Journal entries full of teenaged angst, remembered romances and long lost loves were a delight for our judges to read. The winners are an intriguing bunch -- certainly not what we expected. Read them and enjoy!

 

1st Place - "Mercies Undeserved" by Anne Lisa Konigsmark of Texas

2nd Place - "Willow Lake Summer" by Lorraine Lafranchise of Canada

3rd Place - "Without Words" by Barry Matthews of New York

 

Honorable Mentions

"Beneath the Ruin" by Richelle Putnam
"One Heart, Make It To Go" by Cindy Kerschner
"Diary Scripture" by Dawn L. Stewart


1st Place
Mercies Undeserved
By Anne Lisa Konigsmark

 

FRIDAY

Her lips of warmth and human pity glossed the tears of time. I loved her so. Oh, when will she return? Her hips that jutted out like Vesuvius, her concave breasts so barely twitching as to misread her very sex upon her drifting eyes and her wisp of a soul overflowing with the tender mercies of desire. Can I have her back? Oh God! Can I have her back? Is she not mine? Did I not buy her with my lips? With my warmth? With my pity?

What casts those shadows across my bars? Did my attorney stir from his bar perch to see me now? Has my mother bought her way in like usual, touting the fallen wares she obscures with denial? Can I endure? Must I?

I want only to die, to see my greatest love in Heaven, where angels can attest to my tribute; that I am not a murderer but a soul-loving and peaceful lover of all. God, one last prayer, may I? Does this Heaven have walls? Will I be let in? Can I cry my tears wider than hers? Will she be there? Will I see her there?

Just as she'd begun to take on a few pounds, too. I've been so very proud of her. She was trying, really, so hard to eat. After all the chocolate shakes I've poured down her little throat for these last three months, and now, just as her very breath was coming back stronger, and the sustenance was really showing, I have only tears to join me here.

Oh, that her bones stuck out so far! Her sunken eyes, deflected chest, sullen tears. They were all beginning to slip away, the way her very breath once did when she told me loved me. It was then she took me into her bedroom, where I saw that her flesh was wasting like a dried up cricket after several days dead.

Oh Diary, how many ways can I tell of my love for her, now? Now that I am here and so distressed. So distraught. So doomed!

Lord! She was dying when I met her. I have just begun to love her back to life! She, that woman who made me love her with the sustenance of tears. She would have wasted herself into that very grave if I hadn't stepped in. But now she's gone. He's dead. And I'm here, shut up in this prison with an alcoholic attorney and a whining mother and no one else. Just like I've been run over by the train. And this train that was supposed to carry me to freedom: the freedom of happiness, the joy of love.

Dearest of dear, my diary, I don't know why it happened. Something's suddenly gone wrong -- I can't escape it. The train has gone; it left me 'n her split and plastered between the rails. My life in shambles; I only hope, no, I pray, I pray that there really is a God up there, that there really is justice in this world, and that I will be alive tomorrow and she, that she will find her true destiny up there in the stars.

SATURDAY, Hell's Pit

Oh, that she'd done what I told her! I told her to go home. She didn't listen. She just sat at that damned table and waited for me. And that guy, he was really out of line.

I saw the man slide his sweaty hand around her shoulders. I saw her frightened scowl and her movement away, but, by God, I did not see that he held a knife to her lips and that he would have cut her.

When I did see the knife, it was too late. I was already following his movements and plunging my fist to his gut. But the knife, the knife fell upon her breast just as I was to take it from him; and when I pushed it upward to finish him off ... I saw nothing more. I look at this bottomless pit they've put me in. You know, I scream in here.

All day long I scream. They never hear me. No one hears me. No one on Earth, and now, how am I ever to be heard? Or believed. Or noticed. I am scared. Running scared from all this solitude, crying dejected from my regret; I have no one but myself to blame. And there is nobody who cares.

Sweet cemetery: call out to my beloved, that I will meet her sweet lips upon that very stone. We shall be together on the other side, and hallow our souls in the sight of God.

SUNDAY

It's been posted that I die today. They came and measured me for a suit, not to honor me, but to bury me.

They are both dead. Nay, we are all three dead. Only I still must face this, my sentence of this enduring pain; the sick-sweet pity I take on my soul, the sick-sweet vanity I place to my sweetness, now ever-mournfully in her grave. Let me come and join your grave, where our lips will join in matrimony -- the kind that Heaven offers.

God, if You truly do love me, take my life quickly, and leave nothing behind.

Okay, God, I see that Your will is to take me. Take me now, for I do so have such love for her that I shall certainly burst forth from my chamber and flood that room with mercies undeserved.


