Category Archives: 2018 Festival

Winning Story 2018: Adult 3rd

Cataloguing the Stars
by Andrew Lee

Tombstones were just a case of dead people bragging in the wrong place. Beloved, fondly remembered, loving this and that, nothing about having a crooked, you know… nose.

“Haven’t you heard you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead?” Agnes asked me.

When I die I don’t want people lying about me. It’s a terrible idea you know. Let’s get together all the people who really knew a person well and then totally lie about them. Who do they think they’re fooling?

“It’s supposed to be about how sad you are that the person is gone,” she said.

And what do you say when you aren’t sad about it? I mean, it’s true. There are people who die accompanied with sighs of grief and those with sighs of relief. The stone seldom gives away which kind lays beneath. Secrets and flaws tucked into their dirt beds and kissed goodnight with an unoffending block of granite.

One time Agnes claimed that memory has no acne. When I mentioned it later she said,

“It sounds like something I would say.”

“Don’t you remember saying it?”

“I can’t remember everything. Sometimes you have to guess at what you said

before. You have to say to yourself, ‘Would I say something like that?’ ”

“What if you never said it?”

“If it sounds wise, I’ll usually agree that it was me who said it. If I can’t remember anyway, why not give people the pleasure of knowing someone wise.”

Agnes had this great aunt who slowly lost her memory near the end of her life and so went around writing tags and putting them on things around her house, so people would know who the items would go to when she died. Then she realized some people wouldn’t want the item, so she wrote in a backup. Agnes talked about it for the whole two-hour drive back, while she hugged the Tiffany lamp her aunt left her. Hers was the only name on the tag.

“We are not tagging all of our stuff.”

“Alex, seriously…OUR stuff? We are not tagging all of YOUR stuff. I can do what I want with mine. You barely even have any stuff at my place anyway.”

When she turned twenty-seven, Agnes started having a hard time with reading. Things got blurred.

“Alex, it’s not a big deal. Life is blurred.”

Soon her vision got worse and worse. She would look it over tomorrow, she’d say. Her eyes were “just tired.” The doctors didn’t agree with her. Or rather she didn’t agree with the doctors. Macular degeneration. Agnes was going blind.

“Stop saying blind. I can still see you. I’m still here.”

Look up a medical condition online. Most of them are for older people, sixties, seventies, eighties. Right where it says, “But may occur as early as…” That was Agnes.

“I’m not fucking blind.”

Agnes took it really hard. She used to paint, take photographs. Her house was full

of her work framed. It all happened really fast. The first three months she spent a lot of time sleeping. She told me that it was like the walls of the world just closed in on her. She was trapped inside herself. She started calling herself “the old blind lady.” She was twenty-eight. I moved in and helped out around the house. I wish I could say that I cheered her up.

After about a year, something changed. She started working with organizations that trained her how to navigate the world. It wasn’t just about walking around. She learned braille, how to write and read. She learned to experience the world differently. Two years after she lost her sight completely I asked her if she missed it. It seemed like enough time had passed. She told me that I wouldn’t understand it, but that there was a whole blind culture out there that sighted people don’t realize. If she got her sight back, then she’d lose her world all over again. She wasn’t ready to lose the world twice. It was around that time that I began noticing the tags. They were written in braille.

“What does this say?”

“I told you that you should learn braille, Alex. How can I leave you love notes?”

“I’m trying.”

“It says remember the time you brought me an orange.”

“An orange? Why is the label on a spoon?”

“Remember the time that I said that I really wished we had a grapefruit for 

breakfast, but we were out. You brought me an orange, all sectioned and everything.”

“Oh, right.”

“There is a difference between a grapefruit and an orange. An orange is sweet. I guess you were being sweet too.”

Sometimes I would ask about a tag, but Agnes didn’t always answer. I admit that I stopped asking and finally they became invisible. I did notice when she moved on from tags to small envelopes. She was typing longer and longer notes, but she seemed happy. One day she went shopping downtown. The dark shadows of the past had disappeared completely. She was finally excited about things. New friends, blind and sighted showed up at what had become our house. She stopped thinking of me being here as pity. She never mentioned it, but she started saying things like “it’s your house too.” Mostly when it needed vacuuming, but still. She was shopping for new towels. It could have been any day. She could have bought them any day of the week.

