This was a difficult contest.
We had a LOT of good stories. It was the toughest writing competition we’ve had yet, and it gets more difficult every time.
But these stories had a little something extra that, even though they didn’t win one of the top 5 places, they showed me a lot.
They had something special that deserves a spotlight.
Word Weaver Writing Contest
HONORABLE MENTION: A New Beginning by Susan Mills Wilson
HONORABLE MENTION: The Last Ledge by Annette Robinson
SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION: Paisley’s Plight by Tekoa Manning
* * * * * * * * *
What did I like about these stories?
Read them for yourself and see. The stories are below; my comments follow each story.
Then see who the remaining finalists are.
It is my pleasure to showcase these amazing writers. Look for interviews and more on them in the upcoming days.
WORD WEAVER WRITING CONTEST
HONORABLE MENTION RECIPIENT
A NEW BEGINNING
Susan Mills Wilson
At any minute I expected a petite brunette to walk into the coffee shop where I waited. Since she was a stranger to me, all I had to go on was a vague description of herself and her name: Sarah. Ironically, the same name as my wife. Imagine that.
As I sat at a table in the back corner, I kept my eyes trained on the front door. I was so nervous I didn’t realize my fingernail tapped my coffee mug until I became aware of the familiar sound as rapid as a woodpecker’s beak on a tree trunk.
I felt sure folks back home wouldn’t know what to make of me meeting a woman half my age in a town I’d never set foot in until that day. As I waited, my palms became clammy and my heart knocked against my chest. I blamed it on my audacious decision to come. Or maybe it was all the lies I told to get here. To be honest, I piled lies on top of other lies until I couldn’t remember which one I had told and to whom.
A quick glance at my watch told me that this Sarah was five minutes late. I had time to bolt if I wanted to. I could call her later and say something important came up. Another damn lie.
A week ago, I didn’t even know she existed. She called me out of the blue. I was in my office staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself. I held in my hand a list of options I had considered. Already I had crossed out disappear, put a question mark beside resign from the board and drew a dollar sign next to divorce. The last item listed was suicide.
I hadn’t come close to a decision when I got the call. I’ll never forget her first words that made me turn from the window. I grabbed hold of the edge of my desk to steady myself.
In a voice confident and strong, she said, “You don’t know me.” After a pause, then this shocker: “I’m your daughter. My mother is Rebecca Stark, and she doesn’t know I’m calling you.”
My heart pounded. The mere mention of Rebecca’s name caused tears to well up. My past had caught up with me. I hadn’t seen or heard from Rebecca in twenty-four years. The last time I saw her she made a big announcement: “I’m pregnant.”
Rebecca’s words, spoken so long ago, had stunned me and caught me off-guard. I was ill prepared to deal with the news. I had no doubt the child was mine, but I wasn’t suited to become a father. I could barely take care of myself. I was only twenty years old, a private in the army. The year was 1991, and there was trouble in the Persian Gulf and talk of war. My unit in the 82nd at Fort Bragg heard rumblings of a deployment. However, when the beautiful small-town girl with the big brown eyes told me she was having a baby—my baby—I certainly wasn’t thinking about war. Not that day anyway.
The girl she had named Sarah had to know the truth about me. I abandoned her mother and left her alone to deal with “the situation,” as I had called it.
“The situation” was a beautiful young lady who entered the coffee shop or maybe I should say floated in with the fluidity, the grace of a ballerina. The similarity between her and her mother took my breath away, took me back to another time. Her long chestnut hair fell in soft curls onto her narrow shoulders. She had my eyes. The color matched her forest green sweater. She would be almost twenty-five now, yet in her tight jeans and leather boots, she appeared much younger, a college student perhaps.
She walked toward me as if drawn by pure instinct, not hesitating for a moment, but with as much confidence as she displayed in her phone call. I stood up to greet her and realized my hands trembled. I prayed she wouldn’t notice. I fought to keep tears from welling up in my eyes. It was an extraordinary moment for me, laying eyes on my daughter for the first time. All the lost years.
She accepted my awkward handshake and eased down in the chair across from me. I didn’t know what to say and was relieved when she spoke first.
Devoid of a smile, she gave me a once-over. After all, she was seeing me for the first time, too. “You’re more handsome than I imagined.”
Relief washed over me. I felt my cheeks flush like a schoolboy and smiled in appreciation.
I cleared my throat and wiped my sweaty palms on my pants. “You—you’re—just as pretty as your mother. How is she?”
She could have said, “What do you care?” Instead, she put her elbows up on the table and leaned forward. At first, her face was like a blank slate, but then she broke into a dimpled smile. “My mother is fine. Lonely, I guess, since my father died, but she’s a strong woman.”
She must have caught the hurt in my eyes because she quickly added, “I mean the man who raised me. He was a wonderful father to me. He loved me very much.”
“I’m glad.” I meant it, too.
The preceding silence intensified my discomfort. To lighten the mood, I said, “How about something to drink and eat. Looks like they have a good selection.”
“Just a café latte, that’s all.”
Despite what she said, I brought back a plate full of muffins. “Just in case you get hungry, there’s plenty of choices. Blueberry, apple, spice. I wasn’t sure what you liked.”
She ignored the proffered plate with enough muffins to feed a family of four. I set it down with a loud thud.
She sat up straighter in her chair and crossed her arms. “Now maybe you’ll answer the questions that have tormented me for years.” The tone in her voice hinted at anger, or was it hostility? I wasn’t sure. She rattled off a sequence of questions before I could respond even to one.
“Why did you abandon my mother?”
“Why did you never find out about my birth?”
“Why did you not want us in your life?”
