First Place
Cate Touryan - The Auction

Five years ago, Cate moved back to her hometown of San Luis Obispo after a thirty-year stint in Sacramento raising her children and building her career. When not editing engineering reports or teaching technical writing to forensic scientists, she takes long walks with her mom, who says it’s about time she moved back. She lives with her husband and daughter a stone’s throw from her childhood home (and her mom), and recently secured an agent for her first novel. Cate invites you to connect with her at:

The Auction

Within the pages of newspapers, spun across seemingly disparate facts, unseen threads spool out, span and tangle, weave stories that glisten into sight only rarely. And usually without poetic aesthetic. Take this: two items reported three months apart but occurring on the same day:
Notice of trustee’s sale: The property at 125 South Tassajara Drive may be sold at a public auction to the highest bidder. Date of Sale is April 20, 2015.
April 20, 2015, 11 a.m.: Firefighters respond to a house fire on South Tassajara Drive.
A month later, two months, four, and her house stands still, boarded up, plywood nailed against the windows, against the front door, planks fastened against the curious, the brazen, emits an acrid seep of smoke. Faded crime scene tape sways across the vacant driveway. On the roof, tarps slap and ripple, filmy edges loosed in gusts, flapping, twisting, expose the rips in the shingles, the descent into flames. Behind the house, twin pine trees soar, unsinged. A crack splits the front retaining wall, dives beneath the concrete sidewalk, disappears beneath the house, a metaphor. Against the porch railing, a vase holds limp daisies and a scrawled note. A late spring rain has blurred the words.
April 20, 2015, 3:00 p.m.: Woman found in burning SLO home has died, official says.
She was the Miss Emily Grierson of our neighborhood, the Boo Radley, the Norma Jean, owing not taxes to Jefferson in Faulkner’s south, but a mortgage on a second, right here on our street, her house in foreclosure yet again, the house she twirled batons in as a child, the house she refused to leave for a fiancé, the house that held her father’s and then her mother’s ashes. The neighborhood watched her vanish by bits, finally lock herself away behind closed curtains, slipping out on the occasional moonless night to sit on her front porch, an empty wine glass betraying her at dawn. Youth had not completely left her yet, a faded beauty should anyone catch a glimpse of her on a rare Saturday morning walk to the corner market, under her broad-brimmed hat hints of alabaster skin, arched brows, honey blonde hair—a ringer for a Hollywood starlet once, with sin-red lips and fitted sweaters, said those who knew—though illness had blanched and bloated her, rotted her teeth, bulged her eyes, taken her mind, some said, unraveled her—so the whispers went. Our whispers. Her whispers.
They’ll try to break through the front door. It is a moonless night, past the witching hour, and she is wrapping duct tape around the gate latch to the front porch, the gate latch to the side yard, twisting and braiding. She tramps through weeds and dead branches, careful not to muss a patch of earth sheltered beneath a rose bush. Mere weeks ago, we helped bury her Gigi, a Yorkshire terrier wracked with diabetes, my husband shoveling the hard dirt over the taped shoebox, my teenage daughter and I quieting her rising hysteria. Now two dogs bark from inside the den, beyond them on the cluttered desk her beloved Abyssinian, watching.
They’ll shatter the glass. She steps across the deck, opens the sliding glass door, drags an exercise bike across the room, pushes it against the door. The rear frame catches on the carpet, knocks over the can of acetone. They’ll think they can put it out. She splashes the liquid recklessly, backs through the doorway into the kitchen, sets the can on the counter. They’ll try to yank open this door. She jams a chair beneath the handle, ropes them together, wraps and knots. Picking up the can, she pours out more liquid, splashes a path through the cluttered hallway, stops short of the bedroom. The walls are covered floor to ceiling with paintings, oils and watercolors signed in her mother’s neat hand, seascapes, tall-masted sailboats, wheat fields and farmhouses, on the coffee table piles of unopened mail, dated magazines, stained teacups, a novelty book, its cover a photo of Marilyn Monroe. Sponge curlers lie scattered beside stacks of romance novels, silk flowers, shoeboxes teeming with prescription bottles. Decades of hoarding barricade the front entry. She traps herself free. Her dogs yap at her heels, her cat slinking past.
The fire smoldered for hours.
She killed her animals first. We don’t know how. It took the police three weeks after the fire to find them, carrying them in bags from the backyard. They wouldn’t tell us, though we were the ones who’d told them.
Who is she? How old is she? Does she have family?
She’s Miss Emily Grierson, Boo Radley, Norma Jean. She’s 47. Her family is three dogs and a cat. We buried Gigi last month.
After her mother died the summer before, she no longer let them outside. Her house reeked of urine and feces and failed chemical warfare, a choking ambush should she crack open the front door for a plate of cookies, the stench woven into her clothes. When she killed them, she killed herself. The fire was merely a formality.
My daughter calls me from Panera, where she has gone with friends. “I miss her,” she says through sobs. “I brought her here so many times. We were going to shop at Forever 21, and she was going to illustrate my book.” My daughter drove her to doctor’s appointments, treated her to burgers and shakes, followed her into thrift stores, returning home with fashion finds right off Madison Avenue. During late-night phone calls over boyfriend woes, my daughter would find a veritable Dear Abby: “I tell you, he’s working my last nerve,” she’d say.
We’d surprised her with a birthday party in November, the neighbors gathered in our kitchen to celebrate her 47th year, a year that lasted five months. She knew then what we didn’t, blushing as we sang to her, blowing out the blazing wishes on her cake.
Tipped off by our mail carrier, we saw the notice in January’s Tribune, whispered among ourselves, watched her house anxiously, wondered when she would come out, and if she did, what we would say. Email messages went unanswered, phone calls never returned. And then Gigi took ill.
“All suicides are sad,” writes my older daughter from her home in England, “but it sounds like she picked quite a statement way of going out, taking her house with her. Shows a certain strength of mind.” Or a mental illness, according to the next-door neighbors. “What she did was a cruel and selfish act—but we can forgive her—she was so mentally fragile.” They are far more charitable than I. If she weren’t already dead, I’d kill her myself. It’s a rage unknown. In suicide, I discover, there is always a murder of another. This initial rage, the shocked recoil of the unnecessary, the unthinkable, dissipates by the time we hold her celebration of life. “She made our lives so much richer despite her pain,” we say to the somber few who attend—six neighbors, a grocery clerk, and her one-time fiancé—and we mean it. “We wish our love had been enough.” And that is it, after all. We weren’t the highest bidder.
Shortly after moving into our house, we told our next-door neighbors we’d invited her for Saturday morning coffee.
“Why?” they asked. They’d long ago chalked her up to her own destiny.
Why? Aren’t we our brother’s keeper?
 “My mother always told me, ‘It’s your life to screw up.’” We sat on our balcony, table crammed with coffee cups and scones, captivated by her improbable stories, her Estonian mother, escaped from a concentration camp, her father, the South African novelist, her first fiancé on his doomed flight over Devil’s Peak, the color of her nails. “I wanted a happy color today.”  
They smelled the smoke, my husband and our neighbor, the two Giants’ fans commiserating out front over Sunday’s game, Dale fumbling for his cell phone, my husband running across the street. He tore the duct tape off the porch gate easily enough, kicked in the front door, but staggered back at the billowing smoke, the exploding flames. Running to the side gate, he ripped off more duct tape, threw a flowerpot at the sliding glass door, hurled a brick, hurled and hurled. Struggling past the broken glass, the exercise bike, he yanked at the kitchen door, tethered from inside, but again smoke poured out, the flames knocking him backward.
After they’d taken her away in the ambulance, a firefighter asked me if she was suicidal.
She lived in the past, I said. And today her past went on the auction block.
“It was completely unnecessary,” her attorney tells me over the phone months later. “We’d gotten a postponement on the auction—we just hadn’t gotten around to putting a letter in the mail.”
The firefighters found her lying on her bed, on her bedside table a pocket leather Bible and a bottle of nail polish. 