The bullet that killed Agnes was from a 9mm automatic, and was meant for a teenager Jeremiah. After all my stupid fears about her walking into traffic, and my not-so-stupid fears about her not getting out of bed, she was killed by a stray bullet that could have killed anyone. 

I was sitting there, after I received the phone call from the police, and I saw one of her tags. Then I saw another, and another and the more I wandered through the house I realized that they were everywhere, taped to the bottom of things, attached to things in every room. Attached to a mug: “That time when you were racist when you were trying to be sweet.”

“This isn’t the mug I wanted.”

“Does it matter?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”

“I was thinking that there are benefits to being, um, differently sighted. Like now

when someone is talking to you, you can’t see their race. It’s like an ideal society.”

“Yeah, but they can see mine and besides someone’s race wasn’t an issue to me 

before anyway.”

“I was just trying to say.”

“Yes, I know, but you are still stupid.”

There were so many notes and tags, and letters. That time you kissed me. And that time that you really kissed me. And then there was a note that described a scene, this kiss, and it wasn’t me. And then attached to a dress: “The time that I convinced you to wear my clothes and you looked better in them. It was the one time I remember being jealous of you.” That was definitely me. “That time we waited out the rain, under that overpass bridge and you told me all about spray paint and tagging as an art form.” That was definitely not me. I admit I was pretty angry, and then I remember that Agnes had mentioned a friend she knew when she was twelve who became an “urban artist.” These notes, they weren’t all for me. Some were for people from long ago.

And some weren’t.

“Remember when we went skinny dipping in that pool that time because you said that I was beautiful and that you wanted to see each other as we really were. Then the lights of the back yard went on, and the house was full of people, even though you said your friend was out of town. I laughed when they saw me, because it was so surprising but when I got home I cried because that night my body was just for you. 

I never told Alex.”

And buried under books in her night table was a wrapped up little box, with an envelope. 

It said, 

“It was this one time, a year after I lost my sight, and you went to go see your parents. I couldn’t bear to leave the house. There was this little box of razor blades that I used to cut frames for photographs. You need to understand, the world had disappeared for me. I feel so stupid right now, but all there was was non-ending black and I couldn’t take it another day, or another hour. I went to the bathroom and poured a bath and took off my clothes and took one razor blade out of the package. And it slipped out of my hands, and fell without a sound.

I got on my knees and searched for it, reached around like the blind old lady I kept calling myself. There was a whole box of them, but I needed to find this one, for some reason. It took me five minutes to find it. It was sitting on one of your socks, Alex. And I got so mad because you never picked them up, and why can’t you do such a little thing, and suddenly I wondered why it mattered that you left those socks there when I was leaving this world anyway, but it did. 

I cried for an hour, just holding onto your sock. When I finally stopped, I got dressed, and drained the bath and called a counselor, one of the ones you had been encouraging me to call. And when you got back home, your socks were on the bathroom floor and I never complained about them again.”

And the time we hitchhiked: 

“There were so many stars. When that car finally picked us up, I almost didn’t want to get in. You never see so many stars in the city. I wanted to disappear into them with you.”

And a long letter to a friend she had lost touch with:

“I was bringing this blanket I made to you when you told me that you had just lost the baby the day before. I was the first one you told after your husband. And while I held that little knitted thing in my hands, all I could think is how much I wanted to have a little one to share with Alex. There just never seemed to be the right time.”

I invited everyone we both knew to search the house, to match up notes and letters to the ones they were for. I left out the notes and tags that Agnes meant for me too. No secrets. No lies or softening things up. We knew her so much more now than when she was alive.

Agnes, there were times I wondered if, wherever people go when they die, you could see again, or if you would choose not to. I’m not sure it really matters, as long as I could still see you.

We didn’t hide you beneath a tombstone. We planted a tree in our front yard where we buried your ashes. After all of the letters and notes you left, people began leaving ones they wrote to you, tied to the branches of the tree. Some notes were left by old friends, or by family. But some were left by people I have never met and I realize that there was so much more to you than was my role to know at the time. 

