Henshaw Short Story Competition
    Henshaw Short Story Competition

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  March 2022 Competition Winners are: - 

 

 

 

First Prize:

 

Penny Rogers of Verwood

for

‘The Kabul International Rose Festival’

 

 

 

Second Prize:

 

Denarii Peters of Kings Lynn

for

‘The Unkindness of Witches’

 

 

 

Third Prize:

 

Kim Bigelow of Edmond, USA

for

‘Porch Light’

 

    

 

******

                        

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Kabul International Rose Festival’

 

by

 

Penny Rogers

                        

 

     

 

‘If you want to see god, give a gift of a rose to your neighbour.’  Qur’an.

 

It was Adnan’s idea to hold a rose growing competition. When the British left Kabul in a hurry he didn’t for one minute believe their promises that all Embassy staff would be safe. He supposed that they had good intentions, but the British government’s good intentions usually got you nowhere unless you were very senior, and rarely extended to rank and file gardeners. He had worked there for almost two decades, keeping the lawns, flower beds, trees and shrubs in tip-top condition. He had hoped that he’d stay there forever but it all changed very quickly when the US pulled out of Afghanistan, and their British allies (or lap dogs depending on your point of view, thought Adnan) left with them.

With no work, and fearful to leave his compound unless absolutely necessary, Adnan concentrated on the small garden in the corner of his yard. In it he grew his beloved roses; the plants had been given to him over the years as thank you tokens by successive Embassy officials and attachés.  He had treasured these gifts; nurtured and propagated them, kept the plants as free as possible from black spot and other pests, delighting in the fragrance and beauty of each bloom.

 

The Taliban takeover had generally been less destructive than the chaos when the Mujahidin took control in 1989, but Adnan knew how precarious his situation was. The area commanders were rounding up dissidents and known western sympathisers, and as a long-time employee of the British he was vulnerable.

            ‘So, how will you organise this festival?’ Tariq was interested. Inspired by his older brother he also grew roses, although his work as a road mender had provided much less opportunity to perfect his skills.

            ‘We’ll start off small, just you and me. We’ll do it like they do it at the Embassy. I’ll tell Ayesha to make some sweets and we can judge each other’s roses.’

            ‘You’re bound to win,’ Tariq felt that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

            ‘We can’t involve anyone else, not at the moment. Maybe next year.’ Adnan looked around, terrified of eavesdroppers and spies. ‘It might be safer’ he carried on without much conviction ‘Yes, it might be safer and we can ask everyone who grows roses to join in. And we’ll get an outside judge. And have a prize.’

            Tariq warmed to his brother’s enthusiasm ‘We could call it the Kabul International Rose Festival and some reporters might put us on CNN or the BBC. Al Jazeera might be really keen.’

            ‘It might be stretching it a bit to call it International.’ Adnan was always cautious.

            ‘But it is’ his brother countered ‘our grandfather came from Uzbekistan so we are really Uzbeks, your Ayesha was born in Pakistan, our mother was a refugee from Iran. We are international.’

            ‘Ok, I get your point but let’s not get carried away, it might take a while before…’ Adnan hesitated, choosing his words carefully, ‘…our friends and brothers think that’s a good idea. Right now the only prize we’d get is a horrible death.’ He shuddered and stroked his beard thoughtfully ‘but we can have a small festival to start off with.’

 

In spite of the poor soil, scarcity of water and lack of fertilisers, roses grew surprisingly well in these tiny gardens.  Both men favoured scented roses; Adnan’s favourite was ‘Compassion’ with apricot-pink flowers against dark green leaves. It had been given to him many years ago by the wife of the ambassador. She had seen him tending the roses and been impressed by his care and skill, and when she left Kabul she gave him a plant in a plastic pot. He had never been given a gift by a woman outside of his family and he was embarrassed and confused by the gesture. Reluctantly he had taken it home and asked Ayesha what he should do. ‘Plant it’ she had said in her usual matter of fact manner, ‘plant it and look after it.’

