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Conference News

2018 Writers Competition Winners


First Place. Her Wenatchee childhood encouraged in CHRISTINA JONES a love of reading and writing stories. As an adult she hesitated to share her work publically, but the satisfaction she gained from writing online editorials prompted her to develop her skills and gave her the confidence to submit her work in other arenas. She said it seemed fitting to begin with this competition in the city where she first discovered and practiced story telling through the written word.

Old Souls

Like people used to, Abigail read a book on the subway. It was a little unusual, surrounded as she was by heads bent over electronic devices. But anyone who thought to look twice at a young woman reading an old book quickly wrote her off as another young, ironic hipster pretending to have an old soul on her way downtown from a crowded flat in Brooklyn.

As usual for a Monday morning, the subway was full of people on their way to jobs and schools. Abigail had procured her usual, coveted seat by the door early on, but groggy passengers still jostled her knees and stepped on her toes as they jockeyed for more comfortable positions.

A man in a suit standing in front of Abigail lost his balance as the train slowed and stepped hard on her foot. He cursed softly as he caught his balance again, earning a dirty look from a young mother behind him. Abigail put her book away and stood, brushing past them both.

Like every weekday morning, before heading to her office Abigail made a detour to Richard’s alley. Richard himself was sitting at the front of the alley, head against the wall behind him, face to the sunlight falling in a wide sliver between skyscrapers.

“No, no Emma,” Abigail heard him muttering as she approached, “that war’s over now but they say there’s another one. There are people flying things up in the sky – metal they tell me – metal! Can you believe it? In the sky!” Abigail stepped over his outstretched legs, pulled a newspaper out of her bag and laid it next to him. Then she sat on it. Richard quieted after a moment, turning his head and blinking curiously at his visitor.

Beneath grime and tangled hair, he had a smooth, clear face.

“Morning, Richard,” Abigail said.

Richard smiled, “Abigail!” he said, “Emma and I were just talking about the things in the sky.”

“Airplanes,” Abigail said, “those are called airplanes, Richard. They’ve been around for about a hundred years now.”

“Have they? I can never keep track of these new-fangled things they keep coming up with.”

“You keep track of me, and I’m not much older than airplanes,” Abigail pointed out.

“Yes but you’re a person,” Richard said, “I’m good at keeping track of people. I’ve kept track of Emma here for hundreds and hundreds of years.”

He patted the sidewalk beside him tenderly, and Abigail watched his empty hand settle against the dirty cement.

“You’re a good husband to her, Richard,” Abigail said. Richard beamed.

“Would you like some of my coffee?” she asked, offering him the paper cup she held in one hand, “It’s terrible. The shop put something called ‘hemp’ in it instead of milk.”

Richard wrinkled his nose. “No, thank you. I just ate. Emma and I had pasta in Little Italy. I ate so much,” he patted his stomach, “I don’t think I’ll ever eat again I’m so full.”

“But this is just coffee,” Abigail pointed out.

Richard blinked, “Yes,” he said, “That’s right. We had coffee too.”

Abigail sighed and glanced away from him, down to the other end of the alley where a filthy twin-size mattress lay.

“How are you sleeping?” she asked Richard.

“Ah, dear,” he said, his tone a little patronizing, “only the young sleep.”

“You should sleep,” Abigail insisted, “it would be good for you to sleep. You know I keep telling you, I’ve got a spare bedroom.”

“Thank you, but we’ve got a fine house right here, don’t we Emma?” Richard asked the air beside him.

Abigail nodded. “Alright,” she said, and stood. She left the newspaper behind as she usually did, in vain hope that Richard would read it.

“I’d better be off to work,” Abigail said. Richard squinted up at her, smiling.

“How old are you now, Abigail?” he asked.

“A hundred and fifty-six,” Abigail told him, “How about you?”

Richard’s smile faded. He reached out and held her hand. His grip was strong and hearty, but dirt and grime rimmed his fingernails.

“I stopped counting,” he said, “Only the young count.” his thumb moved gently against the back of Abigail’s hand.

“Emma is always twenty-one,” Richard continued, “she used to tell me sometimes she was sixty-three and leaving soon,” he chuckled, shaking his head, “but no, no she’s twenty-one and always here in our house with me.”

He squeezed her fingers, “you’re a smart girl,” he said, “with your job and your… airplanes. Keeping close to all the changing, fading people. But not too close, I hope.”

The shard of sunlight they’d been sitting in had been steadily narrowing, and now it flickered out as the sun passed fully behind a building. “That’s right,” Abigail said. She could feel Richard’s wedding ring on his finger – the metal old and worn by age. It was a brittle and cold warning against her skin. “No one close enough to lose,” she finished.

“Good girl,” Richard said, and released her hand. He looked aside again, “Emma wants to have a baby,” he said, “I told her it’s not a good idea.”

“That’s smart,” Abigail agreed, “Immortality is genetic afterall.”

“Like madness,” Richard sighed. His head fell back against the wall again. His eyes slipped closed. He whispered an old lullaby under his breath. Abigail stepped away from him, back into the flow of morning commuters.

“Bye, dad,” she whispered.

As she walked Abigail checked her watch. She was still running early. She’d hardly slept the night before, woken up by strange dreams in the dark hours of the morning.

Abigail passed into another sliver of sunlight. She stopped, and a pedestrian who had been walking behind her cursed and bumped into her shoulder as he passed on her left. A woman carrying her child passed on Abigail’s right. Others came behind them, a stream of humanity brushing against her and passing her by. Abigail waited until the sunlight flickered out again and carried on.

[Judges said: “I find it fascinating that every line can be interpreted another way.” “…poetically metaphoric…Ambiguity to the end.” And “…an intelligent story that challenges readers to draw their own conclusions.”]

Second Place. TAMIKO JORDAN has dreamed of writing something other than medical notes for years, and when she moved to Washington last year she knew it was time to stop dreaming and start writing. When she heard about WOTR on the radio, it seemed like a sign to get her stories out of her head and onto paper. She said “I’m thrilled to be part of the Wenatchee writing community and hopes to meet more writers in the coming years.”

