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Winners and Favorites from the 2012 Short-Fiction Contest PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 27 September 2012 11:51

We received 69 entries in our fiction contest, and prize-winners and a selection of other favorites are published here.

To refresh your memory, we set a limit of 250 words per entry. (For future contests, a bit of advice: Count by hand – at least twice.) We also required each entry to conform to one of five prompts in genre (ghost story, romance, tall tale, noir, or biography), point-of-view character (inanimate object, child, polygamist, criminal, or nun), and conflict/action (betrayal, reunion, shame, obsolescence, or unrequited love). And for the brave and/or foolish, we offered the elective option of writing in the style of Dr. Seuss, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, William S. Burroughs, or Twitter. Who knew there were so many stories waiting to be told about longing objects, sensual nuns, and Seussian polygamists?

Third Prize (Three Prompts)

“So ... tell me a story, then.” She smiled in that sly way she always does. She knew I could never tell her but she never cared.

“C’mon, I love the way you lie to me.” She slinked over and tilted her head.

I lit a cigarette and looked out the window into the city. Whatever city it is this time. The lights danced across the horizon the way they always do in the movies. I winced as I leaned against the window.

“Poor baby ... ” snuggling up on me “ ... didn’t they play nice?” Before I could tell her to leave it alone she was kissing me.

She reached around me and felt my gun.

“Is that for me?” she said with a giggle. God, she loved this. She had no idea.

I sighed, struggling with what I had to do. I could hear Vic telling me she knew too much. Telling me what he always did – “business over personal.” Over and over his words echoed in my head. Jesus, with all that went down tonight and all I did for him and now I gotta ... .

I stood up and held the gun and she held her breath. I looked at her down the barrel and she looked at me deep. Scared of me a little. The way she always loved to be ... .

I pulled her to me and kissed her deep. She pulled back and threw herself on the bed.

“So what’re you gonna do with that?”

“ ... ”

– Bradley Youngs, Davenport

Candlelight

He sat facing the candle and the door, fingering his napkin nervously, leaving two menus untouched on the table. He jumped up as she approached, and seated her opposite. They took the menus but didn’t read, as they watched each other’s faces in the flickering light. There was a soft sadness in her eyes as she gazed across the flame.

Had it been too many years? These two, cast in the glow of the candle’s light, had been apart for so very long. Youthful exuberance had been replaced by age’s wisdom. They barely noticed when their food was served and the wine poured.

The two tentatively began the dance of re-acquaintance, while their shadows frolicked unfettered in the candlelight. A gentle word brought a shared memory. Gradually the tension dissolved and they slipped into comfortable conversation. Stories of children and grandchildren were shared, happy times and sadness, abundance and loss.

The light deepened and shadows lengthened as the candle drew shorter, signifying their time was nearly at an end. The conversation turned to the present, not daring to cross that threshold into the future. The present would be enough for now. The check paid, they arose from their chairs and held each other in a long embrace.

As the waiter breathed the candle’s flame to darkness, the couple meandered away.

– Roberta Osmers, Davenport

Til Death Do Us Part ... Again

MR. WALKER:

“It couldn’t be any easier,” he said. “First she had forgiven my criminal past; she thought I turned over a new leaf – a money leaf that is. Once she made me the beneficiary for her life insurance and will, everything was set.

“Once I had control of the funds, I knew exactly how to get that chain-smoking old hag – I filled her cigarette lighter with water instead of lighter fluid. She was so frustrated and aggravated; she had a heart attack and died.”

MRS. WALKER:

“It couldn’t be any easier,” she said. “I waited a couple weeks after my funeral, just for the right moment, the right time. He was climbing up the stairs counting his money, not really paying much attention.

“I just appeared out of thin air. It really startled him; he dropped all his money – then I just kept levitating above the stairs. The longer I kept floating there, the more scared he got. He tried to run down the steps really quickly, but wasn’t paying much attention and slipped on some of the bills and fell down the stairs breaking his neck in the process; he was dead before he hit the bottom.”

– Michael McCarty, Rock Island

First Prize (Three Prompts)

Hook and Addiction

“They mean Shenpa!”

My wife, Megan, supinated her hands for inspection. The tattoos looked like a pair of 9s and some 8th notes.

With that, the camel’s back broke.

I took the blame. Of course I did. No Ambien or alcohol in my system, but – If I said I drove the car? I’d be out in three to six years. Meg wouldn’t lose daddy’s money.

We had a lawyer who liked me, but hated the wife. This was common. I was out in two.

“They mean ‘the hook and the addiction!’” she bounced excitedly.

Meg was as sincere as an accident. She replaced one addiction for another constantly. Now, she’d adopted the worst of yoga’s platitudes. Megan talked about Karma; saying “Namaste” as if she had originated that stupid, f---ing word.

And now, tattoos. Jesus ... .

I passed a glance at her wrists as I lip-grabbed a cigarette out of the pack.

“What’s Vic think?” I asked, smiling as I lit up.

She frowned, tried to speak, and pooched it. She held my stare.

“That’s what I thought,” I said through an exhale, my smile melting into an icy gaze. The smoke separated us.

