right here, write now
2016 Writers Competition
In case you missed it, we had another wonderful writing competition this year, full of tremendous talent. The winners have long been announced, but it’s never too late to show off some of the outstanding writers we have here in our community and in our state. Competing with over a hundred entries, these winners rose to the top of an impressive pile to stake their claim to fame (and, hey, a part of the $1200 prize money fortune!). Congrats to our winners and all who bravely put their best literary foot forward…our judges were wowed by the quality of all the entries. Stay tuned this fall for your chance to participate in our 2017 Writer’s Competition!
Honorable Mention: Tattoo by Eron Drew
Her grandmother called it a sin.
March got her first tattoo when she was twenty-one. A Christmas gift from the Wolf (her lover), it was a modest self-drawn snowflake inked into place by a shaky-handed apprentice to the great Wanda H. of Peoria, Illinois. They had driven 7 hours along flat, featureless winter roads to fill a weekend with wake-n-bakes, hard music, heavy drinking, long-standing friendship, unspeakable love and some virgin ink. The needle offered a new sensation to her life and her brain felt in tune with the rhythm of its sounds and the heat from its sting. Later, standing in the filthy bathroom with her shirt pulled up over her head, March carefully removed the bandages from her shoulder, examined the art she had acquired and smiled. It was as if someone had opened the door to an invisible cage and allowed her to walk out, free.
Thinking back, March remembered the first time she had entered this room. Flash Art encased in protective acrylic sleeves filled the walls as her high school girlfriend flipped through the pages of each plastic-bound book of images. It was a neon-filled parlor in a Wisconsin tourist trap of a town. Overweight moms and Harley dads and newly turned eighteen-year-olds exploring their freedom and not much else. She couldn’t even remember the symbol that had finally been chosen since it was meaningless. Art didn’t live here. This was more like a dare. This way, was without love…
* * * *
Her next visit to a parlor happened within the year but, again, it was not she who sat the chair. Standing alongside her enigmatic friend, March watched as the artist tried to make sense of the sinuous space left behind from the scoliosis along Little Bird’s spine. Little Bird had been a gymnast as a child and the rigors of training and poor genetics left her twisted but strong. The final piece followed the center of Little Bird’s back, but not the bones beneath. It was a list of carefully chosen symbols in black and flesh, set with an overly-heavy hand. The art healed dark and scarred and beautiful like Little Bird herself.
At a party that winter, someone pulled out a home tattooing kit and began working the soft skin inside Kiah’s lower lip. Small stabs of blueish ink began to form out the word that would remain there forever. On the perpetrator’s wrist lived a bolt of lightning and on her partner’s hand a crescent moon. Eventually, March would watch those two people grow older together, separate, remain friends and finally dissolve into obscurity. But still, the bolt and the moon remained alongside the memory of that night.
In the spring, March got home late from class and had to ride her bike as fast as the wind to reach the shop in time. He was already in the chair and the work was nearly complete. The Wolf had chosen an ancient script that wrapped gracefully around his muscular calf. The needle began to bounce as it passed over the bone in his shin and he drew in his breath deeply to compensate. The size and scope of the art was larger this time, the session lasting hours. In the end, the Wolf was tired and drawn and shivering with adrenaline. March followed him home and kissed his watery eyes.
The fall was crisp and golden. Always happy, Cat decided that her time had come and asked if March would sit with her while the ink work was done. Cat’s skin turned red and blotchy beneath the needle and small droplets of blood exuded themselves from the damaged tissue. A cacophony of musical notes spread gracefully across her supple back; a symphony to play on forever…
And then, nothing. For years, there was nothing. No needles. No Art…at least not for March. She wandered into a small shop at some point during the hot summer and had almost conceded to a meaningless piece of work if only to have some connection again to the transcendence, focus and love that the ink offered. She made an appointment; but never showed up.
Then quite suddenly and unexpectedly March’s heart was again moved. Captivated, for 10 years she carried a photograph tucked carefully inside the creased and dirty pages of a CrimethInc novella. Occasionally, she would pull out the aging paper and wonder if she would ever commit to fulfilling her desires. Once, she thought the image to be lost and nearly panicked; so encircled was her soul around its subtle meanings for her life. A mustang ensnared by a pair of griffins. In the face of certain death the steed remained poised and strong, meeting its fate boldly and without fear.
