Monday, October 15, 2012

HoW - OFWC Winners: 2012

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest
2012 Winners

1st Place: You Shall Be My Brother by Bill Lapham
2nd Place: Obsolete Medium by Bill Floyd
3rd Place: Two Dishes of Very Nice Salad by Amy Hale Auker

Gita M. Smith:
I believe in rewards for good writing and wanted to do something for our little online writers' community. So I laid out the contest, found a few good prize ideas and roped a few friends into judging the stories. They had no idea whose stories they were reading, either. Ten people entered (I'd hoped for more, I will confess) and, as promised, we're now printing the winners here on MuDJoB. I'd like to do it every year, or as long as I am employed and able to buy prizes.

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 1st Place

by Bill Lapham

FRANCIS CAME HOME from Vietnam a changed man. He claimed the orange shit they dropped on the jungle made guys crazy. It could have been that, I suppose, or a thousand other things. Who knows what changes a man?
   Francis, not Frank, was my brother. He showed me how to get along in the world. We had fathers, but Mother didn’t know who they were. She said she carried Francis and me to delivery because she was making decent money at the time and thought it would be fun to have little babies around. Other potential siblings weren’t so “lucky.”
   After we grew up some, we started acting like little boys. Francis suffered considerable pain at the belt of Mother’s frustration with us. He was the oldest. I had to watch, she said, to “learn something.” The lesson escaped me.
   Francis drank beer before he went to Vietnam, but nothing like when he came home. There was a Before Vietnam Francis and an After Vietnam Francis. BVF was more or less normal, except for the scars. AVF was not normal, and had more scars. I have never seen a man drink so much, so fast, and not puke. He said American beer was too weak, so he fortified it with shots of Jim Beam and an occasional hit of blotter acid. He bought pot by the pound and sold what we didn’t smoke to buy more of the same. A “non-profit” high, he called it.
   After the Marines discharged him, he moved into a trailer outside Detroit with his Marine buddy Max. Together we called them FM. I still lived with Mother. They set up a big fish tank in the living room. I would usually find Francis staring at the fish, drinking beer and smoking dope with Max, who would be cleaning his gun. I always asked if I could have a beer on the way to the refrigerator, but they never replied. They never knew who put beer in the refrigerator. They never knew what belonged to whom.
   “Fuck ownership and shit, man.”
   They lived on unemployment checks, VA disability payments, pot ‘profits’, ‘gook noodles’, and old potato chips. They had a TV, but they hardly ever watched it.
   Stuart Granger and his wife Mary Kate lived next door. She was young and blonde, and he was young and blonde. It seemed like they were always kissing. When they weren’t working or sleeping, they were at FM’s, partying.
   Stuart was riding his dirt bike one day when he climbed a steep hill in the woods and fell into a newly poured basement. Carpenters found him the next day face down in the dried concrete. They used jackhammers to get his body out.
   Three days of funeral shit took their toll on Mary Kate. She ended up moving in with FM a couple of weeks after the funeral. She said she couldn’t sleep with Stuart’s ghost pacing the trailer in his underwear at night. Somebody burnt her trailer to the ground a week later. Trailer park management hired a crew from Detroit to clean up the melted remains, and nobody was ever charged with the crime.
