The Magazine of the Bethlehem Writers Group
Issue No. 55, Winter 2019

The 2019 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable
Short Story Award Competition
is now open
Win cash and publication 
for a short story (2000 words or fewer) on the theme
Animal Stories
For more information see 2019 SHORT STORY AWARD tab above

Editor's Note
Carol L. Wright
Executive Editor

The darkest days of the year are behind us for a while, and, as with any new year, a host of possibilities is open to us. While we still have some months of "Winter Chill"--our theme for this issue--we can be very productive indoors at our writing desks. The disorder of the holidays is behind us, and now is a wonderful time to make a few writing resolutions:
1. Organize (or reorganize) my work space. While it is said that a messy desk is a sign on genius, it is also true that we are more productive when we can actually find the file folder, photo, scribbled notes, or favorite pen among the other items on our work surface. With an organized space, we can keep going when the words start to flow with fewer distractions or interruptions. If we're starting a new project, we might need to reorganize a bit--putting higher priority items for the new project closer to hand
2. Open ourselves up to new ideas. It can happen this time of year that we  find ourselves in a bit of a post-holiday funk. The best way to move out of it is to liven ourselves up a bit. Bring in new colors to our work area, listen to different music, even take up a new hobby. That fitness promise we make to ourselves every January 1 just might be the energy-booster we need to get our creative energies in tip-top shape, too. With new experiences come new ideas--and new ideas are great for our writing!
3. Prioritize our writing time. After the holidays, many of us find we've slipped out of our writing routine, what with parties, family get-togethers, and the holiday traditions we all love getting in the way. But it's a new year, and time to remember the importance our writing has in our lives. Our muses will forgive us our absence, but they expect us to make it up to them by making our writing a specific priority. Setting aside time each day, or having a daily or weekly word count goal can help us prove to our muses that we still love them--so they will continue to love us!
4. Choose a writers conference to attend. There are many from which to choose in almost every geographical location and every genre. We can almost assuredly find one that fits our schedules and your budgets. (Costs vary widely--from free to several hundred dollars). It's very stimulating to be among other writers with the same interests and challenges we face. Not only that--they get us! When we get home, we'll have new friends, new ideas, and more energy for our writing
5. Enter a writing contest! Okay--this might seem to be a cleverly concealed plug for the 2019 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award competition that is currently open, but it is still true that entering contest--especially if we do well in the competition--can be a great way to give our writing a kick-start. Nothing makes a writer love the craft more than having others love their work, too. And, while BWG members may not enter, you all can! Short Story Award winners receive cash prizes and publication. And, as you'll see below, several others receive Honorable Mention which often leads to publication. What could be more fun than that?

You will undoubtedly have other great writers resolutions that fit your unique writing goals, but these five are a good way to start. Here's to a happy, productive, and successful new year of reading and writing wonderful prose.

In this issue: This issue has some of our Honorable Mentions from our 2018 Short Story Award competition. These are stories of the Paranormal; the 2019 competition is for "Animal Stories." As you'll see, winners may interpret our themes broadly! 
We have an interview with our Short Story Award guest judge, John Grogan, the NYTimes bestselling author of Marley & Me. (He really knows about great animal stories!)
Our featured poem is "Winter Solstice" from Fern G. Z. Carr, and a featured story from our own Diane Sismour. And, as always, we have our writing tips from around the web from Betty Wryte-Goode! 



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Featured Author Diane Sismour . . .  


Diane Sismour
has written poetry and fiction for over 35 years in multiple genres. She lives with her husband in eastern Pennsylvania at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. Diane is a member of Romance Writers of America, Bethlehem Writer's Group LLC, Horror Writers Association, and Liberty States Fiction Writers.


Learn more about Diane at: www.dianesismour.comwww.dianesismour.blogspot.com
on Facebook, find her at dianesismour or networkforthearts 
or on Twitter or Pinterest at dianesismour. On Instagram, look for: sismour  



New Beginnings

Diane Sismour



Susan’s seat in the last row of cubicles made her oblivious to most activities in the office, but both main-entrance doors swinging open drew her attention. Two men entered, each with silver wrapped packages stacked on mail-carts. The usual sound of fingers tapping keyboards halted. Wheels squeaked and rattled as they rolled along aisles between the workstations, hand-delivering one to each employee, until all had a gift placed upon their desk. A blue ribbon crisscrossed to the center with a simple bow.

Joining the deliverymen at the exit, the department manager clapped her hands. “Attention,” she shouted. Her voice squawked, clipped, and sharp. “You can leave once you finish your immediate transcription with full shift pay. Happy New Year! The hospital would like to thank you for all your efforts this year by…”

Sounds of glee, paper ripping, and grumbles of “No bonus,” made anything else the woman said indiscernible.