            Tariq only had a few rose bushes. Mostly they were duplicates or cuttings from Adnan’s collection. However, he did have a beautiful dark red rose called ‘Royal William’ that he had been given by a photographer who he’d helped set up a shoot for National Geographic. The shoot had involved keeping a space outside the Eid Gah Mosque clear of beggars, onlookers, kids and stray dogs for half an hour while photographs were taken. For some reason that Tariq never comprehended, this red rose was the focus of most of the shots. Anyway, when it was all over the photographer gave him $10 as agreed and the rose.

            So ‘Royal William’ was Tariq’s best hope of competing with his brother and he devoted as much time as possible to its care. The children were warned to stay away from the roses on pain of a good thrashing and he confiscated their football until the competition was over.

            The date of the festival had yet to be decided. Adnan and Tariq wanted to get on with it; their delicate rose blooms did not last long in the hot, dusty air. But Ayesha was strangely hesitant.

            ‘It is very difficult for me to get all the ingredients I need to make the sweetmeats.’  

            Adnan could see her point. She could not go shopping without a related male escort and he was afraid to go out in case he was recognised. Their son Farouk was seventeen and a willing escort, but he was at university studying to be an engineer, and like his father he didn’t want to be seen on the street in case the Taliban rounded him up as a ‘conscript’. But for some reason Ayesha would not even ask Farouk, or any of her other male relations, she just promised she’d go shopping as soon as possible. Meanwhile the roses were rapidly going past their best.

            Finally a date was decided. It was to be the following Thursday. The shopping would be done on the Tuesday; Ayesha’s cousin Ibrahim worked at the Pakistan Embassy and he said he would be pleased to escort her to go shopping. This suited Adnan very well; he enjoyed Ibrahim’s company and he looked forward to talking to him over a few glasses of tea once the shopping had been done. This would enable Ayesha to do the cooking on the Wednesday in preparation for the grand event on the Thursday. Farouk had found an old silver cup in the bazaar and had inscribed it using an engraving tool he’d discovered in the workroom at the university. It proudly said ‘Kabul International Rose Festival Champion Prize’ in rather wonky script around the widest part of the cup. 

            Adnan proudly showed the trophy to Ibrahim as they sipped milky sheer chai, redolent with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. ‘So what is the news that I should know about?’ He was anxious to hear what was going on, whether the Taliban were meeting any resistance and most importantly, what were the British doing about evacuating him.

            Ibrahim was non-committal, ‘There’s nothing I know, we must all keep our heads down. And enjoy this splendid tea. Tell me more about your rose festival?’ He picked up the cup and did his best to decipher the crude inscription.

On Wednesday Adnan was too busy with his roses to notice that Ayesha wasn’t doing any food preparation. She was busy indoors as was usual, but he was too preoccupied to notice that her many activities did not extend to making sugar syrup, grinding spices and chopping nuts and dried fruit. It was getting dark when she came out to speak to him. ‘We must go now; some transport will be here at 8.30. It will take us to Karachi, we will not come back.’

            Adnan was too stunned to speak. He looked at his meek and compliant wife; had she gone mad? In the darkening evening she explained that the British had arranged the evacuation of him and his immediate family. He had not been told in case he had been rounded up; all the arrangements had been made by Ibrahim. The real reasons for the shopping expedition on Tuesday became clear; Adnan looked at the papers that his wife handed to him. They were for Adnan, Ayesha, Farouk and his two sisters.

            ‘What about Tariq?’ Adnan’s relief was quickly replaced by fear for his brother and for his brother’s family. ‘I can’t just leave them. What if the area commander realises I’ve gone. They might come for Tariq. If they do they’ll torture him, kill him, and murder the kids, just because of me. I can’t do this.’

            ‘We must go. It is our only chance.’ Ayesha was calm but adamant. ‘When we are safe we can try to get visas for Tariq. If we stay none of us will ever be safe.’

            ‘I must at least speak to him, explain what is happening.

            ‘NO!’ Ayesha shouted at her husband for the first and only time. ‘No. If he knows nothing he can tell them nothing. It is the safest way. The only way.’

 

By eight o’clock the bags packed by Ayesha were by the door. Adnan wanted to at least tell his brother that ‘Royal William’ was the winner of the first Kabul International Rose Festival, and beg him to stay safe. But Ayesha stood firm. ‘The less Tariq knows the safer it will be for him.’

