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Workshops & Events in 2013

Winners of the UMC Writing Center 2012 Short Story Competition!
Our short story competition takes place each fall semester. Each round has a theme and this year’s theme was thankfulness.

1. Untitled. by Stephanie Lane
2. "The Call" by Kim Cousins
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
"Behind These Eyes" Carly Mirwaldt
"Car Accident" Gyungyoun Baek
"Savages" by Kala Hotakainen
"Tank Fullness" by Gina Bonk

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Untitled
by Stephanie Lane

            She ran her hands over the smooth surface of the table she was sitting at. Her fingertips wandered to study each curve and contour of the grain. It was warm and soothing – familiar – where the rest of the environment was foreign. She wasn’t sure of the way the place made her feel – it was an odd neutral because she wanted to leave yet wanted to stay. This wasn’t her home. This wasn’t the place she’d grown up. It was new, frightening, uncertain, and unfamiliar but in the same breath it was exciting, thrilling, and… a solid certainty. In truth it was the sickest twist of contradictions she’d ever come across and had the misfortune of feeling. There was the want to participate but then hide in the same instant.

            She hated it.

            She loved it.

            However, above it all, she was glad that she was here – thankful for the chance to feel all of these desperately confusing emotions. A smile broke out across her mouth and she stifled a giggle. He was offering his encouragement – something she desperately needed right now. The question he had posed had been so blatantly obvious to others, now that he had voiced it, she couldn’t help but laugh at her own blindness. “I suppose that’s true,” she said and he offered a smile and hers only grew wider. It touched her eyes and for a moment the pain and panic of her anxiety calmed. If he had any idea what he had done for her in the past half hour, the thought of his reaction… was unfathomable. In truth she had no idea what he would do with the knowledge that he had saved her. He’d kept her alive with a simple hug followed by a simple question. It had been all she needed and she was unbelievably thankful for his concern. 

            She wanted to tell him – she wanted to tell him how unbelievably thankful she was… but the timing was off. The conversation wasn’t flowing in that direction and she didn’t want him to stop talking. Her heart ached in her chest because she knew that even if she halted what he was saying she would never be able to express her gratitude. The feeling was bittersweet. He’d never understand the magnitude of what he’d done in a few short syllables.
The sudden sound of silence made her realize that he had stopped talking and she’d been staring at him without speaking. Sheepishly she shook her head and ran her hand through her hair and allowed a soft breathy embarrassed chuckle to escape her nose. The corners of his lips tugged upward and he watched her in the quite for a moment as her hands glided over the dark wood of the table.

           “Are feeling any better?”

            "I am...thank you."

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The Call
by Kim Cousins

            The ringing cell phone startled Nettie from a deep sleep.  Fumbling her fingers on the nightstand, the old woman pushed aside her alarm clock to stop the incessant noise.  Blinking at the neon clock hands, Nettie thought to herself, “1:15 a.m., something’s wrong.” Opening the phone cautiously,  ‘Hello?’

            “Nettie, this is Jacob… I have bad news.”  Nettie’s son-in-law, Jacob, was a kind-hearted man who would not call her late at night unless something terrible happened. 

            “What’s wrong, Jake.”

            “Lisa and I were in a car accident.  It wasn’t our fault, but that doesn’t matter… Lisa’s in surgery and it doesn’t look good.”  Jacob began to choke back tears.

            “What can I do?”

            “I don’t know, Nettie.  Pray.  Call on your God to save my wife.  I don’t think there’s anything we can do but wait.  And hope.  Listen, I better go.  I’ll keep you posted when I hear anything.  I’m sorry I had to wake you up.”  Click. 

            With a trembling hand, Nettie reached over and switched on a reading lamp on the nightstand.  She moved to the edge of the bed and stiffly sat up.  With both hands, she arranged her legs in the walker next to her bed, grasped the metal bars, and stood up. 

