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published: Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Heartland Cultural Alliance winds up writing contest
Special to the News-Sun
SEBRING - Sunday's gloomy weather did not prevent people from packing Brewster's Coffee House for the award ceremony of the first-ever writing contest sponsored by the Heartland Cultural Alliance (HCA).
Receiving $100 for his first-place finish was Michael Miller of Avon Park. Lynn Ullin of Sebring took home $50 for second place and Nancy Hale of Avon Park won $25 for third place.
As HCA president Fred Leavitt spelled out, the contest was well structured and well managed, even though it was a first-time affair. Each story was to be written in a "flash fiction" style, meaning limited to no more than 650 words that would make up a complete story, with beginning, middle and end (rather than, say, the first chapter of a novel).
Further, all stories needed to be inspired by a "prompt" - in this case a photograph by local photographer Travis Garcia, who won the honor during a photo contest also sponsored by HCA, so that the contest was a combination of two art forms.
Forty local writers entered the contest, with all submissions scored by three judges: Romona Washington, publisher and executive editor of the News-Sun; Charlotte Pressler, Ph.D., professor of English and philosophy at South Florida Community College; and Marie Chenique, chief librarian at Lake Placid Community Library.
Arthur Lefkowitz, a Sebring writer and HCA member, handled the dozens of contest details. He originated the idea and, along with Leavitt, emceed the awards ceremony. "We were really pleased at the number of entries we received," said Lefkowitz. "It shows Highlands County harbors a healthy writing community."
Leavitt echoed that theme, adding, "I have a feeling this is not the last of the writing contests the HCA will be sponsoring. We are proud to be giving a voice to our local writers."
FIRST PLACE -- "SAYING GOODBYE"
By MICHAEL MILLER, Avon Park
She ran. Her golden curls flowed behind her as the cold water splashed under her feet, the sand squishing between her toes. She giggled as she caught up to her younger brother, easily overtaking him as he slowed to a walk. He bent to inspect something and she turned to watch.
His eyes lit up as he lifted the seashell. She smiled. It was rather beautiful, with its pink and white swirls.
"Mommy!" He called as he ran back toward his parents. "Look what I found."
His mother knelt to his level, smiling warmly. "It's very pretty. What are you going to do with it?"
He pushed his mother's hand away as she tried to fix his hair. "I'm gonna make a necklace for Rose."
The mother continued smiling, though it was no longer a happy smile. "I'm sure she'll love it."
He looked up at her expectantly. "Can I give it to her today?"
"Of course." The woman held out her hand. "Let me hold onto it for now. I think you can play a bit longer before lunch-time."
He handed her the shell and ran back. The girl giggled again as he zoomed past her. The race was back on. She kept up easily, but it was fun to let him think he was winning once in a while.
After a while the mother called for the boy to come back. As he turned to go, the sky suddenly became dark. The girl frowned. It was too early for night; in fact it was barely time for lunch. And why didn't anyone seem to notice?
"Because they can't see it." An elderly voice answered the unspoken question.
The girl looked up into the face of her grandfather. "Why not?" She asked without hesitation.
"Because they aren't on this side of the veil." His hand stretched out to her, cradling her small one. "I think we should go now."
She sighed. "Thank you for letting me play with him again."
The elderly man said nothing in reply as his granddaughter longingly watched her family pack up their things. He simply stroked her hair and let her have her moment.
"Goodbye Terry, Mom, Dad. I'll see you later." Tears had formed in her eyes, making it hard to see them as they got further away.
"Are you ready Rose?" The man asked.
"I think so." She answered softly.
The two faded from the beach, leaving nothing but a pair of footprints behind; an unnoticed reminder of what once was.
SECOND PLACE -- "BETRAYAL"
By LYNN ULLIN, Sebring
It is not yet dawn. The other girls in the orphanage's dormitory are sleeping and I slip from beneath the covers and tip toe to the cupboard where each of us has a small shelf for our clothes. Every few seconds I stop and listen for sounds of movement.
I move some shoes out of the way and feel for a loose board in the floor at the back. It comes away easily. My hand touches a small flashlight that I borrowed from my teacher, Mrs. Granger, a long time ago. I've been meaning to give it back but I still need it. I listen again but everything sounds normal. My hand closes around the light and my thumb finds the on button. I don't need the light to find the newspaper clipping but I use it anyway. My fingers shake like they always do as I unfold the paper as quietly as possible because no one is allowed to have keepsakes. The paper is faded and beginning to tear along the folds. The caption underneath is an appeal to the public asking if someone recognizes me. No one has in the three years I've lived here at Saint Marks Home for Boys and Girls. The paper reprints the picture from time to time and orphanage hopes some one will come forward. The caption reads:
A girl approximately six years old was found alone at Vero Beach, Thursday June 5, 2009. She is not able to speak. If anyone knows who she is, call the paper at 555-1212 or the local police.
