2020 Writing Contest Winners Announced

Fiction, Adult Category. Prize $50. Winner: Kristina Fiene

Keep the Car Running, by Kristina Fiene

It was snowing the day they met. It was snowing the day they began. Neither of them knew at that moment that it would be “the” moment, the one looked back on and reminisced over; remembered, for awhile, fondly, and too soon following that, mournfully. A day of destiny, with a tinge of frost on all the cars that pulled up to her work that day; but only one car carried him, the one with the slicked-back brown hair and light eyes that made her breath come out a little more shaky than she intended.

When he came back a day later, and then the day after that, she thought it odd that, for a particularly cold week of a particularly cold year, even for their mid-Nebraskan bones, he should continue to come for ice cream, of all things. “A twist cone” he would say, smiling with an unexpected perfect smile, which caused his slightly too large ears to raise in a way that brought a smile to her own lips before she had a chance to stop them climbing upward.

On the third day she watched him walk out of the building, the bell on the door signaling his departure; the crunch of the snow beneath his boots matching her heartbeat as it returned to its normal rhythm.  She turned her head slightly to look at her reflection in the aluminum napkin dispensers surrounding her in the tiny ice cream shop. She stared longer than she had dared to in awhile, wondering if he saw what she saw. Curly brown hair unable to be tamed, no matter how many cuts and products had promised otherwise; brown eyes that turned to honey in the sun, but looked dull and sad against her bland and stained work outfit. Her cheekbones were her pride, and she did her best to blush them into existence daily. But in this moment she also saw her double chin, and the way her tucked in shirt did nothing to hide the rolls around her belly. She turned away quickly from her reflection, and tossed aside any idea that the blue-eyed stranger would look twice her way.

On the fourth day, she glanced at his hand when she handed him his change back, and noted the lack of a ring. When she glanced up, he was staring at her, head tilted to the side a little. She felt a rush of warmth spread quickly across her face and, for a second, felt woozy where she stood, as if everything in the world had slightly shifted. She wiped her hands nervously on the rough white apron around her.

“We know each other, you know.” he said out of nowhere, breaking the heavy silence that she did not know had surrounded them.

“We… we do?” her voice caught, and she cleared her throat, glancing nervously at her co-worker who pretended not to be listening. Many conversations between the two had taken place over this new, mysterious regular customer. Her co-worker was scrubbing the same piece of sink repeatedly, clearly eavesdropping and invested in where this conversation went.

“We do.” he said matter-of-factly, twirling the cone in his fingers, bringing her attention back to him. “You went to Jefferson. I went to Bailey. I saw you at the games.”

Memories of a former life passed before her eyes, one when she would frequent the decades-long football rivalry between the two small-town high schools. Just a few miles of dirt roads separated the towns, each of them with barely a stop light each. She could almost feel the snowflakes as they brushed against her face, and the hardness of the well-worn stands where she sat, cheering with her friends. She closed her eyes quickly, and opened them back up to see the cone still twirling, his head still tilted, and those blue eyes still inquisitively watching her.

“I did go to those games,” she acknowledged quietly. “But that feels like a lifetime ago.” She tilted her head a bit to the side now. “But I don’t remember you.”

He shrugged, licking his ice cream. The silence seemed to drag on. Another lick. Her co-worker continued to scrub the same spot in the sink. They all jumped as the bell chimed, two boisterous customers meandering in from the blowing cold. Blue-eyed Boy, seeing an out, shot her a half-smile and a wink as he turned around and left. She felt the air deflate from her entire being as he got into his car, and she begrudgingly turned to help the customers in line.

Another bell chime, and there he was again, standing in the open doorway, cotton-white snow swirling around him.

“Carl,” he said. “My name is Carl.”

“I’m Kay”, she said, as the audience of customers and co-workers watched silently, seemingly entertained.

“I know who you are.” he said, chuckling. “Kay, would you be so kind as to accompany me on a date?”

It was snowing the day they met. It was snowing the day they began. That is how she always told their story. Snow was their beginning, and snow would be their end.

© Kristina Fiene 2020

Fiction, Youth Category. Prize $50. Winner: Abby Robbins

Dust Days, by Abby Robbins

April 14, 1935 (Black Sunday) 9:28 a.m.

My feet crunched on the uneven ground, the sound lost in the windy plains. Tendrils of dust arose behind me where my footsteps had been. I carried a bucket tucked underneath my shoulder, halfway filled with milk from my family’s remaining goat. I’d managed to get more milk from her this time. Food was scarce, and most water was filled with dust, courtesy of the dust storms that blew in almost constantly. Vaguely, I wondered why a storm hadn’t hit today. All was calm, for the time being.