Blood Will Tell

Puyallup, 1982

“Happy New Year!” June called out, entering a house already filled with family, kids running amok and the TV blaring. Her date followed, staring at a table which held three white cakes topped with an orange.

“That’s mochi, it’s a Japanese thing,” she laughed, pulling him inside. “Supposed to bring good luck.” Her long dress rustled as she bent to kiss her mother. At seventy, Sachiko was a dried flower of a woman, her body a delicate husk topped with a shock of white hair and rheumy eyes. It broke June’s heart.

“Hello, Mama,” she kissed her papery cheek as a brittle hand gripped hers with surprising strength.

“Sumi took my angel to heaven. There wasn’t enough blood for her,” the old woman said. June nodded, fighting back tears. Ever since her dad’s death her mom’s dementia had only worsened.

She entered the kitchen where her older sister ladled fragrant broth into traditional ceramic bowls. Tradition ruled for Miyo. “Soup smells amazing.” She hugged her sister from behind. “This is my boyfriend Dylan. He’s a biology professor at UW.”

Her sister turned, eyeing June’s bohemian outfit disapprovingly. Her unmarried artist sister. “At least this one’s employed,” she said stiffly. Her oldest son Sinji brushed her aside.

“Don’t be rude, Mother. Sorry, Dylan, she’s been cooking nonstop since yesterday.” He grinned at June. “Hey, Auntie, good to see you.”

“How’s college?”

“Loving it. Doing a paper on the camps. I just wish grandma could tell me what it was like.”

Dylan’s brow furrowed. “The internment camps?”

“Yes, I was born in the one here,” June said. “Summer of 1942.”

“I didn’t realize there was a camp in Washington,” he replied.

Sinji piped up, “It was called Camp Harmony, at the fairgrounds. Like a holding place before they shipped everyone to Idaho.”

“You should ask your uncle, he remembers some. Where is he, anyway?” As if on cue, June’s brother entered from the patio.

In age he was closer to Miyo, but in personality he’d always been closer to June. “The smoker’s going,” he reported as he ruffled June’s hair. “Hey, Sis. Is this Dylan? I’m Eiji, it means the second born. My folks weren’t that creative.” Dylan laughed as they shook hands.

Miyo shouted at the kids to come eat so they all settled down at the table.

Conversation flowed over the meal in a pleasant cacophony. The kids attacked their food with singular concentration and then ran off again.

As the group quieted, Miyo drew in a breath. She’d been waiting.

“Mom’s getting worse,” she murmured. “Sometimes she sleeps all day.”

“Yeah, she was going on about Sumi again,” Eiji sighed. “Who’s she talking about?”

“She said something about blood,” June added.

“We had a blood drive at school,” Sinji said from the sink as he washed up. “I’m type O, the universal donor.”

“This whole family is type O.” Eiji pointed at June, “except your auntie, she’s AB, the weirdo amongst us.”

June laughed, used to being the odd man out. Dylan’s attention sharpened. “But that’s not possible.” He blurted out. Everyone turned to him.

“What?” June asked. The look on his face inexplicably filled her with dread.

Dylan gulped. “You can’t be AB if your parents were both type O. It’s biologically impossible. To be an AB both parents have to contribute either the A or the B”.

“Oh yeah, we just studied this in genetics,” Sinji rejoined the group. “The O is recessive so you have to have two of them to be a type O.” He looked at June with wide eyes. “But that would mean…” he looked around for confirmation. “Grandma and Grandpa aren’t your real parents,” he said slowly. Dylan only nodded.

A shocked silence fell. June’s head was buzzing as she rose and ran to the living room, the family close behind.

Her mother sat in her favorite chair, haloed by wintery sunlight. She looked up with a smile. “Sumi took my angel to heaven.”

Tears streamed as June kneeled and took her mother’s hand, willing her to have a moment of clarity. “Mama, who is Sumi?”

“My best friend in the camp,” the old woman replied, a faraway look on her face. “Our husbands went to Idaho before us. She helped with the kids. Her family was gone. We went into labor on the same day.”

“What happened?” June whispered.

“I pushed and pushed. My baby wouldn’t come out. Then he was so blue and still, with the cord wrapped around his neck. They couldn’t save him. He went to heaven.”

June’s heart thudded heavily in her chest. She had to know. “And Sumi?”

“She had a girl. But she kept bleeding. The doctors didn’t have enough blood to give her.” Sachiko’s eyes filled and seemed to clear for a moment. “She went to heaven too. So they gave you to me. They said no one could know. There was no one else to take care of you. Then you were mine, my June.”

June laid her head on her mother’s lap, her world upside down. She’d always felt different from the rest of the family, was this why? She also grieved for her mother as a young woman. What must she have gone through, alone in the camp with three kids?

Miyo touched June’s shoulder. Everyone had heard the confession. “She cried a lot after you were born,” Miyo recalled. “Sometimes I had to feed you when she was too tired.”

“Guess this explains why you’re the only artist in the family.” Eiji said, attempting some levity.

There was a weak laugh as the group struggled for full comprehension.

June gave Dylan a slight smile. The poor guy looked stricken. “I’m ok,” she said, rising to embrace her siblings. “We’re all going to be ok.” They would figure it out somehow.

The three of them held each other tightly as Sachiko looked on with a peaceful smile. She sighed and closed her eyes. Now she could finally rest.

[Judges said: “A powerful reminder that things can go terribly wrong when we let fear guide our treatment of those we consider different,” “…clearly-drawn characters and excellent compression of time to tell an important story ” and “A simply-told tale with the dinner-table blood-typing a unique twist.”]

Third Place. (writing as Melissa Gale), MELISSA CAMPBELL has been a competition judge. She is a paralegal who writes mostly erotic-sci-fi-romance and has been published in Flash! A Celebration of Short Fiction, with a short story being considered for The Masters Review. Melissa is a member of the Romance Writers of America, Emerald City Romance Writers, Write On The River, and “the best DAM writing group in the Valley,” she said, “which sparks my inspiration and lovingly supports me.”

