The First Winner of 2011

We’re pleased to announce the winner of the Historical Fiction category of this year’s Out of the Slush Pile, Novel Journey’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest.

The judges enjoyed reading the entries and, after due consideration, chose a winner. If you followed our contest last year, the writer’s name might sound familiar; she was a winner in one of the Historical categories in 2010 as well. We’re beginning to get the idea she knows how to write!

The winning Historical Fiction this year is Tears of the Outcast by Heidi Chiavaroli of Swansea, Massachusetts. Winning this category automatically puts her in the running for the Grand Prize, the winner to be announced in December.

Heidi’s story has an unusual historical setting, that of a leper colony off the shore of Massachusetts in the early 1900s. The characters are realistic and sympathetic, and the judges expressed frustration that they couldn’t read any further. This is one we’d like to see the rest of!

The Prologue follows. We encourage you to click on the link at the end to read the entire submission, because Chapter 1 is a good one.

Tears of the Outcast
Heidi Chiavaroli

“For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord; because they called thee an Outcast.” Jeremiah 30:17


Penikese Island, Massachusetts, 1913

The steady tap of the bittern’s beak on the patient’s window competed with the wind’s howl over the barren wasteland of the island. Cold and lonely, the gust cried out to the setting sun, begging it to stay a little longer, pleading with it to shine its light upon the hopeless souls who called this treeless patch of land “home.”

Marion Parker rapped her knuckles on the patient’s cottage door. Again, this time louder, to be sure her efforts heard above the tempestuous waves. Iwa wouldn’t answer, of course. He never did. If left to him, her fate would be the same as the bittern’s. She turned the knob and the door whined. The smell of burning incense assailed her nostrils.

“Iwa? It’s Mrs. Parker.”

No answer, but a dusky outline took form on the bed. The man’s back was to her, his face angled up at his Buddha shrine.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Dr. Parker said it was a long trip from Boston. Would you like anything? Some tea, maybe?”

Silence again.

Although the Japanese man did not speak English well, Marion surmised he comprehended more than he admitted. She’d watched him carefully since he’d first been exiled to the island two years earlier. Iwa spent much of his time staring sadly toward the mainland, as though hoping against hope that some miracle would restore him to health…to freedom.

No miracle had come. In fact, the disease that held him captive had steadily progressed, making greater advances than in any other patient on the island.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Prince wants to come in, Iwa. He’s missed you.”

The patient released a shaky sigh, his attention focused on the dark ebony of his naked Buddha. Phlox—which the little Japanese had so lovingly coaxed to life amidst the harsh climate of Penikese—surrounded the shrine.

“I’ll be back with some tea.”

Marion turned to go, but not before a strangled sob escaped the patient’s lips.

“I sorry, Mrs. Parker. You…Dr. Parker…good to Iwa and Prince.” His voice was but a hoarse whisper, the disease ravaging not only the outside of his body, but also the inside. “I gone soon. Sickness eats Iwa’s skin. Wish return…land give Iwa birth. See face of kin.”

Marion closed her eyes, her heart wrung dry for the man before her. If only Iwa had taken a train to New York after rowing the fourteen miles to shore. In New York, where men like Iwa roamed free, health authorities would have surely granted his request to be sent back to his native land.

Tap, tap, tap.

She walked slowly to Iwa’s bed and laid a gentle hand on his bony shoulder. He winced at the slight pressure and she withdrew her fingers. Words caught like a fisherman’s hook in the back of her throat. There was no comfort on this island. And while she and her husband went to great lengths to make the patients’ lives more meaningful, it seemed the heart of the outcast would always shed tears.

“I’ll be back with some tea.”

She opened the door to the harsh wind whipping off the waves, but not before the bittern played out his persistent melody once again on the salt-crusted glass.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Prince needs you, Iwa.” A bird was a small measure for a meaningful existence, but it was all she could offer.

Marion stepped out of the cottage and closed the door, the wind tugging her hair from its chignon. Fresh, salty air swept in to replace the incense still burning in her lungs.

The rough scraping of wood on wood sounded from the side of the cottage and she peered around the corner. The last of the sun’s rays exposed a swollen, disfigured stump of a hand reaching toward the brown bittern. With doglike devotion, Prince jumped on it. The bird didn’t care that the fingers were all but gone, that large patches of white invaded Iwa’s dark skin.

Leper or not, his master was bringing him home.

Marion sighed, and picked her way over the rough terrain toward the eerie shadow of the hospital building, her hobble skirt restricting her steps.

How many more will you send to us, Lord? How many more tears has this island to bear?
[Click here to continue]