Writing is in the blood for Elizabeth Sloan

(Mt. Idaho in Heming-by-the-way country)

Good Evening, my illuminating Literati!

Best guess is we have had sixty entries for The First Annual Peggy Dobbs Write-of-Passage Contest. Many of the submissions are from those among us who had the pleasure of Peggy’s love and good nature on our website (has she really left us?)

But some entries are from people who know Peggy only by the legend this contest helps perpetuate.  Our site, which Peggy dobbed–oops!–DUBBED– “our playground”, is really a place where new and used writers can share and develop their talents. So now I get to introduce a talent that I do hope sticks around. Elizabeth Sloan.

Back in July when I had first arrived, I was house hunting, and Elizabeth had an amazing house for sale where I poked in the closets and kicked the tires. Too soon for me to buy a house here (buy more The Boy with a Torn Hat, please!). But I explained that the towers that are A Word with You Press were about to resurrect in downtown Moscow, and I gave Elizabeth my card.

Last week I got this contest submission, and discover that she has completed a riveting historical novel that just may end up published by AWwYP.

This contest entry in under a thousand words demonstrates the gal has got talent. And it hints at the potential of Idaho, amazingly a state with much untouched wilderness. How I wish I could give you all a sense of this place, Hemingway country. Welcome to “our playground,” Elizabeth. (For those of you helping with the countdown, this is number 6 of 24 in our marathon posting)

Here is

On Mt Idaho Road

by Elizabeth Sloan

Some couples buy a new house, remodel the one they live in, or have a baby, as a subconscious effort to keep a marriage going. On Henry and Alice’s fifth anniversary, they bought two puppies. It was, looking back, a gesture to say, “Yes, we are still in this together; there is a future.”

Alice’s parents, Elinor and Chuck, traveled 1500 miles for a visit. Oh sure, they wanted to encourage their daughter and her husband to celebrate, perhaps get a feel for how things were going, have some relaxing time on the edge of Idaho wilderness where Alice and Henry had decided to share their artful lives together, but mostly they were eager to see Callie, their 2-year-old granddaughter.

Henry and Alice had talked about getting a dog, to grow up with Callie; to keep her safe, scare off cougar and coyote that sometimes passed through their corral at night; to be her Lassie. A pile of wriggling puppies in a box in the park was all it took. Alice made one look into the golden wolfish eyes of a male, and that was it. HE was going home with her. There was a sister they could take too, and just like that, their family practically doubled in five minutes’  time, joined now by two Shepherd Rottweiler mix pups, and just as quickly they were named: Satchmo and Billie.

Perhaps the whimpering of the pups that first night away from their pack entered Alice’s sleeping mind. The following morning she told her mother about a dream she’d had.

“I was stranded on a small spit of land in the middle of swirling water and tumbling river rocks. I could see Henry standing on the shore, just watching me, not moving to help. Suddenly Satchmo ran to the water and he leapt in, trying to reach me. And Henry still just stood there, watching.”

“Oh honey. It was a dream.”

“I know, I know! But still, Momma, I think it means something. Maybe it really is too late for us. Maybe dogs are a bad idea after all.”

“Now, dear. In spite of my earlier admonition, I do see how these two pups will be ideal companions for Callie. Please, don’t give up. I swear, it’s not too late. Life would be even harder if you had to go it on your own. Just hang in there.”

“Yes, Mother. As always, I suppose you’re right. Now, we’ve got an army to feed this morning. We better get going.”

*          *          *          *          *

The dogs were three when Alice and Callie moved to town, reluctantly leaving Satch and Billie in the country with Henry. Not long after, Henry took off for a few weeks and said he’d found a place for them to stay.

Satchmo didn’t make it through the month.

The sky was blue, streaked with jet contrails, but still, the roads were ice and snow-packed. Alice had to turn the jeep around and go back, searching, for she’d seen nothing the first time she drove past the place where he’d been hit; was it really just yesterday? There! Yes, a large splay of blood mixed into the gravel, and a skiff of red where his still warm body had either slid, or was dragged of the road and onto the snow bank in the ditch.

“I will be able to find this place easily, if I want, any time of year,” Alice thought.

On one side, the side where Satch was hit, a row of fence posts rose up over the field and met another row of fence posts, in perpendicular fashion, at the exact spot. On the other side was a driveway of sorts, the one Alice had pulled into, that once led to a thriving chicken farm. Thankfully, mercifully, Satchmo’s body was not still there.

“The life of every living creature is in the blood,” thought Alice.

“We do not often witness fresh blood of those we love,” she heard her voice hover in the icy air.

Except, she thought, in moments of trust, or intimacy: a loose tooth, childbirth, injury, death. And, in the case of death, it often comes from vulnerable places deep beneath layers of bone, muscle, skin, fur. Places we would wish never to know about, in such a personal, final way.

