The first of our finalists: Riley Sampson


At one time, as a vehicle to bond with my fellow citizens on the Big Island of Hawaii, I would take a small part each year in Shakespeare in the park. After weeks of rehearsal, as the curtain was coming up, a back-stage Mark Anthony adjusted his sword and tunic and looked over to chide our director.  “You can’t do a damn thing.  It’s ours, now!”

And so it was. Though some thespian mischievously replaced the tea with wine in the goblets of our drinking scene, not a line was lost, or even slurred.

For our contest, the finalists’ prompt,  “I was wrong,” I thought clearly directed each finalist to recall a situation in their lives where they recognized that their own prejudices contributed to a conflict that could only be resolved by a blossoming of humility on their part, as is genuinely required on a national scale if we are ever to undue the damage of 400 years of slavery and its lingering damage.

I was wrong.

The finalist submissions that I have read so far have told me: “You can’t do a damn thing.  It’s ours now.”

The prompt has been used in the varying ways each author has seen fit to interpret it, and, in the case of entrant Riley Samson, it seems to confirm the sad notion that those most entrenched in the virtues of ignorance are not going anywhere soon.

The inspiration, then, is that Riley is not one of them.


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Riley Sampson

 I could smell nihilism on the end of Foster’s cigarettes. That he drank and smoked because he believed in nothing.

He would ask, “You have a girlfriend yet?” and when I shook my head, he called me gay, and we laughed. I wanted to cut ties but settled to wait until something changed. But he could tell me how the Holocaust was fake the same way before as after high school, and that told me nothing would.

I went to a college in state. Foster didn’t, and when he dropped out of Saint Johns’, I was happy to see him again.

“Riley,” he said, “You don’t have a girlfriend, do you?”


Foster made a face, and if it was meant for me, I couldn’t tell. He patted down his jacket, and shouted, “Emma!” until someone shouted back. “You have my cigarettes?” There was no reply, just a brown girl with two lit tacks. She put one between Foster’s lips and the other between hers; Foster looked at me and said, “Girlfriend.”

“Friend of yours?” she asked him while smiling at me.

“This is Riley,” he said, “an old friend of mine.”

I said that it was nice to meet her, and she said something similar, but the hands in my pockets told them that it wasn’t. They went outside to smoke, and I waited at the dinner table. There was a cry outside, and Foster came back, ash all over his jacket; he went to the sink and grabbed a patch of steel wool.

“She’s not white.”

“She’s a great fuck,” he said. “I guess I was wrong.” He stopped scratching and tossed the wool in the sink, and though I couldn’t count the times I’d seen him smeared with ash from broken cigarettes, when Foster walked past me, he smelled different than before.

Not like nihilism. Not like anything.

you are here because you believe in the power and the beauty of words, that words matter, and that words can change the world. Let the words that do so be the words you yourself utter, write, and share

11 thoughts on “The first of our finalists: Riley Sampson

  1. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    God, Riley. I ought to mind it more, the way you keep leaving me behind in the dust. But those of us who live and breathe for the chance to encounter great writing–just put in the past tense what Dirty Harry said, and that says it.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      You show yourself the only gentleman (or not to exclude anyone, gentleperson) among the company, to step forward and give recognition to fine work that’s more than earned it. The Fellowship ain’t historically reticent in its commentary, is it?

      (I exclude myself, of course, ’cause I ain’t no lady. Not even a con-see-urge…)

  2. Jon Tobias says:

    Loved the opening line and that it came back again at the end of this piece. I also liked the imagery at the end with the steel wool on the jacket. The image conjures up a very uncomfortable (for me at least) sound to go with it. Then afterwards, Foster doesn’t smell like anything. It can be seen as the final change the narrator was looking for so that he may sever ties, but I also like that there seems to be a certain “cleansing” in the roughness used to remove the ash from the fabric.

  3. Riley Sampson says:

    For the all the kind remarks above: thank you. It a tremendous amount see my writing appreciated like this. Best to you all.

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