Second Place
Nancy Bodily
Pain Management

Third Place
Mary Beth Ellis - ... And the Married Girl

Proud aunt Mary Beth Ellis is a freelance writer and education in Cincinnati, OH.  She’s the author of Drink to the Lasses from Cold Tree Press, and at work at another set of essays based on a year embedded with Ohio State’s marching band. Catch up with her on Twitter @blondechampagne or her website

…And the Married Girl
I have vaginismus.  There—as I type, a red squiggly line appears beneath it on the page; the word, in the world of Microsoft, does not exist.  It is not recognized.  It is either something made up, or an anomaly, a mistake in black and white.
You, perhaps, like Microsoft Word 10, have not heard of vaginismus.  I don’t blame you.  There are free and open discussions of low sperm count, of multiple orgasms, of erections lasting more than four hours—but vaginismus, this business of painful intercourse in women—well, we shan’t speak of that.
I’m fairly certain that I’m not supposed to be angry with my own vagina.  The two of us hang around together all day long and sleep in the same bed, after all, and I took it to graduation ceremonies from two women’s schools, where the students would dedicate entire courses to discussing our vaginas and how awesome they were, how beautiful, how superior, how resilient against repression. 
But my vagina was a study in irascibility.  It did not like NuvaRings.  It did not like tampons.  It did not like anyone of either gender looking in its general direction.  It really didn’t like Exam Room 4 of my gynecologist’s office, where, two seconds into my first Pap smear, I fainted dead off the table.  I was twenty years old, and a former rodeo barrel racer who was happiest at a leaning gallop; where did I get off slithering to the floor at the mere extension of a speculum? 
“Well,” the doctor said as I batted at the nurse when she tried to reload me into the stirrups, “since you’re not sexually active, I guess you don’t really need a Pap.  Come back when you’ve had intercourse.”        
I’ll get right on that.  I raised my head from between my weak knees and picked up my purse.  Other women’s vaginas have monologues.  Mine had panic attacks.
I had always blamed the horrific pain of any attempted insertion on my unbroken hymen, which was apparently constructed of some sort of space-age polymer with bindings of titanium and granite.  It seemed to have resisted a childhood of baked-leather Western saddles, various laughable attempts at an Olympic gymnastics career, and twelve years of  running down various soccer fields drawn on thick Ohio clay.  Well, OB-GYN visits weren’t supposed to be fun, anyway; nobody ever put together a female band and sent them on tour as The Pap Smears. 
I was probably fine.     
When I became engaged, upon yet another pain-failed Pap attempt with yet another doctor who cheerfully assured me that a fully erect penis would easily barrel on through where a pediatric speculum could not, I at last turned to the great diagnoser of the age:  Google. 
I pushed a pile of tulle and blank invitations from my desk so as to better able to sit before a blank page and type “painful intercourse.”  What I got back was a lot of Astroglide commercials and a deepening sense of alarm.  I finally wound up, five pages in to the search, at a college online advice column which gave me a new SAT word, a symptom list, and a vague suggestion that I enter therapy. Honey, I’d been in and out of psychologists’ offices since the third grade.  A diagnosis of depression was finally handed down when I was a freshman in high school, but the obsessive-compulsive disorder wasn’t discovered until a college clinic psychologist took one look at my rough, chapped hands and casually wondered if I washed my hands a lot.  I did.  Out of an unfactually based fear of contracting either AIDS or a pregnancy.
So:  It was never the hymen.  It wasn’t a physical problem at all.  It was an apparently subconscious desire to avoid intercourse, the same muscles which push a baby out doing their level best to prevent a man, a man I loved, from coming in.  One fellow patient, venting online, referred to it as “Angry Vagina Disease.”  I rested my forehead on the keyboard: “You OCD-- you sonofabitch.  You couldn’t leave it alone.”
“Well, I’m not angry at your vagina,” my fiancé said when I told him about the apparent  animosity between my own mind and my own physical femininity.  “I think it’s a very nice vagina.  It’s just a little scared right now, that’s all.”  Whereas he and his penis had always gotten along beautifully.
But I was fortunate. I had a diagnosis before the marriage began.  Some women don’t discover the existence of vaginismus until after their husbands had left them in disgust, or after they were past the ability of bearing children, or after decades-thick walls of hurt, avoidance, and divorce densified between them and their spouses.  I, at least, had seen the flash of the lantern in the lone church steeple.
I went back to the doctor who had attempted to examine me, now armed with the authority of an unsigned article garnered from some website somewhere.  Clearly, like me, she’d never heard of the problem—with symptoms so clear and so violent, she would have been able to diagnose me from my first dry heave. 
“You can help other women who might have this,” I said to her, extending the sheaf of papers.
She nodded in its general direction.  “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of vaginismus,” she said.  “How are you doing with your prescriptions?  Need more Luvox?  Zoloft?  Or would you like to try another antidepressant?”
When the time for my marriage came, I knelt with a very straight back next to my husband before the Holy Eucharist and thought, well, for thirty years, I did what You asked…I waited…he waited…and here we all are. 
While the nausea eventually subsided, what I did not expect was the continued pain-- before, during, after, always.  We tried lubricants.  We tried liquor. Still, after sex I retired to the bathroom to sit on a closed toilet lid with my head in my hands:  All my media-saturated life, I had been lied to.  Those songs, those sitcoms, those poems and movies and glossy, perfume-saturated magazines—they lied to me.  Sex was not intoxicating, fun, or anything to abdicate a kingdom for.  It hurt.  Here was an expensively educated woman raised under the influence of Madonna (both of them) and Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, who, when she walked the pharmacy aisle of condoms and KY, turned her face away from the torture devices.
My husband would hear the long, shuddering breaths I took from the bathroom as he lay alone in our bed, listening to his wife’s anguish stemming from the fact that the one thing—the one thing -- human beings are supposed to do naturally, she could not.  “It’s not so great for me, either,” he told me once when, weary of creating excuses ranging from everything from sore hip adductors to exhaustion to severe depression due to election results, I lashed out at him.
“Are you kidding me?”  I yelled, voice bouncing off the empty bedroom walls—due to his job, we were moving again, some more.  “Sex hurtsYou get yourself a nice orgasm.”
“I feel,” he said, not looking at me, “like I’m raping my own wife.”
“And how’s that working for you?” a sex therapist sitting on a richly cushioned chair asked me.  I took in the graceful sweep of the fringed shawl tied around her waist, the solemn face of her son looking out at me from the picture on her desk.
“It’s, um, not,” I told her, running my hands over the rough surface of a beaded pillow.
“You are free, you know,” she said at length.
You don’t talk like that to a poli-sci major. “I know.”
“No, you do not.  You are free to choose sex with your husband.”
“I do choose sex with my husband.”
“And yet you are married two years and still experience pain during the intercourse you desire to have.  Just as you chose to not have sex before you became a wife, you must choose to have sex now.”
I stared at her.  A hundred and twenty dollars an hour for this woman to tell me that I had to choose the pain-free sex life I so desperately wanted.
And yet, I realized later on as I churned on a treadmill at the gym, forcing my body to burn, to move, to obey, that was precisely the problem.  I had for so long demanded pain-free sex of myself that I had forgotten to just… not demand anything.
I do not cry in the bathroom anymore.  There is still pain.  But there is no longer the set teeth, the sense of obligation, laying flat on the bed like a sacrificial virgin on an altar of stone.  I am a woman who has become a wife, a wife who chooses to have sex with her husband, her and her angry vagina.

First Place
Hope Padalino - The Liberation of the Family Moto

Hope Padalino has been a Firefighter, Wall Street adviser and trader, none of which intimidated her as much as submitting her “closet writing” to The Golden Quill contest. This was her first time entering a writing competition, and she hopes her experience inspires other nervous neophytes to take the plunge.