I had expected an inquiry. Before I came, I rehearsed in my mind a series of reasons or excuses to explain why I abandoned her mother in her hour of need.
She waited for my response. But I just pinched off a big chunk of the muffin, stalling and searching for the right words. I preferred to stare at the crumbs on the plate rather than acknowledge the hurt in her eyes. Before I spoke, I thought about her mother the day she gave me the news. For many years since then, the image of the tears in her eyes, the tremble of her lips haunted me. I remember how she broke into sobs and called out to me as I walked out, my last goodbye. I didn’t turn around because I knew if I did, I’d rush over and take her in my arms.
With one brow raised, her look of annoyance let me know she expected more from me than an apologetic shrug. Her lips were set tight, gone was her smile.
I cleared my throat. “Sarah, I—I never wanted to walk out on your mother, but at the time, I felt it was the only thing I could do. How do I make you understand? The army had plans for me. My father had plans for me. What I wanted, what I cared about didn’t matter. You don’t know it, but I made some bad mistakes even before I met your mother. Let’s just say I had issues.”
“What kind of issues?”
“Well, for one, a father who wanted to ruin my life. He insisted that I go into the family business even though I had other ideas.”
“What kind of ideas?”
“If I told you, you’d think it was stupid.”
“Tell me anyway.”
“I wanted to make independent films with a buddy of mine. Crazy stuff. Kung fu. Alien abductions.”
She pursed her lips. “That’s crazy.”
“Yeah, I told you it was stupid, but I was young. A visionary, I guess. Not exactly ready to carry on the family enterprises. My father sent me off to Carolina where I was expected to major in Business Administration.” I took a sip of coffee and added, “I majored in other things.”
“Oh, yeah? What?” she asked.
“Drinking—partying—pot. I got busted and that’s how I ended up in the army. Talk about punishment.”
If she was shocked, she hid it well. Almost in a whisper, she said, “Tell me the part about my mother.”
“Your mother was my salvation, the only thing that kept me sane.” Because my voice quivered with emotion, I had to take a deep breath before I could continue. “The first time I saw her, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. The kind of beauty who would leave a small Southern town to be discovered by agents and movie producers. Maybe to star in one of my low budget Sci-Fi flicks.” She managed a chuckle, but stayed silent as if she hung on every word I said. “Your mother was the only good thing I can say about my army experience. Every minute off base, I spent with her. She was my first love. Being with her were the happiest times of my life.”
“She told me she was happy, too.” Sarah bit down on her lip in the same fashion Rebecca had whenever she was deep in thought. My daughter directed her gaze out the front window and then back at me. So far, she hadn’t taken a sip of the latte and had not picked up a muffin. But realistically, food and drink were not what she came for. I broke off another piece of the blueberry muffin because I have a habit of snacking when I’m nervous.
I swallowed hard and took a sip of coffee. “Sarah, I couldn’t be a father to you. I was going off to war. I still had more time in the service. And I couldn’t marry your mother.”
“No. Not couldn’t. Wouldn’t.”
The rise in her voice left me too dumbfounded to speak. She pushed aside her cup and crossed her legs. Her foot hit my knee, prompting me to turn sideways.
I gave her silence, unable to respond. Finally, she said, “My mother told me.”
I’m ashamed to admit it, but what she said next was spot-on. It seemed Rebecca knew me better than I imagined.
She leaned forward, her arms folded on the tabletop. “Mom said you are a member of the Whalen family. She told me that men of the Whalen dynasty don’t marry waitresses. They marry debutantes. Your family owns a big plant like the one her father worked in. Grandpa punched a time clock and made what your father would consider pocket change.”
“Sarah, it’s not—”
“No, let me finish.” Her angry voice drew the attention of the lady at the next table. I noticed, but Sarah didn’t. “When the great Samuel C. Whalen retired, he handed over the business to you. You have two homes, a collection of classic cars, and a private plane that I’m guessing you flew here to see me. You married Sarah Hall of the politically connected Hall family. I think her father was governor or state senator— something like that. You have two sons that attend private school and, I imagine, get everything they want.”
I hung my head, feeling more like a failure than a successful businessman. I kept my gaze on my hands wrapped around the coffee mug. In a low voice, I said, “How do you know all that?”
“A smart businessman like you should know. All a person has to do is Google your name, and it’s all there.”
“Oh, yeah, right. How stupid of me.” I frowned and shook my head. I feared her resentment toward me had built up over many years. Her intense eyes and unsmiling lips confirmed it. She hated me. I felt it the same as if she had spoken the words. It made me hesitate to come to my own defense. In the end, I simply said, “What your mother said is true. All of it.”
“Including the part about her not being up to your family’s standards?”
“Yes, that, too. Look, I loved your mother very much, but I had already disappointed my family more than you can imagine. I couldn’t announce I was going to marry a girl I got pregnant. I took the path of less resistance. I finished my stint in the army, got my degree, and went to work for my father.”
Sarah added what I had omitted. “And married a woman that met your parents’ approval.”
Her statement was accurate, I must admit. But instead of agreeing, I stayed silent and again tapped my finger on the side of the mug.
I looked deeply at the young woman across from me. “Sarah, does your mother hate me?”
“Does your wife know you’re here?”
“No,” I said. “About your mother—”
“Does your wife know about me?”
Again, the wife. “No. Please, Sarah, I need to know, does your mother hate me?”
“My mother forgave you a long time ago. She loved you and when you love someone, you forgive them.”
“Really? What I mean is, even though I never asked for forgiveness?”
“Yes, even then.” Her eyes stayed on me and I swear I thought I saw pity in them. At least she no longer seemed angry. “Mom said you are a victim of your own fate. Your family had certain expectations, so you needed to play it safe.”
