Winners and Favorites from the 2012 Short-Fiction Contest Print
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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


The Big Nap

Jericka Zoe. The minute we met, first day of grammar school, P.S. 124 – I knew we were destined for beautiful things. “Zoe.” Rhymes with “toe.” Not “Chloe,” or “Joey,” or some other cockamamie two-syllable name ending in a “y.”

It’s pretty ironic if you think about it, cuz all I do with my six-year-old self anymore is cry into my Ovaltine, asking, “WHY?” Why’d JZ have to move clear the heck across town to P.S. 142? Sure, we had our beefs. I wasn’t crazy about how she’d bat her little blue peepers at Danny Westinhazy or that pie-faced little maroon, Arnie Nicklebottom. And sometimes I did eat half of Sally Waladuci’s or Betty Sue Thornberry’s moon pies – what of it? I’m only human! Meanwhile she’s off hiding behind her Weekly Reader, givin’ me the cold shoulder while Wendy Camarari pounds her way through “I’m a Little Teapot” ON THE PIANO??? I haven’t napped in weeks! Oh, I know. I’ve heard it all, baby: “Daddy got fired and we had to move to a bad part of town cuz my grandma died and our house burned down.” CRY ME A RIVER!

But I miss the good times, you know? I try and be a big boy about it. Ma tells me she’s proud, cuz I don’t wet my pants no more like some freakin’ five year old.

But the truth is, JZ ... I’m still wetting my pants.

Inside.

Over you.

– Chris Gulley, Rock Island

Grand Prize; First Prize (Four Prompts)

The Cross of Cold

A bride of Christ my Abbess calleth me
But marriage bed so cold should wife not know.
Long, lonely days upon my knees I pass,
And scrub, and pray, and seed the eager soil.
But seed bear I, though fallow do I live –
Not life to share, nor neither shared to be.
Anight, alone, I shaded cloisters roam.
Exhausted but not spent, my cell I seek
To dream beneath my Bridegroom’s wooden gaze.
The moon upon his Book my own eye draws ...
And in the room’s still air a page doth turn,
And turn, and turn, as by a spectral hand!
But Lo! By palest light I fingers ken,
Which fingers grow to hand, to arm ... to man!
I dare not breathe – no shadow does he throw!
With smirking eyes he crosses to my cot;
Beneath my gown I phantom fingers feel –
Fain would I pray, but O! the touch is sweet,
It makes me fire; my Husband’s comfort’s cold.
O miracle, to ride such fevered wave!
Now every night my knight of joy I greet
To love beneath my Master’s loveless stare.
So every tryst my Lord must overlook,
His Crown of Thorns now cuckold’s horns to be;
Yet strangely, sadly, not a word speaks He ... .

– Mary Cartter, Davenport

The Piano

I sit quietly and wait for her.

I have followed her everywhere she has gone, moving to different cities in different states. Traveling miles by freight elevator, fire escape, moving truck to be with her, yet unable to close the growing distance between us.

I have known her since her heart was first broken and she turned to me for solace when language was inadequate to soothe the pain. She would force her fiery rage onto me in dissonant, presstisimo furioso chords until exhausted, heart racing and fingers aching. Other times, she would come to me for comfort, coaxing soft, lingering sighs from deep within my chamber, my keys glistening with her tears.

I once was beautiful. I used to be loved.

I now collect dust and worn clothing, my bench stacked with unpaid bills and old magazines. My notes have soured with age, flattening from disuse. My carefully oiled shine now dull and stripped bare in places. Her neglect has done this to me.

And yet, sometimes ... sometimes when she walks past, she slows, lightly trailing her fingers across my smooth curves, her fingers leaving shiny tracks in the dust. I feel the longing and regret in her touch.

I will wait for her.

– Emily Harvey, Davenport

Girls Training

In third grade my best friend was Lucy King. Lucy taught me The Ten Commandments. I was most curious about “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” which she explained meant “don’t tell lies.” I asked my dad if it was a lie when he told me he’d come to my dance recital and didn’t. But he said it wasn’t a lie because he thought he could when he told me he’d be there, then later found out he had to work late. That’s a mistake, not a lie.