I trudged the remaining steps to my house, in the back of my mind feeling lucky I could even see my house, and slowly opened the door. It creaked loudly. Dirt fell from the top of the door onto me. I stepped inside slowly and carefully, halfway because of my exhaustion, and halfway because disrupting the dust on the floor would cause another one of my sister’s coughing fits. She’d been sick since the dust storms first began. I gingerly removed the cloth that was tied around my face, covering my mouth and nose, and scrubbed some dirt off my jaw. My mother sat on the couch, which was coated with grime and filth, her head in her hands. She looked up at me with sunken eyes, sharp cheekbones, and pale, cracked lips. We’re all surviving. Not hardly living.

April 14, 1935 3:43 p.m.

The swirling dust outside was mesmerizing. Violent, but mesmerizing. It traced symbols in the air and disappeared. As I watched, darkness covered our land. A huge, deadly dust storm in the making. Within fifteen minutes, the wind was howling and dust was seeping in through the cracks. I lit a candle, only to have it promptly blow out, a gust of wind smothering its flame. Even inside the shack we called a house, wind and dust creeped through every crevice, threatening to overtake us.

My mother and sister I had ushered into the most secure corner of the house, with no windows on the two adjoining walls. I gave them damp rags to tie over their faces and then I went to shove more rags in the seams around the house that were allowing the most dust in. A rag to the west wall, one to the north window. Another to the corner by the roof. I sealed as many as I could. Then I went and sat down by my family.

April 14, 1935 5:07 p.m.

The door blew open. I wasn’t fast enough getting up, my creaky limbs causing me to stumble as I rushed to the door. I wasn’t fast enough to close it before millions of grains of sand and dust blew in. Wasn’t fast enough to help my sister before her slight wheezing and soft coughs turned into loud, racking coughs that shook her slight figure. Every inhale was a wheeze and every exhale turned into gagging. Knowing there wasn’t anything I could do, I returned and sat down beside her, hoping her coughs would subside.

Less than a half hour later, I leaned my head against the wall behind me. The wind outside was like a lullaby, gently ushering me to sleep. Exhausted, I closed my eyes.

© Abby Robbins 2020

Nonfiction. Prize $50. Winner: Caro Hedge

A Scrap of History, By Caro Hedge

When the Battle of Atlanta was over, the Union had won, but at various points the Confederates had held sway and had some victories, one of which was a fight with the Third Iowa which left only a few of the soldiers of the Third alive.  Sargent Griffith, who carried the regimental banner for Iowa, had died with it in his hand.  The Southern soldiers gathered up the flag and the men and marched them off.  What was left of the 16th Iowa were also rounded up. Almost all the prisoners were wounded. Those who could helped those more severely injured as they were forced to march away from the bloody field.

Charles and another soldier held up his good friend Duane as they struggled along. Duane had been shot in the arm and was still losing blood. It stained the uniforms of both his helpers and dripped into the dust of the road. The Rebs shouted orders and prodded them along, but the prisoners were mostly silent. They were able to bind up some of the wounds with strips torn from shirts.

Like Charles, Duane had enlisted as a teenager and had been a soldier throughout the war. They served four hard years, and yet were barely out of their teens when captured.

They were marched into Atlanta on July 22, 1864, under a strong guard, and paraded through the heart of the city. Decorations and bunting fluttered along the route, which was crowded with citizens, out to see and mock the captured Yankees. The crowd was mostly women and children, some of them quite vocal.

One lady called out to the major who was escorting the prisoners, “Major, isn’t this about all (that is left) of the Yankee army? Don’t you think the war will be over soon?” This was about the nicest of the remarks and taunts being showered on the prisoners. These citizens were not aware that their side had just lost the Battle of Atlanta. There was a band playing Dixie and other patriotic southern songs.

Under this scrutiny the prisoners stood as tall as they were able and to counter the music and taunts they sang “Daisy Dean” a new song at the time, and as the Third Iowa was known for having some fine voices, it was well done. They followed that with the “Star Spangled Banner,” sung in parts, and done so well that a few of the Southerners even cheered, although that was quickly suppressed. Then, apparently just to be ornery, they sang, from start to finish, “John Brown’s Body.” (They didn’t forget the lines, “We’ll hang Jeff Davis on the sour apple tree as we go march along.”)

The natives were not impressed. One of the ladies called out, “Major, aren’t you ashamed to sit there and see us insulted in this way by these miserable Yankees? …If you had spark of manhood you would put a stop to it!”