“I regret that I played it safe and didn’t go with my heart. So, she forgave me, huh?”
“I already told you. Yes, she did.”
I felt relieved as if a terrible burden had been lifted from my shoulders, one I had carried for too long. It made me want to jump up and hug her. Of course, I didn’t, but I made sure she saw my smile. She glanced at her watch. I feared that at any moment she would get up and leave. I wanted more time, a chance to redeem myself.
“Can I see you again, Sarah?”
“I said she forgave you. I didn’t say I did.”
Her words crushed me. A dagger to the heart. At that moment, a feeling of hopelessness overtook me, a sinking feeling into a dark abyss. I sniffed and turned to look out the window. I cursed myself for getting so emotional. After I wiped at my eyes, I looked her way.
“Someday I will. Give me time.” She tilted her chin up with the confidence of a young woman who had already set a clear path for herself. “You know, you’re nicer than I thought you’d be. I guess I thought since you’re a big deal with money and all, you’d be different. Kind of snooty, but you seem nice.” She took inventory of my khaki pants, plaid shirt, and loafers. “You don’t look like you make millions.” She blushed as if embarrassed by what she said. “Actually, I meant that as a compliment.”
I laughed. “I know. Thank you.”
“I have to go now.” She glanced at her watch once more. “I have a class soon. I’m getting a Master’s Degree in Economics.” She raised her brows for emphasis in a way that showed her pride. “I’m a numbers person. Maybe I get that from you, certainly not my mother.” Sarah stood up and slung her purse over her shoulder. She extended her hand. “Thanks for the coffee.”
And that was that. The end of our reunion. I got up out of my chair and came around to stand near her. What I wanted to do was take her in my arms for a goodbye hug, but I didn’t dare initiate any contact. After all, she said she hadn’t forgiven me yet. I stood there with my hands to my side, feeling awkward and unsure what to do.
“I wish we had more time.” I kept my voice low and hung my head.
I sensed she felt sorry for me or maybe she felt bad for rushing off. It seemed odd when she hesitated and seemed to delay her departure. When she gave me some semblance of a hug, I was caught off guard. Although not fully engaged with her arms around me, she stepped closer and put her hands on my arms. Because I was much taller and larger, I felt clunky with her small body close to mine.
“Bye now,” she said.
When I reached into my back pocket, she took a few steps back.
“Don’t! I don’t need your money.” She glowered at me.
My face flushed. At first, I was too flustered to speak, so I just held up what I had pulled from my pocket. “It’s my business card. I thought you might need my contact information, so we can stay in touch.”
She looked down at the floor, her hair falling forward and covering half her face.
I could no longer tolerate the extended silence, so I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “Sarah, I can’t make up for lost time. Our beginning can be right now.”
She nodded and whispered, “Maybe.”
“I abandoned your mother. And you, Sarah? Well, I abandoned you, too. The two biggest regrets of my life.”
I believe she got the gist of my sentiment. While I looked on, puzzled by what she was doing, she rummaged through her purse and then held up a slip of paper. She scribbled a phone number on it.
“Great. When can I call you?”
She frowned and shook her head. “No, not me. Sorry.” I looked on as she took the paper from my hand and wrote a name above the number.
She handed it back and I stared down at the tiny paper in the palm of my hand. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Rebecca.”
“I have a hunch Mom would be happy to hear from you.”
True, Sarah was a beautiful, confident young woman, but I wasn’t sure she had experienced love yet. Regardless, she seemed to understand the risk of giving your heart totally to another.
I had tears in my eyes once again. Although I reprimanded myself for getting emotional, she did something that made it okay. She squeezed my hand, giving me hope she would someday forgive me.
She walked out the door, raising the collar on her coat against the cold wind. She got in a compact car and backed out of the parking space. Too fast, in my opinion. After all, the parking lot was busy with cars coming and going. I realized I sounded just like a concerned father.
When her car was no longer in sight, I pulled out another slip of paper from my pants pocket. It was my list of options, the day I thought my life wasn’t worth living. I wadded it up into a ball and tossed it in the trash on my way out the door.
Among its many qualities, I found A New Beginning to NOT be predictable, to not easily go to the places it went, and to strike an interesting narrative voice. It is well written and not a run of the mill piece. It offers hope without tying everything up in a sickly sweet bundle, and that’s often more realistic than other ways to go.
It’s a solid piece, and well deserving of this recognition.
Join me in congratulating Susan Mills Wilson for her achievement and for gracing us with her story.
To get more of Susan’s writing, here are her links:
Susan’s Website: http://susanmillswilson.com/
Susan’s Blog: http://susanmillswilson.com/susans-blog/
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/102759464513837786424
WORD WEAVER WRITING CONTEST
HONORABLE MENTION RECIPIENT
THE LAST LEDGE
Cold. The first sensation I let myself feel for a long time. Cold and windy.
The ledge was narrower than I estimated. I had to pull myself onto it. Strange how in my imagination and frightening dreams I merely stepped up and stood there, untouched by the elements. In those moments of almost-wakefulness, my journey to the bottom held no hesitation or fear. It became a means to be free of the pain.
No one seemed to understand the pain, the aching of memories which refused to fade, or at least subside into something manageable. No therapists or medications were able to assuage the horrible helplessness of it all, or stop the panic attacks in the night.
The wind whipped my hair, stinging my cheeks. My lips and tip of my nose tingled. The whiz of traffic on the bridge was intermittent, but someone would soon notice. The fact I had chosen the middle of the night would hardly make a difference. Why hadn’t I gone to some secluded area outside the city where detection was more difficult? I couldn’t answer the question, couldn’t rationalize anymore.
