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2014 Mormon Lit Blitz Winner

Lit Blitz Winner

After counting and recounting votes in a tight race for literary impact, we are pleased to announce this year’s top finalists:

Fourth Place: “The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner

Third Place: “Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” by Jonathon Penny

Second Place: “Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales

and our Grand Prize winner:

First Place: “Slippery” by Stephen Carter

Thank you again to all who submitted to the contest, who read and shared the finalists, and who emailed in votes. It’s been a lovely time.

Because of the strong submission pool this year, we have decided to compile an eBook anthology of all twenty-four semi-finalists. Watch our Facebook page for details, or email everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com and tell us you want anthology updates.

Next Contest

Can’t wait for the next Lit Blitz? From now through September 30th, we’ll accept entries for a fall Mix-and-Mash Mythos contest. The rules are simple:

-Entries must be under 2,000 words
-Entries must draw on or sample from Mormon mythos (scriptures, history, hymns, traditions, etc.) AND another mythos (modern pop culture, a scientific model, another culture or religion, etc.)
-All genres are welcome (and bending genres is encouraged). Previously published work is acceptable if the author retains republication rights.
-Works should speak to an audience of religious Latter-day Saints

Send entries to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com, preferably attached as Word documents or pdfs. Please include author’s contact information in the body of the email, but not in the attachment with the story.

Finalists will be selected in October and published in October or November. A cash prize will be awarded to the winner of an audience vote.

2014 Mormon Lit Blitz Voting Instructions

We have enjoyed all twelve finalists. But we only have one Grand Prize. Help us decide which piece wins this year’s Lit Blitz by emailing a ranking of your four favorite pieces to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day on Saturday, July 5th.

The contestants are:

“20/20” by Lindsay Denton
“The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner
“In Remembrance” by Merrijane Rice
“Curelom Riders” by Annaliese Lemmon
“Slippery” by Stephen Carter
“In a Nutshell” by Doug Staker
“And Through the Woods” by Jennifer Eichelberger
“Thick and Thin” by Vilo Westwood
“Platinum Tears” by Marianne Hales Harding
“Sugar Free” by Emily Debenham
“Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales
“Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” by Jonathon Penny

Again: in order to be counted, votes must contain a ranking of the reader’s four favorite pieces and must be emailed to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day Saturday, July 5th. We also welcome comments and feedback on the contest in vote emails.

For those who are interested, public discussions of each piece are taking place on the Mormon Midrashim blog. We’d love to have you share your thoughts on specific pieces there.

Yawheh: Prologue to The Temple

By Jonathon Penny

I am, but not obsequious:
no star-eyed worshipper of will.
Defender-of-the-faith at cost,
I am a bleeder-at-the-gills.

This Gospel hits me where I breathe:
It roils the very blood of me;
seasons the very meat and meal
and sets the organs ill at ease.

I am, but not levitical,
no cutter of the hair to cut,
no saline soul mechanical.
I am a why-er of the what.

This Covenant grips me by the groan:
It fells and flings me to the soil
as I were seed so to be thrown;
as I were tiller, tree, and toil.

I am a doubter in the dark,
a wrestler with angelic limbs.
I brook no counterfeiting luck,
but look for heralds of high Him.

This Ordinance wrings me by the nape.
This Cherub bars me from the tree.
This Way bow-bends me to the strait.
This Lord makes mock and mince of me.

I am, though skeptical of bent,
a wearer of the solemn gown–
no rustic git obedient,
no frail finch by breezes blown.

This Image flicks and flutters yet:
at once aggrieves and brings relief;
it faithful fuddles, frowns, and frets;
it holy helps my unbelief.

I am a grasper after Grace.
I am a doer of the word.
I am a yearner after peace.
I am a seeker of the Lord.

This Monarch veils himself in love.
This Sovereign slips the throng and throne.
This Master drudges in the grove
and lordly lives among his own.

