2021 Annual Writing Contest Winners

We are thrilled to announce the winners of the Patten Free Libraries 8th Annual Writing Contest. This year there were more than 40 entries in all but one category, and we welcomed adult submissions for the first time ever. Judges included Patten Free Library Staff and members of the Teen Library Council. Congratulations to our winners, and thank you to everyone who entered!

 

7-9 Grade Memoir

 

First Place

Chewonki Saltwater Canoe Trip by Huckleberry Huber-Rees

 

The canoe slipped into the water, the bow dipping under the surface. We carefully set our dry bags in and tied them down, our boats slowly rocking back and forth in the current. We untied the rope holding us to the dock, and began our four day journey. We paddled slowly with the current into the salt marsh, and gazed at the golden spartina grass, the light bouncing off of each individual stock, casting an aureate light across the water. We practiced all of our different strokes, each pull making whirlpools dance across the surface of the water. 

We began our swift paddle to Ideal Point, excited and laughing. We had joyful conversations with our peers as we stopped at the waterfront and had a lunch of turkey wraps. We kept paddling, and got to Ideal at around two o’clock. Carlo and I set up our tent. I blew up my sleeping pad, and carefully laid down my sleeping bag. We had a cookout dinner, which I cooked along with Carlo, Franny, Oriana, and Hannah. I thought about the days and memories to come, as I watched the fire; its embers slowly dimming, orange logs crackling, picturing our paddle to Castle the next day. 

After dinner, we had a little bit of downtime before we had to go to bed. Noah and I sat on a rock overlooking the water, and observed the stars. It was a clear night, and because there was no light nearby, the stars were very visible, painted across the sky, piercing the dark cloak of the night. They illuminated the rocking waves, slowly bobbing up and down, bathed in a white light. Then a beautiful shooting star was cast across the sky, a bright flash, an arrow shot from Orion’s bow. 

“Whoa!” Noah said. 

“That’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen!” I replied. 

After we exchanged a few more words about making a wish, we headed to our tents. I was with Carlo. The first night I was pretty exhausted, so after a little bit of quiet talking, I went to sleep. I woke up the next morning and packed my bag. I left my tent, and helped lay out the ingredients for our breakfast of French toast. French toast is simple, but it takes a very, very long time to cook. We finished making the mixture to soak the bread in, and by the time we were done, there was a raging fire ready for us to cook on. We carefully dipped the bread, and waited for it to absorb the blend, then we flipped it, and put it in a pot filled with oil. After that, we waited for it to become perfectly golden brown. We repeated this process over and over again, until it was time to eat. The breakfast was delicious, and it energized us. Little did we know, nothing could energize us enough for the paddle to come. 

The paddle that day was from Ideal Point to the first island, Castle. We marked out our trip on a chart, and carried our heavy dry bags down to our green canoes. We carried our group gear down, and put it in a pile so we could fill our boats. Cadence and I got the snack and dessert barrel, “the Queen” we called it. We carefully set her majesty down in the middle of our boat, in between our bright yellow drybags. Kat helped us tie everything down, and Team Perfect (our team name) was back! Our journey to Castle started out fairly mellow. It was a 3.5 mile paddle, which seemed like nothing compared to the 5 mile paddle planned for the next day. We underestimated the 3.5 mile distance greatly. The wind and the tide were against us, but we pressed on. It was hard, but little did we know, soon it would only get worse. 

The wind got significantly faster, and we had to paddle as close to land as possible, tucking into coves, trying to catch as little wind as possible. The waves started to bob our boats up and down vigorously, in a constant see-saw motion. Hunter got sea-sick, and his boat was tied to Kat’s and towed into a cove so he could rest. Here we had a snack of Oreos, and I will say, they were delicious. We caught short glimpses of Castle Island, and began the hardest part of our paddle. We had to go directly towards the howling, churning wind, paddling straight forward, with no cover from the wind. The tide was against us as well. 

We began the passage across Hockomock Bay, and it was immediately incredibly hard. We paddled in this half mile section for two and a half hours. We were barely moving. Letting up paddling would cost us a half hour at least. We looked to the right of us and saw a downed tree. We paddled for another 25 minutes and looked at the tree again, and we had barely moved past the trunk. This became our goal, to get past the tree, and we used it as a motivator. Eventually we did get past it, but we were still hardly moving. It felt as though a hand was pushing us back, we were spiders stuck in a jar. We kept making goals for ourselves- passing this buoy, that dock, and eventually, we arrived at the island. 

When we got there, we all noticed that dark clouds were wrapped around our little island, like a cloak of darkness. Swarms of mosquitoes attacked, clouds of blood sucking vampires. We quickly unloaded boats and set up tents, and right as I finished unpacking, thunder rolled through the bay. It was met with a bright flash of lightning, illuminating our tent, light bouncing across the walls. Rain pounded our tent, drops bouncing off of the rainfly, pooling on the ground. Another crash of thunder, this time very close to our little Castle (island) of fortitude. I became kind of anxious, thinking that we were stuck on this island, and anything could happen, but I calmed myself down quickly, reassuring myself that we were on tent platforms and we would be fine. Then we were called for dinner, and we ate pasta hunkered down in our raingear. It was only drizzling now. Everyone was very quiet, and we were all exhausted from the hard paddle the day before. We went back to our tent, and I quickly went to sleep. 

The next day was the five mile paddle. We woke up early, had breakfast sandwiches, and loaded our boats. This time, the paddle was luxurious. The tide was with us, and there was no wind. We hardly had to paddle. The beautiful, shiny green water calmly pushed us forward, glistening in the sunlight. A Great Blue Heron flew right next to us, its enormous wings gliding down to a marsh, where it majestically stood, like a knight guarding a castle. We rode the current through a slightly narrow passage, and stopped at Beal Island. We ate gorp for snack, and learned about tides, and how they work. We then got back on the water, and it wasn’t until 10 minutes later Hannah asked me, “Huck, where’s your PFD?!”

I instantly realized I wasn’t wearing one, and frantically searched in our boat, to no avail. We turned around, went back to the island, and found it there. We paddled back to the group, motivated by Hunter’s wonderful singing of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson. 

We kept riding the current, and before we knew it, we were in Ebenecook Harbor! We were escorted by a silver seal, light bouncing off of its sleek body, dipping in and out of the water. We arrived at the next island, Spectacle, in two and a half hours. Our 3.5 mile paddle had taken 6 hours. At this moment, I realized how much I took the tides for granted, and now understood their importance. We pulled our boats out at Spectacle, and had cheese, crackers, and pepperoni for lunch. It was a beautiful day, not a cloud in sight. We set up our tents, and then went down on the beach, where Kat assigned us the task to map out our journey. I probably would have made a better map, but if I’m being honest, I was distracted by collecting seaglass. Each piece glistened in the sunlight, like crystals fallen from the sky. Franny, Acadia and I collected sea glass, and had very silly conversations, while Noah, Hunter, Carlo, and Hannah played Dungeons and Dragons. 

Later that afternoon, we got some marshmallow sticks ready for S’mores later. We had a delicious dinner of burrito bowls, and I crunched up tortilla chips and put them on mine. It was my favorite dinner of the trip. After we finished our last bites, we sat on the beach to watch the sun set, and picked a movie quote that represented our individual trip experiences. We made our S’mores, and had the usual debate about whether you should burn the marshmallow and catch it on fire, or have it be golden brown (the right choice). 

The next day, we had cheesy hash browns for breakfast, and had a mellow paddle to our pull-out spot. We went under a bridge, and saw our silver Chewonki van, ready to take us back to campus. After some splashing of each other, Hunter and I arrived, and pulled our boat out with everyone else’s. We all worked together to put the canoes on the trailer, and had a calm ride back to campus. 

When we got there, we cleaned our dishes, again accompanied by Hunter’s wonderful, melodic singing. We ate a lunch of pasta salad, and reflected on our trip experiences. We returned back to the CEE, ready for pick up. We were all very tired, and ready to go home. We had a lot of fun, bonded as a community, and I really enjoyed it. I would say it was probably the hardest Chewonki trip I’ve ever done in all of my six years.

 

Second Place

TIE: A Trip Down the Sheepscot River by Noah Arbuckle

 

“Hold on!” Huckleberry shouted, as our cart filled to the brim with camping supplies and food careened down the treacherous hill, catching air over rocks. We dug our feet in deep, wincing as we waited for the inevitable, explosive collision, until we realized the cart was no longer pulling us along. Opening our eyes, we saw a fifteen-foot pine tree mere inches from toppling our cart and sending our gear flying into the stratosphere. 

Slowly and carefully wheeling our cart the remaining distance to our gear pile by the water, we sat down for our well-deserved snack. After resting up, we grabbed our paddles and camping gear (over several trips) and hopped in our now-heavy canoes. The 10 mile journey our 7/8th grade class had ahead of us, spanning four days and three nights, wasn’t going to be easy but hey, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. 

Before getting on the water for our first leadership expedition of the year, we were assigned canoe partners, many of whom had never (or almost never) paddled before today. On the water it was the eighth graders’ jobs to help give advice and be the leaders of each boat. Canoeing is inherently a team effort, unlike kayaking. Canoeing works best with two people, so communication and teamwork are incredibly important. On our journey to Ideal Point we encountered our first taste of fighting the tide, something which might just come back to haunt us. 

Once we arrived at Ideal, we started working on our crews to keep our trip moving smoothly. I was assigned to the wood crew with two other people, and it was our job to gather wood and then process it down to a usable size. I was excited because one of my goals for this trip was to become familiar with the Chewonki wood processing system and get better at using axes and saws to cut wood down to a size that could be easily burned. 

We woke up the next morning well-rested and excited for the day, and whatever would come next. While we packed up our tents, the cook crew made us a delicious meal of French toast and sausage. After a leisurely breakfast, we got in our canoes, ready to face the day. While we were eating, the wind had been ramping up, and because we got a late start, the tide was against us, too. Our canoeing started with a difficult crossing from the tip of Ideal to the protected side of Oak Island, directly through the path of the screaming wind. 

Our entire journey down Montsweag Bay to Hockomock Bay went like this: slowly making progress down the river and hopping into brief moments of calm, before being thrown back out into the unrelenting wind. Once we finally reached Hockomock Bay after five and a half hours of cruel paddling, the worst was yet to come. We still had to paddle half a mile directly into the wind, with no cover or breaks. 

Pushing off from the protected inlet to the raging bay was a moment I remember vividly. Going into the path of the howling wind felt like ruddering my boat into molasses. The wind was slowly pushing our boats back, and even as we put every bit of effort we had into every last paddle stroke, we still barely made any headway. 