In fourth grade my teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, taught me good citizenship. I was most curious about “Honest, Truthful, and Trustworthy.” I asked my mom if it’s dishonest when dad says he’s working late but he’s actually sitting in a bar. She told me, “Your dad wants to see you dance, he just loses track of time sometimes.”

In sixth grade, the soccer coach told all of us, “You let the whole team down when you make a commitment you don’t keep.” I was most curious about commitment. I asked coach, “If your dad makes a commitment he doesn’t keep, and your mom makes excuses, is that lying, just a mistake, or is it ‘letting me down’?”

In seventh grade, Jimmy Janus gave me a ring and promised he’d love me forever. Well, by then I’d learned my lessons. I knew it was a mistake, he’d lose track of time, and let me down.

– Teresa Propes, Sherrard, Illinois

Useless, Useless

I kneel here in the corncrib
Betrayed by those I thought my friends
They send soldiers to arrest me
As I face my bitter end.

To love liberty now is useless, useless.

It was just mere weeks from this night
I took the historic stage
And from stage right I took my flight
Led by my righteous rage.

To tell me to do otherwise was useless, useless.

The people screamed for four long years,
“That ape from Illinois
He butchers boys from North and South
He does it with such joy.”

He views respect for human life as useless, useless.

As a boy, I was taught upon my father’s knee,
To honor the divine rights of men and of their liberty.
Junius Brutus told me, “Now John, vigilance must be
With you at all times to guard from tyranny.

“To respect the lives of tyrants is useless, useless.”

I formed a group of men, dedicated to the fight
Like Cassius kill the despot, and then we’d take our flight.
The people will support us, as Brutus of old Rome,
And we’d be hailed as heroes and praised away back home.

To think this would not happen was useless, useless.

The bullet has been fired; the tyrant now lies in the ground.
But now they call me “traitor” and hunt me like a hound.
You wanted me to do it, free people of the land,
But now you shoot me in the back and paralyze my hand?
Useless, useless.

– Danielle Baresel, Davenport

Dancing with Loneliness

Rainy days and the shallow macabre wishes of a boy first drew me to the mouth of the attic stairs. I hoped to find something horrific, and discovered it in Jesse, who was 12, ephemeral, and electric, sometimes almost solid and others but a wisp of cold morning breath.

Jesse lived behind the tattered trunk and piles of suppressed memories and detritus of the lifetimes of my parents. She wiped my tears, her fingertips a current, shocking with comfort and fear, and I knew I would spend every moment I could with her. Her fairy sprinkles were dust mites and the sediment of melancholy. Jesse taught me a slow dance, whispered promises of tomorrow, and she was safe. When I begged her to leave the attic, she refused and said this was the place where she would paint my loneliness, and reminded me I belonged to her now.

Years passed, and my parents, tired of nagging me to make friends, convinced themselves I was a loner, happy in the world of books, and the solitude of a rotting attic. I ignored them, content with Jesse. Just Jesse.

Then she was gone. I cried for weeks, searching for my wraith of loneliness, and dreams unrealized.

Last night I saw Jesse across the street, in the window of your attic, waiting to dance with you. You think loneliness suits you fine, then it betrays you, bitter, with memories absent magic.

– Roger Pavey, LeClaire, Iowa

Child Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church

She stared up at the crucifix on her bedroom wall. This would be the last night they would spend in her drab little bedroom. She thought back to a night long ago when he had first come into her room. She was still in Sister Teresa’s first-grade classroom then. She remembered her wonder at the golden paint on the ceramic figure and how it reflected the nightlight. She likened herself to the image on the cross whose body was used by others for their own purposes. She became adept at disconnecting from her own body, staring up at Him from the bed, imagining that she was walking and talking with Him on the dusty dirt roads or listening at His feet. He would whisper in her ear that he loved her. At some point not long into puberty, she realized that she was in love with Him, unable to bear her life without Him.

Tomorrow would be her 18th birthday. It was time to leave this room behind and elope to her beloved. She packed her book bag with the few things she would need, only half-filling it with her Bible, some undergarments and toiletries. They would provide her with new clothing. The crucifix would go into the bag in the morning, wrapped carefully in tissue paper, ready for a new life as His wife.

– Gillian Bale, LeClaire, Iowa

Voices

Click. The door closed and I knew there would be silence again. Silence like at the beginning. Do I still remember?