After living through 9/11, Hope and her husband searched the globe for the best place to relocate and found it in San Luis Obispo County, where they run a cyber-security company. In her spare time she can be found herding twin teenagers and chickens and testing new recipes for rattlesnake.

The Liberation of the Family Moto
They were headless and had been bent in impossible poses. All wearing strawberry-red dresses.  Dresses made entirely of tiny water balloons.
Twin noses flattened against the boutique display window. Twin sets of eyes lusted after the mannequin’s gowns.
Tom Moto chuckled. Three thousand dollar balloon dresses. The squeaking alone would drive anyone crazy.
So is this what they’ll teach in your school of fashion?”
 “Design, dad. It’s The Parsons School of Design.”
Tom patted his pockets. “Anybody got a pin?” Twin howls.  “Laugh, Dad, but there are no fashion boundaries in New York. We’re prisoners of Birkenstock- and -Khaki-SLO-land no more.  We are the Moto girls unleashed!”
Emily and Hanna. Always had to do everything together. Including now, attending a college with a price tag of forty-eight-thousand dollars a year. Times two.
Freshman orientation, being shown around by the new roommate. Zoey, a stilettoed, ripped- jeaned and neon- haired native of Garden City, New York, whom Tom observed, never let conversation stray far from the Lord, as in:
“OhmyGOD, you’ve never been to Bloomies?.”
“You’re from -whatsit- San Louie Nabisco? Ohmygod, What a name!”
 “You guys are really, like, farmers?” Oh. My. God.”
“Former farmers. Just retired. Traded in the tractor for a golf cart.” There it was. First time he’d said it out loud. Felt good.
Zoey was wearing a faded orange t-shirt bearing the emblem of the NYC Department of Sanitation. Tom asked, “Work there?” Zoey scrunched up her pierced nose. “Ohmygod no, I got it from an amazing boutique. They specialize in repurposing old sanitation-worker uniforms. Totally environmentally conscious. It’s right up the street.”
The tiny crowded shop resonated with Gangsta Rap. Teenaged girls sifted through bins, compared their finds. T-shirts, such as the one Zoey wore, were going for one hundred dollars each. They debated the attributes of the green trash-collection uniform versus the orange one.
“Girls. Girls. We’ve got one of these boutiques back home, remember?  It’s called The Goodwill Store.”
”Dad, shh!” All around him multiple sets of teenaged eyes rolled.
In an Art Deco building on Third Avenue- Bloomingdales -they dragged him through nine stories of clothes. He scowled and feigned resistance on every floor. But truth be told, he was enjoying indulging his girls.
This was why he had come.
Left sitting outside the dressing room, he had time to reflect on how far the entire Moto family had come.
On Aug. 6, 1945 his grandparents were freed from Manzanar and had never again spoken of it. Until grandmother had broken the silence, that afternoon after grandfather’s funeral, as he’d steadied her shuffling walk through their apple orchard.
His grandparents had been in the middle of the spring planting in March of 1942 when they were uprooted from their farm and “relocated.” Allowed to bring only what they could carry in their hands, including Tom’s newborn father, they had been jostled into a crowded bus of frightened faces. What would become of the 50 acres of strawberries they needed to harvest to pay the mortgage, keep the farm for their infant son?
Arriving at a desert compound called Manzanar, the Motos, American citizens since the 1880’s, found themselves surrounded by barbed wire, searchlights, and armed guards.
Their guns pointed inside.
Herded into rooms. Thin walls, some only cloth, separating families. For three years, no sounds at night went unheard; no acts or words unobserved by strangers.  Toilets and showers littered with rat droppings. Communal toilets with no partitions, showers with no stalls.
At this recollection, grandmother had lowered her eyes, squeezed Tom’s arm.
Raised on the mild coast of California, they were ill prepared for the 100 degree summers, the frost-biting winters, and the relentless wind.  The wind shot dirt through knot holes in the floor. It tossed their shoes around while they huddled in bed. Each day they awakened in a layer of filth.  In the summer a sweaty paste of it coated their skin, clogged their nostrils. In the winter it pricked the baby’s eyes.
Grandfather had found solace planting in the camp fields.  Little green shoots pushing up from the desert soil gave him hope. “The earth has no prejudice”, he said. “It holds no grudge.”
