The rules were simple—write a story about the photograph above using exactly 200 words. But writing a complete and compelling tale with a beginning, middle, and twisted ending…well, that’s not so simple.
However, we received a mountain of absolutely wonderful entries and, after a professional team of diligent readers/screeners narrowed down the pile to the top eleven, it was up to our final judge, superstar bestselling author Sara Gruen (Water For Elephants), to pick a winner.
So, without further ado, the recipient of the coveted 2015 Golden Donut Award is…
Vinnie wasn’t present at the Writers’ Police Academy banquet to receive the award (above), but I plan to make arrangements to deliver it within the next few days. By the way, along with the stunning trophy Vinnie will also receive free a registration to the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy!
So it is with great pleasure that I present to you Vinnie’s award-winning tale, Bad Connection. Congratulations, Vinnie!
By Vinnie Hansen
Adam and Bette talked via identical tin cans. The connective wire snaked out Adam’s bedroom, across the bare side yards, and in through Bette’s window. In the cookie-cutter houses, their bedrooms matched like shoes.
When they were seven, Adam announced: “We’re going to get married.”
The words vibrated over to Bette’s heart.
“And be together forever!”
Their childhood conversations grew into teenaged angst on house phones, and years into their marriage, continued on mobile phones. Then their voices became texts:
On way home Bette thumbed.
R U txtng & drvng?
Me 2 Adam wrote.
Txtng & drvng?
Idiot. ? On way home.
Turnng off Rdrx. She wrote.
Ha! Turnng Frtge Rd
Race? Bette stomped the pedal, knowing Adam’s response as though linked still by a tremolo of wire.
Rotten egg? He barreled down the street.
U R on.
Adam and Bette startled at the other’s mass of metal rocketing toward them, as though God had yanked the string on a pair of nunchuks. They collided head-on, the cars smashed like recycled soup cans.
Now they lie side by side in matched containers, calling to each other across a narrow passage of dirt.
* * *
First runner up is Judy Dailey’s Eternal Love.
By Judy Dailey
“That you, Bev?”
“Who else would be stuck next to you for all eternity?”
“I thought it’d be dark and kinda musty.”
“Well it ain’t, so shut up.”
“Or a bright light at the end of a tunnel. I don’t see that neither.”
“Uh, Bev? Can you forgive me?”
“You’d better worry about Jesus Christ forgiving you, Lloyd. Killing me, killing yourself. You’re a useless fool. Always have been.”
“I didn’t want to lose you, honey. Didn’t want you running off with Paul. I needed to hang onto you, and here we are, together forever.”
“How long we been here, do you reckon?”
“Don’t know. Long time. It’s not getting any lighter.”
“Not any darker either. Smells worse, though.”
“Bev? Can you hear me, baby?”
“Paul! You made it.”
“Bought the plot next to you just like I promised. I’m already dreaming of your sweet lips on mine.”
“And my sweet hand on your zipper?”
“Oh, baby. I waited fifty years for this very moment.”
“Do I really have to listen to you two going at it?”
“Sure do, idiot. For all eternity.”
* * *
In a close third was Meg E. Dobson with her story, Lightning.
By Meg E. Dobson
Three children came from the black one by one. The night-time vacant cemetery didn’t worry them. Their exhausted parents had worked double shifts and being alone was normal.
“It’s different now.” The church ladies had cut the eldest girl’s hair. She missed it falling over her eyes, blocking her thoughts from the world. “I’m eighteen.”
There was life insurance money, and the fire claim settled fast. Their rundown home, filled with things families’ cherished, was gone. The eldest insisted on the granite ledger monuments with blazoned crosses. Crusaders. In life, her parents were paupers; in eternal rest, honored warriors.
“Waste of money,” the villagers said.
The middle child’s face with her upturned Irish nose, pointed chin, and large hazel eyes leaned down, lovingly kissed each gravestone. “I don’t want to move away, Anna.”
The little one sniffled, and the eldest cradled her.
“Lightning ignored the normal point of entry – the junction box – and still fried the home’s entire wiring,” The fire marshal had said. “Instantaneous combustion. Miracle the kids got out.”
