WORD by WORD

~ WCSC’s 2nd Annual Short Fiction Contest ~ 

 

We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s contest:

1st place – If You Leap AwakeAndrew Lee

2nd place – So This is How It EndsTracey Richardson

3rd place – Helen Finds Her Way to AfterKevin Craig

Thanks to everyone who submitted!

We’re thrilled to publish our top three stories:

If You Leap Awake by Andrew Lee

My medical career began like this:

I was at a parade with my little sister, watching the floats and marching bands. I was seven years old. A man in a heavy coat walked into the middle of the street, unbuttoned his coat to reveal small packages around his chest and then he raised his hands, as if to bring them together. I never saw them meet. Instead my face was pressed hard against the chest of my father, as he grabbed my sister and I and held us to him. His powerful arms huddled us into a ball, his body between us and the man on the street. Then there was the flash. It was so bright that I still swear that I couldn’t hear anything, not the explosion, not impacts on bodies, not cries, not until minutes afterwards. My little sister, only three, cried because she didn’t know why daddy grabbed her so roughly. He had seen something that others hadn’t, something only he and I had noticed.

Like a fist uncurling, he opened his arms and stood up slowly. The pavement was blackened where the man had been, and bodies, hard to tell man, women, children, lay thrown about. My father looked around at the scene without a word. He turned his back on me and I saw that his black, wool coat had been torn away, along with the skin of his back, and blood ran down it like a slow waterfall. He kissed each of us and checked our untouched bodies. Even then I knew that luck and chance, the divine of all religions, the universe, fate, the love of my mother, the protection of my teddy bears, and my father had all conspired to save our lives. He stood up again and looked around before saying, “We need to help now.” It was a moment before I realized that he meant me too.

My little sister clung to his leg and I trailed along as he went person to person, checking for life, assessing damage. We’d walked through a door together and deep inside he knew it would be better to learn this new and frightening world together than pretend we could go back. He placed the hands of the dying and the injured in my little hands. I held their fingers, touched their cheeks, as he tied ripped shirts around bleeding stumps, pressed wads of cloth against bubbling holes. We didn’t talk except when he whispered to me, “Tell them it will be alright.” Trusting only my father in the moment, I nodded quietly and repeated the phrase again and again through the next hour until it became my heartbeat. Their eyes searched my face, and some murmured about angels.
I know that at some point much later I asked my father if he knew how many had survived, and without looking up he said that it didn’t matter. I thought of nightmares I had had, and my mother holding me in her arms, though the fear persisted.

“I am with you,” she would say, “you are safe.”

My father finally accepted medical aid when he stumbled to one knee and could not rise. The blood loss had been terrible. We seldom talked, my father and I, about that day, but when he kissed me before bed he began to call me little angel. The dreams about that day have become less now, and my sleep less broken. They come back more often in times of stress, in university, during my final medical exams, on late nights in my residency. In those dreams I don’t feel the chest of my father pressing against me, or the clinging of my sister. In those dreams I stand alone on the sidewalk, and I see the man’s hands come together.


So This Is How It Ends by Tracey Richardson

So this is how it ends, Elaine thinks. Knows. Finally, the one secret not revealed to us until it happens, she has been gifted. Or cursed. For Elaine Dalton knows now when she will die. Oh, not the precise date, but the how and the approximation of when. About six months, the doctor has just told her. Even though she knew better, she’d pressed him to come up with a number. Now she is a carton of milk stamped with a best before date. She has a shelf life, and it’s not long.

His words are still pinballing through her mind—cancer, incurable, inoperable, terminal. They are like the ear-splitting echoes of an iron gate that has crashed down. A gate that says she will go no further. She stands, sits again because her body knows not what to do even as her mind spins like an arcade game.

As a kid she would ponder how and when her life would end, but as part of the same abstract, dream-like whorl in which she would contemplate what kind of man she would marry or what kind of house she might live in one day. None of it meant anything because it was so far off, and anyway, she was the architect of her future, not chance or fate. She would craft the details of her life. She would decide when and what and how things ended.

She closes her eyes for a moment to absorb that she no longer has a say in how her life plays out to its end. Her life’s journey is something she always visualized as a ribbon. Satiny smooth, sometimes straight, sometimes curling and looping around, but always long and spooling out for as far as the eye can see. Who doesn’t think their life will expire like a long, languid sunset slowly sinking into the sea?

“I’m sorry, Elaine,” the doctor says, and she thinks, what is he sorry for? It is she who feels sorry, like she’s let herself, her life, down by getting sick. She realizes with a knot of dread in her stomach that she has failed. Is failing. She will fail to survive this.

