Matthews Fiction Writing Contest Winners!

This  summer, Matthews Library held its very first Flash Fiction Writing Contest for adults. With our wonderful panel of judges (all gifted writers themselves), the submissions were narrowed to three overall winners and two honorable mentions. All entries had to be under 1000 words, and we received many wonderful entries. Through a blind judging process, the stories were rated in 5 overall categories: Character Development, Meaning & Connection, Language & Style, Creativity, & Clarity.  Please enjoy the following selections or pick up a copy of our published booklet at the Matthews Library.

The Exquisite Importance of Balloons (1st Place)

By Victoria Vila

The neighborhood Facebook page erupted with suburban rage:

Windy Oaks Connection

Today at 9:04 a.m.

To the cool kid that cut the “All Star” swim team balloons tied on the mailboxes for this Sunday’s meet…shame on you!

Jenny Parker Taylor: Is that what happened? Argh.

Aditya Bakshi: That is awful!

Sharon Pence: Was wondering what happened. 

Juan Soto: Grrrrrr!

Anna Ross: That is HORRIBLE

Francine Durand: Oh, this makes me so sad. Did someone actually see this happen?

Robyn Peterson: I went out for my run and noticed Kelly’s was cut, and when I ran up the street the balloon just up from me was flying away.... definitely a kid!

Valerie Anderson: What!!! Not cool! Swim team is supposed to be fun and happy!

Hank Meyer: Ours went bye bye too!! Brendan didn't even get to see it....

Francine Durand: Crazy! I wished I had taken a picture of ours.

Robyn Peterson: The only reason I know ours was cut is because it was a clean cut on the string... it wasn't frayed because of the wind... jerks!

Akeem Nassar: Happened to our boys too!

Deena M. Weber: Same for Michael’s balloon – in fact I noticed all of Glendale’s was off.

Lola Rose Cassidy: Punks with too much time on their hands. Get a job!

Susan P. Allen: So sad!!! Congrats to all the All-Star swimmers.

Juan Soto: I can't believe no one saw the kid do it.

"The kid” was now oblivious to anything but his dreams, the only sound in his room the whir of his rotating fan in the dark heat as he slept off his adventure.

  Earlier that day, his Mom had awoken in the faint morning light with a sick feeling in her stomach. How she knew, even she didn’t fully understand, but as with the other times her son had wandered from the house, the knowledge had seized her body instantly, it didn’t creep up on her, it didn’t “dawn” on her, it was just there.

 One heartbeat later, she ran to his bedroom. He was gone. She didn’t even remember bounding to the bottom of the stairs with a whispered prayer that her two young daughters would just stay asleep a while longer. Then, more sudden awareness: with her husband away on business, she had forgotten one part of the goodnight sequence – hiding the key after locking the deadbolt, just in case. Her son was 10 now, and pretty deft with his hands, impressive for someone with low tone and Down syndrome. But the thought of him leaving in the wee hours hadn’t really crossed her mind. It had been so long since he had tried to “elope,” a fancy word for the innate drive to push the body forward into the world, which often occurs in people whose minds don’t work in a linear fashion.

She ran into the street, shoeless, striking the pavement full of unexamined trust that there wouldn’t be broken glass, or needles, or even dog poop underfoot. Life in the suburbs was supposed to be free of such unpleasantries. 

Just around the corner she spotted him, her son. He wore his favorite green T-shirt (he always wore his favorite green T-shirt, even digging it out of the hamper), blue shorts, basketball sneakers, one tied and one untied – he enjoyed learning how to tie his own sneakers, but wasn’t proficient quite yet. He walked along happily, waving his arms in the air and making motions with his hands like one does when making shadow puppets, talking to himself like he was wont to do.

That’s when his Mom noticed he had something in his hands. A pair of scissors. Oh no, she thought. What had he done? In summer school with his occupational therapist, he had worked on a variety of fine motor tasks, including the shoe tying and cutting with scissors. Controlling the angle of the metal blades in order to make a clean cut through something is a task most everyone takes for granted. But when the task is pulled apart step by miniscule step, it is possible to finally see the beauty in being able to complete it. Her son delighted in cutting up nearly everything in sight – her bills, tissues, toilet paper, his sisters’ glitter-covered artwork, socks and clothes – so she kept a close eye on him lest they end up drowning in the confetti of their daily lives.

