First Prize

A Reason to Celebrate

by Tasha Teets

Fireworks

Victoria Pickering via Creative Commons

Fireworks boom and crackle as they soar through the night sky. A kaleidoscope of colors rain down until my view is blocked by the old church steeple; the mounted cross tinted green with rust. Children race through the streets with sparklers in hand while adults gather around grilles and drink cheap beer. I bring the pilfered cigarette up to my split lips for one last drag, the tip burning red in the darkened room; the smoke fading in the humid air. 

My husband would be furious if he caught me smoking his precious menthols. That fat, lazy hypocrite. Tossing the used cigarette out the window I walk toward the kitchen, stepping over the broken lamp still spitting sparks across the dirty hardwood floor. The pool of blood had congealed into a tacky mess while I was watching the vibrant explosions in the sky. In a way I’m grateful for the noise. Any interruptions to the TV would have once heralded screams and fists much stronger than my own. Now, the thundering fireworks had covered his pleas for help as I stabbed him with a carving knife. 

Looking down on his motionless body, a smile curls my lips for the first time since our wedding day. Happy Independence Day to me.

Tasha Teets is the Customer Service Representative for Gerber Collision. She also assists with managerial duties to run day to day operations. Over the past 3 years, she has worked with various Maryland locations to improve productivity and sales. Tasha Teets has taken classes at Anne Arundel Community College and plans to transfer  to Bowie State University. She resides in Bowie, Maryland with her family and one spoiled rotten dog.


Runner Up

Happy Independence

by Eliza Redwood

Alicia hadn’t wanted to attend her brother’s stupid barbecue. Just because she didn’t have plans for the Fourth of July didn’t mean that she was a social pariah! It was only because she loved “wasting” her life exploring. Not getting tied down with roots anywhere was part of the gig.  

But she was in town, so she had to go to her brother’s stupid barbecue.

As host, he was obligated to slave by the grill, flipping burgers and chattering with friendly-faced strangers. (All strangers to Alicia but important people in his life, she was sure.)

Piano man

Mauro Luna via Creative Commons

So she hovered alone by the dusty piano on the porch.

“Do you play?” a grinning man, a half-drunk beer bottle in hand, asked.

“Not anymore,” she said, inspecting the instrument for dust. “It’s beautiful though.”

“Allow me.” And soon his fingers danced over the ivory, spinning a simple tune that reminded Alicia of home. When it was over, she clapped, taking pleasure in his flushed cheeks.  

“Could you teach me?” she asked.

“Sure, but it takes time.” Fireworks boomed in the background, underscored by the delighted laughter of nearby children.

“I love fireworks,” he said, his boyish grin beaming towards her. “Happy Independence Day.”

Alicia leaned in close, “I think independence is a little over-rated.”

Eliza RedwoodEliza Redwood is a budding twenty-something writer with a mathematics degree that’s been gathering dust and a passion for military history. When she’s not writing, you’ll likely find her on her computer playing solitaire or on her phone playing solitaire. (She just really likes solitaire.) Find her on twitter @ElizaRedwood.


Runner Up

The Machine

by Yohan Luechtefeld

Consider for a moment and compare
The differences and similarities.
Perhaps you’ll chuckle with me
At the glaring hilarity.

Machine

Martin Howard via Creative Commons

The free world minimum security
The unfortunate in super-max.
Varying in degree of suffering
Quality of life and purity.

In a free world you can do what you want
Cough, Within reason.
To expose the mighty machine
Well ‘That’s just treason!’

You’ll eat what WE give you
No you cannot grow your own.
Water your grass and flowers instead
Or risk the wrath history has shown.

You’ll drink the water WE provide
Nevermind what is in it.
Don’t you worry about that Plant next door
WE watch it every minute.
Now the very air we breathe
Chemtrails in the sky?
Hit you from every angle
Hoping soon you’ll die.

You’ll pay more than your share of taxes
Never you mind the rich.
You’ll pay your taxes in prison
Or you’ll end up someones bitch.

