Monday, February 8, 2016

2016 Their First and Last Dance by Yelexi Pena

First Place in Prose wins $300

         And so they danced, with nothing but the sound of their hearts and the crunching grass beneath their feet to guide them. The two moved as one, time around them fading into non-existence. The moons shining down upon them with their melancholy glow. Hair as black as ink, the ravenette leaned heavily against his partner as his body grew weaker and weaker with each step. Blood as black as his hair soaked through his shirt, but still they danced on. Hair as white as fresh snow, the dark elf held his best friend, his only friend, close to hold the other up in an increasingly failing attempt at finishing their dance.

         Back and forth they moved, their feet turning in synch, their bodies moving in circles around the forest clearing when finally, with his blood loss too great, the ravenette stumbled sideways and his friend moved with him to slow his descent to the ground. It was when he was set down, the upper half of his body caged protectively in his best friends’ arms, that a weak laugh made its way passed his lips. The dark elf gave him a look filled with agonizing despair and utter disbelief. “How in all the worlds do you find anything about this situation laughable?” he asked, voice breaking half way through. He stared down into his friends duel colored eyes searching for something, though he wasn’t entirely sure as to what.

         The snow haired elf wanted to scream at the sky and moons, he wanted to scream out his rage and frustrations because this wasn’t fair. He wanted to cry, wanted to cry out all the pain until he was nothing but numb and then cry even harder, but all he could do was uselessly hold on to his friends dying body as he bled out from his stomach because he knew that they were too far from anyone who could help, too far from anyone who could fix this. His friend just laughed again before answering, “All our lives people kept telling us that we were gonna be the death of each other. I’d just never thought that they would be right in such a literal way.” His tone was joking and voice raspy, but the elf couldn’t stop himself from flinching back as if the words had been accusing and screamed at him. Immediately his shirt collar was being grabbed and he was pulled down so the ravenette could glare at him effectively, “Don’t you do that. Keyzin don’t you dare blame yourself for this. I don’t.” Keyzin could do nothing but bite his lip, his voice failing him. Instead he took hold of the hand grasping his collar and held it as if it were his own life line. It might as well have been.

         Tears burned at the elves lightning blue eyes and his breath kept getting caught in his throat but he managed to hold back. If his best friend was dying with that stupid self-assured grin of his then Keyzin had no right to cry. Not now, no matter how much he wanted to. He had to at least pretend to be brave about this. He’d give himself the luxury of crying later, alone, and as loud as he possibly could.

         Minutes passed silently between them as the moons slowly passed overhead, lighting the clearing in a soft glow. The ravenette broke the silence. “Hey, Key. I… need you to promise me something. A few somethings, actually,” he grunted out, shifting his position. Keyzin just nodded silently, not trusting the strength of his voice. “Right now, you have to swear to me. Swear to me that after I pass over the next time I see your face is when you pass as an old and wrinkled man.” Keyzin closed his eyes shaking his head pathetically, and whimpered out a broken voiced response, “You can’t ask me that, Nal. Without you everything’s just gonna get harder and I’m not strong enough to handle it on my own, I’m not. Without you I wouldn’t be here now; Nal don’t make me promise.” But Nal just smiled weakly and Keyzin knew he’d lost the argument before it begun. Tears burning hotter in his eyes and vision swimming he choked out the words, “I swear”. He didn’t know how he was going to be able to keep moving forward in his life without his best friend by his side, but he had to find a way somehow. His word was his own law.

         Nal’s smile changed. His eyes glittered with unshed tears and his breathing caught in his throat. He couldn’t keep this up. He brought their laced hands over his face in an attempt to hide before giving his final request, his voice filled with fear. “Just stay with me, please? I don’t wanna be alone and it hurts and I’m so s-scared and dammit all I’m not ready to die.” And they broke. Keyzin couldn’t hold his tears back any longer and they fell as he pulled his best friend closer, crying silently. Clutching Keyzin’s hand painfully, Nals own tears slid down his face heavy sobs painfully ripped their way passed his throat.

         They stayed like that; time around them moving forward once again and soon Nal’s sobs died down into silence. His body limp and breathing nonexistent but Keyzin refused to open his eyes, refused to accept this reality. He thought, maybe, if he wished hard enough, if he didn’t accept it, then it wouldn’t be real. But Nal’s body began to grow cold in his arms and the moons began to set, only to be replaced by the dawning sun. It was when the suns first rays of light touched his dark skin that he opened his eyes and was forced to look down at his best friends’ corpse.

         Gripping Nal’s body impossibly tighter he lay his head on his still chest, gasping for breath as his world sank into silence. And then, finally, he screamed.

2016 “Abebe, it is Time to Go” by Celeste Camire

Second Place in Prose wins $50

         Abebe washed thoroughly before he acted on Dr. Abraham’s call to meet him in the office. Concentrating on this task, he made sure not to miss one millimeter of surface on his small hands. Surprisingly strong and well-defined, the minor muscles were taut and veins bulged over his smooth brown skin. Abebe’s hands were evidence of the years of hard work his young life endured, carrying water three miles to and from the well to his home. These days, Abebe’s home was not away from the village, but was the small clinic in Lagos where he also worked, tending to the sick and dying, gleaning knowledge and skill from the nurses and Dr. Abraham. Thoughts of his family came to him as he looked at the deep lines that creased and grooved the flesh of his palms. Lifelines. Memories that soothed as an invisible analgesic, steadied him in his task.

