Alalitcom Winning Works from the
Alabama Writersâ€™ Conclave
2017 Literary Competition
Alalitcom ÂŠ 2017
Authors retain all rights
Carol Robbins Hull
Cover: End of the Day Digital photograph by the editor
Table of Contents Preface 1 Nonfiction The Stray Cat 2 One Final Favor 5 Starlings 8 The Bed 11 Purple Feet 14 The Lady on the Elevator 17 Poetry The Day Before Easter 20 Namesake 21 The Six of Us 23 Souvenir 24 Flash Fiction The Unopened Present 25 Undeliverable 26 Short Story A Tale of First Love 28 Scrumper's Knob 31 The Last Time an Angel Passed 34 Our Beagles Died Young 36 Juvenile Fiction The Beast of Weissburg 39 The Case of the Missing Piping Plovers 42 Katherine and Henry 45 Murder on a Kite-Flying Morning 48 Words Alive 52 First Chapter: Novel Hoodlum Violinist 55 Beloved Mother 58 The Sound of Bells 61 The Other Side of Normal 64 MacPhee Island 67 List of Winners 2017 AWC Literary Competition 70 Contributors 77
Preface In August, 1923, an enthusiastic group met on the campus of Alabama College (now the University of Montevallo) with the idea of forming a statewide organization that would support and encourage Alabama writers. Thus the Alabama Writers’ Conclave was born. In that early meeting “authors presented their own creative work giving talks on the technique of the writers’ art.”1 Now in our ninety-fourth year, the Alabama Writers’ Conclave endeavors to support a diverse community of Alabama writers through our newly updated website and newsletter, masterclass presentations, workshops, and our yearly conference. A highlight every year is the recognition of the winners in the annual AWC writing competition through awards and publication of their work. “From the early beginning, it was the desire of Marie Bankhead Owen, a charter member, and past president, and head of the Department of Archives and History for Alabama, to preserve the work of Alabama writers. In 1927, one anthology of poetry was published. In 1970, efforts were again made to preserve the award-winning manuscripts from the literary competition sponsored by the organization…. Finally in 1975, under the leadership of the forty-first president of the Conclave, Raecile Gwaltney Davis, the first addition of the Alalitcom was published. The name Alalitcom for “Alabama Writers’ Conclave Literary Competition” was suggested by Mrs. Davis and approved by the Executive Board as the official name for the publication.”² In some years Alalitcom was issued in a printed copy, but in 2006 it became an online journal, with that and following editions archived online. Twenty-eight awards were presented this year in the categories Flash Fiction, Short Story, Juvenile Fiction, First Chapter of a Novel, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Screenwriting. All 2017 winners were invited to have their submissions published in the 2017 edition of Alalitcom, and most accepted the invitation. You will notice some changes in the format of the 2017 edition. We look forward to even more in the 2018 edition. Thank you to all those who have contributed. Congratulations to all of the winners, and to all who entered our competition this year. Carol Robbins Hull, Editor __________________________________________________________________ 1Raecile Gwaltney Davis, Giant Sages of the Pen: A Narrative History of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, Volume I, 1923-1946 (R. G. Davis, 1993) ²Donna Jean Tennis, Preface, The Alalitcom. 1996
Nonfiction – First Place
The Stray Cat He was not our cat, and so far as I knew he didn’t belong to anyone on our block. My mother warned me not to play with him. “It’s a stray,” she said.” We don’t need it hanging around here.” But she had no idea the impact he would make on me. Am I the only person in the world whose character was altered by a stray cat? In my earliest memories, we lived in a white two-story house on 23rd Street, then a dirt road near downtown Birmingham, which faced 11th Avenue North. Whenever I went outside into the yard, the cat would come to me. We became friends, the cat and I, though I don’t recall if I ever gave him a name. Or maybe I don’t recall after all these years, more than seventy of them, the name that I did give him. But I do remember his color. He was brindled gray, almost black, with streaks of lighter gray. I say “he,” but I had no idea the gender of the cat. Because I was a boy, I suppose I assigned to him the male category on the theory I would not have been playing with a girl at that stage of my life. Somehow, in lugging the cat around the yard like a baby, his feet pointed skyward, I dropped him, and watched in puzzlement as he flipped in mid-air, landing on his feet. I thought he had performed an amazing trick and wondered if he could do it again. I lifted him up, thinking of all the times I had fallen in all kinds of awkward moves, yet the cat fell gracefully the second time, just as he had done the first. The wheels in my little brain began to turn, like perhaps that of a scientist as he begins to formulate a new procedure to test an idea. I knew I was onto something important and wanted to test it, to check it out. They say that curiosity killed the cat, but in this case it was my curiosity and not the cat’s that came close to doing the job. I carried the cat to the small landing on the rear wooden stairwell that led up to the first and second floors of the house. My family occupied the first level of the house and another family lived upstairs. I looked down from the landing perhaps five feet to the ground. Holding the cat at arms’ length upside down, I extended my arms beyond the bannister and dropped him. Amazingly, he twisted in mid-air and landed on his feet. I was spell-bound. That was not something boys could do. Although I had never heard the term “scientific experiment,” that was the method that quickly went through my mind as I considered the possibilities. I scrambled down the stairs and out into the back yard. He was a little reluctant to let me pick him up, but after a short time of running around in the yard, I guess he tired of the game and plopped down, which allowed me to scoop him up, and this time I took him up to the porch on the first level, approximately fifteen feet high. He was not happy as I extended my arms over the bannister, holding him out in mid-air, belly high, struggling to prevent his flipping over, but I held tight the wrestling cat as he clawed me, and then I let him go. I watched in fascination as he once again twisted in mid-air and landed on his feet. I was completely mystified that he could do such a thing. And then I 2
looked up at the porch above, another ten feet higher, wondering if I should try that. Hmm. Yes, I should! I dashed down the stairs into the fenced yard and, after a few minutes of chasing, it became quite clear I would not take the cat to the higher level. He would not let me touch him, and each time I got too close to him, he moved away and out of reach. I wondered why he was now so wary of me. He had never acted that way before. But after a little while of coaxing him and whispering to him, he finally let me come close again but was too wary to allow me to pick him up. Finally, after a long time of being really nice to him, he relaxed and let me come close again, and when he seemed to trust me, I grabbed him up and trooped up those steps, all the way to the second level which must have been at least twenty-five feet high. As I carried him up the steps, he became testy with me, twisting in my arms and struggling to get loose. But I held on, determined to complete my experiment. When I got into position, I looked down. It was a long way, I could see that, and the cat, who was essentially upside down, could sense it too. Somehow, I was so curious about the catâ€™s unique ability to land on its feet that I was willing to suffer the pain he was inflicting on me as he scrambled in my arms, clawing me like a demon, as I held him over the void. And then I dropped him, or attempted to drop him, as he clawed my sleeves struggling to hold on to me before I shook him off and he fell free. In the same instant he fell, he twisted in mid-air for a landing on his feet as I watched from the porch to see exactly how he did it. He landed hard and crouched on his belly. My curiosity was still not satisfied, but then something happened that overcame my curiosity, and that is probably the reason I have remembered this event so vividly and for so long. I watched the cat from the upper porch as he crouched in the place he landed, as if he were stunned. I worried then that he might have been hurt. And then, still in that crouching position, he slowly turned his head and looked up to me with an unblinking gaze. There in his gaze, in his eyes, was a message of reproof, and in that instant both he and I knew I had done wrong, that I had intentionally hurt him. He slowly rose onto his legs, slowly turned his head away from me and toward the wooden fence, and then with a running jump, he leaped atop the fence and paused, his body turned away from me. He then looked back over his shoulder and up at me still standing there high on the porch, and he locked his eyes on mine in a gaze that carried silent meaning, that spoke of his disappointment in me for breaching the trust he had given me, that reproached me for hurting him. I felt helpless in that moment, wanted to run down to the fence and hold him in my arms, to make amends, to make him love me again. And then, just as I was about to scramble down the stairs and run to him, he broke the gaze and looked back to the front. I watched as he leaped from the fence down to the roadway on the other side. I ran down the stairs to the fence and between the slats I saw him slink down the road, down toward the railroad a block to the south. I waited for him in the yard for days to come back and play with me. I wondered where he had gone, and after a week it became clear to me that he would never come back. I never saw my friend again. Iâ€™ve wondered all these years how I could have been so cruel to a small animal. Curiosity I think is the answer, and the inability at my young age to appreciate the consequences of my own acts, yet once I saw the aftermath of what I had done, how he looked at me as if to say I trusted you and you hurt me, I was heart-sick.
When and how does a child begin to feel pain for someone else when always before he felt pain only for himself? Was that the event that made me become the kind of person I have become? I believe the lesson I learned that day, that personal encounter with my own cruelty that I turned on the cat I loved, was more effective in teaching me the importance of feeling empathy for others than years of abstract lessons in church and Sunday School. Not a single word passed between the cat and me, yet the cat managed with a searing gaze, to make me feel the injustice I had done, the injury I had caused, the trust I had breached. It was a lesson Iâ€™ve never forgotten.
Nonfiction – Second Place
One Final Favor I’d driven 50 miles north to select a pup from a litter of five. As it turned out, the puppy selected me. The tumbling ball of yapping fur in the far corner of the pen paid me no mind as I sat down on the warm spring grass as far away as the enclosure permitted. I’d brought a squeak toy to help me assess each puppy’s playfulness. I crossed my legs and squeezed the toy three times. The grappling continued unabated—save one little head that popped free of the melee and looked my way. Two more squeaks and she pulled free of the scrum; a first step away from her brothers and sisters and into the life that we would share. Naming a new pet is always stressful. First spoken as an unconnected appellation, when the name sticks it is not only what the pet is called, it is who the pet becomes. So diminutive was my new pup that within an hour I was trying out the name, Bitzy. She seemed to like it, and that is who she became. Bitzy came to me a boundless incarnation of energy and joy. Bright and clever. Totally aware that Christmas was a special day, unlike any other in the year, and that Saturdays meant a day together and almost always the excitement of a ride in the car. She accepted that five days a week she would be left alone as I went off to somewhere I had to go and she could not. When the camping duffle came out, in she’d burrow assuring it went nowhere without her. A suitcase meant beg your way into the car an hour early so you wouldn’t be left behind. Time went by. I married. The pack grew. Two became three and the joy of days together multiplied. Time, as it has a habit of doing, kept going by. It was around Bitzy’s 14th birthday that I began to hear the thunder of the grains of sand falling through the hourglass of her life. Her knees were bad, her eyes clouding over, her hearing almost gone. I began to wonder: was this a last birthday, a last Christmas, a last fall or spring? When she was 15, the coughing began. Body shaking hacks like she was trying to clear something from her throat. It was fall and the tree pollen was insufferable. Bitzy’s vet, Dr. Murr, diagnosed allergies, seemingly confirmed by the effectiveness of a twice-aday antihistamine. But the malady outlasted the remedy. In two months the hacking returned, Bitzy standing with four legs spread to brace herself, coughing until her legs gave way and she fell. X-rays revealed a collapsing trachea, her throat narrowed to less than half the size it had once been. An operation might be a consideration for a younger dog, but at nearly 16 the only option for Bitzy was trying to make her comfortable. A strong codeine cough medicine helped. “What we’re trying to do,” Dr. Murr explained, “is trick her body into thinking it doesn’t need to cough. It should work for awhile, but you need to start preparing yourself.” 5
I’d been thinking about the inevitability of losing Bitzy for more than a year. Preparing to lose her was a totally different thing. Preparing likely meant making the decision to put her to sleep when the coughing became so severe it robbed her of any joy in life. What a betrayal that seemed to be. A lifetime of trust, always—always—counting on me to make things better for her, obliterated by a single directive: end her life. I couldn’t come to grips with the moment. Putting her in the car for the ride to Dr. Murr just as I’d done dozens of times before. Carrying her into the examination room where she’d been poked and prodded but always loved and rewarded with a treat. She’d think it was just another visit; but I’d know the truth. A truth I couldn’t explain to her. Dr. Murr had said this: “She has depended on you for everything for sixteen years. She’s always trusted you to do what’s best. It’s never easy, but it will be one final favor you can do for her.” Still, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to give the word when the time came. How do you hold a precious life in your hands, a life so intimately intertwined with your own, and simply say, “End it?” The codeine worked its hocus pocus for a few months. Bitzy and I still enjoyed our walks through the woods. I took her camping a few more times. How she loved being beside me in the wilderness. Growling at any sound that threatened our sanctuary, snuggling close as darkness closed in. She still had her puppy moments; chasing squeak toys, bounding around the room like a two-year old, even giving in to the joy of an occasional terrier streak, tearing around in circles, careening off the furniture. But the bursts of puppydom were brief and left her panting. It wasn’t long until after her morning out-and-about she started going back to bed, leaving me alone downstairs. Maybe she was just worn out. Maybe she was trying to help me get used to not having her around. In the evenings she would curl up beside me on the sofa, quickly slipping into a deep, sonorous sleep. I like to think she was dreaming of a time when everything was easy, when no adventure was beyond endurance. A time when no sound was out of hearing and everything looked like it was supposed to, unclouded by the misty curtain of age that had closed across her eyes. One night in late August she’d had her puppy romp and loped upstairs to bed. There was no sound more precious to me than the patter of her paws as she trotted up those steps at the close of day, or down them in the mornings to begin a new adventure. When she had settled in and was sleeping peacefully, I decided to take a shower. After I’d dried off I walked into the bedroom where Bitzy was crouched in the middle of the floor, panting. It was midnight. Dr. Murr’s office wouldn’t open for another eight hours. I tried to fight back the thought that the moment I’d been dreading had finally come. The human heart is ever hesitant to relinquish its grip on hope. Surely there was one more miracle in the veterinarian bag of tricks. An hour passed. Bitzy’s breathing grew more labored, her lungs rattling with every breath. This time there would be no miracles. When the sun came up I would take her for what I knew would be her final ride. My prayer was no longer for her to live, but that she wouldn’t suffer. I also prayed that I’d have the courage to say the words to bring her peace. I carried her to her bed. She settled in. Her breathing eased. I lay there stroking her side. She turned and looked at me. Behind the cloudy haze of age I recognized the chocolate marble eyes that had first greeted me that spring day more than sixteen years
before. The eyes that then said hello were now saying goodbye. I think she knew we’d reached the end. I’m not sure if she slept, but I did, lying there beside her, one hand on her side, feeling her warmth. Around 4:00 I woke up. She was still warm, but I could no longer feel the rise and fall of her body. Somewhere in the early hours she had slipped away. When the sun came up I would still take her to Dr. Murr to make arrangements for the cremation. I’d selected her favorite digging spot on our hill overlooking the valley to lay her ashes to rest. How she loved to root in that forest soil. Looking up at me, nose caked in the rich dark loam, bright eyes shining with wonder and the sheer joy of being a terrier with a place to dig. Now she would be in that soil forever. Become a part of it, nourishing the new growth that came every spring. She would go on living, in every lady slipper, in every oak seedling that sprang from an acorn she had neglected to eat. The day I had gone to select her, she selected me. Now, instead of me doing her that one final favor, she had done a final favor for me. There would be no need for me to speak the words I had so dreaded. She’s been gone awhile now, though I still see her in a shadow crossing the room or lying in the sunshine by the door. She is everywhere, yet she is nowhere. What I miss most is the sound of her footsteps on the stairs. I don’t have enough years left for that to ever change.
Nonfiction – Third Place
Starlings My father killed things. Somehow I remember that about him more clearly than anything else. He was not an evil man, but he was a hard man, a man the world had treated harshly but never broken. He grew up dirt poor in Appalachia where poverty was a way of life. One of eight children of a Kentucky sharecropper, he learned early to kill for food. He hunted, not for sport but for food in order to survive. One of his most haunting stories told of trapping sparrows in the winter. He and his older brother built a box-like cage out of scrap lumber and old chicken wire, propped up one side with a stick, and tied a long piece of twine to the stick. Under it they spread crumbs from cornbread on the snow and when the sparrows, hungry themselves, flocked to dine on the crumbs they pulled the cord and the trap dropped over them. The sparrows were killed and cleaned like tiny chickens so he and his siblings could roast them in the fireplace on long wooden sticks. He said they were not as good as chicken, but if you didn’t have chicken they were better than nothing. By the time I was born he, my mother, and my older brother lived on a small farm my mother had inherited in a very rural part of Ohio. I remember it as a bucolic setting in a valley by a creek in the rolling Ohio hills. There was a white two-story clapboard house, a typical red barn, and other outbuildings. The yard was filled with old sugar maple trees that seemed to be protecting us from a little used country road to the south. It could have been the subject of a painting by Norman Rockwell for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. A picture of the perfect place for a perfect life in America and the only life I knew for 14 years before we escaped to the Southwest for health reasons. But it was fictitious, a deceptive picture. Life on a small farm was not easy and my earliest memories are of being sickened by the killing which never seemed to cease. We slaughtered domestic animals for our own food. Lovable little calves grew into year old steers and were slaughtered to provide steaks, pot roasts, and hamburger. The lambs we hand fed with bottles until they grew to a proper size became lamb chops. Cute little piglets grew into shoats and became pork chops and bacon. Fuzzy, tiny baby chicks which seemed to be better suited for an Easter basket than life on a farm became chickens and provided us with eggs until it was their time to provide the main course at Sunday dinner. Animals were born, carefully nurtured, and then killed so we could survive. My father killed these animals in order to provide for his family, slaughtering them in the usual way. Their deaths were as humane as possible, a process not pleasant but necessary, and one in which I participated but never enjoyed. Although my father usually didn’t kill things without a reason he had a particular dislike for Starlings, which as a child I found very puzzling. To him Starlings were ugly, despicable birds, and as he told me, “they’re not even American birds.” To me they were just birds, not unlike the Robins, Orioles, Swallows, and a host of other birds which he found acceptable. 8
Years later I learned Starlings were introduced to the United States in the late 1800’s by Eugene Schiffelin, a Shakespeare fanatic, who was intent on establishing here in the USA all birds mentioned in the great playwright’s works. In 1890 he released between 60 and 100 European Starlings in New York’s Central Park. By 1950, Starlings were established from coast to coast and from southern Canada to northern Mexico, all apparently descended from Schiffelin’s original birds I learned Starlings had wrought ecological havoc here and elsewhere. They are hole nesters, and far more aggressive than Bluebirds, Woodpeckers and many other species that need similar breeding sites. Nest holes are a rare commodity, and by commandeering them (and eating eggs) Starlings have displaced several native species and put them at risk for extinction. My father was not alone in his distaste for them. There is a less known side to Starlings however. They are often kept as pets, especially in Europe. As pets, Starlings are active, social birds who love spending time with their owners. Pet Starlings are known for bonding closely with their caretakers, seeking them out for companionship. Starlings are as intelligent as other more common pet bird species, and can even learn to talk. According to some, Starlings actually talk better than parrots. One of the more famous Starling owners was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart whose bird lived with him for three years before it died on 4 June 1787. Mozart maintained his bird could mimic the opening theme of the third movement of his Piano Concerto no. 17 in G. Not perfectly however, the Starling incorrectly inserted a Fermata on the last beat of the first measure, and sang G-sharp instead of G in the following measure. Even if I had known the good things about Starlings all those years ago and told my father he would not have been impressed, or even believed me. I’m sure he had never heard of Mozart. I can imagine him turning off the radio immediately if one of Mozart’s classical pieces was played on the radio station where he listened only to country music and the evening news. To him Starlings were just raucous, offensive, black birds which came in flocks each summer to our small farm. They loved the big sugar maple trees, especially the three that filled the oval driveway and seemed to protect us from the evils I was told awaited me beyond the road. On the rare summer days when my father was not working in the fields, he often sat on the front porch of our old farmhouse in a rickety caned back chair and killed Starlings. He shot them with a 22 caliber, single shot rifle ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. It was the cheapest possible rifle, not a sportsman's prize possession, but a farmer's tool, a tool used to kill things. My father was an excellent shot, he seldom missed. The selected Starlings fell from the tall maple trees and littered the ground below. A few were collected and consumed by the farm cats whose job it was to keep the rodent population down in our farm buildings, but most rotted away and fed the ravenous ant population. Each, however, seemed to be immediately replaced in the tree above by another potential victim. All in all, it seemed to be a meaningless act on my father's part, neither evil nor cruel. He killed the Starlings without pleasure, as if it were a necessary scene in the story of his life. A life acted out on a tiny Ohio stage, by actors who didn’t speak, in front of a set painted in shades of gray facing rows of empty seats.