Elaine wants to cry, but she won’t give this stupid disease the satisfaction. It’s already taken her tomorrows but it won’t take her tears, her soul. It’s her enemy now and it has a name. Glioblastoma. A malignant brain tumour in her cerebral hemisphere that started as small as a grain of sand. It’s a marble now, a big marble with too many blood vessels running through it to operate on it safely. In her mind she scrolls through all she knows about the astrocytoma, and it doesn’t fit. She’s only forty-four. And a woman. Glioblastoma is a man’s affliction, an older man’s affliction. What is it doing in her central nervous system? How can this have happened?

“I know what you’re thinking,” he says, and it stings her that he should be so glib, so arrogant at this moment.

She wants to tell him he can’t possibly know, but all she can manage is, “what?”

“That this can’t happen to people like us.”

People like us? People like what? She has only one thing in common with this man, is that what he’s talking about? He thinks they’re better than the patients? More deserving of life? The conceit! The self-righteousness of him! She’s not one of him anymore. No. She’s like Steve Benson now, a sixty-four-old man with a thick head of hair and an impish twinkle in his gray eyes who was given a similar fate last year. His words—part wonder, part astonishment—repeat in her mind now like the needle of a record player skipping in place: It was like I blinked and my life was over.
She stands up, reeling a little. Maybe from the tumour. Every little thing now, she’ll think is the tumour growing, getting worse. “I need to get back to work.”

“Elaine, wait. You need time to—”

“No. I don’t.” Time is the one thing she doesn’t have anymore.

She plucks her stethoscope off his desk, drapes it around her neck, tries to smooth out the wrinkles in her rumpled lab coat.

“Look, at least—”

She throws up a hand to stop him from saying anything more. He means well, but she doesn’t want to hear his suggestions because she already knows what they are. They are the very same things she’s told her patients over the years. The same useless things.

She stumbles into the hall. It’s late, and the only person left working besides her and the doctor she’s just seen is Merl. His stick-like body is a question mark over his mop, and they almost look connected, like a tripod of sorts. He stops cleaning when he sees her, pales a little at what most be the ashen look of her face. She knows what she looks like because she can feel the tingling of bloodlessness in her cheeks, the tic of her fluttering eyelid that’s like the frantic beating of a butterfly’s wings. Her mouth won’t close because it’s too choked up with disbelief, with denial, with anger.

“You okay, doc?”

She shakes her head.

Merl smiles, a wobbly one, like he’s not sure if she’s joking or serious. He stands up a bit straighter, leans on the mop. He’s calm. Steady. He’s a man who knows what the rest of the evening will bring. Finish mopping the floors, then once they’re dry, he’ll polish them with the electric floor polisher. After that, he’ll wipe down all the surfaces with a disinfectant. Then home to a can of beer, a late night talk show perhaps. She envies the confidence, the reassurance his routine brings him.

“But you will be,” he says in a voice gentle and lilting, like he’s speaking to a child.

“Not really,” she says enigmatically. She doesn’t want to—can’t—pretend she’s fine. But she doesn’t want to tell anyone the truth. Not while she’s still so hollowed out, so raw from the sharpness of it.

Merl’s smile grows until it’s as big and open as a split watermelon. “All right doc. But the thing is, you’ll be okay today. And today’s all we got. Right?”

She smiles back uncertainly, not because she doubts what he says, but because smiling feels inappropriate, weird, like she’s agreeing with him. “Right. Today’s all we’ve got.”

Outside, the summer is rotting like the dried, curling leaves of a corn stalk. Inside, she’s as ripe and sharp as new growth, even though she knows that starting over is a task she is no longer up to. Today, yes, today she’s okay. And that, she decides with desperate determination, will be enough.


Helen Finds Her Way to After by Kevin Craig

Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to continue. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago.

Must keep walking. It had become a mantra Helen hated just as much as she needed.

Helen’s left baby toenail had fallen off two days earlier, somewhere between Sarria and Portomarin. She had mourned for a moment before bandaging up what was left and carrying on. Must keep walking. Rationality had left her long ago.

“Buen Camino,” a couple mumbled in tandem as they passed her by on a narrow dirt pathway leading to a cobbled bridge. Their walking sticks click-click-clicked as they walked by without looking up from the uneven ground.
“Buen Camino,” she said before reentering her gloomy thoughts.

Her tested spirit persevered. Much like her lost toenail, Helen had also been abandoned mid-journey. The nail was cast aside on the road to Santiago de Compostela, as she herself had been cast aside along the road of life. The walk was her way of proving she didn’t need a man for the rest of her life’s journey.