The water below me appeared black and so far away I couldn’t hear its turbulence. It looked anything but inviting, but at least it would take away the awful pain.
I closed my eyes tightly. The inevitable sound of sirens filled my ears. Oh yes, they would try to dissuade me, using all the techniques I already knew to make me not do it, but my determination held fast. I had to get rid of the pain.
I attempted to block out the frenetic murmur of voices behind me, not favoring them with a backward glance. The pillar beside me felt smooth and strong. If I pushed against it and pushed off, I would be free and floating down to where the water would envelope and welcome me. Even in the fog of my depression, I knew this not to be true. My medical training had taught me that much. No, there would be a brief agony of my organs bursting inside me, and then. . . nothing. At least the nothingness held no memories and no pain. Extreme yes, but effective.
A voice amplified in a megaphone of some type startled me. “Miss, you have to come down from there.”
The ridiculousness of the statement almost made me laugh. The police department budget must have cut back on their psychologists. It would serve him right if I jumped immediately but my hands encircled the pillar in a last embrace. Go, an inner voice urged. Go now. Nausea and a racing heartbeat kept my hands immobile. I will in a moment, after a few last breaths.
“Are you cold?” Another voice, closer and not amplified.
He must be mad climbing over the railing, in as precarious a perch as me. I could make out nothing but the flash of an overcoat as a bright light washed over me from behind. It seemed to anger him. He yelled for them to douse it, leaving us in darkness again.
“What’s your name?” The questions again, but his voice was low-pitched and held none of the arrogance of his predecessor.
Don’t tell him.Don’t talk to him. He’s going to try to get you to come down, back to the uninhabitable world of suffering, memories and constant, crushing pain.
When I stayed silent, he spoke again. “I’m Sam.”
Hello, Sam. My silent response blocked out my intentions for a second. Good manners won out over despair.
“I won’t come any closer or try to touch you. I thought we could talk for as long as you want, or I could call someone for you.”
“No,” I nearly shouted.
“All right, all right pet. It will be just us then.”
His voice held an inflection I hadn’t noticed. Irish, no Scottish but diluted by living abroad. It reminded me of books I had read, detective stories mostly or mysteries with a likable main character, who was good at his job but not in his personal life. For some reason, his words melted down from my brain to the pit of my stomach, slowing the pounding of my heart to almost a normal rate. I swallowed hard, my mouth parched and sticky.
“Why don’t we make a bargain. You can tell me anything, say anything you like and I promise to listen and not try to move any closer.”
How could I tell him, a stranger, about her, about how someone I had so little contact with, the little girl who plagued my dreams and gave me so much pain. But his voice was so calm, so mesmerizing, the kind of voice I could hear as I fell into a dreamless, comforting sleep.
“I’m a nurse, have been for twenty years.”
I pursed my lips, determined not to say any more. Let him think I was another crazy woman in a long line of such people he met in his profession.
“That’s a grand calling, but very stressful I’m told.”
His voice. It was more soothing than any of my therapists. “I thought I was coping with the stress of it until my husband left me and these horrible thoughts of one of my patients, a little girl, took over and now. . . now I don’t see how I can go on anymore. Everything is too painful.”
I bit my lip, astounded the words came out so easily, the secrets I told to no one. The irony of the circumstances hit me like a slap. Why now, and why here?
“She was only ten years old and such a beautiful girl. She had a bad tumor and the first thing she asked me when she came back from surgery was if her operation was a success. Such a grown up comment from a child. But the thing I remember most is her insisting she be told everything about her condition. We used to stand outside her room, me and all her doctors. The doors were glass, so she could see us and she always made us come inside and discuss what was going on in front of her. Imagine that.”
“Sounds like a very smart girl.”
I had to go on, to describe her months of treatment, the hair loss from the chemo, the burns she got from the radiation, the torture we put her through and all for nothing. How could I make this policeman understand how much pain she was in at the end of her life, how even though I hadn’t cared for her in those last few weeks, the knowledge of her coming demise, spoken about in whispers from my colleagues, left me feeling helpless and wretched. The words she spoke lived on through years and years. Her face would appear to me without warning, and all the memories of our encounters would be alive again, leaving me nauseous and so very sad. She wasn’t the complete cause of my spiral into despair, but she was part of it. The guilt I couldn’t help her more, the responsebility of a fractured marriage, the unending agony of my own failures.
“Can I tell you a story now, pet?”
A story. A last story spoken with his calm, even tone. “Yes.”
When he finished, hot tears burned my numb cheeks. So, I wasn’t the only one with a horrible burden. I wasn’t alone. The thought penetrated several layers of the walls I had put up around myself, lowering them a little bit, maybe allowing me to step over to. . . what?
“Now, if you want to, just give me your hand, not to do anything but warm it from the cold.”
His fingers brushed my upper arm. “I’ll just hold it for as long as you like. You can take it back anytime. Just reach out for me, pet. I’ll help you. Reach out for me.”
The call came at half past midnight. The clacking vibration of the mobile followed by the jarring ring of the landline. I knew what it was. Another crisis.
I grunted my response. The 5th street bridge. Not another bridge. By unconscious habit, I reached over to her side of the bed. Cold sheets met my hand. Right. She’d been gone nearly two months and always after waking, before the memory of it came back, I reached for her.
The water I splashed on my face helped dissipate the effects of the after dinner scotch. My clothes lay in a heap on the floor and I nearly dispensed with the tie. No, it wouldn’t do for the senior staff, not when that new psychologist it was my pleasure to train would show up, polished and punctual. It wasn’t my idea to hire him. Something about his quick answers straight from the latest books and lack of warmth during his interview made me vote against him. I suspected he had some underlying pathology he was trying to hide. My superiors overruled me, and now I had to interact with the autistic cretin from a generation which fascinated and frightened me.