Manzanar, Grandfather learned, was Spanish for “apple orchard.” The Paiute had been farming there 1,500 for years when they were forced at gunpoint to walk 200 miles and relocate to Fort Tejon. Immigrant pioneers who followed planted peaches, apples and pears. Again Manzanar thrived.
Then the city of Los Angeles became thirsty. It turned to Manzanar. It sucked all the water and life from it until it caused it to wither and die. Water had been restored to Manzanar only to grow food for the camp.
 Grandfather would often be seen standing alone, gazing out through the barbed wire at the arid wasteland beyond. One day, he began to plant trees. Apple trees.
This had angered grandmother, and other detainees. “You send a bad message. You think we will never go home? You think this war will last long enough to harvest the apples!?”
“I plant so that something good will outlast this dark time. As long as old men plant trees in whose shade we shall never sit, there is hope.”
In 1945 Manzanar was closed. Most came home to find their possessions stolen and properties sold. Thanks to the kindness of neighbors who worked the farm in their absence, the Motos still had a farm when they returned. A legacy, for their baby son to inherit.
Her story finished, Grandmother had turned, cupped Tom’s cheeks in her hands. “And for his son. For you, Tom.”
The relentless department store Musak had brought on a headache. Tom adjusted his weight on the uncomfortable bench.
Grandparents, parents all gone now. Good people. Salt of the Earth. Lived and died on that soil. But that was not the way Tom would go, no thank you.  Tom had done his duty, had gotten up before sunrise and worked that farm since he was a boy, almost fifty years.
He’d not been given a choice, but his daughters would be. He’d paid his dues.
Thanks to that farm, they could attend that fancy college. His wife back home was happily moving them in to that gated-community she’d wanted, were her sister lived. Who’d married into Forbes, not The Farm Journal. For Tom, no more sleepless nights worrying about draught, disease, pestilence, frost.  Tom, who had never left the farm, with all the projects to attend, was now free. Free to travel the world.
Back out on the street, the girls left at the dorm, Tom lost his bearings.  Which way was East? The sheer density of buildings in Manhattan blocked the direction of the sun.
Tom surveyed the crowd.  How is this the fashion center of the country when all of New York dresses in black? 
As he headed towards his hotel outside Chinatown, a familiar din arose, a scent of soil wafted by. Tom’s heart quickened.
Turning down Mott Street, Tom stopped and stared. All down the block were rows and rows of vegetable stalls, crates being loaded and unloaded by vendors in stained aprons. Vendors with leathery faces, calloused hands, dirty fingernails.
Farmers such as himself.
He strolled past bursting red tomatoes, firm green cucumbers, multicolored peppers. Sucked in the scent of ginger. When he came to a crate of strawberries, he lingered. His hand stole out to stroke one, savoring the cool nubby feel of seeds beneath his fingertips.
That night in his hotel room he slept fitfully, what with the sirens, ambulances, drunken revelers. But he was an early riser despite. Groggily he shuffled to the bathroom door, expecting as he had every morning for fifty years, to look up out the window and witness another glowing sunrise over his fields. But as he sleepily untied his pants, he looked up to see only his own reflection.
He recalled then, where he was. The trip to the airport, passing the yellow tractors already digging. Strawberries for concrete.
He sat on the edge of the bed and turned on a lamp. Examined his fingernails, the farm cleaned out of them.
He sat quietly, staring at nothing.  After a while, he noticed the wallpaper.  Chinese Toile de Jouy, his daughters had called it. Monochrome sepia scenes staged on tiny irregular islands of sod and earth absurdly suspended in the air, roots and clumps of soil dangling off the bottoms.
Atop some of the islands perched a lone man fishing a waterless sky. On others there were men in bamboo conical hats, hoeing. Some held bent old women, contemplating staircases leading to nowhere.
From the bedside table drawer, Tom took out a black pencil.
It was not until eighteen months later that anyone noticed. Georgie Bartlet aged eight, was just the right height to see it. Somebody had scribbled on the wallpaper. Scribbled something on the picture of men digging. Georgie looked closer.
An apple tree.