Living Scriptures

By Scott Hales

Timothy smiles as he hands a five dollar bill to the teenager behind the window. “Keep the change,” he says. The teenager—a red-headed seventeen-year-old with almost as many piercings on her face as freckles—giggles and gives him a towering vanilla ice cream cone and a stack of brown paper napkins.

“You’re gonna need these on a day like today,” she says. She is referring to the heat, a staple of mid-July days in Palmyra, and Timothy has to remind himself once again how bothersome a blazing sun can be to mortals. It has been almost two millennia since he last felt the sun’s rays on his skin, and he has become unused to feeling a sensation so . . . trivial. At first he had missed it—almost to the point of regretting his decision—but now he understands why he must go without such distractions.

Jeremiah, ever-cryptic in his aphorisms, put it best when they were tending to wounded civilians in India during the Sepoy Rebellion: “Suffering determines the length of a lifespan.” Having died once himself, the victim of a brutal stoning, Timothy knew immediately what his friend meant. The body can only take a certain amount of pain—physical, emotional, spiritual—before it gives up the ghost. Death is the spirit’s rejection of suffering, and no physical body, no matter how strong or righteous, can contain its spirit when pain tips the scales. Had they not been made to withstand the most harrowing conditions of the Fall, they could not fulfill their divinely-appointed mission.

Or eat an extra-large ice cream cone without guilt or threat of a heart attack.

#

Using the last of the napkins to wipe melted ice cream from his hands and lips, Timothy decides to visit Grandin’s printing press for the first time since he’d helped E. B. Grandin—then only a brash kid!—set up shop in the 1820s. So much has changed in Palmyra since then, changes that cause Timothy to remember a Church News article about the most recent renovation of the building: an overhaul of the interior that, by Timothy’s best guess, probably made it almost unrecognizable to those who had known it almost two hundred years ago. Still, Timothy harbors no love for the old interior—Grandin had had no decorative sense—so he doubts he’ll be terribly disappointed by what he’ll find. He is simply looking for a good way to kill a few hours before he needs to be in place to save the life of the actor playing Jesus in the pageant tonight.

Pushing past a contingent of anti-Mormons with loud yellow signs, Timothy takes in the crowd milling outside an LDS bookstore beside the historical site. Tourists all, they move in a kind of chaotic order, juggling strollers, cameras, shopping bags, and sunburns. Their whiteness—or, more accurately, pinkness—shocks him, so used he is to working in parts of the world where pale skin belongs to the minority. He laughs at their insipid legs and comfortable waist-lines—not spitefully, but with the amusement of one who has seen their kind rise and fall with every century. He wishes Jeremiah and Kumen could be there, especially Kumen, who would probably say something like, “And for this we wander!”

Thinking of Kumen, Timothy almost doesn’t hear the eager voice address him. Turning, he sees the tightly grinning face of well-dressed young man sitting at a table with a display of colorful scripture-themed books and DVDs arranged upon it. “Hello, brother,” the young man says. “How would you like a free DVD to share with your family?” Timothy holds up a hand to wave away the offer, but the young man gestures towards an empty seat. “It won’t take more’n two minutes, brother. Hear me out and you get a free DVD.”

“I’ve really got to keep moving,” says Timothy apologetically.

“Let me ask you this,” says the young man. “Are you concerned about the growing wickedness of the world?”

“Of course,” says Timothy.

“And aren’t you worried about the worldiness and immorality on television these days?”

“Television?” The word sounds ridiculous on Timothy’s tongue. As he says it, heinous scenes of barbarous torture and debauchery—memories of darker times of terror and apostasy—flash across his mind. The bloody shadows almost chill him. “No,” he says sharply, “not really.”