“We can’t stay now.”
The youngest touched her father’s monument. Tiny blue threads of light twined and sparked across the marble surface.
* * *
Finally, here are the rest of the top eleven, in no particular order.
A Mother’s Love
By Cheyenne McCray
Rain drummed Kate’s umbrella.
Her throat ached from uttering words of thanks as she responded to condolences.
Detective Laramie came last. “So sorry, Kate.” The words carried over rain splattering the earth. “Losing your son and husband within four months… Damn.”
The markers filled her vision. “Thank you, Detective.”
Laramie squeezed her shoulder. “We will find the killer.”
Moments passed before he left her with her memories…
Fred’s snide voice. “You love that little bastard more than me.”
Days later, Eric’s body in the ravine. Her heart shattered, pieces scattered around his broken form.
An accident, they claimed. He had ridden his bike too close to the edge.
A glimpse of Fred’s pleased expression.
Rain stopped and clouds parted. Moonlight brightened the clearing. Had hours passed since the last person left?
When she moved, her stiff joints complained. She placed a stuffed bear on Eric’s marker.
Her chest tightened.
At Fred’s marker, she knelt. Mud coated her fingers and dress hem as she pushed aside soaking earth, making a tiny grave.
Moonlight glinted on metal she withdrew from her purse. She rested the gun in the wet ground.
A mother’s love never died.
* * *
By Barbara Nice-Miller
I watch, unseen, the grieving mother walk away from the crypts, handkerchief pressed to her mouth. Mourning for her boys. Born on the same day. Died on the same day. She should take some comfort in that, knowing they were together.
I wonder when the day will come when I will no longer see her here, on this anniversary. I am surprised she still makes the pilgrimage after ten years.
Alone now, I kneel between the crypts, placing one hand on each. The stone is hard, rough beneath my palms, but warm from the sun. I take a deep, calming breath. The energy, the power I feel here each year flows through my body.
I reach out and trace my fingers over the names chiseled above the crosses – Tristan Grant…Malcolm Grant.
Crypts represent different things to people. A place where a soul is at rest, at peace. A place for the living to come to speak to the dead. A place to bury someone and never think of them again.
I have lost count with the others, but these two are special to me. Precious. Never to be forgotten.
They are trophies.
For they were my first two kills.
* * *
By Vonda C. Valasky
Bolting upright in his bed, he struggled to breathe. Two crosses seared into his brain as though branded there along with a sensation of hands on his shoulders. He was never sure if it was real or a dream. After all, this recurring vision and impression of someone’s touch had haunted him for years.
At the county office, he asked for directions. It was the last address his grandmother had for his parents whom, due to drug addiction, had abandoned him. Now grown, he decided it was time to confront them.
Thirteen Dry Creek Road was secluded and overgrown. Where a house once stood were now merely rotted boards long ago collapsed. Walking the property, he felt a hand on his shoulder and whirled around only to find he was alone.
Fear burst through him as he as scanned the area. Taking tentative steps, he came into a clearing. Just then, two voices – one male, one female – murmured in his ears, “Welcome home, son.” Turning, he saw the faint images of his parents standing at the foot of two crosses engraved upon two graves. Crumpling from the shock, he rasped aloud, “I never knew you died.”
* * *
By Rick McMahan
Lester’s blood was splattered across my face. His body against me.
Two escaped cons. One stolen car and one road in. We were easy to catch inside the Parish line.
The Chief yanked me from the cruiser’s cage. Smoking gun in hand. “After you blew the safe you stashed the loot here?”
The road ended at the wildlands. The two stone burial vaults were the only signs people ever lived here.
“Now it makes sense why you broke out.” The Chief nodded towards the sign on the road. New Houses. Soon.
I thought the dead’s sanctity would protect my money even while I was in prison. Nothing stops progress.
“Most places tolerate corruption,” I said to the cop who was my inside man. “But this state demands it. Dirty cops are greedy.”
He pointed the gun at my face.
