Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
May Flowers 2017

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 27th Annual F. Scott And Zelda Fitzgerald Short Story Competition

Christal Cooper

The 27th Annual F Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest
Ceremony At The Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
“We used to have a pledge that started out with one country, one people, one language and I thought yes we need one language and I’ll tell you why – we’ll understand each other.  We misunderstand each other and everyone’s speaking English.  Just look what goes on in Congress. If we don’t learn to be specific in what we say then we are in trouble in this country.  So this is why I really started this (The F Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest) - to give everybody a chance to receive some rewards of their work.  We give football players all kinds of awards, but the literary people and the students that make the good grades to become our doctors and our lawyers and our teachers and our engineers – the ones that are going to rule our world - they just kind of ignore them.  And I thought,  “Well let’s give them an award for people who can truly write the English language.”  That’s what this award is about.”
Martha Cassels on September 28, 2014



         This past September 29, 2014 Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, located at 719 Felder Avenue, in Montgomery, Alabama hosted its 27th Annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Competition.  Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum co-founder and Montgomery businesswoman Martha Cassels has sponsored the short story contest for the past 27 years. 





         Each year there are four winners – two first prizewinners in the College and High School Categories; and two-second prizewinners in the College and High School Categories.  Alexandra Jurus won first place in the University Category and Chase Lintz won first place in the High School Category.    





      Amber Vance won second place in the University Category and Stephanie Nguyen-Duong won second place in the High School Category.  The first place winners are awarded a plaque and $250 and second place winners are awarded a plaque.    
         Here are their stories:


First Place College Category Winner
Alexandra Jurus
“Dust After Rain”





If there was ever a day that the broken screen door was not in danger of slamming in the wind, it was that day. The air was as thick as hogs’ blood. It sat densely on the dry ground like a heavy sack and could only be gulped. Even then it had to be chewed. The taste was like pollen and musk. I clung to the corroded, peeling railing at the edge of our front porch, with my foot balancing on the bottom rail so I could push my neck out in the hope of catching a sly breeze that would never come. My dress was already sealed against my skin with sweat.
“Omega, you’re gonna break your dern neck! What’d I tell you? That old beam can’t hold you. It’s near rotten with mildew. I ain’t gonna be the one to hear you come hollering when it finally gives in and you bust your face wide open,” Daddy yelled. He was propped up in the doorframe, slurping down the oily water and sediment that passed for coffee before we walked over to the Cole’s field.



         I jumped down anxious to avoid a whipping, landing awkwardly with my arms hanging just a little too rigidly by my sides to look natural, and looking up at Daddy with apparent guilt. If Daddy had still been looking my way, he would have grabbed me and popped me one good time for looking so shameful, but by now he was staring out at the cloudless sky as he swallowed the last few dregs of black sludge in his dirty, red cup. I saw my daddy drink out of that cup every day, but I never did once see Mother wash it. It fit Daddy’s hand like a glove—an extension of the calloused hands, tattooed with soil, which somehow never quite washed clean.
         I took this rare moment of peace to take a long look at my daddy’s face, memorizing the tired creases and dark pores against the backdrop of those waves of heat that look as if the world was beginning to melt. My eyes had lingered too long.
         “What the hell you staring at, sis? Get on back inside and grab your brothers so we can head out before the morning’s half over.”
         I ran in and called Truman and Clyde. Shortly, they tumbled down the stairs. Clyde, the oldest, was holding Truman around the back of the neck. Truman squirmed to free himself from Clyde’s grip. Clyde was only a few years older than Truman, but he had shot up almost as tall as Daddy since last fall, and he often took advantage of this new height difference whenever his smaller siblings were close at hand. He was as mean-spirited as an old dog and took pleasure in the nastiest things. He pushed Truman forward with a hard shove as soon as he reached the bottom of the stairwell, making the poor boy trip over his own feet. Truman pursed up his lips determined not to cry, and I snuck up behind him to give him a soft squeeze on his shoulders for support.
         Truman was my darling. My oldest sisters, Claudette and Martha, helped Mother at home; Luella was too little to do anything useful; and since Clyde helped Daddy, the responsibility of taking care of Truman had always fallen on me. I never minded though. He had the sweetest temperament of all us kids and shared my straw blonde hair and blue eyes, which had an angelic effect on his features, though it only highlighted my freckles and plainness.
         Luella walked into the kitchen ready to walk with Truman to the schoolhouse. They were the last two of us kids left in school. The rest of us helped with the crops mostly or stayed home with Mother. I hadn’t been back to school since about the fourth grade, I reckoned. Luella looked so proud in her clean school dress with her fiery red hair braided as neatly as her wiry curls would allow. I just had to give her a good, firm pinch on the arm to make sure she wasn’t getting above her raising. She gave a loud yelp, but one stern look from Mother hushed her up real quick like. She gave me a nasty look, but all I did was grin in return as we headed out the door to start our day.
         The sun was beating down on the back of my neck as our hands twisted, turned, and tugged the cotton from its boll with the same grace and precision as the hands that would one day weave its fibers. I stayed close to Daddy. There were many families with children like ours who, too poor to farm themselves, worked with the Coles and other farmers during harvest times, but it was easy to feel lost in the sea of strong, sweat-dripping, adult men who surrounded me. I noticed Daddy stumble forward ahead of me.
         “It smells like it’s ‘bout to rain,” I said passingly, hoping he would think I hadn’t noticed. I had barely spoken the harmless words when I saw a change in his expression like a switch had clicked over in his head.
         “What’d you say? What did you just say? Don’t you ever say that in front of me again. What do you think you know?”
         He grabbed my arm, yanking it up while he gave me the biggest whipping of a lifetime. When he finished he pushed me off, releasing my arm. I felt a sharp ache where his fingers had been. I couldn’t tell my tears from sweat, but the mingled salt burned in my eyes as I stared at Daddy with deep pain and confusion. I felt the burn of embarrassment, but I wasn’t sure if I was embarrassed about what I’d said or what he’d done. Daddy turned and stalked off as if he hadn’t said a word. No apologies were offered, but his anger had fled as suddenly as it had erupted. As he moved away from me I noticed a musty bottle of amber liquid slouched down in his frayed pocket. I dried my eyes on my dress sleeve and continued to pick.



