Volume 20 Number 4

"What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.”

Epictetus, Stoic philosopher
July - September 2017

Archives

Congratulations to
First Place Winner, Janet Robinson
Second Place Winner, Jonathan Werre
And Honorable Mention Winners, Shannon Brown

You make me glad we held a separate contest for MG, YA, and NA.


Five Notes about the Judging:

Readers need to care about your protagonist by the end of the first page. 

The potential for intense, hypercritical (to a young person) conflict matters.

Early tension helps. 

Something needs to happen. 

Grab and hold your reader as early as possible.

 

STALLED
By First Place Winner Janet Robinson


     “Bathroom closed due to graffiti.”

     “What?” Jenny came to a sudden halt. “Not again!” she groaned looking at the sign covering the girls’ washroom door. “What is wrong with the adults in this school that they can't understand why we write in those stalls? Don’t they know how much we NEED to write in them? Why do they always have to paint over our words? They may as well slap us and tell us to shut up!

     Jenny had been in her stall earlier that day. It had been “her” stall since that dark Tuesday, last October. She'd been feeling so alone all weekend. She had sensed herself sinking into the black hole again. For two years now it had been her nemesis. Every time she managed to claw herself out, it wasn't long before she fell back into the abyss. That weekend had been no different. She had cried and cried until there were no tears left. Until she felt just a hollow nothingness in the pit of her stomach that spread up through her chest and made her head ache. By the time the sobs had worn themselves out, even her eyeballs ached. The night before her mom had held her in her arms and slept with her through the night. That had helped.....to have someone there beside her. But she still felt so alone. There was still a huge secret taking up space in her mind and heart. A secret that she didn't know how to tell anyone, especially her mom.

     “How are you feeling this morning?” her mom had asked as the sun streamed light into the darkness of her bedroom.

     “Okay ....” Jenny had replied, not really sure how she was feeling. Better than the night before, but she could feel the darkness creeping back in spite of the sun’s best efforts.

     “You should probably go to school this morning,” her mom said, rubbing her back gently. “Having other things to think about might help.”

     “Maybe she's right,” Jenny thought, “I guess I’ll try.” Reluctantly, she forced herself out of the security of her bed and went through the morning rituals of getting dressed, doing her hair and putting on her makeup. But as she checked herself over in the mirror she felt like she had applied a fake smile along with her foundation. The together looking girl that smiled at her in the mirror was not the way she felt on the inside at all.

     Jenny made small talk with her mom on the way to school. “Thanks for the lunch money….will you be picking me up after school?” Don’t forget I’ve got voice lessons after supper.” She rushed to her locker to grab her books so she wasn’t late for first period….although she realized with a sudden groan that she wished she could miss first period altogether. HE would be there and she really didn't want to have to see him. With a sigh she dropped into her desk. Sure enough she could feel his eyes on her. There was a time when she felt so safe under his gaze. When she felt like he really knew her and understood her pain, but that was before....before he had checked out.....and now…. She just really missed the warmth of that person he had been. She could feel the tears stinging her eyelids. How was she ever going to make it through this class?

     “And so,” Miss K droned on, “What Shakespeare was trying to say....”

     “Really,” Jenny thought, “Who cares what Shakespeare was trying to say five hundred years ago? I need someone to tell me how to survive my life here now. Is there anybody out there who can tell me that?” She could feel the lump forming in her throat. “Dear God. I have to get out of here.” She put up her hand.

     “Yes, Jenny... “Do you have something to contribute?”

     “Uh..no..I just. ....I just have to use the bathroom.”

     “Go ahead then....”

     Jenny bolted out the door and walked as fast as she could to the bathroom. Whew....no one was around. She pushed open the door of the stall and sank down on the toilet seat. The tears came fast and her chest heaved with sobs. The darkness had returned with a vengeance. For the first time in her life she realized what it must be like to feel hopeless, absolutely hopeless.

     “I need to talk to someone so bad......but who?” Her friends were awesome, but somehow they didn't seem enough. She had poured her heart out to them, but they didn't completely understand. How could they? A teacher? They all seemed so busy.....and none of them seemed to care enough to really listen. She had tried, but always felt like they interrupted her, trying to finish her sentences for her, or trying to fix her without really listening, without really hearing her heart. The guidance counsellor? It seemed the logical choice, but she was a stranger....and besides, wasn't she required to report things like this to the police or worse yet, her parents? No, she definitely couldn't take the risk of talking to a guidance counsellor. I need someone to know how desperate I feel.....but WHO? She glanced at the bathroom stall where someone had written, “I just want to die” “Oh God, Jenny murmured, “That is just how I feel!” She pulled a pen out of her purse and started writing....writing to this…"friend" who understood exactly how she felt. “Me too”, Jenny wrote, “I want to die so bad. I want this pain to end. I don't know what else to do....someone please help me.” And with that her chest heaved with sobs.

     Suddenly she heard the sound of someone coming into the bathroom. Jenny caught her breath and tried desperately to silence her sobs.