Some might gripe, but Susan rarely received presents. She worried her hands. Should I open it now? she thought. Anticipation trilled through her. Yes.

The ribbon untied with a slight tug. Susan slid the tiny envelope off the packaging, opened the card and read.

From our family to yours, a New Year with new beginnings.

Blessings,
Sacred Heart Hospital

After slicing through the single strip of tape with her fingernail, the foil paper fell open. She righted the box and lifted the lid. Inside was another oblong packet and instructions. The customer friendly kit sitting on the desk promised to pinpoint her family connections.

But what if they don’t want me to find them?

She closed the top, pushed the box across the workspace and set to finishing the transcript.

Peter rolled on his desk chair from the next cubical into the aisle and wheeled himself beside her. “Isn’t this exciting? The hospital giving this Family Tree DNA gift and all.” His coifed bangs bounced as he spoke.

She stopped typing. In a deadpanned tone said, “If my family wanted me, I wouldn’t have ended up in foster care.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.” He rolled backwards towards his work space, peeked back around the wall at her and waggled his brows, “Maybe I’m a long lost Royal.”

She snorted a laugh. “You could be, by the way you keep hunting for Prince Charming.”

“Tsk, tsk, Susan. Taking jabs at a single, gay man on the holidays,” he said with a look of feigned indignation, but by the lilt in his voice, the sarcasm hadn’t phased him.

“But still, there could be family somewhere worth finding,” he said.

“I guess.” Susan resumed typing. “Finding family isn’t important to me.” The way she spoke, she almost believed herself.

Peter’s voice filtered over the barrier. “Are you coming to the New Year’s Eve party tonight?

She gave a pat answer. “No. I have a date with the couch binge watching 'This is Us.' ”

“Suit yourself. I’ll Facetime a toast with you. Remember to answer the phone this year.”

“You’re incorrigible.”

A warmth seeped through her knowing she had one true friend who cared. Then Peter’s warning hit her—Remember to answer the phone this year. She had moved around a lot trying to find a place she remembered. Is Allentown home? she wondered. Home for now until she could unearth more about her past.

She finished entering the last patient’s insurance information and logged off. The box still sat an arm’s length away, taunting her to reach out.

Find your family connection.

She couldn’t recall anything about them. Almost nothing about them, she thought. Just mama’s screams.

Ready to leave, she snatched the kit and targeted the trashcan. Instead, she shoved the gift into her hobo-bag, gathered her coat, and evading the office clutch by skirting the cubicles, exited out the far door into the main hospital wing. Leaving through the Emergency Room and viewing the injured and ill was easier than coming up with excuses. Her breathing evened and the anxiety of avoiding yet another social gathering ebbed.

Although work had ended a half hour early, the gray day flickered on the parking lot lights. By the patient information passing across her desk, muggings were up again. The shortcut between the buildings would get her home in ten minutes as opposed to more than double the time taken to walk the two-blocks beneath the streetlight’s safety.

Susan hesitated. Not that she had anything of value, but having nothing hadn’t stopped her last assailant from pistol-whipping her. Involuntarily, she touched the scar that ran along her jawline.

Snow pelted the glass vestibule. Willing herself outside, she shoved gloveless hands deep into the coat pockets, and wrapped one tight around a pepper-spray canister, before opening the door.

A stiff wind whipped along the alleyway. Overflowing dumpsters cast deep shadows from the streetlights off Hamilton Boulevard. Less stench was the only good brought by the sub-freezing temperatures.

She scurried down the lane between buildings, avoiding the box-city accumulating along the sides. Mutterings and shuffled cardboard forced her into a skidding jog. The raw air froze her throat upon each sharp inhale. Each exhale created a mist.

Someone yelled, “He’s coming.”

She didn’t want to find out who he was. Her shuffling jog lengthened to a skating run on the icy macadam. An SUV turned in at the narrow intersection, heading straight at her. In an escape to the curb, she slipped, her arms pin-wheeled to stay upright. Susan grabbed for a sign pole to keep from falling. The vehicle swerved to avoid her and drove through a pothole, spraying snowy-sludge, soaking her. Her thin coat clung, drenched through. The salty grit stung her face and she wiped the water with a sleeve, just as someone grabbed her shoulders from behind.

A man’s voice said, “Are you okay? That was close.”

Is he the one she was running from? She turned towards him in a half-fighter’s stance.

An older man stood an arm’s length away. His beige overcoat fit his frame, and rubber boots covered his dress shoes. Her immediate assessment—he’s dressed well and not the threat imagined.