After more than 60 years I am still haunted by the sound of the rifle and the memory of the last flights of the doomed Starlings. More a vertical dive than a flight, a last fluttering of wings ending in a faint, final thump under one of the beautiful sugar maple trees, in the oval driveway, in front of the old, white, clapboard farmhouse. Maple trees that in the end failed to protected either the Starlings or me.
Nonfiction – Honorable Mention
The Bed My pillow is wet as I contemplate the passage of the years of my life, all flipping like a cartoon page drawn in sequence. It amounts to a massive meltdown as I lament my sixty-fifth birthday. In time, I compromise with sanity and acknowledge those years have made me softer, more forgiving, and, hopefully, easier to live with. Wrapped in the bed sheets, my companion of forty-eight years lies beside me and breathes deeply. In one fluid stretch, my hands rub the wooden parquet inlay, framed by carved rosettes, on the headboard of my bed. I trace the intricate woodwork. This bed has been mine for as long as I can remember. Like me, it has history, a perceptively distinct path of time and, I propose it has unrecognized memory. With no power of speech, I give my bed a voice. The Bed: Without struggle, I see you at birth, ages eleven, seventeen, and beyond. I witnessed your beginning, and I've been here each night ever since. Your mother gave birth to you right here on my frame, and they laid you beside her…her seventeenth child, born to her at age forty-six. A mistake, she'd often tell you, but the best one she ever made. *** I recall you at eleven. You lie here on the bed in the dark hours of the night and listen to the groans and creaks of your aged house. You press your eyes tightly shut just in case they should open of their own volition and a stranger would be standing over you. Just the day before, in one of her ghostly tales, your mother swore a headless man had once stood at the foot of her bed and pulled the covers off. Your childish logic urged you to grab the covers and pull them over your head, believing that safety lay in not seeing or being seen. I was your protector. *** Your parents had given your older brothers and sisters, at the time of their marriage, a pig and a cow. You'd been given "Me"…your bed. You whisked it to your new home the night before the wedding. That afternoon after the ceremony, you lay the wedding gown you'd worn earlier in the day on my covers. It was a dress I'd watched you sew carefully with your own hands. Hours later, you'd lain awake and watched this man laying by your side, satisfied and sleeping. All your teenage visions had, at last, materialized. Content, you stroked the carvings on my head. Your husband turned toward you, sat up, and drew you into his arms. You dreamily 11
murmured his name. The two of you sat with your backs against me, laughing and teasing, dreaming and planning. A new family to be conceived under my watch was in the making. *** Disparagingly poor, but deeply in love, you cuddled with your newborn son. He suckled then grew still as you pulled the covers tightly around his still form. You snuggled within my care, passing the time by blowing fog into the air with your warm breath. We knew your husband would come home from work at the end of the day. I supported him while he lay with your son, and you put on a coat and cooked a meal. It was the same all that winter until we moved into a government funded home. It was three rooms. And warm. *** The phone rang in the early hours of the morning. You leapt up and answered. A few moments later, you sat on me in tears. Your father was gone. I caught your tears as they dripped and ran down the post. You mourned the times you two had been at odds and argued, even till the day you married. For many days you'd dream about that call and, each time, I was the one you escaped to and cried. My support was there until you came to terms with the finality of his life and decided to move on with yours. *** On their knees around my rails, you listened to the prayers of five children. You guided them to their rooms and tucked each into bed, snug and secure. The lights went off, and you jumped into my familiar hold. Soon, the youngest child, your baby girl, stole quietly in and snuggled by her dad. Then another snuck to your side. You raised the covers, and your youngest son slipped in beside you. In a moment, two sets of running feet rushed in, brother and sister arguing about their day. The older son wandered in and positioned himself crossway at my foot. I had a Family. It was my family. Your family. This was everything you'd hoped for in that little country home. It had been designed by your hopes and dreams. You teasingly said to the children, "This is my bed. I told you to go to your bed." They kept up the banter and laughter until, one by one, they filtered back into their rooms. All became quiet. *** Careers were planned in the room where I sat. Education was strategized and would be executed for all five of your children. Now, it was the night before the wedding of your youngest daughter. She'd graduated from college and had moved back home. She had found her forever love and glowed with anticipation. Into your bed, she climbed one more time, and talked about the new life she would soon begin. You sat with your back against my headboard, her head in your lap as you played with her hair. Tomorrow she'd leave. It would never be like this again. Tears filled your eyes. There'd be no more crowding into your bed for late night talks and laughter. *** I symbolize and have witnessed your precious life from birth. It felt nice as you outlined my headboard with your fingers. It's what I will remember the most. That, and the smiles on your face. You let your hands drop to the delicately crocheted 12
bedspread, made by your mother, and given to you many birthdays before. It's haloed with tassels tied by your father. A perfect embellishment for me, for it embodies love passed from one generation to the next. *** I realize there'll come a day when your children may gather around once again. This time, it'll possibly be for us to say goodbye to you, bringing with them gifts of grandchildren and great grandchildren, for you have stated your wish to leave in the same bed in which you began. When that day comes, I hope you'll have entrusted me to one that will love and treasure me like you have. I'm strong and sturdy. Strong enough to be passed to another generation. It was my pleasure to serve you, my little Ann. I'll watch over another generation, just like you have instructed.
Nonfiction â€“ Honorable Mention
PIEDI VIOLA Purple Feet One of the joys of life for me and my brother Louis when we were children was the way in which we turned our feet and ankles purple much to the dismay of Mama, who had to clean us, and to the delight of Papa Natch, who chuckled and smiled, and gave us permission even as Mama protested. Even now, more than sixty years later, I cannot suppress my smile as I think about those joyful days when my family were healthy and happy and Papa Natch would, if we got too rowdy, take us kids, Louis, Ernest, a couple of other cousins, and me outside, where in time our feet would be as purple as a Monsignor's socks. My grandparents lived in a small three- bedroom home that was attached to their grocery store. Sunday dinners at their home was something we always looked forward to because the whole family: aunts, uncles, cousins and often times distant family members would come and, of course, there was always enough food for everyone. If there's one thing large Italian families made sure of is that no one left the dinner table hungry. I reminisce in amazement sometimes at how we all fit around the large round oak table that sat in the middle of the kitchen. Being in such small quarters on Sundays with a lot of kids running around got on Papa Natch's nerves sometimes. So he had a solution to that problem. Having lived in Sicily before coming to America, he made his own wine and he brought that tradition to America with him. In the back of the store he had a wine press that was housed inside a large rectangular wooden vat that could hold three or four people if they were so inclined to climb in. Oh, yes, we kids were definitely so inclined to do just that. The press had a wooden handle much like an old fashioned farmhouse water pump that pumped water from a well into the sink. Attached to the handle was a round metal disk with holes in it that when lowered, would crush the grapes manually. He also had an electric attachment that pressed much faster. However, neither was needed when he wanted to get the kids out of the house to release some of that rowdy energy. As children running around in the store, my brother, my cousins and I were well acquainted with the wine press in the back. Many times we would climb into the vat to play hide-and-seek or just lie down in it pretending we were grapes and stepping on each other. Papa Natch grew his own grapes in the back yard. We kids would often grab a few and run, laughing around the yard. He would yell, "Aspetta. Non farlo." And we would stop dead in our tracks. Obviously, we looked so adorable that all he could do was hug us and say, "Va bene. Vai a giocare." So we would resume our play knowing all was okay with him. Mama Lillie, however, was not quite so forgiving with our running around and stomping all over the ivy she had planted near the back door â€“ as close to the vat as she 14
could get. Italians are a very superstitious people and one of these superstitions claims that ivy wards off any alcoholic effects of the wine. She made sure there was a lot of it planted just where it was needed. And as I think back to those wine-making and winedrinking days, I never recall seeing anyone drunk. Pope Pius Xll said, "Wine in itself is an excellent thing" and St. Thomas Aquinas said, "Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a hot bath and a very good wine". Knowing this and being a very religious person, Papa Natch was able to make his wine with peace of mind. The first time I heard "Venite a calpestare l'uva" I think I was five years old. It was at one of the Sunday dinners at my grandparents' home. It was raining that day and we kids were being rowdy as usual because we couldn't go outside to play. We were definitely getting on Papa Natch's nerves and as I said before, he had the perfect solution for all that rowdy energy while we were waiting for our dinner. When he told us kids in Italian to "Come and stomp the grapes", we were ecstatic. Oh, what fun this was going to be. My brother, my cousins and I followed him into the store. "Molto silenzioso," he said to us with a finger to his lips and so we were very quiet so as not to alert any adults to what was going on. It was so much fun just anticipating what was to come. I, in my pretty light pink Sunday dress with beautiful smocking at the top and an embroidered collar that one of Mama Lillie's friends made for me, my cousins in their pretty Sunday dresses, and Louis and Ernest in their, oh, so white shirts were anxious to get started. After going to the back of the store, Papa Natch poured all the grapes into the big vat from the wooden barrels he collected the day before. "Va bene!" So with shoes and socks removed we climbed into the vat and began the stomping. Squeals of laughter, slipping and sliding all over the place, running into each other, picking up handfuls of grapes and throwing at each other, but mostly stomping amused Papa so much that he couldn't stop laughing. I looked at my pretty pink dress that was now a not so pretty reddish purple and didn't find that so funny since I knew Mama was going to be so mad. "Basta! Basta!" "Enough! Enough!" I kept saying but no one, especially Ernest, who was the oldest cousin and "in charge", was listening so stopping was not an option. As we stomped, Papa began scooping the juice with a brush through a drain hole in the vat into a wooden container. We were in the vat for at least thirty minutes before we heard â€œMangiamo" from the kitchen. Oh no, time to eat. Now what? All of us were stained from head to toe. My dress was absolutely ruined and I started to cry, not only because Mama was going to be mad, but because I really liked my dress a lot. I took my brother by the hand and we all followed Papa Natch back into the house. Well, almost into the house. He stopped at the door leading into the house and called Mama. "Mary Esther, vieni qui" and Mama came to the door. Disbelief and horror were written on her face. "Basta guardare questo pasticcio!" Yes, we were a mess, a big mess, but Papa Natch took a glass of wine, smiled, and said, "Va bene. Essi non sono morti. Si puo lavare i vestiti." No, we weren't dead and yes, Mama could wash the clothes, but she knew there was no way any of the clothes were salvageable. Grape stains simply did not come out of clothes. My aunts soon joined the fiasco and we kids were all cleaned as best as could be before sitting at the table. Then Papa poured all of us, the kids as well as the adults, a glass of his wonderful wine and said, "Salud, rilassare." It turned out to be a very good day. From that day on though, Mama made sure that she always took an extra set of clothes â€“ old clothes â€“ for my brother and me to change into while at Sunday dinners. She knew this would all happen again and, much 15
to the kids' delight, it did. I don't think my taste in wine will ever change due to my past experiences with my grandfather. His was a sweet red wine and that's what I was used to drinking and I still do even at the expense of being teased at a few social occasions. No, it's not what many sophisticates drink, but then I have never met one who had a special childhood like mine with a special grandfather who conspired with his grandchildren to give us purple feet and a life time of memories that make me smile as I sip my sweet red wine.
Nonfiction – Honorable Mention
The Lady on the Elevator I want to tell you about a special day and a special lady on Elevator III in The Legal Towers Building on a bright June morning 13 years ago. I got on the elevator with perhaps six others. The normal good morning greeting to them, nods to the strangers. As per usual, I scanned our group, and instantly my eyes fixed on a special lady, a very special lady. She was so beautiful, and perfectly dressed top to bottom. From her dark brown shiny heels, past sleek and perfectly curved calves to the skirt of a tailored outfit, she was complete. An off-white, perhaps light tan silk blouse with neat collar, and an artistic neck adorned with simple pearls. Her suit jacket surely was tailored also to her trim but very feminine body. A simple tan tam felt cap, pushed jauntily aside over her alabaster forehead, locks surely tucked neatly inside. Men aren’t supposed to know and appreciate things as this, but there was variety in the colors of everything, yet all were shades of a soft brown and carefully blended with all else. Her makeup was perfectly matched to her face, soft and clean. A tasteful gold brooch. Expensive watch on a loose bracelet. A perfect mouth of sensitive lips, thin aquiline nose, and those eyes, those eyes that held me. Deep and dark, a sadness that showed her intent to withdraw, to look above or through or around the rest of us. Eyes that spoke of something tragic in her past that still held her. As I stared at her, trying not to be obvious, we locked eyes again for the smallest of moments, and I felt I knew her hurt, but couldn’t divine what it was. I wished that I could. I wanted to reach out to her, help or at least share her pain. Then a strange notion came to me. I had to tell this goddess what I observed, and I had to do it honestly and nice. Why I knew not, but this beautiful being needed to hear what I had to say. Even now I don’t know why I felt driven to say what I did. I looked straight into her face until I was sure I had her attention, yet there was what I surmised to be an invisible wall between us. “Ma’am, pardon me a second, and forgive me for being so forward, but you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I don’t know about styles and fashions, matching outfits and all that, but to me you seem perfectly matched in all that you are. You’ve got it. Body and soul. You’re complete. You’ve really got it.” Suddenly I was embarrassed and rightly so. She dipped her head ever so slightly, then cut her eyes toward me, “Thank you. You are very kind.” And to be sure, I was glad when the elevator stopped at my floor and I got off, hurriedly for me. I looked back, and there she was, looking straight at me, yet with a frozen expression I couldn’t fathom. Perhaps she was smiling, as Mona Lisa, but more reserved. I discerned tears glistening in her eyes. This bothered me. What had I done? I went on to my office, got busy planning my day. Still, the lady in the elevator held my thoughts. How did I ever get the nerve, be brazen enough, or careless even, to 17
address this classy lady in such a personal manner? Was I perceived as rude? Worse yet, crude? About an hour later, my assistant Sabrina called me from down the hall. “Joanie on 17 said to ask you ‘how did you know,’ and said drop by her desk at lunch.” Joanie was the good-looking blonde that managed the front desk at Haskins & Taylor, a big advertising agency that took up the 17th floor. She knew most everyone in the building, maybe on the whole downtown block. “She didn’t say anything else? Do you know what she’s talking about?” Sabrina just shook her head no and said “Go on up there and find out.” Joanie wasn’t at the big reception desk, but a chipper young brunette in a dark blue dress was. Before I could ask about Joanie, she volunteered; “You must be Rudy. Joanie’s waiting on you in the lounge,” and motioned the direction. And there sat Joanie, munching on a sandwich. She motioned for me to get coffee and then to sit down. This was said with just a swoop of the hand, ending with her finger pointing to a seat next to her. I obeyed. “How do you know Ms. St. Cloud?” I shook my head. “I don’t know a Ms. St. Cloud.” “Celeste St. Cloud, VP in Design here.” Joanie peered closely at me. “How did you know?” “Joanie, I don’t know her. What do you mean, ‘How did I know’”? “You met her on the elevator this morning. Commented on her outfit.” Oh, hells bells. I’ve messed up now. Have I got to go in and apologize? Has she got a big-shot husband that’s going to set me straight? Or a mean boyfriend wanting to know about my advances? “No, I don’t know her. Why?” “She called me back to her office this morning, wanted to know if I knew you. When I told her I did, she told me about your meeting this morning. I told her that you could be silly or funny at times, but you were harmless.” “So what is the deal, Joanie? Was she complaining?” I didn’t know whether to expect a requiem or redemption. Joanie smiled one of her sweet, knowing smiles. “Then let me tell you a bit about Ms. St. Cloud. She’s recovering from a double mastectomy. Her hair hasn’t started growing back yet after chemo. She fears she has lost too much weight. She’s pale. She has missed a lot of work. She thinks she can’t do enough to justify her position, her salary. She says her husband looks at her in a nighty with thinly concealed disgust, seeing a scarred, breastless chest and a bald head. She fears she is losing him.” “Damn,” I thought. “This woman has real troubles and I guess I just added to them. Why can’t I just keep my mouth shut?” Joanie continued. “I knew all this about her beforehand. I thought she was losing her will to survive. Lord knows she has a lot on her plate. We’ve become friends and we talk a lot.” She paused and continued, “When I entered her office, I could see she had been crying, but all the same, was smiling. She came around and hugged me, a long, warm hug, like filled with invisible emotion, perhaps an emotion only we girls could share and understand.” “How did I fit in?” I was thinking. 18
“She was wiping tears aside as she spoke, as she told me of her morning. She held my hands firmly as she started to talk.” Joanie hesitated a moment and then told me what Ms. St. Cloud had said to her, “I was coming to work this morning, considering the futility of my life, considering resigning and going back to Connecticut to live what days I may have with my mother. Then this strange man on the elevator looked deep in my eyes and seemed to see my pain. He looked me over, not like most men do, but in a compassionate way. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. Then he apologized for his forward manner and told me very sincerely and directly I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.” Joanie smiled a crooked, knowing smile. “Celeste had more to say. She said after meeting you this morning, she knew suddenly she wanted to live again, be that beautiful woman you saw. She decided to fight for all she had. She was going to get reconstructed. Start back at the gym as soon as she could. Tackle the ad problems of her clients with a new vengeance. Go back to Sundance for a bright weekend, alone. She was near bubbling over with happy plans.” Joanie continued her narrative, “When I stood to leave, Celeste rose, and we hugged again, and with tears now flowing down the cheeks of both of us.” There was more. Celeste had spoken softly to Joanie, “I can be beautiful again! I am still beautiful. I’m really beautiful. That strange man told me. Just a few words from a strange man! Words I really needed to hear, words I feared never to hear again. And I believe him. I’ll stay beautiful, for him, for you, for me! He knew what I needed! I had to know, I just had to know, and he told me!” Joanie hesitated, and I saw tears in her eyes. She added, “As I was opening the door to leave, Celeste pulled me back, a soft touch on my arm, tears flowing, a gentle question on her lips, ‘How did he know? How did he ever know?’”