She appeared so fragile, clinging to the pillar of the bridge, a floaty long skirt blowing behind her along with tendrils of her hair. What an absurd outfit to wear when intending to jump off a bridge, but that wasn’t my concern. Saving her life was.
I stood, musing too long to stop my young nemesis from grabbing the nearest megaphone and ordering her down. Time stopped as I held my breath, expecting to see the flash of the hem of her skirt and the awful plop as she hit the water.
“Give me that, you bloody idiot.”
For once, he had no pat answer. I didn’t care if I got a reprimand later, because something drew me to this unfortunate woman, standing so still and fragile. The ledge wasn’t as wide as I thought and clambering over it took more effort than I anticipated. When they put the spotlights on us, I caught sight of her white face and smeared mascara. My breathing stopped for a few seconds, taking in her wide-eyed, open-mouthed panic. I shouted for them to dim the lights. Even in the circumstances, her beauty did not escape my notice.
I had to lean across the parapet to make sure my words reached her over the wind, but as our conversation started, we entered into an acoustical tunnel, two voices trying to connect on a cold night. Some inner sense told me she responded to the tone of my voice and the unexpected endearment my mother used to use. Where did “pet” come from? I hadn’t lived in Inverness for more than thirty years and considered myself fully Americanized. Well, perhaps not so much.
The picture of the story she told played out in my mind. I could easily see her as a young nurse, attempting to be professional and human at the same time, dealing with impossible circumstances and then the memories of those encounters. If only she knew how I empathized with her, how I was one of the few people who could. When she finished, I knew I had to tell her, had to share things I hadn’t faced, not only to try and reach her, but for myself as well.
“Can I tell you a story now, pet?” The words flowed from some inner voice, a compulsion that tightened the bottom of my throat.
I breathed out heavily, ready and frightened at the same time, not because I might appear weak to her, but scared the telling would not be enough to convince her there had to be another way.
“I can’t know how you feel, but I do know how it is from the other side. You see, my daughter had just turned seventeen when she came down with perhaps the same thing as the girl you spoke about. She had treatment for a year, but it seemed everything they tried didn’t work.” I took another breath, not sure if I could describe the worst year of my life like I wanted to, but hoping she, as a nurse, could relate in some small way.
“When she turned eighteen, she stopped all the chemo, all the drugs, all the other things the doctors said she needed. I couldn’t stop her, because she could decide for herself by that time, but some part of me couldn’t respect her decision. My own selfishness put a wedge between us. It affected our relationship until the very end when we struck some sort of a compromise.”
A heavy sigh escaped my frigid lips. “I’m told when you lose a child, the marriage either gets stronger, or falls apart. The flaws between me and my wife, the stuff we had been hiding away, destroyed us as a couple. So you see, I do know about pain, and maybe there was a time I wanted to join you on that ledge, but if I can stay alive to help someone like me, that’s what I found I wanted to do.”
The confession didn’t initially give me the sense of relief I expected, although the sting I had carried around near my heart lessened, just a bit. Don’t get sidetracked.Do your job and get her off this bloody bridge.
“Now, if you want to, just give me your hand, not to do anything but warm it from the cold.”
She sobbed for herself, or perhaps a little for me, for the brave ten year old girl, for the courage of my daughter, or maybe because the tragedy her life had led her to this. If she gave me her hand, I knew I wouldn’t pull her or take her by force, even though it would be a successful means to an end. No, the choice was hers.
“I’ll just hold it for as long as you like. You can take it back anytime. Just reach out for me, pet. I’ll help you. Reach out for me.”
Her fingers touched my palm like four small icicles. Someone in my family had blessed me with warm hands even on the coldest days. As I grasped her small hand, it became that ten year-old girl’s and my daughter’s, but it was different from all the others I had talked down from ledges. She and I shared something with each other, and I hoped her life would be better for it.
Her nails bit into my flesh with surprising strength. She leaned toward me.
“Sam, I’m Sarah.”
Join me in congratulating Annette Robinson for her achievement and for gracing us with her story.
WORD WEAVER WRITING CONTEST
SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION RECIPIENT
The sun hid behind the tree, a dark passionate peach color, all lit up like a lamp in her room with no shade to cover its nakedness. Paisley sipped her tea and stared at its glow. Life had gotten funny all at once, and Paisley wasn’t sure how to untangle its clutches. Most people sitting here with the trees dancing in the wind, the calm morning greeting of the sunlit hills would feel serene; peaceful even. But Paisley’s insides were churning, and her right leg was bouncing uncontrollably. She inhaled the cigarette she’d rolled minutes before and then let out a stream of steady smoke waiting for a calm to hush over her soul. She closed her eyes and with a trembling voice spoke to a Creator she hadn’t felt or heard from in years. “I really need help. Do you think it’s possible you could get me out of this mess?” Paisley glanced over the hill past the barn. She stared at the fresh mound of dirt and the pile of brush that was trying hard to cover her secret and grimaced.
She guessed murder was something most folks couldn’t understand until they were caught up in the moment. Most the murderers she’d read about were cruel; evil even. But what about the others? She’d watched the blood trickle downstream and felt a sudden perplexity at where the spirit had gone so swiftly that she’d snuffed out with her bare hands. Such an evil spirit to be walking among us, she thought. She was glad it had floated off to Abaddon. There was a rock lying somewhere with a piece of a man’s skull on it, but she was too tired to go look. Murder is murder she supposed, but even a rabid dog that’s chewing off the face of a child needs shot.
