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.

Curelom Riders

By Annaliese Lemmon

“So, there’s nothing that can be done? Even if we marched all night?” Prince Omer stood with Captain Pagag in the field with Esrah. She had given them the news of King Shule as soon as she had dismounted from her curelom.

Captain Pagag shook his head. “We’re too far away. The army wouldn’t make it in time. The kingdom looks to you now.”

Omer crossed his arms to keep them from trembling. He wasn’t ready to rule yet, let alone win a civil war. “My father rescued my grandfather. I should be able to do the same.”

Pagag frowned. “Young prince, your father had years to gather an army. It is not your failing that Noah prefers to execute his captured king.”

Esrah cleared her throat. “Your highness, I am sorry to be the one to tell you King Shule’s fate. Is there anything else you require?” She swayed on her feet. Omer wasn’t sure which she’d want first, a bed or a meal after such a long flight. Her curelom had already curled up to sleep in the middle of the field, its leathery wing extended over its half-finished peccary carcass.

Omer pressed his lips together. Maybe there was still a way to save his father. “What time did you say that the king would be executed?”

“Dawn, your highness.”

“And how long was the flight from Moron?”

“About ten hours.”

“Your highness,” Captain Pagag cut in. “You cannot be thinking about retaking the city using only curelom riders. The archers would slaughter you.”

“Not retaking the city, just raiding the prison.” Omer started towards the supply tent. “Send the word. We leave in half an hour.”

#

The moon had set not long before they began the final approach to Moron. Omer’s legs ached from holding his perch just behind the giant wings of his curelom, Corai. His hands were numb from the cold as they soared among the clouds. Earlier, he had needed to fight to stay awake, but now that the starlight showed the outline of Moron’s pyramid temple, his heart pounded within his chest. Please, God, let my father rule for a few more years.

He took one of his three obsidian-tipped javelins in hand and held it up, signaling to the other ten riders to prepare for the assault. They formed a V behind him. He squinted to make out the familiar shapes below. The archers on the outskirts of the city hadn’t seen the cureloms as they’d passed overhead. Now, they were almost directly above the complex where he had been raised. According to Esrah, the usurper Noah slept in the largest building there, and his father was kept in the small stone prison next to it. A dozen men with spears stood guard in the courtyard, two guarding Noah, four guarding the prison, and the rest patrolling in pairs.

Omer patted Corai’s scaly neck. “All right, girl. Let’s go.” She folded in her wings and dove straight for the south end of the complex, where a pair of guards walked the other way. Omer pressed himself tight to Corai’s neck, squinting against the rush of wind. The guards stopped, looked side to side, and then up. They shouted something Omer lost in the wind. Corai flared her wings out as she latched on to them with her talons, like an eagle snatching prey.

The other guards rushed in as Omer’s companions swooped down on them. Half were felled instantly, while the others managed to get their spears into a defensive position. Omer urged Corai forward into the fray. She bared her fangs as the scent of blood filled the air. As the guard jabbed at her head, Omer threw his javelin. The guard fell with a groan.

With all the guards down, Omer swung off Corai’s back and ran for the prison door. Jared met him there, copper axe in hand. With a few chops, the wooden door was down. Omer ran in, javelins at the ready. A guard’s shadow moved at the side. Omer swung, parrying the guard’s spear with one javelin, while he thrust with the other. The guard fell with a thud.

Omer straightened, breathing hard. “Father?”

“Omer?” At the back, Omer could just make out a form with hands bound with leather cords. “How did you get here?”

“No time. We have to go.” He sliced the bonds with the head of the javelin and helped Father to his feet. Outside, warning horns called through the air. “Everyone up!” Omer shouted as they dashed outside. He helped Father onto Corai’s back.

“Shoot the king!” Noah had emerged from his house, not even taking the time to dress beyond wrapping a cloth around his waist.

“Go! Go!” Omer slapped Corai’s hindquarters and the curelom leapt into the air. Omer gripped his javelins hard as he ran for Noah. He didn’t look back as the archer next to Noah fired. Omer screamed and jumped, flinging the javelin with all his might. It struck Noah in the chest, and he collapsed to the ground. Omer switched the other javelin to his right hand, but the archer was already taking aim, straight at him.