‘You go’ Adnan begged his wife. ‘You go, take the children and I’ll stay here. I’ll keep out of the way; look after everything until you can return.’ 

‘No you must come. Sooner or later they will come for you. They won’t leave you much longer to grow roses.  And think about Farouk, he will be conscripted. We’ll never see him again.’

 

Adnan knew she was right. He was terrified for Farouk but also worried about Ayesha, no longer permitted to go about her daily activities, and his daughters who were forbidden to attend school. He consoled himself with the prospect of getting a job in Queen Elizabeth’s garden, of Farouk working for Rolls Royce and his girls getting an education and good jobs. All would be well. Allahu Akbar.

 

Six months later a battered package was delivered to Tariq. The hurt he had felt at being left behind was still raw; as he saw it, his brother had abandoned him for a better life in the UK and had not even had the decency to tell him that he was leaving. He no longer cared about his roses; he had given up on them and left them to struggle, forsaken just as he had been. He looked at the package with distrust. What if it contained explosives? In the end he took it outside to open it, reasoning that it must have been checked many times before it had been delivered to him.

            Inside the package he found the cup. His eyes grew misty as he read the proud words etched around it. As well as the cup there was a letter and a postcard of a rose, a red rose. He wasn’t at all sure that it was ‘Royal William’, but that didn’t matter. Tariq went indoors and put the cup in the centre of the one low table. Later he might go out and tend his roses, after he had read Adnan’s letter.

 

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

‘The Unkindness of Witches’

 

by

 

Denarii Peters

 

 

 

 

Could any nightmare have been worse than this?

The angry faces pressed closer, waiting to enjoy my screams but they were going to be disappointed. I would have screamed if I could but there was a rock in my throat. I had thought I could do it. I had been proud of my courage. How self sacrificing. How brave... but it was all gone. If it would have saved me, I would have betrayed Cain. I'd have told them what he had done and where to find him but no-one would listen. They had a witch to burn. That hadn't happened in such a long time.

Nicholas brandished the burning branch. Flames devoured its dried up autumn leaves. I had never liked him. We hadn't been friends and in recent times... Well, I didn't want to think about that. I had never imagined him like this though, his face a rictus grin of pure delight. His was the honour of setting the spark to the tinder around my feet. All I had to do was burn.

One step towards me, urged on with cheers and yells... one more. I couldn't breathe. I didn't want to burn. I didn't want to die. I had done nothing to deserve this. It hadn't been me.

I closed my eyes. It was so hot, like the hottest day in summer. Crackling, shouting... but where was the pain?

Silence.

I forced my eyes open. Thick smoke billowed. I couldn't see the crowd. Flames leapt up, a curtain of red and yellow but they didn't touch me. There was a tiny gap between me and the fire.

Pressure on my wrists... The rope snaked down around my ankles and charred but didn't burn. The precarious platform of tangled wood on which I was perched felt firmer. I had been sunk to the calves in leaf litter piled up by eager hands. Where had it gone?

My bare feet touched stone. I was surrounded by grey granite walls. The air was cold. I stared around me. I had never imagined I would find myself inside a cave when I died.

Three women faced me.

One held out her hand. “Welcome, sister.”

“Where am I?”

“Safe, my dear and among your own kind.”

I doubted that. Only one sort of creature could have saved me. These three had to be witches... and I had to get out of there. I wanted to run and fetch help but who would have believed me?

She uttered a string of strange words. Four chairs appeared in the middle of the cave. “Sit down, my dear. You've much to learn. Don't be shy. Tell us your name and show us your talent.” She was so pretty for a witch and her voice, oh her voice...

I couldn't help myself. I sat.

“That's better, dear.”

“You're witches, aren't you?”

“Oh, what a crude way to describe us... and yourself too. Don't worry. We understand you've had to hide your true nature but that's over now. You needn't be afraid any longer. Do show us everything.”

What did they expect of me? They couldn't believe because of where they found me... “You think I'm like you, a witch?” My cheeks flushed at the shame of it. “Is that why you saved me?” My fingers curled round the edge of the chair. What would they do to me when they realised their mistake?

