Short Stories And Flash Fiction

Something fun, short, and mostly entertaining, at times serious, and often heartfelt.

Recollections Of My Youth

By Nancy Wise

There are moments that carve into our souls-

“Everyone loves and love does not know a color, country or race . The world around us is unique you and I are unique but the language of love is the same” – Authoress S. Turner

Might we add Age, Mental or Medical Condition? I think of the many dying Veterans I saw and heard in the VA hospitals growing up. They were alone, far from home and loved ones. You know it’s close when the cries, once echoing through the hallway, “Help me,” stop. On the Spinal Cord Ward, every patient was paralyzed and unable to go to their fellow veteran patient, so they listen and pray, similar to the days of battle.

But I had legs that worked. I could stand up and walk out of my father’s room, traveling the few yards down the hall where “Lord, help me, please help me” had been called out for days.

There, lay an ancient looking man, dark skin pulled tight against his skeletal features, worn into silence, eyes closed with nothing but the beeping monitor showing life. I looked at the nurses behind the large desk across from his room, tired from so many helpless patients on their floor, also worn from the endless pleas. One smiled and nodded her permission to enter.

Silently I sat in the chair beside his hospital bed, not knowing what to do. My hand instinctively reached out to hold his thin cold, clasped hands resting on a chest that barely moved. After a few minutes or so his hands warmed, only slightly. I knew no scripture to recite, as I’d seen done in movies and at funerals. Finally, my eyes closed as the words of The Lord’s Prayer tumbled from my mouth. In the following silence, I stood and walked away, past door after door of rooms packed with four men each, returning to my father and his roomies, to sit in my spot beside his bed. Again my hand instinctively reached out to grasp Dad’s hand, appreciating the warmth and strength I could feel.

There was silence in the room, and silence on the floor, except for the background, the drone of wall TV’s and the multitudes of beeping monitors.

The ancient man never saw me; he never opened his eyes or spoke. His isolated room was empty when I returned the next day, but I know he felt me and received my love.

Contests and Challenges

Nance and I often join some of the short story contests and challenges for something new to do.  Short stories force a writer to be tight, concise and develop both the plot and the characters in only a few words.  We thought we would post some of those contest stories here, and perhaps add some of the feedback provided by the judges.

All stories on this page are protected by copyright. Reproduction or use is by permission only.

Hope you enjoy!

 

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction 2015

The NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest groups writers into small writing contests and provides a prompt to which each writer must develop a story in less than 1000 words in 48 hours. Stories are scored and ranked 1 – 15 with one point for 15th place and fifteen points for 1st place. After the first round, each writer is re-grouped, given a second prompt and score. The top five scores after two rounds advance to the second round. With each round, the duration of the writing time is shortened.

 

Round 1 Challenge 2 Heat 23

Romantic Comedy, An unemployment office, A bag of peanuts

“Magic Peanuts”

Stephen entered the unemployment office feeling defeated, humiliated. He slumped along, eyes down, between the rows of metal folding chairs trying not to glance from side to side. The lobby was dull, almost hollow. It was void of the pride and pomp of his world of high finance, totally rudimentary. Spotting two seats against the wall in the front row, he shuffled past the ticket dispenser, punched B, snatched up his ticket and sat, picking through his bag of peanuts in the shell. Happy Monday.

He snapped a peanut shell and rolled the little nut into his palm, closed his hand and shook it absently, habitually, and popped it into his mouth.

“Number three,” a bored voice announced over the speakers.

Stephen checked his ticket on impulse. “Are you kidding me?” Slumping further in his cold, smooth chair, he concentrated on his bag, selecting another well-shaped shell.

“Hey. Happy Monday,” the way too smiley sounding voice said intruding on his selection process.

“Yeah,” Stephen said, not looking up from his bag.

“I find this place to be amazing. Don’t you?”

“Not really.”

“No really. It’s like walking into a morgue.”

Stephen snapped open another nut, mixed thoroughly, and popped them into his mouth, dropping the shells bag into his bag, and chewed slowly. “Nut?” he asked holding the bag in front of his intruder, looking at the young, dark-haired women for the first time.

“Thank you,” she answered with a large, genuine smile and tilt of her head that caused her hair to slip from her shoulder in a cascading wave of silky blackness. “I’m Shelley,” she said extending one slender, well-manicured hand, forcing him to stuff the peanut bag between his legs.