He spotted her and ran toward her excitedly. “Mooooommy!” he yelled, clearly proud of himself. Immediately she shouted the old trope of schoolmarms everywhere: “Don’t run with scissors honey! Please walk, please. Mommy is right here.” She ran toward him as she yelled, so he simply modeled her. To his credit, he covered the blade as he ran, so they were both safe from that particular imagined harm. 

“Why did you leave the house in the dark, baby?” his mom was sobbing now. “You scared me. I was so scared. You know you have to stay in your room or come get Mommy when you wake up.”

He buried his head into her chest, sad and surprised. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I don’t do that again.”

 “Why do you have those scissors? Did you cut something baby? I told you to be careful…” she couldn’t say much more through her relieved tears.

“Mommy, the balloons want to fly. I make them fly.” He smiled hugely.

“What balloons?” she asked, having no knowledge of swim teams or suburban rituals or the exquisite importance of star-shaped balloons on mailboxes.

“Up! In da sky!” he pointed at the one balloon still in their purview, just beyond the giant maple at the cul-de-sac. “It’s free now, Mommy! It’s flying!” She had to admit it looked pretty, glinting in the muted sunlight. He was satisfied and handed her the scissors, blissfully unaware of all the anger that would soon be pouring onto the Internet because it had no other acceptable place to go.  

 

The Jasmine Lovers (2nd Place)

By Terri Wilson

The setting sun created a muted filter as the wind blew opened the curtains. The early evening breeze swirled around creating an intoxicating blend of night-blooming jasmine and possibility. A faint memory of talking lay dormant in her brain, but she continued trying to communicate. She recognized the talking lady in white and yearned for some kind of connection and understanding.

“Miss Teresa, you smell the jasmine? It’s strong tonight. Must be a storm a comin’.”

Teresa grimaced and held her breath for a heartbeat while the other lady leaned over and fussed with the pillows. “Miss Teresa, I know it hurts, but the meds will help soon. Who knew visitin’ with family could be hard work?"

The woman continued talking, but Teresa looked past the nurse and saw a man leaning on the door jam with the ease and confidence of a southern gentleman who lived a lifetime of success. His presence helped more than medication. The earthy smell of men’s cologne and lust replaced the smell of age and illness blending well with the jasmine. He smiled and cocked one eyebrow, flirting like always.

His suit looked as well today as he did when they dated. Teresa knew he had no idea the other women admired the way he presented himself but that was part of his charm. The jasmine sprig in his lapel brought back memories of evening walks in the garden nights on her parent’s porch swing.

“Now darlin’ don't let Carla hover over you.” He walked into the room and sat in the chair beside the bed. “We need to go. They’ve already started. I know you like to make an entrance, but I want to twirl you around the dance floor for as long as possible.”

A smile twinkled in her eyes. A happy marriage of over fifty years more than many women could imagine.

Carla, I cannot get ready with you in my way.

The dress she wanted, the one with the red full skirt and sequined bodice, would never work on a fall night like this one. Not all redheads could wear red, but this dress made her green eyes sparkle. It was her favorite.

Feeling herself rise out of bed as the seated gentleman joined her, she looked down and saw the skirt sashay. It fit well and accentuated all the right places.

Every other lady at the party will already be wearing navy or black. How dull and drab. Too bad their husbands will be looking more at me than them.

Carla checked a beep from one of the machines set up around the room. The beep from those machines never created a dance-worthy beat, and Teresa had had enough.

“Yes Miss. Teresa, your family sure loves you. You and Mr. Alexander are good people.”

Carla, I do not want to talk about my family, when there is a party.

Her mind focused on the warmth crawling over her body as numb areas began waking up after too many years. She reached her smooth slender hand for Alexander. She wanted more, but settled for his hand because there was plenty of time after the party.

“Oh my goodness, Tessa. You still make my heart beat fast. You make me look like a young farmer tryin’ to dress up for Sunday supper.” He shook his head.

Teresa noticed how different her legs looked. She remembered them being like  this once, a long time ago. She twirled around, stood on tiptoe, and kissed Alexander  on the cheek. He wrapped his arms around her waist and began waltzing around the room.

“Oh, we may not get to that party, Tessa. This dress and the jasmine are playing     with my mind. I’m afraid I may swoon.” He winked and she snuggled against his chest. “Darlin’ we could stay here and dance forever, but we’d miss the party, and many of our friends are looking forward to seeing you. They've missed you, ya know? We all have."