It was her 37th birthday. The Wolf had arranged for her to meet Little Bird in a back-alley parlor amidst the chaos and beauty of Capitol Hill. The room had tall tin ceilings and walls the color of new blood. The vertical surfaces were adorned with mounted animal heads (boar and coyote) and the gilded frames of petit paintings in oils and acrylics. The windows were large open panes of glass and as the needle worked, March watched a man walk past dressed in tube socks, underwear and nothing more. Over the course of four hours, the soft skin of her belly became transformed into the gruesomeness of a truth only she could really understand. The wings of each beast spread out toward the bones of her hips with the head of the wild horse dipping gently below her navel. As the ink flowed, March did not cry out. Indeed, she barely moved. Her thoughts remained quiet and her breathing came in long flowing sighs as she explored the calmness of the world inside her mind. After all this time, March had again found peace…at last.
* * * *
Eron Drew, Leavenworth, took a 20 year break from writing before starting again in 2013, now contributing to the Wenatchee World, The Good Life and Mother Earth News. She maintains her personal blog Farmertopia and submits essays to on-line publications on gardening, adventure and social issues. Maybe someday she’ll even write a book…
Third Place: The Face in the Window by Robert Longmeier
Emerging from a dust cloud, I climbed down from my 18 wheeler into the sizzling West Texas sun. Be it ever so humble, I had arrived at a place I loosely called “home.” A trail through the mesquite led to my 35 dollar a month ground floor apartment. With overnight bag in hand I followed it. The moment I stepped out into the clearing, approaching the building, there she was, that mysterious old lady in the second-story window. She was like a great horned owl, observing my every move. Whenever I’d arrive or depart I could see that same sad, wrinkled face with the furrowed brow up there. Blowing dust would drift in through her open window which only added to her misery. Her contemptuous facial expression spoke louder than words. She clearly detested everything about me: my nomadic life style; my often unkempt, haggard appearance; my peculiar ways; my truck and its noise; and my dust. After all, no “normal” person, no “decent and respectable” man, would abandon his apartment for months at a time. “Normal” people stare through windows at garbage cans and vacant lots all day. “Normal” people are surrounded by 4 dreary walls and never venture out. Sometimes I would greet her with a friendly wave, but then only to see the curtains fall.
Popeye said it best: “I am what I am and that’s all that I am.” Trucking has been in my blood since my early youth, and though I’ve grown old there’s still a child-like thrill in driving into the great unknown. I’ve seen floods, blizzards, tornadoes, and hurricanes close up, but rain or shine, I love driving America’s highways. I’ve watched the sun rise over the Atlantic, and I’ve seen it set on the Pacific. I’ve squinted into ten-thousand other sunrises and sunsets in every state. My life as a trucker was far from “normal,” and my home was wherever my truck happened to be parked. I’ve spent nights on mountain tops or out on the wide open spaces where the stars were so bright I thought I could reach up and touch them.
Whenever I left out on a trip, I would forget all about that glowering face in the window the very moment it vanished from my rear-view mirror. Once I journeyed east through Pennsylvania when the falling autumn leaves–arrays of golds, reds, and oranges– were at their finest. With the bright sun sinking low behind me it gave the appearance of a raging forest fire, a display of grandeur beyond description. I wondered if that sad neighbor lady ever envied guys like me (probably not). Nevertheless, I’d often be in a state of euphoria as I passed amber waves of ripened wheat fields in the North, snow white cotton down South, redwood forests, giant cactus, the Sierra-Nevada Range, the Cascades, Smokies, Ozarks, Appalachians; all of our rivers, lakes, and wildlife; and hundreds of other breath taking creations.
* * * *
I had procrastinated long enough. The time had then come to do something nice for that poor old lonely soul. I boxed up short stories portraying the everyday life of a trucker, along with dozens of photos taken from all over the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico. I had hoped that in some small way all of this might bring mirth and cheer into her dark prison which she had created for herself. With box in hand, I stepped out into the hall and headed up the stairs. My heart raced with anxiety as I knocked at her door, then it opened. Our conversation was very short and it ended abruptly. All of this neighborly kindness appeared to be a bad idea. I simply laid the box outside of her door and went back to my room. Early the next morning I embarked upon another long journey.