There were times it made me angry, but now there is only the feeling that comes when I know I will never see all of the stars. Some days it makes me sad and others it just makes me wonder.

Winning Story 2018: Youth 2nd

Dusk
by Laura Hou

Emil hated dusk. 

He hated that the sun had to set each night. He hated the last sliver of light that lasted for no more than a few moments. He hated the long night that followed the sunset. 

    Emil glanced in his sack of collected berries. There was an even smaller amount than yesterday. The berries on these mountains were almost gone. The only ones that were left were the small, unripe ones. Emil looked up, sweeping his gaze over the barren mountain. The land was drained. Only a few shrubs remained, bearing the tiniest fruit.  It looked like this would be another hungry day. Emil looked towards the small path leading up to the far side of the mountain and bit his lip. Judging by the sun, there was likely to be another half hour of light. 

    It was worth the trip. 

 

    Emil made his way back to the cave that he called home. The sun had almost gone, casting the bleak land into darkness and with it, the bloodshed that was sure to follow. 

Emil lived with his grandpa Castor, a gentle and frail man who had seen death one too many times. He would be glad to leave this wretched world behind if it were not for his grandson. Whenever Emil was around, Castor’s eyes would light up with an ember that twinkled even in the darkest night. 

“Grandpa, I’m back.” Emil announced as he climbed the loose rocks that led up into the mouth of the cave. He came in and put the sack onto the stone slab that they used as a makeshift table. 

“I was beginning to worry.” Castor loosened the breath that he had been holding ever since Emil left in the morning to gather food. “What took you so long?” 

“The berries on this side of the mountain are gone. I had to go to the far side” Emil said absentmindedly. He took out a wooden bowl and emptied the bag of berries into it. 

“Emil!” Castor hissed. “You know you can’t go that far.” 

“I made it back, didn’t I?” Emil said. A hint of guilt crept into his voice. 

“You know it’s too dangerous. What if you got hurt? What will I do then?” Castor sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “You’re all that I have left. I’d sooner starve than lose you.” 

Emil fell silent. He knew ever since his parents died, his grandpa had been extremely protective of him. Emil couldn’t blame him though. In the world that they lived in, no one was safe, and each other was all that they had. 

“I’m sorry” Emil said. “I’ll try to find food on this side of the mountain tomorrow. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and catch a rabbit.” With no way of growing food for fear of being seen by the Hunters and Castor too weak to leave the cave, Emil had to find food for them every day. 

Castor’s eyes softened. He knew Emil was trying to comfort him. With most of the vegetation gone, barely any animals remained. “I just want you to be careful.” He said. 

Emil nodded and moved a slab of stone set against a crack in the wall, he reached in to the crevice and pulled out a small strip of dried meat. It was too dangerous to light fires, even during day time. So, Castor had dried what little extra food they had and stored it in the cool space behind the stone slab. 

The sun had completely set. The only light they had was the moon that peeked through patches of the cloud. 

Emil sat with his grandpa around their makeshift table. “Tell me a story.” Emil said around a mouthful of berries. “Tell me The Story.” In the distance sounded the first screams of the night. The killing had begun. Emil tuned the sounds out, just like he had done all the nights before. 

“Alright.” Castor smiled. He shifted into a more comfortable position on the ground. “Once upon a time, the land was green, lush with forests, grains, and vegetables. There lived billions of people, more than you can ever imagine. They worked the fields together, built houses together. Their houses were so tall, they were even taller than the tallest trees. And all humans lived in harmony.” 

Emil’s eyes widened. He stared unblinkingly at his grandpa, as if afraid the story would end if he looked away. “They were all together, Grandpa? They saw each other, and they didn’t kill? Not at all?” 

Castor shook his head. “No. You see, the Hunters didn’t exist back then. People had plenty to eat. The earth provided enough for humans to prosper.” 

Emil closed his eyes. “It is so beautiful, to think that we can all live in harmony. If only the Hunters didn’t exist, and we had enough to share.” His eyes slowly lit up as he spoke, as if he could almost see the imaginary world. 

Then the light dimmed. “Too bad it’s just a story.” Emil whispered into the night. 