            The agony in her legs radiated up her spine and down to her feet.  She winced at the pain, then rolled the walker over to a recliner and slowly lowered her body into the chair.  As Nettie looked at her gnarled, arthritic hands and swollen knees, she remembered the days when Lisa was a child and they played for hours in the park.  Lisa tagged Nettie and screamed, “Catch me if you can!” then the little girl flew away, giggling and teasing her mother to chase her. 

            “What is happening to my daughter?” thought Nettie.  She could visualize the pandemonium in the hospital emergency room when Jacob and Lisa arrived.  She could see nurses gathering her daughter’s vital signs and doctors evaluating wounds.  She could smell antiseptic cleansers and stale coffee.  She could hear muffled conversations from experts speaking a language laced with medical terminology and restrained anxiety. 

            Nettie looked down at the cell phone in her hand.  Darkness settled around her.  She closed her hands together, clasped the phone between her palms, and started to pray. 

            Nettie didn’t remember falling asleep, but the ringing phone woke her again.  She untangled her fingers to open the cell phone.  Jacob.  In a voice barely audible, she said, “Hello?”

            Silence.  Then Nettie heard a quiet, quavering voice say, “Mom, I’m gonna be okay.”  Tears flooded down Nettie’s wrinkled cheeks as she squeezed the phone in her hand.  Normally, the pressure would hurt her fingers but not today, no amount of soreness could steal Nettie’s joy.  After she closed the phone, Nettie stood up, smiled toward heaven, and shuffled her feet in a clumsy dance for God.  Nettie bowed her head in thanks; her child was alive and for a long time, pain ceased to exist.

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Behind these Eyes
By Carly Mirwaldt

            I wasn’t always like this, she thought to herself. I was different. I was me. What has happened the last four years? She stared intently at the cars in the street from the library window. A tall, skinny red head popped out of a dark blue Cobalt and hugged her short brunette friend. She could see they were overly excited about something. I had a best friend once. But that was a different time. She picked up her books and left the library. For some reason she couldn’t feel full. How can I feel so empty in such a crowded room? Please do not tell me that I am the only one that is vulnerable! Impossible.

            She started trudging back to her apartment. Each step felt heavier and heavier. Her feet were weighted down with guilt. The cold air chilled her lungs and sent a shiver down her spine. I would do it differently. She said this to herself every day for the last six months. I miss you. I am sorry. The words repeated and repeated in her head and became no longer thoughts as they dripped down her pale face in tears.

            As she pulled her keys out of her plain brown bag that hung from her left shoulder, her bracelet snagged and broke apart onto the mustard-yellow carpet. “No!” she yelped. She scrambled to the pieces as they ran across the floor. Shaking, she looked at the broken bracelet in her hand. She clasped her hand around it tightly, leaving hard imprints of the charms buried into her hand. Gathering herself and her belongings, she opened the door. Feeling dizzy and overwhelmed, she dropped her bag onto the hard-wood floor, partially spilling its contents.

            Guilt started to overcome her. The broken bracelet sent her plunging over the edge of sanity. She re-opened her hand and discovered the charms of the bracelet left small cuts. She couldn’t feel the pain. The only pain she felt was when she had to re-live the night she killed her best friend. She squeezed onto the charms harder and harder.

            I killed her. I am a murderer. We were best friends. Why didn’t I see the signs? How could I not have known the past four years have been awful for her? I could have stopped her. I ignored her pleas. I saw her eating disorder and believed she was fine. It was just normal. I stood by her and did nothing as her grades plummeted. I left her when she was dying on the inside. Now she is gone. And it is entirely my fault.

            Thoughts continued to flood into her exploding mind. She dropped the charms onto the bathroom counter. She looked at her hand and felt, relief. She looked at her razor. Is this my way out? She sank down to the floor, slowly. She stared at the hole in her left sock for a few minutes.  No.