         It was a gentle rain that accompanied me on my walk that evening. It landed softly on the dusty trail and echoed in the leaves of the trees that lined the road. I closed my eyes and breathed in that wonderful pure smell and let the day melt away to a chorus of cicadas and tree frogs. I stopped right quick when I opened my eyes again, noticing Clyde and his friend, Irving, sitting on a fence a little ways ahead of me. They were puffing out their cheeks to hold in their chuckles, but as soon as they knew I’d seen them they started a hooting and a hollering with no reservation. I blushed for my private moment to have been so unwillingly shared. I stopped in front of them to see if they were headed home as well.
         “Well, I declare, Miss Omega, you’re getting right pretty. Turning into a proper little lady, I’d say,” Irving gawked at me. I was not going to stand for such a speech. I threw my hands to my hips and huffed up real big so he couldn’t look down on me.
         “Irving, you nasty boy, don’t you try talking all that nonsense to me. I don’t care nothing about no dirty ol’ boys, and even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t give two hoots for you.”
         He clutched his chest as if in pain. “Omega! You don’t mean it? Why I feel my heart breaking right in two!”
         “If I haven’t ever heard a bigger pile of bunk than that! You’re a bad one, Irving Abbot, and my mamma told me to stay away from boys like you,” I hollered, crossing my arms to show my resoluteness.
         In a flash Irving had jumped off the fence and fixed his arms around my waist.
“You stay away from me! Stay away!” I shrieked as I tried to twist free.
“Oh, just give me one good kiss, sweetheart,” said Irving.
“Yeah, Mega,” I heard Clyde laugh, “why don’t you give him a kiss?”
         Clyde grabbed my arms to hold me still as Irving planted the most disgusting smack where my lips would have been if I hadn’t pulled them inwards between my teeth. He just snickered and while Clyde still had a hold of me, Irving wrenched my dress up over my head. Then without skipping a beat, I heard them both run off down the road laughing. When I got my clothes back in order, I sat down right there on the road and sobbed like a colicky baby for the second time that day.
When I came downstairs the next morning, Martha quickly pulled me aside and told me Daddy hadn’t come home that night. This wasn’t unheard of, and we all knew to steer clear of Mother if it happened. She wouldn’t make a fuss, but you could feel what I think was just plain tiredness in her heart on those days, and we were all hesitant t not to add any more to her burden. Martha told me Clyde had gone into town to find him, and I should find something to do to stay out of Mother’s way until Daddy got home.
I was walking around the front yard kicking up dirt and pulling up weeds around the broad, round roots of the oaks, imagining that they were stairs into a secret kingdom in a magical wood when I saw my uncle, Don, walking up by the gate. It struck me as odd that he would come to our house; we kids hardly ever saw Mother’s brother outside of town. I’d heard Martha and Claudette talking through the wall that separated their room from the one I shared with Luella about Uncle Don bringing Daddy home drunk a few times and Mother hollering at him, but as I’d never seen Mother holler at anyone a day in my life, I never believed them. Nonetheless, he was here now holding his hat and ringing his hands.
“Omega,” he said, “you better get along now inside and get your mamma for me.” His voice was stern, but even I could hear the fear behind it. I wondered if Daddy was still so drunk that even Don couldn’t drag him home.
“Where’s Daddy?” I said, not moving an inch
 “Well now, honey, I think I’d better talk to your mamma about that.”
         “Why?”
         He was becoming increasingly agitated.
         “I really don’t want—”
         At that moment Clyde ran down the lane like a bat out of hell.
         “Mega! Mega!” he cried, “Mega, Daddy’s shot himself!” he ran through the gate hollering and crying.
         I heard a loud thud behind me. Mother must have come out on to the porch when I wasn’t paying any mind, and she kneeled there now, collapsed in a heap, gasping for air.
         Uncle Don came out onto the porch and sat next to me on the steps. I was watching lightening bugs in the yard, thinking about when Daddy had shown me as a young’un how to catch them in my hands. I couldn’t seem to make myself understand that he was gone.
         “Is my daddy in hell?” I asked quietly.
         “What?” gasped Uncle Don in shock.
         “Well, the preacher said suicides don’t go to heaven cause the bible says we ain’t supposed to kill anybody, not even ourselves. So I reckon that means Daddy’s gone to hell,” I explained matter-of-factly.
         Don took off his glasses and dragged his hand down his face while he thought quietly for a moment. “Darlin’, your Daddy wasn’t always—,” he said, pausing between his words, “—quite  right." Not in his head, so to speak. I don’t think he really knew what he was doing when he took his life. Now I don’t think God is so unkind that he’d keep us out of heaven for doing something when we didn’t know no better.” He looked at me as if expecting to see my relief, but I just leaned my head down to my arms at the end of my knees and shrugged up at him in response.
         Late one evening, a week after the funeral, Claudette and Martha sent the boys and me down to the nearby pond to give Mother some quiet. Clyde and Irving had spent the walk pushing and pulling Truman until he was miserable and taunted him until he agreed to race them in a swim. I knew full well that Truman’s little arms wouldn’t carry him nearly as fast as Clyde and Irving’s long, lanky limbs, but he was in a huff now and wouldn’t be told off.
         I dipped my toes into the edge of the warm water, digging them in the bottom to feel the soft mud squish between them. The boys’ heads bobbed up and down in the pond as they thrashed about making the most awful racket. About halfway across Truman started to slow down. I thought he must have given up seeing how hopeless the whole business was. He stopped fast where he was. Sickening waves of panic washed over me.