“Relax, my dear. We know you're like us. You can't hide and you no longer have to. I am Hazel. What's your name?”

“I'm called Sophie.”

“Tell me more.” Her eyes narrowed. Was she annoyed?

Another of them reached out. I couldn't help it. I took her hand. There was a warmth in my fingers, a tingling.

Her eyes held mine. “Your powers are well hidden, sister.  My touch is not answered. I detect no energy at all. If I knew no better, I would swear we are not the same.”

She was right. I was nothing like her. A few days ago I would have been happy to watch a creature like her die but having had my own body tied to a stake ready for burning had altered my views a little. She was still a witch though and everyone knows what witches do, don't they? Oh but there was Cain too... yet my brother was different. I knew he was.

“Sophie, please. We don't want to be rude and compel you to show us your talent. Trust us. We saved you. What more proof do you require?”

“Nothing. I can't do anything.” I'd had enough. Why would I want to talk to these witches? I had to get away, make sure Cain was safe.

I leapt to my feet and ran. They didn't attempt to stop me. Reaching the mouth of the cave I stood on a narrow rock shelf and stared out over a wide expanse of ocean. This was not my home.

“Where am I?”

“As long as you're among your own kind what difference does it make?”

I returned to the chair. “Please take me back. I don't have any magic. They made a mistake when they accused me of witchcraft. It does happen.”

Hazel pouted. “Don't be ridiculous. If you couldn't do anything, why would they think you could? Do stop wasting our time. Oh, enough!” She reached out and her fingertips brushed my lips. “Tell me!”

I couldn't stop talking. I told them everything. “It wasn't me. It was my brother, Cain. I let them think I did it so they would take me and not him.” Tears mingled with my words of betrayal.

“Where is he now?” She grasped my wrist and again a gentle warmth spread through me. “We want to help. You've done well to protect him but you can't save him. We can. Where is he?”

           I told them. I described the mill by the race. I imagined him hiding inside and I told them what I saw. Hazel nodded.

           “Good. Now some landmark, child. We go this minute.”

Again the words fell from my lips. I could keep no secrets from these women. I admitted I was afraid of witches and they laughed, the sound merging with the gurgling of the mill stream. The cave was gone...

...and I was home.

The second witch questioned me and I responded. Cain and I worked all day in this mill for my elder brother and his greedy wife. A week ago we had all been together. Lucas fed the hopper on the floor above while Jayne made us drag the heavy grain sacks up to him. Cain stamped his foot and the next instant one of the sacks was in the air emptying itself over Jayne's head. Caught in a mottled brown and grey snowstorm, a blizzard of flying flour, she screamed and fled the mill, trailing the powder behind her.

Lucas gazed down, his mouth gaping open. “What have you done?”

We didn't have long to wait for the answer. She returned with several of our neighbours. I tried to convince them the sack had fallen from the floor above. When I saw they weren't going to believe me I told them I had caused the chaos. Lucas, who had seen everything, said nothing.

I was dragged away and tried as a witch but it was all a waste of time. Jayne's accusation was more than enough to condemn me.

The witches had learnt enough. The compulsion to talk was gone.

I led them inside. There was no-one in sight. The mill race gurgled but the wheel was held still. I wondered whether Lucas was at the burning, witnessing what he thought was my death. I shivered.

“Sophie! You're safe. Oh, Sophie!” Cain raced out from between the sacks of grain. His stick thin arms locked around me. “I was so frightened. I thought you were dead.”

“Is this the boy?”

I looked over his shoulder at the witch in the blue dress. “Yes, this is Cain.”

He released me. His eyes were wide. “Who are these ladies? Did they save you?”

“Yes and, Cain, they're like you.”

Hazel extended her hand. A cake appeared on her palm. “Are you hungry, Master Cain?”

“Are you a witch?” He was more fascinated than afraid.

“I am a sorceress and I hope you are going to be a sorcerer.”

He took the cake. “Thank you. I can do things like that too.”

“You're welcome. Now, would you like to show me what you can do?”

I tried to protest but she waved her fingers and I couldn't move.