Leon Loves Purple Too

The bee danced in a figure-eight on the back of her hand. Alicia smiled, delighted at her new friend’s chosen bee-ballet. Lying belly down in the middle of the front flower patch she could smell the early purples around her. Her mom said this flower garden was her responsibility, and if she kept it weed-free she could choose the flowers that grew there – and Alicia Keene liked purple.

With her legs lazily kicking up from the knees, she grinned at her friend. “I’m so glad you’re happy. It’s nice to see you too. How are things at the hive? Is it scary being a soldier?” Alicia turned her hand so he could stay on top. Mom had just let them watch a show about bees on the Discovery Channel. Alicia knew the bees in the flowers were boys and they were soldiers, serving and protecting their hive, and that they’d die if they ever had to sting anyone. She studied her friend and leaned in closer. “What? Leon? Hi Leon. My name’s Alicia. Alicia Marie Keene. Pleased to meet you.”

“Leeeeeesha! Oh, there you are. What are you doing? Talking to those dumb bees again?” Henry sneered at her as he came around the corner of the house.

“Shut. Up. Henry. They’re my friends. Don’t be mean to them.” Alicia moved her other hand over so the bee could dance on it.

“You’re just a dumb baby. Maybe when you’re nine years old like me you’ll be smarter.” Henry walked over to see her still turning her hand, the bee now drawing a circle in her palm.

“Yoooou’re juuust jealousss.” Alicia moved her hand away from Henry’s sight. “They don’t like you like they like me. They even listen to me.”

“Don’t be dumb. Bees don’t talk.” Henry moved around the other side, trying to see the bee in his sister’s hand.

“Sure they do, dummy. You just don’t know how to listen.” Alicia extended her palm. “Hey, Leon. What’s your favorite flower? How ’bouts you show Henry.”

Henry swiped at a stalk of grass growing in the violets. The bee stopped turning its circles in Alicia’s palm. He drifted up and over to the violets, sampling a sweet-as-candy blossom, and then gently back to Alicia’s palm.

“See. They understand me and trust me. They know I’d never do anything to hurt them.” Alicia held the bee at eye level and smiled at him. “Right, Leon?”

Henry threw the grass stem he’d been fidgeting with down at Alicia’s hand. “Maybe they’re just as stupid as you.” The bee lifted up to avoid the grass, and then returned to his dance – this time walking in diagonal lines, making an “X” shape across her hand.

“You’re not ‘posed to say ‘stupid,’ Henry. If mom heard you you’d be in trouuuuble.”

“Mom’s not here, dummy. And you’re not going to tell her or I’ll go spray your hive with the hose!” Henry frowned down at her.

“They don’t like you. That makes them smart right there!” Alicia bent and whispered to her friend. “Don’t worry, Leon. I won’t let him hurt you.”

“Maybe I’ll take the hose to them anyway. Get you to shut up about them for a while.” Henry turned and took off at a trot across the lawn.

“Leon NO!” Alicia screamed as the bee launched itself from her hand and rocketed toward Henry.

She leapt to her feet to follow Leon, not noticing she was trampling the very violets he loved so much. Alicia opened her mouth to scream, but it twisted into a snarl and a low growl tore out of her throat.

“Leesha! Your EYES!” Henry screamed.

Henry looked back at his sister to see her standing with her arms reaching out to him, fingers twisted into claws, and her eyes rolled back in her head.

Alicia couldn’t hear him. She was already far away, consumed by the instinct to protect her hive. Her fingers closed into fists as she raised her arms above her head. Tilting her face upward, the low growl turned into a howl.

“Leesha?” Henry’s eyes were wide open. He couldn’t blink, couldn’t believe what was happening to his sister.

Her howl stopped abruptly as Alicia brought her arms together and clasped her hands over her head. Lowering them to her chest she leveled her unseeing gaze at her brother. Henry waited, but then took a few steps toward his sister when she began pacing in a figure-eight. As he neared her, he heard a low hum coming from her.

Alicia’s eyes closed as she stopped and shook her head quickly back and forth, then continued pacing. The hum got louder as Henry hesitantly stepped toward her. Watching in disbelief as his little sister walked three steps and stopped, shaking her head like a dog trying to get off water, then took another three steps before stopping and shaking her head again.

“Leesha?” Henry asks in a high-pitched whisper.

Alicia stopped her dance in front of Henry, tilting her head and opening her eyes, again revealing only the whites. Henry heard the humming grow louder and turned, looking over his shoulder. The realization that the humming wasn’t coming from from Alicia anymore registered just before the swarm of bees enveloped him. Alicia stopped her dance in front of Henry, tilting her head and opening her eyes, again revealing only the whites. Henry heard the humming grow louder and turned, looking over his shoulder. The realization that the humming wasn’t coming from from Alicia anymore registered just before the swarm of bees enveloped him.

[Judges said: “A wide-eyed innocent start and a shocking reveal…” “Finely-tuned conversation between the kids..” “tension builds swiftly and surely.. ‘a low growl tore out of her throat’ was a superb line!” “If this was just a start I intend to read more!”]


First Place. Raised on an eastern Washington wheat and cattle ranch, R.D. LONGMEIER went on to study at Wenatchee Valley College, W.S.U. and Texas Tech University, and his occupations have included service in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine, high school Ag teacher, law enforcement officer and long-haul truck driver. Robert has retired to writing, including cowboy poetry, and is a past winner in this competition.

Wintertime Blues

It was snowing, and bitterly cold—the worst winter in a decade. Driving was a nightmare. I’d been running loads out of International Falls, Minnesota, while my partner vacationed. He’d flown to Arizona vowing not to return to this “iced-over hell hole” until springtime daffodils were in bloom. Me? I hadn’t seen a glimmer of sunshine since the beginning of winter. All of this gloom had taken its toll. I called my wife for some cheering up, but for trivial reasons, our conversation ended on a sour note, followed by silence—icy, heart-throbbing silence.