Silence, first broken when I heard voices.

“Plug it in. Good, it works!”

When the first rumbles came through me, I was alarmed, but soon I welcomed the sounds as words, and familiar voices would collect around me and listen to me. They always seemed so happy. Especially when they heard about this market called “The Stock.” But one day, I transmitted this news about a crash, and their happy voices went silent. The voices were only sad, for what seemed like forever.

Finally, excitement came. All this news about these countries ... this war. I exploded one December morning with something about a harbor. My familiar voices were anxious now, and one of the little ones, now of deep voice, had left. All were apprehensive, but I heard hope.

The family gathered around me one night, and when I said, “Victory. The war is over,” there was happiness again. And often after that. Once again there was music, entertainment; joyful voices from me.

Gradually, it all stopped.

All I heard was “Isn’t the set great? To see them!” I heard no more voices. My knobs were no longer turned.

And now? I am elsewhere, where there are no more familiar voices. All I hear is “Antique. Priceless. Bargain.” After all these years, I cannot speak anymore. All I can do is remember. Remember voices.

– Pablo D. Haake, Davenport

Nonna

My heart has never beaten like this, not till tonight. For as I lock the door, silence fills my soul. Why tonight does my hand shake so, as I carefully light my candle of solace? For why on this night, does it not bring me peace? My life shines eternal meaning. Unto the glory of our faith does my house find spectacular. This is our choice, and a choice willingly made. Without thought of denial, for I know, I deeply love you. For why tonight, do I feel so alone? Thoughts of only you filled my heart during vespers. Finally now may I dare to submit my body to your charms? Should I deem it a sin, to love you? I am monastically yours, and therefore forever, should we not rejoice?

I am ready.

The shadows dance along my walls as the tip of burning solace has turned to a devils tongue. Flickering whispers of lust, tantalizing my fingers. Yes, I feel you speaking to me. Whispering to me at prime, thus planting this wonderful, amazing, yes! Shadows breathe upon my body while enjoying the comforts of you. Does the bite gripping my lips now brand me unworthy? Doth our Abbey hear the subtle whimpers, as you whisper to me; has she also succumbed to your loving flicker? I submit tonight to you O Lord, and softly scream into relaxing slumber. Let my heart dance with you now, cascading into rest, waking soon to the morrow’s cold regret.

– Michael Sheehan, Davenport

Honorable Mention (Four Prompts)

The Froe

I was forged, tempered, crated, and shipped out to be placed on a top shelf alongside other worthy tools. Eagerly taken by a skilled craftsman, we made the best oak wheel spokes in the county, and maybe the state. If only the will of men were as strong as the tools of their trades.

I came down onto the top of the head of a two-dollar whore and left the vaguest outline of my grand form. Some clod detective offered far-fetched guesses at what cracked her skull, but didn’t know what hit that poor woman any more than she did herself. There was a period of outrage and whores and family men alike were put on notice and on edge. Preachers railed, police rousted, newspapers named names, and for a short time the city recoiled with exemplary citizenry.

My partner was found cowering and crying behind a stack of bales in a barn on the other side of the river. I sank far from the main channel where there would have been at least faint hope of being dredged up and put to some good use again, even as a museum piece. Ashes to ashes dust to dust, molten metal to rust. I suppose what we show between our creation and our demise is how we are remembered, but oh what a wretched and woeful end.

– Tom Miller, Davenport


Marrying Sam I Am

I love, I date
I date, I mate:
My dates, I mates.
Marrying Sam I am.

I see, I spin
Their hearts to win
Spin and win, spin and win
Marrying Sam I am.

My love I weave
Gals try: they leave.
Weave and leave, weave and leave
Marrying Sam I am.

If several are many and one is few
I’ll keep trying saying vows anew:
Few and new, few and new
Marrying Sam I am.

If I can’t find one perfect mate
Her love for me to always state
I’ll keep searching it’s not too late
Marrying Sam I am.

I marry and my heart it rends
Marrying Sam hates the ends!
Rends and ends, rends and ends
Marrying Sam I am.

All my wives my wallet keep
But divorce costs make me weep:
Keep or weep, keep or weep
Marrying Sam I am.

Like that TV program gives a peek
There’s lots more wives for me to seek.
Peek and seek, peek and seek
Marrying Sam I am.

