Introducing the winners (and wonders) of our annual writing contest
This year, we conjured up 10 disparate words that we hoped would guide you in creating a story. Given the bossy state of certain Bohemian personalities, it was further decided that all 10 must be represented in the stories or they would be discounted from the competition. The indomitable 10, which you may begin to notice as you read the winners’ work below (one of the judges, for example, forgot about the demanded inclusion of “turtle” and began to freak out at its seemingly random recurring motif), are as follows: pomegranate, Alice, campground, forty bucks, nemesis, turtle, black hole, French, salve and hernia.
Some 60 creative souls took us up on the fun, including the entire population of Abby Bogomolny’s English 305 class at SRJC, whom we hail for their efforts. Other submissions had us wondering at the evidently well-known propensity of drummers to suffer hernias–three entries featured a herniated stick man–and, sadly, we received no erotica, perhaps indeed due to the inclusion of the words “hernia” and “salve.”
Winning stories were so awarded not just for the polish of the prose but also in honor of the different way each author approached his or her magnificent 10. As always, we had a gas of a time arguing, conceding and finally agreeing on your stellar efforts. (Special thanks to the friendly fascists at W&Z Enterprises.)
In addition to enjoying our winners in print, we invite you to adore them in person at the Random Jive reception, held on Wednesday, Oct. 26, from 5pm to 7pm at the O’Keeffe Gallery, 2423 Gravenstein Hwy. S., Sebastopol. The event is free, and we’d love to see you there!
By Stephen D. Gross
I bought the French poodle for 40 bucks from a nimrod named Alice who’d posted him on craigslist. She’d been evicted from her forestland cabin and had to temporarily move into a campground. For an extra 10 bucks, she said, she’d throw in her turtle, Maury. She told me the big standard’s name was Vinny Schwartz, a name that bespoke both his Italianate attitude and his Rastafarian appearance. Alice planned on finding more bucolic digs someday and hoped she could buy Vinny back from me for 50 bucks after she’d found her paradise. Fat chance, I thought, telling her she could keep Maury but I couldn’t make any promises about returning Vinny. There was always the chance we might fall in love.
She smiled softly, then mercilessly harpooned me with a seductive wink.
I’d always regarded poodles with wonder and admiration, but, peculiarly, turtles had become my nemesis ever since an alligator snapping turtle took a quarter-pounder out of my butt while I was swimming in a cypress pond near Slidell, La. The transplanted Acadians I was visiting tried to salve my sheared spirit by whipping up Tortuga etouffée, but the black hole the snapper had rent in my derrière meant that part of me had become part of him, and I wanted no part of them apples. A month later, I came close to giving myself a hernia while helping a group of reef-huggers rescue a big leatherback from a boatload of hungry Haitians. I avoid all turtles now (and most Haitians).
Vinny was in his fifth year and hadn’t seen a bad day in his life. Intelligent, affectionate, athletic, fearless, he was adored by all those who came to know him. A seasoned traveler, he’d spent nights with me in hotels, homes, hen houses and conveyances both moving and stationary.
He’d sung with coyotes in Monument Valley, watched a corn dance in Taos, followed a condor soaring high above Escalante Steps and studied three grizzly cubs in Denali. He’d been transfixed by the sockeye run near Sitka, and once cheered the spirits of Aunt Gladys in Sun City, where she still pined for the tribe of schnauzers that had warmed her during Syracuse’s bitter winters a quarter century ago.
We’d been sojourning for two years and were road-weary and ready for a long rest, when one day we came to a lush, sun-drenched valley tucked between breezy, coastal hills. Granada (Spanish for “pomegranate”) was home to 68 people and a cozy cafe advertising fresh homemade pies; today’s were pecan and rhubarb. Tantalizing French press coffee welcomed us home.
Vinny stunned me by exploding from the van. Howling like a demon, he tore up the cafe’s steps (narrowly sidestepping a turtle) and burst through the door. Following him in, I was instantly hosed with a devilish smile and, while one arm hugged Vinny, another proffered a $50 bill. “What took you so long?” said Alice sweetly, reeling in her harpoon.