When at last I returned to my “home-20,” seasonal dark storm clouds hovered over West Texas. The welcome rain had settled the dust, and the air was fresh and clean. Along with the weather something else seemed strangely different. The upstairs window was closed and that only too familiar face was nowhere to be seen. She was gone forever. The news of her passing came from the landlord when I picked up my mail. I was astonished to discover a letter from her. Even though it was brief and with handwriting almost indecipherable, it was a letter nonetheless. It appears that as a teacher she had mended, shaped, and molded the lives of hundreds of young people, but never had children or family of her own. Incapacitated by illness, she sunk into a state of despondency, isolation, and loneliness.
Time has flown by like leaves from a tree. Now retired, I often gaze out at the highway just beyond my pasture in Eastern Washington and watch the passing trucks hurrying to far off places. Unlike those drivers, my wife serves me home cooked meals every day and I bed down under the same roof most nights. I look out at the world through a window rather than a windshield. That said, I’ve become a somewhat “normal” person living a relatively “normal” life. I suppose I meet the criteria. Sometimes I dig out various archives and collections to refresh my memory of when I was a long-haul truck driver. Many of those places and events will linger in my heart until I draw my last breath. As for that grouchy old neighbor lady who spent all of her daylight hours looking through her second story window, her tear stained letter made reference to my stories and photos which I dropped off next to her door that day. It concluded with these words: “You cheered me up like nothing has in years!”
* * * *
R.D. Longmeier, from Wallula, was born and raised on a wheat and cattle ranch. He started at Wenatchee Valley College (a Knight in ’65) and before and after his college degree worked as a farm and ranch hand, police officer, U.S. Marine, teacher and long haul truck driver. He has recently retired to writing, including cowboy poetry.
Second Place: “You…” by Courtney Burke
Why did I drink so much? This whiskey spell is hitting me hard, the room is spinning and my eyes are struggling to stay open. I stumble over to a corner in the room, sit down, and prop myself up to see all my friends having a good time. They’re playing card games and beer pong, while cigarette smoke fills the air. As I scan the room I notice unfamiliar faces in the crowd and wonder how they’re here. Did they come with someone I know? Did they notice there was a party going on and invite themselves? I don’t like drinking with people I don’t know, but this isn’t my house so it’s not my call on who gets to show up.
I must have fallen asleep because you woke me when you reached down for my hands. You -who I don’t know, you’re one of the unfamiliar faces.
You ask me how I’m doing, but all I can manage is a nod and half smile –eyes swirling, lids half shut. You accept that as if it were the exact answer you were looking for. You’ve still got ahold of my hands and now you’re helping me to stand, grabbing my hips to steady my balance, but I’ve had so much to drink tonight… too much. I can’t stand up straight on my own so you put your arm around me and start walking –the hardest nine steps I’ve taken so far in my life… physically and mentally. I’m not the type of person to ask for help, and I hate being this dependent, feeling like I’m not in control of my body, or myself.
We come to a dark room, leaving the light off you close the door behind us. You set me on a bed and gently shove me back so that I’m lying down. The room starts spinning ten times harder than it was earlier. I try to sit up but you push me back down. I hear unzipping and what sounds like clothes hitting the floor. Then I feel you -hovering above me, breathing heavy. Now my pants are being unzipped… but not by me. When I ask what you’re doing you say “I’m going to fuck you.” My response: “…oh.”
I’m silent, I wiggle and squirm in hopes that you’ll get annoyed and go away. But you don’t.
You plow into me without warning, no narration of what’s happening, no warm up with four play, you just enter me -without my permission or consent. True, I didn’t tell you No after you told me what you were doing, but that’s because I’m afraid. I don’t know you, and I don’t know how you’d respond. What if you told me “too bad bitch” and just did it anyway? What if you choked me and held me down? What if you pulled out a knife or gun and threatened to hurt me if I didn’t comply? I was worried of the what if’s, that’s why I didn’t tell you no. Because if any of those things were to happen, there’s no way that I could defend myself right now. I can’t walk; I surely can’t run or fight you off. I can barely put words into sentences right now. Falling in and out of consciousness and fighting back tears, I lie there and wait for you to finish.