Poetry – First Place
The Day Before Easter We were children then, about six years old or thereabouts, playing on the grassy lawn in front of the apartment building which sat across the street from the little cracker box house in which I grew up, so long ago I’ve forgotten the names of my friends, forgotten their faces, forgotten the games we played, but I’ve remembered these long years, seventy of them, that Saturday morning, the day before Easter when it happened, a spring day as sunny and bright as one would hope for an Easter weekend— a time of reawakening after winter, a time of re-birth, of coming to life—and I still remember his face, the father of my little friend, as he emerged from his car holding something in his hands, a huge smile on his face as he came into our play group extending his hands for his son to see his Easter gift, and we gathered around to see as well, and what we saw was a sight I’ll never forget, a frightened little duckling huddling in his hands, which should have been yellow but for Easter had been dyed an unnatural unthinkable pink, and a wave of sorrow washed over me for that little bundle of fear, for I too felt as helpless and alone in that instant as it must have felt, its feathers a hideous pink, embarrassed as if it were naked, and no mother anywhere in sight for him to hide under the cover of her wing. After showing us the duckling, he set it on the sidewalk, pride on his face. The duckling began to stretch there in the shadow of all those larger hulking boys, and then took a tentative step. We boys were gathered too closely, I suppose, because his son made a false step and suddenly the little duckling was partly beneath his foot. A shadow passed over his father’s face as he batted the boy away, cursing him for his clumsiness, and we all watched for a moment as the duckling fluttered but could not stand. Then the man snatched up the duckling, examined it for only a moment, and saw its leg was crushed. His face turned scarlet with rage as he began to curse the boy, and in one teethclenching, struggling jerk, he wrenched the duckling’s head from its body and threw the parts on the sidewalk before us where they lay quivering, lumps of pink feathers blotted in blood. We looked on in horror, then scattered like quail on the rise, each his own way, and we did not return, not that day nor for many days afterwards. I’ve always wondered about that little boy, who burst into tears as it happened. He had nowhere to run, to hide, like the rest of us. And his father? How does a man in the blink of an eye careen from kindness to cruelty? Did he too, as did I, remember for all the days of his life what he had done? And did each of the boys, as did I, in turn and in his own time, unlearn the lesson that father taught us that day about what it means to be a man? 20
Poetry – Second Place
Namesake for my brother Charles Boy, his uncle called him, perhaps not wanting to say his own name. Childless for years, by then he was already everyone’s favorite uncle, so that when later the boy read the word avuncular, he knew what like an uncle meant. Like an uncle was the way he took the boy fishing, even that time they stole the bass they’d been warned to leave in the pond, and the boy’s heart flailed like the telltale sounds of the bass in the tackle box. Or the time he knocked that tackle box, filled with his uncle’s treasured lures, off the boat into muddy depths. His uncle’s fury had no words, only the car, slammed into gear, retreating from their home. He was sure there would be no forgiveness. A week passed of restless nights, summer and guilt lying like sticky sheets on his damp skin, and Sunday his uncle appeared, saying, Boy, if you want to go fishing, you’d better dig up some bait. When the boy came home from Vietnam, his parents rejoicing, here he was, whole and well, it was his uncle whose look he couldn’t forget. 21
Like an uncle: to claim and not to claim, casting a line and reeling, reeling in the truest catch of all.
Poetry â€“ Third Place
The Six of Us The duty nurse called at five, and the six of us dressed and drove through the dark, under the dying stars, and gathered around his bed, bleary-eyed and half asleep, his oxygen tank hissing in the background like a deflating tire. An aide brought us coffee and Danish, and five of us sat in folding chairs and one in the recliner we'd rented just two months before to help lift him to a standing position, and we sipped and nibbled, and singly and in pairs approached his bed, stroked his hand, and whispered things we felt we needed to say. The morning wore on, and toward noon the six of us got up and drove to Panera and had some lunch, and talked about old memories, and laughed a little, and then went back to the nursing home and arrayed ourselves around his bed once more and talked quietly through the long April afternoon, while bees struggled with pink azalea blossoms outside his window and a titmouse cried over and over from a pear branch, until at almost dinnertime his breathing grew shallow, and the six of us fell silent and drew in closer, and stood with our arms around each other. And at length a kind of emptiness seemed to fill the room, and the seven of us who had been there all day became just the six of us again.
Poetry – Honorable Mention
A card-mounted photo of Grandma Amelia, imprinted St. Augustine, turns up months after her death in 1990. You, sepia-soft, elicit my sharp intake of breath, shiver of recognition. I have never imagined you young, and now I grieve for your beauty, soon to languish through the Great War, packed away like your mold-stained photo. You do not smile. I grieve because you are in service, a lady’s companion. Still I smile looking at your face, just as some handsome young man in the dining car must have smiled at you on the train from New York. I grieve because you looked down, too shy to speak. You must be hot in your heavy traveling dress, binding corset. And thirsty, standing there in an orange grove. Did someone offer you fresh-squeezed juice? I grieve because nothing will quench like that sour sweetness again. Already you wear your hair pinned at your nape. I grieve because I don’t know if it really is the color of sepia. Your unsuspecting hands rest lightly, one on the other, at your waist. I grieve knowing they will chap from scrubbing laundry and blister from burns at a stove. I grieve because your dark eyes veil what your aunt branded you: Love-child – readable, you fear, as the gold letters on your photo. Because those aunt-eyes make you flinch, you will stay home, miss Your daughter’s capping ceremony – nursing dream come true in her. On a distant day, as your eyes follow that daughter out of the door, you will say I hope that nice lady visits again. I grieve because her mind – my mother’s mind – will be unraveling as the last threads break in yours. I grieve because you lived almost one hundred years, and only now do I love you. 24
Flash Fiction – First Place
The Unopened Present “Christmas is over, Duke," he said, as the wall clock they’d bought long ago in the antique store in Germany, a lifetime ago, chimed 12 times. The dog curled up next to him on the couch gave his tail a single twitch. Across the room an artificial Christmas tree, not even two feet tall, with 15 colored lights, one of which was burned out, provided the only light. The tree was decorated with tiny plastic snowmen yellowed by time, red balls, one little Santa, and crowned with a tin foil star with a point missing. A lone package, wrapped in faded red paper patterned with white bells, topped by a flattened silver bow, nestled under the tree. Its tag read, “To Dad from Santa.” "Do you remember when we got that tree, Duke? Of course you wouldn't, that was another dog, from another life, decades ago. I bought it at a supermarket in Key West on Christmas Eve. It was on sale, half price. We put it on the table in our hotel room, tuned the clock radio to a station playing carols, drank almost-chilled chardonnay and pretended we still loved each other. “The package is from my daughter, her last Christmas present to me, we found it when we cleaned out her apartment. You would have liked her, she loved dogs." Duke stared at him, glanced at the tree, and lowered his head back on the couch. Picking up a bottle from the end table he poured what remained into his glass. "Damn," he said, looking at the empty bottle, “they just don’t hold as much as they used to,” and put it back on the table. Outside rain fell endlessly and lightning flickered so far away there was no sound of thunder. The dog snored softly while the ticking of the old clock’s swinging pendulum marked the passing of time. A single chime announced one o’clock and caused the dog to raise his head expectantly. “Yes, Christmas is finally over Duke, it’s been over a whole hour.” He finished his drink and put the glass next to the empty bottle. Standing up, he shuffled to the Christmas tree, blinked away a tear as he switched off its lights, and picked up the present. “Come on, it’s time for bed," he said, as he limped down the hall to the bedroom, steadying himself with one hand on the wall. Hanging on to the top of the dresser he bent over, pulled open the bottom drawer, and tucked the package under a tattered cotton sweater. Sitting down on the edge of the unmade bed he pulled off his shoes and fell back, fully clothed, onto the pillow. The dog jumped up beside him. "Maybe next year we'll open the present, Duke, maybe next year.” He put his hand on the dog’s back, listened to the sound of the rain, and longed for the escape of sleep. 25
Flash Fiction – Third Place
Linda Hudson Hoagland
Undeliverable Daniel Addington became an obsession for me when I received an email with his name attached to it. It was just an email. It was a nice email that made me smile inside and out. I wanted to meet Daniel Addington. I started my search on the computer. It never occurred to me that so many people might have the same name. The computer gave me the horrendous total of 49,800 entries with the reference to Daniel Addington. I saw, doctors, authors, owners of property-rentals, computer programmer-gamers, and a police officer from London, England. In my fantasy world, my Daniel Addington was all of those things with a special emphasis on author. I always thought the mind of a writer would be an interesting study. In order to find out if the writer was my Daniel Addington, I decided I needed to reach him and just ask. I found the name of Daniel Addington, Author, on Amazon and I discovered that the titles of his books indicated to me that he was a young man just starting out in the world of writing. More power to him in all of his future writing endeavors. Moving on. How about the doctor? When I checked into his Internet life I discovered he was a cardiologist living in Philadelphia. His Facebook page was permanently closed so there was no way for me to contact him other than making an appointment. I lived nowhere near Philadelphia so that was an impossibility. Moving on, again. I liked his work title, Secure Systems Development and Integration Engineer at Metropolitan Police. It was longer than most careers. I could not imagine he would take an interest in sending a nice email to an old lady. Being almost sixty eight put me in the old lady category in my mind. I didn’t mind that so much because I worked hard and earned those years and the gray hair that came along with it. One more time. Property owner – maybe. Well, when I read Belfast as his location, I was assuming that was Belfast, Virginia. Boy, was I wrong. It was Belfast, United Kingdom. I didn’t think that was my Daniel Addington. Then it occurred to me if I hadn’t deleted the message, I might be able to hit reply to see where that would take me. 26
Email I received: Ellen, I was told by a mutual friend that you are a kind, wonderful lady. I respect my friendâ€™s opinion and I hope to meet you some day to find out for myself. Daniel Addington Email I sent: David, It has been a few years since I received your email but I thought it was time for me to respond. Perhaps we can get to know each other even if it is only through emails. Ellen Hutchins When I hit send, I had my fingers crossed. I was hoping to get a rapid response. I did. It was undeliverable. I was so sorry.
Short Story – First Place
A Tale of First Love At age ten, I was not astute in the female academia. I was more concerned with playing than chasing girls, except for one particular girl. Razan lived in the condo above ours in Damascus. She was unique looking with eyes big enough to swallow you. Her lips were full with a shade of red I had never seen before. And her cheeks belonged on magazine covers. She walked with the cadence of a ballet dancer, and treated me like all the other boys in the neighborhood, but I wanted more. I would dream of kidnapping her and flying over to the Taj Mahal on my magic carpet. Or maybe land near the Egyptian pyramids and step back in time. I would be a pharaoh and she would be my royal wife. Perhaps jet over to the Euphrates where she would be Cleopatra and I would be Anthony. In reality, I was the boy who lived a flat below. Those dreams started to appear during the day, disrupting my life and my schoolwork. Growing up to a father who read me love poetry instead of nursery rhymes, being in love was the norm. Except with Razan, I was obsessed with her love, from hearing her footsteps up the stairs, to the way she smiled, to the way her hair swayed. Then I determined that I would talk to Razan the next morning at the bus stop. Sure there would be other kids, but I would ask her to step aside, and I would lay it on her: “Razan, I have always liked you, and I think you like me. What do you say we go steady? Are you free this weekend to go to the movies?” Why would she say no to that airtight case? The next morning, I put on my school uniform. Then I stole some of my brother’s cologne. I got to the bus stop early and wanted to rehearse my steps. The sun was trying to peek from behind the clouds, and there was a chill in the air. I mouthed the lines, when a couple of friends came near. I looked to the other side. I had more important things to memorize. “Liked you . . . you like me . . . go steady? Movie—Liked you . . . you like me . . . go steady? Movie.” Wait, should I say: “Go steady” this early in the relationship? Why not! Of course she will say yes. I repeated those words over and over, unaware of Razan arriving with her friend. I noticed the sun break through the clouds, and I heard loud music. Actually, the music was in my head, and I am not sure the sun broke through. All I know is that I turned around to see Razan standing four feet away. 28
After collecting myself, I tried to decipher the direction of the wind. I wanted her to sample my cologne. Of course the wind was blowing from her side. I walked over to Ziad, a fellow no one played with because he talked nonstop. Ziad looked at me all surprised. He smiled big and started talking. I tried not to get distracted. I had to deliver the killer smell to Razan. I kept nodding and slowly moving around behind her in a half a circle while pulling on Ziad’s backpack. “Why do you keep pulling on me?” He said in a loud voice. Razan looked at us, then turned back to her friend. I realized this was not going to work. At this point, I wished Ziad would shut up. His voice was crowding in my brain – all while trying to determine the right time to break in between Razan and the other girl. Her friend stepped away, and I knew that was my chance. I walked closer to Razan while Ziad was still talking. I stood right next to her, looking at my feet and kicking the gravel. She looked at me and smiled. I forgot what I was there for. I just looked at her. She said, “Hi, Karim. Glad it is the last day of the week. What are you doing this weekend?” At this juncture, the wires in my brains collided creating a “completely inept to say anything back” status. I continued looking down at the gravel and whispered something. I looked at her again. She was smiling and waiting for an answer. Except by now, I forgot what the question was. She continued: “I don’t have any plans. I think I am just gonna hang out with friends,” then she turned around to face her friend. I kicked the gravel royally frustrated. I was determined to say what I had worked hard on. I put my hand on her shoulder. She turned around, swishing her hair close to my face. As her hair caressed the air around my nose, it left a hint of her shampoo. I almost lost consciousness and felt weak in the knees. I backed out two steps to gain my composure, then turned around and ran all the way home and straight into my room. I did not stop until I jumped under the covers, hating my incompetence and wishing I would just die. Then I felt a hand on my back. I looked up to see my father’s smiling face. “I saw what happened from the window and wanted to give you this,” he said as he handed me a little piece of paper. I unfolded the paper: One day soon I will get the courage To look you in the eye And remain all together One day soon The school bus had come and gone, so Dad took me to school that day. Not a word was said in the car. I avoided Razan all day, wishing I would just vanish from creation. Morning came, and I walked straight to her at the bus stop. I could smell the shampoo again, but I did not let it short-circuit my brain. I handed her the poem and waited. She looked at the crumpled piece of paper, smiled, moved closer and hugged me. I started to get weak again. Determined not to repeat the disaster from the day before, I stayed there with my hands by my sides. Slowly, my hands crept up her sides to
embrace her back. I could feel her delicate bones on her spine arranged perfectly like piano keys. She pulled back and looked at me. “Thank you, Karim, that is the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me.” I smiled back. (Still to this day not sure that I did, but I think I did.) The bus came. We boarded while ignoring the rest of creation. She sat with her friends, and I sat with mine. But as far as the two of us were concerned, we were together. We did go to the movies that weekend, with her mom sitting in between us. We started playing together more. We even kissed behind the condo building once. It was a clumsy and quick kiss, but our lips touched nevertheless. When the kiss was over, she ran off, and I just stood there in complete shock. Something happens to a boy when he experiences his first kiss, something of a deep and profound nature. That boy will never be the same. He now belongs to an elite group: Those who have kissed. That kiss was so powerful, at age 52 all I have to do is close my eyes and still taste her lips on mine. That day, I was the Middle Eastern hero of Romeo and Juliet, Doctor Zhivago, and Casablanca. I saw her a few days later, and she turned red. Then with tears gathering beautifully around her eyes she told me they were moving away. “How can my life resume without Razan?” I thought. As her family was loading the truck with their belongings, I pulled her behind the condo and handed her a little piece of paper. She crumpled the paper and kissed me. The laws of physics seized again. Time no longer swept by, and space was jammed with millions of particles. I did notice the kiss was less clumsy and lasted for seventeen hours – in little boytime. We pulled back and she ran off again, only to stop a few feet away, turn around and say: “Sorry, I will read your note,” She tried to open the piece of paper, now the size of a marble in her hand, but handed it over and asked me to read it: For the rest of time I will think of your eyes And your gorgeous lips And dream about you For the rest of time She hugged me again and whispered in my ear: “For the rest of time, I will love you.” They say your first love never fades, but what I didn’t know is it may even grow stronger.
