We Have Another Winner!

We are happy to announce the winner of the second round of our OUT OF THE SLUSH PILE, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest. February’s category is Suspense/Crime/Mystery, and once again, the judges were unanimous in their decision.

The winner of this category is Just Out of Reach, by Lee Darling of Eugene, Oregon.

The judges were first taken by the lovely imagery in the opening paragraph, and the strong writing carried through the chapter. The setting was vivid. The characters were clearly drawn, had their own voices, and even in this small sample showed individual personalities. One judge would have preferred that the backstory be woven in more gradually but was pleased with the overall execution and development.

They noted that the occasionally coarse language and reference to alcohol wouldn’t fly with a Christian audience, but this book isn’t written for that market; there is nothing here that would offend the average reader. Also, the alcohol use, rather than being glorified, is portrayed as a problem leading to negative consequences.

The judges agreed that, all in all, the writer shows good skill and the story outlined by the synopsis sounds like an enjoyable read.

We present to you now, with pleasure, the first chapter of Just Out of Reach, by Lee Darling:

Come Saturday Morning

At the top of the steep wood staircase, I paused, drinking in the scene. On the beach below, kelp and debris draped the high tide line like a rusty necklace. Between that and the sea lay a wide chest of firm, dark sand. A hundred yards from shore, the sun sent sparks across a nearly flat surface, but the beach remained in morning shadows.

“Perfect!” I said aloud, pulling my wiry hair into a ponytail and through the back of my Trailblazer cap. Hand hovering over the rail, I bounced down the steps to the beach. My breath puffed in front of me as I trotted south at my usual eight-minute pace. Jogging is my therapy, my meditation, my rhythmic mental and physical cleansing.

This morning, I pushed myself hard to banish thoughts of Ed, my ex, and his new bride, Alyce – and to erase envy of her expanding belly, confirmation of her fertility.

I had scurried here for Spring Break – to Bandon and the Beach Loop cottage where I grew up. Bandon lies at the north end of Oregon’s Banana Belt, where temperatures are moderate year-round.

Now, inhaling the air my mother called ocean’s breath, her voice echoes in my head. Don’t forget to lock the door, Jessie, followed by a hoot of laughter, since the door never really locked. Back then nobody locked doors and neighbors kept watch.

Jolted back to the present by a tangle of kelp, I skipped sideways, then took another step. Something made me look again. A sleeve of dark leather protruded from the seaweed, but no hand.

“I want the hand … always to be there,” I recited the familiar phrase from AA’s Statement of Responsibility. The angle, the way the sleeve reached out from the seaweed seemed a plea for help.

“When anyone, anywhere reaches out … ” I shook my head, twisted it into a question: “And for that, am I responsible?”

I turned away, jogged a few more steps and stopped again. Damn! You just can’t leave it be, can you Jessie. I’m a confirmed eco-conscious picker-upper. I participate in the twice-yearly beach cleanup. On beach walks, I take an empty plastic sack and usually return with it stuffed. Not with shells or sand dollars or rocks but with discarded cans, chunks of nylon rope and plastic bottles. Trash. Once in awhile, after a storm, I find a real treasure like a glass float, but that’s rare.

I turned back.

“Oh, hell! Yes, I am responsible,” I growled aloud.

The seaweed, brackish brown and slimy, was like a pit of snakes with bulbous heads. I took a deep breath to shake off a sense of dread and pulled the jacket loose. I laid it on a rock out of reach of the tide and marked the spot with a chunk of driftwood.

Twenty minutes later, sweaty and refreshed, I veered back to the rock. The jacket was heavy and wet, the lining loaded with sand. Carrying it threw me off balance and I slowed to a trot, then walked the last hundred yards to the end of the beach. The tide was still low enough to sneak across the rocks below the cliff, the flat route to Cora’s Cafe. I was in need of caffeine and sustenance; one of Cora’s cinnamon swirls would do the trick.
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