            She caught a glimpse of her phone that has haunted her for six months as she peered out the doorway and into her bag. How could she call Sara’s mother? How could she talk to her knowing she knew Sara’s secrets and didn’t say a word? How could Sara’s mother ever forgive her? She must have picked up the phone with intentions of dialing a thousand times in the past months.

            She slowly crawled to her bag. Desperate, she dialed each number, one by one. Four. Six. Two. That’s it. Just four more numbers. Then you will be free. Three. Nine. Eight. She paused as she sighed. Staring at the final number she pressed it and hit send. One. Maybe she won’t pick up. Maybe she doesn’t want to pick up. Maybe I should hang up. What if I am hated? What if she forgives me?

            Thoughts flooded her mind as the phone rang once, twice, three times. Three slow, agonizing times. She hears a click.

            “Hello?”

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Car Accident
By Gyungyoun (Ann) Baek

            would like to talk about a car accident which is the worst experience because it scared my life both mentally and physically, including creating a lot of financial problems. I am extremely grateful to my doctors, lawyer, and translator who helped me to deal with the accident.

            Many people were unaware of how serious my accident really was. When I got into the car accident on April 2011, I could not twist my neck. My shoulder was agonizing when I brushed my tooth, when I changed my clothes, and when I held an empty bag. Daily life was impossible. Finally, I was not able to go back home during summer break. I also had to pay money back for dropping my summer classes.

            I could get both therapy and drug treatments for free by an automobile insurance of the car that collided with me, but there was a serious and unchangeable problem, communication with all people in English. I came to the United States in January 2011 for the first time in my life. I called hospitals at least 20 times to make an appointment. Trying to describe the level of my pain seemed like an impossible task to do. Doctors were surprised when I spoke Korean unconsciously and cried often at the touch of their hand to my shoulder, but they kept listening to me and talking to me carefully, as well as kindly.

            One day, the insurance sent a mail to say they did not want to pay anything although hospital billings were made by their customer’s fault, and doctors said that I needed both therapy and drug treatments. The billing was higher than anyone’s guess.

            At that time, I met a Korean translator in one of hospitals and explained all situations to him. He gave me many devices of dealing with the accident, such as paper work, and counseled that I needed a lawyer. How a weak and poor Korean girl found a lawyer in the foreign country, is a wonder. I met many lawyers and I decided to work with one who wanted to take my case. I was so happy she did, though I was international. She encouraged me to speak English and deal with the accident. She dealt with financial problems by talking to the insurance and hospitals who forced me. She even sent emails of each situation for me to understand easily.

            Fortunately, after five months since I met my lawyer, the insurance settled some money for my injury. It was amazing because it had taken the most of one and a half years to settle before I could get any result.

            Now, I can be thankful to the accident because it made me improve my   English skills and meet many nice people. Even though you have no idea of your situation, there is at least a person who can help you.

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Savages
By Kala Hotakainen

            The carving knife falls to the floor with a soft thud.  Thud, thud, thud - forks, spoons, and plates all follow the knife over the edge of the table.  The carpet is ruined, this is certain.  The dining room has become a mess of stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and one very smashed cornucopia.  The ruby red gelatinous smear of cranberry sauce across the cream carpet is the last straw.

            “Enough!” yells Edith “Enough, you two!”

            The men stop fighting and look up at their furious mother.  Rug burned and covered in Edith’s painstakingly prepared Thanksgiving dinner, the two brothers begin to laugh hysterically.

            “And what in God’s name is so funny?” asks Edith.

            The brothers look at Edith, then at the ruined dinner table and the rest of the horrified guests, and then back at each other.  Frank and Chip are laughing uncontrollably, tears streaming down their gravy soaked faces.  “You idiot, why couldn’t you have just let me say grace, I say grace every year!” Frank gasps.  “Well, I thought this year the family might like to hear something other than the tired old speech we’ve been hearing for the last 20 years or so,” Chip replies.  “So you thought you’d shut me up by throwing a biscuit at me?” asks Frank.  “Well, I figure if anything can shut your face, it’s the promise of more food.”

