launch pad. Off she went. 

It had been some time since he sent the package. He didn't understand how it could 

travel so quickly or directly, but he knew it reached Earth when he saw the global borealis. 

While he didn't know what it would do, he hoped that it would help his home world as it had 

helped him, his adopted world, and the graceful Martian civilization that had existed before. 

With the package sent, he felt his stay on Mars might be coming to an end. It was time to move 

on to new things. He was being called to a new future that was uniquely his own. Yes, he was 

certain of it. He laid back and closed his eyes and faded away. Off he went.