Westerville writing contest 2021: Category adults
First place: “Foal Watch” by Nancy Collander
Second place: “Ouroboros” by Maddie Olvey
Third place: “Dragon Chant” by Edosa Omoruyi
Honorable mention: “Coming Home” by Autumn Shah
By Nancy Collander
At last – the owner and her friends were gone. Now the mare and I could get down to the business at hand. It was 12:30 and the mare was restless – I knew she would drop it tonight. Outside, I watched the taillights fade, and quiet and darkness enveloped me. I stood for a moment and took it all in, breathing deeply of the night air. A full moon rode high above the barn and the cloudless sky revealed swirls of stars. Bats whispered above on black velvet wings.
Back inside, I took up my waiting on two straw bales outside the foaling stall. I knew I would not really sleep. Foaling affected me the same way each time, beginning with anticipation, then breathless mystery and finally, exhilaration. Even without sleep I knew I would not be tired in the morning.
The mare moved heavily around her stall, waiting for the time to arrive. Hanging her head over the wall, our eyes met in understanding and trust – we had been through this many times before, we were troopers.
A barn in the deep of night is a magical place. Time spun out in the soft, rustling darkness and a mouse scurried somewhere behind the wall. Later, the old lazy barn cat curled up next to me on the straw to keep the quiet watch. I dozed. With a sudden rush, the water broke and I came awake immediately. Groaning softly, the mare went down and I moved to the stall door, opening it a few inches. She would not need help but I would give what support I could just being nearby. Awe overtook me, as it always did. Almost immediately, the forefeet appeared, straining against the cloudy sack. The nose and head followed, resting demurely on the slender legs, the ears plastered back against the skull.
As the mare rested, gathering her strength for the big push, I moved into the stall. With a mighty effort, the mare heaved, the shoulders slide free and the sack broke with another rush of fluid. She rested again. I gently guided the silky, warm membrane off the foal’s face and the eyes opened for the first time. I wondered at the tiny face before me, wet with birth – the delicate fringe of eyelashes and the riot of whiskers, already dying into springing, comical curls.
With one final push, the filly was born, whole and perfect on the straw. In the moonlight that streamed in through the door, she raised her head and my breath caught at the exquisite markings – a spiral of white covering her entire forehead. It looked to me like a swirl of stars.
By Maddie Olvey
the cold watery murk floods my body and because the river knows
it scrubs the sound from my ears the voice from my throat
the light from behind my eyes the silt scours the sunburn from my skin
and beneath i am soft and fearful then it tosses me
pink and fresh and shivering into the gaping maw of midday sun
new but still the same condemned to wander the barren bank alone
condemned to be my own hunger and to be my own sustenance
knotted in a loop of acidic limbo i burn off layers beneath the sun
drowning and not drowning drowning and waiting to drown
waiting and waiting to wait inside of that i don’t sleep much
but sometimes i dream that instead of peeling me apart piece by piece
the sun will light me on fire so that i can dance in a lick of flame
until i feather into silver ash or blur into hazy smoke
the river sees my dreams and knows when i’ve drifted too far
when i need to be reminded that’s when it comes
full and rushing and relentless and i stop breathing just as
By Edosa Omoruyi
(No photo available)
Blood of my elders
Forged by fire and steel,
Our tribe was born to rise
Soaring beyond the limitations of our oppressors,
escaping the mundane laws we once held true.
Poisoned by the lies that pinion our bodies to the soil
like serpents slithering to find shelter
Cursed by overwhelming power
that slips through our grasp at every hint of discontent
We were born from kings
Our history enriched with eyes towards the skies
where our ancestors lie.
We are salamanders no more
Lying dormant within the passion of a new generation
The dragon mother awaits our return to ascension
as her flames will not be extinguished.
She will return with riders from the heavens,
painting the sky with a scarlet fury
Reclaiming the pride left behind,
and the honor of her children burning deep inside.
By Autumn Shah
The house looked alien to her after thirty-eight years away.
The sparse, yellowing grass and stunted palm trees seemed outlandish compared to the cold, inorganic habitat she had gotten used to. The yucca plants looked healthy enough and still grew out of the pebbled beds along the walkway.
A Christmas wreath hung on the door. The smell of the pine assailed her senses, so unused was she to little more than the acid-sharp smell of metal and the chlorine-tinged scent of regulated air.
Like her, the house did not look like it had aged almost four decades.
Christmas lights twinkled in sequence around the windows and, while they filled her chest with warmth, they also amused her, whisking her right back to the Georgiana, and the blinking lights that communicated with the crew. Of course, the effect of the festive-colored bulbs was markedly different from the glaring red warning of the Vital Systems Alert indicator, or the multicolor blinking of the air pressure sensors.
She had tried to make the Georgiana a temporary home. She had taken a few mementos, cozy footie pajamas, and even some artwork done by her nieces. But she missed unexpected things like the feel of carpet beneath her feet, weather, and variations of color.
But it was Jiro she missed the most.
She never expected their separation to be so painful. They were used to long intervals apart. After all, the second year and a half of their relationship had been long distance. When they reunited, it was always as if no time at all had passed.
They had met at the University of Kyoto during her international fellowship program. He was marine biology, she was physics. Days in Kyoto parks, temples, and the university libraries. Nights sharing kaseiki ryori, and reading to each other on the pillow-laden futon in his apartment.
She lifted her arm to knock at the door, but she changed her mind and grabbed the door handle-another strange sensation, to open a door manually. Her legs weakened at the emotions roiling inside her, and she reached out for the wall. It wasn't only the return to normal gravity that made her unsteady on her feet.
She remembered their first kiss. She thought it would never come. He was so shy, such a gentleman, not like the men she had dated back home in the U.S. They were at a sushi bar, nestled in a booth side by side. He reached for the wasabi. It may have been her who leaned in to make his reach a kiss. That first kiss, and the way he nuzzled her cheek afterward, sustained her through every absence thereafter.
The length of the deep space survey mission meant six years of cryosleep each way. She told him she would understand if he couldn’t wait for her. But he had. She has watched him age through the video messages he had sent for each week of her sleep. She relished those images and his one-sided conversations during the many years of blackout communication. When she woke up the second time, another six years later, his salt and pepper hair had made him look that much more distinguished, and the crease above his left eyebrow had deepened to be that much more endearing. They remained who they were in each other’s eyes.
He had stayed in this house waiting for her despite the drying landscape around him, their friends moving to the ever-dwindling greener lands, and the places with more abundant water.
She walked the hallway, passing the antique Chinoiserie mirror, the Edo-period wall panel they had chosen together before leaving Japan. She could see the flickering light of the fire from the den, hear its crackle and pop. She imagined she felt its warmth already kissing her skin.
She turned into the room, and there, sitting on the ratty, brocade loveseat was an old man. There was no denying it. His skin was sallow and sagged, but his dimples were just the same, as was the crinkle above his left eyebrow. He stared back at her with the same sense of wonder she was sure she exhibited.
“Mallory?” Jiro whispered as she turned into the room.
“Yes. It’s me.”
And before he could rise, she raced, on still-unsteady legs, to throw herself beside him and into his open arms.
This house was a vessel, as sure as the Georgiana had been. It was in his arms that was home.