“Money is in one. But we wired explosives in case someone picked the wrong sarcophagus?”
“Which is the wrong one?”
Shoving the gun up, I launched myself into him. The gun fired in the air. Driving forward, we crashed into the closest sarcophagus.
“Both,” I hissed. I shoved.
The lid shifted.
Just a bit.
The bomb’s trigger clicked.
* * *
Still On The Job
By David Swords
The robber’s hand wrapped around the grip of his pistol as he crouched behind the gravestone. He had to stifle a laugh as he thought of what was about to happen. In a few seconds, two cops would lay dead in a cemetery, and he would get away, again.
He chanced a quick look around his marble barricade. They were about to walk right past him, and he was sure when their backs were to him, he could get both of them.
Their flashlights swept the area beyond his position. Wait for it. Now.
He rose to bring his pistol level with the back of one officer when he felt as though something had hold of his wrist. A cold band seemed to wrap around his body, holding him in place.
His eyes widened in horror as he heard a whisper beside his ear. “Not this time.”
His pistol struck the marble slab and a bright light flashed in his eyes.
As the rookie picked the handcuffed robber up from his prone position, his veteran partner pointed at the gravestone.
“This is Todd Weber’s grave. He was killed on the job five years ago.”
* * *
The End of Vicomte de Bessonett
By Charles Duke
“Non, Jean Claude, speak English only.”
“But, Papa, is it the Pope who wishes us dead, or the King?”
“Neither, my son. It is the new lover of the Countess of Orleans. He believes that her old protestant administrators know too much about his mistress’s corruption and treachery. He and his sons tracked us here to Louisiana to make sure we did not return to France.”
“Why use so much of your fortune on these tombs?”
“Ah, my son. The Countess’s hunters will see the names on these monuments and believe that the Viscount is dead with all his family. Then they will look no further, especially not in the Pennsylvania colony.”
“As you say, Papa. These deep forests and swamps could likely kill anyone who tries to farm here. And the grand tombs fit your stature before you left France to escape the Catholics. Come, Papa! We must get to the port of New Orleans for our ship to Philadelphia.”
The old Viscount looked again at the tombs and thought, “The title ends here. And others who look will find bones to complete the illusion. Bones from the Countess’s lover and his sons.”
* * *
By Susan Breen
We called it the Garden of Eden, Adam and I did. For obvious reasons. There, surrounded by whispering cypress, insulated from the hot summer sun, deep in the depths of our own true love, we were on our own. The only two people in the world. We talked, we planned, and we loved, most of all. Hot bodies against the damp grass, or soft skin rubbing against sweating bark. Sometimes atop the cool marble gravestones; all that remained of his genteel family history. I didn’t care. I wanted only him. Now. We spent a week there.
And then she came. Eve. She was his wife, it turned out.
She started screaming when she saw me. “You brought her here!” He swore and chased her away, into the woods. When he returned, an hour later, he was alone.
“What did you do to her?” I asked.
“There’s only one thing you can do to a snake,” he said. His strong arms gathered me up; he carried me over to the stones. “You have to kill it,” he whispered.
But I wasn’t sure, as he pressed me against the slab, whether she was the snake. Or I was.
* * *
By Nupur Tustin
“There they are.” Cindy led the claims adjuster to the twin graves. “Together in death as in life.”
The adjuster peered over her glasses at the gravestones. “Your parents died on the same day?”
“Just the way they wanted it.” Cindy smiled sadly.
“Of a heart attack?” The adjuster’s voice was heavy with skepticism.
“Weird, I know! I found them collapsed near the rose beds, there. The hot sun and the exertion proved too much, I expect.”
The adjuster surveyed the landscape. “You inherit a sizeable property, Miss Branson.”
“Trust me, it’s not the windfall it looks like. The upkeep left my parents destitute.”
“How fortunate that their life insurance pays out at a hefty two million dollars.”
“Does it?” Cindy sighed. “I should use the money on the property. They would like that.”
The adjuster looked around. “What are those voices?”
“You hear them, too? You know, I often sense their presence here.”