Teresa looked back, worried about her caretaker. “Don’t worry about Carla. She'll soon realize you're gone and take care of everything. I waited a long time to dance with you again. This time I won’t let go.” He turned to walk away.

“Miss Teresa? Miss Teresa?” Carla screamed. She shook the old woman in the bed.

“The night is just beginning, Tessa. Please say you’ll come with me.” Alexander pulled away and began walking. “My dance card is only for you.”

Teresa felt her heart stop. It was lonely without her dancing partner. She looked from Carla and to Alexander. She wanted to go to the party. She loved parties. She loved dancing and this red dress did not belong in the closet.

She caught up to Alexander and intertwined her arm with his. It was her time to make an entrance.

“Let’s go Alex.”

 

Bird-Fish (3rd Place)

By Colleen Karnas

I was a bird. Now I am a fish. Life teaches you things through opportunities and accidents. Before the island I grabbed every passing opportunity, but becoming a fish was an accident.

The first days on the island I mourned my grounded wings. Leaving the shade of the coconut trees and squinting against the harsh sun, I walked to my wings, caressed their metal frame, and inhaled the lingering fumes of the fuselage. But after a few days of pulsating waves and sifting sands, Poseidon’s salty jaws swallowed them.

Without my wings, I was no longer a bird. I slipped off my leather shoes and dipped my pale toes into the cool saltwater. Ahead of me was a steamer ship, wrecked on the island’s coral reef long ago. The old girl stood still, unimpressed with the waves that knocked against her side. Streaks of rust and clumps of barnacles marred her skin. Two of her lifeboats, now covered in creeping vines, made it to shore, but her crew vanished. One dinghy had a store of provisions—a hatchet, cans of mutton, and empty water casks that I filled with rainwater the night we crashed. The other dinghy now held the body of my navigator, Fred.

The water crept towards my knees as Poseidon pushed and pulled me like my plane. With each pulse a school of sparkling silver fish darted in all directions. Arms outstretched, I collapsed into the hands of Poseidon. Rolling me to the side, he ran his fingers through my tousled hair, but never swallowed me. That was when I knew I was a fish.

As a thank you for this new life, I dragged Fred to the water and gently laid him in the sea. I told Poseidon that my friend could not become a fish, and that he needed to swallow him as he did my wings. I thought it was only right to give this offering to the sea, but the sea kept trying to roll him back towards land. Even the waters knew Fred belonged in the air. Finally, the winds of Zeus assisted Poseidon and they carried my friend away.

The first thing I told my fellow fish, as I sat in the water, was my name. I whispered it, as if extending a sacred gift to them. I imagined the name drawing them closer, but the school turned away. My head jerked back as if slapped. Was this rejection? I touched my chin to the water and bellowed my name. The little twits ignored me. My shaking hands cupped my lips as I shouted once more—but the fish remained apathetic. Would their indifference remain if I speared their glamorously silver flesh and ate them?

Day 62 as a reborn fish was sunny with no birds. This meant Zeus would soon arrive to punish me for escaping the human world. Before the trees bowed in deference to Zeus’ angry winds, I pushed the dinghy into the ocean. I often rowed the dinghy from the shore to the steamer to search for additional provisions or to take shelter in her sturdy hull since my body had not yet grown fins. With oars in hand, I glanced behind me and saw the old steamer wink in the sunlight. She relished my visits, eager to feel my footsteps massage her deck.

Despite the winds, the sun still shone as I climbed the rusted metal ladder to the steamer’s deck. My fingers, with cracked nails, skimmed across her railing. Visions of my last photo-shoot flashed before me. My husband insisted that the public see me in a fine dress, not just in goggles and britches. I was the definition of a “new woman”—strong and accomplished, with femininity intact. Placing my ring finger in my mouth, I bit upon a shred of nail and pulled. The shard tore, ripping the flesh underneath. Sucking blood from the wound, a smile crept across my face. I would never be in another photo-shoot and the fish would never care about my name.

Zeus’ breath tangled and twisted my hair as the trees prostrated. I stepped through a hatchway decorated with a mounted fishing spear. Zeus followed me, his brisk breath cooling my sunburned cheeks. The gentle sound of saltwater lapping at the hull sung a mariner's lullaby; no, a fish’s lullaby. A perfect life. No people. No stress. As I flopped onto a dusty cot, I scanned the quarters—a stack of biscuit tins in the corner, an overturned chair, and a compass that I would leave untouched. Just as my tired eyes closed, I heard a violent knocking. Had Zeus’ fury peaked early?