         “Clyde! Oh my God, Oh my God, Clyde,” I yelled desperate to get his attention, but he was still swimming and couldn’t hear me. I’d never learned how to swim and I couldn’t go to help my sweet boy. Irving had made it to the other side of the pond and seeing Truman’s distress, he dived back in immediately. Truman was struggling to keep his head up, but his tired body was treading slowly in the murky water. Irving had nearly reached him but the waves he was creating were only pushing Truman further under water. Then all at once he disappeared. I felt as if I had swallowed my lungs. I couldn’t breathe or yell. Irving dipped under in search of him. Clyde, now aware of the confusion, stood equally frozen at the opposite end of the pond. Seconds crawled along, but it felt like the world had stopped.
         Irving immerged into view dragging Truman behind him. My legs gave out from beneath me. Truman wasn’t moving. It had happened so suddenly I couldn’t make sense of what I’d seen. My eyes raced back and forth and I felt helpless so far from where he lay motionless. The boys stood over him taking turns shaking him, patting him on the back, and listening to his chest, but neither of them really knew what to do. Finally Clyde, after listening for a heartbeat, jumped up suddenly with a howl. He was screaming hysterically. I knew immediately my baby boy’s heart had stopped. I fell over on to the bank and retched as I wept. The pain that seized me was more powerful than anything I’d ever known. I was blinded by my tears and couldn’t move to save my life.
         When the boys had made their way around the pond Irving scooped me up to take me home, walking by Clyde’s side, carrying me as Clyde carried Truman. All I could see from where I lay were Truman’s sunny boyhood curls dripping with the now cold water that had extinguished the spark of his life.



         The broken swing’s tired hinges creak as the low wind brushes against them. The weeds and wild onions sway, as I stand for another day in this faded doorframe staring out at the dead heat. I marvel at how time creeps slowly in this sleepy town, and yet blindly declines to stand still when the most precious among us are ripped away to fall forever outside of its command. Instead it wrenches us forward in our grief, forcing us to break ties with the dear ones it leaves behind. When will the wind cease, or the crickets take a moment of silence? And why doesn’t the sun know to bow its head in solemn respect and make way for the rain to weep? Only dust is excused from this loathsome constancy, waiting patiently until only dust is excused from this loathsome constancy, waiting patiently until it is joined with us.