Second Place
Rod Pound - Earning the Urn

In another life I was an optioned screenwriter.  For SLONightwriters: I have two 55 words or less in the World's Shortest Stories, a 2nd place in the 500 words or less (made it to New Times), then a 3rd place, then an honorable mention (wrong direction) - then went into hiding.  First novel, Circumstance Incompatible to Life, is seeking representation.  Half way through second novel, Out of the Presence of the Jury.

Earning the Urn

Wallace Wilson was born and raised on the mean streets of Providence, Rhode Island. Well, sorta mean.
Italian mother, Irish father, a religious upbringing in the shadow of Our Mother of the Perpetually Guilty and, of course, his name, provided Wallace with loads of teenage angst. In a particularly overt act of kindness, his father called him Wally, thus allowing him to traverse those mean streets with relative safety. While “Wallace” begged for a beating from peers, “Wally” merely resulted in name calling from passing motorists.
Wally’s future was preordained: attorney, doctor (dentist, if necessary), or accountant (quite lucrative since the mob recently relocated to Providence from New York). Already prone to lying, Wally chose option one. Brother Bobby chose dentistry (see rationale above), and sister Betty Ann married an accountant. Close enough.

Trial experience taught Wally how to create arguments out of thin air. He majored in the comeback twist, leaving legal foes wondering why they had suddenly taken his side, and minored in general bullshit.
Despite his best efforts, Marion, the receptionist next door, ignored him. Wally took it personally and spent a month’s worth of charm on a Monday. She didn’t buy it. So naturally, he asked her to marry him. Three times.
“It was seven times. Marrying him was the only way he would leave me alone.”
Nevertheless, every night when Wally came home from work, Marion greeted him at the door the same way.
“Do you still love me?” she would ask, twirling his tie with one finger.
“Based on the information I have been able to gather to date, and given this particular set of circumstances, it appears it is highly likely that an affirmative response may be appropriate.”
“Fix your own dinner, counselor.” She always laughed. It was a routine both enjoyed.