Cain hadn't noticed anything was wrong. He was too busy. He opened his hand and there was Lucas' coin bag, the one he hangs from his belt. “Not bad, eh?”

“That's good but we will teach you to do so much more.” Hazel chuckled. “It's time we were gone.”

The second witch shook her head. “Wait. What about the girl? Oughtn't we to reward her?”

“She already has been. We rescued her from the flames. What more could she ask of us?”

“We can't leave her like this. They'll just carry her back to the fire. You're not being fair, Hazel. She risked her life for one of our kind.”

“You're too soft. We have enough to do as it is.”

“Perhaps but I still hold we can't reward her service to one of us by letting them burn her.”

“We can't take her with us.” Hazel grasped Cain's wrist but he kicked out at her.

“No! I won't go anywhere without Sophie.”

Hazel tutted, twirled her hand and my brother fell senseless to the floor. She waved at me and I was free. “My sister is correct to reprimand me. You do deserve something. What is your wish? Money, jewellery...?”

“I don't want your money. I wish for my brother to stay with me.”

She snorted. “Don't be silly. Haven't you any sensible requests?”

“You can't give me anything I want. I'll follow you wherever you take him. I will rescue him. You'd have to turn me to stone before I'd accept what you're doing.”

She touched her fingers together. A faint blue light surrounded the tips. “That's your last word, is it? You would rather be a statue forever than lose your brother?”

I was so angry I didn't see the danger, not even when she smiled.

“In that case...” Her hand was in the air...

...and we were no longer in the mill. We were in the village square. I felt dizzy, disorientated, close to sleep.

“What about there?” She wasn't talking to me.

The second witch shrugged. “It's as good as anywhere, I suppose... but, Hazel, are you sure this is fair?”

“You heard the girl.” Hazel's fingers ruffled my hair. “She'll be so pretty. People will come from all around to look.” She nodded to herself then smiled at me. “Nice. You will be much admired. Now, farewell.”

She was gone. They were all gone, Cain with them.

 

I stand in the shallow bowl of the village fountain. I can't move my eyes but from their corners I see my arms are raised to the height of my shoulders. My hands are open and in each one sits a smaller stone bowl. I gaze straight ahead. My feet are in the water but there is no discomfort. There is nothing. I know if I could see myself, I would see the statue of a young girl.

Look upon me, friends, and learn of the unkindness of witches. Not for me a quick death by fire but instead a slow erosion of stone by weather, wind and water.

Could any nightmare be worse than this?

 

 

 

******

 

 

 

 

‘Porch Light’

 

by

 

Kim Bigelow

 

 

 

 “A porch light always says, ‘Welcome Home’”

 

 

The Sheriff Traynor tipped his hat, “Good evening Miss Mira.  This here is Mr. Tom August.  He’s from one of them big newspapers back East.  He’s writin’ ‘bout people livin’ in a small town.  I just brought him by to say hi.”  The Sheriff held out a cake box, “Anna made a cake this morning and wanted you to have it.”

     Miss Mira smiled as we came onto the porch, “Well, thank you kindly, Sheriff.  Seems like everybody’s droppin’ by today with a pie or casserole or some such thing.  I swear Michael is gonna get fatter than that lazy ole rooster of mine.”  She held out her hand to be shaken, “Pleased to meet you, Mr. August.  She turned on the porch light that started flickering like a trapped moth.  Mira turned back to us, “Michael told me to keep the light on so he can find his way home.”

      Sheriff Traynor took off his hat as we came into the house, “You all sit anywhere you like,” said Mira, “I’ll just make us some lemonade and then Mr. August can tell me all about himself.”  Mira headed to the kitchen to cut up some lemons.  The Sheriff called toward the kitchen, “Your porch light needs fixin’, Miss Mira.”

     “I know Sheriff, but Michael’s comin’ home tomorrow.  I’ll get him to fix it.”

     “I could send one of the boys over.  Michael will surely have better things to do than climb up and down ladders.”

     “That’s kind of you Sheriff.”  Mira came into the parlor with a frosted glass pitcher, slices of lemon floating on top.  She put the tray down and poured the lemonade into three tall glasses.  The ice crackled as if they were happy to be free of the large chunk she kept stored in an old style ice box.