First Place High School Category Winner
Chase Lintz
“Covenant”


         The mass of helmets lurched backward as the landing craft plunged into the dark water.  Sea spray glistened on the surface of everything it touched, catching the light of the artillery fire.  Private Eddie Hagen glanced at the faces of the men around him.  Some were praying, while others held pictures or mementos of sweethearts and family before carefully tucking them away inside of their jackets.   The rest stared into the unknown, their faces expressionless, betraying no inner feelings.
         “This is it, Buddy!”
         Eddie managed a smile in return for the hearty slap on his shoulder and twisted around to acknowledge a friend.
         “We’re finally gonna kick some Nazi ass!”  Vince DeLanzio grinned down at Eddie.  “Remember, kid, the rules are the same just like it was in the old neighborhood.  Stick with me.  We’ll do just fine.  Besides, your sister will never marry me if I let any thing happen to you.”
         “You know something, Vinnie, that’s really funny.  She told me to watch out for you.”
         Suddenly, both men were distracted by an explosion, which sent more spray into the craft.  The roar of airplanes filled the sky.  As they passed overhead, the black and white “invasion” stripes painted on their lower bodies could be seen.  The markings let the Allies know that these were their own, for protection against heir anti-aircraft guns.  The soldiers watched them as they made their way through the flack and over the cliffs.
         “Son-of-a-bitch!  Do you see that shoreline, Vince?  How the hell are we gonna make it up those cliffs?  We’ll be sitting ducks, just waiting for Fritz to blow us all to hell!”
         Eddie attempted to adjust his gear and renewed his grip on his rifle.  Amid the chaos and ever increasing artillery fire, he thought of his last visit to another beach, Coney Island.  During his high school years, as the weather grew warm, he would cut classes with Vince and hitchhike to the beach.  Vince had always been the bolder one.  Orphaned at an early age, he had been raised by an aunt.  Without a father’s guidance, he had grown up streetwise and cocky.
         On the other hand, Eddie had the advantage of a loving, structured family life.  His dad was a kind and forgiving man.  It was his mother’s Irish temperament, which had kept him on his toes.  His sister, Tess, had the same fire and beauty as their mother.  Vince had been smitten with Tess for years.  In fact, Eddie was sure that his friend was in love.
         Vince and Eddie had signed up for the Marines at the same time.  After basic training, the two had strutted like peacocks before family and friends.  As full-fledged fighting men, they would now join in the fight against he Hun.  When the time came to say good-bye, Eddie avoided the look in his parents’ eyes.  He could not avoid Tess, though.  With tear-filled eyes, she made him promise to look out for himself, as well as Vince.  She then turned to his friend, placed her hand son his shoulders, and kissed him for the first time.  Vince watched her run upstairs to her room, leaving him weak in the knees.  Regaining his composure, he said his farewell and walked out the door.
          Suddenly, the barking orders form the platoon leader interrupted Eddie’s thoughts.  The back wall of the craft crashed into the water and the throng of men moved forward.  Plunging into the icy surf, the Marines gasped as the cold wetness penetrated their clothing.  The dark, green depths caused many to flounder, already weighted down with excess gear.  This, combined with the mortar fire aimed at them from the tope of the cliffs, caused many to believe they had seen their last day.
         As Eddie struggled toward the shore, a bullet pierced through the man in front o him, causing him to fall backward.  He looked into the lifeless eyes before the sea covered the soldier’s face and claimed his spirit.
         A second later, Eddie felt a sharp pain in his side.  Before losing his balance, he felt a strong arm lifting him up.
         “Are you okay, buddy?”
         Eddie shook his head in reply as Vince struggled to maintain his own bearing.  The water became shallower, but rolls of barbed wire presented another problem.  Others cried out in pain as they fell or tripped onto the biting barricade.  Finally, the two spied an opening and scrambled to the shore quickly followed by others.
         “Where are you hit, Ed?”  Concern shown in Vince’s face as his eyes searched for the source of the red stain, which slowly traveled downward.   
         “Just beneath the shoulder.  Man, it stung like hell, at first.  Now it’s kinda numb.”  Eddie gasped and dropped his head onto the wet sand.
         “Give me your gear.”
         Eddie raised his head as he felt his friend unbuckle the pack, and ease the straps form his shoulders.
         “What are you doing, Vince?”
         “I want you to start crawling toward the cliff.  See that niche over there?  Head for it.  You can’t make it in your shape with all this gear.  I’ll be right behind you.  Now, go!”
         The firing intensified, but Eddie said a silent prayer and clawed his way to the wall of rock.  Bodies of dead and dying were all around.  Ironically, they served as a protective shield.  As he approached his destination, a hand reached out and grabbed at the collar of his jacket, pulling him to safety.  Within the shelter of the rock, Eddie could see others inside the crevice.
         “Can you see my buddy?”
         “Don’t see much of anything moving right now, mate.”
         Eddie peered into the dark corners and recognized the British uniforms.  A clicking sound engulfed his hears, and he realized that it was his teeth.  Known he could not restrain his fear, he wanted at least to control his trembling.  Glancing at the man next to him, he noticed that he, too, was shaking.
         The mist from the sea began to rise, only to mingle with the smoke form the mortar fire.  Eddie lay against the cliff, feeling weak and helpless.  More men were coming ashore, and staying alive.  They were making progress.  He wondered how much longer the battle would last, and where Vince was.
         Looking out at the edge of the beach, he saw the back of a familiar figure.  With soldiers scrambling back and forth, Eddie found that he could not take his eyes from the lone form.  Slowly, the man turned, and faced Eddie’s questioning stare.  The left side of his face had been blown away with shrapnel.  His arm hung limply at his side.  Even with half of his body badly torn, Eddie knew that it was Vince.  Both men looked at each other.  Eddie could not speak or move.  He could only gaze at the face of his friend.  Finally, Vince turned, and disappeared into the smoke and chaos of battle.
         “Sorry bout your mate, Yank.  He’ll probably turn up down the shoreline somewhere, where we’re supposed to be.”
         The voice broke into Eddie’s trance, and pulled him back.  Still he could not speak the look in Vince’s eyes before he vanished played over and over again in Eddie’s mind.  It had been a look of satisfaction at knowing that his friend was safe, and that he had kept his promise to the one he loved.  It has also been a final farewell.
         Later on, as the medic finished dressing his wound, Eddie found himself lying in one of a hundred rows of inured and dead soldiers.  The glory of war was all around.  Blood stained the sand, and the ongoing explosions of battle sounded in the distance.  For now, though the moans and crying of men filled the air.
         “Here, pal, have a cigarette.”
         Eddie looked at the medic’s face and murmured a “thanks” as he accepted the offer.  Still trembling, he brought the cigarette to his lips and inhaled slowly.  Lying back, he could only think of the fact that he was on a beach.  It was chilly, just like Coney Island in the spring.  Coney island.
         He peered over just as a handful of more British soldiers made their way between the rows of bodies.  One stopped to shift the weight of a load that he carried over his shoulder, before resuming his journey.  Eddie could see that it was the body of a young Private, arms hanging limp and lifeless.
         The medic stopped the man, and lifted the head of the boy.
         “You’re wasting your time, mac.  This one’s dead.”
          “Continuing his trek, the soldier replied over his shoulder, “I promised his Mum that I would look out for him.”
         Shaking his head, the medic turned his attention to the next link in an endless chain.
         “Promised his Mum.” The words rolled over in Eddie’s head. Promises.  The entire beach was filled with broken promises, yet Vince had managed to keep his.  The cigarette slipped through his fingers into the sand.  The sun now shone through the haze, resembling a Ferris wheel in the distance.  Water lapped back and forth on the shore, and the cry of gulls, somewhere, phased into he laughter of children.  Eddie closed his eyes, and wept.