Short Story – Second Place
Scrumper’s Knob When it came to amorous adventures, Scrumper’s Knob was the best good luck charm Gary Brewer ever had. In his college days no fewer than five fair maidens had succumbed to his advances while watching the sun set from the crest of the granite outcrop. He and the young lady de noir would take turns swigging from a bottle of Annie Green Springs Apple Wine, descending ever deeper into ancient Dionysian rites, melting into the surprisingly soft, warm granite, and each other. For Gary, perched now on the fence between middle age and the onset of senior discounts, fair maidens, romantic sunsets, and even romance itself were little more than distant memories. As he turned into the parking lot at the base of the escarpment for the first time in 30 years, he wondered if the old mountain still possessed the metaphysical magic that had served him so well in his younger days. He would have the answer soon enough, for he was bringing with him the sternest test the Knob would ever face; his wife, Sandra. Gary slipped the car into Park and turned off the ignition, waiting for his wife to finish the final three pages of the Nora Roberts novel she’d bought the night before. He knew better than to insert himself between Sandra and Nora until Nora had nothing else to say. The Knob could wait. After a few hundred million years, what was another five minutes? In the days of Gary’s first carnal encounters, the cosmic properties of Piedmont granite combined with the alchemy of youthful lust had turned the barren rock of Scrumper’s Knob to sensual gold. He came to believe the stories of something mystical in the composition of the stone. Something that lifted the lid off the Hara Chakra and stirred a primal pudding of earthly delights. A sunset viewed from Scrumper’s Knob was the legendary key to discovering the arcane secret of cajoling a young woman to drop her defenses—all the way down around her ankles. As he waited for Sandra to let Nora have the final word, Gary stared through the windshield at the slope of the Knob’s east face. He felt a subtle tingling in his lower abdomen, a sensation he recognized as not the awakening of a dormant capacity for sexual fantasy, but as a cauldron of cloistered memories beginning to bubble. There were legitimate reasons for Gary to doubt the dome of weathered granite could still muster enough of the old magic to reach his wife. He’d come to believe that one of Mother Nature’s cruelest tricks was the way she had of dousing fiery passion with progressively larger buckets of life’s realities, soaking the embers to soggy clumps as familiarity bred. Somewhere written on a bathroom wall Gary had read: The gods gave Man fire, and Man invented the fire engine. The gods gave Man love, and Man invented marriage. 31
Not everything Gary had read on bathroom walls had turned out to be true, but the fire engine thing resonated with an uncomfortable veracity. It had been a decade since he’d undressed Sandra, and even longer since any hand other than his own had pulled his zipper down. Their lovemaking had deteriorated into an uninspired acquiescence to mutual nakedness. Obsession had taken on the air of obligation, desire usurped by mediation of whose turn it was and exactly what that meant. One time after a particularly labored coupling, Sandra observed, “Whew! This takes a lot more work than it used to.” Sandra closed the book, shutting Nora Roberts inside to ponder the exotic setting her heroine might run to next to simultaneously forget her troubled past and reluctantly fall hopelessly in love with a local goodhearted loner whose wife had just died or divorced him, and who in some yet-to-be-determined way was at least loosely connected to a child and/or a golden retriever. “Okay,” Sandra said. “So where’s this famous Scrumper’s Knob?” The landmark had been visible for at least the last five miles of the drive, but Sandra’s eyes hadn’t glanced out the window for a half hour or more. Gary pointed through the windshield and replied, “Right there.” He got out and hurried around to the other side of the car. Maybe opening Sandra’s door would set the table for a romantically inclined evening. But before he could reach for the handle, the door swung open and she got out. As they started up the gentle, lichen-crusted slope, Gary recognized the trail cairn he’d used as a marker to begin his spiel designed to weaken defenses and grease the amorous skids. He would start by explaining how lying on exposed granite facilitated cosmic rays penetrating the body. Once through the body, the rays would journey all the way to the Earth’s core where they would be recharged with life force then return through the body to their celestial origins, cleansing away psychic toxins and energizing the soul. He couldn’t help recalling how he made a point of emphasizing the word, penetrate. Knowing Sandra wouldn’t buy one fleck of cosmic horse manure, Gary kept quiet. Sandra, after all, wasn’t a starry-eyed 20-year-old looking for an excuse to drop her inhibitions and her drawers. Besides, all Gary had brought for them to drink was bottled water. He’d always suspected the magic of the Knob was greatly abetted by significant quantities of chilled pop wine. Near the top of the ridge they sat down and positioned themselves to watch the descending sun. The rock was harder than he remembered, digging into his butt cheeks. Had he really spent hours sleeping on these stones, or worse yet, grinding like a pestle to the mountain’s mortar, buffered only by warm female flesh? In those days there had been no one to whom he must explain the bloody knees and bruises. The pain had been a sweet reminder, the scabs, merit badges to show the guys. Sandra stared out across the low forest stretching to the horizon. Was she formulating some profound philosophical, theological or even metaphysical observation, or more likely, thinking about the pile of work that would be waiting on her desk Monday morning? On the rare occasion they talked anymore, it was about things that had been said a hundred times. How well the kids were doing—or not, depending on which way the familial winds of fortune were blowing. Should they think about refinancing the house? The latest disturbing medical reports from close friends and distant relatives. They 32
never talked about themselves; perhaps because they no longer knew who they were. Perhaps because they were afraid to find out. With the sun still three hand widths above the horizon, Gary grew anxious, feeling something should be happening between them, like he should make something happen. But if he had to make it happen, what was the point? Isn’t the joy of a kiss not entirely the kiss itself, but knowing the other person wants you to kiss them? The balance of the afternoon sifted away. In prickly silence they watched the sun dip to the horizon, beginning its fiery farewell as it sunk into the smog. “We should start down,” Sandra said. “While we can still see the way.” Apparently the mountain’s magic had long been spent, for Gary too was ready to leave. It was just the end of another Saturday, different only in being on a hillside above a hazy city rather than on a sofa in front of a television. He stood and helped Sandra to her feet. She started down the path ahead of him. Although the moon had risen, the sky wasn’t dark enough yet for lunar shadows, and the pale worn stones made for easy going. Unlike with the women in years gone by, there was no mystery as to whether or not he’d be spending the night with Sandra. There was no mystery about anything. When the terrain flattened and they stepped onto the carpet of pine needles leading through the shallow stand of trees beside the parking lot, Sandra reached out and took Gary’s hand. He tried to intertwine his fingers with hers, but they no longer knew the way, so he cupped her hand in his. At the car, Gary let go of Sandra’s hand and opened her door. Before sliding into the seat, she turned and kissed him full on the lips. When she was inside, Gary nudged the door closed, not wanting a slam to shatter the stillness. Leaning against the side of the car, elbows resting on the roof, he looked up at Scrumper’s Knob silhouetted against the tangerine halo of dying sun. The magic had returned. The sound of the wind came rising up through the pines along the ridge. Or maybe it wasn’t the wind at all, but the whispered confession of the ancient stones: Whew. This takes a lot more work than it used to.
Short Story – Third Place
The Last Time an Angel Passed I have been told time and again how I came to lie with my mama in her coffin. For years, we had the picture my aunt made with Daddy’s black box camera to prove it. It was May. I was three months old. Mama’s pine coffin lay on two sawhorses in front of the empty stone fireplace. She wore a pink button-up dress with a white lace collar. Her lips were dark from dewberry juice and swollen by venom. In the cool of early morning, she had reached into sprawling briars for a thumbsized dewberry. That’s where he struck her, on her left hand. Then he kissed her lips this thick-bodied rattler, so swift she never saw him move. She screamed, clutched her left hand to her bosom and ran. She died before the sun set. Before noon the next day, children chased each other, boys wielding sticks and hissing as they ran doggedly after girls who squealed like terrified piglets. Kitchen women stepped on each other and cussed the heat as they warmed food for the mourners. At the barn, men cut and nailed the box. Once finished, they stayed put, sipping whiskey and smoking rolled cigarettes. In the parlor, Daddy jiggled me. He paced the floor. “Sh. Sh,” he said. “Let me soothe her,” Aunt Millie said. Daddy ignored her and continued to walk the floor. “Maybe she’s wet.” Aunt Millie followed him back and forth. “Sh.” He paused before the open coffin and looked at my mama. He lifted her puffy, purple arm and tucked me into the arc. “Willard?” Aunt Millie whispered. Stillness quieted me and I slept. Daddy stepped away, his hands outstretched, palms toward the floor. “Now.” He patted the air with both hands, as if he were sowing a seed. “Leave her be.” He stared at me and mama, stock-still. “It’s time, Willard,” Aunt Millie said. “Take the baby.” He didn’t move. She clicked the camera’s shutter. He flinched and stepped outside. “He’ll be back,” she said. The green metal clock struck four. I cried out. Daddy slammed the screen door and stumbled against the narrow end of the coffin. “Who put this baby in this coffin?” he said. His weight pushed the box into the stone chimney. The head slid toward the center of the room. Aunt Millie dived in from afternoon shadows to catch me as the coffin tipped toward the floor. “Who left her to cry for her mama?” he said. “You did, Willard.” Aunt Millie lifted me away from my mama’s body. She sat on the floor with me sheltered in her arms. 34
For a second, nothing moved. Those that knew such would say that was the last time an angel passed over our house. Kitchen women rushed in to lower Mama’s lids and resettled her in her coffin. One called for a man to nail down the top. Still on the floor, Aunt Millie spoke to me. “Here, now,” she said and unbuttoned her dress. I rooted around, searching for her nipple. She pulled her breast to my face, and I suckled myself to peace. Daddy went back to the men. Before the burying, a kitchen woman decided to send me home with Aunt Millie and my two-month-old cousin Jake. At dusk, a cluster of sweaty bodies trailed the coffin up the knoll and covered my mama with dirt to save her from the heat. By mid-August, Aunt Millie’s husband, Daddy’s brother, Uncle, would lie on the same hill. He caught Elbert Newsom’s rabid dog in his chicken coop. The hefty hound chewed him up bad when he tried to get it out. Uncle couldn’t live past that. Daddy moved me, Jake and Aunt Millie back to the house built around the sooty rock fireplace. He placed the picture Aunt Millie had taken of me and mama in the center of the mantel. There it stayed. I would come to call my aunt “Ma” and Jake “Brother.” Mornings Daddy straightens the picture of me nestled under my dead mama’s arm. He mumbles to my mama’s picture, “It’s Biblical.” He adjusts it again. “Ruth and Boaz,” he says and leaves for the barn. Nights I can’t sleep easy. Photographs follow me to bed. Mama with her own mama and daddy. Mama a girl by herself. As a young woman. Mama and Daddy the day they married. Mama and me in the coffin. In time, I ask Daddy why not Ma. He says “Leave it be.” But I see the gloom in Ma’s eyes when she passes the mantel. I see it when she sneaks off to sit by Uncle’s grave. And it’s there when Daddy takes Jake out back for a strapping. I never see Ma cry, but tears behind her eyes keep daylight out of her face. A bitter January night. A raging fire. Daddy with his animals. Jake tending his ponies. Ma in the kitchen soaking clothes on the stove. It’s time I rescue Ma from the shadows. I lift the center frame and take out the faded photograph. It’s as risky as separating an egg. I drop Mama and me on the fire. We curl and blacken. The back door slams. I grab into the heat for the photograph, but a suck of wind draws us up the chimney. One swallow and the image is gone. I nudge the empty frame back a bit so nobody will notice that what was has vanished. Mama’s prints inch across the mantel, all strung out like decorations on an altar. I crawl into bed and wait for sleep. Again, dark brings with it over-sized dewberries and brown and gray rattlers hiding in wooden coffins. But tonight’s different. I close my eyes and the coffin explodes. Rattlers spill over the sides. Red flames morph into orange, their centers scorching blue-white heat. Logs in the next room sizzle. I cover my head and wait for morning.
Short Story – Honorable Mention
Our Beagles Died Young When I was growing up we always had a dog. Mostly mutts that made careers of dodging buckshot and rocks, leaving pregnant bitches and overturned trash cans in their wakes. They were all loved. Nurtured like aspirations. But my father wanted a beagle. To him, beagles were the deities of canine mythology. My older brother, Johnny, and I wanted a beagle too. The religion of the patriarch is handed to the progeny. Each year around Thanksgiving, our father set about working Johnny and me into a Christmas frenzy. He would hype a particular toy until we broke out in a fever of desire. He could make us want a stone. The Christmas I was six our father had set my heart on a Davy Crocket musket. Johnny was drawing layouts for a Captain Midnight walkie-talkie set. There wasn’t a scrap of beagle puppy in the pre-Christmas chumming. One reason we never expected to have a beagle was because we knew dogs you had to buy were beyond our reach. My mother thought most things were beyond our reach. “There’s not going to be much Christmas this year,” she would always say. But no matter how tough times were, we always had the biggest Christmas of any kids in the neighborhood. My father saw to that. Even in years when the house payment was late and groceries scarce, I think my father pawned little pieces of his soul to make sure we got what he had convinced us we wanted; things we’d come to believe we couldn’t live without. That particular Christmas we had less money than usual. My father was selling appliances on commission at Alexander’s Department store. Things were hard for lots of people. Appliances weren’t on their shopping lists. I got a sense how hard things were for us when neighbors brought sacks of groceries and there were presents under the tree from people I’d never heard of, delivered by the social director of the church we attended. The church presents would be practical things like underwear and socks, or a sweater dug from the bottom of the clearance table at Alexander’s. But with unwavering faith in Santa’s ability to deliver on the musket, on Christmas Eve I had to fight through a sugarplum sweat to get to sleep. I might have dozed for an hour or two that night, but by five o’clock I’d pestered my parents out of bed and into the wonderland our living room always became on Christmas morning. In spite of my mother’s warnings, a colorful glacier of gifts flowed from beneath the tree. In the crevasses of the glacier I found my Davy Crockett musket. Johnny had gone immediately to his Captain Midnight Walkie-Talkie set. I was taking careful aim, pretending to shoot lights off the tips of the Christmas tree limbs when Johnny cried out, “There’s a dog in the house.” 36
From amidst the shards of wrapping paper a tiny beagle puppy, struggling beneath the bulk of an enormous red satiny bow, bounced eagerly into our lives. Tuning to our excitement, the puppy anointed the carpet. “He’s wetting,” my mother said. “Take him outside.” Swaddled in corduroy and flannel, bundled against the chill, I shouldered my trusty musket (muskets were always trusty) and marched out into the pale dawn. My breath hung expectantly in the air. Sunrise was unwrapping a scarlet ribbon from the horizon, as the puppy tumbled along behind me. I can still see that moment like a still life hung in the special collections section of the Gallery of Early Me. My father said we should name the puppy “Snafu.” To Johnny and me, Snafu seemed like a perfect name. Years later, when I learned SNAFU was a vulgar military acronym for things not going right it seemed even more perfect. The New Year came in cold and rainy, a somber foreshadowing of what lay ahead. By February, our father lost his job. “Nothing personal,” is what Mr. Alexander said. “People just aren’t buying what I hired you to sell.” Snafu wasn’t as lucky, he didn’t make it out of January. A week past New Year’s Day he took sick, vomiting up what looked like pieces of his stomach. He stood and trembled, his hollow eyes frightened and bewildered. He cried thick, yellow tears. The third week of January he died. At a time when the little money we had should have gone to house payments and groceries, it went to Snafu’s vet bills. During those days something came between my parents, drawn silently, like a black gauze curtain, engulfing them in an angry cloud. Since Santa had brought Snafu I never knew the details of his origins, but he must have come with a warranty. The day after Snafu died, our father brought home another beagle; a little girl. We named her Snaffine. Within a month, Snaffine began to tremble, standing in a corner with her head pressed against the wall. My brother said she was cold. I think she was afraid. Long before Easter, she was dead. Eventually our father was hired back at Alexander’s. The beagle pups faded into our past. A parade of canine cadgers came and went, but never again a purebred beagle. The last dog we had was a scruffy coonhound-collie mix. In spite of laboring under the disability of not being a real beagle, my father loved that dog. They were friends. They would go for long walks late at night when my father got home from work. I suspect they confided in each other. I have no idea what confidences the dog might have shared, but these years later I can guess what my father might have said. When I was twelve, the dark curtain around my parents drew tighter, the angry cloud darker. One rainy afternoon, with no explanation beyond, “I don’t want to leave, but I have to,” our father moved away; leaving our mother bitter, Johnny and me ashamed. None of my friend’s parents were divorced. Our father still came to see us—almost every weekend. Things grew warmer between our parents, but never thawed. I think it was mostly a painful accommodation by our mother that made those Sundays bearable. Even after Santa hung up his coat in the moth-filled closet of mythology, the Christmas hype went on. The magic and mystery were replaced by a fragile blend of seasonal excitement and teenage greed. My father could no longer make us want a stone, but he could still make us believe we had to have what he wanted us to believe we had to have.
Eventually, my father remarried. My mother never did. The last ten years of his life he lived in a trailer with his new wife, and a mongrel with some poodle well hidden in its patchwork pedigree. Although he never again had a beagle, he seemed happy with what he had. One Sunday afternoon when Johnny and I were teenagers, we’d gone to his house to watch a football game. He leaned back in his chair, his dog draped across his lap like an unraveling doormat. He took a sip of beer and said, “I don’t need anything else in this world. A six-pack, you kids, and this goddamn dog.” Late in the afternoon, on the Saturday before his sixty-fifth birthday, our father dropped dead on the sales floor at Alexander’s. It couldn’t have been good for business, but Mr. Alexander didn’t complain. My mother still lives in the house where I grew up. The house where Snafu and Snaffine lived out their short and fretful lives. The house feels small now, and empty. My mother doesn’t have a dog. Johnny and I went on with our lives. He says he’s found everything he wanted. Whatever I’ve found I’ve left behind or thrown away. I seem to have inherited the black curtain and the angry cloud. Among the things my brother has that I do not are a BMW, a wife, a son, a daughter, four grandchildren, and a Labrador Retriever. He thinks beagles are for good ole boys. Our father might have thought beagles the king of dogs, but to Johnny, “A lab is the dog of kings.” He says he remembers a Christmas when we got a dog, but not that it was a beagle, nor that there were two. I remember everything. The smell of their sweet puppy breath; the sour, permeation of distemper sapping their lives; and when they were gone, the shadows in the corner where they once lay on a bed of folded towels and pillows yellowed by our father’s sweat. Every year around Thanksgiving I’m sure Johnny begins working his grandkids into a Christmas frenzy. Carefully sculpting their desires. I can imagine his six-year-old grandson stepping out into a frigid Christmas dawn, trusty light saber in hand, a red ribbon of horizon stitching the morning to the night. A Lab puppy tumbles along at his heels. The religion of the patriarch handed to the progeny.