Angry storm clouds persisted. I continued west, across the Red River, into North Dakota. A steady ribbon of packed snow and ice, with intermittent fog, stretched out before me. The day wore on. Famished and low on fuel, I exited the freeway the moment I spotted a truck stop. Wiper blades pushed away frost and sleet as my forty-ton tractor-trailer rolled down the off-ramp into an ice-covered parking lot. When I came to a stop, a transient advanced toward me. I’d never seen such despair and wretchedness in any one human being. He stood outside my door like a stray dog, shivering, hoping for a handout. I had a feeling I was in for a real tearjerker.

“I’m broke down and stranded with a starving family,” he cried out. “I’m trying to get to Denver where there might be a job waiting. Can you help out? Can you spare a few dollars?” he pleaded.

I wasn’t born yesterday. Truck stop vagrants use well-crafted “poor me” verbiage to fund their drug or alcohol addictions; only the gullible fall prey to their scam games. Nevertheless, to hasten his leaving, I poked a buck down at him. With meekness and humility, he uttered a faint “thank you.” I watched as he trudged through the snow and ice, then disappeared.

I threw on a heavy coat and headed up to the restaurant. Soft music, spirited conversation, and a tinge of cigarette smoke filled the air. I sunk down into a booth and ordered a “number two”: steak and eggs; a mountain of hash browns; and coffee. Such respite from all the toil and misery was satisfying, but short-lived. Duty called the minute I finished. First on the agenda was finding a road report. Travel conditions out on the bleak western horizon remained a mystery. I paid my tab, then stepped out into the bitter wind.

After refueling, I slowly made my way back across the slippery driveway, and returned to the building to where the cashier was located. That same grimy bum working the parking lot was now in there. This time, he wasn’t alone. Had I not seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed what I was about to witness. He was sharing what little food he could afford with a wife and child. Each was soiled, ragged, and probably half-starved. I could only guess what all they might have been through.

Hard times come to all; each must bear their own burden. Me? I’d been plagued by blizzard driving conditions—one blinding snow storm after the next—almost daily. I was a thousand miles from home, and gone the entire winter; my body, mind, and spirit had grown cold and numb. Burdens? I bore the burdens of fifty men!

All this self-pity was getting me nowhere. I needed to resume my trip ASAP, without further delay. The weather had raised havoc with my schedule; at a minimum, I needed to drive as far as Glendive, Montana, before day’s end, a distance of more than three hundred miles. My engine purred like a kitten, all four hundred fifty horses. Eighteen restless wheels eagerly waited, ready to roll at a moment’s notice. I grabbed first gear; then I slowly shifted back into neutral. That cold, hungry beggar and his family—his haunting voice echoed and danced in my head, playing and replaying repeatedly: “stranded . . . broke down . . . starving family . . .”

I felt stupid, just sitting there. A quarter of a million dollars’ worth of cargo and equipment remained parked, idle, collecting rust, and going nowhere while I pondered my next move. . . . Finally, I killed the engine. With a blanket in hand, I returned to the restaurant and extracted one hundred forty dollars from an ATM machine. I laid it all out on the beggar’s table—seven crisp, new Jackson bills—along with the blanket.

The beggar was in a state of utter disbelief, and slow to respond. “Take ‘em, they’re yours,” I commanded, pointing down at the stack of twenties, “They’re yours,” I repeated.

The man’s wife looked at me with eyes penetrating, yet kind. Then she glanced out through the window at all the misery and chaos. “It’s feeling warmer already,” she declared. I saw a few tears.

The child reacted with the zeal and keenness that only a seven-year-old boy could. “Now can I have some pancakes with syrup, Daddy?” he asked.

Three radiant smiles, one from each of them, illuminated the entire room. We shook hands, and I wished them well as we parted company. They warmed my heart. Nothing seemed quite the same after that. I whispered a prayer for them as I made my way back to the truck. Returning to the highway, I gazed into the silvery clouds. Gone was their bleakness and fury, or so it seemed. In a couple of hours, I was running on bare pavement. The fog had lifted, and blue skies were beginning to appear far off to the west.

By the time I had crossed into Montana, nightfall had already set in. The stars were out, millions of them. Lots of sunshine was in the forecast. I hadn’t felt this much joy in months. Fresh, new hope had come to the man who had begged to feed his family. I too had been begging . . . to feed my soul.

[Judges said: #1 “Time and place become important characters here.” “It builds a relationship between the reader and the narrator from the start…” “Skilled at wordsmithing ” “ … A blend of no-nonsense humor and poignant reflection.”]

Second Place. MARGO HORNBACK had a unique start to her writing career. First she wanted to be a horse; then she wanted to write stories about horses. She held a variety of jobs, and her culminating career was as a Claim Examiner for the Department of Labor, which she describes this way: “I read folks’ stories, and made decisions, hopefully in their favor, when possible. Thanks for considering my story and finding in my favor.”

Sands of Time

Jim Reeves. That’s the answer. “Yes, it always whispers to me, of the days of long ago…” It’s on the public airwaves now, a show you can maybe only hear on a Fairbanks Saturday night, in 2000. Just me and Jim Reeves in a twilit room, about 3 am. A small personal mystery resolves.

Mom had a restaurant up the highway from Skykomish, where, after she’d been a single woman with two young daughters to support, a log-truck driver heard the news, stopped for coffee, and quickly won her battered heart. In the short months we lived as a new blended family at the River Bend Restaurant, we had a family invitation to the B___ home. Mr. B___ worked for the Forest Service; he oversaw a logging show, wherever they were clear-cutting that summer of 1953. Between the log-truck driver and the timber manager, some acquaintance was struck.

The B___s had a lot of children, or it seemed so to me. My sister and I had been, ‘til then, living with our grandparents on their Illinois farm, or else as free as farmyard chickens in our own company. We rambled along mostly by ourselves mostly unencumbered by adult oversight for a year, and I for one was happy that way.

But at the B___ house, there were more boys and girls than I’d ever seen, a tribe to which I did not belong. We sat down at large table, and shared a meal. It might have been the first family table I had attended, since leaving the farm two years earlier. After, we were turned loose to our own devices. If allowed, I would have stayed at the table with Mom to see what was up.