Second Place College Category Winner
Amber Vance
“Fate’s Promise”



Bang!
         It didn’t sound like thirteen different shots being fired.  They were so synchronized, it was one ear-ringing blast.  However, you could hear four different bodies fall lifeless to the cold earth.  Thieves would not be tolerated.  It wasn’t until they removed the corpses that she unclenched her eyes.
         “March!” They trudged on.
         Maggie despised German.  Every word, no matter how softy spoken, sounds ugly and harsh.  If you want beauty, then listen to the French language.  Even the cruelest French word sound honey-dipped.  But that sweetness had long been replaced by the German devils’ commands.
         It was dark before they set up camp for the night.  The wind whistled through the icy air.
         “You’re shivering to death.  Your lips are turning purple.”
         “Your eyes play ticks on you, sir.”  Her eyes shifted to each soldier nearby.
         “Here.”  Maggie cautiously took the worn, brown blanket from his hand and slipped it around her shaking shoulders.  “You’re mistaken.  I can see you quite clearly.”
         Colonel Bennett turned from her and rejoined the older soldiers near the fire.  Tilda met Maggie’s eyes with a smirk and then gazed down at her sleeping son.
         The 22-year-old American girl ignored her friend, “Where did we leave off this morning?” 
         After half an hour of basic English lessons, a desired distraction from their harsh reality, most of the prisoners, including Tilda, were asleep.  Many people would find it difficult to let sleep consume them if their bed was a frozen path through the dark foothills of southern France.   But these battered innocents welcomed rest in any form.  As far as freezing to death, well, there are worse ways to die.
         Four years ago, France was completely different.  It thrived.  Her parents had encouraged her to study art abroad.  Another war seemed unimaginable at the time.  As a Christian young woman, she felt little threat from continuing her studies while battles ensued across nations.
         With illumination from the full moon overhead and the fire a few feet away, Maggie glanced at her floral patterned dress, which now hung on her body like a soiled flag.
         “Maggie, don’t be so bold.”
         “Well, those bastards should have learned for the first time!  Come on, Caroline, this is 1941.  Where is France’s backbone?  Hitler is nothing more than a power-hungry child throwing a temper tantrum.”
         Suddenly, German soldiers were posted a few shops down form the cafĂ© stomped up to Maggie, arresting her for treason.
         “Get your hands off me!  I’m an American!  You can’t do this!  I’ve done nothing wrong!”  She struggled against their vice-like grips until one slapped her hard across her face causing her head to collide with the cobblestone.  Before she fell unconscious she saw blood speckled on the flowery gown her mother made her.