The tight smile briefly leaves the young man’s face before two weeks of sales training kick in and he recovers it. Still, Timothy notices a slight tremble surface on the young man’s smooth jaw. He feels slighted, challenged, no doubt feeling as he had as a missionary when people had rejected his invitation to learn more about the Gospel. In the young man’s eyes, now cold with offense, Timothy discerns a weariness, a longing to be somewhere other than a sweltering sidewalk in upstate New York. While Timothy cannot identify with the youth’s desire to sell that which is of no worth, he sympathizes with the weariness. It is what he would feel if he could still feel.

“How much for your DVDs?” Timothy asks.

The young man gives what seems to Timothy to be an unreasonable price.

Reaching for his wallet, Timothy takes the empty seat beside him. “Let’s do this,” he says. “I want you to give a full set of DVDs and books to the next family you talk to. On me.” He pulls a wad of bills from his wallet and hands them to the young man. “Keep the change,” he adds.

The young man counts the bills, speechless. Timothy rises from the chair and replaces his wallet in the back pocket of his cargo shorts. “Make sure it’s a family,” he says to the young man. “I don’t want you giving the DVDs to just anyone.”

“OK,” says the young man.

“And, for the record,” Timothy says, pointing to the flashy image of an ancient prophet on the cover of the nearest DVD, “no self-respecting Nephite would ever dress like that. Not in my day, at least.”

Sugar Free

By Emily Debenham

The sound of cursing was the first thing that Rachel heard as she entered the church. She hesitated and then peered around the corner into a half-dark hallway to see Hunter, the ward executive secretary, struggling with an insulin pump. She’d seen her father checking his on many occasions.

She could hear Hunter muttering numbers, calculating his blood sugar. She’d never seen her dad get so flustered and she thought about offering help. She worried that would only put him in a worse mood, though. Rachel waited in the empty hallway, refusing to leave before she knew he was okay.

Finally, Hunter sorted himself out and headed down the hallway. He didn’t even look back. Rachel had learned his secret without being discovered. She followed after him, winding around until she found the crowded foyer. She let Hunter know she had arrived for her appointment with the bishop.

“Alright,” he said. “Three people are ahead of you, so get comfy. You have a good weekend?”

Rachel pulled a face. “It started out pretty crummy. I sort of failed a physics test on Friday.”

“Oh no!” Hunter looked genuinely distressed for her.

“Yeah,” Rachel tried to make light of it. “I had to make a banana pie to console myself.”

“Not a chocolate girl, then?” he teased.

“I figure if I’m going to make condolence pie it might as well have something healthy in it, you know?”

He emphatically shook his head. “No. I’d go straight for the chocolate, caramel, peanut butter combo and put whipped cream on top.”

Rachel laughed. “That’s your favorite then?”

He nodded and Rachel could see the longing in his eyes and a little sadness. Rachel knew that his diabetes probably really restricted his diet. She and her dad had spent a lot of time perfecting several sugar-free desserts for that very reason.

“So, I used to be a physics TA,” Hunter said. “Come over anytime and I’ll help you study.”

The next week, Rachel decided to take Hunter up on his offer. She mixed up some sugar-free peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes, then tossed her physics book into her bag and hefted it over her shoulder and headed over to find Hunter. She didn’t even have to knock. When she got there, the door was already propped open. She stuck her head into the hallway. “Hello?”

“Hey! Come in,” a voice called.

“Sorry the kitchen smells like smoke,” Hunter said, sitting at the table. “We had a dinner crisis. James and Ted went out for emergency pizza.”

“Oh, well. I just happened to bring cupcakes in exchange for help with my physics homework.”

Hunter’s lips pressed into a thin line. “I’m willing to answer your physics question, but no thanks to the cupcake.”

Rachel smiled. She put a cupcake on the table and pushed it toward him. Hunter sighed and turned his face toward the wall. She heard his stomach growl. Rachel immediately felt guilty. “Hey, it’s sugar free, promise.”

Hunter snapped his face toward her. “Who told you?”

Rachel took a step back. She didn’t expect him to be so irritated with her. “I saw you in the hallway at church with your insulin pump.”