Juvenile Fiction – First Place
Emma C. Fox
The Beast of Weissburg Chapter 1 Anna had never heard her horse scream before. It jerked her awake with a chill that shot right down her spine. She squinted into the darkness, trying to make sense of the cacophony outside her shuttered window. On any other morning in early spring, she would wake to the comforting voices of the livestock in her uncle’s barn and the lusty crow of their gangly rooster, Emmeric, pitting himself in mighty contest against the birds of the Grünwald Forest. But not today. Today the chickens were shrieking and beating their wings against the sides of the henhouse, and from the thatched barn came the clamor of frenzied struggle. Anna groped for the leather pouch around her neck, and clenched her hand around the stone inside. Fear burned her mouth like acid. The Beast. It had to be. A fox or weasel might be enough to cause a stir among the hens, but that was nothing compared to the sheer terror she was hearing from every corner of the yard. She braced herself for the thunder of his roar, half-expecting to see massive black paws rip through her window frame. Nothing. The monster must have departed as quickly as he had come. Heart pounding, Anna leapt from her cot and shimmied into her skirt and blouse. She swept her brown hair into a haphazard braid, yanked on a pair of stockings and boots, and slipped out into the hall. Her uncle’s door was slightly ajar. She glanced in: Uncle Albrecht’s mouth hung open and he was snoring loudly, oblivious to the frantic noises just outside their cottage walls. His bushy gray eyebrows raised and lowered with each breath, and the bristles on his chin stirred like stubble in a high wind. Anna shook her head in disbelief as she retreated down the hall into the kitchen. She snatched a fire poker from the hearth, pulled her cloak down from its peg, and stepped outside into the cold, gray morning. It was not yet dawn, but the full moon gave off a pale glow as it hung low on the horizon, and patches of winter’s thawing snow reflected the lightening sky. The henhouse stood only a few paces away, its plank walls quivering as the birds flung themselves against the enclosure. Anna brandished the poker in front of her like a spear, and cracked open the narrow door. There was a sudden rush of wings against her face and sharp pain as tiny claws ripped against her cheek. She slammed the door back in place and whirled around to see Emmeric perched on a fencepost opposite her, nervously shifting from one foot to the other. 39
“Get back here, you stupid fowl!” Anna yelled, lunging at him. But the skittery cock was much too quick. He flapped clumsily into the low branches of a rowan tree near the fence and huddled there, glaring down at her with stubborn, beady eyes. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” Anna muttered, wiping her hand across her bleeding face. “You never think of anything but your own skin.” Emmeric only clicked his beak at her in reply; it was no use trying to bring him down. She took another hasty peek inside the coop, then turned her attention to the old barn on the other side of the farmyard, its thatched roof shimmering with frost. The door hung wide open, sagging crazily on broken hinges. You should wake your uncle, said a voice inside her head as she strode across the yard. She tightened her grip on the poker instead, and stepped across the broken threshold. The cow’s stall was the nearest. Trudi, heavy with calf, was lurching around like an overloaded ship about to keel over with the next wave. Her head was thrust back and her eyes rolled wildly. But apart from her hysteria, she showed no obvious signs of harm. The sheep in the neighboring pen had not fared so well. Their gate had been splintered like kindling wood. One of the ewes and several young lambs lay motionless on the ground, while the rest milled over and around them in a wild jumble, trying to butt their way into the farthest corner. Anna pressed her lips together grimly and piled the wreckage of the gate across the front of their stall. If the sheep were to stray into the forest, they would be nearly impossible to retrieve. Suddenly she realized that amid the tumult, one familiar voice was missing. She dashed over to the last stall and squinted into the empty darkness. “Oh, no,” she groaned. “Not Tabbert!” She could make out the shape of his overturned trough, but the big gray horse was nowhere to be seen. His door, too, had been broken down—from the inside, she noticed with a sudden burst of hope. Her eyes skimmed over the floor of the barn. Dark drops of blood sprinkled the haystrewn planks, forming a trail that led back through the open door. She raced outside again, then skidded to a halt. In the dirty snow, she saw what she had missed in her first haste: the marks of horse’s hooves—and mingled with them, the much larger outline of huge paws, fringed at the top with the prick-marks of sharp claws. They looked like the tracks of a bear—but they were twice as large as any ordinary bear of the forest would have made. Anna sucked in her breath. The rumors were true. After seven years of silence, the Beast was back: angry, enormous, and very much alive. She shook her head, forcing herself to study the prints. Her horse must have galloped from the barn, wounded, with the great bear at his heels. Their tracks led to the opposite corner of the yard…then disappeared into the Grünwald. Anna swallowed hard. Ever since she could remember, she had been terrified of the wild forest that shadowed the northern border of her home. Everyone in the kingdom of Weissburg knew that the forest was haunted. Tales abounded of vengeful spirits that lurked among the trees—and of the bear-like monster that had taken the lives of peasants, knights, and the king’s own son. But now Tabbert was in there, too: the horse she had loved since her uncle had first brought him home years ago, an awkward colt with spindly legs and oversized feet. And 40
for all that Uncle Albrecht might grumble about the amount of hay the huge horse consumed or the hours Anna spent tending to him, they both knew how crucial Tabbert was to their survival. Life was hard enough as it was, with Uncle Albrecht’s crippled leg and no money to pay for hired help. Now that the spring thaw had come, it would soon be time to plow and plant the fields. Where would they be without their plowhorse? And who would pull the cart next month as Uncle Albrecht traveled around the kingdom, selling his carpentry work? There was nothing for it, Anna thought. She had to go after Tabbert, and quickly. She retraced her steps back to the kitchen, set the poker by the hearth, tied a sturdy apron over her clothes, and glanced around the room. A loaf from yesterday’s baking sat on the table. She cut off a sizeable piece with the bread knife, and thrust it into her apron pocket. After a moment’s thought, she tucked the knife in at her side, as well. Uncle Albrecht’s loud snore still echoed through the house. Anna felt a twinge of guilt, leaving this way without a word to him. If he woke and found her gone, he would be worried sick. But surely Tabbert had not had time enough to run far. With a bit of luck, she could find her horse and have him back in the barn again before her uncle missed either of them. She closed the front door quietly behind her and set off across the yard with a firm, determined step. The light in the east was growing brighter, and the turmoil in the barn had calmed. Glancing up, she saw Emmeric still perched in the rowan tree, looking irked and refusing to crow. The forest loomed in front of her. Anna took a deep breath, and plunged inside.
Juvenile Fiction – Second Place
The Case of the Missing Piping Plovers Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus): Named for its distinctive, melodic call and charismatic nature makes it a favorite of birdwatchers. Unfortunately, it's a rare find for birders. The Piping plover is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and has a worldwide population of about 8,000 birds. In the summer, the Piping plover breeds on Atlantic coast beaches, the Great Plains, Canadian prairies and in a small area of the Great Lakes. However, the major wintering ground of the plovers remains a puzzle. Prologue Sophie Price stood on the misty hilltop overlooking the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, her brown hair streaming in the wind, the newspaper in her hand flapping like a wild bird struggling to go free. Through breaks in the swirling mist, she glimpsed the valley below flushed with the first green leaves of spring. Sophie found it hard to believe the incredible chain of events had begun just a year ago with the arrival of exchange students from the Bahamas. Turning her back to the wind, she stared at the photo on the front page of the Bahamas’ Dispatch. It captured her and Abbie with their arms around one another. They were gazing at small, sand-colored birds scuttling along the shore. What an experience Abbie and I had! Sophie thought. In her head, she was back in the Bahamas, speeding through sparkling waters, the silver-gold early morning sky rising above them, Abbie grinning and turning her face away from the salt spray kicking over the sides of the skiff. I never ever imagined we would become best friends all because of a mystery that’s puzzled scientists for years. She closed her eyes and felt the wind and mist swirling over her. Despite the cold, a warm, agreeable sensation flowed through her, a sensation much like the satisfaction that comes from finding the last piece of a complicated puzzle. Chapter 1. Birds of a Feather Sophie sniffed the air. A jolt of exhilaration fizzed through her like an ice-cold soda. Any trace of sleepiness from being woken up at the crack of dawn evaporated. Airports excited her. Even the peculiar smell of diesel fumes invading the airport signaled the start of a new adventure. Sophie and her friends, a.k.a The Sizzling Six, from Stone Middle School’s Eco Brains Club, had come to welcome the exchange students arriving from the Bahamas. An hour passed by. Another half hour dragged by. “I’m tired of waiting. Who wants to go jogging on the moving sidewalk with me?” 42
Rose said. “You have to be crazy to—.” An announcement interrupted Sophie. “May I have your attention please? Pegasus Airlines regrets Flight 179 from Nassau has been delayed due to bad weather. We will inform you of the new arrival time as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience.” “Wouldn’t you know it,” Mrs. Green, the science teacher sponsoring the student exchange, said. “We’ve been planning this for months, and now the weather has gone bad on us,” Sophie’s mother said. The girls let out a collective groan and slumped down on the airport seats. “There’s no telling how long the delay will be, so why don’t we go get some breakfast?” Clara, the practical one, said. “Good idea, Clara,” Dr. Amy said. Clara and Grace stood up. The others didn’t budge. “C’mon, cheer up,” Grace said. “Let’s go get something to eat.” When they didn't respond, she launched into her infamous joke-telling routine. “What do cats eat for breakfast? Mice Krispies. What is a cheerleader's favorite cereal? Cheerios. How did Reese eat her cereal? Witherspoon.” “Okay, okay, Grace. We’ll join you for breakfast, if you promise to stop!” Rose playfully wagged a finger at her friend. *** When the Bahamas’ students arrived, everyone cheered and waved banners saying: Welcome Emerald Cays Eco Club. A tall, slender girl with a neon-green streak of hair tucked behind one ear and lively green eyes the color of sea glass stood in the middle of a group of teens. She stuck out like a giant beanstalk. The others all wore orange T-shirts with “Emerald Cays Middle School” printed in blue letters across the front; she wore a bright green shirt, which matched the streak in her raven-black wavy hair. Wow, she really stands out from the crowd, Sophie thought. But why does she want to look so different? Then she noticed the girl’s eyes darting around the crowded airport. Her thumbs were looped tightly around the straps of her backpack, and her hands were clenched into fists. Sophie understood. She would be just as nervous so far from home for the first time. Sophie watched her mother rushing forward to welcome the students, but she hung back, observing the girl. The tall girl flashed a brilliant smile, and broke into a happy dance. Pumping her arms and swaying her hips, she drew all eyes to her. Definitely a show off, Sophie thought. She remembered her mother saying, “The better you feel about yourself, the less you feel the need to show off.” Maybe she’s showing off to hide her nervousness, Sophie told herself. She walked over to greet the exchange students from Emerald Cays. The tall girl stepped forward and stuck out her hand. “I’m Abbie Roller,” she introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Sophie Price. Welcome to Mortaburg.” To be polite she extended her hand. The girls shook hands in the usual way, and then to Sophie’s surprise, Abbie clasped her fingers, gave her a fist bump, snapped her fingers three times and twirled around. 43
Grip, clasp, bump, snap, snap, snap, twirl! Sophie tried to follow Abbie’s moves, but ended up looking clumsy and feeling embarrassed. Is Abbie just nervous or is she showing off—again? Sophia asked herself. “Introduce me to your friends.” Sophie steered Abbie toward the group. As the Emerald Cays students greeted her, Sophie caught a fleeting first impression of each one. Tay: Slim, tall, blue-eyed. Golden hair brushed back into a side ponytail. A mocking smile. One hand on her hip cocked gracefully to the side as if she were modeling a ball gown. Beauty Queen. Mario: Thick black hair, curling at his neck. Warm cinnamon-brown eyes. Strong handshake. Reliable. Handsome Dude. Sabrina: Braces, mousy brown hair, black-framed glasses. Silver pendant necklace with math symbol for Pi. Nervous smile. Nerd. Julian: Muscular. Crew cut hair. Slouched over. Hand shoved into the pocket of his shorts. Chewing gum. Voice low and dangerously smooth. Macho man. Sophie thought, They seem really cool and different. Maybe it’s because I’ve been friends with the same group of kids since kindergarten. I’ve got to find out more about them! Later she would learn how deceiving first impressions could be. Before leaving the airport, the Emerald Cays students pulled the names of Mortaburg students out of a hat. By sheer serendipity, Abbie was assigned to stay with the Prices. Sophie had an unsettling thought: Just my luck, I get the big show off! *** After the exchange students had settled with the families hosting them, they all gathered at the Price’s house for supper. They had good ‘ole Southern favorites: fried chicken, BBQ ribs, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, corn bread, and pecan pie. “Oh, man that was tasty! But maybe not as tasty as our Bahamian dishes.” Abbie grinned. Out of the corner of her eye, Sophie saw Rose stick out her tongue at Abbie. Fortunately, Abbie didn't see the rude gesture because Rose was standing behind her. Dr. Amy tapped on the glass pitcher. "Mrs. Green and I will go over the schedule for the Youth Eco Conference you'll be attending tomorrow." She handed out copies. When they’d finished going over the plans for the next day, Dr. Amy said, “How about sharing stories about why you joined your school’s ecology club?” “Good idea,” Mrs. Green agreed. “Now, I’m going to get a little shut eye.” Dr. Amy said, “I’ve got some papers to grade.” She taught biology at the local community college. Before she exited the room, she advised the students, “Remember you have chosen to come together because you all care about protecting birds—as the old saying goes ‘birds of a feather flock together.’” After the women left, awkward silence followed with sideways glances, tied tongues, and squirming in chairs. Sophie noticed they were sitting close together, but they didn’t know how to reach out to one another. We’re supposed to be a team, but we don’t know how to work together—not yet.
Juvenile Fiction – Third Place
Katherine and Henry The welfare people brought me to my grandmother’s house in Fern Valley. My daddy had convinced my mama to go to Las Vegas with him where he said he had a new job playing in a band. They left me with friends and said they would come back for me when they found a place to live. Except they never came back, and after a few weeks, the friends called the welfare office. This happened a few months after my tenth birthday. When the welfare lady asked me if I had any relatives, I told her what little I knew about my grandmother, where she lived, and that her name was Oleta Simmons. In less than a week, I was standing in front of the old three story gray house in the country, with all my belongings in one small suitcase. I hadn’t known what to expect. But that was nothing new. When I was living with Mama, I never knew what to expect either. Mama always used a scale to describe people and life in general—like people she worked with or customers she waited on. She would call them weird times two or maybe stupid times three. This could be used for everything, bad day times four, and so on. As I stared at that gray house with the flaking paint, I figured it rated at least a weird times five, for its spooky, haunted look. The yard was full of big trees, some of them right up close to the house. There was a porch all the way around the bottom story. Except for the porch, the second story looked just like the bottom, with the same tall windows; then there was a smaller third story with a pointed roof. The dark gray stone steps leading up to the porch had cracks going in all directions. Standing beside the welfare lady while she knocked on the door, I half expected a ghost to appear and float out to inspect me. I had no idea if my grandmother even wanted me to come live with her. Trembling, I waited, wishing I was invisible. The door opened, and I saw a regular looking lady with pretty silver hair. When she saw me, she started crying, real soft like. Then she knelt down and hugged me over and over. After that, I never doubted that she wanted me. My grandmother told me that “Katherine” was one of her two favorite names. The other one was “Sarah,” my mama’s name. After some discussion, we decided on Grams for the name I would call her. I couldn’t believe that the two of us had that whole big house to ramble around in. The two of us and her dog, Long John, that is. According to Grams, Long John, or John for short, was about ten years old—a dachshund with slick, reddish-brown short hair and dark brown eyes that cut right through me. John stuck to Grams like gorilla glue. Used to having her to himself, he didn’t like me being around, sometimes growling quietly when I got too close to her. Needless to say, I wasn’t crazy about him either, but we had to put up with each other. Grams said the house had originally belonged to her parents, who had five children. Grams was the oldest, and the youngest was a girl named Sally who had died at the age 45
of nine after falling out of her upstairs bedroom window. She said I reminded her of Sally, especially my dark hair and brown eyes. It was a while before I got the nerve to go into Sally’s room even though Grams said it was the biggest room, and I could have it for my own if I wanted it. I decided I’d rather have the bedroom downstairs close to hers. The second day I was there, we went shopping for school clothes. School was not one of my good memories. Always moving from place to place, I had changed schools often, never hanging around in one place long enough to make any friends. I dreaded going through it all again—especially being stared at by a room full of new faces, but there was no way out of it. The school was less than a mile from the house, so after the first week, I asked Grams if I could walk. I loved the sights and sounds of the outside—squirrels hurrying here and there making little barky noises, birds talking to each other in the trees and on telephone wires, and dry leaves crunching under my tennis shoes like potato chips. After nearly three weeks, school was still as bad as I had feared it would be. As I trudged up the driveway after an especially rotten day, I was thinking about the girl who ran things. She and her “group” had no intention of letting anyone be my friend. I told myself I didn’t care. And I almost believed it when I walked into the kitchen and saw Grams with that same big smile that she had on her face every day. “I’ve got everything ready. Just waiting for you so we can pick out our china.” I went into the dining room to the big cabinet with the glass front. The shelves were filled with matching cups and saucers of every kind. Before I came here, I’d never seen anything like them. Each cup and saucer had a different pattern—colorful flowers, fruit, birds, castles, boats, dancers. Looking at them through the glass, I imagined myself in faraway places. From the first day, when Grams served us an afternoon snack using these beautiful dishes and called it a “tea party,” I was hooked. It filled an empty space inside me that I didn’t understand. “Today,” I said, “I choose the pink ones with the castles.” Grams called out, “I’d like the ‘Desert Rose’ please. I carefully carried our cups and saucers to the table while Grams set out the teapot along with a matching platter filled with her homemade teacakes. While we sipped our tea and ate our cookies, she put down a treat for John, who was lying under her chair eyeing me with suspicion. Grams could tell I didn’t like school. “Are any of the girls at school friendly to you, Katherine?” I just shook my head no. “Molly won’t let the others play with me. She says I’m a witch.” Grams looked sad, and I was sorry I had told her the witch part. “Is her name Molly Sims?” “Yes ma’am, do you know her?” “I know her granddaddy, Dock Sims. He lives close by. I think those girls will come to see how special you are, and they’ll change their minds. In the meantime, you and I will be best friends.” My hair was almost black, long and straight with square bangs. One day, Grams asked me if I’d like to go to the beauty shop and get my hair cut. Maybe she thought I wouldn’t look like a witch if my hair was short. For some reason, talking about getting my hair cut made me start crying. It was connected to my daddy that I remembered seeing only a few times. He would come and want to move in with us. Then, a few days 46
later, he’d disappear, and we wouldn’t talk about him, just like he hadn’t been there. But in one of the few memories I had of him, he was brushing my long hair and singing to me. I didn’t know how to explain it to Grams. She hugged me and said, “You don’t have to get your hair cut. It’s beautiful just the way it is.” Before I went to sleep that night, I thought about the boy I’d been seeing as I walked home from school, standing in the edge of the woods with the bird on his shoulder. What was wrong with the boy, I wondered. He didn’t have to be afraid of me. I wasn’t going to bother him. I had told him my name was Katherine, but he wouldn’t tell me his name or anything else. Something kept drawing me to him. Maybe it was his eyes. I hoped he would be there tomorrow.
