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Winter, 2009
24-Hour Short Story Contest
1st Place Winner!

TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:

The small wood stove kept the tiny chapel warm and their snowy footprints had already melted by the door. The dim light from the candle nubs played on the faces of the minister and his wife, and made the bride and groom's shadows dance on the empty pews.

The minister's monotone continued, "If any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or else for ever hold your peace."

All four turned abruptly when they heard a cough by the door...

Entries must touch on the topic in some way to qualify.



1ST PLACE!

Desert Light
by Eric Wallace, Boise, ID

They fell in love, such as they understood that word, in one instant.

By day, under the forever-scorching sun, and by night, beneath endless celestial designs, they grew to love each other even more.

But they waited for oneness. Such was the custom.

They had met at the bazaar in the part of town nearest the easternmost well. He, handsome despite his gauntness, was bringing in his familyís goatskins, seeking a fair price. She, graceful and quiet, accompanied her mother, who was haggling over clusters of dates.

The flies didnít haggle. They settled, drew succor, slid in the sweet stickiness, rose languidly, settled yet again.

Halting his small donkey and the cartload of ragged skins, the man paused to drink water from a grimy bag.

Two children ran screaming through the dust. A small flock of sheep bleated in misery, blundering along before their emaciated shepherd. Three bored soldiers rolled dice under the shade of a scraggly canopy, one keeping a wary eye out for officers.

The motherís voice rose shrilly above the market din, protesting the price. She questioned the quality of the dates, lamented being fated to meet such a scurrilous merchant. The daughter turned to watch the sheep, looked in sweet bemusement at the children, then suddenly met the calm, kind eyes of the man drinking water.

Later, neither would say that time stopped. Neither would admit to feeling any peculiar sense of recognition or any impression of destiny. Neither would admit to a strange rush of air which muted the brazen ruckus of the market, which replaced the stench of offal with the avatar of roses, which turned the midday glare into a light golden haze. They both felt those things, but could not voice them.

The girl - still in her teens, though on the cusp of womanhood - smiled faintly. Just faintly. But that slight crinkle of mouth and gentle crease of eye hit him with the force of a thousand desert winds.

He staggered, the skein spilling precious water into the dirt. He swallowed, blinked, then dared himself also to smile, but with a subtlety born of natural caution and shaped by courtesy, if strengthened by sudden hope.

They stood several roods apart, though each felt as if only a mere pace separated them. She knew in her heart this man across the market was to be hers. He sensed his pulse quicken, but sorrow tinged him, for surely he must lose before he had even gained. Age, tribe, religion, family ties - any of these could raise impediments.

Their glance had touched at most for seconds. But it was enough. Enough to engender fierce yearning. Enough to unsettle them like small craft tossed by waterspouts on the great inland sea. Enough to turn this ordinary day into one of eternal importance.

The donkey, knowing nothing of eternity, brayed and struggled forward. The mother, long past yearning, moved to confront the next devious vendor, tugged impatiently at her daughterís belt. A cloud of dust blew up, obscuring all.

But fate chose to be kind. It remembered the girl and the man, marked them, held them in play, and soon gave them occasion to meet again.

At the next market following the Sabbath, her father desired to trade his fine ripe olives for some new skins. Once more, the man with the goatskins arrived, and the two met. As they bartered amicably--they found they had tribesmen in common--the daughter, venturing near, recognized the man, blanched and fainted.

Her father placed her in a stall upon a soft pile of cloths and skins. As she lay there, the stranger gazed at her, could not hold his tongue, and suddenly was emboldened to speak to her father.

The angels must have guided that speech and sweetened the fatherís heart because, much to his own surprise, he soon he found himself bargaining. By the time the daughter sat up, pulling straw from her hair, there had been a promise, a firm handshake. She was not consulted, but her downcast eyes rose to meet those of the man, and in them he saw shy exultation.

There followed months of slow but contented courtship, always chaperoned, save a few stolen moments watching the infinite stars. Throughout, they said little, understood little, yet felt much.

They watched the great caravans pass. They journeyed to the inland sea, met sunglazed fishermen and tasted the fruits of their labors. They stood near long columns of marching soldiers, whose shields, spears and banners raised tall spirals of dust in proud and dry salute.

And finally, she coming to the age of connubiality, they went before the priests and stood in the flickering candlelight, not touching--not yet--striving to comprehend the teachings.

The air was rich with the scent of cloves, sandalwood and rare spices, and for once the dusty earth had been quelled with rosewater. The priests murmured and chanted in the tranquility of the darkened hall.

As the ceremony drew down and they were near to being man and wife, abruptly there was silence. The chief priest stood transfixed, his mouth agape, his hand clutching his long beard.

From the rear of the hall came a whisper of gossamer, a song of the wind. A beam of pure silver gold poured over the couple, brighter than day yet not blinding.

As the two turned and marveled, a lone figure, soft-edged, crested in gilt, winged in white, radiated showers of warm light upon them.

Only they heard the tender voice, tempering their fear with grace, caressing them with peace.

"Before long you will know love beyond all understanding. Soon, Mary.

Have patience, Joseph."


What Eric won:

$300 Cash Prize
Publication of winning story on the WritersWeekly.com website
1 - Freelance Income Kit Includes:
-- 1-year subscription to the Write Markets Report
-- How to Write, Publish and $ell Ebooks
-- How to Publish a Profitable Emag
-- How to Be a Syndicated Newspaper Columnist Special (includes the book; database of 6000+ newspapers; and database of 100+ syndicates)

ENTER THE NEXT 24-HOUR SHORT STORY CONTEST HERE!
Contest guidelines are HERE.


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