2018 Writers Competition Winners

by admin Conference News. Posted on May 1, 2018.

FICTION 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!”]


NONFICTION WINNERS

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.

Dead.

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.” ]