Juvenile Fiction – Honorable Mention
Rose Marie Stutts
Murder on a Kite-flying Morning Death came to Skyvale on a merry morning as Folk flew kites. A murderer stalked among them. Southwind danced with the colorful kites. Witches, Elves, Fairies, Dwarves, and even Ogres laughed as kites soared. Soon, however, things began to go horribly wrong. Other Winds came. They spitefully snatched kites. Southwind became mean. Kites crashed into each other, ripped on tree branches or smashed into the ground. Children cried over their tattered remains . Angry Winds whirled Clouds into Storm-Circles. Tongues of Lightning licked among the Storms advancing on Skyvale while fear crept into the hearts of the Folk. Three Junior-Witches didn’t see the ruination of kites or the Weather-turnednasty. They sat with their feet in Rain-Fountain, sulking as only the almostgrown can. One of them was a murderer. "Not fair," grumbled Tansy. "He can't make me go to University." She sang a Drying-Spell to a wet cloak in her lap. "You were chosen!" snapped Violet, kicking water at the bronze Rainspraying statue. "We'll stay Low-Witches herding clouds for n o - M a g i c Humans!" Primrose shouted. "You'll go to University and become a Master!" "You're the youngest but he won't consider us!" snarled Violet. "Master Fernspore shouldn't have told about my scholarship," Tansy growled. Her silvery eyes flashed to Ogre-red. "Your Father’s Ogre-Human," V i o l e t taunted spitefully. She instantly regretted her words. Taunting Tansy could be dangerous, she had Ogre-hard Fists. Primrose added her own insult. "Your Mother's Elf-Witch. You don't belong in University. You're Mixed-Race!" Ogre-anger reddened Tansy's eyes. The cloak slid into the water as, fists raised, she whirled to face her tormentors. Rain-Fountain spray steamed on Tansy's smoldering head and shoulders. Before a fight could begin, the door to the Police Station opened. Detective Smolderstone and Sergeant Snapsilver hurried o u t . Smolderstone, a Mountain-Ogre, trotted down the street with long strides that shook the ground. Snapsilver loped behind him in her Werewolf form. "Where are they going in such a hurry?" Primrose asked, hoping to distract Tansy from her Ogre-anger. "I don't care where they’re going! You're hurtful!" "I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that," said Violet, as she continued to 48
back away. "I keep saying and doing mean things, today." "Me too” pleaded P r i m r o s e . "I'm angry with everyone today and jealous of your good fortune." Tansy dropped her fists to her sides and closed her eyes. She chanted the Rhyme-to-Control-Anger, several times. Wonder and Wisdom, my Human-part. Power-of-Ogres, the Mountain’s- Heart. Witch-Magic to use b e n e a t h Moon and Sun. Elfin for laughter and sprightful fun. Peace my spirit. My anger, be still. Master I'll be, if I rule my will When she opened her e y e s , t h e t o r m e n t e r s w e r e gone. Tansy noticed Folk running in the direction the Police had gone. A terrible black storm roiled, flickered and grew around the perimeter of Skyvale, slowly closing out blue sky. "Something's wrong," Tansy muttered, she followed crowd, with the damp cloak over her shoulder, to Master Fernspore's cottage. "Master Fernspore's murdered." Folk murmured Everyone hushed as the Police came out of the cottage. Overhead, Lightning flashed, Thunder grumbled and Winds whistled rudely. "Make ·the Weather be quiet!" roared Smolderstone. The Ogre's voice sounded like mountains crashing together. The sky blackened. Rain and Hail, riding the angry Winds like horses, thundered toward Skyvale, slashing Lightning-bolts like whips. "Tansy help us!" the Weather-Witches cried. "We need a Dome-of-Quiet!" Tansy sang a Protection-Spell. A Bubble spread over Skyvale. The air became still as a Hurricane' s eye. Winds hammered the Dome. Lightning and Rain threw themselves against it. Thunders roared but, the sounds were far away. The policemen could now speak normally. "Officer Snapsilver looked into Fernspore' s window. S m o l d e r s t o n e r u m b l e d . “ She came and got us when she saw him l y i n g in a pool of blood. We found that the doors were locked from inside." "How'd you get inside?" chirped a Cricket-Elf. "The cottage is stone. I used the power of Mountain's-Heart to lift it off its foundation. Snapsilver crawled in, under the wall," Smolderstone rumbled. Snapsilver growled, "I opened the door for Smolderstone." “The evidence points to three Junior-Witches who had appointments with the Master. All three appeared to have some reason to be angry with him;" Smolderstone grated. "Violet, Primrose, Tansy, come forward!" he commanded. The crowd parted for the Junior-Witches. "Primrose were you angry with Master Fernspore?" Henbane questioned. "Yes. Fernspore wouldn't let me use his Weather-Wand to herd Rain-Clouds over the Humans’ cornfields." 49
"What happened during your appointment? "Fernspore told me to practice Cloud-herding the hard way. I left and kicked the Clouds all the way to the fields." “Fernspore' s Weather-Wand is missing. Did you take it, Primrose?" "No, Sir," she replied. "Violet were you angry with Fernspore?" Henbane questioned. "No! He gave me an 'A' on my Storm-Wind assignment," Violet said, smiling prettily. "Did you take the Weather-Wand?" "No. The Wand doesn't like me so I can't use it. After my appointment, I went to help Sarsaparilla tie her Snowflower-beans. I was there all morning." "And you, Tansy?" Smolderstone grated. "I didn't keep my appointment with Fernspore;" Tansy replied. "I went to woods to be alone. I was too angry to talk with him." “Why?" rumbled Smolderstone. "He wanted me to go to University. The University-Folk will hate me because I'm a Mixed-Race.” The Protection above Skyvale, shuddered and began to bend. "One Junior-Witch lied,” said Snapsilver. "I found blood on the windowsill. We think we know who the killer is but, we need more evidence. "I saw someone washing something in Rainbow-River, this morning, but I was too far away to see who it was." a Brownie volunteered. "Sergeant Snapsilver, report," said Smolderstone. "The smell of 'Fernspore's blood fills the cottage," she growled. ' Though it was washed, the smell is still on the cloak of a Witch. That one!" snarled Snapsilver, pointing to Tansy. "Tansy's cloak is wet!" exclaimed a Tree-Fairy. Tansy stood, open-mouthed and unable to speak. “''Wait! That's not Tansy's cloak!" cried P r i m r o s e . ' Violet’s cloak w a s w e t . Violet couldn't make the Drying-Spell work. Tansy said she'd Sing it dry for her. They traded cloaks." "I didn't kill anyone!" Violet shouted. "I was with Sarsaparilla!" "No, you weren't,” Sarsaparilla said, looking sad. "You left for a long time then came back." "You killed our Master-Sorcerer," snarled Snapsilver. "You tried to put the blame on Tansy." "How could I have killed him when all the doors and windows are locked from the inside?" Violet demanded. "Sarsaparilla, identify this." said Snapsilver, showing a piece of twine. “It was pinched under a window.” “That’s a bean-tie," the Garden-Elf replied. Snapsilver turned to Violet. "You thought you were being clever, Violet, when you put the bean-tie around the window-bolt and climbed out the window then pulled the bolt into place after you closed the window. You never thought part of the bean-tie would break off. You also failed to wipe away all of your bloody hand prints from the window and sill." 50
Violet paled as Smolderstone placed his Ogre-hard hand on her arm. “What we want to know is why you brought murder to Skyvale." High overhead, cracks appeared in the Bubble. "We're running o u t of time!" shouted Master-Weather-Witch. “The Dome is failing!" "Confession is healthy," whispered Snapsilver, wolfishly to Violet, who shuddered. "I didn't mean to kill him," Violet said, sullenly. "He told me to quit bothering him and go back to the bean field. He turned his back on me. I picked up the first thing I touched and hit him!” “The Weather-wand?” Smolderstone grated. Violet sullenly pulled the Weather-Wand from her pocket and gave it to Tansy. The Protection failed at that moment. Winds, Rain, Thunder became Tornadoes roaring toward Skyvale. T a n s y circled the Weather-Wand as she sang a Gentling-Spell. The Wand glowed a n d r a i n b o w - light flashed. Tornadoes stopped. Clouds changed from black to white, except, for a few grey bruises to show where Primrose had kicked them. Winds b ecame gentle. Folk breathed sighs of relief as RainbowFairies flew .in an arch over Skyvale. While Tansy worked her Weather-Magic, Violet tried to slip away. She lay now, flinching and shaking with fright, under Snapsilver’s paw. "You have great Power and Talent, Tansy." Said the Cloud-Master. Fernspore said you'd surpassed his Power years ago, but you were too young for University. The Great-Council-of-Elders had to force Fernspore to recommend you to University." Snapsilver’s wolfish-green e y e s looked into elfin-silver. “Folk can be cruel when s o m e one is different. Today, you saved not only Skyvale but the lives of the very Folk who have mocked y o u r Herit ag e . We a l l owe you a p o l o g i e s ." One by one Folk hugged Tansy. "Thank-you for our lives. Forgive us for our prejudice,” they sang. Smolderstone said gently, "You'll find University-Folk are not so narrowminded as some Home-Folk. When you graduate, please come back. Take Fernspore's place and become our Master-Sorcerer and Teacher." For the first time, in the memory of Skyvale's Folk, Smolderstone's voice didn't sound like rocks rubbing together. He sounded, almost Elfin.
Juvenile Fiction – Honorable Mention
Words Alive Salaam was tired of the war in Damascus The capital of Syria where he lived He was six years old The war was six years old It was everything he knew It robbed him the fun he was supposed to have He never witnessed peace One day when it was quiet outside There were no bombs or shootings He was allowed to go outside and play But as usual, he was instructed to stay close He meandered behind their building On the ground he found a pair of odd-shaped glasses He looked through them; the world looked the same So he stuck them in his pocket and went on Rumbling echoed in the distance and he headed home He played with his sister the next day Completely forgetting about the glasses Until he found them in his pocket Hid dad had given them new books to read He began with a book about flowers and bugs While he was reading, he looked at the glasses He put them on and read some more Something strange began to happen The word ‘tall’ appeared very long And the word ‘short’ was stubby and tiny The word ‘butterfly’ began to flap its wings And the word ‘fly’ flew off the page and buzzed around Salaam was scared and took the glasses off in a hurry When everything returned to normal he put them back on The book came to life
Critters big and small were meandering all around On the pages and on his desk Flowers bright and colorful grew out of the book Then a spider began weaving its web Salaam touched it and it felt real The spider was mad and ran to his finger Then a moth came buzzing and he had to duck He took the glasses off The book was just a book He had no idea what was happening He flipped the page and it was about bumble bees He wasn’t sure to put the glasses on, but he did A swarm of bumblebees came at him fast Salaam ran out of the room, the bees followed They were almost on him when he took the glasses off And they were gone in a second He went into the library and found a blank journal At least nothing that bites will come from this empty notebook He began to write with the glasses on He wrote the word ‘big’ and it immediately looked huge Then he wrote the word ‘small’, he could barely see it He wrote the words ‘dark’ and ‘light’ One was dark and the other . . . vanished into the white paper He laughed and laughed “What’r you laughing about?” his sister said. “Ammm . . . nothing,” Salaam said. He took the glasses off and wrote a few more words One word on each page Words that described his life at the moment He had one more page left He wanted the last word to be special, but couldn’t think of one He thought and thought and thought Then a smile slowly cracked his lips He wrote the word on the very last page Then ran to his room and wore a helmet and a shield He put the glasses on Then he looked at the words one at a time While ducking and flipping the pages fast Bombs War Bullets 53
Soldiers Cake Fast car Muslim Christian Jewish Getting along No killing No bombing No shooting Kite Love Peace
First Chapter: Novel – First Place
Bonnie K. Kidd
Hoodlum Violinist Chapter One My tenure as ersatz grandmother to Sean Dinan, or whoever he was, began on a sunny day in March, when a teenage boy, affecting an air of harmless curiosity, strolled into my shop in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and tried to steal a fiddle. He looked grungy enough to make me suspicious – underfed, dirty jeans, slept-in T-shirt, greasy hair falling into his eyes. He needed a bath, clean clothes, a haircut and a better diet. He thought he needed an 1850s German Stradivarius copy that would sing to the back pews of a church. So he helped himself to the fiddle and started for the door. As I reached under the counter for my gun, I stepped on the switch that electrified the front doorknob. “Yow!” the boy screamed, or words to that effect. “You crazy old bat! That‘s illegal!” “You think so? Call 9-1-1. Use the phone on the counter.” I pointed my .9 mm. at his midsection, a safe distance from the violin case. The boy set the case down on the carpet and rubbed his stinging hand. My partner and close friend, Bennett, emerged from our luthier’s shop at the back of the store. He carried a .357 Magnum, both hands clasped around the grip in the way he’d been taught. The boy turned, spotted Bennett’s white hair, and froze. I could tell he’d heard how dangerous it was to cross armed senior citizens. We might be cranky or short a few marbles. “Please don’t shoot,” the boy begged, “and don’t call the cops. I’m not dangerous, just broke, and I need a violin for a competition so I can find a gig, like in a restaurant of casino and earn money for food and clothes and a place to stay.” He paused for breath. “Believe me, I don’t usually steal. Not even food.” “This isn’t about drugs?” Bennett asked. “You could pawn a violin for fifty bucks and buy crack or whatever else you use.” He continued to hold his gun steady with both hands. “No, I’m clean,” the boy said. He looked down at his filthy jeans. “Well, at least I don’t do drugs. Couldn’t afford ‘em anyway. I’m a good violinist, not a thief or a junkie.” Bennett and I knew a restaurant owner who wanted a violinist three or four nights per week. If, by chance, this urchin was telling the truth, we might be able to help him. “What’s your name, son?” I asked. “Lady, just let me leave, okay?” “He doesn’t look dangerous,” I said to Bennett. “More like a hobo. I’m calling him Scruffy, for now.” 55
“He looks pretty desperate to me,” Bennett said. “Let’s call the police.” “One way to tell if he’s lying – let him play.” I locked the door of my shop and laid my gun on the counter, within easy reach for me, but not our guest. “Okay, Scruffy. Open the case,” I commanded. “Prove you’re a violinist.” I folded my arms across my chest and waited. Scruffy grimaced at Bennett, still armed and threatening. “Whoa, man, what are you gonna do, shoot me if I hit a wrong note?” I looked at Scruffy’s left hand with the nails bitten down, probably because he had no nail clippers or file. “Think of it as an audition.” “Have you been able to practice lately?” Bennett asked, with an edge in his voice. “With no instrument?” “Yeah, I played every day until two days ago, when I got mugged and some scumbag boosted my violin. I, um, recovered the fiddle but now there’s a crack in the peg box.” “Violin repairs are expensive,” Bennett said, “a good reason not to steal a fiddle you can’t afford to maintain.” Scruffy shot him a dirty look, picked up the violin, and began tuning the strings by Ear. He rosined the bow, a nice French copy of an original Fetique which had fetched $20,000 at auction. At $200, the copy had been a steal at a local estate sale. Much to my Surprise, the boy positioned the violin under his chin as if it belonged there and delivered the opening chords of the Bach “Chaconne” with an intensity beyond his years. I have one really annoying problem that crops up every time I hear an accomplished interpretation of that piece: I cry. Pedestrian playing leaves me frowning, but greatness turns me to mush. Four measures into Scruffy’s performance, I removed my glasses to wipe my eyes, and a few bars later, I needed fresh tissues. Seeing where things were headed, Bennett rolled his eyes at me. But he lowered his gun, leaned up against the counter, and listened as Scruffy the Vagabond Genius stood in a shaft of sunlight and poured out his heart for us. When the boy reached the hymnlike section and played it as if he were praying to Bach’s transcendent Creator, Bennett took his elegant hankie out of his pocket and patted his own tears. After the last downbow had faded into the dust motes, he asked, “Where did you learn to play like that, and how do you even know this piece? Have you run away from some family of musicians?” “I taught myself, mostly. I can’t afford lessons, but I have a lot of sheet music. Some old dead guy left it in a house where I was, uh, staying.” “Did you take his violin, too?” I asked. “No. He had pawned it. My violin came from somewhere else. But this old guy gave me some lessons before he cashed out. He was a good teacher, too. Look, I’m gonna need a violin, or I’m gonna wind up in jail or Youth Services for being a juvie bum without any ‘adult supervision.’” “I’m not sure I believe that last part,” I said. “You managed to get here, somehow. But I think you need a fiddle. That’s a good one, an antique, that we caught you shop lifting.” Bennett folded his arms across his chest and shook his head, willing me not to donate a 150-year-old violin that had cost us $1500 before restoration, along with a very good bow and a new nylon case. At last he gave up and shrugged. “We have about $2000 invested in that outfit, but it’s your money, Leslie.”