Once you’re finally done you stand up and get dressed, then open the door to let yourself out. Leaving me alone, covered in your filth. That means you didn’t use a condom. Oh God, what am I going to do? Sure, I take my birth control pill everyday but that’s not one hundred percent effective. Now I’m going to have to make that walk of shame into the store tomorrow to buy a plan B pill -those things aren’t cheap. And pray to God that you didn’t have any STD’s -that’s another cost I can’t afford right now, and another embarrassing trip I’ll have to make.
I clean myself off and pull my pants back on. I’m mad at myself for being bothered by this, it’s just sex, it wasn’t my first time and I’m not banged up or bloody… I’m fine.
* * * *
In the morning my best friend comes in to find me, she’s raving about the guy that I “hooked up with” last night –“he’s SO hot and drives an Audi, he must have money”… cool. I smile and nod brushing it off the best that I can, making it seem as though it were my decision to have sex with him.
We laugh and joke while recalling the night’s events -everything prior to that event. I’m feeling better and she offers to help if I make breakfast for everyone. Apparently there were quite a few people that slept over last night -all too worried about driving drunk; I respect their decision to stay. I agree to breakfast and climb out of bed. Upon exiting the bedroom I’m greeted with the gaze of many young people who look like they’ve had better days. Their gaze is not kind though, it’s judgmental. My bestie whispers to me that she’s already filled them in on my ‘hot guy hook up,’ claiming that most of them saw me go in the room with him last night. Another friend of mine asks if he was any good; I let out a cool laugh -unsure of how to answer that without getting emotional. Another -not so close- friend asks if I’d known him, I answer honestly with “no.”
My bestie steals my attention back by pulling me into the kitchen; thank God, get me out of there.
She’s concerned about breakfast because she’s starving and needs hangover food like NOW. I’m distracted, listening to the whispers coming from the other room while throwing her a nod here and there to make her believe that she has my attention.
I hear words like “easy” and “slut” get tossed around. They’re talking about me…
* * * *
Courtney Burke, from Buckley, only recently started journaling and writing bits and pieces of stories she hopes to gather and publish as a book someday, with one almost ready to go. (And she “never enters contests!”) She chose a subject close to her heart for this competition, one she hopes people will start to take more seriously.
First Place: August Reveries by Kay Pearson
I’ve been feeling life lately. Realizing how long I’ve been here. Random thoughts and memories pop in when I least expect them.
I’m trying to work. Concentration is elusive. The current story I’m writing doesn’t fit my mood. So I turn on some tunes and plunk down on the couch. I close my eyes and let the music fill me. Supertramp “It’s a Hard World” begins to play. Most people don’t know the song. It wasn’t on the radio much back in the day. But it’s a good song, with jazzy blues that make me wobble on the couch like a half-cooked noodle shaken by a giant puppeteer. I sway with the rhythm and let the sax, drums, keyboards, and words that talk of never giving up fill me with hope.
The trumpet soulfully plays, and I envision a stage in a bar. The lead singer is tall and slender with beautiful salt and pepper hair. He’s dressed in a suit, with a hat and wingtip shoes straight out of the 1930s. The back-up singers melodically chime in, “It’s a hard world.”
The audience is clouded in smoke. It drifts around the room on currents of flirting conversation–blowing from one table to the next. It breezes past the soft beams of light and is illuminated. I watch as eerie smoke ghosts begin to dance.
The walls are adorned with dark wainscot. It rises from the floor to meet the burgundy wall paper about waist high. The wall paper is a paisley design, with that fuzzy stuff that gives it depth.
I imagine running my fingers along the line on the wall where the two connect making my way to the powder room. The wood of the wainscot is stained to match the long mahogany bar at the end of the dance floor; it all ties together to give a distinct and decorative drama to the room.
I am the mysterious woman sitting alone in the shadows at a tiny round table. From my vantage point, I can see nearly the entire room. My darting eyes are carefully hidden below the outdated hat that is pinned just-so on my head. No one pays attention, I am nearly invisible. But I pay attention. I see everyone, more than they would appreciate I am sure. I’ve always had a knack for that. Watching from afar, I study their moves with the intensity of a lioness watching her prey. But they are no longer my prey. No, I have long since past the age when I can pick and choose from a room full of men.