In his fifteen years, Abebe had been a diligent, dutiful son. He respected his mother who vitally placed him at the head of their family. He followed her rule and cared for his siblings to ensure their safety. He took over field work for his errant, drunken father who was the first to succumb to the virus.  He thought of his family and their flimsy home, dirt floor, open windows which were a blessing and a bane. Wonderful open sweetness when soft breezes blew, but terrible gaping maws when the air was stifling and insects invaded the crowded space, or the summer rains drove water like a funnel, a river, though their hut, across the floor and through the open door. Then greater tragedy struck, and they crept from their village to the city of Lagos for help.

Altogether stricken by Ebola, and very ill, unlike the rest of his family Abebe survived, he was now immune. At the clinic, he had reaped the benefits of care and at great cost. He knew, because he was told, of the weeks that nurses helped him cling to life while his mother, brothers and sisters perished. Perhaps he should not have brought them all here, to this forsaken hospital where the virus seemed to grow and multiply, killing dozens daily. He felt complicit in their deaths. Abebe knew that he was now healthy, and it was likely time for him to go. But this place now is home. He wanted to belong, but perhaps they didn’t think the same. Maybe he was in the way.

Dr. Abraham waited in his office that was not really an office. It was more of a necessary afterthought compilation of space, set off from the hospital kitchen and separated from the storeroom by a clothesline draped with faded blankets and towels donated by the W.H.O. He was not only an M.D., but a great man to be respected, mayor-like; a Justice of the Peace, and his court smelled of moldy bread and cheese. However, smells were not the issue at hand: the pervasive, overpowering war against Ebola was truly more the stench of blood, unrequited hope and death. The odor of Government cheese became microscopic.

Abebe entered the space quietly, with his hands held up in front of him, fingers curled and palms toward his chest, as if entering a surgery. Dr. Abraham customarily, begged him to be seated, “It’s time we have a talk,” said Dr. Abraham quietly while he looked solemnly at Abebe.  Abebe was confused by Dr. Abraham’s unusual tone. He carefully reviewed the events of the day and could find no fault within himself. He wondered, did the nurses have a complaint? In the days following his illness, Abebe strove to meet every need and unspoken directive. He taught himself to anticipate the next task or possibly, the next diagnosis.

The nurses treated him as a steward whose job was to fetch and carry. How could he know the nurses’ motives intended to strengthen him? After each accomplished assignment, he was regarded solemnly and then set with another. He never failed, nor did he receive praise or reward. He worked daily under their watchful eyes and the guidance of Dr. Abraham: given their tutelage, he existed and thrived.  

Dr. Abraham watched as Abebe wrestled with his thoughts. Stoically, he observed their surroundings and wondered to himself, “What is here for the boy?” Dr. Abraham searched for paperwork on his table, usually arranged neatly, but today was a difficult day. He noticed the pattern of the blanket, a swirl of white blobs that represented peace, repeated on a solid sky blue background, and curling, red-colored two-legged images against vibrant orange that symbolized energy. He recognized the symbolism also, of Abebe’s own name: Blossomed; grown. He held his anxiety within and began softly, “Abebe, we must talk about your future.”

“Dr. Abraham, what have I done wrong?”

Dr. Abraham smiled in quiet amazement at this young man’s humility.

“Actually, Abebe, it is what you have done right. You have learned much here, but there is more in the world for you. I cannot provide it here and you must go. It is time for you to move on. By this I mean, that your future path is surely mapped out as the constellations are in the skies or as these symbols on this tapestry of towels, and your very name. You will go to school. You will be educated.”

“You will become a doctor yourself, and return here if you desire.  To this end, I will finance your education. Simply agree, and it is yours.  I am regretful to let you go, and hopeful that you will. My wish is that you will return. Are you ready?”


2016 The Bookshelf by Zoe Skowronski

First Place Winner in Poetry wins $300

My love for you is jaundiced like the pages of a book untouched, and I could pry apart the pages, but I no longer crave the pain that follows.

If you were here, I might be happy, yet not nearly as accomplished, because my sadness is the most beautiful artist.

Happiness inspires a laziness, which I am not yet sure I want.

For now, I keep you on the bookshelf.

And I wonder if you are happy residing on that bookshelf, if another has read you, and if they better resonate with your story.

You were my favorite novel; perhaps someone else now makes that claim.

But we are not meant to read just one work in our lifetimes, even though we each acquire a partialness to a certain one.

I loved your sentences like I needed air, but I cannot love what is no longer here.

I resent you for your choice to end the story, even if it was hard for you, it was harder for me, as it was not my doing.

Still, I keep you on the bookshelf.

As I read more, I find that there is a surprising variation of words that I have never encountered before, and I like some of them almost as much as yours.

However, new words do not replace the old ones as I had anticipated; they only gain their own spots on the shelf.

I have become a library of failed relationships.

The bookshelf overflows.

2016 On Stories by Matthew Newbold

Second Place winner in Poetry Wins $50

"This story is true" says the Teller of Tales

"A truth against which reality pales

Of king and queens and mystic rings

Of starships and blasters and impossible things

Where heroes always win

Against evil and against sin

Where love never dies

And where almost no one lies

Some will scoff at what I say

Too tired to do anything but wallow in a world that's a touch too wicked, a touch too grey

But I see you hold these words in your heart-as you do!

For to believe such a tale is to strive to make it true."