Scruffy’s playing had swayed my decision. “I won’t turn you in, and you can have this fiddle,” I said. “If yours is worthwhile, you can trade it to us and we’ll have it repaired.” “I guess it’s a good violin. It looks really old and says ‘Jacques Boquay’ on the label. It doesn’t have the power of this one, though. The scroll came from some other instrument – you can just make out the line where somebody glued it in place.” “Hmm,” Bennett said. “It might be worth something. Can you go get it now? Leave the Strad copy here. And tell us your name.” “Sean Dinan. I’m originally from Boston.” Bennett and I looked at each other. Sean had no plebian accent, no broad “aah” for “r,” no “g” dropped from “ing.” In fact, he sounded to me like an upper-class Yankee whose family vetted nannies and prep schools and expected to fund an Ivy League education. “One more thing, Sean,” I said, “before we close this deal. If you come back here to loot us later, the video camera will pick you up and the silent alarm will bring the police just after you step through the door, which will lock electronically behind you. And I’ll testify that you tried to steal the Strad copy. I guarantee you’ll go to prison.” “I hear you,” Sean said. “I won’t rip you off. As I said, I’m not a criminal. And if my fiddle isn’t worth as much as this violin, I’ll pay you the difference as soon as I can. Really.” He replaced our Strad copy in its case and left to fetch his putative Boquay, slightly damaged. “What if it’s a real Boquay?” Bennett asked, as Sean trotted off. “It’s not. I’ve researched that luthier. He wouldn’t have grafted someone else’s scroll onto one of his own fiddles because he was famous for his scrolls. But his contemporaries thought his violins sounded anemic. Some of them bought Boquay’s fiddles and chopped off their scrolls to graft onto their own instruments.” “So it’s some anonymous maker’s work, even if the scroll’s genuine.” “Yes. Might be worth fixing, though.” “What if Sean stole it?” Bennett asked. “We’ll have to check.” We walked over to the computer and I brought up the “Stolen” site, which players and police all over the world kept current. Bennett stood, looking over my shoulder. We found a number of missing Boquays, most with photos. “Some of these will be fakes,” I said, “but they’re still stolen instruments. If Sean has one, he’s probably going to jail, genius or no.”
First Chapter: Novel – Second Place
Beloved Mother I Mona Parsons Slocomb Take warning how you court young men – Mountain Ballad The Foot of Turtleback Mountain Legend had it that Mona Parsons could stir up dust devils by spinning a stick in the dirt. She called up a storm when farmers needed rain without killing a blacksnake and draping it belly-up over the fence. She could twist a rain shower into a ferocious treebreaker if the farmer denied her pay and call it back thrice-fold with a nod of her head. Word had it she came into the world dancing. The daughter of an established Parsons family in Covington, Virginia, born to a mother no more than eighteen, a daddy at least ten years older, she spent childhood evenings on the grass, stomping dew into the earth as if she tried to awaken Mother Nature herself. Each night, her father called to her from behind his unkempt beard to come inside. Never a deferring child, Mona glanced back at him, dashed through the gate and down the bank to Broken Rock Creek. Tiny, no larger than a wood sprite, she spent days on Turtleback Mountain gathering flowers and herbs and, some say, conjuring with wild beasts. Some days she came down the mountain, her hair filled with moss and sticks, looking like a disheveled elf, her lips and fingers blue from blackberries she had eaten off the sides of ditches. Had Mona then known of the communities of Cherokee Little People, she would have sung out to the Laurel People to share her joy on Turtleback Mountain. But she did not know. She would not know until Beloved Mother began Mona’s training. More forward-minded neighbors told her parents they were blessed. “Such an open, creative child,” they said. “Wild heathen,” others whispered. “A reed shaken by the wind,” some said. “Cursed.” The Parsons accepted the latter, deemed themselves steeped in hexes and bore no more children for five years. 58
The Virginia mining town of Covington watched and waited. A family who owned an entire mountain could have access to mountain spirits, the old people intoned, and a child could breathe such spirits into her soul unknowing. Those who wield the obvious can manipulate the unseen. That’s the Lord’s own truth, they vowed. The summer Mona turned thirteen, an angular man sauntered into Covington as if he held the world in his back pocket. He carried a black valise, and a hatchet swung from his belt. She first spied him at the base of the Lost Miners Monument in the Square. Without speaking, she followed him about day after day as if she had lost her power to the gleam in his eye. Folks later said he must have cast a spell on her. Her father belted her evenings when she came back home, but before dawn, when the river behind the house moved lazy and low, a rest from chasing itself down Turtleback Mountain, before any rooster could crow, she slipped out the window and was gone again, without thought of leaving her people behind. Early August, the man was seen leaving town at dusk. That night Mona’s bed lay empty. The town searched Covington for her. They scoured Turtleback Mountain for her. They went east to Spencer’s Mountain. They did not find her. They asked about for the man’s name, but no one could remember. Some within Covington said the shadowy stranger was Squire Dan Sparks from down ‘round Cade’s Cove who had more land than anybody ever had. Some said he was Squire’s oldest boy who was untamed and a mite crazy. Some who knew not the Cherokee said he was meant to be a Cherokee medicine man but gave up and left for city ways. Great Spirit and Sister Sun and Brother Moon laugh so hard at such foolishness that Sister Sun forgets to leave the sky before Brother Moon appears in the east. Great Spirit has to send her on her way. Frustration at Great Spirit’s casting her aside tempts Sister Sun to send a wild wind and fell a tree across Broken Rock Creek so no one can cross without losing themselves for a time in the branches, but she does not. Had the Cherokee been in the valley beneath this mountain, as they had been for generations prior, they would have explained that this Ama idnai, this Turtleback Mountain, was Great Spirit’s sacred place. He made it to specification before he ever thought of making a man. Here on Turtleback Mountain and in its shade stood hemlock and oak with fifty-foot canopies. On Turtleback Mountain, mountain oaks grew with leaves so thick that little light could pass through. Soil beneath rested dark and dank. Thick laurel in so many colors Great Spirit had not named them all. Here streams rushed clear and cold year round, their waters filled with fishes, their banks alive with verdant mosses and ferns heavy with spore. Teeming marshes overran with cattails tall as young girls. Concealed here were fur-coated chipmunk, squirrel, fox and bear. Turtleback Mountain. Covington’s enduring and overarching guardian. Great Spirit’s personal garden. Cherokee would have told how the massive buzzard, who swooped down Turtleback, and with his mighty white-tipped wing, carved out the valley at the mountain’s solid foot. How Great Spirit was so pleased with the valley he decided here would be the place for his new creature: man. It was here on this mountain, in this valley, that Great Spirit placed Cherokee, the “real people,” molded from mud of Broken Rock Creek. It was here he took melted snow waters and filled the Cherokee with pure
blood. Here, masquerading as the wind, he blew breath into the Cherokee, and they became one life. Most of Covington did not know the Cherokee way, so they in time labeled the lone wanderer Beelzebub. Come to walk the mountains and steal young virgins. But the stranger was none of these. He was Jackson Slocomb, a vagrant from Pennsylvania who chanced upon Covington when he turned southeast off Turtleback Mountain ridge, rather than continuing west to Kentucky. He was Jackson Slocomb, a man who through years of practice could sway young girls to his favor. Here in Great Spirit’s valley, he found Mona Parsons, of an age that had her primed to go. The year was 1923. West of Boone, Carolina Tall Corn found the camp on the edge of his farm, next to the spring where it broke from earth into sunshine. A thin strip of pale smoke told him someone was burning hard wood at the edge of his largest cornfield. Having a camp on his farm angered him. But to camp at this location caused his ire to grow with a fierceness he had not known, for he held this a sacred place where earth, water, and sun, three of the holy gifts of the Great Spirit, came together as one. Great Spirit watches the white man and the girl. It is their smoke that calls to mind Long Hunters and their camp, its puny smoke rising from their dying fire that drowsy morn, the year they cut their way west across his Turtleback Mountain . Perched on a rock ledge, fur-coated men crawled, humpbacked and beaver-like, one by one from lean-tos, and stepped into brush to relieve themselves. They returned to squat before their meager fire and poke sticks into dying ash. Though a century and a half has passed, these two are not so different. It could have been yesterday. Finding the camp by its smoke column set no obstacles for Tall Corn. He knew his land as intimately as he knew the ridges of his farming hands. One with the land, he, like the hawk perched on the oak limb, vanished from the white man’s sight. Deer he would roast for himself and Beloved Mother disregarded him. This invader could only be a white man. Only a white man would dishonor the land of another by squatting in place rather than moving on. When Tall Corn came near the camp, he lowered himself to the ground and inched his way through thick underbrush. He crouched behind a stand of rhododendron heavy with orange blossoms and watched. The camp was nothing more than a small fire, an oily tarpaulin hung on a rope between two pines and a cast-iron spider, its three pointed feet deep in the fire’s ash. The odor of rancid grease from having been left in the spider too long and from frying fish too many times overpowered the earth’s scent. A black valise had been tossed to the side. Neither man nor girl had swept straw and branches away to make a livable spot within the stand of pine. The skimpiness of supplies there in the month of the Harvest Moon, the white man’s October, told the Cherokee the two would freeze during the coming mountain nights before they would starve.
First Chapter: Novel – Third Place
Susan Beckham Zurenda
The Sound of Bells Chapter 1: June 1959
The day before Eli’s third birthday, in early morning with the heat yet bearable, Mama and I dug in the soil along the stepping stones to our front door. She wielded a spade and I dug with a spoon. On June 4, it was late in the season to be planting summer flowers, but I wanted them, and my mother surrendered. The day before—Mama has told me the prophetic story many times—I picked a stalk from white, feathery wildflowers in the corner of our lot and walked across the street to show Mary Lily. My aunt was working among her flowering perennials—phlox, columbine, and salvia—the names exotic and the blossoms alluring. “Oh, Adeline,” she exclaimed, “you have Queen Anne’s Lace blossoming early this year. There’s not a wildflower that grows more beautiful.” I imagine her sweeping her arms open in that way she has, as though she is gliding through water. She told me then a legend of the dark purplish red in the center of Queen Anne’s Lace. That it formed when a magic queen spinning lace petals onto the flower pricked her finger and spilled a single drop of blood. I was sad that such a lovely creation bore this stain, and she soothed me by saying the blemish was the heart of the flower’s beauty. I want to grow flowers like you, I told Mary Lily. That evening, she called my mother, and the next morning we made a trip to the garden store. Some people can retain early memories, but for me, this is not true. For me, the day of the marigolds is my only detailed memory during the year when I was three—just over midway to my fourth birthday. I can close my eyes and still see the half-planted row of robust orange plants laid out along the stones—the only flowers I’ve ever known my mother to put into the earth. The other half remained undisturbed in their little plastic cartons. I am exactly seven months older than Eli was. My birthday is November 5. Had I been born several days earlier, I would have been a grade ahead of my cousin. Instead, by missing the November 1 deadline, I was the oldest in my class. Those few days equating Eli and me according to grade we thought a fortune of fate. I believe our parents put the idea in our young heads, for they knew how a moment changed everything. How devotion might be born from catastrophe. I was patting dirt around a seedling while Mama held the fragile stalk steady when a loud and alarming cry shook us from our task. We looked up to see Pot run from the side door of the Winfield house with Eli in his arms. Mary Lily stood on the front porch watering ferns, and I watched her wide skirt fan out into a circle as she nearly 61
stumbled in her haste down the white wooden steps toward Pot. Her straw hat flopped down low over her forehead. Mama pulled off her gardening gloves, and I tried to dash across the street, but she caught me. “No, Delia,” she said. Her hands were tight on my shoulders. “Something’s wrong with Eli,” I wailed. “Whatever it is, we don’t need to hamper them,” she said. My mother shoved the new gardening gloves into the waist band of her blue, checked pedal pushers. I liked her pedal pushers and thought they made her look chic, for my mother nearly always wore a dress in those days. She wasn’t so fixed up as June Cleaver—she didn’t wear pearls to cook our meals—but she did wear, perpetually, the same shirtwaist dresses, cinched with a narrow belt, coupled with an apron around her middle. Mama took my hand. Hers was damp. Together we hurried to the edge of our front yard, close enough to hear, but we did not cross the street. Pot had caught up to Mary Lily at the bottom of the steps. We were in hearing range, but he talked so fast I had to grasp at phrases. Pot Hawkins works for the Winfields, but to say he’s their gardener hardly begins to identify his place in their world. His family has been connected to Mary Lily’s family maybe since the end of slavery. All I know is he and his mother Caro have lived in their little house out in the country on Lauderdale land all my life. “That Red Devil Lye in the Coca-Cola bottle Mr. Gene done left on the back stoop,” I heard him say. For them balloons. And then for a while I could not follow the words until I heard, “Mister Eli drunk some of it.” I heard Eli breathing, even from across the street. I thought he was choking because his face was contorted, his cheeks sucking in. “My God. Oh, God. Help me, Pot. Get Ellison into the house. Milk. He needs milk,” Mary Lily screamed. My mother let go of squeezing my shoulders and turned. She began to run toward our house, pulling me by the hand. “What is Red Devil Lye?” I sputtered as I slipped and staggered alongside her, trying to keep my arm in its socket. But she didn’t answer. Inside the house, she made a call and I heard her say the name of our street. Then she sat with her head in her hands. “What is Red Devil Lye?” I asked again. “It cleans drains, but my brother must have been using it to blow up balloons for the party.” “How?” I asked. “Did Uncle Gene hurt Eli?” “I’m sorry, baby,” she said, and smoothed my hair. “I can’t explain it. I have to be quiet and think what to do.” She picked up a pencil and paper and began to write. I don’t recall what I did. The next thing I remember was the deafening shriek of the ambulance siren and Mama jolting from her chair. Again, she grabbed my hand and began to run. I kept up better this time, and unlike before, we crossed the street. Yet, we stood back, waiting. Two men in white, waist-length coats brought Eli out on a stretcher. His arms bent in at the elbows and stuck out like wings. I saw his mouth opening and closing and then he vomited on himself. I didn’t see it so much as I heard him heaving. But I saw one of the men take the bottom of the sheet covering Eli and wipe away the yellow spew.
Mary Lily hurried behind the stretcher but before she climbed into the ambulance, she looked toward Mama. “They’re taking him to Columbia, not the Green Branch hospital,” she said. She was crying while she talked. “Call Dr. Crawford and tell him where we’ll be.” Dr. Crawford was our family doctor. My mother and about everyone else in town worshipped him. He had stayed with my mother the whole twenty-four hours she was in labor with me, napping on a cot nearby. He liked to say since he didn’t have children of his own, he thought of us patients as his children. As a child I loved Dr. Crawford, but I feared him, too, for nearly every visit to his office—the windows of both examination rooms frosted for privacy—resulted in a painful shot of penicillin from Mrs. Mahoney, his nurse for a thousand years. Even with a temperature of 103 degrees and a throat so swollen with pus I could hardly swallow without tears, I was never so sick that I didn’t dread the needle burning into my hip. So at the mention of Dr. Crawford, I knew Eli must be very sick. The ambulance turned on its siren again and pulled away from the curb. Mary Lily and Pot and Eli were all inside. Suddenly, the vehicle stopped and Mary Lily opened the back door and leaned out, calling to Mama. “Dear God, Jeanette. Find Gene. Tell him.” And then the ambulance was gone, carrying Eli away in a loud blur of wheels and warning bells. “Tell him what?” I asked Mama. “Tell him Eli has had an accident,” she said. He face pulled taut with something like reproach, or maybe it was only sorrow and fear. I was too young to define it. Yet I have remembered her eyes staring out at nothing, her mouth open and grimaced. And knowing somehow she was thinking about both Eli and Uncle Gene. “What is wrong with him?” I asked. Her head snapped around. “The lye, it’s likely burned everything in its path through his body,” she said. “He’s been burned like in a fire?” I asked. Maybe there was fear in my voice because Mama clamped shut and would say nothing more. She looked at me curiously, but she didn’t speak. Young as I was, I recognized she had told me a gruesome truth she hadn’t meant to tell her child. Mama said we had to go inside. She had to make calls to find her brother. “Let me stay,” I said. Perhaps the need in my voice was strong, for she yielded, even as she admonished me. “Don’t leave this yard. I’ll watch out the window,” she said. I thought about my cousin Eli. How poison going down your throat would feel if it burned everything on its way. It would turn things black, I thought. Your tongue. Your throat. And maybe your veins turned from blue to black. I’d seen what weed poison did to plants in Mary Lily’s garden. Pot never let us come near when he sprayed, but I’d seen afterward what weed poison did to once-green life. It turned things brown and dry, then black like ash, and finally they were dead. I stared at the spot where the ambulance had parked and marveled at the arc of blue, green and violet spread in the road. It was only rainbow oil lying slick in a thin puddle settled in a dip in the street from a thunderstorm during the night. But what I saw in the thin strips of color that day consoled me, for I knew the meaning of rainbows. I would not imagine Eli had turned to black ashes inside, even as my own throat clinched, feeling charred and dry.