By Kerry Headley
“Forty bucks,” I had said, undercutting Alice, the other massage therapist who lives in the campground. Alice, my competition and my nemesis, pretends to be French and specializes in what she calls Turtle Totem massage. Now all of my clients, who admittedly look like they just crawled out of a gin bottle on a good day, expect me to offer the same specials she does.
So here I stand, looking down at a hernia the size of a pomegranate. It’s attached to Zeke the Greek, a regular of Alice’s who tells me he wants the 90-minute “black hole” massage. Though I am unclear on the specifics, I feel pretty sure I would need at least 65 bucks to do it. “I’m sorry, Zeke,” I say, giving him some antibiotic salve for the sores on his face. “I don’t think I can help you. You’ll have to ask Alice.” He rolls his eyes as I press the wet wad of bills back into his palms.
I watch him a few minutes later as Alice opens her trailer door to him. From a thick cloud of Nag Champa incense, she emerges to pat him on the head with one hand and give me the finger with the other. Crap, I think to myself, maybe I should become a colon hydrotherapist.
The Pomegranates of Wrath
By Rich Jones
“Son,” my pop once told me, “life’s like a pomegranate. There’s lots of juice in it, but after you crack it open, you’re going to have to pop a whole lot of pips between your teeth before you can savor it.” He was always telling me crap like this, and it made no difference to him that I was his daughter and my name was Alice.
Pop had lost all his money trying to sell this phony French salve door to door, 40 bucks a bottle, which was supposed to cure the hernia. The stuff was called Crème Hernie de St. Grenadine, and smelled like roofing tar (which later, upon laboratory analysis, it proved to be). Pop’s standard opening was to rap loudly on the front door and announce cheerfully, “Sing hal-lay-loo-yah! Hernia relief has arrived! Now tell me, sir, how would you like to throw away that truss!?”
We were now living in a migrant workers campground, having traveled to Escondido for the season to pick pomegranates. Ma had given up long ago, running off with an evangelist named Brother Billy Blesshugh while Pop was doing his stretch in Folsom. That Ma had run off with an even bigger bull artist than himself was what had really hurt.
Seated on a crate he was supposed to be filling with pomegranates, Pop held one up in his hand. Looking a bit like you’d imagine Hamlet would if the play were put on by the Grand Ole Opry, he began to soliloquize: “Now the Kwakiutl Indians believed the earth is a huge pomegranate being carried on the back of this gigantic turtle, which is always running from the great stork, kind of his nemesis, you might say . . .” By way of illustration, he balanced the pomegranate on the back of his hand.
From an adjacent tree, masked by the foliage, another picker cried, “Lord sakes, girl, don’t he never shut up?” And out sailed a pomegranate the size of a Pomeranian.
With deadly accuracy, it struck Pop on the right temple, and he dropped like a pair of knickers at a burlesque show. As his assailant scrambled down the ladder and disappeared into the depths of the orchard, I rushed to Pop’s side and tried to stop the blood by applying a tourniquet to his neck, but it was too late.
“Son,” he gasped, “I can see that big black hole opening up afore me, and the great stork poised to grab my soul like a tadpole in a hollow tree bole . . .”
As other pickers gathered around, one said to another, “Say, did you all see who that was running away?”
“I sure did! It was that new fella, what’s his name? Oh yeah, Blesshugh! The one whose wife done run off with that state senator.” Turning to me, the picker, a kindly old man whose name rhymed with “toad,” asked me, “What’s your name, son?”
“Alice.” I whispered softly. I lowered Pop to the ground, and closed his eyes. He was smiling.
By L. L. Babb
I need your help with an important problem that the average American is not aware of. Picture this:Picture my wife, Alice.
My sweet Alice eating a pomegranate.
My sweet, fat Alice eating a pomegranate on a boulder in the sunshine at the campground. This is my last memory of my wife. It is burned into my brain. We are staying at a campground in France that costs a staggering 40 bucks a night. Forty French bucks are not the same as 40 American bucks. This is not mentioned in the travel brochures. But I’m rambling.
My Alice is eating a pomegranate in the sunshine. She has just placed the first of those ruby seeds between her lips when some of the other campers shout, “Trou noir! Trou noir!” I do not know what that means. Some French words are not the same as American words. In times of great excitement, French campers do not necessarily speak English. This is not stated clearly in travel brochures. But even if I could understand what they are shouting, it would make no sense to me. Because French black holes are not the same as American black holes. American black holes are rare and occur some distance away, like in other galaxies. In France, black holes are more common and usually occur next to women who have no business wearing short shorts. But again, I digress.