After five minutes of excruciating paddling, I looked to the side and saw that we had just made it back up to the spot where we had originally been propelled into the current. When we had pushed off, we couldn’t be at full speed immediately, so the wind had a few seconds to push us back. The journey to Castle was not an easy one, and over the hour-long crossing, doubt that we would ever make it occurred to me several times, but everyone in our class persevered. When the island was finally in clear sight, we all gained one last ounce of strength that none of us knew we had, which shot us the final distance onto shore, where we finally had a moment’s rest. 

As I pulled my canoe up onto land, I felt a faint itch on the back of my neck. “What was that?” I questioned, as I swatted at the itch. 

“Mosquitos,” someone replied, and then I saw them- ALL of them. Great flying hordes of mosquitoes swarmed to us, trying to steal our blood from any part of our bodies that we didn’t have covered. I tried to painfully suffer through my task of cutting vegetables for spaghetti until the second phase of Castle Island’s dastardly plan set in. 

It started as a faint rumbling in the distance, but jagged arms of lightning kept pounding down upon the ground, closer and closer to our island. Finally, the adults commanded us to go onto our insulated tent platforms where we would be safe from the lightning’s strikes. While we were sitting in our tents, at first I felt dejected, but then I realized that there was nothing I could do. I still didn’t feel good, but as I sat there listening to the rain’s angry pounding against our tent fly, my spirits lifted a little in knowing that things would eventually get better. 

The third day was our reward for defeating the second day’s challenge. We left with the tide and we were rocketed down the estuary, now being able to enjoy the geometric, rocky architecture of the riverside and the tall, swaying conifer trees lining the bank. Where three and a half miles the previous day had taken six hours, we zoomed five miles that day in just two hours. In the final stretch we saw two seals bobbing in the water, looking at us. Gazing into the seal’s dark, reflective eyes, I was reminded of the eyes of a human, as this creature had just as much curiosity and intrigue about us as we had for the seal. 

Our time at Spectacle Island went by in a blur of D&D, making jokes on the beach, and roasting marshmallows. The fact that we had been working hard on this trip for the last three days made our free time, relaxing with Mother Earth and each other, even sweeter. 

The final day of our trip was an easy one and a half miles, but we were all so exhausted from the many days of canoeing that it felt agonizing. Thinking back on the trip, the parts of our adventure that felt awful at the time, I now saw in a rosy tint, because there could never have been the great highs of the trip without the bitter lows. Every aspect of this trip was wrapped up in the Chewonki mission statement. The difficult sections of our trip, like crossing Hockomock Bay, transformed our group of what had been a random assortment of students into a close-knit class. In our time on the islands we always appreciated the natural world and never left a trace that we had been there. Most importantly, we strengthened our community of both new and old students through shared challenges and success.

 

Second Place

TIE: Seaglass by Sinead Bowdish

 

Hollers echoed through the waterfront. Our class of 7/8th graders chased twenty-ton carts rolling down the hill, which were too fast and hefty for anyone to catch, and yet some still managed to hold onto them. Those who did dug their feet into the ground, leaning way back in order to stop them from barreling out of reach and getting damaged— or causing damage. They clutched onto the bars with all their might. After that long, clamorous episode, we all took a leisurely break to prepare for the long road ahead of us— that road being a four-day canoe trip, from Chewonki Neck to Spectacle Island. Once we’d snacked on Roam Sticks and granola bars, everyone circled up under the skinny branches of a thinned forest. Hannah led us in an entertaining paddle game. T-grip! Shaft! Left! Right! Laughter filled the air. 

After that intense mental exercise, we got into the canoes. The sun shone down on our full pickle barrels and water jugs, which travelled across the water with us to the Oxbow Waterfront. We had a lunch of turkey and hummus wraps before we set out for our real destination: Ideal Point. There, we learned to set up our tents and how to do our crews— cook crew, dish crew, and wood crew. When the sun set, we sat around the campfire and sang, enjoying the calm moment after our tiring day. 

The next morning, we got out late. Missing the tide, we spent six whole hours attempting to paddle 3.5 miles. A select few canoes got continuously pushed back by the wild current. The sky was desolate, and the air was misty. The journey to Castle Island was the hardest part of the trip. Wind whipped our faces, and waves soaked our arms. Buoys stood completely still in the water. We weren’t moving at all— at least, that’s how it felt. However, even after Hunter got seasick and five minutes began to feel like twenty, we made it to Castle— with the help of some Oreos. 

Yet those six hours we spent paddling from Ideal Point to Castle Island were far more enjoyable than the many more hours we spent on the islet. We had spaghetti for dinner, with a hint of lightning drill and a dash of mosquitoes. Hunter sang Billie Jean all night, while I angrily cried at the bugs. My drybag spent the night in the tent with us, for it was too buggy to open the door and put it under the tent platform. Once the storm passed, we collected our dinner and ate in the darkness. I sat bundled up, with two pairs of pants and three sweaters. Some wore shorts, daring the mosquitoes. They awoke completely swollen with bug bites. 

We packed up swiftly enough to leave with the tide. The bugs that were brave enough to follow us in our canoes were instantaneously smashed to bits. We glided through the Back Door, at what seemed to be the speed of light, but was really somewhere around one or two miles per hour. A stop at Beal Island brought us malodorous bathrooms and a brief snack of gorp. After a short delay due to a lost PFD, we canoed another few hours to Spectacle Island. Gentle ripples pulsated through the water, which was so tranquil that we continuously forgot we were paddling on a river, rather than a lake. We stopped at Whittum Island to check how far we were from Spectacle— over halfway there. 

Seals gazed distantly at us from the water. One of them laid on a cramped island, carefully watching us paddle by. Eventually, our canoes collided with the sunny shores of Spectacle Island. We dragged our canoes into a small path. They rested against each other, sheltered by the lush foliage of the island. In our down time, we walked back and forth across the beaches. Sea glass spilled out of our pockets as we collected thousands of tiny, dull shards that had accumulated on the shore. Brown, white, green, blue, even purple sea glass was piled upon a stump by the fire circle. We climbed upon rocks, lost in conversations. Underneath the sun, we laughed and smiled, sharing what must’ve been the best moment of this trip. 

After we’d gathered a bag full of colorful shards, we got to work. We had a dinner of burrito bowls, and a pleasant fire which we toasted marshmallows over. Our fingers were sticky with S’mores, and we laughed, chattering as the smoke escaped into the sky. Conversations soon died out as we did dishes, and eventually retreated to our tents. Some tried to sleep, while others stayed up talking. Excitement bounced from tent to tent— everyone was very ready to abandon their foul-smelling classmates the next day. 

The following morning, we packed up our gear. While the water jugs were empty, our pickle barrels still had a light amount of food still floating around the bottom. Our “Queen,” the snacks and desserts pickle barrel we had learned to worship, was now weightless. We canoed speedily towards civilization, but not before we took a moment to watch the seals jump in and out of the water. Their dark bodies were illuminated by the morning sun. Beads of water were propelled into the air by their elegant flopping. Once we took off, they followed us for a long while, until we made it to the bridge crossing. Franny and I were repeatedly pushed back by the intense currents, but we eventually straightened out and made our way to the van. 

After loading canoes and other supplies onto the trailer, our class abandoned the “Queen” and plopped into the comfortable soft seats. We conversed with each other on the way, mostly about Huckleberry’s rather stylish sunglasses. Some of us hopped out at the building for a bathroom break, while others headed straight to Packout to unload. Our water bottles were newly filled, and the sight of an actual restroom had us practically in hysterics. 

Throughout the trip, we all persevered to reach our goals, whether that be getting better in the stern—a goal I set for myself— or being able to support our classmates. The Chewonki mission states that “Chewonki inspires transformative growth, teaches appreciation and stewardship of the natural world, and challenges people to build thriving, sustainable communities throughout their lives.” Our class definitely grew with this trip, both as individuals and as a community. Together, we persevered through intense winds and thunderstorms, all the while having loads of fun.

 

7-9 Grade Short Fiction

 

First Place:

How To Romanticize the Cruel and Unholy by Aurora Guzzetti

 

Hours were spent sleeplessly pacing the length of her cabin before Cordelia finally decided to follow the stars out to the dock that night, fog thick in her head and even thicker on the water. The moon was dim, okay with being small and obscure if only that meant the constellations would shine just a little bit brighter. She thanked every deity she could think of for the lack of moonlight; she much preferred the stars to a sphere of overzealous rock. 

She sat down crisscrossed at the very end of the dock, only a bare centimeter away from where the wood dropped off and faded into pitch black waters. She couldn’t see below the surface, but she stared with such intensity you would think she could. 

For the longest time she was silent; she thought that maybe if, for once, she didn’t speak, only listened and nothing more, her mind would cease its endless rambling and for a few, peaceful seconds she wouldn’t have to hear her never ending, anxiety-inducing, heinous thoughts. 

This was not the case. The devil continued to whisper in her ear and angels continued to paint pictures behind her eyes. 

It was because of this — this lack of freedom — that she finally spoke. 

“Atticus?” 

He appeared as a vapor, his skin as solid as the moonlight Cordelia had only just condemned. His hands were stuffed casually in his jean pockets and his blond, translucent hair fell messily over his face and into his eyes. His smile was faint and ethereal. 

With a lazy, content voice, he said, “Yes?” 

Cordelia finally tore her gaze away from the inky water so she could look him in the eye. She only managed to meet them for a second before the ability to see right through him and to the stars behind became far too overwhelming for her to handle. When she finally managed to reply, it was not directed at him, but rather to the moon or the water or to the wood beneath her. Anything but him and his undeniable deadness.

“I wish you were alive,” she muttered, either bitterness or loneliness seeping into her voice. Atticus couldn’t tell which. 

There was a lamppost on the dock, though it was not turned on. Atticus shifted and leaned against it. The tip of his shoulder disappeared into the pole. 

Distantly he replied, “I cannot say I wish the same.” 

Cordelia’s eyes squeezed shut and the hands that had been resting so peacefully in her lap turned white as she clenched them as tightly as humanly possible. Her nails dug into the palm of her hand until blood was drawn. 

If Cordelia’s mother were there, she would have told Cordelia to cry. ‘Suppressing the tears does not reduce them to nothing,‘ she would say, and Cordelia would not care. 

She swallowed, opened her eyes, and said with the quietest, most fragile voice Atticus had ever heard, “Why?” 

He tilted his head back so he could look at the sky. 