Corai dove on top of the archer, biting his arm. With a fling of her head, she threw him against a wall. Father held out his hand to Omer. An arrow stuck out from his other shoulder. “Hop on.”

Omer took hold of Father’s hand and leapt astride. Corai took off into the air, her wings beating fast to get out of the archers’ range. Omer’s breathing didn’t come easy until they had made it beyond the edge of the city.

“Just had to outdo me, did you?” Father asked when they were able to land and to tend to his wound.

“Not possible.” Omer helped Father lay down.

“You’re too hard on yourself. You’ll make a good king.” Father smiled.

Omer grunted as he jerked the arrow out.

In Remembrance

by Merrijane Rice

Pain is universal,
pedestrian even.

You walk a strait path,
grasp the iron rod,
skirt precipice edges —

then rejection sneaks up,
bayonets from behind,
and saunters off wiping the blade.

In the aftermath,
helpful folks salve your wounds with,
…..This happens to everyone.

So you stitch it up clean and tight,
and wait for tides of ache to subside.

But years later,
you sometimes neglect to be careful —
you stretch till the scar
pulls, ……..here’s where I tore
twinges, ….I wish I’d never
burns, …….why do I still

and you wonder,
not if God loves you,
but

if He hung from the cross,
scraping breath after breath,
willing heartbeats just long enough
to heal every unearned sorrow
along with all the world’s sins —

if He promised to remember them no more —

…..Why can’t I forget?

The Primary Temple Trip

by Laura Hilton Craner

When they asked for a volunteer to drive the McCumber children on the Primary temple trip, Sister Miller didn’t notice hers was the only hand to go up. She hadn’t had a Primary calling or a Primary-aged child for years, but something had moved her, so she volunteered.

The Primary president sounded breathlessly surprised when she confirmed that yes, Sister Miller had actually volunteered and that this wasn’t a joke. “They don’t come to Church very often but they were there on Sunday,” she said, “and all five said they wanted to come. The youngest, Devon, is still in a booster seat but the rest, well. They won’t…um, they won’t be any trouble.” Her voice went strangely high on the word “any” and seemed to choke a little on the word “trouble.”

That Saturday morning Sister Miller woke up at 6:35 am, read her scriptures, showered and got dressed, and made sure to put on her best broach. Every trip to the temple was special.

She got in the car at 8:45 am and prayed that she would be able to drive safely and that the hearts of the McCumber children would be touched. With a whispered, “Amen,” she was off.

The McCumber children came spilling out the doorway before Sister Miller even put the car in park. She had thought there were only five of them but the way they were running around the yard made it hard to count.

The oldest—or at least the largest—a boy, sat in the front seat. “I’m only eleven,” he blurted out, “But I’m as big as a twelve year old so I can sit up here. My mom always says it’s okay.” Sister Miller thought she could smell Pepsi on his breath.

He scootched closer as a girl, almost his height but not quite, slid in next to him. “Ugh,” she said. “Matthew, you always think you get the front seat but you’re just barely eleven. I’ll be twelve next week.”

Sister Miller was going to ask about the booster seat when she glanced in her rearview mirror and saw four kids—no, three kids and a large neon yellow stuffed rabbit—squished in the back. The booster seat was in the middle and was occupied by the rabbit.

Matthew and the girl seated next to him saw it at the same time. They both turned around and started yelling. Their words were unintelligible to Sister Miller but they must have made sense because the younger ones (Sister Miller guessed they were eight, six, and maybe three years old—all boys) immediately scrambled and in minutes the smallest was in the booster seat with the stuffed rabbit belted onto his lap.

With a prayer in her heart, Sister Miller set off. Matthew and the girl fiddled with the radio, stopping on the loudest stations and arguing about every song. The younger ones whispered back and forth, occasionally poking each other. They had just reached the first stop light when a boy on one side of the booster seat asked a question, “Old lady? What’s a temple?”

Sister Miller decided to ignore the “old lady” and smiled beneficently. She knew this was one of those teaching moments that could plant a seed in a child’s heart. But before she could utter a word the boy on the other side answered, “God’s house. Duh. Where else do you think he’s gonna live? The Motel 6?”