She had replayed the event over and over again. Her head hurt, and she sensed an eerie presence following her, lurking in her bedroom. It seemed cloaked in a dark cape-like garment. Do ghosts exist? She hadn’t a clue but she was quite sure demons did. Yes, she had looked one in the eye the night before and somehow it knew how to find her. They always seemed to hunt her out like a hound dog on the trail of an escaped convict. She longed for a relationship but the choices on her part of town made it almost impossible. It’s as if the men she attracted were related to “The governor” on the Walking Dead, or some other psychotic crazed lunatic who appeared to be so very normal until it was too late.
She creased her brow and cracked her knuckles methodically, looking down at her bloodstained hands. She ran her fingers through her hair tensely. Paisley’s hair was darker than a black mare and her eyes were as green as a patch of new grass. She would have been breathtaking if she knew anything about make-up and hair products, or even the latest styles. Instead, she preferred men’s clothing; guys Levi’s, and fruit of the loom t-shirts that were so big they hid the slender curves of her body and left men guessing about what lied beneath. Her eyebrows needed a good plucking, but she never saw the reasoning behind it. Nope, soap and water, and some hand lotion were about as far as she ever came to beautification. She was raised by good ole country folks. They were hard workers, truth tellers, and straight shooters, both with their words and their guns. In fact, if she’d had her gun on her the previous night, she’s sure the folks ‘round Corbin’s Ridge would have heard the sound. At least she had that in her favor. There was no gunpowder residue on her clothing or hands.
Paisley scoured the property from her porch step again and then walked into the house and pulled on her hiking boots. They were still caked with a patch of dried mud from the creek. She wondered if she should just call into work and build a fire right over that mound of dirt and toss those boots, along with her clothes, into the flames. She’d need the rock too. The problem was if she missed work it could look suspicious. For the first time in her life, she seemed to be watching carefully everything she touched—everything she did—and eventually, it would be even every word she spoke. These words would need to be searched out, memorized, chewed up and regurgitated until they slid out of her mouth with no hesitancy. Could she pull off a murder? What if she just went straight to ole Clyde Franklin and confessed the truth? Would he believe her? Better yet, could she trust him?
She grabbed her jacket off the kitchen chair, her lunch sack, plus a can of Dr. Pepper and made her way to her pick-up truck. It was time to go to work at the plant where Paisley made coat hangers. It was a mind-numbing, repetitious work, but there weren’t many choices in the town, and the plastic plant made her nauseous. Coat hangers had plenty of uses. One night she tried to think of all the ways they had been useful to her besides to shimmy the lock on her old truck from the window after she had accidentally left her keys in the ignition. She’d used several to dig her coarse hair out of the drain that was stopped up and occasionally to get better reception on her outdated television. She had dreams of getting the farm up and running again, but after her husband left the small town of Adam’s for the bright lights of Nashville, she’d not heard a peep out of him in almost two years. At first, he phoned and seemed to have made some good connections, but gradually his calls became less frequent until eventually, they stopped completely. One evening she got the papers in the mail and soon the divorce was final. He had left her the farm and the debt. She had been too depressed and too tired to keep it going.
It wouldn’t be long until someone started wondering where Ronnie Claiborne had disappeared to. Until then she’d continue trying to breathe. She guessed even the evilest among men had mothers. Perhaps, before someone started sniffing, she’d have time to sell the farm. She’d charge no extra for the body fermenting under the earth she thought sadistically. If she was lucky, she’d get enough out of it to head south where the winters were mild and the sea could drown out the noise of Mr. Claiborne’s screams that echoed in her ears. She had a cousin in Saint Augustine. Maybe she could reconnect possibly and start a new life for herself. Of course, it would take time for the bruises to disappear. And the smell of fear that still stained her nostrils. But eventually, as her daddy always told her, time heals all things. She wondered if that included murder.
“I miss you, daddy,” she whispered aloud. “So so badly.”
Directly across town, pass the railroad tracks and Boswell Street sat Levi Johnston’s house. It was a three-story mansion with windows from floor to ceiling in the front. A huge cobble patio area for entertaining sat in the rear of the property. He owned land filled with fruit trees and a vineyard, but besides that Levi owned two car lots in town, one in the lower section and one on the east side. The lower section was where the poorer folks lived, and yet he made almost double when they bought a car by offering a “buy here pay here” loan. Most the clients had bad credit, but with only six months of work history at their current job they could drive off the lot with a nice car. Levi would let them get a few weeks behind before he repossessed the vehicle and sold it again to someone else. He already paid the price of the car with their down payment. The eastside specialized in newer cars and people who made substantially more.
Levi pulled into the parking lot and wondered why Sheriff Franklin was snooping around. Clyde was a nuisance and often meddled in things that didn’t pertain to him. He was walking around the front of a 1994 Ford Focus that had a large dent on the hood.
“Mornin’ Sheriff.” Levi tipped his hat.
Clyde smiled and nodded, and proceeded to open the passenger door.
“How long you had this one?”
“Oh, I don’t know we take trade in’s and buy from auctions. I don’t recognize it. I can’t keep it all straight.” Levi chewed the inside of his jaw—a nervous habit of late.
“Well, do me a favor and get the VIN numbers.”
“Something wrong, Clyde? Levi removed his cap and scratched the top of his head. He then waved one of the employees over towards him.
“Get the papers on this one for the sheriff, please.”
Levi stood there for a minute, his temples bulging and his short fuse getting shorter.
“Anything else, Clyde?”
“No, that will do.”
He squatted down and inspected the carpet area before following Levi into the office.
