Not to Touch it Was My First Reaction...
The annual Arts Alive! festival, held in Old Town Bay St. Louis each spring, is not your average art event. Yes, there are artists showing and selling work.
But there's a competitive side to Arts Alive! too. A culinary competition and a singer-songwriter contest and a literary contest challenges writers to think on their feet.
Writers aren't given the prompt (a line or two that must kick-start their pieces) until the morning of the event. Then they have 400 words and three hours to complete a short-short story.
As publisher of the Shoofly - the contest sponsor - I was honored to be asked to judge the contest. It was a tough call, as you will see below: we're proud to publish the stories of the winners and two other contestants.
Writing buddies, start sharpening your pencils now. We plan to publish more fiction here in the future!
On the Shoofly
"Yours and Mine"
by Jane Clair Tyner
I thought about how when I first began my Sunday morning scavenger hunts, John would sift through my finds with me when I returned home. His interest was feigned; maybe that’s the most loving of all interest a spouse can give. I thought about when he quit. Was it before or after the girls started high school? Did I quit showing him or did he quit asking to see? I thought about anything to forget you were late.
Seventeen months and three weeks. That’s how long since our first meeting. Seventy-five Sundays later, we’ve missed eight. One to your father’s death, two for rain that wouldn’t cease, John’s broken arm, the remainder to family vacations--yours and mine. It was three weeks ago you told me you’d wait until I was ready...ready. That word has so consumed my thoughts the past three weeks, I can’t remember its meaning. I’ve looked it up on dictionary.com, reading it over and over, even out loud. That only made it all the more nonsensical. How does one prepare to leave the life they’ve sacrificed for and to for 26 years?
A squall was building out by the island. John wouldn’t question my returning home so early once it made land. You’re nineteen minutes late now. I walk back to my car as slowly as I can, burying my feet deeper into the sand with each step, wrestling against the wind at my back. Leaving you, even leaving waiting for you is always brutal. I pull my phone from the console hoping to read your most frequently uttered phrase to me, something about waiting. No text message, an email, “She knows.” It felt nothing as I expected. It felt like movement without question. It felt like instinct. It felt like I was ready.
"On the Beach"
Her eyes snapped open, irises the azure of the sun glistening off the deep sea, her sweet red lips opening in a little pout as she flicked her tail once or twice, shaking off the debris.
“Do you speak?” I asked, taking a step closer and squatting next to her. I reached out gingerly, running a finger along her scales. Surprisingly soft, they squeaked under my touch.
Her voice had a lyrical tone, a hypnotizing allure of Odyssey’s sirens. “Ah yes, mighty human. I know your tongue. My people have followed your ships for hundreds of generations, guiding them from storms, unsnarling your nets, always befriending those with legs.”
She squirmed a bit, digging herself deeper into the sand. “And you, bold master, what brings you to this sandy shore so early in the morning?”
I pointed back at my pole. “Out to do some fishing. Hoping to catch a big one today for a fish fry party planned for tonight. Got the gang coming over to watch the game.”
The mermaid gave me a sweet smile. “I could help with that. I’m afraid the storm last night washed me too high up on the dunes for me to get back to the sea by myself. If you could pick me up and carry me back in the water, I’d surely catch you a gigantic fish, maybe two.”
I stood and looked out on the Gulf. Protected by the sound, with the passing of the storm the water lay still and dead, the chance of me catching anything significant today seemed slim. I picked her up and cuddled her against my chest, raising from a squat carefully. She began squirming as I walked away from the shore towards my truck.
“What? Where are you taking me?”
“Home to place you in my big cooking pot. With a bit of cayenne pepper, I bet you’ll be delicious!”
"Six Reactions to a Steak Dinner on the Beach"
by Steve Hoffman
No one was my second reaction. But there it is with a 2014 vintage bottle of Conundrum. This is my favorite meal. This. This is no accident.
My third reaction was – I’m being watched. Where are the cameras? A crack team of culinary students have embedded themselves in the sand and they are watching, waiting to see if I bite.