2nd Place
Willow Lake Summer
By Lorraine Lafranchise

 

Dear Diary,

I first saw him the morning I arrived at my uncle's cabin. I was finally hitting my stride as a writer, and I was eager to spend two quiet months alone to work on my book. It was a God-given opportunity to get away from the pressures of my day job and distractions of life in the city. Empty cupboards sent me out early that morning to find a grocery store.

He meandered down the public beach toward my cabin, trailing a willow branch in the sand behind him. A golden Labrador puppy tagged along, all tail and legs and bounce.

A brave sun glinted through the morning mist on the lake, and beyond the sound of waves lapping against the shore, I heard Jack's resonant laughter for the first time. They didn't notice me at first. The sound of my car door opening caught the dog's attention, though, and before Jack could stop him, he'd scrambled over the sand with a joyful bark of greeting. Jack ran up behind, his eyes laughing, and an apology on his smiling lips.

"I hope he didn't frighten you," he said, and when I laughed in reply, he introduced himself and his dog. "I named him after Bart Simpson because he has no respect for anything. But he's a lot of fun."

He welcomed me warmly to Willow Lake, and then we said cheery good-byes. In my rear view mirror, Bart romped through the underbrush and Jack waved.

I saw them every morning after that, as I sat out on the deck with my coffee and laptop, preparing to work. At first, I tried to ignore their antics on the beach between my cabin and the lake, but Jack's invitations to join them grew too tempting.

He lived on the lake year round, I learned, having given up practicing law in the city years before. He now led the quiet life of a country solicitor. "There's enough stress in the world," he said, "And what for? This is what life is about." And he waved his arm in a panoramic gesture over the lake.

His laughter, and Bart's playfulness won me over. I gave up trying to work in the early hours and joined them in their morning walks along the hazy beach. Jack would throw a stick, and Bart would race for it, barking wildly. Or I would toss Bart a ball, and Jack would chase him to get it back, and they'd play-wrestle in the sand for it. I looked forward to seeing them appear out of the morning mist on my little patch of beach more and more each day. I knew I was losing my heart, and I didn't care.

The first time Jack held my hand to run along the beach after Bart, I felt the shock of it down to my toes, and nearly pulled away. Later, after we'd collapsed on the sand with Bart romping around us, he took both my hands in his. My insides went weak as he dusted sand off each palm, stroking them with his fingertips before pressing his lips into them. His eyes held mine, and in their depths I saw the reflection of my desire. I was trembling, and he smiled, and caressed my shoulders and neck with gentle fingertips.

"You are so beautiful," he told me, and I thrilled to the sound of his husky voice. I leaned toward him, wanting the touch of his mouth on mine, the heat of his body against me, needing to ease the ache I felt deep inside.

Bart barked then, and jumped on Jack's back, sending us both onto the sand. Jack shouted at Bart, and flung the stick down the beach, but I was laughing by then, and he collapsed beside me with an exaggerated sigh.

He turned to me, his dark hair sprinkled with sand and his eyes warm with desire. "Later?" he whispered, and traced a finger down my arm. His voice, softly insistent, set my heart pounding. I nodded.

We were inseparable after that, when he wasn't working in town. I didn't write a single word for the rest of the summer. I was in love, and didn't care. I knew the Willow Lake summer would find its way into my work later.

Jack loved it when I told him I wrote short horror and was working on my first horror novel. He laughed and called me "Stephanie King." When I told him I would dedicate it to him, he took me in his arms and kissed me as though it were the last time.

Snuggled in his arms, with the firelight casting grotesque shadows along the beach and among the trees, I regaled him with spine-tingling tales. He told me I had a sick mind, and we laughed and made love under the stars while the shadows danced around us. He asked me to stay with him, and never leave Willow Lake, and while I was in his arms, there was nothing in the world I wanted more.

The mist was particularly heavy that last morning. I looked out from the deck, and could not see the lake. Eerie shadows loomed in the distance: dark, pointed tops of trees edging the lake but not quite defining it. I carried my cup of coffee to the table, and, shivering, pulled on a sweater. Jack had stayed the night, and was still asleep in my bed. Bart padded out to join me, stretching his golden body and yawning a great dog-yawn.

"Go on," I said, pointing to the trees. "Go do your business."

He wagged his tail happily, and leaped off the top step. I could hear the muffled shuffling and snuffling in the undergrowth as he looked for the perfect spot.

"I'm going to miss this," I thought, gazing into the mists, listening to the vague lap of water against the shore. My days at Willow Lake were drawing to a close. The fantasy of living on the lake with Jack had played itself out.

