January News for 2015

Congratulations to M. M. Pryor of Seattle, Washington, the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient for December 2014.


Barbara finds the teeth in a box of toddler beauty pageant paraphernalia. As part of her countdown to her twenty-nine-year-old daughter moving back home, Barbara has steadily been cleaning house. Today it is the attic’s turn, since it is the future site of her adult daughter’s bedroom. Barbara crouches on her knees amid the dust of the attic and examines the plastic teeth. The false teeth are tiny and yellowed from age.

Barbara ordered the flipper for Glinda’s first glitz pageant. She’d hid the credit card bill and made the minimum payments using her paycheck from her part-time secretary job. After the teeth, though, came the spray-tans, the make-up, and the gowns tailored to fit Glinda’s slender four-year-old waist.

Setting down the teeth, Barbara opens the next three boxes. Artifacts from Glinda’s beauty queen days glitter beneath the skylight. For a moment, Barbara feels transported back to the stage: those hotel conference rooms, the rows of metal folding chairs, the tension as big as the hair on the girls’ heads.

Dust has not dampened the sparkle of the tiaras. Barbara lifts her favorite out of the box and places it on her head: a silver heart-shaped one with pink jewels. It teeters before steadying, the ends flattening her already limp and graying hair. The crown is from the South Carolina Mother’s Day Pageant. Glinda was five. She didn’t place, but they gave every girl a consolation tiara under the category, ‘Mommy’s Favorite.’

Still wearing the crown, Barbara spots the trophy. During Glinda’s best year, when she was six, she won second place at the Little Miss Lace and Grace Pageant in Little Rock, Arkansas. They drove all day and night to get there in time, sipping coke through straws shaped like bows as they chased taillights.

Barbara picks up the trophy. Glinda had fumbled her talent during the second half of the show. Her pink-and-white hula-hoop had caught on the microphone stand and come shuddering down her stick-straight frame. Boom! Glinda didn’t miss a beat. Just looked straight at the judges and smiled wide. She hadn’t cried or run off stage. Barbara had hoped, nervously, that Glinda might at least scrape third place. Composure was weighed the heaviest, and might save Glinda from slipping out of the ranking altogether. When Glinda’s name was called for second place, Barbara clutched her fists so tight the bones in her wrists popped.

She handles the trophy carefully. It is the pinnacle of her daughter’s success. She ought to place it somewhere visible. To inspire Glinda when she comes home. To remind her of how things used to be, when the two of them would buy cupcake dresses and white shoes. When Glinda would float out on stage and Barbara would think maybe this time.

Barbara remembers when Glinda told her about the breakup, how wet her voice had sounded, as if the tears had drenched her vocal chords. After six years of waiting for her boyfriend to propose, they had gotten in a fight. Glinda had related the news to her mom on the phone in Glinda’s old room, which Barbara had converted into an office. The delivery was factual, but strained. The spat had combusted, turned acidic. Glinda related, between small gulps of air, how her boyfriend didn’t even want kids, even though he knew full well that she did. She had wasted seventy-two eggs on nothing.

Barbara insisted that she come home, even though they didn’t really have the room. She promised to clean out the attic, set up a space for Glinda up there. She could put the boxes in the garage. Sure, her husband liked to work on his motorcycles, but he wouldn’t mind if she stacked a few boxes downstairs.

Of course, now that she thinks about it, he’ll probably look inside them, and Barbara knows he is still mad. They have paid the flipper off, but the interest keeps climbing every month, and she is still waiting for her home business to turn a profit. If he sees any of the dresses or the crowns, they’ll get in a fight themselves. He will insist on trashing it all, but Barbara can’t bring herself to do that. She knows it is just stuff, but she’d had so much fun. All Barbara had ever wanted was for her daughter to be happy; to have the type of life Barbara wished she could have had.

Barbara stands up. She wipes the dust from her knees. She pushes an old bookcase against the wall and sets the trophy on the top shelf. She takes the trophy off the shelf and polishes it with her sleeve. When she sets the trophy back on the shelf, it looks duller than before.

It is too dark in the attic for the trophy. Too dark for her daughter. She will move her office up here instead. Glinda will be much happier in her old room.

Barbara smiles, just in case anyone was watching.

The End

December News for 2014

Congratulations to Ellen Denten of Afton, Wyoming, the recipient of the November Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.

Ferris Wheel of Fortune

By Ellen Denton

This can’’t be really happening. Not happening. Oh God in heaven, please help

Cara Murry would later learn from a Google search that the odds of someone
being seriously injured or killed from an amusement park Ferris wheel ride
were 1 in 9 million, that most such incidents occurred due to riders not
following posted rules for safety, that mechanical mishaps and breakdowns
mainly occurred in traveling carnivals where the ride was repeatedly taken
apart and reassembled, that someone was more likely to be killed in an auto
accident driving to an amusement park than on a Ferris wheel.

