Once again, Sundress Publications welcomes you to the winners’ circle! This week’s MVP’s knocked the prompt out of the park and into April Michelle Bratten’s heart. Let’s tune in to her decision.
Congratulations to Penny Pennell for her first prize story, “The Climbing Pine.”
Here are April’s highlights from the piece:
“The Climbing Pine,” skillfully written with a wicked sense of humor, is a story of
unexpected characterizations. In this story’s cleverly designed atmosphere, I found
myself drawn toward the purity and tradition of a summer baseball game. What I
found instead was an endearing twist–characters traditionally deemed innocent were
teetering on the edge of darkness. The climbing tree, tall and foreboding, loomed over
the scene as a warning: things are not quite as they seem.
-April Michelle Bratten
Penny is the winner of her very own Outspoken Tank!
We also congratulate Barbara Harroun as our runner-up for round two, with her powerful story entitled, “Empty.”
Both authors will go on to compete in the final grand prize round, where one writer will walk away with five Sundress titles of their choosing and their story immortalized on the blog! Get cracking on this week’s contest here!
Now for some great reads.
The Climbing Pine
by Penny Pennell
The first time you heard a priest swear was at your younger brother’s t-ball game. Early evening, mosquitoes biting, you were far more captivated by the rainbow snowcone in hand than the call that wasn’t just bullshit, but fucking bullshit. That side eye did little to mask your surprise, but Father Joe ticked up a notch that day. “Yeah,” your nine-year-old self concurred.
The game ended, as they often do, before the twilight hour, teams high-fiving in a post-game ode to sportsmanship. Defeat or victory didn’t loom long because once little league finished, the big game took center stage. Lights snapped and echoed on, a low hum began the orchestra, luring insects 50 feet skyward to a dizzying mosh pit. Kiwanis vs Noonan’s Hardware. Kiwanis Number 25 in left field, pale blue stripes on his chest, socks uneven. Slurping a wad of Big League Chew, he pulled his hat down too far over thick eyebrows and jogged deep – the worst player in the league.
You met the neighborhood boys on Brown Mountain to play king of the hill, re-enact lightsaber battles, and race matchbox cars in a pile of dirt used to feed the pitcher’s mound. No need to worry about heading home when the streetlights buzzed on, the diamond lights gave a furlough. They also illuminated the climbing pine.
The park was home to many trees suitable for play: the maple with a branch low enough to hang from upside down, the oak shedding acorns to collect and throw, the fuller pines that offered invisibility in dusk games of hide-and-seek. But the climbing pine bore advantageous war wounds that offered up its internal ladder. Stripped bare on one side, likely damaged when the lights were installed, the sap-seeping branches let you climb beyond heights you dared to go on the stadium lights. Sheltered with fronds, you and another could find branches and call out to Number 25. Heckling like Statler and Waldorf because distractions or no, Number 25 was never going to catch that pop-up fly.
Seventh inning and the barbs repeated or waned, leaving Number 25 frustrated with promises of post-game recrimination. By the eighth, a cicada shell deftly crumbled between sticky fingers among thoughts of heading home. The crack of a Kiwanis bat in the ninth began the descent. Halfway down, you leapt for the dusty landing of Brown Mountain. No risking the wrath of a humiliated outfielder. You and the neighborhood boys scattered like June bugs when the lights go out.
Penny Pennell received an M.A. in English in 2003 from The University of Illinois at Springfield. Her short fiction has previously appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine (ELM), The Journal of Microliterature, River Poets Journal, Foliate Oak, Underground Voices, Barnstorm and The Illinois Times.
by Barbara Harroun
You’ve started your pathetic yellow Pinto when you realize you left the keys for the pet shop in the belly of locker 117. Your legs are gelatinous from holding the last wall sit for an extra ten seconds and nosing in first on each and every suicide rep. You’re trying too hard, but you think if Mr. Stiffer (you just don’t respect him enough to call him “Coach”) pays any attention at all, he’ll start you at center next game, like you did all of Junior Varsity. Not Katie. She’s as tall as you, but graceful–not muscled like some beef cake mechanic, which is how you see yourself, honestly, standing naked in front of your mirror after your shower. God, a hot shower! You still have to shovel shit and clean cages at the pet shop, trying not to make eye contact with the puppies piled on one another in their tiny jails. Katie is probably going home and doing whatever a doctor’s daughter does, like eat something delicious and homemade by her mother, the doctor’s wife, and then off to do homework. That’s probably her job—get good grades. Not like you, who has to go clean the shitty pet shop your almost-divorced parents are barely holding on to.
You have a Spanish test tomorrow, so you as you sprint back to the gym you conjugate verbs and wonder for the millionth time how Mr. Stiffer can be married to Senora Stiffer. She’s the gentlest person you’ve ever met. She’s plain, but inside she’s gloriously beautiful. She’s showing now, her belly as perfect and round as a basketball, and today, in class, you caught her, standing by the window, hands on her belly, a private smile on her face, so joyful you wished she were your mother.
You enter quietly because you don’t want to talk to Mr. Stiffer, you just want to get your keys. He is with Katie, under the net, grappling the same ball, trying to gain control of it. A game. A joke sporting event. The ball drops, hits the floor and bounces until it’s still. That’s the saddest sound in the world, besides the cacophony of crying pets waiting for you. Now they’re kissing. Really kissing. The rack of basketballs is right there. A familiar rage bares its sharp ferret teeth and blinks its pink eyes. A ball is in your hand, familiar and known as your own skin. You rapid fire, throwing as hard as you fucking can, hoping to raise welts, break noses, going for their faces when they are still together—one target–and then alternating when they have separated, until the rack is empty and you are too.
Barbara Harroun is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. Her most recent work is forthcoming or appearing in Circus Book, Empty Sink, Per Contra Fiction, Fiction Southeast, Watershed Review, and Spelk. Her favorite creative endeavors are her awesome kids, Annaleigh and Jack. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she can be found walking her beloved dog, Banjo, or engaging in literacy activism and radical optimism. Her website is barbaraharroun.com and she blogs about all things mysterious with her friend, colleague, and running partner Rebekah Buchanan at https://allamystery.wordpress.com/.