All the kids laughed so loudly they couldn’t hear Sister Miller trying to answer. She began to think that maybe it was a good thing the ride only took about ten minutes. She could answer him when they got to the temple.

She turned left and was about to point out the spire on the temple rising just a few blocks away when another question came from behind, “Old lady? You ever been on a snipe hunt?” Without even pausing for an answer the child began to talk so fast Sister Miller could hardly catch a word, “Snipes-is-these-giant-black-birds-and-they-eat-kids-especially-the-ones-who-like-to-sleep-outside-so-you-should-never-sleep-outside-because-they-could-kill-you-faster-than-a-bear-or-a-mountain-lion-or-a-ninja-or-a-zombie-and-they’re-big-and-ugly-and-my-cousins-told-me-they-saw-one-once-when-they-were-in-Idaho-and-that-people-in-Idaho-give-their-babies-to-the-snipes-once-a-year-and-if-you-don’t-they-leave-you-in-the-forest-to-die-so-that’s-why-you-gotta-hunt-’em-but-only-at-night.”

This was punctuated by a screech of sacrilegious proportions uttered by the littlest one in the booster seat and probably instigated by the brother who hadn’t been talking but was now suspiciously gazing all-too-virtuously out the window. Sister Miller wasn’t sure how to calm the youngest since the neon yellow bunny almost completely hid him.

Just as his wailing, and Sister Miller’s racing mind, reached a fever pitch an acrid stench filled the car. All the children started gagging and pointing fingers.

“Michael! What did you eat for breakfast?” came from the front seat.

“It wasn’t me! The smeller’s the feller, Emmeline!” was the retort.

“I’m gonna barf,” came another voice from the back seat. “That smells like cow—!”

Sister Miller’s jaw dropped and through her burning ears she focused on the sound of her own voice singing, “Let us oft speak kind words to each other. . . .” Just as they pulled through the temple gates a chorus of voices called out, “I’m telling, Mom!!” and “Jeez, Andrew!” and “You said a potty word! You said a potty word!” and “Why you gonna tell Mom? She says that all the time!”

Sister Miller wasn’t sure who said what because she was quite distracted by the sound of the youngest who, no longer crying, was jubilantly singing his own song— a simple song made up of only one word. One incredibly inappropriate, Holy-Ghost-offending word.

She parked the car and all the kids tumbled out just as fast as they had climbed in, paying no heed to the temple landscaping—except for the preschooler who reached sticky hands out from behind the bunny.

As Sister Miller lifted him and the bunny out of the car, he leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “Thanks, Old Lady.” Then, pointing at the temple and nuzzling his rabbit into her neck he added, “Jesus loves you.”

20/20

by Lindsay Denton

I first realized there might be something wrong with my vision in sixth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Bullock, had switched up the seating chart, and I ended up on the back row next to a black-haired boy named Alan. Boys still had cooties in those days, but I had to breach the taboo when I noticed something odd. Mrs. Bullock was standing at the chalkboard, her wrist moving smoothly, producing her signature curlicue script, except…

“Is the chalk broken?” I hissed. Alan looked at me blankly. “The chalk!” I said. “There’s nothing coming out of it!” Alan continued to stare. Looking back, I’m not sure if he was afraid of my cooties or if he just thought I was stupid.

Finally, he said, “Uh, the chalk is fine.” He turned towards the front with an eye-roll. I followed suit, staring intently at the blank green board and wondering if I was the victim of an elaborate prank the rest of the class was somehow in on.

I waited for the teacher to sit at her desk before timidly making my way to the front of the room. Several rows up, thin white lines appeared on the board. A few steps further and the lines twisted themselves into legible script. I was unnerved. Moments later, an understanding Mrs. Bullock switched me to the front row.

I didn’t think much of the incident until a couple weeks later when it was time for school-wide vision screening. I was nervous as I stood in line waiting for my turn to read off the pyramid of letters. I took the proffered cardboard circle, held it over my right eye, toed the line and said, “E.”

“Good,” the man said. “How far down can you go?”

I hesitated, my eye trying to make sense of the fuzzy tangle of black shapes. “Well, the next line looks like P and… S?”

He frowned.