A shout erupted on the steamer’s starboard side. My throat caught. I leapt through the hatchway onto the deck. In front of me was a young man—skin red and chapped, hair whipped by the approaching storm, eyes wide. Over two months into my aquatic transformation and now a visitor? A rescuer? Another cast-away? The boy stammered, unsure if I was real—after all, how many human fish does one see? He stumbled backwards and shook his head. The sky darkened. The boy’s jagged white teeth glowed as he smiled. I willed him not to say it, not to rip the nascent scales from my body, but he did. “Dang! I just found Amelia gad-dern Earha--.” Before he finished, before he broke the spell of this island, of this existence, I reached above the hatch, grabbed the spear, and screamed, “I’m a fish!” With one swift motion, I plunged the spear into his throat as he stumbled backwards over the old girl’s railing. Poseidon swallowed the boy and the fish never asked his name.

 

Imagine (Honorable Mention)

By Daivd Jacks

That ringing. That incessant ringing. It’s like some sort of sick, twisted dirge. I despise all of it.

Chirps, chimes, and whistles go off all around. Rap songs, rock songs, and country music play nonstop. If it were my choice I’d bring the whole thing to an end. However, I can’t, and the cacophony continues.

The noise chips away at my eardrums like a rusty chisel. The air is acrid and I can taste the gunpowder. And the sight of the bodies will stay ingrained in my mind forever.

Bullet casings and pieces of flesh litter the floor. Blood collects in pools and even the walls are stained red.

Who could do such a thing?

 I dump a phone in an evidence bag, then toss it in the cardboard box with the others. The next one I collect halts my progress. It shows a picture of a man with a little girl sitting on his shoulders. Their smiles are almost as bright as the glowing screen. A sudden vibration makes me jump and I almost drop the cellphone onto its owner as the ringtone begins.

“Hi, Daddy! Hi, Daddy! Hi, Daddy!”

 My breath catches in my throat and I clutch my chest. My own daughter greets me somewhere in the back of my mind. I blink back a surprise onslaught of tears.

 I count four bullet holes in the man’s chest. He stares up at me in shock. His eyes, once so bright and full of life, now are white and cloudy in death. I wonder what they see.

This is my job as a crime scene investigator. The pale-faced officer at the door warned me. I thought I had seen everything.

Dozens of innocent people died just because of who they are. Or maybe because of who they aren’t.

Who could do such a thing?

I look around the room, pondering this question when a familiar tune begins. I search for and find the source in a far corner. The ringtone plays and I listen to the lyrics.

“I wish there were nothing to kill or die for. If only people would live life in peace, John,” I whisper. “You were a dreamer of good things. I know all I’ll have now are nightmares.”

What would I do in this situation? Could I ever recover from such an atrocity?

A realization jolts me and I’m struck with even more despair. How can I be thinking of myself right now?

This is so much worse for the ones calling. What’s the worst part? The wondering? The waiting? Or finally getting a call back, except your loved one’s voice is not what you hear?

Someone speaks next to me, interrupting my thoughts. “Hello, this is Officer Peterson with the Orlando Police Department. Am I speaking with Mrs. McBride? Ma’am, you should probably sit down for this.”

 Officer Peterson steps outside. I survey the venue, wondering which person is related to Mrs. McBride.

 “Hey, Thompson.”

I turn toward the front door and see my boss.

“Sir?”

“You’ve been here for eleven hours.” He sighs and points a thumb over his shoulder. “Go home.”

 “I’m fine, sir.”

 “That wasn’t a request. Go home.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Now.”

 I look around the room one more time and nod slowly.

 

 My front door opens before I can turn the key. I look up and my husband Chris grabs me in an embrace.

“Are you okay? I’ve been watching the updates on the news.”

“I’m just tired. Very tired.”

He hugs me tighter. “It’s so horrible what happened. Just awful.”

“Hey. Where’s Jamie?”

“She’s in her room playing. Why?”

 “I need to see her.”

Reluctantly, Chris releases me from the hug, then grabs my shoulders. “What’s wrong, Matthew?”

I fall to my knees as Jamie runs past Chris and wraps her arms around me.