No one knows me here now days. My friends have all come and gone. Mac, the bartender, knows my name, but that’s not who I am, it’s just what I call myself. Once I was young and sexy. I would dance and swirl around the room like the smoke, intermingling with everyone– teasing and flirting. I had them all under my spell. Back then, everyone knew me. But these days I’m just a fixture; they don’t know the beautiful woman I used to be.
Mac brings another ice water with a splash of cranberry juice and a twist. He derives pleasure from creating my drink in a variety of ways.
Sometimes it arrives blended to look like a Margarita. Other times it comes on the rocks, in a tub, or a tall chimney glass complete with a little umbrella. Occasionally, he brings it in a Martini glass with a wink and a chuckle. But always, always, he sets it properly on a fresh coaster, gives me a pleasant bow and a broad smile. He calls me Miss Kay, and I call him Mac. He’s at least a half century younger than me, yet I can’t help but feel as if he is more than a little intrigued. But he remains a gentleman, and I remain a mystery….
The song ends, and my mood is abruptly shattered by the ringing of the phone.
Her name glows in the caller ID. It is the call I’ve been waiting for. I jump up and turn off the music before answering. “Hi, tell me the good news.” My chipper voice doesn’t hide my heavy heart.
All I can hear is silence in return. I know she is there. I wait quietly, forcing myself to breathe. Then, in a weird voice that can only be described as a squeak, she answers, “Stage four.”
Our silent tears mingle through the magical space that brings us together through technology. Neither can speak for what feels like an eternity. “I’m so sorry,” finally bursts from my lips.
“Me, too,” she whispers.
We talk a few moments. Just long enough for her to gather her resolve. She must get ready for her husband to come home. She needs to see if she can get her son home on emergency leave from Iraq so they can say goodbye. She tells me that for the first time ever, the grapes in her garden have ripened. But she’s too tired to pick them now, so she’ll leave them for the birds. She tells me her only wish is to live long enough to make some wine next year. We both pretend that it could happen and tease of dancing barefoot in her first batch of grapes. Then she softly says, with the kind of pain that stabs at your heart, “I should have planted the vines sooner. I kept putting it off.”
I tell her I love her. She replies with the same. We hang up. The phone glow turns dark on the coffee table. The silence is deafening.
Random thoughts fill my head. I think of the smoky bar scene.
I am the only one who knows the mysterious woman’s story. How sad it would be if I never wrote it down. I’ve been here a long time. But I will not be here forever.
* * * *
Kay Pearson lives in Shelton, but called Wenatchee home in the 80’s. She is a story teller and has been writing privately all her life. Her dream has always been to be a published author, so her profession in radio and writing commercials is second nature. The loss of a dear friend to cancer led to this first-ever contest submission.
Third Place: The Last Boy by Lauren Paige Loebsack
He walked, the fallen leaves crunching lightly beneath the soles of the shoes he wore, ill-fitting and unfamiliar, given to him after his release by a Union officer. The aristocratic looking man had met his eyes with respect, but Ashley Woodborrow of the 26th Tennessee Infantry Regiment (surrendered, dismantled) had only managed to mutter “God bless, sir.”
Now, peeled off from the last bit of the regiment, he walked, his father’s repeater poised on his shoulder. A fox joined him along the path for a time, red and fluffy and wearing a clever look. He passed a single bloom of smooth aster, faded purple and solemn. Later he encountered three men, freed slaves who stopped to watch him silently, with patient contempt that made the grey remains of his uniform burn his skin with judgement’s fire. When he had made some distance between, they had started to sing, their low, rich voices rolling over each other beautifully and he did not deny the small joy the music gave him until the path bent and turned around the creek it followed and the sound faded.
The town of his birth, a place remembered like the face of family, was now unfamiliar. The noble colors and lines were debilitated, the road faded, as though the town itself had stepped back into the woods, like it too desired to unexist. He sensed eyes peering out from behind faded curtains. He speculated he was a wraith journeying through an empty version of his homeland, a place where all living things had stepped through but he now lingered. To his imagination, broken hearted as it was these days, that world seemed a preferable alternative.
He had sent ahead a letter. In school he had enjoyed English studies, the power of wielding words with certainty. But his note had been spare; the world of intent carved out of existence with language no longer seemed to be there. Dearest Mother, I return shortly. Pray for me.