“Well, I went out with a bang, didn’t I?” he said, “God, I hope they still talk about me. Write poetry about me. It was so beautiful, my death, I’d even go as far as to say it rivalled the fall of Icarus. They still write about him, don’t they? They’ll write about me too. Whole novels about the boy who ventured out there, right into the middle of the field, thunder roaring and rain pouring. Then with a flash that could almost be considered obnoxious, I got—” 

“I know,” Cordelia gasped out, her arms wrapped around herself protectively. She rocked back and forth, trying to shake the images from her mind, “I was there.” 

The tears were getting more violent now, threatening to spill if she let her guard down for even a second. Still, she clenched her jaw and held them back. 

“If I had lived,” Atticus said slowly, as if explaining something to a small child, “Do you think there’s any chance that later in life, something as elegant could have happened to me again?”

“No, but—” 

“If I had lived, I would have grown old. Gotten married, worked in business or something of the sort. I would have died in my sleep, or of old age, and the world would have forgotten me by the next morning. Everyone would move on, but who could ever forget the boy so dedicated he was scoring goals in a hurricane?! Who could forget the player who died on the field?” 

The lump in her throat broke loose and Cordelia let out a wretched sob that shook the very core of her, but still no tears fell. 

“Darling,” Atticus whispered, the passion draining from his voice, “Why would you wish a life I do not want upon me?” 

Cordelia’s fingers dug into her thighs so sharply the skin underneath turned purple. “You—” she tried, but grief snuffed out the rest of her sentence before she was given the chance to finish it. She had to try once, twice, three more times before she could manage to get the full phrase out. “You were just a kid.” 

Atticus opened his mouth to say something, but Cordelia’s desperate tirade cut him off. “And you were mine. I had… I had everything and I wouldn’t have given you up for the world. Seventeen and already with the love of my life. And you- you had even more than that! You had talent and a future and a girl who loved you so much she sat through lethal storms in nothing but a crappy old car just to watch you kick a ball at a… a net! Now I have a therapist and grades that would make high school me cry, and you don’t…” 

She hesitated and reached for Atticus; her hands swept right through his calves. 

“You don’t even have a body,” she finished. 

Atticus pushed himself off the lamppost and stood with his shoulders square and back straight in a stance that could only be viewed as defensive and on edge. When Cordelia finally brought herself to look at his face, she was met with a surplus of guilt and a blatantly obvious lack of regret. If that night came back to them then, he wouldn’t have stayed home and safe with her. He’d do it all again, and five years later, they’d end up back on this dock. 

“Why,” he breathed, sounding desperate now, “Why don’t you understand how poetic, how magnificent it was?” 

Cordelia stared at him blankly, disbelief emanating from her. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t bring emotions back to her eyes nor her heart. For this moment, she was blessed with the relief of temporary numbness, and she used this lack of suffocating pain to her full advantage. 

Her voice steady and measured, she said, “How dare you romanticize the death of my best friend. How dare you look at a child torn apart by lightning and think of – of poetry. You know what I did?! I cried at his grave. I cried until my throat throbbed and I clung to the slab of rock that was all I had left of him as if it was the only thing keeping me alive. You died. You’re gone and you left me behind. I can’t, and never will be able to, breathe during thunderstorms. Loving another person like I loved you is a thing I can hardly even comprehend. That is not poetry, Atticus, that is pain. No humanity can deny that. You can say you met God all you want, you can tell me the sky loved you so much it sent down all its power in the form of electricity just to bring you to it. You can tell me you touched the clouds and sleep among the stars, but that doesn’t change the truth. You’re not a poem, Atticus. You’re not a legend or a story, either, you’re just dead.” 

Atticus moved slowly in response, so that now he was kneeling beside Cordelia and one hand was grasping her elbow as if she could actually feel his touch. She couldn’t. 

“But I’m human too, aren’t I? Even if I’m dead? And isn’t the most human thing you can do to be so overwhelmed with pain you just have to force yourself to see the world as pulchritudinous metaphors rather than the cruel, horrid, vicious—” he broke off, cried, then whispered, voice quivering so violently Cordelia could hardly understand him, “—vicious monster that stole me away from you?! I love you, I love you, I love you, and the only way I can accept that I may never, ever hold you, kiss you, comfort you, live with you again is to think my demise was memorable enough that even after you move on and marry someone else, newspaper articles and verses about me will continue to haunt you often enough that you’ll never forget me.” Cordelia stared ahead of her blankly, eyes unblinking. She tried to return to her previous state of resignation and numbness, but the moment had fled and now she was drowning in her grief again. Drowning so horribly that finally, a tear tracked its way down her cheek. 

It was silent and anticlimactic, but it hurt. It stabbed at her heart and tore at her chest as if it were a dagger rather than a single drop of salt water. 

“Never,” she whispered, too shaken to speak any louder, “Never will I see it as anything but a murder committed by rain, never will I forget, never will you—” 

She reached for him, for the cool breeze that was his spirit, but her fingertips grasped only at empty air and then rotting wood. 

She sunk her nails into the dock as if breaking it in half may undo the seconds that played over and over in her head. His eyes, rain, lightning; no matter how she reordered it and ignored it, she couldn’t deny that, despite her best efforts and wishes, the night was soaked and now reeking of poetry. 

You could ask the moon, and it would say the lies Atticus told her were elegant and beautiful. The stars would tell you he was a romantic. Anything ethereal, whether that be the sun or a dandelion seed floating lazily through the late summer air, would answer with a verse of a poem. 

However, if you asked the bay water, or the fish swimming down under the dock, or the rotting wood that suffered first hand the wrath of her sorrow, this is the story you would be told: Cordelia, a 22 year old, grief stricken, desperate girl stumbled from her little cabin late on the night of August 4th. She made her way down to the dock. 

There, she stared at the water so long that her delirious, sleep deprived brain conjured up the ghost of her late boyfriend, Atticus, who had died in a soccer field after getting struck by lightning five years earlier.

She talked to this ghost, which was of course, not real, for an inconclusive amount of time before she began to cry. She sat on that dock mourning for hours, crying, sobbing, and hugging herself as if that was an adequate level of love for someone who could hardly get herself up in the morning to be receiving. Then, as if nothing had happened, she wiped the tears from her face and returned to her cabin. She would never tell a soul of the nights she spent speaking to Atticus. And Atticus? He couldn’t tell anyone, because as Cordelia so eloquently put it, he was dead.

 

Second Place:

Forgetting by Acadia Guiliani

 

“Blair!” I hear my grandmother’s voice floating to me like a melody from a violin. I come running, my short seven year old legs hitting the moist grass as I near her. She sits on an old porch swing, and I land in her lap, giddy with excitement for the masterpiece she will create. She smiles at me, the aging lines around her eyes wrinkling with joy. 

“I’m here, Grandma!” I try to copy her harmonious tone, but my young voice can’t compare. Grandma says I sound more like small windchimes being played by the autumn breeze. My grandma’s white hair, long and thinning, is always up in a low bun, pinned with clips she will give to me. Her mottled hand gently reaches up and begins to braid my cool blond hair, still fine and delicate. The braids twist and turn over my head. She has created a crown. She tells me to run off and gather spring flowers from the surrounding gardens, and she weaves them into my hair. Baby’s breath, dandelions, and daisies encircle my head. 

Grandma’s house is full of watermelons. Watermelon napkin holders, earrings, and other watermelon trinkets. Mama told me that she would sometimes ask for a watermelon instead of a cake for her birthday. I decide I will have a favorite fruit, too. Maybe strawberries, or grapefruit? Lemon, perhaps? 

Her house is also full of matryoshka dolls. I take them apart, clapping my hands with delight as I discover yet another smaller doll inside. I play with them for hours, making villages and families. Grandma warns me not to break them, so I treat them with extra care, eager to please her. 

As a reward for swimming lessons, we sit out by the pool together and drink from tea cups adorned with delicate blue flowers. We eat mini cucumber and dill sandwiches, too. For dinner we have salmon, which only tastes good when Grandma makes it. 

***

The sun is warm on my back as we swing together, drinking ice cold lemonade from tall glasses I can barely see over. Together we point out different butterflies as they flit through the cloudless sky. 

“What is that butterfly?” Grandma asks, and I turn to look at her quizzically. “A monarch, of course – you know that!” I brush it off. Grandma knows her butterflies. 

***

I notice the fireflies’ twinkling lights begin to appear from through the window as she twists my hair, the strands interlocking. Though it is still summer, the sun is beginning to set earlier. Grandma’s eyes are glazed, and her forehead is wrinkled. I gaze up at her, confused. It’s then that I remember Mama’s words: ”Alzheimer’s, forgetting, sick.” I’m not exactly sure what all this means, but I know something has changed. Forever. Her hands, usually gentle and sure, now falter and pause. I reach up and begin to guide my grandma’s hands at the thing she knows best. Seven years of her doing my hair has taught me how. When we finish, I run my hands along the braid we have made. Not perfect, but it will have to do. 

She doesn’t move the way she used to. She walks around the house staring at pictures on the wall with a faint confusion. She doesn’t remember recipes, doesn’t remember people. I can feel her forgetting. The way she talks is more broken and frantic than melodious. She is losing her joy. My grandma was usually a bright and happy person, content to sit and watch the birds. 

***

Mama says that Grandma has to move to “Memory Care.” When I first visit her there, I immediately hate it. The blank white walls suffocate me as I walk by them, pressing in on all sides. I don’t see how Grandma could be happy here. It’s full of nurses in boring blue clothes and old sick people. My grandma is not sick. My young mind can’t comprehend how only a little while ago she could have been fine. What happened to her? 

Now I am standing outside the door to her room waiting for Mama to let me in. Whispers make their way through the wood, and I catch a few words. “Mom, Blair is coming soon,” my mother’s soft voice reminds. “Her name is Blair – she’s your granddaughter.” 

There is silence for a few moments. Then Mama comes out, her eyes red and puffy. I try not to notice. 

I step hesitantly into the small room, shyly hiding behind Mama. A nurse looks up from beside Grandma’s bed and smiles at us. Her face is pale and thin, and her skin hangs loosely from her arms. I want to cover my eyes, but I don’t. Instead I hold tight to Mama’s hand as she guides me over to her side. 

“Grandma?” I ask softly. Her eyes look around the room blankly, landing on me. I want to get her out of this place. Mama motions for me to hold Grandma’s hand, and I tentatively reach out and take it. It’s cold and clammy, but I grasp it gently. She asks me unrelentingly where my granddad is, and I can’t bear to tell her that he died a long time ago. I see now that I was wrong. My grandma is sick. She has been for a long time, I just couldn’t see it until now. 