He self-consciously wiped the dust on his pant leg, muttering an apology, and responded by gently gripping her hand. “Stephen. I’m sorry, Peanut?”

“Oh my gosh, peanuts,” she said plucking one shell from the bag with a devious glint in her shiny black eyes. “I love peanuts.” Shelley cracked the shell slowly, releasing the nuts and chucked the cracked shells hitting him in the chest. “How long you in for?”

Stephen slowly brushed the shells to the floor shaking his head almost imperceptibly and scrunching his eyebrows. “Um, I’ve got twelve,” he said quietly.

“Oh, I’m eleven. Isn’t that cool?”

“Uh, yeah.” He looked around the room, seeing the blank faces staring into nowhere as the patrons waited in silence, and snapped open another peanut.

“May I?”

Stephen held the bag and offered another and watched as she busted the shell, popped the nuts in her mouth and chucked the shells hitting him in the chest.

“Really?”

“What?” Shelley said with a smile that lit her eyes with genuine cheer. “So what do you do?”

He carefully brushed away the shells and smiled. “I was with a hedge fund, a trader. You?”

“Oh my gosh. Me too. I got the axe in the re-org at Hodges. You wouldn’t be from Hodges too would you?”

“I was with Kent. It seems everyone is dumping extra weight to stay afloat these days.”

“Yeah. Peanut please?”

Stephen raised his eyebrows and tilted his head as he looked into her eyes and extended the bag once again. He watched as she shucked the nuts, popped them into her mouth and tossed the shells back, hitting him in the chest.

“Why

“Number eleven,” the voice announced over the speakers.

“Oh good. That’s me, thank you so much for the peanuts. I love peanuts. They’re magic you know,” she said standing and quickly striding to the counter.

“Number twelve.”

Stephen scrunched closed the paper bag of peanuts and stood, watching as the shells cascaded to the floor and brushing the remnants from his jeans. He shook it off, dismissing the encounter and walked slowly to the other end to meet with a counselor.

“Hey,” Shelley said as he turned to leave. “Got the hard part done. Peanut?”

“Here,” Stephen said handing her the bag. “How about a cup of coffee?”

“Absolutely.”

“Magic?” Stephen asked as they exited the building. “Why are you throwing magic peanut shells at me?”

Shelley’s laugh sounded like music in his ears. “Peanut shells are magic.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes.”

“How’re peanut shells magic?” Stephen said as he accepted the almost empty paper bag from Shelley.

“Well, if you bust a guys nuts long enough, he’s bound to offer you a cup of coffee to find out why.”

“No. That is seriously not a good thing.” Stephen’s laugh made him wobble off to one side as he grabbed for the door of the coffee shop to allow Shelley to enter. “That’s hilarious.”

They sat, enjoying a couple latte espressos and light conversation. Shelley picked apart a sticky bun and popped a small piece in her mouth and continued to pull it apart. The scent was sweet as she sucked the melted sugar topping from her fingers.

“I didn’t.” Stephen chuckled and stirred his coffee. “But I’m glad they are.”

“Me too.”

“I like you.”

“Ok, so,” Shelley said with a glint of mischief in her eyes as she continued to pick little pieces from her sticky bun. “Did you know that sticky buns are magic?” she said as she lifted a small gooey piece.

 

Round 1 Challenge 1 Heat 23

Sci-fi, An exclusive country club, a toupee

“Fresh Perspective”

James arrived at the gate filled with apprehension and a fresh haircut.

Highly exclusive, He repeated over and over in his head. James turned to his boss’ image sitting quietly in the passenger seat of his new Beamer. “Is this the right place?” he asked subconsciously caressing the fine leather wheel. His eyes traveled down the fence line to his left, past each stone column that anchored the sections of iron, then retraced his gaze.

The bosses voice boomed from the stereo speakers as the image turned and grinned in James’ direction. “This is it my man. You’re going to love it.”

He stared at the ornate iron gate that blocked his path.

“Give’em a minute.”

James’ eyes traced the scrollwork that sat upon the gate. Like a ship. That’s it, he told himself. It sat like a celestial ship crowning the delicately braided uprights of the weathered gate.

The holographic image of his boss watched him intently as he inspected the gate. “It’s amazing isn’t it?