Castor sighed. “Even the most ridiculous stories can come true sometime.” 

“It’s not ridiculous, it’s magical.” Emil said. 

Moonlight slanted into the cave and cast a small patch of light on the ground. 

             “But people were greedy, they wanted more.” Castor gazed at the moonlight on the ground and continued. “They over-worked the lands by putting chemicals into the soil. They spread poison onto the crop to kill insects. They dug holes everywhere for water and fuel. Eventually, the earth turned into a mess. The lands became so poisoned the crops could no longer grow. Food grew scarce. Water and fuel were hard to find. People began to kill. A bottle of water was worth the life of another human. A blanket was worth killing a child. The world was never the same again.” 

            “I wish we could go back to the world before the killing started.  Why couldn’t people be happy with what they were given?” Emil said. 

Castor didn’t know what to say to that. So, he didn’t answer. He looked out through the mouth of the cave, all the way through the clouds. He could almost see the stars. Whatever happened here on earth, the stars would never change. 

 

            Emil woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of clanking rocks under footsteps. The stars and the moon had gone, leaving the night in a shroud of darkness. 

Emil got up from his bed. He felt Castor do the same. Emil could vaguely make out the entrance of the cave. The sound of footsteps got louder. 

Emil reached for Castor’s hand and squeezed it in the dark. Castor squeezed back and placed Emil’s hand against his heart. A silent promise and a wordless vow. It was his duty to keep his grandson safe. And he would do anything to ensure that no harm would come to Emil.

Castor moved to push Emil back, tugging him behind the stone slab they used to store their food. The footsteps had reached the mouth of the cave.  

Emil peaked out. A single figure blocked the entrance of the cave, from the barest of light, Emil could vaguely make out his silhouette. 

The Hunter pulled out his dagger. Emil tensed.

At the moment the Hunter’s finger tightened around the blade, Castor threw himself onto the intruder. The Hunter only staggered but dropped his blade in surprise. Shaking himself free, he kicked Castor in the stomach and threw him to the stone wall. 

“Grandpa!” Emil cried, there was no reply. The Hunter turned around, his eyes narrowed on Emil. Then he shifted his eyes downward, looking for the dagger. With no time to pick it up, Emil kicked it away. But when he tried to get closer to Castor, the Hunter pounced at him, knocking him down. Emil’s head smashed onto the ground hard. He nearly blacked out from the blinding pain. Then he felt a pair of hands at his throat, closing in tight. Emil wrapped his hands around the Hunter’s wrists and pushed but to no avail. 

Stars danced around his vision and his arms and legs turned into cotton. Just when he thought he was going to black out, the grip on his throat loosened. Emil gasped for air and coughed violently. 

When he finally sat up, he saw the Hunter lay by his side, lifeless, the dagger through his back. Castor was sitting to the side, weak and limp, his eyes on the body. 

            “Grandpa, we killed someone.” Emil’s voice quivered. “Does that mean we are Hunters now?” 

    Castor was about to answer when footsteps sounded from behind them. They turned around sharply, a second Hunter appeared at the entrance of the cave. She took one look at the dead Hunter on the ground and snarled. 

    Her eyes wild and dilated, she pulled out a gun and aimed at Castor. 

“Run!” Castor pushed Emil away and took two steps towards the Hunter. Shoot me first. He beckoned. 

            A single gunshot rang through the cave. It bounced off the stone walls and vibrated through the air. 

            Emil ran.

 

            When Emil finally went back to the cave, Castor’s body had cooled. He lay in a pool of blood, a bullet through his heart. The cave had been turned inside out. The makeshift table was tipped over, the beds ripped up, and all the food was gone. 

The moon had peaked out from the clouds again, casting the land in a bluish glow. 

Emil felt a sob break out of him, then another, until all he could do was latch on to his grandpa’s shirt and cry. 

His grandpa didn’t deserve this. Nor did he. None of the people who died each night did. Yet it still happened, like a recurring nightmare.

Come dawn, the land would be silent again, mourning for the ones who died over night. And come dusk, the killing would begin anew, bathing the land in blood. And each day after that. A circle that had no beginning and no end. 