         “Maggie! . . .Maggie! . . .! Maggie!”  Hushed cries brought her back to reality.
         “Oh, Co-,” she glimpsed at a huddle of soldiers leaving the fire to see if anyone was taking note of their exchange.  All clear.  “Jude, I’m so sorry!”
         “No sleep for ya?”  He stood adjacent to her, seemingly watching the prisoners to make sure none escaped.
         “I will soon, sir.  I prefer to be with my thoughts for a while.”  Staring forward, she tucked her knees closer under her chin with her auburn hair cascaded over her slim arms.
         “You have to take better care of yourself.  I saw you today give your bread to your friend Tilda and then later your blanket to her son Raymond.  This journey is savage and you’re only making it harder for you to endure.  Being kind won’t help you survive.”
         “Being selfish and cruel won’t help me live with myself, either.”
         Finally his vision shifted to her huddled body on the ground.  “And without you, I have no air in my lungs.  You’re strong, my darling.  But I can see your body weakening more and more each day.  Promise me you will do your best to live.”
         She smiled softly at his words.  “I promise.”
         “I have to tell you something important.  It . . . well, it changes everything.  Fort de Perrot serves only as a transit camp to another prison, a concentration camp.  Not sure how long you’ll be kept at Perrot.  But this other prison . . . this other prison has a gas chamber.”
         “What are you trying to tell me!?”  Her voice hitched.
         Placing his finger over his lips, he checked to see if her outburst had drawn any attention.  A few yards away, one soldier observed their general area.  An owl flew over them.  The soldier’s stare followed it across the sky.
         “If you go to that other prison, you’ll die there.”  He clenched his jaw.  “We have to act before we reach Perrot.”
         To clam the chills rippling through her body, she focused on his red handkerchief.

         “You can’t get away this easy!”  Yanking her by the arm back to him, the soldier continued attacking her neck with his mouth.
         “Please, stop!”  Maggie tried to twist out of his clutches, but his muscular arms held her locked in place.
         Sliding his hands down her trembling body, he grasped her full hips and pushed her against the wall.  With his intentions clear, bile rose in her throat.  She screamed for help until he muted her with his hand, still roping her curves with the other one.  Shoving against his solid body did nothing, but she kept trying to force him off of her.
         The mountain of a main defiling her neck and chest disappeared, causing her to fall on her hands and knees.
         “Are you alright, miss?”  A Young officer, looking to be only four or five years older than her, bent over and helped her to stand.  “Miss?”
         “Oh!  Yes, I am now.  Thank you!”  Peering at the handsome stranger for too long, she wondered about his English accent paired with his German uniform.
         Off to the right, she watched her assailant scurry down the street holding his swollen jaw.
         “I’m sorry he touched you.  Know that he will be punished.  I’ll make sure he doesn’t dare come near you again.”  Removing a red handkerchief from his suit’s front pocket, he gently wiped her neck and face.