Relief flooded her, warring with the adrenaline still coursing her veins. She closed her eyes for the briefest moment to gain composure. “Yes, thank you.”

He stared. His mouth gaped as he backed away, almost toppling into the trash heap. “No problem, lady.”

“Oh, no,” she whispered, and dug into her purse, pulling out a compact. The makeup shook with her shivers. She opened the mirrored lid. A brown-colored contact to match her other eye lay on her red, frozen, cheek.

The reflection of her ice blue iris pierced recollections long buried. Susan’s mother had backed away just as he had. Distant screams of, “Don’t look at me,” filled her head. Fear and abandonment seized her. Tears brimmed and froze on her lashes.

Why can’t she get past these memories?

Before the wind’s next gust, she pinched the lens off her cheek, placed her disguise in the compact and continued the last block home avoiding encounters with anyone else.

Once inside, off came the stiffening saturated clothes. Susan showered the residue road grime and used the last of the hot water to stop shivering. Wrapped in a towel, she collected the contact from the compact, cleaned the lens and placed it into solution.

I have to keep the past behind me, she reaffirmed.

Instead of waiting until closer to midnight to open the single-serving bottle of champagne, she twisted the lid, enjoying the bubbles sparkling up. Once the chicken fried rice reheated in the microwave, she poured the celebratory drink into a tumbler, and made her way to the couch. She programmed the show, dimmed the lights, and commenced with bingeing.

By the end of the first episode, she realized there were families out there just as screwed up as hers had been. The dynamics comforted a part within she hadn’t realized could be soothed. Towards the middle of the next, she felt sleep drug her. The sound of a facetime call jingled from where she dropped her purse at the door.

“Peter.” She hurried to the doorway before the ringing ended, shuffled through the bag for the cell, and swiped the app open.

“Happy New Year, Susan,” he shouted above the din of party goers. His face squinted and his jaw slacked open.

She slapped a hand over her discolored eye and disconnected. “Oh, no. I’ll have to change jobs again,” she groaned.

Within seconds, he called back.

She didn’t answer.

A third time he tried.

Guilt riddled her conscience. “He’s my only friend.” She opened the line.

By the reduced noise, he had moved to a quieter area. “Why did you hang up on me? What is going on? Are you trying those new contacts?”

“No. This is me.” She lowered her hand. “I wear a contact to match the other eye.”

“Why would you hide your eyes, silly? You’re uniquely you. It’s cool.”

“Do you really think so? My mother hated me for looking this way.”

“Then your mother was a nutcase. Who cares what she thinks? Do your DNA test and find better family.”

“You’re right.” She saw him smirk. “What’s so funny?” Instantly ready to return to hiding.

“Nothing, other than I thought you were smiling. That’s rarer than your eye color.”

This time she grinned. “Happy New Year, Peter. I’ll see you at work.”

Peter has to be right. Not everyone in my family is a nutcase, she hoped.

She removed the hospital’s gift. The instructions looked easy enough to follow. Using her cell phone, she entered her personal information and the kit’s personalized passcode on the website. The next step was spit into the tube to the fill line, add the stabilizing liquid, re-cap, and shake until the blue dye fills the entire vial. Then place the sample into the postage-paid box, mail, and they’ll have the results in six to eight weeks.

###

This year felt much like the last except for a new anticipation—the office buzz about everyone’s DNA notifications. She mailed her kit the next morning at the corner box so she couldn’t change her mind.

Within days a text appeared. Welcome to Family DNA updates. Others received notifications as well. A few days later, another one arrived. Good news, Susan, we have received your DNA. And two days after, another notification came. Your DNA is in progress. Results should be ready in two to four weeks.

Within a week, Susan’s DNA was extracted in the Lab, with a message three days later that said the sample was currently being analyzed.

In two days another bing alerted vibrating her cell, Your DNA results are in! Excitement and fear dueled. The test finished weeks earlier than expected.

“Peter.” She hurried into his cubical. “Peter, the test is done.”

“That was fast.” He finished typing and turned to her. His expression went from serious to animated. “Well open it, silly.”

“Here? Can we go to your place after work? We can use your laptop,” she pleaded.

He didn’t answer immediately.

“Please, I don’t want to use the library computer.”

“Sure. We can go to my place if you stop wearing your contact.”

Her stomach clutched. “But Peter, you don’t understand.”

“Honey, I do understand. Do you think it was easy to come out?”

“No.” There had to be another way. The disguise made her feel normal. “What if…”

“Susan, if you don’t accept who you are, you will never be happy.”

###

Peter entered her info and moved aside. “Press enter. I’ll get some Pinot Grigio.”