Hunter closed his eyes a moment and took a deep breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just been a long day and I really only found out about the diabetes before the semester started.”

Rachel slipped into the chair across from him. “That sucks. My dad has diabetes. We created this recipe together. He eats it all the time.”

“Okay.” Hunter said. “I need to eat something soon anyway.”

He picked up the cupcake and inspected it, almost reluctantly, and Rachel realized he expected the cupcake to be a flop. He probably equated sugar-free with disgusting. She was excited to see whether he would like it or not. Rachel held back a laugh as Hunter bravely took a bite. He chewed in silence for about three seconds and then his hand came off the table to cover his eyes.

Rachel’s heart constricted with panic. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” He pulled his thumb and fingers together to wipe at his eyes, but when he pulled his hand away his eyes looked wet.

“Are you crying?” Rachel asked.

“It tastes really good,” he said.

It probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but Rachel started laughing.

He glared at her. “Shut up.”

But Rachel could tell he didn’t mean it.

“Can I brag now that my cooking is so good it brings men to tears?”

Hunter laughed, the moisture in his eyes cleared up, and he started to look like his regular old self. “Definitely.”

“Sorry I laughed.”

Hunter shrugged. “It was funny.”

“It hasn’t been easy for you.”

“It’s no fun having doctors and nurses look at you and say you have a chronic illness that’s going to change everything in your life for the rest of your life. I didn’t think I’d ever get to eat something that tasted good again.”

“A young man’s worst nightmare,” Rachel teased.

Rachel finished off her own cupcake and brought out her physics text book. “So, to my question. . . .”

Hunter took the last bite of his cupcake and leaned forward. “Ask away.”

Hunter was really good at explaining things clearly and for the first time all semester, Rachel finally understood her homework. They did a few practice problems until she said. “I think I’ve got this. Thanks.”

Hunter handed the pencil he had borrowed back to Rachel. “No problem. We should do this again. . . . I mean, if you need help.”

Rachel nodded. “I’ll pay you in treats. And maybe sometime we can leave out the physics.”

Hunter smiled. “I was thinking the same thing.”

Platinum Tears

By Marianne Hales Harding

“Polishing gold is pretty easy—you just scrape off the top layer to reveal the shiny metal underneath. This ring is platinum so it’s never going to wear down. You don’t polish platinum. You actually have to fill in the scrapes, which is a lengthy process. And this inscription: it’s very deep. That’ll take forever to fill in. But you need to do it if you’re going to sell it.”

She looked at me sympathetically, not needing to ask why I was selling the men’s wedding band and mercifully avoiding all small talk.

Platinum. Of course I engraved it in platinum.

I held the wide band to the light so I could read the sentiment one last time.

It was how I had signed all my love letters.

It was what I had engraved in the platinum part of my heart, an engraving I have only partially filled in. You heard her—it’s a lengthy process.

I wondered if wiping it off the ring would make it official. Do I now, officially, no longer “remain affectionately” his? Or was that just one more little layer of platinum, filling in the deep etchings in the most private part of my heart?

It didn’t really hit me until I was on to the next errand, standing in the bread aisle at Walmart.

Because it was Walmart, I stood there and openly wept.

There is no shame at Walmart. No judgment for pajama pants or fading tattoos or women once again filling the chips and scratches in their hearts with tears and tears, platinum tears.

Thick and Thin

by Vilo Westwood

Emily started awake and stared in astonishment. Green everywhere. The sides of the road were bursting with lush emerald green grass, heavy branches laden with dark green leaves, thick green bushes, green stalks adorned with yellow and orange flowers. “Where are we?” she whispered.

Brad turned toward her, one hand gently moving the steering wheel and the other on his knee. “We’re in Columbus, Ohio,” he said. “Home, sweet, home—‘til I finish my degree, anyway.”

“Ohio,” murmured Emily, thinking of the stubby plants clinging to parched soil along the freeways in Utah, the endless winds of Wyoming, the endless waving grain of Nebraska. “Those poor pioneers. I never understood what they had left.”