         A few days later they approached the railway.  Twenty freight cars awaited them.  The Nazis ushered about seventy people into each car.  Maggie and the others were directed to stand with their hands above their heads to make room.
         Quickly her arms grew sore and fatigue set in.  In such a cramped space, they suffered days without eating or drinking.  The overwhelming stench of unclean bodies and urine suffocated her relentlessly.
         “Exit the train!”
         Gulping in fresh air, Maggie immediately searched for a soldier with broad shoulders, cocoa brown hair shaved close on the sides, and a mysterious scar on the right side of his chin.  She spotted her love about three cars away.
         “I said, move!”
         Her head snapped toward the forceful voice and the shriek that followed.  Eight-year-old Reymond lay motionless in the snow.  The ice near his head was tainted red.  Tilda covered his body with her own, protecting him from any further blows from the stock of the soldier’s gun.  Within seconds, Colonel Bennett was pushing the gun against he assaulting private’s chest, carefully picking up the boy and assessing his wounds.
         After Reymond was bandaged, Maggie promptly met Colonel Bennett behind the designated passenger car.
         As soon as he saw her, he grabbed her shoulders and said in a rushed whisper, “We escape tonight.  There’s a fallen tree on the track not far form here so it’ll take them some time to move.  I’ll come get you.  About two mile up that hill and pas the tree line is a yellow cottage.  There’s a path right before you get to it a mile long that leads to a boatman.  He will sail us to a port where we can board a ship voyaging to England, where I have family.  Take this.  It’s more than enough to pay our way.”
         She furrowed her brow, “Why should I hold onto the money?  And what about Tilda and Reymond?  I can’t leave them behind!” 
         “We’re not leaving them behind.  Listen, Maggie.  I’m not running away for me.  I’m running away for us.  I can’t live like this anymore.  Having to watch and permit this torture.  Anything could happen when we escape.  No matter what, you have to keep going.  You’re strong, remember?  Protect Tilda and Reymond . . .and especially yourself.”  He grazed the back of his fingers against her left cheek.   “I will save you from this fate.  We will leave here alive and happy.  That I promise you.’  Tears sprung to her eyes.  Dimples formed in her cheeks as a long lost smile found its place again.  He brought her body flush against his.  Her arms wrapped around his neck and they shared a tender kiss, their first of what they hoped would be many.
         Once night had fallen, the two women and young boy were prepared to flee from their current nightmare and impending Hell.  Sneaking out of the supply car, Colonel Bennett had gathered all of the necessities, such as matches, kerosene, food, water, blankets, and medical provisions for their trip.
         He pointed at Maggie, Tilda, and Reymond.  “You three!  Step outside for questioning.”
         They continued with the ruse by looking around frantically.
         As they exited the train, a guard posted by the door nodded his head at Colonel Bennett.
         Slipping by a couple of freight cars unseen, they began their trek up the deeply snow covered hill.  Suddenly, Maggie, who was in the lead, heard shouting and dogs barking from back at the train.
         Just as she was about to look over her shoulder, Colonel Bennett insisted, “Move faster!  Keep going!”
         The pounding of her heartbeat in her ears accelerated her exhausted body.  At least twenty-five men were pursuing them.  Rapidly, a barrage of bullets was fired at them from about 100 yards away.  But the night provided a great cover.  Then a groan echoed all around her.  She had to look back.
         Colonel Bennett collapsed into the white powder.  Running back towards him, she halted when he lifted his head.
         “No matter what, Maggie.  If I’m not there in an hour, then leave.  Go!  I’ll find you, I promise.”
         She wanted to protest.  She wanted to tell him that she may be the air in his lungs, but he’s the blood in her veins.  She would not only refuse to have a life without him, but also she was unable to have a life without him.  Life without love is no life at all.  But she knew that she must have faith in the promises they made to one another.  So she ran for Tilda and Reymond.  She ran for herself.  And she ran for a future with her savior and love.
         They waited at the dock for two and half hours and there was still no sign of him.  Rustling in the forest alerted them of someone’s presence.  Immediately they hid, especially when Maggie glimpsed a German uniform.  Colonel Bennett stumbled through the thicket clutching his left shoulder.
           “You made it!”  Maggie dashed into his chest, causing him to wince form her jarring his injured shoulder.
         He hugged her tighter and softly placed a kiss on her forehead.  “I keep my promises.”

Second Place In The High School Category
Stephanie Nguyen-Duong
“The Sweet Escape”





         The Divers are renowned for their partying and drinking.  Many say they are enjoying the perfect life.  Everyone aspires to be part of their glamorous social circle.  Who wouldn’t want to be friends with Charles Diver, the famous, novelist, and his wife, Alison, the most beautiful woman in the world?  However, this glittery life isn’t as perfect as it seems.
         With the window open, Alison could hear the melodious chirping of the birds coming back after the tenacious winter.  Subtly, the delicate fragrance of the peach trees perfumed her room.  The young girl snuggled into the sun’s warm embrace.  Alison opened her eyes, and faced the clear blue sky that greeted her.  A cheerful smile illuminated her serene face and an overwhelming sense of happiness and reminiscence reigned in her.

         Journal:  May 1st, 1926
         Dreamed of THAT summer.  Once again, it’s intriguing how the pleasure scent of the peach trees always brings back those memories.  This smell is forever engraved in my mind.  The one of our happy times. How could I forget?  The summer of our rebellious youth, of our innocence.  How I wish I could go back to those times.    

         Blaring music, piercing laughter and drunken bawls mingled with the nauseating smell of tobacco and alcohol.
         “How surprising!  Alison Diver, the most lively and enthusiastic person in the room is not dancing; rather, she is depressingly drowning herself in her misery!  I’m Freddie Moore, by the way.”  A gentleman with captivating eyes that reminded her of the sea strived to start a conversation.
         “My, such a cocky fellow.  I like you!”  the dazzling host of the party laughed brightly.

         Journal:  May 2nd, 1926
         Get to know Freddie, a young fly boy.  Very nice guy.  And really funny!  Like Charles before . . . Really, how fame transforms someone so drastically?  It’s like I don’t know Charles anymore.  Words can’t describe how I despise this new arrogant and truly despicable man!  Who does he think he is?  Just because he sold a few books he pretends he’s the best?  I don’t’ want to think about Charles, it only makes my blood boil.  Anyway, had a really great time yesterday.  We went outside and walked barefoot in the garden.  Like fools we screamed our lungs out while on the swings hanging form the peach trees.  Like me and Charles back then . . .

         Since that meeting, Alison regularly slipped away to Freddie, escaping her stressful married life.  For so long, she yearned for the happiness she used to share with her husband and here was an opportunity for her to have it back.  She hadn’t given much thought to this relationship for both were clearly not committed to it.  Nevertheless, it became apparent that their feelings for each other were legitimate.  This realization caused her great distress.  Immense guilt consumed her.  In the beginning, she denied it.  However, she has come to accept the truth.