“Oh, yeah. Amazing is the right word.” James once again let his eyes follow the fence line to his right. This time he noticed the long grass that covered the base of the fence, the vines that clawed their way up the stone columns and the mop-like concrete capitals that sat astride like a poorly fitted toupee. He shook his head in wonder at the state of maintenance; the un-mowed lawn, tree limbs that brushed the blades of grass in the breeze and weeds that

Adrenaline slammed his attention back to the gate at the screech of metal on metal. “Shit.” He laughed self-consciously as he watched the massive gate shudder and struggle to clear a path. “OK,” James said with relief. The past week had been pretty amazing. Turning thirty has been good to me. Big promotion came with a company Beamer, large office, and membership in this “exclusive” club. He tried to concentrate on his surroundings as he rounded the gate. His mind took in an expansive, and again unkempt lawn littered with the strange stone columns topped with an odd wig-like capital as an afterthought.

The road was wide and lined with more of the columns. “Dude,” he muttered out loud. “You said this was exclusive . . .” His thoughts drifted off when he spotted the massive stone building in the distance. Four stories high, it dominated the landscape. Two sprawling wings spread from a gargantuan center flanked on each side by huge stone turrets rising above the roofline like watchtowers.

James looked at his boss and smiled. “I appreciate this opportunity.”

“This is it,” the boss’ image said. “Relax. You’re going to be great. Only the top performers make it to this place.”

James pulled to a stop at the front of the building and waited, hoping someone would come to the doorway. He extended his hand as if to shake and quickly withdrew it with another smile. “Sorry.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” James told him. “Shutting her down now.

“You got it, ” the boss told him as James hit the kill switch, and the image of his boss faded out of sight.

“This is way too exclusive. Really,” James said ducking to see the doorway beneath the roof of the car. “It’s so exclusive, that I seem to be the only member. OK, then,” he said nodding in self-affirmation. “Let’s go.” He stepped from his shiny new ride and swung the door closed, enjoying the solid thump, and placed both palms on the roof, feeling the pride. Taking a deep breath, he buttoned the coat of his suit and strode up the ten stone steps each flanked by another column, all the time looking for a doorbell or knocker as he approached.

With a long audible sigh, he turned in a circle looking for some indication of what next. “Jeez. OK, then.” Gripping the handle, he entered, stepping on the marble floor of the foyer and listened as his footfalls bounced from wall to wall unimpeded. Must be some initiation right or something, he thought to himself as he glanced down the hallways, first left, then right. “Hello?” James asked as he stepped to the center of the room and stopped, listening again to the echo.

“This way, sir,” a voice said making him jump at the sudden intrusion into the silence.

“Jeez. You scared the pants off me.” In time to see the back of his Greeter retreat into what looked like a study, James turned toward the voice. “I didn’t see OK, never mind,” he said hurrying to follow. “What’s going on today?” he asked as he entered the vast book-lined room. “The place is gorgeous.” He stopped in the middle of the room to take it all in. Littered with shorter versions of the columns that dotted across the lawn and lined the drive, the room had an eccentric, yet comfortable feel. “Where is everyone?”

“Would the gentleman please take a seat,” the Greeter said pointing to a single wide backed wing chair that rested in front of a wide mahogany desk.

“Thank you.” James sunk into the soft chair, holding the wood rails in his hands, and asked, “Is this like an initiation or something? I haven’t seen anyone. I mean, not anywhere?”

“You will, sir.”

James noticed for the first time the large, concrete toupee sitting at the center of the desk. “I saw the same capitals on all the columns around the place. Does that have some symbolic representation of the place?”

The Greeter smiled and nodded as he lifted the capital from the desk in both white-gloved hands and held it effortlessly in front of his chest. “This one’s yours, sir,” he declared. As he set it upon James’ head, he heard a rousing applause and turned to a room filled with smiling members where the pillars had once set.

 

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2014

 

 

Round 1 Heat 43

Respect

The dead should be respected.” Ms. Willis reminded her class as they queued up at the front of the little brick house. “Remember now. This town is one massive graveyard.” She looked at them with earnest eyes. “Be respectful.”

“Oh,” Sherri sounded as though she just met the love of her life as they stood in front of the Jenny Wade house sitting at the edge of town. “I think I smell bread. Like . . . fresh bread. You know?”

“Same here,” Kelli said leaning in close, then nodded in the direction of the woman dressed in a blue period smock with her hair tied tight in a bun on the top of her head. She stood silent, her basket wrapped in her arms and clutched tight to her chest, on the porch of the little brick home that was riddled with holes.

“Class. Pay attention.” Ms. Willis raised her voice above the chattering eighth graders. “Respect. It’s our turn to go in.” She pointed them toward the historic home. “You know. I grew up only a mile from here. Just down Baltimore Pike at the edge of Gettysburg.”