I sit at the side of her bed. Her eyes are closed and her breath is shallow. Her beautiful hair, now so limp and dull, lays strewn across the pillow. I reach my hands out and begin to braid her hair the way she used to do for me. It has been passed on to me. Her hair is done now, and Mama comes into the room, motioning for me to follow her. It is time for me to go home. I kiss her forehead gently, my tears wetting her cheeks. Never again will she braid my hair, never again will I hear the song of her voice.

 

10-12 Grade Short Fiction

 

First Place:

An Onyx Sandstorm by Emma Beauregard

 

I trudged up the hill, my feet slipping in the sand. I sighed loudly through my mouth as I finally reached the summit. I turned to look back at the city, beautiful at this time of day. Despite the view, I was still upset that mom had made me climb the sand dune just for some berries. I was supposed to hang out with friends at the fields, but instead I was stuck doing this stupid chore. 

Sighing again, I found the berry bush, just a couple of feet away from the edge of the sand dune and on the border of a forest. I began to pick the tiny, red berries and put them in the cloth covered basket my mom had given me. 

The sun was beating down today, and it must have been at least eighty degrees out, the heated sand making it feel even hotter. The breeze was barely existent, but when it blew it felt amazing. 

Ouch. 

I sucked the blood off my fingertip, eyeing the pricker which had just stabbed me. Satisfied with the healing properties of my saliva, I continued picking berries from the bushes in front of me, more careful to avoid the thorns, one now smeared with my blood.

As I went to pick another plump berry, the leaves quivered. I held out a hand and felt for a breeze, but nothing brushed against my skin. Suddenly, tremors could be felt in the ground, light at first, but slowly gaining intensity. I stood up and walked towards the edge of the forest, onto the sand dune that overlooked my city. The sand shifted from under my feet and the wind picked up, forcing me to raise an arm in front of my eyes to avoid the dust. 

A gentle hum filled the air. Hmmm. Hmmm. It became louder as what had been gentle tremors turned into shaking. I struggled to keep my balance as I searched for cover from what must have been an earthquake, the city too far away for me to try and reach my family. I looked up again and something surrounded by dust caught my eye. A large caravan was traveling towards the city, only a few seconds from entering it’s gates. Hundreds of animals, from giraffes to elephants to monkeys, and thousands of people were walking and dancing, surrounding a lone wagon. It was an eerie sight, all of them walking in perfect unison, even the animals, and they seemed to be humming as one, causing the strange buzzing that continued to pierce the air. 

Frozen in shock and awe I watched as they spread out along the roads, still dancing but now their humming had turned to a beautiful, wordless chant. The townsfolk were frozen, like me, hypnotized by the unnaturally alluring singing and inhuman like unison in which they moved. 

Then, they were everywhere. They had filled our streets completely, not a single alley or house was empty of them. I, safe on the sand dune, unfroze as the caravan travelers pulled out weapons. Swords and daggers glistened in the sun, even the animals bearing their teeth and unsheathing their claws. I watched, horror beginning to pool in my stomach, as they slaughtered my people, still singing and moving hypnotically. 

My legs buckled beneath me as waves of blood poured down the streets. A man emerged from the single wagon, looking around at the destruction and chaos without expression, as the people continued to kill everyone. Men, women, and children fell to the ground, expressions of wonder still frozen on their faces. They didn’t even spare the animals, who were butchered in their pens. I cried out in anguish, still kneeling on the ground, as I saw a familiar group of people struck down. I should have been far enough away that no one could hear, especially with the loud singing, but the man turned towards me and looked directly into my eyes. It seemed as though the world stopped, the breath frozen in my lungs. He tilted his head and I felt fear and despair overcome all my senses. His smile cut through the distance, as if he could sense what I felt. He looked away and I was released from the spot I had been frozen in. 

With tears sliding down my face, I turned from my city, the only home I’d ever known, and ran into the woods behind me. I reached a cave I used to play in with my siblings, would never play in again, and took cover, curling my shaking figure up in a shadow. I slipped into a light sleep, exhaustion from running and the high levels of emotion winning over my fear. 

***

My eyes opened with a snap, the echoes of a nightmare reverberating through my skull. A sound had woken me up, but I couldn’t remember what. I was beginning to doze when I heard the noise again. A branch had cracked right outside of my cave. I was completely awake now, ready to run at a moment’s notice. I focused on listening for another sound, hoping it was just a squirrel, when I heard voices whispering. I squeezed my eyes shut, dread filling my chest as a voice cut through the still air, sending shivers down my spine. 

“Find the girl,” it ordered. “ I want her alive.” His voice was icy and smooth, deeper than any person I had ever met. 

Whoever was with him hummed in acknowledgement. I had hoped I was safe, hidden well enough, when I heard his voice again. 

“Come out, girl, and I’ll show you mercy.” The breath caught in my throat. There was no way he could know I was near him. “I can smell the blood on you, I know you’re around here somewhere.” 

I looked at my finger, dried blood from the thorn stuck to it’s tip. I stuck it in my mouth, eyes watering with fear, hoping whatever this thing was that could smell me would lose its sense. A deep chuckle reverberated through the cave, causing the pebbles beneath my feet to tremble. He must have been at the entrance to the cave. 

Fear threw me to my feet and I started racing towards the back end of the cave, where there was another exit. 

“There you are.” It sounded like he was talking right in my ear. 

I sped up, throwing myself through the cave exit and continuing to race through the woods, my shoes falling off as I ran. A couple figures blurred by, the soldiers the man had sent out to find me, but I paid them no attention, just tried to run faster. 

Branches scratched my face and arms while roots grabbed at my feet with every step. My braid came undone, strands of hair whipping against my cheeks and covering my eyes. My trousers were torn in multiple places along with my shirt, and I could feel new scrapes all over my body, blood trickling down my arms and legs. I just hoped I was far enough away that the man couldn’t smell it. 

I didn’t feel any of the pain, I just kept running until I was forced to stop by a river, only about 50-60 feet wide. Without hesitation I dove in and swam to the other side. The water was freezing and the current tugged at me, trying to pull me down river and under the water. 

When I reached the far bank and got out, I paused. The fatigue and pain was beginning to set in, especially with the added effect of the cold water and long swim, along with all the emotions I had been trying to suppress since the caravan had entered my city. I had turned back to look when the branches on the other side of the river rustled. I dove into the nearest bush, thorns ripping me apart even more. I ignored the pain and watched as he came into my line of sight, the first time I had seen him somewhat up close. 

He looked like he’d been carved from stone, his face square with strong cheekbones. He was bald, tan skin stretched over his head, eyes as black as onyx. Not just the pupils and the irises, but the entire eye. His nose was straight and sharp, his lips thin and pale, no expression visible on his face. He was surprisingly small, only 4 or 5 feet tall with wide shoulders and powerful muscles, but he was emitting a dangerous energy that I could feel from all the way across the river. It made the hair on my arms stand on end and fear was keeping full breaths from reaching my lungs. 

He walked up to the riverbank, but that’s where he stopped. His shoes were black and shiny and he was wearing a nice, black suit, unwrinkled despite how he must have run to keep up with me. Five guards came out of the woods behind him, their faces blank, all staring at the man as if waiting for orders. They were all men, large and strong, taller than the man with the suit, but I wasn’t nearly as terrified of them. They wore what all the caravan people had been wearing yesterday: tan, loose trousers tucked into black boots and a tan tank top made of the same burlap material as the pants. 

The man examined the river and looked across to my side. My heart stopped when he eyed the bush I was in, but he didn’t see me. Suddenly anger flashed across his stone face and he grabbed a thick tree branch, ripping it from it’s trunk with little effort and throwing it across the river and into a tree only a few feet from me. He then kicked a boulder, whose height went up to my waist, which sailed into the river as he yelled in frustration. 

The man turned around to face his guards and, while storming back into the forest, yelled, “I can’t smell anything over that damn river. Find her! Find her and bring her to me!” I sat frozen, still crouched in the thorn bush, for a while after the man and his guards had disappeared back into the woods, falling asleep every now and then despite myself. Five minutes passed, then ten, then twenty, water from the river mixing with blood as it dripped from my tattered frame. 

I was bruised, bleeding, soaking wet, and an emotional mess. I had no food, water, or any other means of survival. And, on top of it all, I had no clue where I was or where to go from here. I carefully untangled myself from the bush, keeping an eye on the other side of the river in case the man or one of his guards came back. I turned around slowly, my head turning last, and came face to face with him. 

Shock froze my system as I stared down at the man who had somehow snuck across the river and behind me. His lips widened into a chilling smile, and just as my body thought to try and get away his arm reached out quicker than lightning and grabbed me so tight it hurt. I stared into his onyx eyes, waves of panic overtaking my system, his too-strong grip the only thing holding me up. 

“Got you.” 

I woke up with a start, a scream escaping from my mouth. I whipped my head around, looking for the man, but all I found were thorns and leaves. I was still in the bush, the man wasn’t here. 

I worked to control my breathing as everything finally set in, a loud sob escaping from my lips. I was shaking from both the cold and fear, too shocked to break down completely and cry. I knew I had to move, someone would have heard that scream. 

Trembling, I got out of the bush and looked around, making sure nobody could sneak up on me. When I was positive I was alone, I started following the river downstream, hoping I might find a landmark I recognized or maybe even a town. I’d never seen another city, but I knew there must have been some close by to trade with. 

After walking for what felt like hours, the river ended in a medium sized lake. I hadn’t come across any people or signs on the way, and it was getting dark, so I decided to rest for the night, figure out where to go next in the morning. 

My stomach was rumbling, upset I hadn’t fed it for almost 24 hours. I found some blackberries at the edge of the forest clearing surrounding the lake, and ate my fill, keeping an eye out for wild animals or the man’s guards all the while. Finally, exhausted, I stumbled towards a bed of moss and lay down, my eyes closing instantly, and I was lost in a sea of nightmares and onyx eyes. 

***

“Do you recognize her?” 

“I’ve never seen her before. She must be from another town.” 

“Then what is she doing here?” 

My eyes snapped open to find two faces peering down at me. 

“No! Stay away from me! Get back!” I screamed, stumbling backwards, trying to get away from them. A tree blocked me from going any farther, and I was forced to look up at the people surrounding me. 

There were two of them, both my parents age.

My parents. 

“Whoa, whoa. We’re not going to hurt you, kid.” The man held up his arms, showing he had no weapons. He wasn’t wearing the uniform of the caravan people, instead, he was wearing a brown t-shirt and pants along with a pair of tan sandals. I felt myself relax just a bit, but the sting of remembering my parents persisted. 