                                                          To Freddie Moore
                                                          From Alison Diver
                                                          September 19th, 1926

My darling Freddie,
You don’t know how much I miss you.  Knowing we are breathing the same air under the same sky gives me solace.  When I see an airplane, I amuse myself by thinking you are the one making it fly.  It’s idiotic, I know.  How have you been?  Thanks for the Egyptian dress, it’s marvelous!  Have you had the chance to visit other countries?

I’m going to get a divorce with Charles.  I thought about it a lot.  Why didn’t I realize sooner that I didn’t love him anymore?  That I only loved the memories we created together?  I’m such a fool.  The other day, he came back home with a woman he got pregnant, begging me to ask my brother to abort the baby.  And he had the nerve to say he loved me!  I don’t know if I’m supposed to laugh or cry.  It hurts but it’s like I’ve become so inured to it, I don’t care

Anymore.  When you come back, let’s get married.  You will be my husband and I will be your wife.  Freddie and Alison Moore, the Moores!  Sounds funny.  In a good way, of course.

Come back quickly!
Sending you thousands of kisses!
Ali

         Two weeks later, Alison returned home form a party earlier than usual, just before sunrise.  A fight had broken out between her and Marisa, the Ritz owner’s daughter.  Marisa had caught her boyfriend drooling over Alison. Something about the married woman always made girls boil in jealousy – either because of a boy problem or an inferiority complex.  Even breathing consisted of a sin.  Alison went through the grand hallway in towards her room.  To her surprise, a dim light emerged from the study’s half-closed door.
         “I expected you to be out partying and whoring around.”
         Alison muttered as she opened the door, contempt and a hint of jealousy in her voice.  She stopped abruptly and her eyes widened in shock.  Shattered glass, scattered books, broken chairs.  Breaking the deafening silence, Charles’ rancorous laughter filled the room.
         “Alison Diver . . My beloved.”
         Both were staring at each other with boundless hate, disdain.  How did they become like this?  Where was the mischievous boy she fell in love with during that innocent summer?  Somewhere inside of her, she wished, she believed everything could go back to the way it was then.  However, every day, the harsh and caustic words spitting from her husband’s mouth buried her hope; today was not an exception.
         “Or should I say, Alison Moore?”
         The last word pierced Alison’s heart like a knife and she felt her whole world collapse when she saw the letter rumpled in Charles’ hand.  How?
         Alison was now locked in her bedroom.  Her egotistical and manipulative husband ordered their maids to prevent his wife from sneaking away form their villa.  They would bring her food, which she never touched, and changed her sheets with difficulty, for she always stayed in her bed and refused to cooperate.
         This was the routine for months until Freddie finally returned.
         Alison perceived a subtle smell of cologne in her bedroom.  She felt Freddie’s protective arms wrap her frail waist.
         “Love, you’ve become so thin!”  Freddie exclaimed, in shock.
         “That’s a minor thing . . . Now that we’re together, everything’s alright,” she weakly chuckled.  
         For hours, Alison and Freddie babbled about everything and nothing, giggled at nonsensical jokes and contemplat3ed each other’s presence. 
         Hearing his wife’s jovial laughter resonate in the house, a rare sound lately, Charles took a break from his writing to check on her discreetly.  Alison was talking to herself yet again, a custom she had picked up lately.  Now she was speaking to Freddie as if he were in the room.

         Shocked, it all dawned on him.  The returned letter with the non-existent address, her odd behavior, everything.


Photograph Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1
Martha Cassels
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper

Photo 2a
F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Copyright granted 

Photo 2b
F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald
1920
Public Domain

Photo 3
Martha Cassels, Alexandra Jurus, and Willie Thompson, Executive Director of the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper

Photo 4
Martha Cassels and Chase Lintz
Copyright granted by Christal Rice Cooper

Photo 5
Image of screen door by Alexandra Jurus
Copyright granted by Alexandra Jurus

Photo 6
Delicate Balance
Painting attributed to Greg Olsen
Copyright granted by Greg Olsen

Photo 7
Image of store/bar front window by Alexnadra Jurus
Copyright granted by Alexnadra Jurus

Photo 8
Image of little girl crying by Alexandra Jurus
Copyright granted by Alexandra Jurus

Photo 9
Image of crosses in a cemetery by Alexandra Jurus
Copyright granted by Alexandra Jurus.


Photo 10
WWII: Europe: France; “Into the Jaws of Death — U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire”, circa 1944-06-06.
Attributed to Robert F Sargent
Public Domain/ Library of Congress

Photo 11
Image of the deportation of Jews in Paris layered on top of the Nazi red handkerchief

Photo 12
1920s photographic image of a woman in her room writing.
Photographer unknown
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law