No, I was banished, then subsumed into a raucous group of strangers. It was rowdy, they were loud. They played wildly, very different from our sisterly wandering. We were used to benign neglect, of a sort no parent today understands. Mom had to work, or we would starve. We were expected to return home periodically, roughly at meal times and for bed, when she might have a break to take us upstairs to the apartment, and tuck us in. In between we traveled through a crescent of forest that existed within the curve of the wild river and the straight edge of Highway

In 1953 big rigs still flew by on Highway 2 from Canada to Seattle, at 1000’elevation, through the Cascade Mountains. Constrained only by natural caution, it’s still a source of wonder that we were not drowned, lost in undergrowth over our heads, kidnapped, squished on the road like a succession of pets, or simply forgotten by our mother in the press of restaurant business. In this new social setting, the B___ kids seemed unsafe at any speed, with rules only they understood. I lost track of my own sister, something I had never before allowed.

Seven children under the age of 10 were on a bunk bed, bouncing high enough to hit our heads on the ceiling. One child was pushed, elbowed, or simply fell off. All the way to the floor, in a smooth displacement of air felt rather than heard, he went. His head hit the wood floor with a DANGER sound! Momentary quiet ensued, followed by resumption of shouts when the fallen child was ambulatory. Scared, I left the games, though my sister wouldn’t come. For the first time I remember, I left her there, where I didn’t feel she was safe. It was her or me.

I found the living room, where time stopped in a way that remained mysterious for 45 years. The room was empty of people, but there was a light in the corner by a window, and another light on a bookcase; there sat a phonograph. I’d seen one before at my Auntie’s in a big cabinet, but at OUR house, WE had a Wurlitzer jukebox. Mom gave us quarters marked with her bright red fingernail polish, and we could pick any songs we wanted to hear. It is true pot-luck to give money for the jukebox, to a child who cannot read!

A record went around on the turntable, making a familiar sound that today’s children won’t recognize or understand: a needle on blank grooves. Tonight, in Fairbanks, I can see the dark room and pools of light, I can hear the shouts from the hall bedroom. Now I think forward to the later years: dark nights to come, the stepfather striding through a living room with an apron on and a butcher knife in his hand, looking for my mother, cold hatred curling his lip; the police finally on the front porch, and me: huddled and invisible to my mom’s traumatized gaze. Tonight, I understand that the adults had left us kids alone to live or die, and gone downtown to the bars, while I began to learn of loss.

But on that one night, the living room was a refuge and it held nothing but the lights, the phonograph, and the record, revolving with its tic, tic, tic.

I picked up the needle and moved it to the outside ring of the record, where I knew the Wurlitzer started every time. Suddenly it was story time. A deep, mellifluous voice told of cowboys and miners, treasure hidden, revealed, only to be lost again under shifting, whispering sands, and no one able to hold fast against them. I was transfixed by the gentle voice, the rotation of the record, the peace I had found in chaos, and by the images of loss the words suggested there in that mountain darkness.

[Judges said: “Beautifully wrapped in context,” “a poignant moment to describe the chaos of another family and your struggling one,” “…it conveyed what could be a heavy subject with a light touch” and “powerful images of complicated childhood experiences that make us feel hope for their survival.”]

Third Place. During the four decades he practiced internal medicine, JOHN GALLINIS discovered that the beliefs of each individual absolutely affect the outcome of their illnesses. He has spoken about that to groups but says his wife, Terri, has also “nagged, no… encouraged, me to write my stories for many years.” He said he finally started two years ago, and after some procrastination he submitted this story the day of the competition deadline.

Crackers and Cheese

As a young doctor 40 years ago, I learned the importance of the mind-body connection one night in an emergency room of a small rural hospital during a life and death confrontation.

I took report from the off-duty physician and introduced myself to the night nurse. She was middle aged, a bit tough, and not at all shy or insecure around doctors. She had likely seen and done more in emergency departments for longer than I had been alive, and any physician would be wise to accept her counsel.

After treating several patients with various minor infirmities, I took a break for a late sandwich and retreated to the on-call doctor’s room. At 2 a.m. the phone rang, and I was summoned to take care of a gentleman complaining of heartburn. The call room had become hot and stuffy, so I was actually relieved to return to the emergency department where the cold air helped to fortify me for what came next.

Mister Smith appeared ten years older than his stated age of 45 and was sweating profusely. He sat on the end of the examination table wearing a rumpled white shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows and collar unbuttoned halfway down his chest. He informed me that after his tavern closed he had been munching on crackers and cheese.

“The crackers must have stuck in my throat, Doc. Just give me something to ease the pain, and I’ll be on my way. I have to clean my bar before tomorrow’s crowd.”

Most patients seen in the E.R. have elevated blood pressure readings, but this man’s pressures were higher than expected. When I reported this he became irritated.

“My doctor prescribed blood pressure medicine, but I ran out of it months ago. I felt fine, so I stopped taking it,” he replied with impatience.

A package of Marlboro cigarettes peeked out from his shirt pocket. I launched into a lecture on smoking and the link to heart disease and hypertension, and he became more annoyed.

“My doctor said I should stop smoking, but it’s not that easy. Just give me something for the damn heartburn, Doc. I need to finish cleaning my tavern. I have to work for a living…not like you fancy doctors,” he barked.

I persuaded the exasperated barkeep to stay long enough for blood tests and an electrocardiogram which confirmed my suspicions. He was having a heart attack which he believed was heartburn.

Just then the man’s wife rushed in from the parking lot. I was anxious to avoid any additional agitation, and I wanted to enlist her support to convince her husband to follow my directives.

“Your husband needs to stay in the hospital for additional tests, but he remains adamant about leaving,” I told her. “Can you help convince him to stay?”

“I’ll talk to him,” she said and turned towards her husband.

“Damn it! Listen to the doctor!” she scolded.

With this, he became very agitated and jumped off the exam table. He ripped the EKG electrodes off his chest, arms, and legs, and attempted to remove the IV line. Apparently, no persuading would convince him to stay.

“I came here because I believed you could help with the crackers stuck in my throat. I am not staying in this hospital!” he snapped.

“Sir,” I said firmly, “You are having a heart attack, and if you walk out of this hospital now, the only way that you are coming back is dead. Do you understand me?”