“Who are you?” I demanded, my voice weak, fear evident in it’s tremble. 

“I’m Dayak,” he answered, then gestured to the woman beside him. “And this is Nara. We’re from the city of Namcap, less than a mile from here.” 

I looked between the two of them, trying to assess if they were a threat. The woman was wearing an off-white dress that went past her knees and sandals similar to the man’s. They both had expressions of concern on their dark faces, faces similar enough that they must have been siblings. 

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” The woman asked gently. 

“I- I’m Shia. Shia of Dunsnic.” At my city’s name, Nara and Dayak exchanged a look. “What? Have you heard of it?” 

“Uh- yes, dear. We’ve heard of it. We trade with them. In fact, we just sent a wagon over there yesterday but it came back fully intact. Do you know what happened?” Tears filled my eyes and guilt weighed down my chest. Nobody had survived other than me, I knew it in my heart. I sniffed, looking away, and Nara knelt down next to me. I wanted to get away from her, but I couldn’t seem to move. 

“It’s okay, it’s okay. Why don’t you come home with us and we’ll get you cleaned up, alright?” I nodded, and she helped me stand, Dayak offering me a cloth to wipe my eyes and nose with. 

They led me to their town which, true to their word, wasn’t very far away. During the walk, I told them everything that had happened, everything I’d seen. Nara brought me inside their house which, while small, was incredibly cozy, while Dayak went to talk to some leaders of the town. 

Nara gave me privacy while I washed up and put on one of her dresses. She gave me a pair of sandals some neighbors had offered, a little big for my feet, but better than going barefoot. I took a few calming breaths, preparing myself to face the world again. When I was ready, I opened the door and stepped outside. 

***

I stood on top of a hill, letting the breeze wash over my face. It had been a couple of weeks since I had arrived in Namcap, where Nara and Dayak had taken me in. After I had shared my story, they had gathered an army in case the evil man came to their town too. We hadn’t seen any sign of them, but there had been word of two other cities in the surrounding area burned to the ground, the people slaughtered. There had been no survivors so far. None but me. 

A strong gust of wind blew and I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply. For a second, I could smell home. The different spices sold in the market, freshly groomed horses, wool dye. But just as soon as it came, it was gone, overcome by the scent of smoke and death. I opened my eyes and something caught my attention on the horizon. A cloud of dust was quickly coming towards Namcap. I knew it wasn’t possible, but I could have sworn I saw the evil man’s smile, his onyx eyes peering at me through the dust. 

I stared back and raised my chin. The fear wasn’t there anymore, replaced by a steely need for revenge. I turned away from the approaching caravan and walked back to Namcap, shouting out for them to prepare for war.

 

Second Place:

The Tall Man by Beau Haddad

 

You never know all the good things you have in life, until you lose it all. A forty three year old man, by the name Floyd Sumners, went through this guilt by losing his life and leaving behind his wife and two kids. Floyd lived from 1932 to 1975. In his lifetime he had landed the head role of the mob. He kept this from his family because he did not want to burden them; the less they knew the better. Floyd never wanted his son and daughter to know about all the gruesome things he’s done and will continue to do. All he wanted was to keep his family safe and wealthy. What man wouldn’t want that for his family? 

For twelve years Floyd’s house was for sale on the market, until one day a couple by the names Josh Banklee and Marandia Simmins moved in, making the house whole once again. 

The house was on a little hill, small, white, and paint chipped. The yard around it was small too, the grass and weeds grew tall. They had neighbors all behind them up on a hill, on a different street. Not many people lived on that road. It was small and slow, just what Floyd and his wife liked; simple. Now that he’s gone, only a handful of people have been in his beloved house, and it has been thirty years. Following Floyd’s death, his wife Susie couldn’t bear to live in the house anymore, all the memories kept popping up and she couldn’t keep living with that so she “gave him away”. Floyd couldn’t follow her from the house because something in the doorway wouldn’t let him pass. He tried everything to get out, the windows, holes in the wall, and he even tried to go through the walls. Nothing would budge. He was alone. He banged on the doors with all the strength he had, but not even the littlest of sounds could be heard. 

Floyd tried so hard to try and talk with them. He was desperate to know what happened to him, where his family was, who they were and what they were doing in his house. The closest thing he’s ever gotten to having contact with them was appearing to the last owners of the house for only mere minutes until he was too weak to keep his appearance any longer. Sadly, Floyd was still too weak to appear to them again, so the owners just thought that what they saw was their imagination at work. Floyd repetitively tried to get their attention, but it drove the tenants out of the house because they thought they might have gone mad or that the house was cursed. The same thing happened to everyone else who decided to live in that house. The house was abandoned for twelve years on the market until Josh and Marandia moved in. Floyd knew right then and there that they could help him; it was a gut feeling. 

Moving in was a breeze for Josh and Marandia, they knew exactly where they wanted to put their favorite furniture. It took less than a day to get all their belongings in their new house. Marandia was pleased because she just wanted everything in place for the night so they could cuddle up on the old red matted velvet hand me down couch with hot cocoa and a movie so they could keep away from the chill on the long winter night. 

After the perfect first night in their new home, Marandia had to go to work which left Josh home alone tending to the wood stove and working here and there, writing kids books that he wanted to get published. Taking a well deserved break on the old red couch and sipping on his third cup of coffee that day, he saw something out of the blue that terrified him. In the hallway of the mud room leading to the living room was this overly tall man, Floyd. He was taller than Josh, who was 5’6″, while Floyd stood to be 7’6″. Floyd had a slim face, small lips, and a small nose. He was wearing a midnight black suit with a dark gray fedora, his arms long and drooping, hanging there like long tree branches near his sides. His head tilted, looking at Josh with wonder, sorrow, and a lost melancholic look in his eyes that pierced through Josh’s. Right then and there, Josh yelled out to the man in front of him, “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?!” However, before he could get any information from him, Floyd was gone in the blink of an eye. Once again he got too weak to hold his form, and he hadn’t had any practice for twelve years. He tried once more but all he could do was let out two words, “who are-” and then he was gone. Josh decided that he wasn’t gonna say anything to Marandia just yet while Floyd was screaming out to the man unheard. He needed help but no one was helping him. Back when he was alive, he had all the help he needed and more, but now he has zilch.

With the days going by, Floyd was still too weak to make contact with Josh or Marandia. He started to wander the halls of the house with his arms dropped to his sides in exhaustion, leaving him to replay the night when his wife found out that he had died. He had been thinking about this a lot recently. The night was cool considering it was one of the hottest weeks of summer. He had his noisy air conditioner on low so the rattle wouldn’t be too loud, allowing him to work in peace. He had to stay late that night so he called his wife and said, “I have to stay behind and crunch more numbers for the account.” It wasn’t a complete lie, he did in fact have to crunch some numbers but for the amount of people and the amount of money that they owe him and his minions. 

The time read 11:45 and Susie had just gotten a text from Floyd. He was going to be home late again. Hoping that he was not gonna be too late, she got out the cups for their drinks. 

Time went by slowly but finally it turned to 2:03 a.m. Worried that something might have happened to him, she checked in with one of his friends that was also a friend of hers, to see if he might have known where he was. She got a text back right away saying that he would check. An hour passed and she still had nothing. Right when she was about to call the guy, she heard a loud banging on her door. Scared, not knowing who could be at her door this late at night, she grabbed the baseball bat that laid against the wall near the door. She looked through the peephole and saw five cops outside her door along with bright red and blue flashing lights. She couldn’t believe her eyes, how could she not have seen the flashing lights through the curtain blinds? Quickly, she put the bat back and flung open the door, hoping and wishing that it was not bad news about her husband. 

Floyd had followed the cops to his house, and he was right next to the man who had just broken his wife’s heart with the fatal words, “Sorry, your husband was found dead in his office.” He remembered that look on his wife’s face to the T. He remembered how she fell to the ground looking up at the men in front of her, the only thing she was saying was “no no no no he’s supposed to come home and have a drink with me, no I don’t believe you!” All the men on the porch came rushing to her side trying to calm her down.

“Ma’am we need you to calm down, your neighbors might wake up.”

“I don’t care! Please, let me see my husband.” She was pushing out of their holds, crawling and sobbing down her steps yelling out, “No!” repeatedly. Three ran over to her and gave her a hand up. As soon as she got to the hearse, in the driveway, the lady who Susie guessed was one of the funeral parlor employees already had him out, and all she needed was to make the move to lift the dry, plain white sheet away from his face. Once the sheet was lifted, Susie fell back down to the ground again, screaming, “NO!” over and over again. 

Floyd snapped out of his thought once he heard the door open. He made his way over to the mud room hoping it was Josh because he needed him to know that he’s real, and that he needs to be heard. He mustered up all his strength, praying that this would work. He appeared right in front of Josh’s eyes once again, but this time Floyd reached out and said, “Help me please? I need to know where my family is. Please. I used to live here in 1968”. Josh squeezed his eyes shut, in disbelief that this was real. All of a sudden he felt something pass through his shoulder. Josh popped open his eyes and saw that Floyd was looking at his hand that was reached out to him, almost like he forgot that he couldn’t touch a person like he could when he was alive. They made eye contact right before he disappeared again. 

Josh was pacing back and forth till Marandia came home, and once she did, he came running to her at the door and said “Please believe me, I am not making this up! Please trust me. I think I just saw a ghost.“. Marandia was a believer, so she couldn’t help but laugh at him because she knew that he wasn’t one. This immediately made her believe it was a prank. Josh pleaded with her to believe him, he was kneeling on the ground holding his hands up high, showing her that he was telling the truth. Luckily Marandia gave in, picking him up from the ground. Right when she picked him up, Floyd popped up right behind Josh, and as she made eye contact with him, she gripped at Josh’s shirt, trying to get him up fast. She pulled him against her, not letting go. Josh made eye contact right away with Floyd.

“See I told you!” Too terrified to speak, Marandia just watched Floyd walk closer to them. She saw the hope and loss in his eyes, and right when she was about to find her voice, he was gone. 

This would happen many more times for three months, with Floyd getting a bit stronger each week, only able to stay visible a little longer than the last time. Finally, Marandia decided to help Floyd. She took Josh with her to the city hall record room to find out the past owners of the house with the information that Josh got on his first encounter with Floyd. They found him in the archives, reading every inch of information they could get. 