The yoga teacher, Vic. Even in jail, gossip finds you.

“I know something about hooks and addictions, Meg.”

I placed the divorce papers in her outstretched hands and pointed to them.

“Karma.” I said.

I grabbed my gym bag and went out the door.

Sans hook, sans addiction. No ink needed.

– Adam Lewis, Monmouth, Illinois

Assumption

She always smokes in the house. She will spark a cigarette in any room. Tonight she chose mine. I didn’t really mind. The smoke wouldn’t make my dull green color change much. Being the wall in the house with the most photos mounted on it, I was the central focus of the living room where the two former lovers sat across from each other with that smug coffee table in between them.

“You don’t mind if I smoke?” she said to him.

“Not at all.”

There was a fierce nervousness in the air. It clung to me and made my paint want to peel away. It was the type that floats around when you are about to make a move on someone who makes you unsure of their true intentions. I knew nothing of this feeling. She exhaled and blew smoke directly towards his face. She stared intently.

“Have you gone mad?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t want to have sex?”

His eyes crinkled.

“I never said that.”

“Your face did.”

“Stop being so nervous.”

“I’m not.”

“Of course you are.”

She shuffled her feet on the wooden floor. I felt the vibrations. It had been months since they had seen each other. The fire still burned between them. It made them both shifty.

“I’m going to put a record on,” he said.

“Oh, setting the mood?”

“Not exactly.”

I started to dislike her.

– Bruce James Bales, Bettendorf

Penned

Summer nights, John used to ransack his desk for me and write until the sun rose and the crickets silenced. I stained his fingers and he squeezed me too tight, but we were closer than blood then.

How did he dare throw me into the fire with all his words? The day Shelly died and he burned his writings, I felt secure in his jeans’ pocket, clipped inside the denim. I felt idiotically safe the whole short walk to the bonfire. Even when he pulled me out and held me at eye level, watching the firelight reflect off my black barrel, I was sure he was simply admiring his favorite pen.

“Good-bye,” he whispered, and tossed me gently into the flames. That single word burned me to ashes. But I cannot forget the winding, passionate poems we wrote together. My pent-up ink begs to be released.

It is cold tonight, no longer summer, but I will go back. Surely there are words buzzing inside his head, desperate to fly out through his fingers, and I want to help him. We were meant for each other.

He is sleeping restlessly, and I slip myself into his twitching hand, hoping the weight is enough to rouse him. He wakes with a gasp and drives me into his chest. I am metal enough now. Blood and ink spurt and I think we have both found peace.

– Margeaux Fincher, Bettendorf

Knotty

When I grow up I wanna’ be just like Knotty the clown. He’s a lot like other clowns with the funny faces, goofy clothes, and silly jokes. But he’s especially special to me ’cause he’s never missed my birthday. There’s a lotta kids that have never met him, but everybody knows about his tricks. He’s my favorite! The thing I like most is when he ties up balloon animals and other balloon stuff and makes it come to life. Last year on my birthday he blew me up a new balloon bike, and turned it real, I’ve been ridin’ it every day. The other day he made this girl from ’round the block a real pony with his balloon trick. And today I turn seven years old, I wonder what I’ll get, I’m super excited! I’ve been pacing the house all day waiting for him to show up, but so far no sign. I waited until it was night and Knotty still hadn’t come. I began to cry. Then there he was – before me, I smiled and hugged him. Then he said, “I’ve got somethin’ for ya’”.He pulled off my sock, stuck my foot in his mouth, and blew me up into a grown man. He said, “Now you know my secret, kid. I’m your Dad. And my clownin’ days are over, so I need you to take it from here.” I began to cry again, and hugged him until he popped. I’m gonna miss ya pops.

– Alexander J. Dawson, Silvis, Illinois

Second Prize (Four Prompts)

Too Many to Love

This is the tale of a man and his wives,
Too many to love and too few left alive.
He kept them up high in a beautiful flower,
As tall as the tallest most ivory tower.

His mission was simple; he wanted to love,
So he captured his women and took them above.
Above to a porch, all covered in roses
And upon their arrival, he made his proposes.

Each gal was so smitten by diamonds and pearls,
They rarely laid eyes on the 10,000 girls.
So many young women, trapped in a flower,
As tall as the tallest most ivory tower.

So crowded they felt as they pushed to the edge,
And suddenly started to fall off the ledge.
“Come back to me, darlings, we’ve only begun!”
And they ended their marriages, one after one.

They called as they fell, “You never have said
That I was but one of 10,000 you wed!
We cannot all live here and love you like this,
You must understand, this is not married bliss.”

Looking over his wives, he cried and he cried,
His tears never stopped. His tears never dried.
The only good thing was he watered his flower,
As tall as the tallest most ivory tower.

– Claire Rayburn, Davenport

Revival

My friends may not see it, but there is a soft side in me despite my abhorrent behavior. I had risked my reputation with my friends by letting her go. I never saw her again, but I’ll always remember that face. The one with a look of sheer terror, yet unspeakable beauty. Those soft, blue eyes would never gaze upon me again. I long to see that face and those eyes again, but I never got another chance. My anger was taken out on everybody else at the banks that I robbed, and the innocents that I mugged, never giving myself a moment to hesitate, or to reconsider.