   One day I brought Mother out to visit. She had wanted to see how Francis had “grown up” during the war, but she hadn’t made it to the front steps before he yelled at me to take her home. I complained that he ought to give Mother a chance to make amends, but he wouldn’t have it.
   “Bitch never sent me a single letter when I was in the shit, man.”
   I saw him in the kitchen cracking a beer and lighting a joint as I pulled out of the driveway. Mother cried all the way home, but it was hard for me to sympathize. You reap what you sow, I figured.
   The next night, Francis, Max, Mary Kate and I did some blotter. Max, who had spent a little time in Germany, was the disk jockey. He started with Hawkwind’s Brain Ticket, a vinyl LP. Max danced with Mary Kate, who looked too young to be a widow. Max looked like he had just come out of the bush, scarred and muscular. He had taken his shirt off revealing a huge spread eagle tattoo on his back. From wingtip-to-wingtip, shoulder-to-shoulder, printed in flowing script, were the words: “Where Were You?” There was a list of his dead friends. Below the list, across the small of his back, it said: Dak Pec, Vietnam, February 1970. Below that, tucked in his jeans, was his gun. Max had been in the hospital in Da Nang having a boil lanced during the battle of Dak Pec. He told me about it once when he was very drunk, and never mentioned it again.
   The music forced me and Francis out of the house; that, and the walls seemed to be melting. Outside, the street lamps showered pixilated glitter bits on the ground. Piles grew into giant cones and erupted in slow flowing lemonade. Our footsteps glowed and never faded away. Everything moved leaving rainbow trails in their wake. When the scene outside drove us back inside, the music would force us to go back outside. The front door revolved. It was a harrowing night. I don’t remember how I got back home.
   Later that same day, sometime after sunup, I think, Francis phoned to tell me Max was dead. He said he woke around noon, toured the trailer. His car was parked in the driveway and Mary Kate was asleep in her room alone, but no Max. He said he walked down to the lake where he and Max sometimes liked to sit and watch the sun come up. He found Max hanging from a tree branch. His gun and a step ladder lay on the ground under his feet. He had shot himself in the head and used the rope for insurance. Francis said they had seen guys survive headshots all fucked up.
   What bothered me most was that Max’s death never seemed to faze Francis. “He’s just dead,” he said.
   The day after we buried Max, Mary Kate, Francis and I were watching General Hospital when the phone rang. I answered it. Mother was slurring, said she had read Max’s obituary and was calling Francis.
   Francis wouldn’t take her call. “I got nothin’ for her, man,” he said.
   “He’s puking in the toilet,” I said, and hung up.
   Mary Kate lit a joint and passed it to Francis. He took a hit and passed it to me. Joints went around for the rest of the afternoon and well into the night. Every so often one of us got up to get cold beers. We ate everything in the kitchen that was edible. We toasted the ghosts of Stuart Granger and Pvt. Maxwell Connelly, USMC, (deceased) with shots of chilled Jim Beam. When Mary Kate passed out on the sofa, I covered her with a blanket. I remember seeing Francis polishing Max’s gun with a soft rag humming along with the national anthem on TV, sipping whiskey. The flag was waving in the black-and-white breeze.
   The announcer said it was the end of the broadcast day.