She tapped and opened the link. The screen read, “Hi Susan, This test is shown to match Susan Jones.” Her heritage came up as Italian, English, Irish, and Greek.

He pulled a chair beside her, poured the wine and placed the bottle and glasses beside her.

By clicking around the site, she found more information about when her family had migrated. The timeline also showed the areas to find them now. With every new reveal, her curiosity broadened. “Peter, this is so exciting.”

By the last sip of wine, she stumbled upon another link. “According to your DNA, it looks like you have a shared ancestor. Review the info below to confirm the relationship. Click the link to get in touch.”


###

Susan stepped out of the Uber and double-checked the house number on the mailbox post. All the townhouses still had decorations for the holidays. The yards were neat and shrubs clipped. Dusk settled and the Christmas lights hanging on the railings flickered on.

She hesitated at the painted stairs leading to the porch. I’m about to meet my family. She mouthed the words, “My family.” Something she never thought she would ever say. What would she call her grandmother? If she truly was my grandmother.

Before she could talk herself into leaving, Susan steeled her resolve. The wood creaked as she stepped upon each tread and opened the old wooden screen door. A branch of fresh greens and a large red velvet bow adorned the front door. The lit doorbell on the frame dared her to press the button. She traced the name Butler engraved on the brass doorknocker.

She heard people talking. A man asking questions and a woman’s voice sounding just inside answered, “What is the capital of Pennsylvania, Alex.”

Jeopardy.

“I can’t do this.” The wooden screen door thudded into place as she backed away.

Before she could withdraw, the sound of a bolt lock jogged, the doorknob turned, and the heavy door creaked open. A woman leaned out from the opening dressed in a sweater, worn jeans, and moccasin-shod feet.

“Hello, dear. You must be Susan. I’m Edith. Call me Edie. Everyone does.”

Susan peered into eyes the same as hers—one brown and one ice blue. This can’t be a coincidence. Instead of the shame she saw in herself when hiding her eyes behind colored contacts, Edie’s eyes were warm and welcoming.

Susan pinched the contact off her pupil.

The older woman’s face bunched in emotion. There were no harsh words, no screams, just trust behind them.

Susan opened her arms for an embrace. “To new beginnings.”



The Top 

Ten . . . 

Winter
Memories

Diane Sismour

10. Childhood snowball fights— In the late 1960’s, our family farm set between two neighborhoods in Somerville, New Jersey, which made snowball fights a real battle. Each side would build a barricade to escape the onslaught of snowballs. If you were hit, you were out, and the snowballs wouldn’t stop until there was a last kid standing.

9. A romantic horse drawn carriage ride with the Hubby in Montreal—We sat beneath a heavy quilt as the snow fell in large flakes and the horse clip-clopped along the cobblestone road in the historic district.

8. Snowmobiling after a blizzard— One storm in the 1970’s, Mother Nature dumped several feet of snow on Eastern Pennsylvania. My Dad and I snowmobiled for miles in Kempton. The deep drifts popped us up like surfboards in waves on an ocean. One time the sled catapulted me through the air headfirst into a deep drift.

7. Selecting a Christmas tree—Each year we would ride into the woods on our farm, fell a pine tree, and pull it home on horseback. By the time we bounced the tree over fifty-two acres, most of the critters were knocked off along with half the needles.

6. Drinking mulled wine and sitting near a fireplace after skiing—Hawn Mountain ski area didn’t have the longest ski trails in the area, but that’s where all my friends went for good slopes and fun.

5. Building snowmen with the kiddos was a must with every worthy snowfall. We dressed them in hats, scarves and gloves, then went inside for mugs of hot chocolate.

4. Watching a winter sunrise.I’m not a morning person by any means, and I’m more apt to watch the sunrise from staying awake all night. However, I’m always looking for the silver lining, and watching the sun glisten on ice-covered trees at sunrise when driving school bus routes was worth waking early for.

3. Making snow angel . . . naked!Living in the country offers lots of privacy. During a fresh snow we would make naked snow angels in fresh powder and jump back in the Jacuzzi.

2. Christmas store windows in New York City.We went to New York City for my Dad’s 80th birthday to see A Bronx Tale. Snow fell while viewing the window displays—a surreal snow globe experience that made me feel giddy like a child before Christmas Day.

1. Dog sledding along the base of Monarch Mountain—My favorite winter memory is dog sledding with the towering peaks on the horizon. An exhilarating experience tucked into a sled with skinned-hides covering us, and feeling the dogs’ strength pull the harnesses along wooded trails.




The 2019
SHORT
STORY
AWARD
Competition 

is now open!

Enter your 
Animal
Story
of 
2000 words 
or fewer
for a
First Prize of 
$200 
and publication. 


See the tab above for more information.