     “So, Mr. August, where are you from?” Mira asked.

     “New York, ma’am, born and bred.”

     “And you want to write about our quaint little town?”

     “I’m doing a piece on lost traditions, ma’am.   How some good things people do get forgotten over time.”

     “Well, that’s a fine thing,” she said, “you come back tomorrow and talk to Michael.  He’ll give you an earful.  Been just about everywhere, I reckon.”

     “That’s a fine idea Miss Mira, we’ll do that,” said the Sheriff.”

     We stayed half an hour and then the Sheriff stood up, “Well, time we was goin.’  You say hi to Michael for me.”

     “I surely will Sheriff.  It was nice of you to stop by.”

     As we got into the cruiser I said, “Thanks Sheriff.  Miss Mira is what I always thought a true gentlewoman of the South would be like.”

     “That she is.”  The Sheriff didn’t start the car, just stared at the keys, “You’re probably wonderin’ why I brought you all the way out here?”

     “Not at all,” I said, “I enjoyed meeting her.”

     “I’m gonna tell you a story,” he said, “won’t take long.”

     “This have to do with living in a small town?”  I asked

     “It has everything to do with everything,” he said.

     I took out a notebook.

     “Don’t write none of this down.  You’ll remember it, but you got to promise not to print none of this till I say.”

     In my line of work, you hear a lot of ‘off the record’ stories.  I put the pencil away and the Sheriff started telling his story:  “This happened nigh on fifty years ago; right after the government set up the lottery that sent all them poor boys to Vietnam to get killed.”  The Sheriff shook his head, “I still can’t imagine makin’ boys go someplace they never even heard of, so they could fight to protect a corrupt government that all the people hated.   I was exempt on account of bein’ in law enforcement.   I was just a Deputy, dumb as a twig on a tree.  This was way back when Mitch Singleton was Sheriff.  I was doin’ my rounds one night when I found Michael Finnerty hanging upside down from a tree.  Been cut maybe fifty times.  No one cut would have done him much harm, but with so many cuts, he’d almost bled out.  There was a sign pinned to his chest sayin’ this is what happened to Commies and deserters.  I cut him down and leaned him against the tree.  Knew he wasn’t gonna last long, so I took out a recorder and had him tell me who done this, what they said, everything that happened.   He died five minutes later.  That recording is what’s called a dying man’s declaration.  Not hardly any stronger evidence in a court of law.  Buried that poor boy right under that big ol’ tree and went to look for the boys who done it.   Walked into Joe’s Bar, but stayed in the back listenin’ to Ronnie Quirrel braggin’”.

     “Funniest thing you ever saw,” Ronnie was swiggin’ beer like they was gonna quit makin’ it.  “Hoowee,” he held up the beer, “you shoulda seen that boy cryin’ and beggin,’ but that didn’t matter none to me.  I promise he and none of them other college boys gonna ever come down here, botherin’ our women, tellin’ us how we should all march on Washington to protest the war.  That boy kept sayin’ he was on his way to Canada.  Goin’ there to avoid the draft, the coward.”

One of the other drinkers nodded and said, “Your country calls, you gotta go.  End of story.”

Ronnie nodded his head and downed another shot, followed by more beer, “Damn straight.  We can’t be havin’ any of them people come down here spoutin’ their anti-segregation, anti-war bullshit.”

I walked out of the bar and waited.  Hit Ronnie over the head as he was staggerin’ toward his car, dragged him to my truck and drove to Hill’s Canyon.  Asked him a few questions, then threw him over the edge like he was common trash.  Knew there wouldn’t be much left of him in a couple of weeks.  Then I went and got any of the boys had anythin’ to do with the hangin’ and drove ‘em back to the canyon.  Handcuffed ‘em to the cruiser and to each other.  Told ‘em I’d already throwed Ronnie into the canyon and they was next.”

“It was all Ronnie,” they was all cryin.’  Said they was drinkin’ and didn’t know what Ronnie had in mind, till he blocked the road and dragged poor Michael out of his car and tied him up.  Threw a rope over the tree and hauled him up like a piece of meat.  They tol’ me how Ronnie took out a knife and started cuttin’ on Michael; made cuts all over his body.  Then he turned and give the knife to each one of them boys an’ said they could cut Michael or join him on the next branch.”