 


JANET ROBINSON has always enjoyed writing, but only recently started to devote more time to it.  She resides in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada where she works with her husband in their home design business, Robinson Residential Design.  Laughter, Love and Learning are the three most important values in her life.  

 

BECOMING HUMAN
By Jonathan Werre

 

Gilgamesh was king of Uruk.

Enkidu was born on the Steppe

Where he grew up among the animals.

Gilgamesh was called a god and a man;

Enkidu was an animal and a man.

It is the story

Of their becoming human together.

 

(“Gilgamesh: A Verse Narrative”, Herbert Mason)

CHAPTER 1—from boy to god

     His dimpled face was freshly washed, his hair neatly combed, his optimism as genuine as a baby’s giggle. The clothes—freshly ironed T shirt, old but clean shorts, new runners, and the pair of Pikachu boxers he had left in the package until today —felt slightly stiff, heightening the feeling of the importance of this event. His first day of high school! In May he had scored so unusually high on his 6th grade Assessment Tests that it was determined he should skip the next two grades.

     High school! This was an answer to his prayers, the ones he had prayed so many nights, by himself, in bed, with sobs, after yet another day of being tortured by the rough boys who threw words like stones and had torn jeans and sharp elbows.

     Now a fresh start—high school! He made his way through the sea of students. Everyone seemed to know somebody. Everyone except him. His optimism was leaking badly. But then he remembered what his mom had said, “Don’t worry; you’ll make friends in no time.” He was thinking about that when he bumped into a large, overdeveloped senior who had stepped into his path.

     “Hey, kid, what you doing here? Grade school’s down the street,” he smirked.

     “I-I’m a freshman,” Gilgamesh said. When he noticed the other boys looking at him, he felt the need to explain. “I was moved up two classes.” When they still did not respond, he added, “We had to take Assessment tests last year and, um, I did pretty well.”

     The senior, overdeveloped in body but not in brain, took this as an insult. “What’s your name, kid?”

     “Gil,” he said with a cautious yet friendly tone.

     “Gil? What kind of name is that? What, you a fish or something?” The tone and volume of his voice caught the attention of students who were walking by. They began to slow down for the same reasons people slow down when they drive by an accident. Gilgamesh’s intelligent brain froze up like a computer.

     “What, cat got your tongue? Cats like fish, don’t they, Dids?” joined in one of the large boy’s lackey’s—the kind that clings to the popular kids like a scrap of toilet paper clings to the bottom of your shoe as you leave the washroom.

     “Sure,” said a sarcastic Dids, shifting his eyes quickly back and forth, showing both his contempt of the lackey and his predatory intentions towards Gil. “Hey, Gil, those are some rockin’ shorts you got on. You think your mom could get me a pair of those at…where’s she shop? Goodwill?” This sent the crowd now gathering around Gil into titters of light laughter, the laughter of relief. The relief that someone else had been identified as The Weird One. Which is a critical item in the social agenda of high school. And the sooner it is taken care of, the better—except for the Weird One.

     The five minute warning bell for Garden Heights High had not yet rung. So on this warm, late summer morning students were swarming all around the front of the school, on the courtyard, in the green spaces. There was the excited, nervous chaos that comes when the school year still holds promise and everything is new and full of possibility.

     But for Gilgamesh, his possibilities were ending before they started. “Hey, maybe he needs our help with those shorts, Dids,” said another lackey, a small, Napoleanish senior, the smell of humiliation doing for him what the smell of blood does for sharks.

    “Yah,” Dids replied, his face unfurling into a Grinch-like grin, “What kind of friends would we be if we let him walk around school all day in those shorts?” The lackeys took his question as a command, a permission to violate boundaries, to humiliate with impunity. They attacked Gil, knocking him down. Gilgamesh meant to fight back, meant to show himself to be a man. But he was not a man. He was a boy. A smart boy, yes. But still a boy.

     One of the lackeys landed on top of Gil, pinning him down. A sharp knee jabbed directly into his diaphragm. The panicky feeling of suffocating overwhelmed him. The other boy grabbed at Gil’s shorts, yanking, pulling, violently jerking them off. He jumped up in triumph, waving the shorts in his hands like a victory flag. “Hooha! Lookee what I got!”

     This triumphant parade got an added sound track of laughter and girlish squeals as someone shouted, “Look! He’s got Pikachu boxers!” Other voices reacted. “Is this kid six years old, or what?”

     The bell rang. There was a surge as the crowd started to move towards the school, students walking around Gil, a few accidently stepping on him. Gil continued to lay on the ground, trying to breathe.

     His lungs would eventually recover. But not his heart. His heart was caving in from massive humiliation, like a giant red star collapsing inward, unable to hold itself up under the unbearable weight. Tears slid down his young, dimpled face as a realization as dark as a black hole flooded his mind--high school was going to be just like grade school. Being smart did not help one bit.