I knew my mother was going to leave me that day. She said she had no money for rent or food and there was nothing else she could do but I knew it was a lie. Her boyfriend, Gavin, didn't want me around. Mom bought me a new dress and told me that if she left me on the beach I could play in the sand until someone called the cops. She was right.
I didn't talk at first because I was thought my mother might be in trouble for leaving me. Now it's just a habit. I'm not even sure my voice would work anymore. As long as I do my chores no one bothers me much. I have food everyday. I hope I can stay here forever.
Sometimes though, when I look at the picture I get lost in it. Tonight, I am so focused on it that I don't hear the footsteps behind me until a hand touches my back. I look up and see Angel, her curly red hair framing her face.
I rush to fold the clipping and replace it with the flashlight on top, sliding the board back into place.
"Don't be scared," she says. "I will never tell."
I want to believe her but she tattles on kids so the teachers will like her. We were never friends. I give her nod and a smile and go back to bed, but I don't sleep. When I think it is safe, I crawl out of bed and take everything out of the hiding space. I tuck the clipping in the pocket of a pair of jeans I will wear tomorrow and stick the flashlight under Angel's of clothes.
In the morning, Angel isn't at the table. I take my place and as I chew my cereal, I hear yelling coming from the office. I know that the flashlight has been found. Slipping from my chair I excuse my self and hurry to the library, pulling a chair near the shelves behind teacher's desk. On the fifth shelf is a book by Emily Post on manners. To my knowledge, no one has ever opened it. I slide my clipping in between the pages and replace the book, putting the chair back in its place. Betrayal works for me, too.
THIRD PLACE -- "THIS MOMENT"
By NANCY HALE, Avon Park
As humidity hung in the salty air, the comings and goings of the water washed away again and again the tiny footprints. "Stay!" she giggled and tried one more time to make her small mark upon this planet. The roar of the ocean drowned out the diminutive voice, but mothers always hear. Glancing softly at the tiny angel, the mother was enveloped with a sense of uncertainty and foreboding that seemed as vast as the ocean that her daughter was battling.
Once again Alleaha made her stand against the tide then stooped to play in the spray. Words hung heavy in the mother's thoughts... "tumor".. "malignant".. "prognosis"... A jumble of entangled phrases became stinging daggers, and she longed to scream, beat her chest and ask, "Why? Why? Why me? Why Alleaha? Why?" It seemed difficult to draw a breath when she knew there could be, would be no answers to such a question.
Her daughter's face now crinkled in laughter and raised to the setting sun would soon face a world of sterility, medical tests, and character band-aids that would cover the the marks of the needles. What could ever cover the marks on her heart? What could ever cover this pain in a mother's heart? She looked once more into the face of her little girl and instead of a princess, saw a warrior.. a warrior that would fight and inspire hope in others. Alleaha had been so brave at the doctor's diagnosis, and when she had been told (as a result of her curiosity) that there would be many more pokes and prods, she replied, "That's ok. I have Jesus."
As quickly as the mother had found courage, she let fear embrace her and imagined gone the sopping ringlets that lay far down the little girl's back. Then she tread where she had promised herself she would not go and imagined the footprints in the sand gone forever. "No! No!" she rebuked herself, "You must not, can not go there." In spite of those admonitions, this mother found herself staring into the black abyss of death itself. For who can know what this future holds for any being, and who can know what a new day will bring? Truly one can not revisit the past except in memory, and the future is only an illusion. "All I really have is this moment." was the fleeting thought.
Strong arms were no encircling her,and his voice whispered, "Are you alright?" She nodded and motioned toward their daughter still enchanted by the sea. A single tear trickled down the mother's cheek. As they watched this beautiful child that love had created, Alleaha began to dance... twirling, spinning, and swaying to the sounds of a mighty orchestra of waves. "We are going to make it." his voice was gentle and low. She nodded and tightened her grip on his hand.
"Let's go," he beckoned, and then it was Alleaha whirling in her father's arms as the sun sank lower and lower.. and then all three... silhouettes against the last bit of light left in this day.. with the past well behind them.. the future unsure.. but in full possession of this moment.
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