I loved it here, but it wasn't my life. It was Jack's, and I didn't belong in it anymore than he did in mine. The damp mist began to seep through the sweater, chilling me. The sun, low and feeble, would not penetrate the early morning shroud any time too soon, and I turned to go back inside.

Dimly, I heard a muffled bark, and then a distant splash that made the hairs on my arms stand up. I looked back across the deck toward the trees, and scanned the mist-covered lake. It was impenetrable.

"Bart?" I called, but my voice had gone hoarse. "Bart!"

Jack stumbled onto the deck, stretching and rubbing his eyes. "What is it?" he demanded.

"Bart's in the lake!" I waved frantically toward the ghostly shreds of mist. "He must have heard something."

Jack didn't hesitate, but raced down to the beach, and disappeared, calling loudly for the dog to come back. His voice was lost in the fog, and then I heard him splash into the water.

"No," I shouted, racing into the damp mist. "Jack, no!"

The next few minutes of eerie silence seemed to last an eternity. When the faint sounds of lapping water reached my ears, I exhaled in a rush, and realized I'd been holding my breath as I strained to hear something, anything.

I stumbled further into the mist, until the feel of damp sand between my toes gave way to lake water around my ankles. The shreds of ghost-like fog were dissipating slowly now, and I could see something not far from shore, something struggling in the water.

"Dear God, please!" I prayed. "Jack! Over here!"

Moments later, dragging the dog with what little strength he had left, Jack collapsed on the sand at my feet. They were both exhausted and cold. I raced back to the cabin for blankets, and when I returned, the feeble sun had begun to chase away some of the mist.

Bart stood up and began a furious shaking and spraying of lake water everywhere, while I wrapped Jack in the blanket. He pulled me inside with him against his cold wet body, and I pressed close to warm him. He wrapped his arms around me, and I tasted lake water on his skin.

Shivering, he leaned down and kissed me. There was no laughter in his eyes. We walked back to the cabin in silence.

We didn't say good-bye. After he'd warmed up, dressed and had a cup of coffee, he went home with Bart. I don't know if Jack guessed that I would be gone when he returned. I'm sure he understood.

Nothing lasts forever, and we had a precious summer together. I want to remember it always, just the way it was. And, sometimes, on foggy mornings, I drive down to the waterfront just to hear the sound of water in the mist.


3rd Place
Without Words
By Barry Matthews

 

August 4

Everything feels wrong. This heat, this city, this apartment. Even at night, the sky is like hazy taffy, stretched tight, impenetrable. When I walk through the streets of New York, I can feel the air resisting my body, punishing it with humidity. I shower in the morning, after work, and before I sleep. I get the water as cold as I can stand it. Half an hour later I'm sweaty again, tossing under the sheets, trying to slip into a dreamless sleep, even though I've set up three fans in my room.

The young DJ who lives next door is the only thing I look forward to. His head is shaved and he wears silvery shirts. His eyebrows are platinum and his eyes are a penetrating blue. Whenever I see him in the hallway, he nods at me and asks if I'm adjusting to New York. I nod my head. I lie and say, "Sure, sure."

At night, he makes his own music. I can hear it faintly over the roar of my fans. Digital breakbeats and squawkings. Its even rhythm soothes me. I go to sleep with those sounds and when I wake up they are still at the back of my mind.

August 6

My ex-husband left another nasty message for me on the machine. I've gotten into the habit of erasing his messages without listening to them. Today I decided to turn the machine off. I don't know anyone in this hot and crowded place. If I'm really starting my life over, what use should I have for old voices?

The DJ slipped some sort of party announcement under my door. It's tomorrow night at some small bar downtown. Even though I know I will be twice as old as anyone else in the place, I think I will go.

I poured myself a glass of wine and tried relaxing to old records, Journey and Air Supply, but it didn't work. I just got agitated. The syrupy lyrics reminded me of my ex-husband and our predictable courtship. The lightly throbbing music from next door seemed so much more lively and insistent than my old records. I shut everything off and sat in the dark, sipping my wine with my eyes closed. I thought I would sweat away to nothing, but Jesus I loved that music. I fell asleep in the chair.

August 7

On my way out of the building I looked at the DJ's mailbox. His name is Brad. It makes him seem even younger, that name. All day long I found myself distracted at work, humming music without words.