#

Getting ready for church in the morning was a scramble. Emily stumbled over boxes and showered in the clawfoot bathtub that looked older than she was, the old pipes wheezing and spurting as it delivered the water. She found a wrinkled dress in her suitcase and sandals that were not dressy but didn’t look like athletic wear.

“Breakfast!” Brad said, handing her a paper plate with sliced fruit arranged like a face and a cup of yogurt.

Going out of the apartment door Emily felt that she had been dunked into a sauna. The air was thick and damp around her. She could sense her hair frizzing.

“Whew!” she said.

“Gotta love that humidity,” Brad said.

As they entered the church’s foyer, Emily reached for Brad’s hand—-the building, at least, seemed very familiar.

“Hello!” boomed a voice. “Are you new to our ward?”

Emily nodded, trying to see the worn face underneath the Stetson.

“Welcome to Zion!” the man answered, grabbing her hand and shaking it firmly, then turning to shake Brad’s hand.

#

The argument Monday morning was just stupid. Brad was crashing around trying to find a matching shoe. “Is breakfast ready?” he called. Emily looked at the hardening egg on the skillet.

“I guess so,” she said, trying to form a smile with lips that felt thin.

“Thanks,” he muttered, chewing rapidly. “Where are the keys? I’m going to be late.”

“I thought I was going to drive you,” Emily said.

“You’re not even dressed,” Brad pointed out.

“Because I was making YOUR breakfast!” she yelled at his retreating back. “What am I supposed to do all day without a car?”

“Walk!” Brad yelled back, opening the door. “Unpack!”

#

Emily did not get dressed. She sat among the boxes, pulling her thin robe around herself. She’d been so excited to get married to her thrillingly handsome best friend and have the adventure of her life, moving somewhere new and different. She’d applied for lots of jobs online, and hadn’t even felt discouraged when none responded. Now here she was, feeling she might drown.

Zion, she thought. Reverse Zion. Original Zion. How did the pioneers do it—trek all that way and settle in the desert?

Would she ever feel at home here?

#

She jumped at the knock. Surely it wasn’t the door of this apartment. The second knock left little doubt. Cautiously she opened the door and saw two women on the steps. The older one with a cane looked a little familiar.

“Good morning,” said the younger one. “I’m the Relief Society president, Nancy Marshall, and I was just out making another visit with Sister Carlson. We thought we’d stop by and see if you needed anything.”

Sister Carlson stretched out a trembling hand. “Welcome to Zion, my dear.”

Emily couldn’t help feeling cheered. “I think I met your husband yesterday!” she said. She stepped back and as the women entered, she pushed a few boxes aside so they could sit on the couch.

“What can we do for you?” said the younger woman—Nancy? “I’ve got a little bit of time before kindergarten ends. Can we unpack some boxes with you?”

“Oh, no, that’s all right,” Emily stammered, thinking of the few things they owned and not really wanting anyone else to see how bare the apartment would be even when unpacked. “It won’t take long.”

“Well, I brought some pamphlets we have in a Welcome Packet,” Nancy said. “This first paper has a website where Katie Rawls has posted a lot more information about the city, but this gets you started.”

“Thank you—we don’t have internet hooked up yet,” Emily said.

“Until you do, you can use the computers at the library,” said Nancy. “You’re pretty close—just walk to the end of the next block, turn right and you’ll see it. To get to the nearest grocery you turn left instead of right.”

Emily thought Nancy had probably noticed there was no car outside.

“I’ve been in Columbus over 7 years,” Nancy continued. “There’s so much history here.” She described the State Capitol building, Underground Railroad sites, museums and conservatories, and pioneer houses from around the time of the Revolutionary War.

A tingle of the possibilities warred with Emily’s growing sense of fatigue.

Sister Carlson leaned toward Emily. “How long have you been married, dear?”