“Have you ever seen a ghost?” Jeremy cut in. “I really wanta see a ghost.”

“Well . . .” Ms. Willis started to answer when Kelli whispered a little too loud.

“I still smell bread.”

“Nope.” Jeremy shook his head. “Not me.”

Ms. Willis shushed them. “Gals. This town is filled with history.” She placed her hands across Jeremy’s shoulders. “Listen up. Jenny Wade was the only civilian killed in the three day battle.”  She pointed their attention to the door with a large hole and splintered back panel. “She baked bread for free to feed the Federal Soldiers occupying the land around her home.”

Sherri whispered. “Did you hear that?”

Kelli nodded her head as Ms. Willis continued. “She was here because her sister had just given birth and couldn’t be moved. Jenny died while she was baking bread.”

Kelli pulled her chin in and bugged her eyes wide when she responded. “Creepy. Isn’t it?”

“The fatal bullet came through that hole and hit Jenny Wade square between the shoulders. It’s believed the bullet was fired from that house,” Ms. Willis said tracing a line to the Shriver Home down the street.

“It’s making me hungry,” Kelli said as the aroma of bread filled her head.

Sherri’s eyes were wide as she carefully extended one hand to test the wood-burning stove. Her voice pitched high as she spoke. “It’s cold.” Her whole body wiggled as if trying to shake off a spider. “Now I’m creeped out.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes. “You’re nuts. When are we going to the battlefield Ms. Willis?”

********

The group arrived at Devil’s Den and scattered amongst the boulders that once protected the Confederate Soldiers. “Sherri. Check it out.” Kelli ducked into a small bunker formed by long dead Confederate soldiers who stacked the rocks for self-protection. “Ms. Willis showed us this picture.” Sherri was busy with her smart phone, texting and sending pics to her friends as she sat beside Kelli.

“This is so weird.” Kelli picked up a small rock and scratched absently at one of the large stacked rocks in the wall. “We’re sitting right on the spot where people died.”

“Hey,” Sherri said as she leaned against Kelli for a selfie. “Smile.”

“Oh. Hey.” Kelli startled when she turned, surprised to see a tall, barefoot boy, his ankles, crossed leaning against the boulder. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Long enough.”

Always ready for a great pic, Sherri quickly snapped a couple off. “Are you a re-enactor?”

He nodded, crossed his arms over his chest and grinned. “You want some photographs?” The boy paused as if waiting for a response. “Well I’ll tell you what. The best view is from atop that rock,” the longhaired boy told Sherri pointing to a bronze statue of General Warren placed at the peak of Little Round Top. He tipped his head back to peer beneath the filthy brim of his floppy hat. “You can get a real good look from up there.” The boy continued to stretch his words in a Texas drawl. ”

“Awesome,” Kelli answered him cheerfully as she turned to Sherri.

Sherri, smart phone continuously at the ready quickly popped off a couple more pics of the boy. “How long’ve you been doing this?”

“Doesn’t this freak you out?” Kellie asked referring to the thought of fifty-three thousand casualties that once littered the fields of Gettysburg.

“Naw,” he said ignoring Sherri’s question. This place is my home.”

“Well it freaks me out,” Sherri said with a shiver as they stood. “I couldn’t live here.”

Kelli tossed the rock and bounced it off the wall and blurted, “Ever see a ghost?”

“Plenty.” The dirty young boy’s face grew dark as he spoke. “Most don’t like the yanks crawling over these rocks.” He looked at the girls. His eyes seemed to harden for a moment.

Kelli heard Ms. Willis’ call. “Ten minutes.”

“One more. Shake hands,” Sherri directed as she snapped off a couple quick pics. “Thanks,” she waved and turned to pick her way carefully past the rocks. “Come on.”

Clasping hands, they made their way around the large boulders and into the field. “Duck,” Kelli warned as Ms. Willis rounded the rocks to Sickles Rd where the bus waited.

“What?” Sherri knelt beside Kelli behind the boulder and giggled.

Kelli pointed up the hill to the statue. “We gotta get up there.”

“We’re gonna be in so much trouble.”

“We’ve got time. Don’t worry so much.” She poked her head around the rock to be sure the coast was clear. “Come on. Let’s go,” Kelli whispered and tugged Sherri toward the next boulder and into the tree line at the base of hill. “The statue’s straight up there.”