Perhaps she had always been praying. Perhaps her committed prayer had been the curse that shielded him when everyone else had fallen. All his schoolmates, cousins, his older brothers had not been considered for Heavenly protection. Instead they slept now, a dreamless rest until Judgement Day and would meet the Lord having died virtuously. He would have years of sins to answer for before some undignified mortal failure came.
He had volunteered for every special assignment to join them. And the hungry Death that could never get enough passed him by. An unacceptable snack.
The fine front door of the house his father built was gone, replaced by a sorrowful hodgepodge of planks. The windows facing the street were boarded up too. Momentarily, he second guessed himself, thought he had come to the wrong house. He raised a hand, paused, then knocked twice.
Leaves shivered in a breath of wind, then fell silent.
Then he heard “Coming!” from inside the house. There was a flat clank of a cheap metal lever disengaging and the whine of pine rubbing against itself. The woman revealed was not the same who had cheered him off, tears of pride and concern streaming over her lovely features. The once elegant lines of her beauty were now hollow scaffolding, gaping with disappointment.
She didn’t startle, but instead gathered him up, her bosom worn down from sacrifice. She smelled like wood fire. They did not embrace as much as lean together, the remaining trees of a forest demolished by a storm. “My boy,” she cooed. He sighed.
Then she stepped back, led him in. A half smile of relief, enervated but honest, broke across his face as he stepped inside, his hand in hers. Though the two were now apportioned for a separate melancholy, they were together now.
“I didn’t know when to expect you.”
He nodded, considered the painfully bare room, tidy and clean as ever. What battles had she been required to fight? She sensed his disorientation and slowly removed his pack, which she rested soundlessly on the table. She motioned for the gun then hung it with care above the door. She unbuttoned his jacket with reverence and gentleness, then draped it on the back of a chair, eased him to sit and then knelt to remove the Union shoes he wore. Anguish flickered over her eyes when she saw his sorry feet, but she continued her chore. She fetched a basin and filled it with water from a kettle on the stove and tested the temperature, seeming to find it adequate for her purposes. She poured a mug of hot water, too and smiled with a small delectation as she went to the cupboard to remove a can from which she drew a wad of cloth. She opened the cloth before his eyes. Three cubes of sugar, lumpy and sparkling, glittered in the firelight before she dropped the treasure into the mug and stirred. He sipped the warm treat under her expectant gaze, made a slurping sound. Satisfied, she knelt and with gentle authority, began to wash his feet.
He doubted the filth could be removed, but she made headway, humming as he sipped the sweet water. The stove fire crackled. He looked out the one window still covered with glass, saw a warbler land on a swaying tree branch. It looked this way and then that, jumped up the branch, then flew again. He closed his eyes and put his heart with the bird.
She dried his feet, then treated the worst of the sores with a salve, then rolled dry socks over top. She stood and kissed him ardently, her affect brighter, “I appreciate that you came home to me,” she said, before she picked up the basin and went outside.
The door hung open and he heard the splash of water, then a faint voice, calling some question he could not discern, then his mother’s voice, unexpectedly strong respond, “Yes, he did, my good boy Ashley came home.”
* * * *
Lauren Loebsack grew up in Waterville typing stories on her grandmother’s Royal box typewriter. Three decades later in Wenatchee, she has a backlog of hundreds of stories in her head waiting to get out. Watership Down is the first book that made her truly experience the power of the written word, and she has been chasing that dragon ever since.
Second Place: The Nova Project by Desiree Donohue
Fort Detrick, Maryland—U.S. Army Medical Research
Inside the Advanced Technical Research Facility control room Samuel sat before an array of monitors that lined a large window. Looking down into the brightly lit testing room, he watched eagerly as a door opened and the volunteers filed in. All five subjects were fit young men who had passed a rigorous screening process in order to qualify for the projects human trials.
“The Nova Serum is designed to bond with genetic code,” Samuel explained, his eyes scanning the small room filled with officers. “By enhancing the DNA responsible for endurance, strength, and cognitive function these men could be the first of what the government hopes will someday be an army of super-soldiers.”
One by one, the volunteers sat in the reclined chairs while the assistants attached electrodes to them, allowing their bioelectric stats to be monitored.
Leaning forward, Samuel hit the mic button, “Let’s begin. Doctor, administer the serum.”
Picking up a silver auto-injector, the doctor stepped up to the first volunteer. The young man turned his head away, flinching at the sting of the injection.