Emily blinked and turned to her. “Three months,” she said. Months that had flown by—preparing, packing, saying their goodbyes.

“It’s a wonderful institution, marriage,” said Sister Carlson. “I’ve been married 53 years now.”

Emily’s cheeks burned she remembered the morning’s stupid fight.

“Wonderful,” Nancy agreed. “I’ve never considered divorce—murder, yes—but never divorce.”

Emily’s mouth dropped open in shock. Sister Carlson’s shaking hand patted her hand.

“You’ll be just fine, dear,” said the old woman. “You’re strong and healthy and have plenty of sense. You’re a modern pioneer—full of faith and hope. Right?”

“Right!” said Nancy.

Emily hugged the thin robe to herself. “It’s possible,” she said. She could feel her faith thickening as Sister Carlson’s smile kept warming her. “Very possible.”

And Through the Woods

by Jennifer Eichelberger

This town has the same stench as all the others. Death.

I think of Gran.

Please be there. I’m only a few blocks away. You’ve got to be alive. You’re a survivor. Like me.

Leaving the cover of the forest is risky. I lick my chapped lips. My stomach rumbles. How many days had it been since that last can of peas? Four? Five? 

I wait. I watch. I pull some brown leaves from the branches and crumble them to dust in my fingers. The sky looms heavy and hot.

An hour passes.

Two hours.

No one.

I focus on the crumbled ruins of a Wells Fargo.  I grip my twenty-two. I pull my backpack tight, close to my breasts.

I steady myself. Take a deep breath.

I run.

Don’t look back.

Almost there.

I scramble up the fallen bricks. Press my back against the wall. Peek inside.

No one.

I go in. I make my way around the overturned furniture and dead bodies to the bathroom. I turn the faucets. The pipes moan and sputter. Nothing. 

I swear.

Gran, you’ll have some water.

I search the rest of the bank. There’s money scattered everywhere. I pick up a handful, hundreds of dollars. I clench my jaw—and think of my mom.

I rub my forehead as her voice comes rushing back to me, “Please, come with us. We’ll be safe in Zion City.”

“No way!” I yelled, “Those Mormons make you pool your money and everything. Why should I give my stuff to some stranger?”

“How long do you think your money will be worth anything?”

“I don’t care. I want what’s mine.”

I stare at the money.

Worthless.

I hate her.

I hate her.

I tear the money to shreds.

I look out the window across the parking lot. Oh no. A Wal-Mart. Probably sentries posted at all entrances.

Except there’s no heads impaled on rakes. No bodies strung up by garden hoses.

I point my gun to the sky. I shoot.

I wait. I watch.

No one.

Gran’s house is only five blocks away. I ready myself.

I run.

I don’t dare look to the left or right.

Pain flares in my side.

I keep going.

But there’s nothing. After three blocks I stop to catch my breath. I clamp my hand to my side.

Gran, I know you. They couldn’t have taken you down. You’re alive. You’re waiting for me.

I walk.

The houses are abandoned. Some lay in piled ruins. Others have been burned. The hot wind blows dust and papers through the streets.

Then I see it. Only a few feet in front of me. An unopened pack of cigarettes. I bend down and pick it up.

I laugh. They’re even my brand.

Yet one more reason I refused to go to Zion City.

“There’s no way I’m going to a place where I have to give up my favorite hobbies.”

“Jill,” my mom pleaded, “We don’t know for sure if that’s so. Besides, even if you do–isn’t it a small price to pay?”

I open the pack and grab one out with my teeth. I pat my pockets for a match. Where are they? I set down my gun and pull off my backpack. I rummage.

“Aha!” Success.

I light up my cigarette and take a deep drag. The warm smoke fills my lungs. I close my eyes and exhale slowly. So good.

And that’s when I hear it.

Roaring engines.

They’re coming fast.

I run.

Fast.

There’s Gran’s house. Still standing.

The engines are getting louder. Closer.