     “Stupid kids.  What was I gonna do?  Destroy the lives of them four boys?  Tol’ ‘em I could shoot ‘em right where they stood and pitch them into Hill’s Canyon for the buzzards and coyotes to chew on, or they could do the right thing.  Tol’ ‘em Mira was supposed to marry that boy when the war was finished and he was free to come back.  Only now he weren’t never comin’ back and that was gonna just about break that poor girl’s heart. 

     “Bobby Taylor tol’ me he was right sorry.  Said he didn’t mean for none of it to happen, that he liked Michael.  “You tell me what to do,” he said “and I’ll do it.”

     I played the tape for them, turned the volume up right loud so they could hear Michael say all their names.  “I play this in front of a Federal Judge and none of you is ever gonna see the outside of a jail cell the rest of your lives.  That or get hanged,” I said.

     The rest of them boys said they’d do whatever I tol’ em’ to do.”

     “You all are gonna stay here in Fremont and take care of Miss Mira the rest of her days.  She got a field needs plowin’ or a cow needs milkin,’ you’re gonna see it gets done.  An’ you ain’t never gonna tell nobody what happened.  She’d do herself an injury if she knew.  I hear anyone in town say anything,’ I play the tape.  Any of you leave town, I play the tape.  You understand?”

     “They nodded their heads and that’s the way it’s been for the last fifty odd years.”

     “But Sheriff,” I said, “I heard Miss Mira say Michael was coming back.”

     “Jimmy Carter pardoned all them boys that went to Canada on January 21, 1977.  Tol’ ‘em to come back home.”

     I nodded, “And tomorrow’s the twenty-second, the day Michael would have come back all those years ago.”

     “Most days Miss Mirabelle is just as sweet and pleasant as anybody I know.  Ever’ one in town is kind to her, treats her like a lady, which she is.  But once a year, she dresses herself up and turns on the porch light, waitin’ for Michael to come home.”

     “Like a candle in the window,” I said.  “So Sheriff, why are you telling me all this?”

    “I got a cancer,” he said, “won’t be around much longer.  After Miss Mira passes, you can tell the story.”

     “No one will believe me without the tape.”

     “I’ll leave you the tape,” said Traynor, “I just want people to know what happened to that poor boy.  You’re a reporter.  You’re all the memory some people will ever have, so that’s what I want you to do, be their memory.”

     “Okay, Sheriff,” I said, “I can do that.”

     Years later, I moved back to that little town, settled down and started a family.  The Sheriff, Mira and the four boys were all gone by then.  I wrote the story, but never printed it.  Like the Sheriff, I didn’t see the sense in ruining the memories the town folk had of all those people.  I don’t know.  Maybe someone else will print the story after I’m gone.  Still, I make it a habit, once a year, in January, to go outside and turn the porch light on.  Keep it on all night to remind me of a sweet Southern woman waiting for her Michael to come home.

 

 

 

 

 

The March 2022 Competition Short List

 

The Unkindness of Witches by Denarii Peters of Kings Lynn

The Kabul International Rose Festival by Penny Rogers of Verwood

The Guising by Susannah Rickards of Esher

Porch Light by Kim Bigelow of Edmond, USA

Hobson’s Choice by Ellen Evers of Congleton

Mixology by Sue Finlay of Kenilworth

Reflections of a Mature Woman by Hannah Retallick of Anglesey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March 2022 Competition Long List 

 

The Unkindness of Witches by Denarii Peters of Kings Lynn

The Kabul International Rose Festival by Penny Rogers of Verwood

Save, Save, Save by Ellen Bradley of Leeds

The Guising by Susannah Rickards of Esher

Porch Light by Kim Bigelow of Edmond, USA

Wild Fire by James Robinson of London

Hobson’s Choice by Ellen Evers of Congleton

Three Candles by Jane Cobden of Spalding

Mixology by Sue Finlay of Kenilworth

Reflections of a Mature Woman by Hannah Retallick of Anglesey

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