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* There are no entry fees for the standard category and we pay up to $100 for accepted pieces.

One Response to “Competition or Standard – How to choose?”

  1. Debbie Lampi 3 April 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Debbie Lampi
    580 Hastings Ln., N.W.
    Rochester, Minnesota 55901
    (507)252-8463 (507) 254-7714

    A Stream Gurgles in the Distance

    Some people swore that the house was haunted.

    I had looked at houses for weeks, hoping to settle in our new community well before school began. Nelson, a suave, pinstriped realtor, with slicked back hair and an air of confidence to match, sauntered out to his car and reluctantly mentioned that there was one last house we had yet to see. Priced well below market value, it fit somewhere between my budget and my dreams.

    Driving out of town, we passed the local Stop-n-Save as golden fields shimmered in the afternoon sun. Blue skies hung with wisps of clouds. Autumn leaves in every shade between crimson and tangerine warmed me like the sun on my bare arms. The windows were open and I breathed in deeply, savoring the earthy scent of a fresh harvest. Minnesota’s solace wrapped its arms around me once again. Small-town Minnesotans have a sense of purpose, a no nonsense view of taking life as it comes. Theirs’ is an even keel that I hoped would ground me once again. I was fleeing a stultifying marriage and I needed to sweep out the remains of a head and a house that were full of lies. Florida, with its oppressive heat was made even more suffocating by a marriage that was now a thousand miles behind me. I felt a sense of jubilation, a heady sense that the world was mine for the picking. I had been through the worst of what life had to offer. I had left my tattered heart and insubstantial self behind. Anything was possible I thought to myself and it filled my heart with a tender pride.

    As we rounded the last curve on that winding country road, a fine windstorm of dust rose in the
    air, and when it cleared, a lone white farmhouse, badly in need of paint, appeared. The gritty dirt stung my eyes and I blinked several times. The house was clapboard with forest green wooden shutters hanging at odd angles. A faded red barn, its roof sagging sadly towards the center leaned crazily to one side. An ancient well with a rusty pump stood in the weed-choked yard. I imagined a farmwife hauling pails full of icy water, stinging her as it splashed on her naked thighs.

    Gripping the steering wheel, the realtor slowed into the pockmarked circular drive. As he cut the engine, I heard the tinkling of a stream in the distance. I could hear his breath begin to quicken. His anxiety was so thick that it became almost palpable as the sweat glistened on his brow. He cleared his throat and muttered:

    “Been vacant for some time.”

    His salesman’s confidence and officious manner were suddenly gone and I felt a curious sense of apprehension. I mulled over the possibilities. Gas leak? Flooding? Property taxes?

    He finally managed to murmur, so softly that I barely heard him, “Some folks think the place is

    He fumbled with the keys, dropping them several times before he managed to open the front
    door. He kept his car keys tightly clasped in his hand, his knuckles white around them. He
    hesitated. The door creaked on its hinges as he slowly pushed it open. I looked inside and saw a
    kaleidoscope of images as sunlight filtered through old chintz curtains. Whoever left had left
    quickly. The furniture had never been removed. A sofa, sad and faded, stood on three legs next to a crumbling fireplace in which the charred residue of a fire, long ago extinguished, remained. I looked at that room and could see myself sitting by a roaring fire, my book in hand, my children playing at my feet.

    “It comes with the furnishings,” Nelson mumbled as his eyes darted nervously to the staircase and back again.

    It would take some work, but I could see the possibilities. I scoffed at the idea that this house that I had seen so often in my dreams could be haunted. During the weeks that followed, I hauled out broken dishes and mildewed towels, stacks of yellowed newspapers, and withered plants as dry as dust. I scarcely gave the realtor’s claims a second thought. The children and I moved in on a September morning as bright as a newly minted coin. We were home.

    Sarah and Chloe were scrubbed and dressed for their first day of school. Fresh-faced children
    who had seen too much, they boarded the bus and nervously waved good-bye. I began the task of
    unpacking our lives one cardboard box at a time.

    The kitchen was spacious with wide floorboards once varnished to a gleaming honey hue. Cabinets lined with red checked oilcloth, and glass paned doors would be a showcase for my mother’s fragile teacups. Cracked white paint had fallen in chips on the vinyl counter. An intricate film of cobwebs hung in the corners. I felt the tension melt from my shoulders as I prepared to put my new life in order. An eerie sense of déjà vu told me that I was home.

    As late afternoon approached, the shadows deepened. I had a sense of time winding down. I lit the gas stove and found a kettle. I had stocked up on the necessities: Chamomile tea, milk, and honey. As the water heated, I pried open a peeling wooden door that Nelson had not wanted opened, and cautiously made my way down to the damp, dark basement. A harsh light filled the dismal space as I reached for the single light hanging from the ceiling. A mouse scurried by and I stifled a scream as I chided myself for being silly. If I were to live in rural Minnesota, I would have to get used to furry creatures once again. Wiping away the cobwebs, I cleared a space for our Christmas decorations thinking how warm and happy our first Christmas here would be. I glanced in the corner and saw what looked like the skeletal remains of a cat. I gasped in horror at the pink collar fastened grotesquely around its neck and at the jaws opened wide as if its last moments had been twisted and anguished.

    I clamored up the stairs, two steps at a time and drew open the tattered kitchen curtains. Glancing at my watch, I saw that it was almost four. Why hadn’t I gone out to ask the bus driver what time the children the children would arrive home?

    ‘Joey?’ I wondered as I watched a small towheaded boy walking through the neglected garden. I couldn’t imagine why the neighbor’s child was wandering outside alone. Hadn’t he gone to school today? Joey seemed to me to be older than the little boy I had met yesterday. This child was guileless; dressed in the overalls and a blue checked shirt a farm boy might have worn in a time long gone. His limbs were angular and his gate oddly irregular — a scarecrow come to life. He seemed transparent. I felt a draft and looked to see if the basement door had opened. A strange current coursed through my veins as I stood and watched this child.

    My confidence shaken, I wondered if my husband’s insinuations and accusations of mental instability could possibly be true. He would do anything to take the children from me. Could he have found me and staged this apparition? Now I was becoming paranoid. I told myself that it was a trick of the waning light and to pull myself together. There was no apparition. I was just exhausted from the two-day drive, the search for my house, the unpacking. I was not becoming unhinged.

    Distracted, I turned away. When I looked again, the pale, freckled face boy was gone. I
    attempted to control the mounting sense of fear and wished I had taken Nelson’s claims more seriously. I told myself to be calm, to breathe deeply. Sitting down, I heard a soft moaning sound that reverberated through my entire being. It was coming from what I thought was my upstairs bedroom. It was a wail of anguish that made my spine tingle. The keening rose and fell. I felt a sickening premonition and wished the children were home. I quickly turned to pick up the phone but remembered that we didn’t yet have telephone service. Reaching for the emergency pack of cigarettes I had hidden in my purse, I lit one and frantically inhaled the familiar nicotine laced smoke to calm me while I waited for the children.

    My fingers tingled, blood rushed through my veins. I became lightheaded. With a shudder, I knew that this forlorn child; a child I had assumed to be Joey from next door, was indeed an apparition. He had drowned in that gurgling stream. He had never left home. I knew then that he would always live with me. Nothing was ever the same after that.

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