     Then, like an explosion of clarity, a revelation cracked through his mind—what counted was not how smart you were but how powerful. Everything was about power. If you had power, people could not hurt you. Being smart was something. But being powerful was everything.

     Gilgamesh suddenly wanted power. Lusted for power. Lots of power. Loads of power. Massive power.

 

Jonathan Werre has a masters degree in theology and a black belt in taekwondo.  He loves stories, ancient and modern.  As do his children (four of them) and wife (one of them).  Whom he also loves.   Also coffee.  Loves coffee. 

 

Beyond The Music
By Shannon Brown

     As I sat atop my old rickety white desk, I fantasized about my escape. Dad’s ’62 Buick was parked beneath my window. All I need to do is grab the keys and drive. Once I cross the border I will hop on a cross country train in Seattle and be back home in a matter of days. Mom and Dad will understand. They’re not the type to press charges on their own daughter. I’ll just leave the keys in the car for them along with an apology note. I just hope I can evade the conductor long enough to reach Indiana. Maybe I’ll meet someone else on the train who can help, a dapper Cary Grant type like from a Hitchcock movie, but my age and not so straight laced. A casual twenty-something Cary Grant wearing jeans and a t-shirt. That’s likely to happen isn’t it? Yeah right. It’s about as likely as me getting up the nerve to actually borrow Dad’s car. Even if I do, no way is there enough gas to get me more than a block or two away from this dump.

     I cracked the window open a bit and inhaled. I couldn’t smell many pines over the aroma of truck exhaust and machinery that emanate from the industries surrounding me, but at least I can see the mountains. Canada may be my prison, but at least it’s a beautiful one. Even our industrialized outskirt has majestic views once you look past the factories and junkyards that make up this neighborhood.

     What kind of prison doesn’t even have smokes; I wondered as I listened to the sounds of the neighborhood waking up. A forklift was backing up and a large truck rumbled by. I longed for a cigarette. Sneaking a smoke was how I’d discovered this vantage point in the first place, but I finished my last pack months ago. I know it’s just as well since there are tons of new reports saying they can kill you, but one cig wouldn’t kill me would it?

     I pulled myself down from the desk and walked toward the kitchen. What mix of God-awful hash and ancient potatoes awaited me this lovely morning? Mom hadn’t made a decent breakfast in months, and judging by the smell of burnt something wafting into the hallway, today wouldn’t break her lousy breakfast streak.

     “Why don’t we drive to the city today?” I said as I reached the kitchen. Mom was as the stove stirring up something in the pan with the charred bottom. She scrunched up her nose and let out a sigh. Maybe she also hated the smell of her own cooking.

     “You know, how tight money’s been lately hon,” she said as she scooped the unholy hash into a bowl for me.

     “We should head to Stanley Park again.” I said as I grabbed the bowl. I’d gotten used to ignoring her constant money moans. “Like how we used to after we moved here. We can go for a hike and get some fresh air. I’m feeling really restless.”

     “It’s a Saturday,” Mom said. “Remember what Ray told us. Most people want to get their moving done on a weekend. We should stick close just in case a van stops by.”

     Ugh, Ray. I hated that guy. With his little scrunched up eyes and a smirk that takes up half his fat face. I guess I would smirk too if I unloaded a tremendously unprofitable storage business to the first sucker that came along.

     “How ‘bout just me and you go. We don’t have to hit the park. We can do some window shopping over on Granville,” Mom shook her head no like always. “I’m going crazy over here Mom,” I said.

     “I understand, Ellen, I really do, but the car is almost out of gas and your Father thinks it’s time to change the oil. All we need is one client. Then things will be better. If something happens to the car now, Dad will need to call Ray and borrow more money. Don’t you think he’s done enough for our family?”

     “Yeah, Mom, he’s done enough,” I said, then wandered into the living room. Why did Dad choose a best friend who gets into even crazier business schemes then he does? Who even buys a business that’s not in the country where they live?

     Northern Storage comprises three Buildings. One has the apartment, downstairs office and smaller units while the others contain the larger spaces used by moving companies to keep peoples’ belongings safe until their new homes are ready to move into.

     On paper it sounded like an industry that even my father’s razor sharp business acumen couldn’t mess up. All we need to do is hang around and make sure nobody breaks in. The moving companies are supposed to do the actual work; like hauling and loading all the stuff. Then they pay us. It all sounded easy enough. We should’ve known better.

     It wasn’t until Mom, Dad and I got settled in and our work visas taken care of that we realized the reason Ray Washburn was so eager to unload the warehouse in the first place. Turns out, three of the major moving companies built their own warehouses further out in the suburbs. Northern Storage only got their occasional overflow jobs so smaller companies made up the bulk of our business. They don’t give us enough business to pay Ray back let alone make a profit.


Shannon Brown is from the Bay Area. She is the author of Rock’N’Roll in Locker Seventeen and has stories in many anthologies. Her books contain music, celebrity and humor. She is currently working on 2 other books. She also runs www.tshirtfort.com.

 

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