While they were gone, Floyd got so excited knowing that they might be able to help. Memories kept flying to him over and over again out of the blue. He was thrown back to the night of his death. The time was 11:45 p.m. and Floyd was hoping to be done soon so that when he came home, Susie wouldn’t wait until it was too late for him so they could have their nightly drink together. All of a sudden, ripped away from his thoughts, Floyd felt pain on his left side of his chest. His hands flew up to his upper torso, dropping his pen to the ground. He pushed away from his desk, hunching down so that his face was to his knees, and he grabbed at his skin trying to stop the pain. Floyd abruptly shot up so that his back was resting on the back of his chair, as his face went cold to hot, then slowly back to cold. The moment ended fast, moving even faster to a happier memory. 

Christmas where he was at home and not at work, watching his two precious kids open the gifts that he, his wife and family had gotten them. Drinking a heavenly sip of lukewarm coffee, and holding his lovely wife Susie in his left arm. He smiled behind his cup when his daughter opened the gift she’s always wanted. The smile she gave could light up a room capable of warming souls. His son was already playing with his new toy cars, disregarding his breakfast. He would cherish that moment forever. 

Josh and Marandia opened the door to their house and yelled out to Floyd saying they had found his wife, and once again, he was ripped out of his thoughts. He came rushing to them, heart full of excitement, but when he saw their faces he knew that something was wrong. Marandia guessing that he was there, went on with the news.

“I’m afraid I have some bad news. Your wife is gone. She died three years ago.” Floyd immediately broke out in tears, his fists balled tightly together. His fists hit the wall over and over again, and he did it with so much sorrow that Josh and Marandia could hear it and feel the house rattling. He just wanted to see his wife and kids again. Marandia jumped at the sound, grabbing tightly at Josh’s arm. Josh quickly piped up. 

“We also don’t have any information on where your kids are.” Floyd’s heart stopped right then and there, if he still had one. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He appeared to them once more, wanting to ask one more favor of them. With despair in his voice, he asked, “Can-can you go to my grave and see if my wife is buried near me? If I even have a grave, that’s all I want to know.” Marandia couldn’t help but let a tear slide down her face, her heart broke already knowing the answer. 

“We already looked, right before we came. We stopped at the cemetery that was not too far from here. Sh-she’s not there.” Marandia tried not to let her voice crack as she stuttered over her words. 

This was the longest Floyd has held his form.

“Thank you.” His face was tight with sadness. He felt lost, and alone. Without saying anything else he backed away into the darkness of the house and never showed his face again. He is just watching and waiting, and always will be. 

 

Adult Memoir

 

First Place:

The Poet’s Well by James M. Wright

 

“…a [bardic] satirist was dissatisfied with the food given to him in the house of a certain nobleman. ‘Shall salt be sprinkled on your food?’ said the servant. ‘No,’ said he, ‘for there is nothing to sprinkle it on, unless it be sprinkled on my tongue, and that isn’t necessary; it is bitter enough already.’”

Eleanor Knott, Irish Classical Poetry

***

I noticed it on the map and wanted to go there, but it proved elusive. I’m talking about the Poet’s Well, one of many archaic wells scattered throughout the Irish countryside. With a dot and the simple title “Holy Well,” the charts reveal a land freckled with reservoirs of the sacred. This particular dot, halfway along the narrow Sheep’s Head Peninsula of West Cork, wore a label less holy than lyrical, a powerful magnet for folks with literary inclinations, like Susan and me. Fulfilling my duty as navigator, I identified several rambles that suggested access to the site. It seemed easy enough on paper; however, we soon discovered that when signs and markers in the earth are not provided, you’re on your own in the wild mire of Ireland.

It took us three times, which seemed right for the land of triads and trinities. The first time we took a wrong turn at a junction of paths and because the way ahead offered a path of such green perfection, we ended up walking it to the next town, telling ourselves that we’d see the Poet’s Well another day. The second time, we tried to sneak in a walk between persistent rain squalls. We sloshed through wet grass along an exposed ridge and descended a path toward the location of the well, but the drizzle transformed into a dense, sideways mist resembling a car wash. With slicker hoods up and heads down, we stepped right over the well without even recognizing it. Besides, our thoughts were too profane for holy matters, focused as they were on getting back to our cottage and getting out of the damn rain.

The third time we used a methodical approach. The turbulent, unpredictable weather continued through the week, but on our last day it lifted enough to take a chance. Our method, difficult to define, started by walking down to the rocky beach of the bay where we wandered apart, lost in trance, evaluating the variety of driftwood, shells and seaweed tossed around the shore. My attention gravitated to the colors and shapes of the rocks. I kept picking them up and putting them in my pocket because they were special, then, after a while, discarding one or another because it was impossible to carry all the worthy rocks away from the beach. We reunited at the far end where giant slabs of stone bridged a stream. It was a good place to sit and compare our finds. We arranged them in rows along the bridge, admiring our choices. Susan noted that beach treasures appear remarkable at first sight but ordinary after a time, so we agreed to keep one each and leave the rest.

We climbed the path onto a grassy headland. There, tucked among the rocks under the crest of the hill, we found the crumbling remains of an ancient school. On some maps, this location is labelled “O’Daly’s Bardic Seminary” because it was associated with the renowned O’Daly family, bards to the MacCarthy clan, longtime kings in medieval Munster. The bardic tradition in Ireland is so old that no one knows when it started, but traces survive from pagan times to the present.

The bardic school was a ruin of thick stone walls outlining the chambers where poets lived and trained. Any traces of roof had vanished, and the remains lay open to the sky, while vines and brush slowly pulled the stones back into the earth. I climbed up on top of the wall and gazed across the spectacle of Dunmanus Bay, a lovely sight and reason enough for the location of the school. It was easy to imagine dwelling in this place, until my contemplations fell on the modest chambers below my stance. They were barely large enough for a bunk or a pallet. Yet there the bards reclined in utter darkness all through the night, crafting poems in the mind, memorizing every word and phrase so it fit perfectly with the complex, rigorous forms of composition. Seven years of this kind of study and practice were required before a novice could take his or her place in society as a full-fledged bard.

Bards worked for patrons, who supported them in exchange for praise poems extolling the deeds and noble character of the benefactors. Part of the job also involved creating satires, vicious lampoons aimed at the enemies of the patron, or anyone, really, who annoyed the bard. The most famous O’Daly bard, Aongus Ó Dálaigh, composed so many satires that he finally met his end when an aggrieved subject took offense at a cutting verse and stabbed him to death.

From there we walked down the far slope of the headland and up the hill toward the mapped location of the Poet’s Well. Legend has it that Aongus Ó Dálaigh stopped regularly to lap up its water for inspiration. Like the other holy wells of Ireland, this one continues to receive the visits of pilgrims, including local members of the ancient families. This time we approached with caution, ruling out rock piles along the way. Every boulder and outcrop was a candidate. Is this it? No, let’s go on. Around a bend and there it was, unmistakable. Baffling that we’d missed it before; we had literally stepped across it to walk the trail. But, true enough, then it had just been another wet, muddy spot in a wet and muddy land. Today, as the sun pried through the rising mist, the well gleamed at us. At the base of a pale boulder was a neat, square pool of spring water rimmed with stones set into the ground, forming a basin about two feet deep. Next to the pool a modern coin sat on a flat rock, an offering left by another seeker. We looked at the well and looked at each other, then took out our treasures, placing them alongside the coin: a quartz-veined beach stone and a perfect scallop shell. Parting with them seemed much harder than parting with money; they were, after all, precious and irreplaceable. We then walked clockwise around the well. I thought about tasting the water, but the presence of a fuzzy green growth floating on the surface made me shy. I settled for anointing the tip of my nose.

Satisfied with our explorations and not wanting to press our luck with the weather, we walked back to the village and considered our options for lunch. As it turned out in this sleepy hamlet, there was one option: a pub that suggested many items on their outdoor menu with the disclaimer “depending on availability.” We entered the deserted pub to meet Mary, who informed us that the only thing available was a toasted cheese sandwich. We chose the toasted cheese sandwich, then trooped outside to avoid the blaring television. Next to the road two picnic tables offered a prime view of town doings. The entire time we sat there, eating sandwiches and chatting, two cars drove past. A busy day. 

After she delivered our sandwiches, Mary sat down next to us, and talked at a ferocious pace. She informed us that she would never live here in Kilcrohane because of the bustle and noise; she preferred her isolated home on the other side of the peninsula. We also learned about the troubles of running an inn, especially the washing, which was endless and difficult to dry in the climate. She extolled the virtues of her fish dinners, regaling us with exotic menus that were currently unavailable. She worked her way up to what was for us the crowning moment of her presentation, an anecdote about two women tourists who insisted on adequate nourishment before setting out on their day hike. They ordered bowls of porridge, followed by the full Irish breakfast. Mary used her hands to demonstrate the size of the porridge bowls, certainly ample enough to feed a hog. She then recited each element of the full breakfast.

It’s an interesting concept, this breakfast, which turns out to be the same as the full Welsh breakfast and the full English breakfast. This typically consists of two eggs, ham, a slab of bacon, potatoes, peas, a mound of mushrooms, tomatoes, and miles of toast. It seems a suitable morning meal for farmers, day laborers, and others who have no need to tally cholesterol or carbohydrates. By any reckoning, it’s a formidable serving. Mary was keen to convince us, though we were already well convinced, having previous knowledge of the meal, that the full breakfast following a bucket of porridge was undoubtedly excessive. And yes, she tried to talk them out of it, but they were having none of it. It was the porridge and the full breakfast, or it was nothing. With the glee of moral reckoning, Mary reported that when she ferried them to the trail head one of them fell asleep in her car and had to be pried out of the back seat. With much head shaking, Mary pronounced the shameful outcome: they were unable to complete the three-hour walk in less than seven. Where we could insert a word edgewise in this story, which was nowhere and required us to talk against the tide of Mary’s voice, we agreed that walking on a full stomach was a taxing business.

Mary’s way of talking was circuitous and repetitive, cultivating a jungle of verbosity occluding the central subject and harvesting the maximum amount of gab from the minimum amount of content. Since the monologue cycled rapidly, it was difficult to anticipate an end to the experience. We finally settled for walking away from the pub without waiting for a pause. Mary followed us to the middle of the road, talking the entire way. She seemed unperturbed as we waved goodbye and crossed the street, leaving her in mid-sentence.

We took refuge in J. F. O’Mahony’s post office and general store, a well-worn village establishment where one can purchase anything or nothing, depending on whether they have what you want. Which, for the most part, they don’t. As we entered, Frank O’Mahony, the proprietor, fixed me in the eye. With a look of concern, he asked, “Do you know the way to the nearest hospital?”

