"The Michael's We Knew" by Jennifer Turney — Our June 2018 Silver Medal Winner

by - Monday, August 20, 2018

Jennifer Turney is the second place winner from the contest posted in our June, 2018 issue!

What the judges had to say:
Loved the twist at the end, and how the image came to life as the group around the circle told their stories. I was immediately drawn into the image and the telling of this story: great opening hook, and smooth flow to the end. Congratulations!
Jennifer Turney lives in Huntsville, Ontario, where she can usually be found exploring nature and the outdoors with her 3 very active kids (and her husband).  She writes a little bit of everything: flash fiction, short stories, poetry, novels and short-screenplays. She has participated as a writer at the Muskoka Novel Marathon for the last 4 years and has read her stories to audiences at the Tall Pines Tales events throughout Muskoka. Besides her passion for writing, Jennifer is also a ninja-in-training, on track to earn her Black Belt in Shorinji Ryu-style Karate in 2019.


The photo prompt:

the unedited story:

The Michael's We Knew

by Jennifer Turney

“Do you think,” Lisa asked quietly, her voice breaking an almost twenty minute silence, “that he knows we get together like this?”

A small group was gathered on the beach. It was an evening in October and too cold for a swim though the waves lapped invitingly at the shore. A light breeze had joined them, teasing the small tendrils of struggling flames onto the vulnerable edges of the damp wood and newspaper. Soon the clouds of smoke revealed an orange burst of light as fire caught and took control, crackling and hissing, feasting inside the circle of loose stones of the fire pit.

“You always ask that,” said Bram from his perch on the ground, his converse tucked under him in the sand. He leaned back and admired his work as the fire caught. “I told you guys,” he said a bit louder with a smirk, “I can light 'em up anywhere.”

The others took their seats, some coupled and others in loose collections around the fire. The beach was theirs tonight; the stars were out and only marred in brief moments by the plumes rising into the air. Everyone held something in their hands, papers, photos, some small memento, and as if on cue placed it on the sand in front of them.

“I guess since we're all here we should just start.” A blond girl wearing a thick hoodie and cut-off jean shorts spoke up. She was wringing her hands nervously in her lap. She took a deep breath, ceased her fidgeting and trained her eyes on each person in their circle in turn without a smile.

“Thank you for coming. And thanks, Lisa and Bram for sending out the reminder for us.” The group looked towards the pair, some clapped lightly. “Most of you know me, I'm Samantha. I think, er, actually, I know that Michael would have liked knowing we do this. Taking the time to remember him,” she said, reaching up to comb her fingers through her hair and reclaim it from the breeze. “I miss my brother.”

She said it matter-of-factly with her lips taut in a grimace. She'd cried at the first gathering, an inconsolable and ugly cry. That time, it'd only been the three of them; their group had more than tripled since. Lisa, Bram and the others were a bit relieved at her composure, well versed in the reality that the pain of one can trigger tears in the others. It had been 3 years.

Bram straightened his legs out in front of him, his gnarled shoelaces dragging lines in the soft sand. “Michael and I knew each other since third grade.” He held up a photo of the two of them, both dressed to the nines for their senior prom. “We actually took this picture one of the last nights I saw him.” Bram paused for a moment, looking at the photo while bringing a finger up to scratch his nose. “Grad was the last time, cause he shipped out the next morning.”

Across the pit another boy spoke up, “Mike said he was going for the glory. He wanted to go somewhere none of his friends had ever been. And, he totally did.” He held up a postcard with worn edges and faded ink on the back. “I got this just after we found out about him. It was so weird, kind of like a ghost or something.” He curled the card in his hand and kept it in his lap.

One young lady, her hair cropped short and shining an unnatural colour in the light of the fire, pulled out a wrinkled paper she'd tucked into her bra and read a letter she'd written, revealing a crush she'd always had and mentioning a secret she swore she'd be buried with. She folded the paper and kissed it, leaving a smear of blue lipstick behind and tossed it in. For a moment, the group watched the flames consume all but a few flakes that glowed as they floated into the cool night air.

Others took their turns, sharing moments that they'd had with Michael, how they knew him. Some were new stories, while others had been told so many times and embellished they were becoming legend. There were tears and some laughs that brought forth different tears. The group was a motley crew that had all known and lost their own versions of the same precious person.

Just off the beach and outside the glow of the fire, a young woman stood watching them. She doubted she knew any of the people spare the one they were talking about, but even he was someone she'd only known for one night. She leaned against the hood of her car and between the radio she'd left on inside and the occasional uproar from the crowd before her, she listened for any sounds that the toddler tucked safely in his car seat in the back was stirring. He still needed the motion of a drive to fall asleep at night; that and some classic rock from the speakers.

She heard a small whine, and stubbed out what was left of her cigarette before tossing it onto the sand. She exhaled as she reached up to tighten her ponytail, walking to the rear window and smiling in to the wide blue eyes searching for his mother.

“Hey there, Mikey I'm right here...” she cooed at him. He thrust one hand out to her and rubbed his eyes with the other. She reached in and handed him his worn, stuffed bear, watching as he hugged it fiercely and let his eyes droop closed. “Let's keep on. It's past our bed time, isn't it?”

Starting the car she looked across the beach once more. There was still time before her son would start asking about his father. When the time came she knew where she could find the answers; the first Saturday in October on the beach.

[Read the first and third place stories]

Learn how you can participate in one of our Write-Prompt Flash Fiction Contests HERE

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