Wally’s life with Marion was perfect and a welcome relief from his ongoing quarrels with sister Betty Ann. The quarrels turned into a pitched battle when their mother died. To say that cremation didn’t sit well with her wouldn’t do justice to the intensity of the squabbling.
“Have you tried talking to her?” Marion asked on this particular evening, ruining the moment.
“And my motivation would be?”
Wally refused to give in. Marion steadfastly supported his stubbornness.
“It’s what your mother wanted. She wrote it down in her estate papers. You’re doing the right thing.”
“I know.”
Wally and Bobby insisted and a golden urn became Mom’s temporary resting place. Betty Ann did everything but take out contracts on the two of them.

The Sibling Scuffle, as it was commonly referred to, turned ugly when their father died. In an effort to get even, Betty Ann had placed Mom’s ashes at The Mortuary for the Infinitely Patient in her family plot and bought a spot for Dad, right next to the hateful grandfather.
“She put her with those people. They hated Pop. They always had some bone to pick with him. Just because they no longer have any bones doesn’t mean I’m going to sit by and watch him spend all eternity with those assholes!”
“You should at least wait until she returns home to fight with her. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.”
“Like I’m not already sorry?”
“You know what I meant.”

Wally and Bobby waited – for twenty four hours. The next day, Betty Ann touched down at the T.F. Greene Airport, six miles south of Providence. And hit the nuclear button.
She took control of the urn and immediately broke a promise to share. Three months later, Pop was still residing on her fireplace mantle.
“All I gotta say is you should be glad you live across town,” Wally’s brother-in-law warned him. “It ain’t safe where I live.”

“It’s time to spread the ashes,” Wally told Bobby.
“We agreed to share him, not to spread him. Count me out. I like the current condition of my parts.”

Wally was stuffing an overnight bag when Marion stepped into the room.
“What are you doing?”
“Packing. I’m going upstate.”
Stares are exchanged.
“I’m spreading Pop’s ashes.”
“Betty’s going to throw a Category 5 hissy fit. Do you have the urn?”
“Not yet.”
She took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
“Take Bobby with you. Never mind. One of you is a disaster in the making; two would be chaos on steroids. Please remember to keep your phone on.”

Wally parked up the block from Betty Ann’s and settled in. His brother-in-law always turned in early (money laundering is so tiresome) and Betty Ann was a heavy sleeper. Once the last light went out, Wally skulked across the yard.
“Skulked. Verb. To hide or move around secretly, typically with a sinister motive. Hmmm.
Those were Wally’s thoughts as he lifted the third plant from the left to expose the house key.
Piece of cake, provided Betty Ann hasn’t moved any furniture.
“Time to get liberated from Satan’s clutches, Pop!”
Moments later, Wally’s passenger was held snuggly in place with a safety belt.
“Snuggly. Verb. Settle into a warm, comfortable position.”
“You warm and comfortable, Pop?” Wally laughed out loud.
Wally’s conversation had moved from inside his mind to inside the car. Apologies and recriminations served no purpose and Pop seemed to agree. So, Wally focused on baseball games at Ebbets Field, family get-togethers, and the Sundays he waited in the car while Pop attended “church” at Saratoga Raceway.
“What say we go the early services?”
Pop didn’t respond. Wally took that as an affirmative.

Wally was still bending Pop’s ear as he pulled into the motel parking lot. His legal practice often took him upstate, so over time he’d become a regular customer. He reached for his cup of hot coffee and motioned at the one remaining in the center section.
“Just the way you always like it. Doctor said that drinking all that coffee would kill you. What do doctors know, huh?” he added, laughing.
The backside of the neon Homeland Motel sign caught his eye. Everything from the “m” forward in the first word was burned out, as well as the “tel” of the second word. He was still laughing when he stepped into the lobby.
“Change your clientele, Carl?”
“I know, I know,” the night manager responded. “The sign man will be here in the morning. Welcome back, Mr. Wilson.”
“Thanks. Two single beds this time.”
“You brought Mrs. Wilson? I didn’t see her when you pulled in.”
“No,” Wally answered, realizing his mistake.
“I get it. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge?”
“It’s not like...never mind.”

Pop was soon propped up with a pillow at the head of his bed, listening intently while Wally undressed and droned on about a school play performance that Pop missed, a play-by-play of a baseball game that Pop missed, and several other childhood memories, all ending with the same, “that Pop missed.” There was no bitterness in his voice; he was merely filling in the blanks.

Morning brought two events: police responding to a 911 call from Betty Ann that, “Someone kidnapped Daddy”, and a lone figure creeping along the fence line between a parking lot and the home stretch at Saratoga Raceway.
At Mary Ann’s house, one black and white is parked in the driveway. A second one is in the street. An officer is leaning against latter’s driver’s door and laughing.
“And then she says, ‘I keep Daddy on the fireplace mantel.’ And Bruce says, ‘Who doesn’t?’ He’s still in there trying to explain that he didn’t mean to be rude.”
The officers wave him off and pull away, laughing
Meanwhile, back at the Raceway, Wally has found an open gate. Unfortunately, instead of the track, he’s standing on the first base side of an undersized softball field. He’d heard stories about this. Its use was restricted to women jockeys and female track workers.
Wally looked to the skies and thanked the gods. There were only four things his father thought had value: baseball, horse racing, women, and Cadillacs. Here...right here...were three of the four.
“Three for four is batting .750 in anybody’s book,” Wally said, as he carefully laid down a line of ashes from the female jockeys’ dressing room across home plate to second base. He saved one handful to toss through the fence and onto the track. Crossing the miniature outfield, Wally was too busy admiring his handiwork to notice the cloud of dust caused by the monstrous ‘60’s Cadillac moving toward him.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“The gate was open. I was...just looking around.”
“You should be looking around somewhere else.”
“Absolutely. Sorry.”
Wally flipped his wrist toward the Caddie as it eased away, coating the rear bumper with shades of Pop.
The driver watched the interloper in his mirror and shook his head.
“What the hell is he smiling about? Crazy bastard.”
The crazy bastard glanced back at the dark line running across the softball’s infield.
“That’s four for four, Pop.”