I felt the tug on my leg immediately, but his game was uncertain. I was sure that a winning response was impossible, so I chose caution. “There must be one in… Cork?”

This was an incorrect answer, and the question was repeated. “But do you know the way to the nearest hospital?”

Frank very much had the best of me and there was no way I could emerge with points for cleverness or wit. I muttered something idiotic about needing to return to the States to take advantage of my health insurance.

Frank, satisfied with his victory, provided the context. “But did you eat one of Mary’s sandwiches?”

I looked at his face for a moment and burst out laughing. Here was the bard himself, serving up a satire in that sly, sharp way that no one does better than the Irish. I guess Frank judged that Mary was a subject safe enough for ridicule, but I wasn’t so sure about that. It wouldn’t surprise me if she made a few trips to the Poet’s Well herself. Only later did it occur to me that I was the true object of the satire.

 

Second Place:

Maine by Susan Landry

 

“Quit your job

Sell your house

Rent out your car

Lose the spouse

Come walk with us

We’re going to Maine

Life is never going to be the same”

-handwritten sign on the the Appalachian Trail, anonymous.

***
Twelve years ago, I moved to South Portland from New York City. Long before that, I had established the intense sort of bond with the state of Maine that a child might imagine with her birth mother, no matter how kind, how lovely her adoptive mother might be. 

My people, my gene pool folks, tried to stake out a homestead here more than 300 years ago, but managed to be annoying enough while living in Saco that they were dispatched to Rockport, Massachusetts. You really can’t blame the fed-up indigenous people – stewards of the land, their land – which my forebears rudely claimed as their own. 

 My middle name is Tarr.

When I became old enough to ask questions about my middle name, my mother told me a vague story about long-ago relatives who had lived in a different town in Massachusetts. The more recent direct maternal lineage – for which I was the sole carrier of the name in my generation – was described summarily, but clearly the shining star was my great grandfather, David Tarr Wadleigh. He was said to have held a key role in engineering a critical element of the Boston subway system in the late 1800s. I have been unable to find documentation of this assertion, but it is true that David and his father, Joseph, of Brighton, Mass., were skilled house builders.

***

The resurrection of the family name in Maine did not take long; by the 1700s, those Tarrs who’d not been tossed out and those who made their way back without incidence continued to set up stakes in Falmouth, Yarmouth, and Purpoodock (which we now know as South Portland), cultivating an eye for prime real estate.

My own first excursion to Maine came some 200 years later, in 1954. I was 7 years old; my mother was pregnant, and the polio epidemic was devouring Massachusetts like a voracious and greedy beast, particularly on the South Shore where we lived. My mother’s physician urged her to leave the state if possible, to head well away from large residential populations that were fertile vectors. Lucky for us, a couple who were among my parents’ closest friends had a cottage in Port Clyde, Maine. And so we spent several months in paradise. That summer – and the next, when we returned for a few weeks with my new baby brother – was Utopia to me, pure and simple.

***

I did not make it to Maine again for many years – not until I was in college. I remember two brief excursions, both with Danny, before or soon after we got married – late 1960s, early ’70s. The first trip was the two of us and our friend Allan Kaufman. We were stoned for much of the time and the only flash of memory I have of that adventure revolves around peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches and a close call with death. 

I was in charge of food, and Allan was driving; Danny sat up front next to Allan. We were gaining height near the top of a very steep incline. As the car crested the highest point and bore down the equally steep descent, Allan asked if I could hand him something to eat. He kept his eyes on the road and blindly groped the air for the sandwich I was passing forward. As he grabbed it, the blueberry juices oozed out from between the two slices of bread. Allan looked down at the globs of jam staining his pants and the car veered wildly to the left just as a trailer truck appeared out of nowhere in the opposite lane. Danny reached over, clamped down on the sandwich, and tore it out of Allan’s grip. The huge truck roared up the hill toward us and Allan, who’d always had a bit of a death wish and a dark sense of humor, started giggling maniacally. Danny yanked the steering wheel sharply to the right, we chimed in with Allan’s drug-addled laughter until tears of relief rolled down our cheeks. It was damn close, but we did not die.

***

A few years after that craziness, when we’d settled down in New York City, Danny and I and his college roommate, Pober, made another foray to Maine, or actually through Maine, because the ultimate destination was Quebec City. We also had a small highjacker along for the ride: Danny’s and my 3-month-old son, Benjamin – or, as he was known in those days, Benjabuns. We each had our own mission. Mine was to find the best Maine-baked blueberry pie as we headed north; Allan’s was to see a bear, and Danny’s was to drive and do his best to ignore the baby’s crying. Benjabuns had colic. And never stopped crying. Don’t even bother asking yourself why any sane parents would take a colicky infant on an 8-to-10 hour road trip to Quebec. 

In addition to the obvious task ahead of me, which was to keep the baby either snoozing or nursing, I was also stressing about a wager I’d made with Barry, our downstairs neighbor in the city. He had struggled with weight gain his whole life, most likely because he was literally raised in his family’s Jewish deli in Dorchester, Massachusetts. He wanted to drop 50 pounds in one month, and I wanted to shed my extra baby pounds. So I was subsisting on gum, carrot sticks, diet ginger ale, and canned stewed tomatoes. And of course, the baby was draining those calories as quickly as I could replenish them, leaving me a bit strung out.

We made it to Canada more or less intact and with several of our goals checked off. En route, we stopped in Bath, Maine, to pee. The tiny downtown restaurant called Betty’s that we invaded was featuring freshly baked blueberry pie. It was perfection, so good that it was clear there was no point in comparative sampling and thus I saved myself from an onslaught of calories. Our appetites and bathroom needs sated, Danny plotted a long but optimistic route from Bath to Baxter State Park, and onward to Quebec. In a stunning stroke of luck – which fueled our sense of invincibility – just as we drove slowly through a leafy glen in Baxter, a mother bear and two cubs sauntered across the road. Pober was quietly blissed out until we reached our destination.

Going back to New York was such a horror show that I will spare you but for a brief summary: we got lost in a morass of logging roads with very little gas in the tank. AND the baby decided that fairly relentless stop-and-go cycles of colic crying were not enough, so he took a noble shot at the world’s record for nonstop crying. 

*** 

I met my second husband, Matthew, in Marshfield, Massachusetts, where I’d grown up, and where I returned after Benjamin left home for college. I had become reattached to my hometown after spending countless weekends the previous two years shuttling back and forth between New York and New England: first my brother and then my mother died, and I was left utterly depleted, as cancer ravaged one and then the other. Being near the ocean and around my brother’s friends comforted me – as if by some magical process of my geographic availability my brother, too, might stop by and visit. So I bought a small cottage walking distance to the beach and packed up and left New York.

Although Matthew had grown up in Flushing, Queens, and had lived in Massachusetts for his entire adult life, when he and his siblings were kids his parents had purchased a sturdy cabin on a large plot of woodland in the small town of Lincolnville Center, Maine. After we began spending time together, he took me to the house in Maine, and we went there often in the spring and summer for the 10 years that our marriage endured. Despite our ups and downs, Matthew and I both loved the trails in the woods, the rocky coast, the ponds and lakes, and the strong ties held fast between old-time Mainers, the sea, and the land. 

***

The next – and perhaps final – chapter of my Maine saga began with my decision to move back to New York City and then, after two years of hard work and accruing a nest egg, I forged yet another relocation to live in Maine full-time. Matthew was not pleased with my wanderlust, my demanding job in the city, my insistence on working harder when he had just retired. The marriage ended messily, I bagged my high-end editorial job, sent out emails to everyone I knew announcing I was available for freelance work, bought a house in South Portland, and headed to the Pine Tree State. 

The love affair continues to this day, heightened to a level I had not anticipated. I was fortunate to find a delightful man, who also ended up in Maine after a series of poor decisions that were remarkably akin to those of my own. In fact, since we have been married, we are both so content to be here that every summer we rent a cottage for a week — a getaway — just a 3-hour drive downeast, in the endlessly bewitching state of Maine.

 

Adult Fiction

 

First Place:

The Essence of True Love by Larry Bartlett

 

“Making decisions about landscape design requires a degree of understanding that frankly, you just don’t have.” It was the typical kind of pronouncement that came with an unmistakable tone of self importance from Henrietta Blaisdell, and it was received by an equally unmistakable air of what-ever-you-say from her husband, Charles. The Blaisdells, having rounded the bend on middle age, were feeling the pains of success, caused by having more money than anyone really needs. Like so many others in the world, the Blaisdells were facing middle-age head on by building a “dream house.” Well, at least Henrietta saw it as a dream opportunity. Charles’ impression of his wife’s foray into the practice of architecture was generally less dreamy. 

“Fine, dear, you select the plant-person,” replied Charles, actually relieved to escape another series of “design opportunities” that Henrietta inevitably beat to death.

“Landscape architect, dear, not plant-person! Anyway, I’ve already found the perfect person to help put the finishing touch on our project. And he lives right here in Bayside! What a coincidence! His name is Marcel, and he has studied and taught landscape design all over the world. His work has been published in all the best design magazines. Margie says that he lives by himself and doesn’t practice anymore now that he’s retired, but I know that I can talk him into one more project.” 

Charles did not respond, not because he didn’t have an opinion, but because at this point in “the project,” (why did she always refer to the house as a “project,” he wondered for the one hundredth time), he had learned that when Henrietta was on a roll, it was best to just get out of the way. Although the creative opportunities usually started with a mutually shared sense of excitement, they most often ended with a final pronouncement of a design decision by Henrietta. The house was finally approaching completion, but not before two architects, an interior designer, and a general contractor that “will never work in this town again.” All had been guided under Henrietta’s all-knowing hand to the point of drink. Nevertheless, Charles had endured it all, and now he could see a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in his wife that almost made it all worthwhile. 

All that remained were some finishing touches with plants and trees. Charles returned to his newspaper. How difficult could that be? 

The next day, when Charles arrived home from work, he arrived to find Henrietta and their neighbor Margie drinking tea in the room that was labeled on the house plans as the “breakfast nook.” 

“So, I finally got him to open the door and let me in. You didn’t tell me how old he is! Anyway, Marcel… he insisted that I call him that… said that he would consider our project! You know, he refers to himself as an artist of nature! Isn’t that just divine?” 

“What a coup!” Margie exclaimed. “He hasn’t worked for anyone since he finished that project on the north shore of Long Island five years ago. You know… it was that landscape design he did for the Brinkman estate that won all those awards. It was published in Better Homes and Gardens. Oh Henrietta, if you pull this off, you’ll be the talk of society from here to Newport. Just imagine, you’ll be the person that talked Marcel out of retirement for one last life-crowning achievement.” 