Marijuana has been outlawed
Inspite of the benefits you see.
The honey bee being exterminated
‘Can’t have a cure for free!’

When so many examples made visible
‘Well what to do?’
Stand on a corner with a sign?
Hell they’ll come for you its true.

MY suggestion the 4th AND 5th of July
Everyone stay at home too.
Show those in power
The many outweigh the few.

Yohan Luechtefeld
Elmhurst Illinois
Amateur lyricist/musician/children’s book author
Additional works available
JRL112772@gmail.com
Children’s ebook avaiable on amazon


Honorable Mention

Our Loss

by Cathy Bryant

“How could they? They were like our children.”

Tears fell on the old man’s frock-coat.

“I think that was the point,” said his daughter, Cecily. “They’ve grown up. They have to find their own way. And there have been tales that our army has behaved rather badly sometimes – “

“None of that!” His fist crashed onto the table. “The British Army is the finest in the world!”

I expect every nation believes their own is best, thought Cecily.

“It’s the king,” her father went on. “He isn’t himself. Everything’s ending…”

“No!” cried Cecily. “It isn’t the end. Perhaps it’s a new beginning!”

Love Letter

Sean via Creative Commons

Her father seemed a little comforted, and after a while she left him to catch up with her correspondence. There was a particular letter that she wanted to write, to an American boy she had known. They had both been eighteen and – and she could not bear to think that he might not love her any more. He had written secret, passionate letters to her that she treasured.

“Dearest, good luck in your country’s new adventure,” she wrote. “Please forgive us. Then love us, as we love you. Be happy – but don’t forget me!”

She held her head so that her tears did not fall on the letter.


Cathy Bryant worked as a life model, civil servant and childminder before becoming a professional writer. She has won 24 literary awards, including the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize and the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in over 250 publications. Cathy’s books are ‘Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ and ‘Look at All the Women’ (poetry), and ‘How to Win Writing Competitions’ (nonfiction). See her listings for cash-strapped writers at www.compsandcalls.com, updated on the first of every month. Cathy lives in Cheshire, UK.

Nothing's too hard for God

Marshall Astor via Creative Commons

Bashar made the drive once a week from Columbia to Kansas City. I-70 wasn’t much to look at, but he liked the alternating billboards that told the story of his life: religion and porn. A mega-church advertising Sunday services, then an adult bookstore trumpeting a sale. John 3:16 in tall letters. A quarter mile later, a gentlemen’s club reminding motorists that they had girls who were not just nude but all nude.

The job was boring, but it gave Bashar time to pray. When he arrived in KC, the men in sunglasses would inspect the guns in silence. They’d nod, and hand over a locked briefcase and a small stack of bills that Bashar knew was his cut. It was always tempting to pull into one of the clubs on the way back. Or even at one of the churches. His money would be welcome at either. But he knew better than to stop until the money was safe in Orchid’s hands.

It all went wrong with six words: what’s the worst that could happen? The passenger seat, where he left the briefcase, was empty when he got back.

Bashar turned the car north and drove.

Old van under street lamp light

Jari Juslin via Creative Commons

Three boys with an average age of eighteen decided a battered van, a small sack of weed, a mostly full twelve pack of stolen beer and a four hour drive somehow felt like a plan to get Heath laid. The connection between him and this girl out in the valley was never entirely clear, but we were at the age where scoring hits of ecstasy was easier than scoring with a girl. The inconvenience felt comparatively minor.

Keven and I realized upon arrival that Heath had led us to her parent’s house. The family was remarkably cool about a trio of obvious burnouts showing up on a Friday night in a van belching black smoke. They fed us pasta and made jokes. Heath’s girl even invited a couple of friends over.

I wound up alone in the van with the prettiest of the three. We drank the lukewarm beers and she talked about her off-again boyfriend. The other two couples crawled into sleeping bags on the driveway.

Around sunrise the girl, tired of talking, curled up on the back seat. I slipped out and smoked cigarettes. In the morning I told my friends she was a real good time.