I convinced him that what he had believed was just “heartburn” was now going to kill him. Within seconds, all the color drained from the man’s face, his eyes glazed over and rolled up behind his eyelids, and he collapsed to the floor.


The night nurse and I had not previously worked together, but we had performed the resuscitation drill many times with other medical personnel. It was like a well-choreographed dance in which each participant carries out a specific role to accomplish a common goal.

We lifted the patient back onto the exam table. I pressed the defibrillator’s “quick-look” paddles to the man’s chest and checked the monitor. It displayed an erratic, squiggling, green line, which gave me palpitations. It revealed ventricular fibrillation: a heart rhythm irregularity which, without immediate intervention or the benefit of heart-lung bypass, invariably results in death.

The tiny exam room was crowded, yet it was so quiet you could hear the defibrillator’s faint electrical whine as the capacitors were charged to 200 Joules. The whine soon changed to a quickening “Peep, Peep, Peep,” signifying the charge was complete.

“Clear,” I yelled and delivered the jolt through the paddles to the man’s chest.

“POOM.” As the shock was delivered, his pectoral muscles contracted violently and he rose slightly above the exam table. For a long moment the screen was blank as the electronics rebooted following the discharge. When the screen refreshed, the erratic telltale squiggles returned. His heart had not responded.

“Increase the settings to 300 Joules. Stand clear!”

“Whine. Peep, Peep, Peep…POOM.”

We watched the screen and waited. After a few moments which seemed like an eternity, the bouncing green dot came back to life and marched steadily across the screen. The familiar EKG pattern revealed that the additional discharge had successfully cardioverted his erratic heart. The nurse and I shared a look of relief, and I was never so thankful to see the return of normal rhythm.

He was transported to the ICU, and I comforted his distraught wife. Soon, the cardiologist arrived and assumed care. He recovered fully was discharged to home in one week and returned to tending his pub.

A belief is the acceptance of a fact as real or true without immediate personal knowledge. The Belief System powers the Healing System through the mind-body connection. A young doctor learned a valuable lesson that night in a rural E.R.

[Judges said: “The mind-body connection is dramatically displayed …” “Pacing is excellent with the gripping drama of the emergency room unfolding…” and “ Judicious use of pitch-perfect, realistic dialogue and characters quickly-realized with sparseness of detail.” ]

Conference News. Posted on May 1, 2018.

2018 Chelsea Cain High School Writers Competition Winners

Competition Winner

Dagan Anderson, who is a sophomore in Jennifer Robichaux’s English class at Eastmont High School (for which this story was originally written) has composed dozens of first pages of novels and over the past few years has focused on other artistic pursuits, mainly drawing and animation, but also poetry and songwriting. Dagan said, “Music is a big part of my writing experience…poetry is just prose with a hidden music… I have immense respect for talented lyricists.”


The air was crisp and tasted like the beginning of summer. A stout walnut tree stood in the centre of a hidden park, roots extending deep into the ground. Despite the state of disrepair and its secluded location, the park had a fair number of regular visitors, all of whom held the tree in good regard and took frequent advantage of its shade and fruits. In return, the visitors serviced the park: raking fallen leaves, fixing fences, and tossing grass seed into the trodden areas. The tree greatly appreciated the company and assistance, and continued to grow and produce many walnuts, which were some of the sweetest around. In the end, everyone was satisfied.

Over time, the tree had invited many different plants into the park to grow by its side. The companionship was always welcome, and welcomed most gratefully, in fact. There was plenty of soil to share. (Not every companion was able to stay, though; some plants didn’t fare too well in the soil, or in the sunlight, or in the temperature. Some plants aren’t suited for certain parks, perhaps.) However, the visitor at its base now was of a different nature. A sort of humorous-looking plant, indeed, with brown-dusted, leathery caps topping off each tough little stalk. It must have been developing for a while, considering the number of capped fellows littering the ground, but gone unnoticed until now. Taking into account the benign appearance, however, the tree figured that no harm could come of associating.

The foreigner (called Honey, as the tree came to know,) had a poor relationship with the parkgoers. Some of them distrusted the appearance, relating it to other plants of similar stature. However, the tree had great appreciation for Honey; as it continued to spread across the ground at the foot of the tree, it would clear the layer of leaves and unclaimed walnuts littered all along. In return the tree would leave for it a moist, shaded haven, in which it prospered. It was an ideal relationship, mutually beneficial, flawless.

Only for a time, though.

As Honey continued to draw itself closer, its funny, capped little fruits began to develop at the base of the tree’s trunk. I have more than enough of myself to share, the tree would muse upon noticing this. I’m here to sacrifice for this friend that I love! And for a good time they coexisted like this, with Honey continuing to encroach farther upwards. After that time, however, things started deteriorating quickly.

One day, without reason, the tree felt a strong ache beneath its tough bark. It was such a sudden change, and not seeing any sort of physical damage, it was left baffled as to what could have brought it on. Perhaps I’ve been caring poorly for myself, it considered. This period of confusion lasted for a short while, and over that time the ache continued to eat away, leaving the tree very tired. Its leaves began to wither, and its walnuts stopped fruiting. Less and less of the parkgoers who had always collected them continued to stop by, seeing nothing to gain out of the trip. It became a very lonely time. But Honey remained closer than ever, now reaching halfway up the trunk. Slowly, the realization came upon the tree that… Perhaps it was Honey that was causing the pain? The pain had never come upon it until the tan-capped foreigners had made their home. The tree didn’t understand how that could be, though, since things had been going so well up until then. It didn’t make any sense, and the questioning only made the pain worse.

Regardless of what the answer was, it was too late.