Her criticism seems to have annoyed the major, who did indeed have a spark of manhood, and who told the prisoners, “Whoop it up boys, sing louder.” During this time, however, the rebel who was carrying the Iowa’s captured flag had been waving it about, and at this point he threw it into the dust and walked on it.

The loud singing had covered some whispers among the prisoners, and at a signal, they jumped onto this man, grabbed the flag from him and retreated a few feet. The first man who snatched up the flag tore it in half and tossed one half to a friend, then tore the half he had again. Each man ripped the piece he received in half and passed half on, so that in only a few moments it had been reduced to almost nothing. Other men had fought with the guards to give the others a chance for this to happen. Each man who had some hid the fragments in his clothing.

Order was quickly restored, as the prisoners were quite outnumbered. After the melee some of the rebel guards, without orders, aimed their guns into the crowd of prisoners and shouted they would shoot unless each piece of that flag was returned, but the major drew his own revolver and threatened to shoot the first man who fired without his orders. His men backed down, and the prisoners, now in even worse shape, were quickly marched away.

The Iowa men were taken to military prisons, and Charles, Duane, and some of the others were kept in the infamous and horrifying Andersonville for six months.  Although starved, dirty and sick, those men managed to hang onto their fragments of the flag. Some who died might have been buried with theirs, although the clothing of the dead was sometimes removed before burial for use by other prisoners. No doubt more than a few scraps fell into the mud at Andersonville and were lost.

There were efforts years later to collect up the pieces and put them together again, but none of the men wished to give up their fragments. They had become a symbol, more than a souvenir. Many of the men carried the pieces with them all their lives, until they were colorless scraps and fell apart.

Charles recovered from his ordeal in Andersonville and returned to his native Iowa, where he settled down, married and went into business. He even became mayor of his town of Winterset. Then, in 1886, when he was a middle aged man with seven children, he went with friends and family on a trip to the west, where they stopped to look at the booming town of Lamar. Lamar had been in existence only a few months. It so impressed him that Charles Goodale, who usually went by the initials C.C. went back home, served out his term as mayor and in April of 1887 moved his family to Lamar. An attorney, he became one of the leading citizens, dealing in real estate, banking, law, and eventually serving as a judge.  He built a building, still standing, at the corner of Main and Olive, now called the Wilson Building. Part of Lamar’s residential area is built on his homestead which became the Goodale Addition. He and other investors funded the first electric light plant in Lamar. He spent the rest of his life here except for the four years he was based on Denver when he served as the Surveyor General of Colorado and Wyoming. He was an acquaintance of Andrew Carnegie and was instrumental in getting Lamar the Carnegie library.

His friend Duane DeVee Finch settled in Trinidad, Colorado, where he is buried. He never regained the use of his arm injured in the war. His family credits his survival to his friend Goodale, who tended the wound and stayed by his side in Andersonville. Mr. Finch moved to Trinidad not long after the war and he and Goodale sporadically kept in touch. In 1904, 40 years after the war, Goodale returned to the battle site and prison. He dug a bullet out of a tree and sent it to his friend. Then, in 1906, Judge Goodale sent to Finch one or more pieces of the Third Iowa flag.  One was about 1 ½ inch square, a bit of red silk and blue banner. Goodale had carried it with him through his time at the Andersonville and Florence prisons, but it probably wasn’t his only scrap of the flag. Are there other fragments in Lamar, tucked away in a trunk or drawer, lost to history?

Finch’s great-great grandson has what he thinks may be the only fragments left of this flag; he can find no accounts of others existing. No doubt the scraps were discarded through the years by those who didn’t know what those tiny bits of cloth represented. For Duane Finch’s descendant, they are among the most precious things he owns.

The information above is from correspondence with the great-grandson and from an article printed in the Lamar Register on November 21, 1906. 

© Caro Hedge 2020

Poetry. Prize $25. Winner: Katrina Machetta

Home, by Katrina Machetta

The sound of the unfamiliar language.

The smell of pasta and fish in the market.

The sight of old photographs with people

we never talk about anymore.

The place I call home

but

Never put as my permanent address.

The brokenness we never talk about is why I keep coming.

The yesterday that no one remembers

formed the today that people always talk about.

I love every flaw because that is when I realized what beautiful really means.

I want to show you my gratitude but money can’t buy a thank you or I love you.

We could talk today,

but I don’t want to get stuck on our yesterday.

Just open your arms-

because tomorrow I will be home.

