April 2020 Winners - First Place
"The Aftermath" by Clíodhna Russell
The door, shot through with bullets, refuses to close; a single hinge is all that stands between us and them. Outside, nothing is to be heard but the raucous laughter of beasts who hide beneath a mask of polished buttons and khaki. In the distance a loose bullet tears through the streets and I wonder who has left us tonight.
Huddled beside me is my brother, whimpering like a wounded dog. In the moonlight his tears glisten like stray pearls. The house is as cold as the night outside, but we dare not light a fire.
We have not seen Father since last Sunday. News of a bloody slaughter reached us the next day; I have not left the house since.
"Bridget?" He dares not raise his voice above a whisper. He knows what will happen if they find us. "Where is Mammy?"
I swallow the blackberry-sized lump in my throat and feel the telltale prickle in my eyes. I must not cry - for Samuel's sake. I take a shuddering breath and turn to him. "Mammy's gone out for a bit. She'll be back soon."
"Will she bring us something to eat?"
A warm tear trickles down my cheek, and despite it, I smile and nod. "She'll come back with fresh bread and jam, if we're good."
He wipes his eyes with the sleeve of his coat and settles against me, satisfied - for now. I do not know what I will tell him when Mother does not return. Before long, I will have to venture out for food. Sometime over the past few months, I have become a woman, and it I am not careful I will meet the same end as Mother.
The house is quiet except for a low creaking - the creaking of a single, rusting hinge.
April 2020 Winners - Second Place
"The Verdict" by Michael Conklin
My heart raced as the jury marched back into the courtroom with the verdict. I quickly assessed all twelve of their facial expressions in the hopes of gleaning a clue as to what the verdict might be. Juror #2 avoided eye contact with me. Juror #8 looked relieved. Was that good or bad?
In the fifteen-seconds it took them to sit in the jury box and deliver the verdict, my mind recounted all six days of the trial. The fourteen witnesses, the nineteen pieces of evidence, the countless motions from the attorneys—most of which I still didn’t understand. I thought about my experience on the witness stand. I naively assumed that if the jury simply listened to me tell the truth, they would understand. Now I could only wonder if it did more harm than good.
The trial was nothing like they are on TV. No dramatic music, no surprise witnesses, and no ability to turn it off and go about my life like nothing happened.
The jury foreman rose, unfolded a sheet of paper, and began to read from it; his hands were shaking almost as much as mine. “We the people in the case of State v. Sanders, find the defendant...” I knew that no matter what the next word was, it would alter the rest of my life. “...Not guilty.”
And that’s it. The rest of my life would now be separated into before and after hearing that sentence. The man I watched kill my son was free to go.
April 2020 Winners - Third Place
"The Almost Child" by Jaz Hurford
It is no secret I miss you. At night, my mind draws pictures of you as a baby to find sleep. Crisp sunlight comes and I recall the images while your daddy and I lie there, not yet full of morning air. Giggle at the very joy of you; you all soft footed, all warm milk. He often indulges me a while, though his lips remain squeezed together in passionless embrace.
When you come to visit, I fry meat. Ordinarily, your father abhors such practice; normal mealtimes for us consist of bowls of lentils, of thanking the Lord. I lay three places at the table even in your absence, as though the silent silverware may summon sudden knock at the door.
You always ring the telephone to announce arrival, though I gave you a key when you were just shy of ten years old. It’s open, I holler loudly, as I shake water from the boiled vegetables. And you step through, fresher than the new-found day. You uncork the wine; bottled the very year you were made. I plate our food as my head swills and spits out various greetings. Each one falters on my lower lip, tastes inadequate, somehow. Try as I might, I never have the words for you.
Thankfully, it seems age has weathered both our tongues. We enjoy the food without exchange. The silence is a gift inherited from him; the power to remain quiet even in uncomfortable places. But I know if conversation were possible, you’d tell me you’re doing well. New job. Perhaps a child of your own on the way.