Third Place
Patricia B. Ellson - The Night we Saved the Moon

Patricia Ellson has worked as a journalist, a public relations director, marketing manager and as a copy editor for a national textbook publisher.  She and her late husband founded  Actors' Theatre of Columbus, a Free Shakespeare-in-the-Park non-profit theater organization in Columbus, Ohio where Patricia spent the better part of her professional career as Artistic Director.  She has produced, directed and acted in a wide variety of live theater productions as well as penning and producing plays for the stage. She is at work on a novel.  The Golden Quill is the first writing contest she ever entered and she is thrilled to be included in the winners. 

The Night We Saved the Moon

It was just past midnight when the moon fell from the sky.
It landed in the lake south of our barn and slowly began to sink below the surface. I watched it from my place at the window.
Lately I have been unable to sleep and lie in bed beside my husband until his breathing changes to soft snores.  Then I move to the chair beside the window from which I can study the night sky.
It seems to me the Universe surely has all the answers hidden somewhere.  All we need to do is to look in the right place. Ask the right question and our little piece of the eternal puzzle will be revealed.
This farm and this life and this man are what I chose. Now I study the stars and wonder — is this all there is?
The life has become harder, the farm has struggled through crop failures and now flooding and the man …. well the man and I appear to have fallen out of love.  Or so it seems.
So, I sit up at night and look to the sky for answers.
Although the rains have finally stopped, much of the country around here is flooded.  Rivers have spilled over their banks and culverts and gulleys run with water.  Our lake has risen right up to the barn.
Tonight, the muddy lake water has turned to a beautiful fiery gold.  It has gathered up the moon's shine and multiplied it out from the center to reach as far as the water spreads.   A lake of shimmering light, it is so beautiful that I sit and gaze at it for a long while before I notice that the moon is sinking.
I dress quickly while calling my husband’s name as I pull on jeans and a sweatshirt.  It takes him moments to wake but when he looks out the window he doesn’t question me. Instead he begins to dress as fast as I.  Downstairs we yank on coats and pull our clean mud boots from the closet.  In minutes we are standing on the lake shore, wondering what to do.
As the night sky rotates towards dawn we try different solutions. Fly-fishing poles allow us to snag the moon's surface but the lines snap before we can move her. Pulling the moon with a rope does not work, in fact it causes her to tip and slip further beneath the surface.  We consider swimming out to push her back to shore but we both know that I am not a very good swimmer.
After three more failed attempts I turn to my husband and see the same feeling of despair written on his face.  This seems so important to us, so vital for us to figure out together.  There is no thought of calling others for help.
He drags our row-boat from the barn and throws the rope into it.  Together we push-off and sail to the middle of the lake where our moon waits patiently.  Together we use the rope to lift her carefully into the boat.  Together we hold the moon up and maneuver back to safe ground.
When we roll the moon out of the boat she wobbles a bit, but once free, lifts into the air and glides back into the night sky.  I find myself holding my husband’s hand and when he leans in for a kiss it is the best kiss we have ever shared. I melt into his arms. 
In the morning I am still there, snuggled close beside him in our bed.
“What an odd and beautiful dream,” I think and wonder if that is why everything feels so much better this morning.
The love of my life is still sleeping when I tiptoe downstairs to start the coffee.
It will be hours before I finally notice the muddy boots dropped haphazardly by the door.

First Place
Laura Apol - In my Next Life

Laura Apol is a professor at Michigan State University.  Her poetry appears in numerous anthologies and literary journals, and she is recognized through a number of poetry prizes.  She is the author of four full-length collections:  Falling Into GraceCrossing the Ladder of SunRequiem, Rwanda; andNothing but the Blood (in press); as well as two chapbooks: Celestial Bodies, and With a Gift for Burning(in press). 

In My Next Life

On the far bank, a willow weeps,
while in the river, its mirror
ripples with light.  The cloud-blemished sky
meets a perfect dappling beneath.
Here are Plato’s images in reverse,
the ideal in the darkening current: 
a leaf, a branch, an evening bat. 
Even the heron steps gently,
afraid to startle the flawless
heron at its feet. 
Along the lane, the deer carcass
is not teaching me about life or death,
but about the curve of ribs whitening
under the moon. 
The lessons I learn
are soundless:  the light, the water,
the delicate bleach of bones. 
After years of listening,
perhaps in my next life
I will not need to learn to trust—
will come back faithful
to my own sense of smell,
wander like the possum, solitary
through the night brush and broken limbs,
burrow fearless as the sleek black mole,
far from this world’s polished
surface, intimate with the wet
roots of things.

