Thank you all for joining us last week in celebration of The Author Transformation Alliance's first anniversary. You should be proud of your work, and we hope to see more in the coming months. Well done all!
Also, special thanks to Audrey Hughey for judging.
Week 7 Judge's report
Honorable Mention: “How Do I Say Goodbye”
by Candy Hill Johansen
What I loved most about this story were the fine details, interwoven throughout, that tugged at your heart and elicited the emotion sought from the reader. Reflecting on the true purpose of the mirror through its decorations was particularly touching and really pulled the reader into the scene. In those sentences, a reader can feel the deafening silence in the room. A reader can see the faces of a young woman and her many friends cluttering the frame. The reader can then identify and sympathize with the loss felt by the parents in this story. Praise to the author for finding the small things that can resonate and move their fellow humans.
Runner-Up ($25 Amazon Gift Card): “Leave”
by Mil Ana
This story captivated me from the beginning. While it may initially appear that the author broke some conventional rules, I applaud the author for doing so. If we could consult with the great Poe I think he would have appreciated this immensely. I loved feeling trapped in between, wondering if this was a moment of death or waking, or if the woman was real or but a glorified figment of the imagination. I was left guessing until the very end and still felt like the author had left the truth beautifully obscured. Some feel like they’re living a waking dream, unsure if they’re living what they’re seeing, struggling with fundamental existential crises, and this author nailed that surrealism.
Scholarship Winner: “My Final Farewell”
by Amy Holmes McClung
In this heart-wrenching story, the author does not merely relay that a man has lost his family. The author shares that man’s memories with the readers as he retraces the steps that brought him to the end. I greatly appreciated feeling like I was brought full circle in this story, starting in the cemetery and ending in the cemetery with a sense of finality that dropped a justified and ennobled sense of dread in the reader’s core. As with so many great stories, the heart was pulled with the details: the youngest child’s love of Olaf from the movie Frozen strikes a chord with so many parents; the way the unusual snow covered the angels they had made earlier; and the text message that promised a message that never arrived. These are just a few of the things that I found profoundly moving about this piece. This author has a keen sense of how to convey the strength and depth of human emotions in a way that makes the reader feel it in their bones. Another thing this author has is what Robert Frost called "the sound of sense." I can’t wait to welcome this author into the ATA.
My Final Farewell
by: Amy Holmes McClung
Staring out at the mass of land in front of me, I watched as the snow piled high on the grey stones displaying the brief but sad stories of each person lying beneath them. A small quote with two years separated by a dash, and only those closest to them knew what stories the tiny dash held within it. From beginning to end, the birthdays celebrated, the loves found, the laughter and the tears, the smallest line held so much importance.
Snow made everything seem so peaceful, so beautiful, but also so cold and empty.
Since the day I watched them lowered into their tombs, I’d avoided this place as much as possible. The new home of my family, the wife and children who’d been taken from me in a snow much like this one.
On that morning when the snow began, my youngest came barreling into the bedroom to wake us up. I worked second shift, so I’d only had half the sleep I needed but she was so excited I couldn’t deny her the attention. Lifting my three-year-old, Tess, into my arms I planted kisses all over her face. “Are you sure you want to leave the warm comfortable bed to go play in the cold wet snow?” I teased.
She giggled, “Yes, daddy! I want to build an Olaf!” Her favorite movie was Frozen, and every snowman was an Olaf to her. She peered up at me with her pale blue eyes and smiled. “Please, daddy?” I was wrapped around her little finger. My wife rolled over and agreed to join us. I sent Tess to wake up Maribel, six, and Justin, eight, so they could play with us. All of us bundled in warm clothing, we stepped out into the beautiful expanse of white. After making a snowman we all plopped down to the ground and made angels in the snow.
Laughter filled the air and cold chilled our bodies. We stepped back inside to warm up and my phone rang calling me into work a few hours early.
“I have to go in,” I said to my wife Janine.
She poked her bottom lip out. “I wish you could stay home and keep me warm today.” I kissed her cold nose and relished in her tinkling laugh.
“Tonight, I’ll make sure to warm you up nicely. But today, promise me you’ll stay close to home. Stay safe.” Living in the south we weren’t used to driving in the snow, but mostly the fear was the ice on the roads. It wasn’t worth taking chances by driving in it.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. I love you.” She promised.
With a kiss goodbye I said, “I love you more.”
I’d been at work saving lives while the lives most important to me were taken away. The nurse pulled me aside after a surgery where I rejoiced saving a small child, to end my celebration with the worst news
I’d ever had to face. My family had been a mile from the house when they’d hit an icy spot and the car rolled several times down an embankment. First responders arrived to find all of them were gone except for Tess. They pulled her out of the car and her heart gave out as she saw her family on the ground.
My first response was to grab my phone and call to prove she’d gotten it wrong. My wife promised they’d stay at the house. Hearing Janine’s voice, that’s all it would take to make this nightmare end. I had a text message on my phone.
Janine: We’re going to make a quick trip to the grocery store. Don’t worry about us.
I’ll text you as soon as we get home. Love you.
The message had been sent four hours ago and there was never another one. The nurse led me to the morgue to identify the bodies. I knew the way, but she feared my emotions were too clouded. Four beds covered in white, it reminded me of the piles of snow we played in at home. Pulling back the first sheet, my eyes landed on Tess and I fell to my knees unable to check the smaller shapes on the other beds. I already knew the truth, the other beds held my three snow angels. I’d lost everything in one brief moment.
At home, I stood in the driveway staring at my house. My eyes drifted to the snowman in the yard and then to the angels slowly fading as the snow covered them up. I never stepped foot in the house again. I made the funeral arrangements from a hotel and paid movers to pack up the house and place everything in storage.
After their deaths I moved away, refusing to look back. New surroundings were supposed to quell the memories, suppress the unbearable pain. No amount of distance seemed enough to make me forget. No matter where I moved, any place where snow wasn’t normal, the ice remained in my heart. I had to find closure in some way.
On the two-year anniversary of their deaths, I returned to face the ghosts of my past and to confront the storm who ripped them from my life. Up until the day they were taken from me I’d lived my dreams, found the love of my life, had the family most only dream of, and I’d come to terms with the realization
I’d never come close to such bliss again.
I stared ahead at four stones, four names, four stories without happy endings.
Now there’d be a fifth.
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