            “The two of you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.  Grown men.  Old men.  Carrying on like a couple of children who can’t share their toys.  Can’t we even have Thanksgiving dinner without fighting like savages?”  Edith implores.

            “Gramma, I heard in school that savages is a bad word, it’s not pol…pol…polly something correct,” says Miles.

            “Politically correct, you little moron,” Sherie, his ever-helpful older sister snorts.

            “That’s what I said, stupid!” replies Miles. 

            “Quiet, all of you, quiet!” yells Edith.  “You should all be glad that politically incorrect is the worst you can say about the words I’m using in this situation.  Do you have any idea how hard I work every year to prepare this meal?  The hours I spend slicing, mashing, baking, all for you?  Ungrateful is what you are, the whole lot of you.”

            “Well, I did bring the pumpkin pie,” Bettie says in a low voice.

            “Ah yes, Aunt Bettie’s famous pumpkin pie.  What’s the secret ingredient, radiator fluid?” Edith sneers.  Bettie replies with a glare that could freeze a volcano.

            “Gramma?” Miles says from his place at the table.  “Gramma, this is Thanksgiving and I think we need to give thanks.  That’s what Mrs. Jean said in class.”

            “And what are you thankful for, Miles?” his mother asks, pulling a green bean out of her hair.

            Miles scrunches up his little face in thought.  “I’m thankful that Gramma is really, really, old and isn’t strong enough to kill my daddy or Uncle Chip.”

            With that declaration, the entire family bursts into laughter, even Edith.

            “Amen,” replies Chip and Frank “Amen.” 

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Tank Fullness
By Gina Bonk

Tank Fullness died a lonely man in a small town. He left behind a lesson for us all.
This is his story.

 

            Tank Fullness was a solitary man when he was alive. The people of his town rarely saw him, nor cared to see him. For not only was his a loner, he was a grouch. The postman didn’t have to deliver to his house, except for bills. The store clerks had little to discuss, except the weather. The neighbors barely knew he existed at all.

            When Tank fell ill, few people went for visits to his hospital room. Few knew he was there, or that his last days were upon him. After his passing, small envelopes began showing up for each member of the small community. These envelopes carried invitations to a gathering for all of the townspeople.

            Little did they know that though they hadn’t thought much about Tank, Tank had thought quite a bit about them. In his final days, a kind nurse sat with him and planned this celebration for the community. Tank had taken care of every last detail, from the band to the meal. Tank wanted to show his community how much their spirit meant to him.

            The evening of the party wasn’t like any other. Everyone walked to the town’s community center, all curious about what awaited them. Upon their arrival, soft music played. The aroma of the meal carried out into the night sky. The children all gathered at the neighboring park, finding a petting zoo and balloons. Every detail was perfect.

            Every member of the town showed up for the big event, more out of curiosity than concern for Tank’s final wishes. But after the plates were empty and the music quieted, the kind nurse stood in front of the townspeople.

            “Tank was not who everyone believed him to be. He cared for every one of you. He remembered every smile in passing. He didn’t have any relatives, but considered this town his family. He knows that you didn’t know much about him, and that is his biggest regret. He wrote you all a poem to express his final thoughts.”

As I look back at my long life
Through all the good and all the strife
Whenever I feel so bad and down
I think of those from my hometown
The joy they brought in little ways
Would brighten all my darkest days
The children who would play and run
Would shine much brighter than the sun
A warm hello or passing smile
Made me happy for a while
But, these little things you did not see
For a single soul I lived to be
I want to thank you for what I got
For your kindness, when I was not
I hope you all can feel the love
I am now sending from above

            “For all that you showed Tank, he was grateful. And I want you all to realize what you have. For what would life be without the little things? When you think about how much you have, I want you to remember Tank Fullness.”

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