One wife is sparse and yes I find
Multiple wives are easier to mind:
Find and mind, find and mind
Marrying Sam I am.

True love I’m seeking come what may
I’ll take a new wife every day.
Come what may, every day
Marrying Sam I am.

– Kate King, Davenport

Still There?

In 1961, I was six and living in a small town in Indiana, when my twin best friends’ father died unexpectedly. Three years later their mother married an insurance agent in town, whose wife had died of cancer.

The newlywed couple decided to build a house on the north end of town, just a block from where I lived. The summer between third and fourth grade was spent watching builders put together this big brick ranch-style, four-bedroom home. By August, it was done, and it was, to that point, one of the happiest days of my life. I ran down the street filled with goofy plans for games, sleepovers, basketball (a Hoosier religion), and homework, as needed.

Much as I liked having Bob and Don living nearby, I quickly found out that having their 16-year-old step-sister Betty around was what really made me happy. Betty was pretty, funny, nice,s and totally oblivious to my schoolboy crush. The twins and I would be watching TV in their family room after school, when Betty would get home after cheerleader practice. She had short brown hair and glasses, but the prettiest smile I had ever encountered. The most she probably ever said to me was “Hi, Norman,” but that was all I needed to imagine living happily ever after with her.

At a wedding reception two years ago, I laughingly confessed my infatuation and she chuckled, even took my hand for an instant. Ahhh.

– Norman Bower, Davenport

Honorable Mention (Three Prompts)

Incidentally

“Jump out that window!” I walk over and look. Six floors away the cars are dwarfed, the pedestrians minute. I wonder if they can see my shadowy form behind the glass. Do they know my story?

“Come on! Jump already, you worthless little bitch” echoes in my mind. I glance behind me at the creature on the couch. She has aged terribly. Her face is contorted with fear, but the alcohol gives her courage. She stares at me, lips snarled fiercely. She is a dumb animal.

I turn away. Still, she is incapable of regret. I brace myself. Every year I grow taller and now the bottle will land with a thud against the small of my back and bounce off, rolling across the floor and into the filthy corner beside the television. No matter – I no longer bruise.

Thirteen years ago the first bottle had smashed into my skull with a wet, decisive crack. I had staggered forward, falling blindly, my tiny hands flailing, searching for support. For a moment, they had rested on the window’s cool surface and then I was falling into the cold winter air, down towards the cars that were growing magically larger on the street below ... .

Did she even get up and look down at the mess? Within the demon that destroyed me is the womb that created me. Every year I return to this miserable woman and remind her of what I should have been.

– Joanna Sallows, Port Byron, Illinois

The Stars in the Sky

Sam stared up
at the glistening stars.
He noted some formed fish,
and some formed cars.

It was a game
he and his mom had loved to play.
If they could’ve,
they would’ve played all day!

Sam cried;
they would play no more.
Not since his mother
got sick to her core.

Sam wished
to see his mother again,
for not only was she a parent,
she was also a friend.

Suddenly Sam heard
a sound like a tinkling bell.
Sam gasped,
for he knew that sound well.

Sam looked up, there she was!
looking as good as new!
so healthy it seemed
she’d never heard of the flu.

Sam rushed toward her,
going in for an embrace.
But, seeing as he shot straight through her,
that wouldn’t be the case.

“I love you with all my heart, my dear,”
his ghostly mother said,
“and I need you to promise me
you’ll be happy though I’m dead.”

Sam started to object
But his mother went on
“You should be with your friends,
not moping on the lawn.”

Sam sighed and nodded,
what she said was true.
There was so much living
he still needed to do.

“I don’t need to leave
Until the sun wakes,”
Sam’s mother suggested.
“How about we look at the stars for old-time’s sake?”

Later that morning
he’d take his mom’s words to heart.
Sam would call up his friends,
and a better life he’d start.

– K.C. Voss, Davenport

Third Prize (Four Prompts)

The Night Terror

When the night terror comes and I hold my breath,
I cross my arms to hide my breasts

I close my eyes, I pray for naught.
There is no refuge. It has never been caught.

I tell myself, “There is no risk.
It is only a ghost. It does not exist.”

But there have been others. Its victims of fear.
Ignoring their protests. Dismissing their tears.