I’m almost there.

My muscles strain as I sprint through her yard. I skip the steps and slide behind the brick wall on her porch.I smash my cigarette on the cement and wave my hand to disperse the smoke.

I don’t look or move.

Two vehicles pass close by. They stop.

“Hey, check it out,” says a man’s voice.

“Whatcha got there?” says another.

“A gun.”

My gun.          

“Smell it. This thing’s been shot.”

“They can’t be far.”

I squeeze the pack of cigarettes, crushing them. I curse myself. I curse the cigarettes. I curse my mom.

I told her I didn’t want to go without my friends.

“You’ll make new friends,” she said.

I hear footsteps coming up the sidewalk. A gun cocks.

My lip trembles. Don’t cry! Do not cry!

Mom!

“Hey, Duncan!” someone yells from a distance.

“What?” says a voice only feet away.

“What if it’s a plant?”

“The home base! Quick! Back to the Wal-Mart!”

Their engines roar, and then fade away.

I wait. An eternity later, I peek over the wall. No one. I go inside.

“Gran,” I whisper.

There’s bullet holes all over her living room walls. Wrecked furniture in the kitchen.

“Gran, please,” I plead, “I need you.”

I open the cupboards.

Empty.

The pantry.

Fridge.

Deep Freeze.

All empty.

I rush from room to room.

“Gran!”

Gran!

I slump down on the empty bed frame in the upstairs guest room. I spent summers here as a kid.

“No,” I say. “You were supposed to be here.” I collapse. I can’t do it anymore.

My eyes burn, but I don’t cry. I will not cry.

“Mom,” I say, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I miss you.”

“God,” I whisper, “help me.”

As I breathe out, my body, my heart, everything relaxes. I am calm.

I remember the loose floor board where I hid my diary, junk food, and cigarettes as a kid. I pull it open.

Water bottles!

Food!

There are cans of fruit and chili! Crackers. Beef jerky!

A note.

Dear Jilly Bean,

I prayed you’d come. We came for Gran. You know how stubborn she gets, but we finally wore her down. We waited for you, but it’s getting  dangerous. Please forgive me. Know that I love you always. 

May we meet in Zion City.

Love,

Mom

My tears splash on the paper. I press it to my heart.

Yes, Mom. Yes.

I’m coming to Zion. 

In a Nutshell

by Doug Staker

The greatest minds insist
That the universe began
In a walnut shell.

How long do you suppose that walnut
Sat in a bowl on God’s kitchen counter
Before he picked it up and cracked its shell?
Did God suspect its contents
The day he squeezed its plain, unremarkable facade?

I too am a plain, rough, wrinkled nut
Lost among the bushels.
Yet when the day should come
That I’m placed between the grips
And casually squeezed
Until I pop and splinter,
My natural resistance
Failing under pressure,
As sure as I’ll be that my world has ended,
Will not that be the day
That the long-compacted energy
Will burst, expand,
A blinding flash of light
Escape its shell -
The birth, the instigation
Of infinite, light-speed expansion?

If only nuts were not so fond
Of their minuscule darkness.

Slippery

by Stephen Carter

The sun streamed unimpeded through the kitchen window, warming Jake’s back as he ate a bowl of cereal. It was a pleasant feeling, but also strange. Usually the light couldn’t get in. His RV blocked the east-facing windows and—

Something clicked.

Jake dropped his spoon and ran outside.

Soon Carl came by in his uniform. He flipped his report book open and considered the empty gravel rectangle: 8 x 40 feet.

“So much for Fathers and Sons,” he said. Jake looked up at him and Carl motioned with his thumb.

Jake followed the gesture and saw that it indicated an unobstructed view all the way to the end of the road and out to the pasture. Not a single RV or hitch camper graced a single driveway.

An emergency elder’s quorum meeting was called that night. After a brief opening prayer, they discussed the facts. Every recreational vehicle in the ward was gone. No tire tracks leading to or from the missing campers could be found. The police were stumped.