“And that’s just how I put it, an opportunity for a final project to cap a lifetime of the best! We’ll spare no expense!”

From somewhere in the living room a whisper of concern seemed to drift into the kitchen: add one plant person to the list of crushed professionals! 

It was three weeks before Charles actually saw the famous landscape artist. It was a warm Saturday morning in early April that hints of the possibility of summer’s return to New England. Henrietta, seated opposite Marcel in the grand screened veranda, was informing him that design work should have begun days ago. 

“It’s almost planting time and we haven’t even begun to discuss a project concept. Really! We must lose no more time because Charles and I will be leaving for our summer vacation in Europe on Memorial Day. We’ll be gone until the first of August, so you can see that we really don’t have much time. We want everything to be all set by the time we leave so that construction can begin.” 

As he took a seat beside his wife, Charles noticed that Marcel seemed amazingly unaffected by Henrietta’s agitated state. 

“At last, Henrietta, I meet your husband. I’ve been so looking forward to talking with you, Mr. Blaisdell. Your wife has told me so much about your new house, and I am anxious to hear from you. It is so important for me to get to know my clients. My designs grow from my understanding of those who commission me. Anyone can work with nature to create beauty. I like to think that I can guide nature unto displaying a beauty that reflects the very spirit of those for whom I work. To do this I must get to know what lies at the very center of my client’s hearts.” 

Charles had never thought about plants and trees as objects of beauty, but he knew that if they were to become such, the transformation wasn’t likely to be inexpensive. But in this, as in every other facet of “the project,” Charles was willing to go along because of what it meant to Henrietta. 

Over the next six weeks Marcel spent a great deal of time at the house, talking with Henrietta, talking with Charles, and talking with them both together. Often, he would sit listening while Henrietta went on describing the best plant species for this type of location or that, and Charles would simply nod approvingly from time to time. Throughout this period, although many landscape ideas were discussed, no actual plan layout was ever presented. At first, Henrietta seemed accepting that Marcel needed to get to know them and their ideas for the project, but by the time the last week of May arrived without plans or specifications, she could no longer contain herself. 

Four days before Memorial Day she called for a meeting with Marcel, and Charles knew a reckoning was about to be had. When Marcel arrived, she began her rehearsed speech.

“Listen Marcel,” she began. “I know that you are a world famous landscape artist, and I know that art can not be rushed, but it’s been two months and we have nothing to show for it! I’ve been patient up until now, but I told you we were leaving and had to have the plan worked out by Memorial Day. Now…” 

Marcel interrupted, “Madame, please forgive me. When you first approached me, I was reluctant to work again, but something about you and your husband intrigued me. I must admit that I have no drawings for you, but that does not mean that I have no design. Yours has been the most challenging undertaking I have ever attempted. I have come to know you both over the past weeks and it has not been easy to form my impressions into a landscape reality. But I have done it! I have finally arrived at the essence of what defines you both and my creation will reflect that spirit in a way that has never been done before.”

Henrietta’s resolve was beginning to melt with the magic of Marcel’s words. Marcel continued. “My design will speak of the very thing that I have come to see in you both. People from all over will pass by this place and see the beauty that is shared in you. They will know what I know.” 

Henrietta and Charles were both caught up in the power of Marcel’s vision and in the sincerity of his enthusiasm. It no longer seemed to matter that there were no drawings or specifications. Marcel was describing a masterpiece and it was a masterpiece that captured them in its strength of spirit. 

Henrietta exclaimed, “So tell us! What is this essence that you have found so inspiring?”

“It is true love! It is a love that perfectly bonds two people who are opposites. You, Henrietta, with your strong sense of purpose and an unending need for control, are perfectly complimented by you, Charles, with your willingness to yield, but in so doing, to support. I saw this love most clearly one evening last week when I arrived to see you both admiring a sunset, hand-in-hand. On the surface, it might appear that two such people have little in common and only co-exist after years of marriage from lack of impetus to do otherwise. But when I saw you that evening, I saw a love that binds so deeply that it fills the differences, making two become one. This is what I will create!” 

Marcel’s vision was presented with such passion and promise that Henrietta and Charles left for Europe giving Marcel full authority to transform his vision into reality in their absence. No plans were necessary. No budgets needed. This was going to be a work of art like no other and Marcel was just going to make it happen.

Over the summer, Henrietta often telephoned Margie to get an update on the progress. Week after week Margie watched the site construction progress and reported to Henrietta the news. In fact, progress was rather slow, and decidedly not very eventful. To be certain, new lawn was laid, bushes and trees were planted, and stone walkways were constructed. Even an impressive fountain was built. But through it all, Margie couldn’t help but wonder, when was she going to see the much-anticipated, awe-inspiring work of art? As far as she could see, things looked nice, but not very exceptional. 

Margie had been so excited initially when she and Henrietta had discussed the project that of course she had to tell others. What’s the use of having a masterpiece if you can’t show it off? It was this very reason that by early July, Margie was getting anxious. She had made such a to do about this work-in-progress to the towns folk that it was somewhat of a local sensation. People would drive by daily to see if the long awaited work of landscape art was completed. But, up until now, they had only seen new lawn, bushes, and trees. 

What would Henrietta do if she returned from Europe to an enormous let-down? Margie winced at the thought of Henrietta’s embarrassment of having to face her neighbors and friends. It was this anxiety that prompted Margie to approach Marcel one day in mid July and politely inquire when his “vision” would take shape. She mentioned that she had not yet been able to see the “vision” but quickly added that it was probably because it wasn’t finished yet. 

Amazingly, Marcel’s response was, “Of course you haven’t seen the vision. These things take time! I have just planted the trees that make up the center-piece of my creation.

“There,” he pointed. “Can you see them? I selected each of them specially. I had to travel all over the country to get just the right ones!”

Margie did in fact see the newly planted grove of trees, but unfortunately, other than the fact that they had been planted at nearly a mature growth, she saw nothing particularly unusual or amazing about them. 

It was time to act! Margie had to warn Henrietta about what she was coming home to. She couldn’t let her best friend arrive without knowing what she was about to face. And so, after much hand-wringing and angst, Margie telephoned Henrietta to deliver the bad news.

It was July 28th when Marcel, with a tired look of satisfaction, cleaned up the last of the site in anticipation of the Blaisdell’s return. When they arrived at the airport it seemed to Charles that his world was already on some predestined journey out of control. Henrietta had worked herself into a frenzy over Margie’s phone call. 

“How dare this fraud lead us on this way! This had better be something spectacular, or I swear, I’ll…” 

Charles interrupted, hoping without much faith that his wife would see reason. “Now dear, remember, there’s only so much one can do with plants. And you have done such a fantastic job with the house.” Charles knew, however, that no words would placate his wife if she felt that she had been wronged. 

When they arrived by taxi at the house, they both stepped out and stood perfectly still for what seemed to Charles to be an eternity. Finally, he meekly said, “Very nice.”

What lay before them was a perfectly manicured lawn. The drive was paved with Belgian stone and along each side were perfectly groomed flower beds displaying a cacophony of colors. At the side of the veranda was a stone fountain with a small brook leading off to the side yard. On the opposite side of the house, stretching out into the front yard was a stand of deciduous trees of various species, organized into a very pleasant grove. 

It was all very nice indeed, but not spectacular. Not a vision. Not a work of art. And certainly not a reflection of Henrietta and Charles’ love! More like a reflection of being made a fool, Henrietta fumed to herself. 

Just as it seemed to Charles that perhaps Henrietta might be taking the disappointment better than he had feared she might, Franklin Snodgrass and his wife Emily from across town drove into the driveway. 

Franklin looked at Emily with a smirk and beamed, “What a masterpiece! You must be so proud!” 

Emily grinned back at her husband and then faced Henrietta. “Three months in the making, and so well worth the wait. Visions are so time-consuming in the making. Did you get that forsythia at Wal-Mart, Henrietta?” 

Needless to say, the first telephone call Henrietta made upon entering the house was to Marcel. 

“How could you?!” She burst out in tears. “You have made us the laughing-stock of not only Bayside, but all of New England. A vision, you said! A reflection, you said! I’ll see that you never work again.” 

“Mrs. Blaisdell,” responded Marcel franticly. “Let me explain…” 

Henrietta interrupted, “Oh I don’t need any more explanations. I’ve heard enough talk. Just don’t you ever show your face around here again! And don’t think that you’ll get any more payment either.” And with that, she hung up, never to talk to Marcel again.

Life did not go well for Marcel in the following weeks. He contracted some form of influenza around Labor Day and by the time he was taken for medical treatment his health had failed to a point that he died two weeks later. It was rumored that actually he either had died of despair, with his crowning achievement going unrecognized, or that somehow Henrietta Blaisdell had done him in for revenge. 

Henrietta and Charles’ lives also changed in the ensuing weeks. The burden of ridicule proved too much for Henrietta and just two weeks after returning home, Henrietta contacted a local real estate agent and announced that she wanted to sell the new house. It took only a week to pack their belongings, and by the end of August, they were gone from Bayside. Although not known for certain, Margie had heard that the Blaisdells had moved to Florida. She did not hear from them ever again.

The house sold on the very day that Marcel died at Memorial Hospital. The selling price was approximately half the cost of construction, and the new owners were ecstatic to find such a deal. They were particularly pleased with the fine landscaping work that so perfectly complemented the house.

***

Five Years Later 

It was late September and just as they had from the year after that they had purchased the house, each autumn the owners sat on their veranda watching the crowds gather at the sidewalk in front of the house. They watched as the crowds of people came and paused, marveling at the miraculous view. During the first year, the owners were somewhat annoyed by the endless parade of spectators that filed by their house, but as the years went by, they began to understand the special importance of their property. They came to understand that something this special must be shared by all. 

“How did they do that, Daddy?” asked the six year old girl. “Did they paint it?”

“No, Jane, it just grows that way. I don’t know how.” 

Jane’s mother stood in awe and remarked, “I’ve never seen anything like it. It looks so real.”

There in the multi-colored autumn foliage of the grove of trees, an unmistakable image can be seen. Thousands of colors of leaves, the greens, the yellows, the reds, the browns, the oranges, all combine in a miraculous display of art. In that foliage the silhouettes of two people can be clearly seen: a man and a woman standing together, each holding the other’s hand, appearing to watch a dazzling sunset. 

“Who are they?” asked little Jane. 

“I do not know,” answered the mother. “But whoever they are they make such a loving couple.”

 

No second place

 

 

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