At sixty-three, Helen had convinced herself she was still young enough for this walk. What she hadn’t prepared for was the sheer physical endurance required. Sure, she trained. But mostly she talked about how spiritual it would be, how contemplative and restorative. How she would set stones on the mile-markers, meet pilgrims from the world over, drink café con leche with strangers until they became friends. It was so romantic and dreamy, so spiritually uplifting.

So foolish.

Yesterday had been her shortest walk yet. From Melide to Arzúa. The guidebook had said three hours. Helen had walked it in five, which was only half the time she normally spent on the road each day. Every day dwindled closer to nothingness, to failure, to quitting.

Also, to the cathedral, she reminded herself.

Helen cursed the Google at her fingertips as much as she once praised it. An hour into her walk from Arzúa, she spotted a cafe and decided to stop. Already. Her phone told her she was seven hours from Santiago, but it may as well have been a year. Yesterday’s defeat threatened today’s goal of reaching the Promiseland of the cathedral. Had she not given up early yesterday, she’d be so much closer.

She clicked on the car in Google Maps that would switch the journey’s time from walking to driving. Half an hour. It would be so easy. Who would even know she cheated?

She entered the cafe to a round of, “Buen Camino.” She smiled and returned the now deeply ingrained salutation. She feared she would continue using it long after her walk was over.

Helen got her café con leche, along with a Camino stamp for her booklet, sat at the first available table and put her head down and cried.

“Miss Helene. My, my.” She knew the voice immediately. Mathieu, the ‘profit’ from her evening in Ponferrada. That evening’s group bestowed the nickname upon him. That was so many days ago. She had aged a decade since Ponferrada. He sounded twice as chipper now and filled with a sympathy she much appreciated.

She lifted her head and looked up into his generous face.

“Certainly, it isn’t as bad as that, no? Whatever it is, Helene, we can get through it together. Today, we reach de Compostela. The beauty at the end of the journey. The sun awaits. As does its pretty sister, the moon.”
“Oh, Mathieu,” Helen began. “You make everything sound beautiful. I just want to punch you in the face.”
Helen smiled to show she was kidding, then joined in with Mathieu’s laughter.

“This is my fifth Camino. I have been where you are. How are your feet taking you?”

Helen smiled at his broken English, took a drink and motioned to an empty chair. “Please, sit. I’ll tell you my story of woe.”

“We are on the journey’s joyful day, Madame. The woe, we leave it behind. In our dust, as they say.” He sat down with his own cup of café con leche.

They spoke for several minutes while Helen regained her courage to walk. She knew Mathieu would not sit idle long. She rose first, inviting him to join her. The reunion of their companionship made her lighter on her feet. Anything to forget the throb of her angry blisters and the simmering howl that now resided where the nail once lived.

They walked in silence for an hour then two and then three, breaking it only for light chit-chat and the odd “Buen Camino” offered to their fellow peregrinos. With Mathieu at her side, Helen was able to continue. She sensed the ramping excitement in her fellow pilgrims. Exhaustion dissipated as she approached the journey’s end, her earlier tears fading into Camino memory.

“What is after this, Helene?”

“I concentrated on this for so long, I never thought of an after.” She hadn’t realized her lack of a plan until that very moment. After a lifetime with David, and of raising Meagan, she had come to a complete standstill. She had mourned the end of her marriage as she had planned her walk to Santiago. She hadn’t had the energy for anything else. David’s affair—and his eventual departure—had zapped her of everything. “How utterly foolish of me.”

“Not foolish at all, my Helene.” Their pace had quickened. They now passed others where earlier others had passed them. “The Camino calls. We listen. We go. What happens later may depend on what happens now. You will find out in Emerald City, yes?”

She turned to catch his wink. She recalled the lively discussion she had begun back in Ponferrada about how the Camino mirrored The Wizard of Oz. The group had excitedly agreed with her. They had sat at a table in a piazza beside a 12th century Templar’s castle, eating stone-oven pizza. The yellow brick road, the journey to Oz. A heart. A brain. The nerve. The movie reflected their journey. She had confessed then that it was nerve she sought. Courage.
“We walk in silence,” Mathieu said. “While you find your after.”

“I like you, Mathieu. You are the profit we teased you of being.”

“I am just an old man with the luxury of walking outside the busyness of life. I am happy, but I would trade this to have back my wife. I’d share with her this magic, yes.”

“Indeed,” Helen said, shaking off the last of that morning’s misery. Rather than sympathize with him, she dropped down into the silence he suggested and together they continued at their quickened pace.