Earbuds 1

Michael Jordan via Creative Commons

“Zach, dude, take those headphones off while we’re robbing this bank.”

“They’re earbuds.”

“Excuse me?”

“These aren’t headphones, they’re earbuds.”

“I don’t care what they’re called! Take them out of your ears before I slap them out.”

“How do you even know they’re in? You can’t seem them through the mask. (Do you have the bags?)”

“(Yeah, right here.) Look, I can see the white cord. Just shut up and do as I say before you get us both arrested.”

“Fine. Here. Happy?”

“Ecstatic. What are you always listening to, anyway? And don’t you dare say ‘Justin Bieber’ or I will shoot you in the face right now.”

“Books on tape.”

“Books?”

“On tape.”

“You listen to books?”

“Why? Is that weird?”

“Yes. Yes, it is weird. (Watch this guy. Don’t let him near the alarm trigger.)”

“Books ain’t weird.”

“(Here, put this bag by the door.) They are weird because no one walks around listening to books all the time.”

“I do. (Here, give me the other bag.)”

“What kind of books are we talking?”

“Crime fiction.”

“Liar. You’re lying! I can tell!”

“Okay! Fine. It’s Danielle Steele.

Not a fucking word, Jace.”

“C’mon. Let’s go. I hear sirens.”

Eye

fructosegums via Creative Commons

I’ve misplaced my feet; somewhere in the fog of dope smoke and white lines and tight shoes and forever dancing, they wandered off. Probably I should go, the best place would be home and the next best thing would be upstairs to my room, but neither has the music and neither has the void. The worst is when you realize the music throbbing in your ears is residual, an echo left from records that have long since been packed into a van and driven off, across a bridge or to a downtown garage. It’s usually the heavy snap of the house lights coming on, the resigned, sober sigh of the bouncer saying, Come on everyone let’s go party’s over.

Then you see it’s only you and the scattered handful of remaining ghouls, sunken cheeked and numb toed, blinking at each other with rheumy eyes and self-loathing smirks. We’ll drift like seeds on a prairie wind.

I find myself in a filthy bathroom stall at some all-night diner. My companion is a greasy pair of hands attached to a blazer with a set of Porche keys in the pocket. In my compact’s mirror, there is lipstick on my teeth.

Flashing Red Light

Thomas Hawk via Creative Commons

The officers ignored the protests of innocence as they loaded the woman into the car. “Oh shit, here comes Knave,” one of them said as a slouching man moved from shadow into the dancing red light.

“Gentlemen,” said Jonah Knave, “a moment?”

“Make it quick.”

“How many bullets left in the gun?”

The officers exchanged glances. The smaller one volunteered, “Three.”

“And how many wounds in the victim?”

“One,” the larger said, impatience hanging around him like a stink.

“I see. Thank you, officers.” Knave moved up the walk. He stood in the door, staring past the cooling body just inside, beady eyes focused over the crouching medical examiner at the wide glass pane at the back of the room.

“You’re gonna catch hell if the captain finds you here, Knave,” the M.E. remarked.

Knave grinned but didn’t look down. “Perhaps the captain should be more concerned about finding the shooter.”

“How’s that?”

Knave looked at the door to his right, cocked his jaw and ran his gaze the length of the frame, squinting at last at a pair of small holes near the hinge. “The real perp shot from, and fled through, the backyard. You have the wrong woman.”

The familiar pile

Sarah Rifaat via Creative Commons

Dirty penny sky at the moment between dawn and morning. Kebber drives to work and forgets the trip a mile at a time. These endless, overlapping cities pass beneath a vas deferens highway ejaculating single occupant vehicles into the womb of the valley. He likes to arrive early and undress in his cubicle, just to feel the exhilaration of staged exposure.

A recurring daydream: Kebber is an actor and he disrobes in a room full of technicians and directors and contractors. His co-star hides plastic surgery scars beneath a crust of makeup. The love-making will be simulated, as is all love. This is not a sexual fantasy, despite its overtones. A camera watches.