“I got a call from a lady named Paula over in Upton Hill. She’s been looking for her son. Said he was last seen in this area in a car matching this description.” The sheriff stepped into the small paneled trailer that served as an office and tried to refrain from belching up the breakfast he’d eaten too quickly.
“Probably nothing, but she claims he’s been gone for a few days, and it’s not like him to miss work.”
“Is that right? Well, help yourself, and let me know if I can assist in any way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
“Of course. Never mind me.” The sheriff smiled, thinking about what a nervous little man Levi could be.
About that time, the door sprang open and his employee interrupted them both.
“Can’t find the papers on this one. I’ll have to contact the repo guy and get back with you.”
The sheriff smiled and tipped his wide-brimmed hat.
“Get back with me on this, Levi. Find out what’s going on with this car on your lot. I’ll be back tomorrow.” The sheriff tapped his fingers on the desk a couple times before turning to leave. He had good posture, like a man who knew who he was. When he talked to people, he looked them in the eye just long enough to make them uncomfortable. Clyde didn’t trust Levi. He was sly, dirty, and if caught in a lie would spit twice as much juice to cover it up. He eased into his patrol car and sped off.
“Yeah, how can I attract any customers in this part of town with a patrol car on the lot?” Levi made his way towards the coffee pot and grabbed a mug and nervously poured. Besides the sheriff catching him off guard, Levi noticed his desk drawer had been shimmied lose and some of his paperwork had been shuffled through–even possibly missing.
“What in the world is going on around here?”
His secretary rushed into the room.
“What’s wrong?” Her eyes were too tiny for her face and her front tooth was crooked. He tried to get a grip before he answered because he liked Dolly. She had been very helpful since he divorced his wife a year ago, in more ways than one.
“Look at this mess. Who’s been in my office besides you?”
Dolly walked over and surveyed the papers. The lock on the desk drawer that was clearly broken now and shook her head. “I don’t know. I just got here a minute ago and made the coffee. “Honest!” she said it with a longing plea for him to believe her. “The phones have been ringing non-stop, and the sheriff was here when I arrived. I didn’t have time to even notice your desk.” She smiled nervously, revealing the imperfect tooth he hated and loved, depending on the mood he was in.
Levi liked things in order and if there was one thing that got under his skin, it was something not in the order he had left it. He was OCD. It had ruined his first marriage. That and Dolly’s cleavage that seemed to be ever-present in his face most days. Today he was beside himself. The last thing he needed was somebody snooping around his paperwork because, like most the town of Adamsville, he had his own secrets to hide.
He also had a repo guy who had called him the night before, panting and out of breath. Said he heard something by Corbin’s ridge last night. Said it made every hair on his arm stand up. Said the car he picked up possibly wasn’t the right one.
“What a mess!”
Levi walked into Dolly’s office and took a deep breath. He looked at her again, this time with the eyes of a man in trouble. “You still have the number of that guy up in Conley that owns the junkyard back in the holler?”
“I think so. You want me to get him on the line for you?”
Yeah, and if you don’t mind, could you follow the repo guy to Corbin’s ridge? Use that Escort out front. I need to drop it off.”
“But I thought Sherriff Franklin needed it for evidence? Won’t we both be in trouble if he gets here in the morning and that car isn’t here?” she asked.
Levi frowned. She had a good point, but he had to do something with it.
“Baby, you know I wouldn’t ask you to do this for me if it wasn’t important. Now, you’re my girl. Come on over here.”
She smiled. Her tiny blue eyes sparkled, and her fuchsia lipstick was perfectly lined and patted. He embraced her, and just for a minute with his eyes shut, he could imagine it was his ex-wife Lacy. The one he let slip away. Yes, just for a minute he could place his hands on her curvy waist and press her against him. And if he inhaled a whiff of her cologne, memories would flood him. It was the same perfume he had bought Lacy for years. He made sure he kept her in it. And if she didn’t talk and the lights were dim enough, he could almost feel what he had lost. If he used his imagination and numbed the pain with more brandy, he could keep up the charade until morning, but how long could he keep up all the things he was juggling?
Levi released Dolly and grimaced. He grabbed his briefcase that was sitting on a chair and walked back outside to where the Ford Focus sat. Only one way to find out if I got the right car. He kicked a clump of dirt off his boot on to the pavement and opened the front door. He opened the back rear car door, clutched the dark plastic door panel and popped it completely off. Hidden safely behind the covering sat fifteen bundles of cocaine. He made a small tear in one bag and thrust his pinky in and rubbed it on his gums while looking about nervously. He quickly placed all of its content into his briefcase and shut the lid. Walking a few feet towards the office, Levi opened the door of his sports car and shoved the briefcase under the seat. As soon as Earl and Dolly towed the junk off the lot, he’d feel better, but for now, at least he had the snow.
Paisley turned over the ignition in her pickup, but her truck sputtered sickly before it made a click, click, sound that added to her anxiousness. The old dodge with too many miles was dead. Two deaths in one day, she thought. She had named it “the great pumpkin” on account of its rusty color.
She was just as perplexed by Ronnie’s car that had vanished from her driveway the night before. Like a puff of smoke. It had disappeared into thin air along with his evil presence. She thought she had heard something in the distance from the creek. But her focus had been on ridding Ronnie of his next breath before he took hers. The fact that his car had vanished was a bonus. Less to deal with. But who would have taken it?
“Great! Just Great!” she voiced aloud as she walked into the house to call work and a tow truck company. Paisley paced her kitchen nervously as she waited for someone to answer the phone. Every few seconds she stared down at her free hand envisioning the blood she’d washed off in the chilly waters of the creek.
“A-One Tow truck company, Earl speaking. How can I help you?”