The control room filled with the excited babble of conversation while the volunteers below talked amongst themselves in a relaxed manner. After they’d all been injected the doctor returned to the back of the room to watch their vitals, making notes on a clipboard.
The first sign that something was wrong came after he lifted his eyes to the monitors and froze. His brows dipped into a frown that quickly turned into a look of alarm. An instant later the first volunteer’s eyes rolled back, his head kicked to the side and his limbs stiffened before they began to twitch and jump. The medical staff rushed into action, surrounding his chair and laying it flat to give themselves better access to him.
One by one, the subjects all succumbed to the same violet seizures. The last man began to quake with fear as his muscles grew rigid a moment before his eyes rolled back with the seizure. Samuel felt for him; he could only imagine how horrifying it must have been, knowing what was coming for him.
The hum of conversation in the control room turned into a roar as the officers began shouting over each other. Samuel stood and did his best to calm everyone down.
“We have this under control,” he hollered and gestured to the glass. “Something like this is always a possibility. We are prepared for…there, see? The seizures seem to be stopping.”
He tried to hide the strain on his face that would suggest he believed otherwise.
Peering down into the testing room, he watched the doctor and his staff race back and forth between the subjects, stopping every few seconds to scrutinize the monitors. Their tense expressions indicated they didn’t like what they saw. When the seizures finally ceased, the subjects lay still while their chests rose and fell in quick bursts as they recovered.
The doctor was in the process of filling a syringe when the first subject suddenly arched off the chair. His mouth opened wide—much too wide—and he screamed as if his heart was being ripped from his chest. The cords in his neck and shoulders bulged, stretched tight just beneath his skin. His wails increased until they seeped into the soundproof control room, sending chills down Samuels’s spine and silencing the shouting around him.
Everyone watched in horror as the rest of the men began to twist and arch. As more of the piercing screams filled the testing room the medical staff could be seen cowering in the corners. Their hands clapped over their ears in an attempt to keep the horrific sound out. Samuel watched in shock as blood began seeping from between their fingers.
* * * *
Miraculously, none of the subjects died.
Their mouths had to be closed using straps under their chins, the corners stitched where they had torn. Their eyes remained open and would follow objects, but there didn’t seem to be any comprehension. They were utterly lifeless.
“We’ve created zombies,” Samuel mused, as he observed the men through the viewing window.
This wasn’t part of the plan. At least if the men had died they could have been disposed of and the experiment could have been covered up.
For weeks, Samuel had been going over the formula for the serum with the lab and believed that he may have found the error. Not that it mattered. There would be no more volunteers.
The military didn’t take kindly to catastrophic failure, especially when it involved ditching a multi-million dollar project. They would bring them before an ethics committee. He suspected that the charges were already being written up.
Samuel rested his open palm against the glass and sighed. The subjects looked much the same as they had in the testing room, except now they lay unmoving as they stared up at the ceiling.
Reaching into the inside pocket of his blazer, Samuel fingered the crisp envelope. Inside was an invitation to meet a former colleague to discuss moving forward with his work. With the help of his friend, he planned to go deep underground where he could perfect his serum in secret and create his own super-human army. The private sector paid better than the government anyway.
Samuel was just about to leave the room when he noticed one of the test subjects no longer stared blankly at the ceiling. Instead the man’s steady, unblinking gaze was focused on him.
The subject next to the first also brought his eyes from the ceiling to focus on Samuel. The other three followed suit until they were all staring at him through the glass.
A chill ran down Samuel’s back. The way their lifeless eyes locked onto him was unnerving and he slowly backed out of the room before hurrying the rest of the way down the hallway. His heart pounded as he continued to feel their eyes follow him.
* * * *
Desiree Donohue, who lives in East Wenatchee, grew up in Ephrata and attributes her love of reading and creative writing to amazing teachers that nurtured that side of her. It’s been a lifelong dream to someday see her stories in print, but only recently did she decide to stop saying, “What if…” and instead say, “Why not?”
First Place: Welcome to the Family by Ruth Watkins
The morning sun had awakened Melanie, but she still lay in bed. She had decided that it would be much easier to remain in bed all day, rather than face her family. They wouldn’t mind if she went down to breakfast, but she would.