My days became bitter as I became obsessed with the thought of her. My pistol eventually became horrendous to look upon, and I couldn’t stand to be with my friends anymore, who insisted on following their own dark desires. I will never forget that face, the way she looked when I threatened her for the belongings she had with her, and how it pained me like a knife driven into my heart. My friends became distant, and I eventually left them for good, never to participate in their repulsive deeds again. I never saw her again, but I always thanked her inside for jolting me back into a life that was free of fear, even when I was found and arrested, and this time, I didn’t fight back.

– Forrest Bezotte, Sherrard, Illinois

A Boy’s Best Friend

He was walking, just climbing the stairs to his room,
When suddenly came a loud noise, a boom!
As if something had fallen, and quite noisily,
For it nearly caused Billy to faint, you see?

With a gasp and a shriek, Billy turned around,
Where he spotted a figure that was not quite unsound.
Being such a young child, you’d think Billy’d be scared
To see such a thing, but Billy just stared.

There was something familiar about this certain spook
That made Billy step closer to get a good look.
This phantom was friendly, or so he appeared,
For he was just there, no need to be feared.

Although just a child, Billy wasn’t naïve.
When it came to ghosts, he knew he should leave!
But this time was odd, not like the rest.
Yes, this time was different, for Billy felt blessed!

To be in the presence of such a good friend,
Whose time was cut short, whose time had to end.
This friend always listened, not once did he fight,
The kind of friend you can talk to all night!

Not once did they argue, quarrel, or buck.
For this kind of friendship just came out of luck!
Billy flung his arms around his old best friend’s neck.
Without one bit of doubt, not a hint, not a speck!

Forever running in their hearts till the end,
After all, dogs are a boy’s best friend.

– Molly Chen, Davenport

Second Prize (Three Prompts)

This Is My Body

The cloister bells wagged their tongues as I wandered the colonnade, doing stone laps around what, until then, had been my life. It was autumn, season of return.

I’d had enough of the pointed gravity of a crucifix hung about the neck, as if the body, habit clad and devout – deferential – were merely a vessel, incidental as a single star nodding on and off behind the wide vault of heaven overhead.

But mine wasn’t a desire glowing comic red beneath my habit, a beacon, a warning, for any who would see. It was, simply, unavoidably, the newly molten core of me, a flare holding me steady, casting even the stupidest moments of my life now in brilliant relief.

At lauds that morning, I’d watched from the confessional window as a fellow novice, a few years my junior, with glasses and pale breasts that conjured scenes of hill and valley plain, lay, half-déshabillé, shielded by hedgerow and stained glass.

The woman, who I’d seen, once, in the dining hall cutting crust from her toast, had removed her loafers and set them beside her, believing herself invisible. Eyes closed, hands at rest behind her head, she was a child dreaming through recess, or a hiker who’d, exhausted, abandoned her pack in favor of the cool, forgiving ground.

There was some space then between what I knew and what I understood, but none of that mattered. I had seen what I had seen.

– Erin M. Bertram, Rock Island

Living in the woods can be quite a scare
When a ghost is living just up the stairs
This unwelcomed guest whimpers and hollers
To shut him up I’d pay a million dollars
I dare not go to the attic, in fear of seeing his face
He just wanders and moans and doesn’t leave a trace
The temperatures drop and then get toasty again
The sound of creaking boards mark where he’s been
Things go missing and are often misplaced
He seems to be ornery, full of distaste
The pitter and patter keeps me up through the night
My skin sprinkled with goose flesh, cold from the fright
His breathing I can sense, next to my ear
His ghostly, unwelcomed presence always is near
I’ve called in priests and bishops, and even pastors
Each time he goes away, but comes back even faster
I hear him growl and sneer, he must be a demon
With him I’ve begged and I’ve pleaded, even tried reason
When I missed mass because I’d grown so tired
That was the last straw, my fears were fired
I threw off my covers and ran to the door
I had plenty of courage, but wish I had more
I peered up the stairs, put one foot in front of the other
Breathing deep I thought “Help me heavenly Mother”
And the ghost I saw was quite to my dismay
My late dog Rex, who passed last May.

– Kate Pearson

Worthless

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place about what to do next. Of course I couldn’t simply run after her. It’s never been that easy for us, not even that Saturday night we met. I saw her sitting precariously on the edge of a cheap barstool puffing smoke rings in the air. She said something about being low on cash and was eager to pick me up.

“Hey, you’re better than nothing,” the angel giggled.

It looked like I had met the one, at least from my point of view. However, it was not meant to be. Within days, I was sharing living space with a few men with an over-the-top fondness for green. I suppose it was to be expected. I was nothing compared to them. For a while I assumed she had only kept me around as a good luck charm, but as it turns out I wasn’t even good enough for that. Nothing is what I was to her. I learned that when I fell behind and she never came back. I know she heard me. She saw my face pleading with her not to leave me in such desolation, but my angel only watched as I became caught between a rock and a hard place.

– Brooke Wiese, Davenport