© Katrina Machetta 2020

Six Word Story, Pandemic. Prize $25. Winner: Delano Britt

By Delano Britt

Not rushing, not masking, peace, confidence.

© Delano Britt 2020

Short, Short Story, Week 1. Prize $10. Winner: Katie Smotherman

The Magic Lamp, by Katie Smotherman

“Damien, you’re my best friend and all, but seriously?  A magic lamp?”

Damien wiggled his eyebrows and turned to continue on his quest.  “I know it’s here, and if this is anything like my dream, there’s a chamber down there and that’s where it will be.” He gently opened the half-sized door and gestured for me to lead the way.

“Fine,” I said and held down the button to illuminate my flashlight. “Over here?” I asked and continued on when I received his approval.

At the far end, he crouched down and to our amazement, there it was. A trap door.

“Okay, this is getting weird.” I said and found myself even surprised by my words.

Damien grinned up at me. “I knew it would be here.” He fumbled around a bit more before I saw it. A blue, pristine velvet bag was cradled in his hands.

“Damien,” I whispered and couldn’t help the uneasy feeling that shot through my body. “I don’t know about this.”

I’m pretty sure neither one of us breathed when he pulled out a shiny, gold lamp. “Here goes nothing.”

One, two, three rubs and we waited.

“Hmm,” he replied and started to lift the little top on the lamp.  “Wait, there’s something in here.”

Gently, he pulled a small piece of paper out. “What does it say?” I asked and peered over his shoulder as he opened the small note.

In big, bold letters read the phrase, ‘APRIL FOOLS!

© Katie Smotherman 2020

Short, Short Story, Week 2. Prize $10. Winner: Mikeal Hook

Easter Traditions, by Mikeal Hook

Easter traditions are fun and we got a robot for Easter and we had a big lunch. And also got so much money and a bunch of candy. Weston got bunny eggs and Lane and Tanisha and Tailee and we got some cake, popcorn, candy and we got a letter and Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny have the same handwriting.

© Mikeal Hook 2020

Short, Short Story, Week 3. Prize $10. Winner: Devyn Smotherman

Dark & Stormy Night, by Devyn Smotherman

“It was a dark and stormy night …” whispered Shelly.

“Awwww, I hate this story,” whined Sammy as she stood in the doorway.

“What did mom say about interrupting my sleepovers,” Shelly said.

“But, mom said I could come in here,” Sammy chimed quietly.

“Just, go play with your dolls!” snapped Shelly while Sammy sulked away. “As I was saying, it was a dark and stormy night. A pair of best friends, Elly and Ally, were having a sleepover painting their nails and eating chips, when suddenly they heard three knocks on the front door,” Shelly proclaimed. “They answered the door but nobody was there. They continued with their games then, they heard three knocks again no one was there. The same thing happened over the next 10 minutes. They began to worry. They searched for Ally’s parents. They were nowhere to be found. “Maybe they went out for dinner?” said Elly. All of the sudden, there were three knocks once again. They slowly opened the door and peeked outside. Standing in front of them was… THE HEADLESS HORSE!

“The girls were never seen again.” Shelly finished.

Then there were three bangs coming from the hall. “It’s probably the pizza man.”

They walked to the door and when they pulled the door open there was the headless horse. They both screamed as Shelly’s little sister popped out of the horse costume. “I told you I wanted to play!”

© Devyn Smotherman 2020

Short, Short Story, Week 4. Prize $10. Winner: Caro Hedge

Perfect, by Caro Hedge

“So. What have you been doing with yourself?” asked Aunt Emma. There was a combination of interest and boredom in her voice. I wondered how many relatives she had called today before she called her youngest niece. Probably well over a dozen. We didn’t speak on the phone often. Much less chat. Which seemed to be what she had in mind.

I hadn’t actually talked to anyone in two days, though, so I said, “I’ve been cataloging my rock collection. Reading. Listening to music. You know. Things like that.” She never heard my answer, because all she actually wanted was a chance to launch into her own narrative about how she was so very very bored, forced to stay inside, and she’d been reduced to doing housework and cooking things with way too many calories, and gained so much weight and her husband was never home and…okay, so I didn’t listen all that hard as I went back to polishing a very nice chunk of jasper which I tucked into the very last square of the display tray before I screwed on the lid.

I let her talk as long as she wanted because that’s what she needed, but really, we were so different. I didn’t mind being alone. I looked around my room. I had Queen on the old turntable. I finally had time to curate my rocks collection. I had 27 rolls of toilet paper. So, you know. Rock and Roll. Perfect.

© Caro Hedge 2020

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