The men compared the amounts each owed on his particular vehicle. Jake came in second.

Then Malcolm, still wearing his monogrammed shirt and tie, appeared in the classroom doorway. Everyone turned to look at him—the only man in the ward who didn’t camp. Malcolm walked around the room scrutinizing each face, trying to pry something out of it. Then he turned and stomped out.

“His painting from New York,” said the still-uniformed Carl. “The one with the pink dots.”

Jake tried to suppress a snicker but was unsuccessful. In a few seconds, the entire quorum had joined him.

The next morning was quiet. Lying in bed, Jake could hear the cows. A pleasant sound, but vaguely disorienting. Usually the television would—

Something clicked.

An emergency elder’s quorum meeting was called that night. Even Malcolm was there—tie askew—sitting in a folding chair just like the rest of them.

The facts: no signs of break-ins. Even TVs bolted to the wall were gone; their cords cut even with the floor.

There must be more than one thief, they decided. How else could the whole neighborhood get hit in a single night?

Carl was dispatched to check the Covered Wagon Motel for shady guests. Then the quorum mobilized a posse charged with patrolling the ward that night.

They separated into pairs and strode up and down the streets well into the wee hours of the morning. But all they heard were the chirping of frogs and the breath of the highway; all they saw were the shadows of deer and the halo of the Milky Way.

Jake fell into bed at 5 a.m., glad it was Saturday.

Then something clicked.

He got out of bed and padded out of the room. He grabbed a flashlight and searched through his kids’ bedrooms and then through the kitchen, living room, and garage.

Everything seemed to be in its place.

“All is well,” he said.

A fitting phrase.

He decided to text it to Carl.

He sat down on the side of his bed and felt around on the top of the nightstand. Brow furrowed, he knelt next to his bed and felt out the transformer plugged into the wall. He took the cord between index finger and thumb and pulled gently along its length. The cord ended with an empty USB head.

The emergency elder’s quorum meeting was grim. The enemy was as a thief in the night, invading with no warning, stealing their possessions with impunity. Who knew what would vanish next?

Jake stood up and cleared his throat. He said it was time to put the revealed word into action. Time to fulfill the measure of their creation; time to ensure the safety of home and family.

Then he looked meaningfully at Malcolm. Uinta Grocery and Sport was still open . . . if anyone needed to buy a particular something. And maybe some ammo.

After his wife slumped snoring against his shoulder, Jake edged out of bed and opened the closet. He reached to the top shelf and pulled down a metal box.

He fiddled with the combination and then opened the lid, hefting out a Glock 42. Its gravity assured him that tonight would be his first and last meeting with the enemy.

He paced through the house, rattling doorknobs and jiggling windows. So strange, he thought. All his things just slipping away.

Then something clicked.

He found a roll of duct tape in the laundry room cupboard. He pulled a strip free and pressed the end of it to the gun’s handle. Then he wrapped the tape around the back of his hand and onto the handle again, taping his fourth and fifth finger to the grip and leaving his thumb, middle, and index fingers free.

He wrapped the tape around a few more times until the weapon and his hand were inseparable.

It felt good.

Then he sat down on a kitchen chair and, despite his best intentions, nodded into a dream.

He woke with his face pressed to the floor, his right hand cold and pained. Jake tried to raise himself to his knees but jerked to a stop mid-way.

He looked down and blinked.

His hand was inside the kitchen floor, his arm sticking straight up out of the linoleum.

Then he felt the gun pulling away from him, down into the ground, with a steady, implacable movement. His wrist bones began to separate as he labored against the force.

At first he panicked, almost crying out. But then the panic ignited into a holy rage. He squeezed the trigger again and again, his arm jolting with the recoil, dealing round after round into the earth beneath him.

But the gun sank steadily. And Jake suddenly understood that he would lose.

He opened his hand.

And felt the bond pull tight.