“Hi, Daddy!”

A shaky breath escapes me and I hold her close as tears come to the surface.

Chris sobs and joins the hug.

“It could have been us,” I choke.

“Who could do such a thing?” he whispers in my ear.

 “I don’t even want to imagine.”

 

George (Honorable Mention)

By Grace Sotomayor

George went back to dozing on the air vent. Outside, the North Carolina June sun had brought the temperature up to the 90’s but inside it was a cool 74 degrees with the AC.  Icy breeze fanned his ears causing his fur to wave in the air. The man was in the yard spreading mulch and the woman was at her computer in the office. At least there were no raised voices, no doors slamming yet today.  George lazily drifted into a semi sleep in which he chased a squirrel round and round the oak tree in the front yard.

Last night had been terrible, the man had been stomping around the kitchen mumbling that if there was a God why was there so much injustice in the world. “Everybody should be able to arm themselves” he shouted ,“it’s our constitutional right”.  The news about the shootings in a hospital in the Bronx had apparently set him off and he took his time puttering around the kitchen, ignoring the plate of food the woman had left in the microwave for his supper. The woman threatened to throw away her food if he didn’t stop grumbling ,“ I can’t even eat in peace “, she had cried.  George had run under the table thinking, “throw it in my bowl instead, “ even though he had just eaten- he was always hungry.  The woman had stormed out onto the deck and George, ready for a change in scenery, had followed her.

He sat close to her chair and she idly patted his head: “Good boy Georgie, you’re the best dog in the world”. He felt unhappy and whined a bit as he saw the tears coursing down her face. A few days earlier as she sometimes did, she had read to him a sentence that had caught her attention in her latest library book. It reminded him of her, “She gave me the idea of some fierce thing that was dragging the length of its chain to and fro upon a beaten track and wearing its heart out”. These constant arguments were draining , messing up the few good times when the man and woman  would play catch with him or take him on a trip in the car- the man driving, the woman plying him with snacks .

George sighed and dozed off. In his dream, the park was cool . Fat squirrels ran across the bike paths daring him to chase them. No leash, he ran around to his heart’s content, diving into the lake and running out after a ball the man was throwing. The woman had spread a picnic blanket under a tree and was laying out the contents of the basket, chicken, hamburgers, sausages. George could smell the hamburgers and his nose twitched, a drool pooling  under his cheek.  “Here honey”, she said reaching out to the man with a beer from the cooler. “Thanks sweet heart” said the man . George felt as though he would burst with happiness- this was so perfect! He ran over and squeezed himself, wet coat and all, between them, looking at each face in turn , tongue hanging out, tail wagging furiously. They laughed and together hugged him.

“Now why can’t you be like this all the time?”, he thought .  He licked the face of one then the other, and the vague idea entered his mind, “ maybe if I showed them how unhappy it makes me, they would stop arguing”.

George was awakened by loud voices “Why did you put my good sweater in the dryer? Now its ruined . How many times have I told you not to touch my clothes?” The woman was screaming in the laundry room, holding up what looked like a child’s blue sweater. The man shouted back “if you didn’t want it washed you shouldn’t have left it in the hamper!” George whimpered, “so much for peace”.  As the woman proceeded to recount the history of every garment that the man had ruined, George restrained himself from taking his normal course of action which was to distance himself from the conflict.  He padded to the kitchen and stood before the man whining quietly. The man seemed not to notice, continuing to clean the counter without looking up. George went into the laundry room and sat next to where the woman was standing . She was angry, her face contorted with rage, the sweater still in her hands. George made his whine as urgent as he could , increasing the volume level until he got her attention.

The woman immediately stopped and bent down to look at him. “What’s the matter boy? Do you want to go potty?”  “ I’ll take him”, said the man.  He walked out the back door with George on a leash then decided to keep walking a bit down their street. At the corner, they ran into the guy who owned motels and the man talked about the state of the economy with him for a while.  The fellow across the street who had just bought a new car came over to them and they talked about electric versus gas. The man was animated, relaxed, friendly, and as they started back home with a spring in his step, George hoped that the woman had had time to cool off.

They came into the house quietly and the woman said, “Honey is that you? Where have you been, I was worried”. She gave the man a kiss and George a pat on the head. The sweater incident appeared to have been forgotten.

“Yes” thought George, “looks like this could work!”