© William Lapham 2012

Bill Lapham is studying creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont. He teaches and tutors undergraduate writing at Davenport University. He lives in Brighton, Michigan.

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 2nd Place

by Bill Floyd

THE KID means well, so she lets him make his pitch and then she politely declines.
   “But, I mean, people should have a chance to hear you,” this kid says, one arm draped over the back of a chair he’s pulled up beside her piano.
   “People do have that chance,” she points out, tracing the room around them with one finger, slightly swollen at the knuckle. “I’m at the bar in the Monument Avenue Sheraton on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays year round.”
   He doesn’t hear her. He’s too smitten with the serendipity of coming across the woman who recorded Fever Feet thirty-odd years ago, “one of my favorite albums, really unfairly overlooked,” as he’d rambled, obliviously, during his introduction. The kid is one of those hip young types, fashionably bearded, skinny jeans, porkpie hat cocked in a careful approximation of carelessness. His eyes say he’s at least one drink past his usual limit. Probably a tech guy, in town for a conference, or making a sales pitch, or troubleshooting at one of the countless local office parks. He’d been eyeing her from the bar for half-an-hour before he worked up the nerve to amble over and ask if she was the same Lori Trace who’d made Fever Feet. The album enjoys a popular resurgence every few years, and Lori’s daughter calls from Phoenix to read her articles from the web, but Lori never sees any money from reissues or anything. She’d made some bad business decisions back in the old days.
   And all this hipster kid sees is her bad decisions. He sees her playing nightly sets of standards in a hotel bar near the airport, a bar much like her tip jar: rarely more than a quarter-full. Her fingers are delicate on the keys of the slightly out-of-tune baby grand, her voice hushed by design. Every few weeks, one of the solitary sales reps killing time at the bar, frazzled from a daylong string of connecting flights, will look up from their drinks or their phones and their eyes will glaze over a little and Lori will know she’s been heard.
   “I’m only saying this because I really respect you,” the hipster insists now. His guileless introduction had expanded into a sprawling ramble, wherein he’d told her how much her voice and music had meant to him during a difficult period in his life. He hadn’t lingered on the details, choosing instead to pitch a booze-derived fantasy of trying to book her some studio time, a web broadcast or something. Says he manages a band back in Austin, where he’s from. “This could be a chance for you—”
   She smiles and nods as he justifies himself. Ricky, watchful from behind the bar in his vest and bow tie, gives her a look like: This guy a problem? and she shakes her head almost imperceptibly as the hipster tells her about her chances. All her life, people have told her about her chances. Mom, who gave Lori and her sisters a chance despite the worst Dad could dish out; Mr. Bloxam, her high school band teacher, talking about Lori’s talent and how she had real potential; the first dozen agents in those frigid early New York days, telling her on their authority that she had no chance; Douglas, naked beside her in a tangle of sheets in some cheap California rental, listening as she sung the song she’d written, his stoned eyes and the way he’d jumped right up and said, “We gotta get this out there, baby, this has the chance to go big.”
   “Big” turned out to be three, four years, tops, backed by Douglas’s band, performing for rooms of as many as five or six thousand kids. Appearances on local TV. People back home who heard her on the radio.
   And then progressively smaller rooms, and then no rooms at all. Playing her Casio at home, singing in the car. Puzzled rejection overcome by joy undiminished. The wonder of realizing she didn’t miss the scene, even though she did miss Douglas. Their marriage hadn’t outlasted the dive. Her second marriage endured nearly twenty years, with the kids and the houses and all the rest, but in her heart she’d always loved Douglas helplessly, loved him best.
   Does this hipster kid look a little like him? She doesn’t even know if Douglas is alive or dead. He’d dropped completely off the map. There was a time she wouldn’t have believed anything less possible.
   So now she puts a hand on the young man’s arm and says, “Thank you sweetie, no. But I do have some CDs for sale. Mostly cover songs, but there’s a few originals on there, too.”
   “CDs?” Drawing a blank.
   She reaches into the tasteful hinged box she keeps underneath her piano bench and shows him one of her CDRs. Lori’s daughter had helped to record the album on her laptop during one of her visits. There’s a silly photo scanned onto the insert, Lori with her head lying on her arm in a pose of guileless sentimentality. Her daughter’s idea, of course.
   “Five dollars,” she tells the hipster.
   He actually makes a face. After kissing her ass for ten straight minutes, indulging his fantasy of her triumphant comeback, he makes a face. “Most artists promote themselves with free songs on the internet,” he says, as if explaining a complex math problem to a slow-witted child.
   “And which do you listen to more?” she asks. “What you pay for or what you get for free?”
   His wallet is chained to a belt loop on his jeans. She is more certain than ever that he makes his living with computers, managing his band on the side. A hobby that no doubt puts him in contact with a lot of willowy young girls, not the kind Lori sees in the Sheraton bar, the ones doing the professional thing; sometimes they seem to be made completely of hems and heels, and no doubt they are good at what they do. But when they are alone in the bar, listening to her play, sometimes they seem so exhausted they can barely prop themselves up. Lori plays extra mellow, hoping for that glazed look.
   The hipster exchanges his cash for her disc. He says he looks forward to hearing it and how it’s been a real pleasure to meet her. He hands her a card with his email address, “just in case you change your mind.”
   “Won’t you stick around for a few more songs?”
   He smiles. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
   After she’s begun, midway through her second set, the hipster gets Ricky to send over a glass of expensive wine. She nods at him and plays a vamp-y arrangement of “Snakebit” from Fever Feet. The kid breaks into a grin. The creeping arthritis that sometimes makes this stretch of the night difficult is forgotten, as are the doctors’ evaluations of her chances, all of it fades. Her back is straight and her dress is cheap but her voice is elegant smoke, a silk sash unknotted, lipstick on a tumbler. Ricky glazes. The kid sings along, he knows every word.

© William Floyd 2012

Bill Floyd lives in North Carolina. He's written a dozen novels, one of which, The Killer's Wife, was commercially published in 2008. He knows that the world can be a very difficult place, but feels that as long as The Melvins are still touring, things can't be but so bad. His micro-fiction can be found at