Second Place
Sharyl AnnHeber - Soldiers for a New Millennium

Sharyl Ann Heber lives and writes on the Central Coast of California— A retired administrative analyst, tapping out fiction for twenty plus years to save her from the bureaucratic beasties. Poet, lyricist, screenwriter and novelist, she’s served on the Board of Directors for SLO NightWriters in San Luis Obispo, CA. She's also served as judge for the local school district student writing competition and has won awards of her own for poetry and fiction. She’s an unabashed movie freak, raven for sparkly objects, beader, knitter, painter, paper and fiber crafter and happy hoarder of antique fabrics.

Soldiers For a New Millennium

Darwin’s fittest need no guns. Only steadfast hearts with iron gates. Unlocked.
Infantry to maturity, evolution revolution.
This bright brigade’s a passion corps.

Enlist? All are conscripted!
Involuntary militia. 
Open mouth munitions.

Revamp this boot camp. Flood lamps illuminate.

Toughen mental mettle then,
Retrain retrain retrain
...thin skins.  

Drill introspection. Single file, intertwine.
Goose-step or saunter, find the beat that feeds.    
Left  right  left  right 
...alt blight.

Wash the brain clean then,
Repeat repeat repeat
                           you would have them do unto you.

Dance the battlefield.
Birkenstocks, clunky Crocs, kinky boots on the ground.
Paintball muskets blast supreme white robes—
Ruby, peacock, ochre.
Confounded, they drop, drip, battered and splattered with compassion.
Kindness, brute force.

Gritty soldiers vanquish loathing then,
            Retreat retreat retreat
                        ...into quietude.

Glorious, the stalwart peacemaker.
Undefeatable, the prejudice breaker, earth shaker, caretaker.
Caissons carry coffins, antiquated notions.
Victory gardens planted in powdered bones of enmity.


Third Place
Linda Neal - I Don't Mean to be Melancholy

Linda Neal first wrote poems when she was in high school. She studied literature at Pomona College, earned a degree in linguistics and a master's degree in clinical psychology. She’s a therapist, mother, gardener and grandmother and beach native. She lives with her dog, Mantra, in a renovated ’40’s cottage a few blocks from the ocean. Her award-winning poems and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals (print and on-line), including Lummox,Beecher’s, Crack the Spine, Santa Fe Literary Review, SLAB, Pacific Coast JournalCalifornia Quarterly and Serving House Journal. Dodge & Burn (Bambaz Press), her first collection, came out in 2014. She was third place winner in the Beyond Baroque Foundation poetry competition in 2016.

I Don’t Mean to be Melancholy

but I see my funeral in technicolor
with my dog curled up, snoring
at the base of my empty wing chair
and the morning stretching out
like a buffet table at Babette’s Feast.

Such colorful scenarios creep in these days
like greedy ants swarming around a honey jar,
their golden hue called forth
by the rise and fall of Leonard Cohen grating out
his broken Hallelujah, just for me.

I see a ceremony in a garden,
where marionette women carry prayer beads
and short white gloves. Four men I don't recognize
carry me, boxed up, on their shoulders,
and my dead lover carries his head,
like a bobbing buoy, in his hands.
My brothers, my sons, my grandsons
carry wood for the pyre.

The brevity of the ceremony surprises me.
I accept the invitation
of the wooden women to sit at a table,
eat sweet pickles and spice cake
and sip honeyed tea, while everyone listens
to a solo violinist slide his bow
across empty space,
like a ghost ship planing water.

I conjure the rest of my journey,
guided by black maps and grace notes.
Next time I will sing Pomegranate.
I will suck the seeds
and dance a hymn to Ishtar.

FINALISTS - in no particular order

Sue Andrews - Upland, CA
Communication with a Lost Soul

Patty Moreno - Oceano, CA
Forgiveness = Liberation

Anna Allen - Atascadero, CA
The Gift

Christine Venzon - Peoria, IL
Theology of the Artichoke

Adrianne Aron - Berkeley, CA
Incident in Managua:  A Memoir of Liberation

John W. Polonis - New York, NY
The Poet President

Penelope Anne Cole - Santa Clara, CA
Turtle Liberation

Nancy Bodily - San Luis Obispo, CA
The Prayer

Shoba Sadler - Queensland, Australia
Behind the Veil

Eva Garcia-Gonzalez - San Luis Obispo, CA

Adrienne Riley - San Luis Obispo, CA
Finding the Joy

Margaret Duarte - Elk Grove, CA
Strip and Restore

Carlen Vigo - Lexington, KY
The Last War

Kathryn Mitchell Lucchese - Emeryville, CA
A Last Saturnalia

Scott Matthews - Virginia Beach, VA
The Dog Guy

Kathryn de Lancelotti - Cayucos, CA
Social Work

Jeanie Greensfelder - San Luis Obispo, CA
St. Louis, 1950

Suellen Wedmore - Rockport, MA

Laura Apol - Lyons, MI
Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello

Finn Anderson - Placerville, CA
Quitting, Quitting, Quitting

Diane Swan - Oakland, CA
I Miss You Because You Are Not Here

Patricia B. Ellson - Visalia, CA
At the Edge of the Cliff

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