First Chapter: Novel – Honorable Mention
The Other Side of Normal Cassandra Herrington’s fingers danced across the keypad as she tapped out a message to her husband, Dilford. home n 10 stay there have surprise for U! The brush of her thumb sent the text on its way. In seconds, the screen on Dilford’s Samsung Galaxy S7 flashed and the gadget issued an alerting beep as it lay on the desk, five feet from his lifeless body. As promised in the text, ten minutes later Cassandra let herself into the sprawling ranch style house south of Normal, Illinois. She walked purposefully into her husband’s study, set her purse on an end table beside the sofa, and went to work arranging Dilford’s slumped body upright in his chair. When she was satisfied the scene looked convincing, she took the Ruger LC9s out of her purse and fired two rounds into the chest of Dilford’s unprotesting corpse. She set the pistol on the desk, picked up the Samsung and speed dialed Dilford’s office. His executive secretary answered. “Hey, Janet,” Cassandra said. “This is Cassie. I just wanted to let you know Dilford won’t be coming in today.” The voice on the other end commented that he rarely came to the office anymore, anyway, then asked if he wasn’t feeling well. “He’s not feeling anything,” Cassandra replied. “I just shot him.” She disconnected the call and punched in the number for the DeWitt County Sheriff’s Office. She gave the details of the shooting to Sargent Tommy Nugent, telling him there wasn’t any need to send emergency medical personnel. “Dilford’s beyond even the most miraculous of medical miracles,” she explained. “I plugged him good. A couple of times, dead center.” She’d known the officer for more than a decade and recognized the teeth sucking sound he always made before his more serious proclamations. “Still got to deal with the body, Cass. I’ll get EMS to send out a wagon.” A pause and then the teeth sucking sound again. “Since it’s a shooting, they might take him to Normal. We’re not set up for that kind of thing here.” “I understand,” Cassandra replied. Then, “Will you let Sheriff Bickel know? I think he might want to handle this one himself.” She clicked the phone off and set it on the desk beside her Ruger. She picked up the pistol. After making sure the safety was on she tried to give it a western gunslinger twirl
around her index finger, but the trigger guard was too snug. She placed the gun back on the desk beside Dilford’s phone and settled into the sofa to wait. Sheriff Aubrey Bickel picked up the call from his dispatcher, Tommy Nugent. “Surprised it’s taken her this long,” he said into the radio mic. “Dollar on a dime it’s selfdefense. Dilford’s slugged that woman so many times you’d think she had an Everlast logo on her forehead.” The sheriff signed off and eased his midnight black Ford Explorer onto the shoulder of the two-lane road he’d been cruising just north of Clinton, the county seat of his jurisdiction. He completed the U-turn and wheeled the car back south, in the direction of the Herrington farm. Aubrey Bickel had gone to school with Cassandra Herrington, then Cassandra Lanier, in the little town of Kappa. Now, they both lived in Clinton, on the other side of Normal. The crush that had blossomed in his teen-age heart when the two of them were in the 8th grade had diminished only slightly over the years. He took every opportunity to see her, especially if it allowed him to go to the 40-acre farm where Dilford kept her sequestered from the world. Now, speeding down the two-lane highway toward the farm, he let out a low whistle and shook his head. “Cassie Herrington shot Dilford. ‘Bout damn time.” High school homecoming queen, valedictorian, and Most Likely to Succeed Cassandra Lanier, not only had her whole life before her, she had that life mapped out in enough detail to make the priciest GPS turn green with envy. Pre-law at Western Illinois, law school at Northwestern, then a plum partnership path at a prestigious securities firm in Chicago. But across the path of even the best laid out route an occasional obstacle will fall. Cassandra’s obstacle was six-foot-four, handsome, tanned and muscular; amply equipped with her three favorite ceps—bi, tri, and quadri. A former outside linebacker for Indiana University who’d worn the number 54 below the name Herrington on his scarlet jersey, and who used to tease her in the days when their sex was fun by asking, “Hoozier daddy?” as he deftly maneuvered through a panoply of tantalizing torments.” Since her first precocious toddling steps, Cassandra had loved to dance, and Dilford had seamlessly transferred his athletic prowess to the dance floor, literally sweeping her off her feet time and time again. He was playful with pets, good with kids, and treated old folks like royalty. Looking back, what disturbed Cassandra most about her infatuation with Dilford was how easily she’d been taken in. Giving the outward appearance of a man devoted to the Golden Rule, Cassandra soon discovered his true allegiance was only to the first half of the Rule: Do Unto Others. After twenty plus years of marriage, she had lost count of the people who had been done unto by Dilford. Along with other romantic trappings, once the two were married, the dancing stopped. Their sex life lapsed into an obligatory fulfillment of whatever Dilford demanded. With her career plans derailed, Cassandra found herself cast in the role of a young stay-at-home wife of an upwardly mobile, ambitiously ruthless wheeler-dealer. The second year of their marriage she discovered Dilford was also outwardly mobile— apparently taking the vow to forsake all others as a suggestion, not a commitment. When she confronted him with the frilly panties she’d found stuffed into his suit coat pocket—the fault obviously being hers for finding them, not his for putting them there— he slugged her, loosening two teeth and requiring seven stitches for what the DeWitt 65
County Emergency Clinic logged as: Fell down stairs. As the years passed, Cassandra’s medical file would reflect an increasing clumsiness when it came to negotiating stairs. A Slipped and fell in the third year of their marriage landed her in the hospital for a week and rendered her incapable of having children; a consequence she came to view as a blessing, relieving her from culpability in extending the Herrington lineage. The emotional distance between the two grew with every passing year, though Dilford ensured the physical proximity never waned, keeping Cassandra on a shorter and shorter leash. He curtailed his travels, staying home more often than not; a transition Cassandra knew had been made so he could keep a closer eye on her. He spent his days holed up in his study with three giant flat screen televisions tuned to three separate all-news channels, in case something happened somewhere in the world to which he’d need to take immediate action with one of his multitude of business interests. As for Cassandra, the isolation and escalating abuse caused her disenchantment to drift to festering rancor, seething anger, and finally full-blown hatred. Normally the journey from hatred to murder requires a major shift in the human psyche, but the decision to kill Dilford had taken only a slight shift from one intended victim to another. Killing had been on Cassandra’s mind for the better part of two years, but it had been herself she’d planned to kill, not her husband. She had in fact planned her own death so many times it had become part of her daily routine. Devising creative ways to do away with herself a dark substitute for crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Then, one morning, when she caught herself laughing about a particularly imaginative way she’d thought of to do herself in, she realized how much she still enjoyed being alive. It was as though plotting new, imaginative ways to end her life had given her a reason to go on living. In that odd and totally unexpected way, she had, in essence, killed herself back to life. Once Cassandra realized she wasn’t the Herrington who needed to die, it was simply a matter of selecting the right method and figuring out the best way to get away with it. Dilford might be worth killing, but he wasn’t worth going to prison for. She’d confess to the shooting. Say she thought he was sleeping. Soon enough the authorities would know Dilford was already dead when the shots were fired. Cassandra might have intended to kill her husband but her attempt had come too late. Why would a killer shoot someone they knew was already dead? There had to be legal consequences for shooting a dead body, but nothing to keep her locked up until it was all worked out. No one would suspect her of the actual murder. At least not until she was well beyond the reach of Sheriff Aubrey Bickel.
First Chapter: Novel – Honorable Mention
MacPhee Island Ewan MacPhee The Feud Commences The Hooper clan had but one goal in life, as best I can make out, and it was to kill all the Watson men that they felt wasted the air that was made entirely for a Hooper to breathe. The Hooper's plan was to take off their heads and wipe up their blood with the clothes of the Watson children. So, if you've been wondering how the Hooper-Watson feud came about…the thing that sits in the craw of every one of us…it rests soundly upon what began in Scotland in the year of my Lord 1815. It culminated in the mountains of North Carolina, but it began on MacPhee Island. *** A milky veil of haze rolled in from the sea. It wrapped itself around the clinker-built birlinn which slipped quietly through the water. The chalky white emptiness swaddled us. I glanced over my shoulder and could dimly make out the shape of my papa. He stood and took a long stick and felt for the bottom of Loch Quoich. The mist soaked my shirt and slid down my back. My fingers gripped the edge of the boat until my knuckles turned white. The white cover felt thick and weighty. In the silence, I feared we might slam into a passing yole with nary a sound, from either our boat or theirs, until it was too late. Our vessel rocked fiercely as Papa sat down. “Grab an oar, boy. Stick it down and hold it until you feel it touch bottom. We're surely getting near the shore.” I pushed the stick down until my hands were coved with the icy water. “There’s no bottom.” “Hold it down until you feel it scrape the rocks.” Papa again rose and the boat recoiled. I screamed. “Hush boy.” The heat spread up my neck and into my face. “Can’t we go back to the Great Glen and come back another day? Do you even know where we are? Perhaps the boat has veered off path.” “The fog will lift when the sun rises higher. Once we can feel the bank, we'll put up and wait until the fog clears. MacPhee's house should be in sight of the shore.” Papa's voice carried the lilt of Glenquoich, deep and relaxed. "Keep your voice down." Papa sat down and rowed. 67
His calmness angered me. I'd heard the stories of wrecked sailors and sunken boats. “Why did we come here?" He didn't answer. I thought to when we left in the sooty darkness before the break of the day. "Why did you take meal from the barrel and bring it?” The front of the boat hit rocks and slid to the side. "I told you to feel for the shore. That better not have broken the front section, or we'll be at the mercy of MacPhee until we can repair it." Papa's forehead creased. Papa stepped up beside me and put a foot on the bank. He tied the rope to the trunk of a dead silver birch and jumped back into the boat. The motion rocked us and water ran over the edge and gathered at my feet. “Grab the food. The man we're to see today would do nothing without gain on his behalf. This is my offering.” I was angry. “This has been a stubborn winter, and it'll be some time before we can plant. The store of salt meat is slim. We’ll starve.” The large stick slammed against the inside of the boat. Papa put the wet bark against my face. “You say nary a word while we're there. Do you hear me?” I nodded, and he let the stick drop to his side. Our eyes locked until I dropped my head. He would have hit me…no mistake about it. When his hand dropped from the stick, I asked, “Who is this man that we have come to see? Ewan MacPhee?” “Ewan MacPhee is the man that has the power to cure our cow. I was told not to come with empty hands. Hence the meal. It's all I have to offer. I brought you for I felt sure he'd kill no one with a child to see it.” My eyes widened. He had brought me as a shield from the mad man that I'd heard about. No one dared come against him, although I never knew his name until now. But I had heard terrible things. We sat in the boat and waited where land met sea until the milky white rose and we could see the murky brine. The water was smooth except for a tiny ripple that started near the boat and ran out further into the Loch. I leaned back in fear. Papa turned just as tiny sawblade fins jutted in and out of the water at a length of six men foot to head across the water. Suddenly, something akin to the head of a horse with big eyes came out of the water then dived deeply into the dark brackish sea. Its long body followed, rising a bit higher than the time before. It then disappeared, and the water smoothed. A faint length of mud rose in its path. I looked at Papa. He turned paler than his normal winter skin. “What was that?” He jumped onto the rocks. “I don’t know what ye’re talking about.” He'd seen it. I knew he had. “You did so see it. You turned to watch it swim away.” The oar was thrust toward me. I reached out and caught it with my right hand, and let Papa pull me onto the shore. He yanked me hard to his side and whispered. “You never saw a thing. People that so much as whisper that they have seen it are called a lunatic by others. No child of mine is a lunatic.” The fog had drifted outward to reveal a small mountain. We walked to the houses sitting among the rocks at the base. There were shouts and laughter as we neared the dwellings.
Four men jumped from the stoop and stood elbow to elbow in front of us. Papa raised the bag of his offering toward them. “I have a gift for MacPhee. If I could speak a moment with him, I'd be much obliged.’ A large man stepped out of the door and walked toward us. No grander finery had I ever seen. Fringes and epaulets hung from his shoulders. A tartan of grandeur hung to his knees met with leather wrapped from toe to border. “What have we here? You look white as ghosts. Didn’t see our creature as you come to us did you?” The men laughed when I shook my head in agreement. “So you admit it, do you? At least you have an honest boy.” He pushed himself between the men and grabbed the bag. Papa and Ewan MacPhee, went to the side and talked. The men gathered around me and begged me to describe what I'd seen in the waters, all the while passing a stone jar from which each took a swig and quickly wiped his mouth, then handed it to the next. They called the creature the ‘Lake-Horse’. “It's almost always seen on sunrise, and you can bet with the devil that the day will be clear and sunny if he's shown himself.” I looked up and the sun was sending rays over the mountains. “It’s not a good sign, child.” One man spoke, and then belched. “It may be a good omen for the day, but you can bet you'll not get whatever you've come for. The creature is evil. I heard tale that it only shows itself to evil men.” They all turned as one and stared at my Papa. Ewan MacPhee yelled at Papa. "Think about it man. Once you're dead, you're goin' to be that way for very long time. The boy will be but a fatherless waif and your wife a widow for the taking." He turned and walked into the house. Papa stared at his back. His red and angry look gave me no hope. The men took a few steps toward us. Papa turned suddenly and stalked toward the water. I ran to catch up. By the time I reached the boat, he'd untied it and was pushing off. I jumped onto the front and fell headlong at his feet. I caught a look of surprise on his face. He would have left me had I not followed. There was not a doubt in my mind. I was forgotten in his anger. Papa turned the bow of the boat toward the mainland. After we rowed to a safe distance from their view, he turned and circled the island. I didn’t dare ask him what we were doing. His face was set with the determination of a man that would kill, if need be.
Winners AWC Literary Competition 2017 Nonfiction First Place
The Stray Cat Chervis Isom Birmingham, AL Second Place
One Final Favor Richard Perreault Bryson City, NC Third Place
Larry Wilson Wetumpka, AL Honorable Mention
Ann Robbins-Phillips Hixson, TN Honorable Mention
Camilla Turberville Pensacola, FL Honorable Mention
The Lady on the Elevator Stephen Edmondson Homewood, AL
Poetry Sponsored by Negative Capability Press First Place
The Day Before Easter Chervis Isom Birmingham, AL Second Place
Jane Sasser Oak Ridge, TN Third Place
The Six of Us
Carol Grametbauer Kingston, TN Honorable Mention
Souvenir Susan Martinello Gulf Shores, AL
Flash Fiction First Place
The Unopened Present Larry Wilson Wetumpka, AL Second Place
Glenda Slater Spanish Fort, AL Third Place
Linda Hudson Hoagland North Tazewell, VA
Short Story First Place
A Tale of First Love Karim Shamsi-Basha, Birmingham, AL Second Place
Scrumper's Knob Richard Perreault Bryson City, NC Third Place
The Last Time an Angel Passed Laura Hunter, Northport, AL Honorable Mention
Our Beagles Died Young Richard Perreault Bryson City, NC
Juvenile Fiction In Honor of Warren S. Katz First Place
The Beast of Weissburg Emma C. Fox Birmingham, AL Second Place
The Case of the Missing Piping Plovers Claire Datnow Birmingham, AL Third Place
Katherine and Henry Randa Sansing Bessemer, AL
Honorable Mention Murder on a Kite-Flying Morning Rose Marie Stutts Tuscaloosa, AL Honorable Mention
Karim Shamsi-Basha Birmingham, AL
First Chapter: Novel In Honor of Dorothy M. Lobman
Hoodlum Violinist Bonnie K. Kidd Ocean Springs, MS Second Place
Beloved Mother Laura Hunter Northport, AL Third Place
The Sound of Bells
Susan Beckham Zurenda Spartanburg, SC Honorable Mention
The Other Side of Normal Richard Perreault Bryson City, NC
Ann Robbins-Phillips Hixson, TN
Screenwriting First Place
Keepinâ€™ it Mighty Hot
Dr. David Beito and Professor Linda Beito Tuscaloosa, AL
Contributors Claire Datnow was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. Claire taught gifted and talented students in the Birmingham Public Schools. Her books for middle school include The Adventures of the Sizzling Six, eco mystery series. Claire has received numerous scholarships and awards, including a Fulbright Memorial Teacher Scholarship, and Birmingham Public School Teacher of the Year. Stephen Edmondson, 77, lives and writes in Homewood, Alabama. His recently published To Live and Die in Alabama is an eclectic collection of his short stories, some true and some not so true. He writes of tragedy and better times, trying to be true to the memory of his friends and neighbors, from early childhood to the present. Emma Fox lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, three young children, and an energetic border collie. Along with her love of books and writing, Emma's passions include art history, tea and chocolate, heirloom plants, and global travel. The Beast of Weissburg is her first full-length novel. Carol Grametbauer lives in Kingston, Tennessee. Her poems have appeared in numerous print and online journals including Appalachian Heritage, Appalachian Journal, Connecticut River Review, Still, Fluent, and drafthorse; her chapbook, Now & Then, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her work was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Linda Hudson Hoagland is the author of fiction, nonfiction, short stories, poetry and stage plays. Hoagland has won numerous awards for her work, including first place for the Pearl S. Buck Award for Social Change and the Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest. Laura Hunter writes fiction, poetry, and free-lance articles. She focuses on the downtrodden, specifically those who refuse to give up, even against extreme odds. Her writing has received numerous awards. Now a resident of Tuscaloosa County, she grew up in Alabama hill country. Hunter’s current project is a novel based on mid-twentieth century eugenics practices in Central Alabama. Her novel Beloved Mother (ISBN 978-1934610-98-5) is to be released in 2018. firstname.lastname@example.org Chervis Isom recently published “The Newspaper Boy,” a memoir of his journey out of the Jim Crow racism of his youth in Birmingham, Alabama as his time intersected with major historical events. He attended Birmingham public schools, BirminghamSouthern College and Cumberland Law School. email@example.com Bonnie K. Kidd (b. 1945), from Ocean Springs, MS, is a novelist and short story writer who has won many awards in the past five years. She is currently working on a romantic suspense novel, Wolf at the Door, after which she will finish Hoodlum Violinist, in 2017.
Susan Martinello lives in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Her poems have appeared in Grandmother Earth, Birmingham Arts Journal, POEM, the medical journal CHEST, Connotation Press, 2nd & Church, as well as Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry, and Nancy Drew Anthology. Richard Perreault This is the seventh consecutive year Richard’s work appears in the Alalitcom. Since turning to short fiction in 2011, he has won more than 40 awards, including four first places at the Alabama Writer’s Conclave. Proceeds from his book, Toto Too, go to animal shelters in the Southeast. Ann Robbins-Phillips, a mother, wife, and grandmother from Chattanooga, TN, authors books (The Revenge Series) from her genealogy research. "McPhee Island" was written when her readers wanted to know the story of the feud from her series. "The Bed" is a true account of an heirloom from her mother. Randa Sansing has a passion for anything middle grade. She is currently polishing two short middle grade novels. Also enjoys writing short stories. She is retired and lives in the Birmingham area. Jane Sasser was born and raised in Fairview, NC. Her poetry has appeared in The North American Review, The Sun, JAMA, and other anthologies and publications. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Recollecting the Snow and Itinerant. She lives in Oak Ridge, TN. Karim Shamsi-Basha is a writer/photographer/painter. The Huffington Post hosts his blog, Arab in Alabama. He’s won prizes in the 84th Writer’s Digest International Competition, written and photographed extensively for Sports Illustrated, People, Time, Southern Living, The Alabama News Center and the al.com. Other publications include 78, B-Metro, Portico, Birmingham and Aramco World magazines. He wrote an essay for the book: Alabama Christmas alongside Helen Keller and Truman Capote. Rose Marie Stutts, EdD is retired but not inactive. She is known in West Alabama as the Chess Lady since she teaches chess to any student aged 4 to 104 who want to learn, at no cost to the students. The outreach program meets three days a week. Marie also spends her quiet time writing stories for children and teaching children's' cooking classes. Camilla Turberville, originally from Birmingham, Alabama, lives in Pensacola, Florida. She is a graduate of Samford University and the University of West Florida. Before retiring, she was a professor at Pensacola State College and a member of the Academy of Teaching Excellence at that school. Larry Wilson is a retired Air Force Officer who lives on the lip of the Wetumpka meteor crater overlooking Montgomery. He is a member of several creative writing groups and past president of Montgomery Creative Writers. He writes primarily short fiction, but if sufficiently depressed, an occasional poem sneaks out.
Susan Beckham Zurenda taught English for 33 years and now works as a publicist for Magic Time Literary Publicity based in Spartanburg, SC. She has won a number of short fiction awards. The Sound of Bells is her first novel which she hopes to have published.