It leaves no bruises. It leaves no pain.
Except the invisible. Appalling shame.

The beast stalks females. Prey of the dark.
Thirteen or older. Its preferred mark.

It has a sport. Petrified fright.
It has an art. Terror by night.

It is my turn. I am thirteen.
The Hobgoblin comes. It comes for me.

The Horror approaches. The Evil is real.
I hear the stumbling. I smell the beer.

I will be different. It will learn things can change.
I will swallow my terror. I will release my rage.

Tonight I hide metal. Hold a knife in my hand.
Tonight it will end. Either me or the man.

– Carolyn McKanna, Bettendorf

Threads of Fate

The city; A foul stench of decay encompasses the air that surrounds us all. The decay of what used to be known as human decency. They say that everyone and everything is born with a purpose. Unlike most, I was born with a destiny that I fully understand, but cannot change. I know not when I will be called upon, but I have a sickening feeling that tonight will be the night I am summoned to ride my winds of fate. A fate that can only bring despair, and add to the suffering that plagues every living being on this rock, third from the sun. Several hours pass into the night as I lay in my dwelling. Every fiber of my being wishes to escape this cold God-forsaken chamber of hatred and fear. However, as tragedy and comedy would have it, my escape would mean certain death. I hear a commotion in the distance. A sudden explosion erupts behind me; this is it. As the unholy meeting of fire and gunpowder thrust me from my home and into the dimly lit alley, I’m given a quick glimpse of the last face I’ll ever see. A young woman lay on the ground with her face covered as if it will shield her from our union. And as I slice through her threads of life and plunge my casing into her warm body, I know; that on this night, my destiny of death has been fulfilled.

– Alan Scholting, Rock Island

A New Language of Love

Rachel and I lived a quiet life. We would sit together on her brocade, overstuffed couch as she flipped through my pages. I would sigh as she caressed my lines with her favorite fountain pen. We passed the days together, her drinking tea with me snuggled against her arm. It was a blissful existence, but I was lonely.

The day came when Rachel brought home a new companion. He was silver and sleek and flashed with undulating bravado. My heart was his. I longed for Rachel to caress my pages with this magnificent marvel of a writing utensil. Alas, she never came to me with him in her hand.

After weeks of gazing passionately at him from across the room Rachel placed me by his side on her desk. I finally had the chance to ask why Rachel never wrote in me with him.

He looked at me, lacking the ardor that I had hoped to see. How he responded haunts me to this day. “Honey, I am a stylus. I’m not into paper,” he said callously. My heart was destroyed.

Not long after my devastating humiliation I found myself being packed into a box of Rachel’s belongings. I haven’t seen Rachel in years now. I remain here quietly covered in dust, yellowed with age and continually wonder whatever happened to my beloved stylus.

– Michele Clearman-Warner, Davenport

Honorable Mention (Rule-Breaker)

Wife-Four

Some guys are happy
to spend all their life
with only one woman,
only one wife

but I have to say
that’s just not for me,
I don’t have just one,
I already have three!

Each is a beauty
a gem to behold.
They fill all my wishes
without being told.

We have quite a household
they’re like busy-bees
hustling and bustling
wife-one, -two, and -three

You’d think I’d be happy,
and want nothing more
but darn if I don’t think
I need number four.

A girl’s caught my eye
a real classy-doozy
the thought of her now
makes my head oozy-woozy.

She shuns all my efforts
to make her my own
Saying “No I won’t do it,
leave me alone!

“I won’t have a man
who refuses to see
I couldn’t be happy
with wives one, two and three.”

I offered to buy her
a fancy new car,
new clothes, a new hat,
her own evening-star.

She refuses to listen
so quite lost what to do
I called on my helpers
wife-three, -one, and -two.

They all met in conference
behind the closed door,
they even included
potential wife-four.

At last they emerged
announcing “We’re done!
We all have agreed from
wife-three through wife-one

“that having a fourth in the
household will work,
all we need do is
get rid of the jerk!!

“Pack up your stuff
get moving along
we hope you find someplace
where you belong.”

So here I sit curbside
my jaw at my feet
my good-life now shattered
I sit in defeat.

I am now quite sure
I’ll be happy no more
only because
I longed for wife-four.

– Bill Hudson, Davenport, Iowa


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