She could picture them all sitting around the table in the dining room. Her dad would be sitting next to her mom, who would probably still be wearing her jogging clothes. Her sister, Eva, home from the university for the weekend, would be reading a novel while eating, and her younger sister, Lucy, would be starting on her fifth pancake by now. Melanie sighed.
She watched a sparrow land on the power line outside her open window. It was trilling a song to the morning and Melanie watched, tears beginning to pour down her face. The sparrow, always before a cheery greeter of the morning, now was but a mocker, and his song was a painful jest, for Melanie knew she would never hear his song again. She had awakened this morning to silence…completely deaf.
Melanie had been born the second daughter of three. She was the middle child, the hearing child, the misfit child. Her parents were deaf, and her two sisters were deaf. Her father had become deaf in his twenties, but her mother had been born deaf. Eva could hear comparatively well with her hearing aids, but Lucy was profoundly deaf like her mother. Melanie had inherited her father’s condition and had been told she would probably become suddenly deaf as an adult, as he had. At age ten, adulthood had seemed eons away, so she had put this information aside. She was too busy trying to live in a strange family – one that talked with their hands instead of with their mouths.
She had refused to use sign language with them once she had entered fifth grade. Her older sister and father could speak, but none of her family read lips well. She had communicated with pads of paper and pens but somehow, as the years went by, a wall had been built between her and her family. She didn’t know if she had built it or if they had, and she didn’t really care to find out. She had a different life than theirs. She lived in a different world.
Now, suddenly, she had been thrust into their world. She wasn’t a visitor. She couldn’t leave. The door was slammed shut on her other world. She was trapped. She was unprepared.
Why had she thought that ignoring the facts would make them go away? As she lay on her damp pillow, she thought back to all the “could-have-beens.” She could have used sign language. She could have gone to Deaf events. She could have introduced her family to her friends. She could have invited friends to her house. She could have…What did it matter? She hadn’t, and now she had no transportation to orient her to this new world. How could she be so unfamiliar with a world she had stood next to her whole life?
Her whole life? There had only been 22 years of it. She still had many more years to live, and she had to live them in the silence! A wave of smothering panic forced her to sit up in her bed. Over the past few weeks, when she had known her hearing was going, she had tried to envision this, but she hadn’t done a good job at all. She had been even more aloof from her family during that time, and she saw now that she should have been drawing closer to them, asking questions. If she had let herself be a part of their world, she wouldn’t have so many questions now.
Melanie slammed her fist down and cried. She needn’t muffle her sobs. No one could hear her anyway. It had always been that way, but now she couldn’t hear herself cry, either, and somehow this made her feel better. It was as though she was able to step apart and view the situation logically and objectively while she watched herself cry.
She must go downstairs. Her family needed to know. She needed to tell them, even if it was only to swallow her pride.
Slowly she walked down the stairs toward the kitchen. It was ominous, this silence, not being able to tell where her family was as she had been able to do in the past. Well, she would get used to it.
She paused at the dining room door, and then opened it. No one looked up and she had the opportunity to look around at each member of her family. What was she ashamed of? What had she been ashamed of? What was there to be ashamed of?
The answer hit her like a brick: nothing. The shame was that she had been ashamed.
She moved toward them and they all looked up, waving “hello.” Nothing was different with them. Making sure she had everyone’s attention, she slowly brought a finger up to her cheek. Placing it near her mouth and then moving it back near her ear, she signed “deaf.” She pointed at herself, then again made the “deaf” sign.
They understood. Lucy gave a little noiseless giggle. Melanie felt tears rush to her eyes and her hands began signing words she had forgotten, trying to explain, making a mess of the grammar. She kept signing anyway. They sat and listened, and Melanie wondered how she could have forgotten so much: the love, the beauty, the feeling of family.
Maybe she hadn’t lost something after all. Maybe she had regained something she had misplaced a long time ago.
She stopped signing and a tense moment followed while Melanie waited for their response. They all looked at one another, then at her. Big grins spread across their faces and hands started flying in unison.
“Welcome,” they signed. “Welcome to the family.”
* * * *
Ruth Watkins, Cle Elum, says her creative and supportive parents and her five (critical) siblings were very encouraging to her as young writer. Writing is a way of organizing her world and a gift from God that she can use to influence others, and since she does not hear well, the written word holds special meaning for her.