“Well…” The adjuster frowned. “It all looks in order, I suppose.”
“Mom, Dad! You can come out now.” The gravestones slid aside. Cindy regarded the elderly couple who emerged sternly. “You could’ve been quieter down there. You almost gave the game away.”
* * *
*The winner’s prize of a free registration to the 2016 Writers’ Police Academy is for basic registration only. The prize does not include travel, lodging, meals, specialty workshops, or other costs and/or fees.
When it became apparent in the fall of 2014 that the Writers’ Police Academy needed a new home for 2015, well, we had to move quickly. After all, registration for the following year was set to open in just under four short months and we didn’t have a facility. Due to
an exhaustive nationwide search luck, we were able to quickly secure the Public Safety Training Center at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Soon after receiving the offer from FVTC/PSTC, Denene and I flew to Appleton to tour their spectacular facility. This one was a no-brainer. I’d already made arrangements with an area hotel, the Radisson Paper Valley, to discuss the possibility of using them as our event hotel. After the whirlwind tour of the academy we met with hotel officials to iron out details, taste the banquet menu options, tour the hotel, meet the staff, etc. We also met with our wonderfully fantastic and brave “basket ladies,” Cheryl, Susan, and Sue. It was a very busy couple of days.
Two days after arriving in Appleton, where the temperature was -40 and the ground was covered in snow, we boarded a plane at 6 am for the return trip home where it was sunny and in the upper 60’s. Denene and I were certain that Appleton was a fantastic spot for the WPA, with the hard and fast rule that the event take place ONLY during the summer months.
Above and below – River City village at the academy. January 2015. Yes, this is where you all were just a few days ago.
Next, behind the Radisson, across the street from where we all caught the buses for our trek each day to the academy.
Finally, a day later Denene and I were back home in California.
But, with the move to a wonderful and exciting new place came some major pitfalls…most of our volunteers could not, and understandably so, make the move with us. In fact, only two—Linda Lovely and Howard Lewis—offered to stay the course. And, due to the extremely short period of time we had to put together our usual over-the-top event, we were unable to find new volunteers who could help out on short notice. Therefore, what you saw and experienced last weekend was entirely produced by Linda Lovely, Howard Lewis, Denene, and me. Of course, Joe LeFevre of the academy was instrumental in pulling together their part of the program once he knew our needs.
This was a massive undertaking for a small handful of volunteers, especially when considering that Linda and Howard shouldered the brunt of the load—registrations, specialty classes, banquet registrations, t-shirts, bags, name tags, etc. Yes, we’d pared down from over a dozen volunteers to a scant few. Needless to say, when Sunday rolled around last weekend we were exhausted.
Anyway, I wanted to share with you a bit of the behind the scenes activity that took place a few days prior to the event. This was the bustle and hustle at Linda’s place where she, Howard, and family members joined forces to be sure you guys had a fantastic time. Oh, then they loaded up a van with all the bags, registration materials, t-shirts, etc., and drove all the way from South Carolina to Wisconsin. Now that’s dedication!
A message from Linda – “Thanks to the help of Charles Duke and Tom Hooker (above), two hard-working “volunteers,” Howard Lewis and I finished assembling all the check-in packets for the Writers’ Police Academy today. I use the volunteer term loosely since my husband didn’t have any place to hide given that the boxes of t-shirts, etc. filled our dining room and covered our hallway floors. (Yes, we did vacuum ahead of time.) When we didn’t finish yesterday, I baked a blueberry coffee cake as a reward for Howard and Charles to come back to finish the job. Thank you, guys!”
I thank each of our volunteers over the years, but an extra-special thanks goes to Linda and Howard who’ve gone far and beyond the limits of a volunteer. I know plenty of people who get paid handsomely for their work but do a lot less than these two. We owe them a lot. So, thanks, again, or all your hard work. I’ll try to double your salary next year. Let’s see, nothing times two equals…
* * *
Volunteers in the Appleton, Wi. area who are looking for hard work, no pay, willing to work long hours, and little recognition. If this is you, then please call me. We need you in 2016!