The day fills with people as disinterested as the clothing that wraps him in a tourniquet. Pocket computers vibrate; numb, stupid fingers diddle prenominal products without substance. A chin rests on Kebber’s palm. It has been there so long he’s not sure it’s his. Constricting digital clocks like hyenas.

He arrives early and stays late. Chrome and stars drown in the streetlamps while a garage door built for two opens itself. There is no release in homes, and life draws tighter and tighter and tighter.

Get Out

Annadriel via Creative Commons

May, 1946

 

Arata Ui could tell the difference between the rumble of ocean against sea wall and the buzz of an approaching aircraft when he was awake and alert. Four hours into his second shift, when cursing Ryo for contracting the flu had lost its distracting fire, it became a uniform hum of white noise. His fingers stiffened on the searchlight. Across the dugout, the battery team shared a cigarette, black outlines of huddled bulk nagged by an orange ember.

“Tetsuya! Shin!” Arata hissed, hoping the Gocho wasn’t making his round. “Someone cover me while I go to the latrine.”

The debate was held in susurrus even Arata’s trained ear couldn’t make out. “Fine,” they said at last. After a moment, Shin tapped him on the shoulder.

“Make it fast. I’m only doing this because you’re pulling a double.”

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Erta Ale North Pit Crater Magma Lake

pierre c. 38 via Creative Commons

Krivoth gestured with two folded black claws and his mandibles clicked a hard, wet rhythm as he spoke. “In here is the break room. Coffee, snacks, suffering-sticks, fresh fruit, ichor, the usual.” Ms. Pollibutton’s sagging, chinless face reflected a thousand times over in Krivoth’s faceted red eye. “You get one fifteen minute break every four millennia.” The tone in his lubricated clacking voice suggested he expected some resistance on this point. Ms. Pollibutton remained stoic and pushed her glasses back up her nose.

After a somewhat disappointed pause, Krivoth’s hind legs drummed in sequence creating an agitated, impatient air. “Anyway, moving on,” he said. The tour continued, Krivoth being sure to tick off the points of interest: The Floundering Abyss; The City of Pain; Dyre Labyrinth; Nightmare Valley. Ms. Pollibutton nodded politely at each, never slowing her short, rapid strides. The soft clink of her Cromwell buckles steadied into an incessant grate against Krivoth’s nerves.

“So here’s your workstation,” he said after an age. The loose folds of Ms. Pollibutton’s throat wobbled ever so slightly as she ran a white glove along the dusty outcropping of red stone. A massive anthropodermic book lay on the slab desk.

Krivoth flipped the book open to a page marked with a bone hook using his spiked foreleg. “It works like this: an entrant will arrive at processing. Once Foharr is finished with intake and cleaning, Sinestine will usher it in here. You record the data and let Nesti know which plane is next in the rotation. This is important, okay? If you start double- or triple-stacking the Murdergrounds or whatever, you’re going to have some very grouchy underdaemons. We can’t torment properly if we don’t have time to do the orientations.”

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Troy Springs State Park:  Algae formations

Phil’s 1stPix via Creative Commons

You expect to lose a few toes to the wet-rot during a contract. Not a single contractor offers hazard pay for getting three of them shot off. I wish I could tell you I took it like a tough guy, but the truth is I howled like a baby sea lion. The deeper truth is, most of my howl of agony had nothing to do with the fearsome pain of taking a zipshot bolt to the wee-wee-wee piggies. It had a hell of a lot more to do with the fact that my ex-wife was on the trigger end of that transaction.

Darla and I didn’t start off as fire and ice. She was a fisherman’s daughter, a naive hick with hair that never dried and a sweet voice that sang songs no one else could remember. I thought bringing her along on a couple of contracts would be good for her, toughen her up a little. But the open water did more than that; it changed her. I didn’t begrudge her taking up a contract of her own, and I didn’t really mind when she was promoted to captain of our skiff ahead of me.

The part I minded was her sleeping with the steward and throwing me overboard when I caught her in the act. That, and when she shot off my toes.

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