Sherri paused for a couple quick pics and waved to the grubby boy before she turned to follow Kelli. “He’s kinda smelly,” Sherri said as they picked their way through the thorny underbrush.

“But cute.” Kelli stopped on the steep slope and watched her classmates clamber down the rocks to board the bus.

“She’s gonna be so mad.”

Busted

Jeremy planted his butt and slid to the window in the seat he shared with Sherri and Kelli. Ms. Willis urged the kids into place to count heads.

“What did you think?” Ms. Willis raised her voice to be heard above the din. Her voice grew louder to get everyone’s attention. “My friends and I, when we were a little older than you, would drive out to these fields at night to look for ghosts.”

“Ms. Willis!” Jeremy raised his hand and shouted, cutting her off in his excitement. His thoughts tumbled out in a quick stream. “I thought they weren’t supposed to be real. Not really? Right? My Dad says ghosts aren’t real.”

Ms. Willis continued, ignoring Jeremy’s customary outburst. “Devil’s Den has one of the most notorious ghosts in Gettysburg.” Now that she had their attention her voice got soft as she recalled the event. “Jill, Wade, and I were standing right on top of Devil’s Den. Jill said she saw a boy, but I didn’t. I was looking at the field below, but I heard him. Locals call him Tex.” Ms. Willis stopped and thought for a moment. “Jill said he was young, about sixteen maybe, with a floppy hat. They claim he pushed Wade off the rock.” Her voice cracked with emotion as she finished. “All I heard was a voice, like he yelled in my ear. ‘Get off.’ Then Wade fell off the rock. Luckily his arm was all that was broken. ”

“Jeremy. Where’s your two travel buddies?” she said realizing the seat hadn’t filled during her story.

He shook his head and looked out the window. “I don’t know,” he said as he tipped his head toward the window and gave a clandestine jab with his finger across his chest to indicate their direction. “They were on the rocks.”

“Oh no.” Her heart skipped a couple beats as she bent to see through the window. Ms. Willis stepped from the bus. She scanned the hillside and yelled. “Kelli. Sherri.” This is bad. Ms. Willis paced between the path to Devils Den and the bus, watching the rocks that poked from the peak and continued to shout, knowing the noise would not be well received . . . Stop it. Dead soldiers don’t like shouting . . . by the locals. Ten minutes passed when she turned to the driver. “Keep them on the bus.” It’s getting late.

With the General

The girls wandered through the trees, working their way to the top of the hill, stomping raspberry whips, and pulling through the thick underbrush. “Kelli stop.” Sherri looked around. “It’s getting late.”

“Keep up. Come on,” Kelli said extending her hand toward Sherri. “Come on. Grab hold,” she said encouraging her to take her hand. Sherri’s countenance deflated with a sigh as she took hold of the hand to follow. “We’re almost there,” Kelli said and gave a tug. “I can see the statue!”

“OK.” Sherri continued to glance over her shoulder as if to check the distance down the steep slope. “But I’m getting the heebie-jeebies in this place.”

Kelli gripped a small tree trunk and helped her up. “Look, another re-enactor.”

“Hey,” Kelli called out a greeting to the man standing near the statue as they crested the hill, picking their way through the large rocks and boulders.

The man nodded, his blue uniform was worn and smudged as though unwashed for some time.

“You work here?” Kelli was glad they weren’t alone. The sun was low on the horizon, casting long shadows through the thick trees.

The man nodded. “I used too. Now I just visit.”

“Awesome. The kid on the rocks down there,” Kelli said turning to scan the valley. “He said this is the best place to get a good look of the battlefield. Right?”

“The confederate? He’d know. He learned well the lay of this land.”

Sherri looked about nervously. The evening breeze rustled through the branches causing the long shadows to move along the ridge.

“I’m Kellie. This is Sherri.”

Sherri still held her phone in one hand in front of her face, taking pics as she talked. “Whata’ya do?

“I teach.” The man said. “At one time. Joshua Chamberlain,” he said offering his name and bending in a shallow bow. “Rhetoric to be specific.” Chamberlain’s head jerked up at the sound of shouts from below. “They’re coming again. Now get in line. Move,” he said shuffling Sherri and Kelli with a gentle push to turn them toward the ridge.

“High school?” Kelli asked as they moved, his strong hands against their backs.

“Tighten it up boys,” Chamberlain said continuing to shuffle Kelli and Sherri toward the shadows.