None of these statistics mattered though at the moment. Nauseas with
paralyzing terror, she hung over a beam, it’s metal cutting into her
stomach, her hands frozen in claw-like grips on two bars to the side of
her. The car she had just been dumped out of swung and scraped above her.

There was a surrealness to it, to the smallness of the people gesturing and
gaping from the ground so far below, to the jolting snap and lurching
backward tilt of the enclosed six-person gondola moments ago, the weight of
the bodies crashing through the back window glass before she was dropped
here and the other five people to their death on the ground below. Even from this distance she could see tiny blotches of red below the motionless forms on the ground. Things like this only happened to others, were only dispassionate journalistic reports, heard or read in the news, about strangers, far from the realm of her own experience, forgotten with the turn of a newspaper page.

I can’’t stand another second of this – it feels like the metal is cutting
through my stomach – my family – what will they tell my kids – I’’m only
twenty-six – the vacation we planned for next month – Cindy’’s school play –

There was a distant wail of sirens and she could see people in the crowd
turning in that direction.

Is that for here? Oh God! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

The crowd parted to make way for two fire trucks, ambulances, police cars.
Barricades were set up and the onlookers ushered behind them. First
responders kneeled beside the fallen bodies. Four were covered over with
something, the fifth, looking like a tiny, motionless doll in the distance,
was loaded into an ambulance. One of the fire trucks maneuvered as close as
possible to the stopped Ferris wheel. Firemen and whatever police were not
busy controlling the crowd or taking statements from spectators, were
looking up at her.

Hurry. I feel sick. Hurry! I’’m cold. I’’m hot! It hurts!

She had up till now been looking straight or down to the right or left, but
now looked at the gondola directly below her. She could see the people in it looking up at her through its glass roof. A teenage girl was talking on a cell phone and crying. A woman clutched a young boy in an embrace and rocked back and forth, clearly terrified for his and her own safety.

She again had the feeling that she was in some kind of not-really-happening
dream. The air around her seemed to shrink and press in close to her, making her head hurt, her throat hurt, even the bile taste in her mouth seemed unreal.

Then she had a shattering thought that snapped and slapped her into the
crystal-clear present.

What if they start it up again? What if they think they can get me down by
starting it up again and having it come around? My arms will be torn off or
I’’ll be flipped forward over this bar when the wheel turns forward. Do they
know? Can they see me well enough. PLEASE KNOW! PLEASE LET THEM SEE. DON’T

A minute later, which felt like an eternity to her, a ladder started rising
from the fire truck closest to the Ferris wheel, with a bucket-like
attachment at the top. There were two firemen in it.

Like a bird alighting on an invisible branch, it stopped directly below her. The firemen were behind her at the height of her dangling legs and now held up their arms to her. She turned her head to look at them. Her heart made a tinny “bang-bang” terror sound in her own ears when she again saw how far the ground below her was.

They both placed their hands on the lower part of her body, as though to
assure her they were really there.

“Ma’’am, it’’s going to be okay – we’’ll have you down and safe in no time.
Just push backwards from that bar. We’’ve got you.”

“I’’m afraid! I don’’t want to fall!”

“You won’’t ma’’am. I promise. The only place you could fall right now is into
this basket, but we’’ll have a hold of you before even that happens. Just let
go of those bars and we’’ll pull you down.”

With a choking sob, and feeling like a life-long trapeze artist executing
the final move of the final performance of her career, she did, and before
she could even blink her eyes or form another thought, was on her back in
the arms of the firemen, who gently lowered her to a sitting position.

The End

December Penn Cove Award is Open

December’s theme is Counting Down

Happy Holidays to one and all.

November’s award recipient will be announced shortly.

October Penn Cove Literary Arts Award Submission

Congratulations to Stephen Stanley of Eugene, Oregon, the recipient of the October Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.

Mask of the Monster
Stephen R. Stanley

From me hidey-hole me peeked squinty-eyed at the tasty wee bloodbags as they scurried about dressed in holiday finery. Me tusk banged on the damp stone wall when me tried to get a better peek through the cracks. Smacking me slippery lips, me wished for a chance to snap up a few of them human pups. Oh, such a display of fresh food, stuffed full of sugar and wiggly excitement. Me wiped me slimy mouth on the back of me hairy arm, then thumped the stone wall and wailed a moan of hunger.

Me would thump them all, me would, if they wouldn’t scatter like spooked bunnies when they got wind of me. No fair, them dainty morsels running around unsupervised on the first night of the new year with me stuck in me dank hidey-hole slobbering for tender knucklebones.