Helen later thought, it’s happening today. Soon. Her earlier thoughts of cheating and hiring a car returned to her. She scorned that idea now as a kind of treason against her resolve. She knew the nerve she had hoped to attain upon reaching the cathedral already lived inside her. The Way of St. James wasn’t about receiving gifts at the end of the yellow arrows, just as the way to the Wizard wasn’t about receiving gifts at the end of the yellow brick road. Both were about the discovery of self along the way.

“There, Helene,” Mathieu yelled, awakening Helen from her reverie. “Above the building there. See? The spire. Helene, we made it.”

Through tears Helen marched onward, the cathedral mere blocks away. After all those days. The pain in her feet dissipated as she glimpsed the spire. They soldiered on. About them, the streets began to fill, to clog with familiar faces. Marta and Gabriel from Brazil. Hans from Belgium. Miguel. Sarah from San Francisco. Marc from Montreal. They emerged from the crowds moving in a steady stream towards the cathedral. Despite Helen’s lack of support back home, she had found a way. She had found her way.

As Helen turned the corner that led to the piazza on which the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral stood, she became separated from Mathieu. The crowds of peregrinos shifted and began to swallow him up. Before turning towards the cathedral, she heard his parting words.

“From here your life begins, my Helene. Keep walking. Find your after.”

She didn’t know what her after would be, but she knew she would find it. Her newly formed courage was all she needed. She turned her gaze to the façade of the church and fell to her knees before it.

“I can do anything.”

 

The shortlist for the 2017 contest is as follows (in no particular order):

If You Leap Awake  – Andrew Lee
Nobody Knows How Much I Love You – Dean Gessie
Helen Finds Her Way to After – Kevin Craig
So This Is How It Ends  – Tracey Richardson
Firm Roots  – Sarah Law

The above titles will be judged by Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency and we will be announcing the winners at our June 18 meeting. The winners will be posted on this site later that day.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted and for your interest in our contest. Keep Writing!

 

carly-watters

The Contest is now Closed. Thank you everyone for your submissions!

We had a fantastic turn out this year and will announce the short list at our May 28 meeting.

The shortlist will be posted here later the same day.

The winners will be announced at our June 18 meeting.

 

1st Prize: $500. 2nd Prize: $250. 3rd Prize: $100.

All winning entries will receive commentary by Carly Watters and publication on the WCSC website

 

Guidelines for Submission:

Original unpublished work

Only unpublished work is eligible for this competition and entrants must declare that their entry is their own, original unpublished/unperformed work. Previous publication is considered to include on or in a newspaper, newsletter, magazine, anthology, chapbook, book, website, play or theatrical performance, electronic magazine, personal blog, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Previous performance is considered to include published videos and performances at previous competitions.

Note:  Even if the print run or circulation of the print publication where the work has previously appeared is small, this is still considered previous publication. No work that has been excerpted elsewhere is eligible for submission; nor is a work that has been revised since its original publication.

*2015 Winners of WCSC’s Word by Word Short Prose Contest are ineligible. Winners must wait one year after they win to enter the next contest.*

Judging

Judging is anonymous. Entrant’s name and contact details must appear in the body of the email but not on the entry.

All entries will initially be judged by preliminary round judges who will select the semi-finalists. The winning entries will be chosen by Carly Watters of P.S. Literary Agency. No correspondence will be entered into regarding her decision.

Notification

Winners will be officially notified by email and phone and the winning entries will be published on the WCSC website.

Copyright

The author retains the copyright to his or her work.

Length

Maximum 1500 Words, excluding title. No minimum. Submissions exceeding the word count will be disqualified.

Format

Entries must be in English, double-spaced 12 point font.

The title must appear in the header of each entry but, to ensure that judging of the entries is blind, the author’s name must not appear anywhere on the text. Ensure your pages are numbered.

 

The body of the email includes:

  1. Title
  2. Author’s name
  3. Mailing address
  4. Email address
  5. Telephone number
  6. Word count

DECLARATION

  • I hereby certify that the short story submitted by me to the WCSC Writing Competition was written by me, and is my own original unpublished work. It has not been previously published or appeared in print or on the internet, whether commercially or self-published, nor has it been accepted for publication elsewhere.
    The short story submitted by me does not contain material that infringes the rights of anyone else, and there is no legal impediment to its publication.
    The name I have used to submit the short story or work of creative nonfiction submitted by me is my own name and not a pseudonym, and the contact details I have provided are my own contact details.
    Should the short story or work of creative nonfiction titled submitted by me be selected to receive a prize, the WCSC shall have an irrevocable license to publish the story online at: http://simcoewriters.ca

 

 

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