Kelli watched as the shadows spread, forming one dark line along the ridge. The shouts from below merged with the rustling of the trees, growing louder as the sounds moved up the hill.

“They’ll keep coming boys. Tighten up. Steady yourselves.”

“Kelli?” Sherri looked to Kelli as they stood shoulder to shoulder. Sherri seemed unaware of the shapes that surrounded them. “This is so cool. How many soldiers were up here?”

Kelli’s voice started to rise in pitch. “Mr. Chamberlain”

“This is where we stand. Keep it close. On me boys.”

“Mr. Chamberlain? Sherri?” Kelli yelled over the din of voices as the shadows took the shape of . . . Soldiers?

Kelli heard the yell of Ms. Willis swept up the hill among a thousand voices.

Mr. Chamberlain’s voice boomed down the hill. “Prepare to fire.”

“Ms. Willis!” Kelli yelled and grabbed Sherri with both arms around her shoulders as Ms. Willis appeared below them. She braced herself against a boulder as the shadows around her took the form of riflemen; soldiers dressed in shabby Rebel grey streamed toward them with a deafening scream.

“Fire!”

Ms. Willis’ screams merged with Kelli and Sherri’s as their bodies shuddered dropping to their knees with the boom. The blast threw Ms. Willis back as she disappeared in the cloud of black smoke that rolled down the hill.

Kelli lifted her head, slow, hesitating, expecting to see the soldiers charging up the hill, the field littered with the dead and dying. She cupped her ears against the panicked screams. My screams? She couldn’t stop. Stop it. Sherri, her mouth opened wide, turned and looked in her eyes. Her chest heaved as if struggling to breathe. Her eyes still wild with fear as she lunged to her feet and slipped in the loose rubble, dropping back to her knees.

“I want outta here. I want to go home!” Sherri’s voice sounded frantic. She scrambled to get her footing, grabbed Kelli’s hand and pulled, dragging her forward.

Kelli turned and slid, hopped, and slid with Sherri making their way down the hill. “Oh no. We’ve got to find Ms. Willis. Oh no. What have I done?”

“Kelli. Sherri!” The words came from behind the large rock as the girls slid down the steep hill. “Are you OK?”

Kelli fell into Ms. Willis’s arms and held on as Sherri joined their embrace. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh.” Sherri’s words came in rapid succession as Ms. Willis held them tight.

“What the heck?” Kelli clasped her hands to her head. “What the heck just happened?”

Ms. Willis shook her head. “I’m not sure,” as they embraced again and fell silent.

“Get off our hill,” a booming voice rang from above.

“Come on.” Ms. Willis lead them down the hill. “Hurry. Hurry,” she said, guiding both girls, hand in hand as they stumbled to the base of the hill to board the bus as the sun faded.

“What the heck?” Sherri repeated over and over as they slipped in next to Jeremy.

Jeremy looked at his classmates as they wiped the tears from their eyes smearing dirt across their faces. “What the heck were you doing?  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

The girls sat in pale silence, palms scraped and knees torn, as the bus pulled away to carry them home.

Jeremy tried again. “Seriously, what happened?”

Kelli shook her head, unwilling to answer.  Watching the monuments slip by the windows, she felt the whisper in her ear. “Have a little respect for the dead.”

Judges Feedback – ‘Respect” by Tom Wise – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – …………The prose is solid. The dialogue sounds authentic. I like the circular ending. …………………The narrative here is very descriptive so it is easy to visualize the scenes. The dialogue is crisp and clear carrying the story forward…….I liked the conceit of the class trip. You incorporated all of the three contest elements very well. You did a good job creating the different characters. ……………………………………………………………   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – …………It doesn’t seem realistic that Kelly and Sherry wouldn’t have told Mrs. Willis about the bread smell and the cold oven. The plot would benefit from more complexity. I think that when they get on the bus, Kelly and Sherry should check their phones for the pictures they took.  …………………Careful how you kick off. The opening lines are those that must hook your reader.  You have omitted opening quotation marks at the very beginning. Also, at the end of dialogue when followed by narrative you need a comma, not a full stop, and the first word of narrative is lower case.That said, don’t over use capital letters. “Federal soldiers”. But “Yanks” not “yanks”. Be careful with punctuation: Kelli’s voice started to rise in pitch. “Mr. Chamberlain.” (There was no full stop after his name)…….I’m not sure if these were meant to be separate sections or connected stories. The sections end kind of abruptly without being tied together as easily as they could be. I think you could find a stronger ending. ……