Next thing I knew, I was at the end of another line–the line for the kids who failed the screening. I felt ashamed and embarrassed as I watched the rest of my peers troop back to the classroom.

A few weeks later, my mom set up an eye appointment for me. I still remember trying on my glasses for the first time. I stood in the optometrist’s office and glanced out the window at an adjacent empty lot.

“There are clods of dirt and tiny little rocks all over the ground!” I exclaimed. “And individual leaves on the trees!” It was surreal–I’d had no idea what I was missing. There was a whole new layer of definition to the world that I’d been completely ignorant of.

#

There are times when I take off my glasses at night as my husband drives. Every light we pass is a swollen, twelve-pointed sphere with the symmetry of a snowflake. I’m surrounded by colorful globes springing from taillights, stoplights, and streetlights. I feel blind, but warmed.

I love sharp, crisp lines of black and white – to see things as they are. But sometimes, surrounded by starkness, I miss the seamlessness of blurred outlines and swirling shades of grey.

One of my favorite things each holiday season is to take out my contacts and sit in the dark in front of our lit Christmas tree. Each tiny colored bulb swells into a large, brilliant orb, the ethereal spheres hung like ornaments in the air. There is something transcendently beautiful about the softness of it.

God is in the details, they say, and I’ve seen the truth of that with both physical and spiritual eyes. But God is also in a blanket of muffling snow, in a muted grey sky, in the creamy bokeh behind a sharply focused image.

Becoming an adult, losing childhood naiveté, has been refreshing in some ways, like putting on a pair of glasses I didn’t know I needed. Still, though, I sometimes miss going through life in a rosy haze, seeing the world without its sharp angles or harsh contrasts, each pinprick of light something delicate, gauzy, beautiful.

2014 Mormon Lit Blitz Finalists & Schedule

We are pleased to announce the finalists in the 2014 Mormon Lit Blitz.

Finalists will be published on this blog according to the following schedule:

16 June: “20/20” by Lindsay Denton
17 June: “The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner
18 June: “In Remembrance” by Merrijane Rice
19 June: “Curelom Riders” by Annaliese Lemmon
20 June: “Slippery” by Stephen Carter
21 June: “In a Nutshell” by Doug Staker

23 June: “And Through the Woods” by Jennifer Eichelberger
24 June: “Thick and Thin” by Vilo Westwood
25 June: “Platinum Tears” by Marianne Hales Harding
26 June: “Sugar Free” by Emily Debenham
27 June: “Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales
28 June: “Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” by Jonathon Penny

After all the finalists have been posted, readers will have the opportunity to vote for their top four pieces:

30 June: Voting Begins 5 July: Voting Ends

7 July: Announcement of Winner

After the contest, we plan to release an ebook anthology with all twenty-four semifinalists.

We hope you’ll join us for the year’s Lit Blitz, and good luck to the finalists!

2014 Mormon Lit Blitz Longlist

After a very strong response to our call for submissions, we have narrowed the field to a longlist of twenty-four pieces. By the end of this week, we will narrow this list to a shortlist of twelve finalists, to be published June 16-June 28 on this blog.

Congratulations to our semi-finalists:

“20/20” by Lindsay Denton
“70 times 7: a Therapy Session in Free Verse” by Kathryn Olsen
“The Book of Laman” by Mark Penny
“The Darkest Abyss in America” by Wm Morris
“The Choice Was Mine” by Eugenie C. Stoll
“Curelom Riders” by Annaliese Lemmon
“Every Member” by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
“Forgotten Zero” by Steven Peck
“Four Visitors” by Niklas Hietala
“In a Nutshell” by Doug Staker
“In Remembrance” by Merrijane Rice
“A Joy and a Chore” by Megan Goates
“A Laurel’s First-Night Fantasies” by Theric Jepson
“Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales
“Ministry” by Jeanine Bee
“Platinum Tears” by Marianne Hales Harding
“The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner
“Riffs on Korihor’s Testimony” by Michael Andrew Ellis
“Slippery” by Stephen Carter
“Sugar Free” by Emily Debenham
“Thick and Thin” by Vilo Westwood
“Three Wishes” by Katherine Cowley
“And Through the Woods” by Jen Eichelberger
“Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” by Jonathon Penny