I had a little difficulty finding the bar after work. It was tiny and wedged into a street that seemed crowded with neon signage and torn awnings. When I got there, Brad was at the back of the bar, standing over two turntables, wearing head phones. His face was so serious. His forehead was sweating. Every now and then he would look out into the crowd without fixing his gaze on anyone in particular. He seemed to be in a trance.

Even though the music was louder than I had expected, I liked it. My drink was strong and I felt pleasantly dizzy. Some people were dancing, but most of the people in the bar were standing around, bobbing their heads to the music. Colored lights cast bright beams in different directions.

There ought to be a class, I thought, for childless women in their 40s who want to stay immersed in life. I wanted to understand the music and the names of the exotic drinks that were served in the bar. I wanted to talk to Brad.

Someone else took Brad's place at the turntables and he packed up his records in a vinyl bag. People came up to him to talk about his music. He was shy and couldn't seem to look anyone in the eye. He looked like a cornered animal.

I finished my drink and left. A breeze from the north blew against me as I walked down the street. I felt fine.

"Hey," I heard behind me. "You came!"

I turned. It was Brad, jogging toward me with a big grin on his face. His record bag was strung over his shoulder. When he reached me, he put his hands on his knees to catch his breath. "Are you walking home?" he gasped.

"Yeah," I said, turning to look up the street.

He started walking ahead of me, so I followed.

"Did you like the show?"

"Sure. It's different. I mean, I haven't been to a bar in a year. And the music's new to me."

"Nothing affects me like music," he said. "It's almost spiritual."

I nodded and we kept walking. He was wearing his tight silver shirt. I could see tiny muscles beneath it. His hair had started to grow back, a silky layer of fuzz.

When we got back to the building, I felt bold. I don't know if it was the sudden change in the weather, the after effects of my drink or just the way that Brad's shirt glittered under the street lights. I invited him up for a drink. He looked tired, exhilarated from his music. He nodded.

"All I have is wine," I told him, opening the door to my place.

"It's fine," he said. He looked at all of the boxes. "You haven't quite unpacked yet, have you?"

I laughed and handed him a glass of wine. "It's too hot," I said.

He sipped his wine and turned in a complete circle. "I know," he said. "It gets so hot that it's like you aren't living in the same place. It makes everything different. Like a vacation from your own life."

What was I doing? I'm not sure that I knew. Was I seducing him? Could I seduce him?

"I got divorced a month ago," I said. "I'm on a permanent vacation. The heat just makes it more surreal."

Brad seemed shy again. He looked away from me and said, lightly, "That can't be easy."

I gulped my wine and crossed the room to him. I put my hand on his chest over the shimmering material of his shirt. He laughed and put his hand over my wrist, stroking my knuckles lightly.

"I must be twice your age," I said, taking my hand away.

Brad clasped my fingers and put my hand back on his chest. "Why don't you say something that matters?" he asked.

My heart was dancing a polka. I tugged on his shirt, pulling it out from his pants. What was I doing? He smiled and put his wineglass down.

August 8

It was like a vacation from my own life. I woke up next to Brad. As I was getting out of bed he pulled me back and kissed my neck. I touched the faint line of hair below his belly button. I collapsed on top of him. We kissed fiercely, twisting on the bed. We fell on the floor and had sex there, the morning sun blinding us and washing our bodies out in its brilliance.

My skin was on fire with the memory of his hands on my body. I kept losing my concentration at work. On my walk home, the sky suddenly darkened and it began raining violently. Huge sheets of rain moved over my body. I put my arms up helplessly and laughed all the way home.

I knocked at Brad's door and flicked water at him when he answered. He stepped into the hallway and embraced me, kissing me hungrily. I soaked him. Water from my hair and face dripped over him as we kissed.

August 13 (?)

Nothing has been the same. I can barely write this. My hands shake, my face burns, my eyes twitch. I have never felt so alive.

We eat together every night. Sometimes we go to the trattoria down the street. Other times we just order in and sit on the floor, sharing the dishes.

I read and sip wine on Brad's couch while he makes music on his computer. The subwoofer sends deep vibrations through the floor that I can feel under my feet. If I fall asleep while reading, Brad wakes me up and takes me to bed. No matter how hot it is, we have sex without inhibitions. I bite his neck playfully. He slides his warm hand against my thigh. We sweat over one another and talk late into the night.

Whenever I ask myself what I'm doing, where I'm heading with Brad, I have no answer. I tell myself that it's too hot to think. I don't even know what today's date is. For all I know the summer will just stretch out like this forever. Sunlight until late evening, mysterious warm breezes, the Italian ice vendor on the street corner, and Brad's pale lips against my shoulder as we sleep and sweat in the senseless heat.

 

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