Me a smart boogie, me is. Me figured out a plan right then and there. If tiny humans could run around wild in the dark dressed up as me kith and kin, well then by Satan’s Sulfurous Broken Wind, a boogie could do likewise.

Me crawled up through me secret dirt tunnel and set out looking for a proper disguise.

At the mouth of the alley me happened upon a sweet-smelling sugar lump what was perfect in her flouncey pink regalia. Me squeezed between two odoriferous dumpsters and rumbled me most terrible growl.

“Sweet” was what the delectable little creature squeaked in return. “That’s a tight Boogie Man costume.”

“Gimme yer face!” Me said. Me lunged for the wee tyke, but she dodged and thumped me soundly on me snout.

“Ouch,” me said.

“Let’s trade,” she said. “I’ll take your face then you can borrow mine.”

Oh, me should have thought deeper. Me might be a smart boogie, but me ain’t wise. And me was hungry for sugar-stuffed snackins. Afore me could jiggle me noggin in agreement, she reached up quicker than a faery tax collector and tore off me mug.

“Ouch,” me said again, with a bit more emphasis.

“Here,” she said as she tossed her girlie countenance into me fumbling claws. “I’ll haul in oodles of candy with this bad boy.” She looked rather fetching with me handsome visage atop her lacy royal gown.

She ran a few steps toward the beckoning promises of glowing jack o’lanterns, then turned. “Bring my face back here in an hour, or my big brother will poop his cargo shorts.”

She raced toward her destiny with bloated calories, her pink tongue wagging between me lovely yellow tusks.

After slapping her cuteness on to me headbone, me rubbed me crusty mitts together in eager anticipation of feasting on plump trickertreaters. Me snatched a bacon-greased shopping bag out of a garbage can, then shambled off to find kiddy sweetmeat to gobble.

Oh, if only me hadn’t been so hungry.

Me leaped out of the dark, howling fearful, and grabbed for a crowd of pudgy snacks. They squealed and darted away like them bunnies. Then the mob — dressed as pirates and vampires, pixies and storybook royalty, undead celebrities and long-forgotten deities — surrounded me, confounded me, pushed me afore them, up a stoop of stairs, their shrill shrieks piercing me delicate ear openings, until me was poked and prodded and commanded to thump a button what rang a bell.

When the door opened the whole mass of snarling, rabid, confection-crazed children screamed such a cacophony as to deafen hell’s own hounds and demanded candy, candy, candy or else suffer the retribution of outraged delinquents. The fear in the eyes of the poor wretch what doled out the booty to this pack of relentless beggars chilled me evil bones. His gaze beseeched me to end his purgatory; he would welcome any carnage me would inflict — to him or his sticky-fingered tormentors — anything to end the unholy appeasement ritual of these ravenous beasts. He flung the plastic wrapped candy packages into the outstretched, engorged sacks and retreated behind the safety of his barred door. He trembled there, me was sure of it, quaking in fearful expectation of wave after squealing wave of unquenchable candy lust.

The ocean of greed pushed and tugged me along with the bickering horde of slavering, sugar-infused hooligans. Among the frost-dusted pumpkins they trooped house to house, extracting worship, tribute, and adoration for their cute gluttony.

Me feared for me feeble soul and me sanity.

Me escaped to huddle, sniveling like a beaten cur, in the squalid alley for the eternity that remained until the foul pink critter returned with me lovely kisser.

The child appeared in a cloud of chocolate fumes. She snitched her pinkish face and tossed me mug in the scum at me feet. With palsied claws me patted it back into place on me skullbone. Smeared sticky, it smelled of sugar and spice and artificial flavors and colors so unnatural they tasted bitter like ancient potions. Me gagged on the cloying stink of everything nice.

Me wanted to slink away, but afore me could commence to slinking, she snagged me grease-stained shopping bag.

“What’d you get?” she asked.

Me whined.

“Hand it over.” She dumped me meager takings into a bag what held thrice her weight in sugarloot.

Then she kicked me ragged behind as me slunk as best me could slink off into the welcoming dark of me hidey-hole.

“You call yourself a Boogie Man?” She taunted after me. “Get a clue, Wussie Man.”

Her hideous giggle will haunt me the rest of me sleepless days.

The End

November News for 2014

October, for most of us, chilled nicely towards the end and already it’s the third of November. There have been a number of enjoyable reads this last month and this editor is taking his time to pick the right one, even to the point of asking for opinions from others.

Wednesday, November 5th, I’ll announce the October Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient. Until then, quit reading this and get back to the chair!

editor bob