After a long time spent away, one of the park frequenters returned. He took note of how the park had begun to fall apart: the molding fences and wilted hedges, dry soil and patchy grass. Then his attention fell to the tree. Its branches had warped over all this time, its stature shrunken and bare. It was a painful sight for the man to see. Coming closer, he was taken aback; the whole trunk had been covered by dozens of mushrooms. That’s got to be why, the man remarked to himself, and tore a few off to get a closer look. But no matter how many mushrooms he removed, there was no undoing the damage beneath the bark. The man tried to think of something else he could do. This was surely not the end of his friend, a strong, reliable tree that had always provided so much… And then he recalled something he’d once heard. The man took out his pocket knife and began to hack away at one of the sturdier branches. Considering its size, he knew he couldn’t saw through it all at once, but over the course of a few days it was finally downed with a great snap. Hoisting it off the ground, the man slung the branch over his shoulder and made off for another park. In this park lay a trunk from a recently felled tree, and the man figured, perhaps…
It was a completely different atmosphere in the new park, the tree noticed as its recovery progressed. Despite being somewhat bare, it was more home than the former had been in a long time. The walnut branch had been eased into a crack in a fresh oak stump, a surrogate mother of sorts, that allowed the tree to regrow what it had lost. It became healthier, and the man stood by its side, slowly helping it to make the park a more lovely place to be. As all of this went on, former park-frequenters caught wind of the happenings, and began to make appearances in anticipation of the first new walnut crop. After many years, with all of their support and tending, the tree gave them exactly that; and despite what it had lost, it still produced the sweetest fruits that anyone had ever seen.

[ For “Honey,” which immediately placed high, the judges commented on the allegorical, lyrical style, one untypical of young fiction writers. It was “captivating and well-crafted,” “flowed like a well-known fable” and had “a unique point of view.” They saw the story as a metaphor and appreciated the upbeat ending.]

Honorable Mention.

Morgan Rosentrater is a full time Running Start Student from East Wenatchee. She said that early on she attempted writing novels but discovered that the short story format is more satisfying, and “Most times I’ll spend up to two months debating a story idea in my head before I actually write it down.” Morgan said she often writes, whether on the computer or her phone, in the company of her cat, Pepper.

She Left With the Twelve O’Clock Train

She had told my father we were going grocery shopping. She had not told him we were going to the train station.

The smell of roasting chestnuts was making me hungry as my mother and I sat patiently on a wooden bench in the chilly autumn air. The train station was a small structure that consisted of an entrance with two ticket booths, a departure and arrival time board, and a covered area to sit underneath that would only protect you from the rain. At this time of the year, the station was always bustling, just like it was today, with people visiting family for the holidays.

“What time is it?” I’d ask. It made me wish that Daddy had let me continue at school instead of keeping my mother and me locked away at home. When I left school, my teacher had just started teaching us how to read a clock. Maybe I’d ask if I could go back.

I never did.

“It is 11:23,” she spoke quietly in a way to not draw attention. “We are waiting for a nice man to come so he can accompany us onto the twelve o’clock train.”

I nodded my head and swung my feet back and forth impatiently. “I thought Daddy said you weren’t supposed to talk to other men?” I cocked my head and examined her reaction.
She smiled sadly and ran her hand through the golden locks of my hair. “Your father is a very mean man,” she informed me. “While he is nice to you, that does not mean he is nice to me. We are taking the train so we can be safe from him.” She sighed and unfolded her newspaper. Monday November 3rd, 1953.

My mother was worried about something. I could tell by the way she kept glancing at the entrance to the train station as time passed.

“If we leave will I be able to go to school again?” She didn’t answer me. Her eyes were glued to a man who had entered. I tugged the sleeve of her long paisley dress. “Is that the nice man we’re waiting for?”

She snapped out of her daze and shook her head sorrowfully. “No,” she murmured, “he is not. We need not worry, I’m sure Mr. Edmunds will be here shortly.” My mother pulled a handkerchief out her purse and dabbed the corners of her eyes.

With nothing to do I set my focus on a pigeon who was hopping his way about the station pecking at dropped food and whatever waiting passengers would throw his way. We became friends quickly and I decided to name him Chomp because of how hungry he was. I was hungry too, because when Daddy was angry, he would only let us eat when he was home for dinner.

Without speaking, my mother stood up suddenly, her face completely despondent as the clock chimed. Glancing around the station I couldn’t help but notice there was no nice man who had come to accompany us.

In the distance, I could hear the whistle of the train coming. The whistle became louder and louder as it got closer causing Chomp to get startled and fly into a well groomed man wearing a long blue jacket. The man swatted at Chomp in annoyance before looking up and dropping his suitcase. A look of horror crossed his face and he pushed his way towards the tracks.

I turned my head enough to just barely see my mother jump onto the cold metal rails only to be taken away by the 12:00 o’clock train that barreled through the station.

The man in the blue jacket dropped to his knees and let out a devastated cry. He seemed like such a nice man.

[Judges said that “She left With the 12:00 Train” showed excellent control of the child’s point of view, had a strong dramatic arc, and was “O’Henry-ish” in its plot. The realism was believable and authentic. They especially liked the “spare description” and “effective dialogue.”]

Honorable Mention.

Logan Reinier is a senior at Entiat Middle High School, where his English teacher is Nancy Coolidge. He won a similar commendation in last year’s competition and has attended WOTR workshops. Logan says he has been a storyteller his whole life but has concentrated on writing short stories for the last few years. Though he likes all genre, he especially enjoys fantasy and science fiction and plans to pursue writing as a career.

The Drearwood Thieves

The rustling in the bushes drew a silence over the group. Edder sat shaking on his stump. Just his luck, he had joined the thieves that would die in Drearwood.

The bushes moved again, prompting Varn to draw his blade. “Who goes there?” He said, walking toward the bushes.

From the brush, emerged a shorter, stouter, and hairier man. Buttoning up his pants, he looked up toward the group. “Oh… I’m sorry, did I startle you?” He said, looking around. A wave of relief washed over the group.

“Gods be damned boy, I nearly ruined my breeches!” Dorrick said, the fat on his face bouncing as he did.

“Again, I offer my apology.” The Halfling held his arms out to his sides bowing a little. “Would you mind if I joined you? I’d be willing to share what wine I carry.”

“Sure,” Dorrick said reluctantly.

Sitting down, the Halfling pulled out a wine skin and took a sip. “Now answer me honestly. You guys thought I was the nameless creature that lives here in the Drearwood, right?” The kid looked down. “Well, there’s no shame in it! Most locals believe in it.”

“Are you saying you don’t?” Edder asked with a shaky voice.