A tiny black hole, the French kind, has opened in a crack in the granite, some two feet from Alice’s wide, white thigh. I watch in horror as Alice’s flip-flops fly off and her sunglasses are whisked down into the black hole. The pomegranate is torn from her fingers. Alice tries to stand, but the black hole widens slightly and pulls her in feet first.
It seems unbelievable that a woman of Alice’s size can be sucked down into a crack in the granite, but she is gone in an instant. There is a slurpy pop, and the hole closes up as quickly as it opens. Alice is gone.
It is some salve to my conscience that I at least attempt to save Alice. I do. I have been resting in the shade by our tent, but I jump to my feet as quickly as I can. I try to save her despite my recent hernia operation, despite the fact that I move like a turtle, hunched and sluggish; despite the fact that I am allergic to sunshine, sunscreen, collapsed suns; despite the fact that I do not speak French; and despite the fact that the possibility of anything remotely like this happening is not even hinted at in the travel brochures.
I’ve filed a lawsuit against my nemesis, the travel brochure-writing cartel. This is the sixth wife I have lost due to misinformation. If it’s not judgmental black holes in France, it’s toy poodles attached to deflating helium balloons in Budapest.
Please join me in my fight against shoddy travel writing.
The Real Turtle Story
By Wulf Rehder
“Once,” said the Mock Turtle at last, “I was a real Turtle.” The more I pondered this curious quote, the curiouser I became about the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. No wonder that a recent auction at Oxford’s Christ Church, the college where the good reverend had taught logic, found me prepared. I flew to England and bid my life’s savings of 40 bucks, almost £23, on a tattered manuscript entitled “The Turtle Story,” the original version of “The Mock Turtle Story” from Alice in Wonderland. Remember, dear reader, that Alice had fallen through a deep black hole into a campground of wondrous creatures like the hookah-smoking Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat, whose body disappeared while its smile lingered, and the Gryphon, half eagle and half lion. Instead of the Gryphon, Carroll’s early manuscript features the Greek goddess Nemesis, half justice, half vengeance. But read for yourself: “Off with her head!” shouted the Queen. Alice turned and ran with her hair flying–and bumped into the sleeping Turtle. “The hare may be flying,” said the Turtle, “but slow and steady wins the race.”
“I am very sorry, sir,” Alice said.
“The Queen is out of her mind,” answered the Turtle, accepting the apology with a shrug of his shell, “so you shouldn’t mind her.”
This sounded logical to Alice. “I never heard a turtle speak,” she said.
“Quite so,” said the Turtle, “a turtle never speaks unless you spell him with an uppercase letter T. If you had been alice, you’d still be as pretty as the pomegranate praised in Solomon’s love song, but mute as Myrtle.”
Mrs. Nemesis, who was busy beheading the Queen, had overheard them. “You cannot be a lice,” she said, “unless you’re plural. Until then, you’ll simply be a louse.” Turning to the Turtle, the goddess sneered and said, “Not only is your grammar ungrammatical, but your logic is illogical. Would a Myrtle be able to speak French because you used a capital letter M? Of course not, neither French nor foe!”
Alice did not know how to speak faux (she always spoke the truth), and although she tried very hard to follow the argument, she was still two feet behind when the Turtle said, “You are mocking me, Mrs. Nemesis, and are trying to make a Mock Turtle of me.” Drawing closer to Alice, the Turtle whispered, “She acts like that, that Mrs. Nemesis, is vengeful and full of venom, whenever her hernia is acting up.” Alice nodded politely; she felt the Turtle was getting tired and beginning to repeat his words. She glanced at Mrs. Nemesis, but didn’t see her nia. Or was it her knee? Alice had never studied homonyms, but she knew knees, because everybody, even a goddess, must have them. Waving at Alice, Mrs. Nemesis said goodbye in Greek and then in Latin, which sounded soothing, like “salve” or “rest in pieces.” The Turtle was now snoring, and so was the Queen, with her head off.
From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.