Old-Fashioned Fiction Writing Contest: 3rd Place

by Amy Hale Auker

CHRIS THOUGHT maybe he was an ungrateful wretch. Here he was, married to this girl, this beautiful girl whose kisses were never messy, but never spontaneous either. This smart woman who never asked him to balance the checkbook or take out the trash or chop carrots for the stew. Never asked him to do anything. Just went about her days, contained and self-sufficient. Who never gave a blow job, switched positions, or cried. Who worked. Who approached food and sex and life as a job. Sometimes, being with Cynda was the loneliest place Chris had ever been.
   But tonight, buzzing on three beers, he was glad to be riding along through the dark with her, and he dug expectantly into the bag of goodies from the community Christmas party.
   “What all’d we get?”
   “Don’t eat the sugar cookies.”
   Cynda wouldn’t listen to Christmas music even when the country station was playing it 24 hours a day from Thanksgiving to New Years. Instead, as she drove home through the sleet-peppered night, she punched the button on the cd player and her beloved King George crooned out into the cab. Not Christmas George, but plain old, solid, 1980s Nashville George.
   Chris pulled a sticky Santa-shaped cookie from the bag. “These?”
   “Yeah. Don’t eat them.”
   “Why not?” Chris held it up to the dim lights of the dashboard.
   “Because. Brenna’s kids made them and they are probably infectious.”
   Chris dropped the cookie back in the bag and kept rummaging. “Infectious, huh?”
      “Yeah. That youngest one needs a shot of LA200, or Micotil, or something.”
   “Those are cute boys. Be fun to have a passel of ‘em running around.”
   Cynda rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Brenna looked like she was having a blast. Big belly and swollen ankles and a snotty kid on what lap she has left. Sure.”
   When they first got engaged Cynda and Chris had agreed that Chris was too old to think about having kids, but sometimes Chris wondered if it wasn’t Cynda who was dead set against the idea. After all, what did his age matter? He didn’t have to get pregnant. Besides, he didn’t know why the decision not to have children also meant they couldn’t have a puppy, but Cynda had gotten almost panicky when he suggested getting one in case his old heeler died in the next few years. He opened a jar of spiced nuts, poured out a handful. “Well, it was a fun party, anyway.”
   Cynda turned up the music, tapped her long fingers on the steering wheel.
   You look so good in love… you want him, that’s easy to see…
   Chris hated sad songs.
   Sometimes Chris wished Cynda would make a mess or stub her toe or get a hangnail. Wished she would drop a jar of pickles or back the truck into a corner post or leave her wet towel on the floor of the bathroom. He wished she’d fart in bed or pronounce a word wrong or cry, damnit, at least cry. Instead, two nights later, she sat calmly at the dinner table before a pot of potato soup, a neat plate of shredded cheese covered with a paper towel, and two dishes of very nice salad. Chris’s wife handed him the croutons, and he took it from her absently.
   “Poor Brenna. And Blake didn’t even make it to the hospital in time.”
   “I mean, he missed the birth of his own daughter, first of all, and she’s premature, and then, she has Down’s Syndrome. I just don’t know how we should help them!”
   “I don’t think we can help them. No one can cure Down’s and we certainly can’t turn back the clock so he could make it there on time. He’s a bit irresponsible, anyway, don’t you think?”
   “I know that, Cynda. I know that. I just mean now. What we could do to help them now.”
   She shrugged and tasted her soup critically. “I don’t know. I’m no doctor. The Havershaw’s have kids the same age so the boys are better off staying with them. The church ladies are taking turns preparing meals and gathering donations. Besides. It really isn’t our problem, is it?”
   Chris got up from the table and walked out, walked out of the house that his wife made colder instead of warmer, walked away with his goddamned loneliness tucked in his back pocket, walked away from a beauty that he didn’t understand, away from a layer of indifference he couldn’t get past, away from sex that brought him to climax, always, but he never smelled himself under the covers, spilling from her, because she always washed immediately.
   Their lovemaking was always just over, never something more.
   But he walked back in, walked back in because that is the kind of person he was and because his anger made him hot, and he needed to be hot. He walked back in and later wondered if what happened that night was something he would always hate or something that had to happen. That night confused him for the rest of his life.
   Cynda was already in bed, reading, of course. He joined her quietly, snapping off the light without asking. The dark was a curious blend of his hot and her cold.
   No one had ever told him that sexual fantasy is a tricky trail to traverse in a marriage. He’d had his fantasies fulfilled before, as a younger man, by a variety of women who were happy to play in bed and with whom sex had been like a game. But marriage was different. The last few months had taught him that when the heart is involved, saying, “Hey, let’s try this!” becomes a minefield with the possibility of rejection. And when there is no connection, a messy bomb of implication. But tonight he was angry. Tonight he was lonely and disappointed and every “what the fuck” particle of him was gathered in his groin.
   When he reached for her, he didn't follow their polite practiced protocol, the connect-the-dots formula that sex had descended into--the gradual warming of her cold with his desire, the polite wait for her to use a bit of lube, the careful holding back that he had come to consider "making love."
   Instead he kissed her hard, stuck his tongue deep into her mouth with one hand behind her head to keep her from pulling back, straddled her and slid his cock up between her breasts on its way to her mouth, leaving no escape route while he jerked open the curtains above the bed so that the moon could see his fury that was somehow more akin to lust than anger.
   Then, ignoring her previously stated preferences, he turned her over on her stomach and lifted her hips--finally got to see her luscious upside-down heart-shape.
   A few quick thrusts into the curve of that heart, and his anger left him with a little death rush.
   And she left the next morning, of course.
   She wasn’t the kind to come right back.
   But that was ok with Chris. He needed a little time, too.

© Amy Hale Auker 2012

Amy Hale Auker writes and rides on a grazing allotment in Arizona. Her first book, Rightful Place, published spring 2011 by Texas Tech University Press, is the 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction. She has written two novels that are currently seeking publication. Amy prefers the company of bats, lizards, zone-tailed hawks, and mama cows to most people, but has found a truly incredible group of writers on-line where she is finally at home. Her quirks include a fondness for fungi, an ardent love for poetic prose, and a new-found desire to hike to the dirt tank and catch blue gill (which she throws back). You can find out more at