“Listen, kid,” the Halfling said before taking a sip and handing the wine skin to Varn. “I’m a storyteller by trade. We never believe the tales we tell.”

“Poppycock!” Dorrick yelled, spitting out the food he had in his mouth.

“If a bard is afraid of his own tales, how can he expect to be able to finish the story or play the crowd for a reaction? Telling a story to a crowd isn’t unlike playing an instrument.” The Halfling paused and took his wine back, taking another sip. “However, I am far more interested in the story of how you three ended up in the middle of the most decrepit forest in all the world?” He began to eye the group.

“We’re traders. Grain traders.” Varn said, motioning to the sacks lying against a tree. “We are taking Drearwood as a shortcut.”

The Halfling’s eyes widened. “Grain traders, huh?… in the middle of this forest…” he took another sip. “If I had to guess, I’d say there is grain in those sacks, but that is not what you trade. There are no trading post on the south end of Driarwood. There is however… Thieves cove.” Varn drew his sword, the curved blade hissing as he did. “And for people who believe in the nameless creature in these woods, I’d have to assume whatever it is you are smuggling is quite valuable. My guess would be on gems or gold.”

Varn started to lunge at the Halfling before stopping with his sword overhead.

“I got to scare you twice tonight. Made the whole journey worth it.” The Halfling said laughing. “I’ve seen you before at Thieves Cove, you knobs! And quite frankly I’m hurt you don’t recognize me.”

Dorrick began to laugh, his jowls bouncing up and down. “Yes, of course. I thought I knew you. Hard to see you in the dark.” He said. Varn put away his sword.

“I recognize you two, but not the kid.” The halfling said, wiping tears from under his eye.

“Ahhh, I found him on the street. Just hired help.” He said, taking another bite of the chicken leg in his hand.

The kid watched him the whole time. It was torture to have to cook the meat and then watch someone else eat it. “Do you think… I could have some?” he asked Dorrick.

Dorrick grunted, throwing the meat on the ground in front of the kid. “You’re lucky kid; I’m full,” he said laughing.

Picking up the meat, he began to brush the dirt and twigs off. It was better than most of what he’d eaten in his life. He wasn’t about to complain.

“Tell me about the creature in these woods?” The kid asked the bard.

“You don’t know the tales?” the halfling asked.

“I know rumors,” he said taking a bite, spitting out the twigs that he had missed.

“Well the story goes that it preys on the wicked and greedy that travel through these woods. They say it takes the form of anyone it devours and perfectly imitates how they look and sound.”

“What does it look like… naturally?”

“I’ve heard some say giant wings, others red eyes. Generic monster stuff.” The Halfling paused and looked into the kid’s eyes. “It’s just a story kid, trust me, you have nothing to fear.”

The kid looked down at what remained of the chicken leg and started sucking any remnant of food off the bone.

“Hey kid!” Varn said in a rough voice. “We need more water.”

The kid stood up and grabbed the bucket. Starting toward the river, he thought about what the bard had said. Reaching the river, he dipped the bucket into the water, when suddenly his body went tense. Screams echoed through the woods. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. They were just messing with him. All he had to do is walk back and see that they are completely fine.

He emerged from the bushes to find only blood and viscera. Looking around he saw what remained of the group, except the Halfling. Perhaps he had been eaten whole. Looking up he saw it.

The creature indeed had wings, tattered and torn. Its skin was black and hairless. On the top of its head where a row of horns forming a crown. It turned toward him, slurping the flesh that hung from its lip into its mouth. A grin grew on its face. “You’re lucky, kid” It growled, throwing down Dorrick’s head. “I’m full…” it said, flying off into the trees.

He did indeed consider himself lucky.

[“Drearwood Thieves” was an immediately engrossing mix of realism and fantasy, said the judges. They felt the writer showed good control of the story with the compact, contained setting and it had “punchy dialogue,” was suspenseful, and had clearly defined characters.]

Conference News. Posted on April 26, 2018.

An Important Message about our Conference

An Open Letter to Local Writers

Dear fellow writers, friends and WOTR members,

Here in 2018, Write On The River’s twelfth year serving local writers, the board of directors has made some major changes to our programs. Some of you have joined us for our new offerings: a summer garden party, the fall writing retreat, the first of our intensive Saturday workshops, and our monthly meetings, now called Writers Meeting Writers. And there is more to come.

We have suspended the annual conference, however. Some of you have been understandably distressed about that. As the founder of Write On The River, I share your disappointment. We have loved being able to bring a writers’ conference to Wenatchee, and we cherish the experiences we have shared with local writers throughout the years. Some of you who have helped with our conferences know how labor-intensive it is. Combined with the year-round programming offerings, we found that our volunteers just could not continue to devote the time needed for such an intensive annual enterprise.

Typically, work on the conference began in August and we pushed hard through the year to carry it off. While we had several committed volunteers, along with board members, we often found ourselves overwhelmed with the work load. Board member turnover, WOTR members’ busy lives, and the relentless need for marketing, fundraising, and presenter recruitment have brought us to the conclusion that we lack the volunteer base for a writing event of this size. We continue to make our need for volunteers known, such as we did with the board’s message to the attendees of the 2017 conference.

We have also experienced a decline in conference attendance. As a result, some years have been financially difficult. Although we take heart from the contributions of those who are paying members, and despite best efforts in promoting our organization, our membership is not growing. Appeals for donations come from so many organizations; it has been difficult to gain enough donors and members for the conference to remain financially viable.

Still, the board is determined to find the right mix of programming that meets our local writing community’s needs. Through surveys, we’ve heard from you that you’d like opportunities to write together, make writing contacts, and continue to work with talented teachers on a range of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Check out the WOTR website for the offerings we’ve devised to better meet your

 needs this year.

My dream when I moved to Wenatchee was to have a first-class writing conference for North CentralWashington. We’ve loved doing it and still hope that in a future year the conference will return. Dreams are worth pursuing. We hope that if you share that dream, you’ll help us shape and create it.

With best wishes in the writing life,

Kay Kenyon


Conference News, Upcoming Events. Posted on March 12, 2018.