“Hey, Earl. This is Paisley. I live down off Corbin’s Ridge. I was wondering if you could tow my truck to the shop and if it wouldn’t be too much trouble could I ride along with you?” She chewed her thumbnail down into the quick and spit the residue into the air. “I need to get a loaner or buy something from the lot next door. I think my trucks seen its last leg.”
Earl swallowed hard and thought about the screams he had heard the night before.
“Ugh, yeah, sure. I’ll be right over. What’s the address?”
“2224 Corbin Place Road.”
Funny thing was Earl already knew what she was going to say. Fifteen minutes later he was backing up the same gravel drive he’d visited just hours before.
Paisley climbed into the tow truck as he hoisted the old dodge on the back of his rig. She was tall, slender, and her eyes were green—catlike. She lit a cigarette nervously and said hello. Her hands were shaking as bad as her right leg that was bouncing.
“Mornin. I take it, it’s not been the best morning for ya?”
“You can say that again.”
“Woe now. Taker easy, it’ll get better.”
“Yeah, I just shouldn’t name my vehicles. The great pumpkin has died it seems.”
Earl smiled, noticing her straight white teeth and the smile that looked like the name she’d given her truck. A big fake pumpkin grin—painted on to hide something dark. Something she was trying to forget. But what?
There was an awkward silence and Earl wondered if he should mention the Ford Focus or play it cool. He knew there was something not exactly right with this picture. The screams. The car. The sheriff and even ole shady Levi. He turned up the radio dial that was set to a 70s station and hummed along–lost in his own thoughts.
“Woo hoo witchy woman,
See how high she flies
Woo hoo witchy woman
She got the moon in her eye.”
Fifteen minutes later he pulled into the automotive shop and then headed to Levi’s “Buy here pay here lot” to pick up the same car he’d brought the night before. Earl wondered how this woman would react when she saw it. He still couldn’t figure out why Levi had pressured him so badly to get it and get it quick. He thought for sure he had the wrong vehicle but now he wasn’t sure about much.
About a mile in the distance, the sheriff pulled out from a side road and stayed far enough behind the tow truck to not be noticed. He knew Levi would try and tow it before he got there. He picked up his cell phone and hit the recall button.
“Hello, good lookin.”
Her voice drove him crazy, along with her perfume. A sexy musk type potion that seemed to insinuate every curve.
“Hey, Lacey. Just wanted to let you know I got him. Got him big time! Within a few minutes the K-nine unit will be here, and if everything goes as planned you should be the proud owner of a couple car lots and a fine vineyard.”
“It was that easy, huh?”
“Wow. I don’t know what to say, Clyde.”
“You can repay me later tonight.” He grinned as wide as his hat just thinking about it.
“Honey, you know I will.”
He heard the phone click and picked up his radio. Lieutenant Dolphin, you ready?”
“Ready. My dog Charlie is ready too. I’m right behind you Sheriff.”
“Lights, camera, action.”
Levi turned as white as Tom’s toothpaste when he saw the lights and the German shepherd headed to his sports car. The K-9 dog was wagging his tail and dancing around like he’d found a T-bone steak dinner.
“Levi Johnston you are under arrest for possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs and also for the possible murder of the missing person, Ronnie Claiborne. You have the right to remain silent . . . anything you say can. . .”
His rights echoed in the background as Levi stood in disbelief.
Paisley stared at the Ford Focus with the dent in the hood, a dent her head had made when Ronnie threw her into the car.
Earl stood soaking it all in. Had Levi also killed a man?
Dolly watched in horror as Levi called out to her before they shoved him into the back of the patrol car. “Get me an attorney, Dolly!”
Why did it get a special honorable mention?
What about it spoke to me?
A brief explanation as to why there’s a “Special Honorable Mention.”
Last time, it was a children’s story that caused me to decide to create a “special” honorable mention category. The children’s story didn’t quite fit with the other entries, but when viewed through the eyes of a child, it was worth giving special mention to.
This time, it’s because, well… see for yourself.
Me, to contestant: Sorry to bother you but since we had some email issues recently, I wanted to follow up and make sure you received your critique. Please reply and let me know one way or the other.
Contestant: Thank you so much for the thorough critique. It was well worth the cost… I stumbled across you and your blog here recently and had planned just to send the portion with Paisley, but it was under the word count you suggested at 3,000, so I added the bit with the car owner and sheriff. Being the professional that you are, you caught that.
Me: Dude, I love love love love loved the first part of that story. It was probably on its way to winning the contest. Of course, it’s not fair to say that because I had not yet read a lot of other stories that would end up also competing for first place, but at the time I was like, this is a great story! It’s not that the car dealer part was bad, but it wasn’t as good as the other part. And it’s not a big deal because it makes for a nice contrast…
Contestant: Dude, I was not expecting this response! I have read the first sentence a few times. I even counted the number of times you wrote ‘love.’ …Whether I win or not, you just made my day Dan Alatorre!
And so dear readers, it came to pass that loving half a story was worth mentioning in a special way. I wanted to recognize the part I enjoyed and show the writer they have the ability to do it right. The talent required to write the first half of the story still resides in the writer. They are still capable of great writing. And with the proper encouragement, they’ll go on to do great things.
Here are her links
Your REMAINING Finalists:
Flight Risk by Kitty Lascurain
First Time by Marie Malo
Sabbath by Suzy Solomon
Sick Day by Laura Holian
The Fourth Option by Frank Parker
Worth It by Carrie Anne Alexis
The 5th Place and 4th Place Winners
Who takes home 5th and 4th – and who continues on to compete for FIRST PRIZE?
Come back tomorrow to see!
It is my pleasure to showcase these amazing writers. Look for interviews and more on them in the upcoming days.