My fourth reaction was – I forgot to take my medication. No. I distinctly remember taking it. This is real. This is happening. I am on the Food Network right now. And how viral would it be if I stripped bare and devoured that Cowboy Cut with my bare hands? If I took their wine, their properly poured offering and smashed it upside my head. What if I began to chug straight from the bottle letting the majority spill all over my naked body. They’d never see that coming. But it’s always that one percent of doubt that when I got home I’d find the pill still in the organizer looking up at me as if to say, “that was a close one.”
This is my last meal, isn’t it? If I sit down and partake, a ninja lurking behind the grassy dune will take his bamboo blow gun and punctuate my last swallow with a poison dart to the neck. Funny that I should go the same way my father did. That was my fifth reaction.
This line of thinking usually convinces me that I did indeed forget to take my medication. But not this time. There was no denying the steak dinner. It was there. I could smell it. Not knowing what to do, I sat there all day long and stared at it. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a girl sat down beside me. To life, we toasted with a full moon rising. She took the first bite, then I took mine. It had sand in it. I thought, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” That was my sixth reaction.
by Nonie Johns
Well, what would you do? I opened it. Most of us have been taught to respect other people's property, their privacy. In my case, however -- born with an insatiable curiosity-- I find it difficult not to inspect closely things that interest me, especially if they don't belong to me, or if I find them on the beach. The key was already THERE, calling me -- no DEMANDING that I open that box, and I did.
I hadn't noticed that the box was hinged, further proof of permission to explore, and as the front of the box opened, I saw the most amazing thing. A beautiful doll house, painted dark blue, white shingles on the roof, white gingerbread trim around the doors, windows and under the eaves. Real glass windows showing tiny curtains drawn from the inside. Like Pandora, I just HAD to see the inside of that tiny house. I opened it, how smoothly that front door swung aside, and inside, INSIDE~ was a damn dream of a dollhouse.
Every room with lovingly crafted furniture. Not jumbled or tumbled as one would expect from being tossed about in the Bay, but fastened to floors and walls with some kind of barnacle glue, keeping sofa, chairs, desk, and rugs on the floor, teensy copies of the old masters on the walls. The beds with their dust ruffles and comforters smoothly inviting. A kitchen to die for; cupboard filled with Blue Willow dishes. A bitsy wine rack on the counter, waiting for an exhausted, very small homeowner to come and have a glass. The whole house - the original tiny house intact, expecting, waiting for some beloved child to play with it.
I considered hauling it home. I found it, after all. But the very best gifts are the ones we share. I left it there.
by John Herron
"Last night's high tide must have washed it up on Henderson point." He took a deep drag of his cigarette.
"You ever see something Mort, that makes you question what your even doing here?"
"In Biloxi?", Mort asked as he furrowed his salt and pepper eyebrows.
"No, think bigger Mort.", Rick looked up and met Mort's eyes. "I mean here, in this world, on this planet. What greater purpose do we serve? Are we just here to consume and accumulate waste?"
"Does this have to do with what you saw at Henderson point?" Mort asked.
Rick looked down at his shoes and sucked on his cigarette. "Dammit Mort. Have you ever seen something that made you feel so small, like everything you thought you knew was just a tiny speck in a vast universe?"
Morton thought about this for a minute and said, "I once saw a man beheaded in a town square for stealing bread. It made me feel like I was ungrateful for all I have. Is that what you mean?"
"Mort, on the beach that night." The eyes that looked at Mort were blank. The man under them was on standby, just along for the ride. All fear and worry had been drained until there was just a shell of a man with autopilot behind the wheel. "It was something I had never seen. It's eyes were knowing, Mort. It knew what I was, and I could feel it."
"What did it look like, Rick? Some kind of fish?"
Rick darted his eyes to the pavement. "No."
"Well, what was it?" Mort said. "You sound like a crazy person."
"Maybe I am", Rick said in a starry voice. "But only because I looked into its eyes. I saw Mort. I saw and I saw and I saw. Forever. The world broke away from me, and I knew. I knew things that had only been dreamed of. I could see the world, Mort, and its end."
"My nose had began to bleed." Rick said and Mort looked disgusted.
"That's when I fainted, but when I awoke Mort, I knew the meaning of life. Why we are here and the full potential we all have."
"What is it" Mort asked. Rick smiled and wrapped his arms around his friend.