Emil stood up. He dried his tears on his sleeves and made a vow to never shed them again. He was ready to kill. There was no going back to the magical story world. If he didn’t become a Hunter himself, he would get killed. 

At dusk, Emil walked out of his cave.

He was ready, and he was not afraid. 

 

    Autumn morphed into winter, then spring, then summer, until the days blended into one another and only ashes floated around the skies. It turned the earth to a greyish color, the color of death. It even smelt like it, a sharp tang of carrion and bones.  

    It was dusk again. The same sun, same shade of orange, same sliver of light that disappeared too quickly. 

Only this time, no Hunters came out. 

No one hid from the Hunters.   

    A soft wind whispered across the land. It caressed the ashen ground and coaxed the dirt to dance. As the ash slowly floated away, a speck of green peaked out from under the sea of grey. 

    A sprout of grass. 

     A ray of sunshine broke through the clouds. It punched a hole through the veil of darkness and stretched across the land. 

    And in the distance, sounded the first thunder of spring.

Women Authors were featured in 2018

EMMA DONOGHUE

SCAACHI KOUL

SARAH MEEHAN SIRK

AMI MCKAY

CASEY PLETT

​JOHANNA SKIBSRUD
MADELEINE THIEN

The Alice Munro Festival of the Short Story is taking inspiration from its festival namesake, Huron County author Alice Munro – renowned for writing about the Lives of Girls and Women, to focus exclusively on women authors in 2018. The current women-led movements addressing gender equity and advocating for social change has affected every industry, including literature and publishing, making this year a perfect time to spotlight some of the incredibly talented and diverse voices of Canadian female authors.   

2018 Program

Festival Passes are also available
by calling the Blyth Festival Box Office – 519.523.9300
WRITER’S PASS (*W)
Includes all four MasterClasses, and/or Author Readings or Panel Discussion.  Lunches both days
$140
READER’S PASS (*R)
Includes Author Readings,
all Panel Discussions and
Lunches both days
$100
Individual Events tickets available through links on the Event Pages
SATURDAY, JUNE 2
9 a.m.10:30am
AUTHOR READINGS – $10

Witches of New York by Ami McKay,
Little Fish by  Casey Plett                   
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield (*R)
9 a.m.10:30am
MASTERCLASS #1 – $25

Getting Out of Your Own Way
Sarah Meehan Sirk.
Bayfield Library, Bayfield  (*W)
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
AUTHOR READING – $10

The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue and 
The Dead Husband Project​ by Sarah Meehan Sirk
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield  (*R)
 
12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
LUNCH & AUTHOR READING – $25

Madeleine Thien
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield (*W) (*R)
 
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
AUTHOR PANEL

Girls Don’t Slam Doors – $25
Emma Donoghue, ​Sarah Meehan Sirk,
and Casey Plett  (*R)
Bayfield Town Hall, Bayfield
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
MASTERCLASS #2

The Act of Writing – $25
Johanna Skibsrud

Bayfield Library, Bayfield  (*W)
SUNDAY, JUNE 3
10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
GUIDED WALKING TOUR $10
11:00 – 12:30 PM 
AUTHOR READINGS – $10
Scaachi Koul​
Johanna Skibsrud 
at Wingham Town Hall Theatre,
Wingham  (*W) (*R)
11:00 – 12:30 PM 
MASTERCLASS #3 – $25
Giant Steps
with Ami McKay
 
Alice Munro Public Library,
Wingham
.      (*W)
1:00 – 3:00 PM
SHORT STORY AWARD LUNCHEON AND KEYNOTE by Madeleine Thien – $30
Maitland River Community Church, 414 Josephine St, Wingham, ON N0G 2W0
3:30 – 5:00 PM 
AUTHOR PANEL
Does That Make Me a Feminist
Writer?
  – $10

​Panelists Ami McKayScaachi Koul​ 
and Johanna Skibsrud
Wingham Town Hall Theatre, 
274 JOSEPHINE, Wingham, ON N0G 2W0

 

3:30 – 5:00 PM 
MASTERCLASS #4
Opening the Door – $25
with Casey Plett

Alice Munro Public Library,
381 Edward Street,
Wingham, ON
.                                       (*W)