She crossed the road, stepping lightly on the stain of highway blood, until she was in the snow bank, on her knees, next to the imprint that Satchmo’s body left. Alice gently poked her finger into the red snow, curious. It seemed so fresh, as if just moments ago Satch’s blood had pulsed from the wound, the artery, the heart.

And then a little deeper. She was thinking it would be only on the surface, it would filter out, thin down, end. But it did not. Blood kept filling the space in the snow until Alice scooped out a handful, seeking its depth.

She remembered when Henry once walked into Callie’s room. It was strewn with toys, dolls, puzzles, dress-up clothes.

“How do you find anything in here, Callie?” he had asked.

“I just dig. I dig, just like a dog,” Callie instantly chirped.

And suddenly Alice was digging, digging just like a dog, into the icy red snow. She did not mind at all the cold ache she felt in her bones. She was weeping, yes, scooping and digging until finally she reached the limp winter grass buried at earth level.

But still, the flow did not end. It reached down, even into the frozen dirt. Her hands dripped with snow-blood; a hawk appeared, floating low. Alice raised a dome of crimson crystals in her cupped hands, giving thanks for the joy this dog had given.

When she drove back to town, back over the red stain on the road, magpies flew up and scattered, already having located this place of death.

All morning her hands smelled of iron, of blood.


24 thoughts on “Writing is in the blood for Elizabeth Sloan

  1. elizabeth sloan says:

    Wow, Thorn. I already have chills. Good ones. Thank you in huge increments for your kudos. Now, let’s see how this resonates.

  2. Michael Stang says:

    My,My Elizabeth. I got the impression that you were new at this, but it is so outstandingly clear that you are not. What a beautiful story. How you involve the reader with the scene, how easy you slide into alter-reality. Thought i was reading Bradbury. You make the case for Moscow’s alive and well talented community. Thank you for submitting into the contest. Look forward to more your writing.

    • elizabeth sloan says:

      Thank you Michael. And/but, in a way we are all new at this, eh? We just keep “doing it” and maybe at some point we pass “go.” But I think “new at this” is the best compliment = Fresh. Yes?
      And I, yours.

  3. Parisianne Modert says:

    A family story of joys, tragedy and the connection with a close bond family whose lives change in several ways. Isn’t that how life really is? Life is a losing struggle in the end, but when that life closes the stuggles for others might become more intense. There is a lay back country charm with reason to match and offset the brutal reality of nature.

    • elizabeth sloan says:

      Thank you Parisianne. I like that mix you see of country charm and brutal reality of nature, and life’s changing ways. Often so unexpected, but then there it is, and we go on.

  4. Laura G says:

    Your story started simply, casually, to relax the reader, make them feel at home. Then, it picked up emotional speed in a startling way: the mother/daughter talk about dogs as if they are discussing children/grandchildren, the blood as if the blood of lineage. These animals are definitely as important to this family…a perfect Thanksgiving story.

    • elizabeth sloan says:

      Nice description of the flow and energy that you recognize in this. I like the way you say it “picked up speed in a startling way.” Thank you Laura.

  5. FJDagg says:

    I like the shift of mood, the tone of the beginning so matter-of-factly objective, then the drift into Alice’s very subjective, not-quite-surrealistic point of view. Very nice–thank you!

    • elizabeth sloan says:

      Excellent. I appreciate the objective/subjective realization from you as a reader of this story. And your take on the point of view, tone, and mood. Thanks!

      • FJDagg says:

        This made me think of the (horridly) effective scene in the movie “Blue Valentine,” where Michelle Williams’ character, driving, discovers the body of her collapsing family’s dead dog. Your scene is similar, but less wretched, more uplifting. More like poetry and, blessedly, less like heartless, PoMo “realism.”

        • elizabeth sloan says:

          Hmmm. I’ll have to check that scene out. I’m “happy” (if that’s the right choice) that my dead dog scene is more like poetry :). It’s certainly a better place to honor something we have loved.

  6. KYLE Katz says:

    Your story made me feel like life was happening. Life as it should be. Family, friendships lessons, the nature of sustaining life, coldness of death, the warmth of finding solice in your animals, when all else fails. The blood which you symbolized so many times., is what sustains us. The river of life is red and rich from beginning to end. Love this!

  7. Mike Casper says:

    I don’t know what to say. I’ve read this twice at two different times. I fled the first time, actually closed my laptop and walked out of the room. I just finished it again. Your story was good but not satisfying, satisfying but not good. I’m a bit mixed up. Twisted up, maybe. I almost died last month, maybe I’m still processing that — and my angst or whatever it is — is manifesting itself out on your story. Could it be the celebration of death and the life that leaked into the ground or the curiosity of ‘how far does the blood go’ or the magpies…I dunno. Sorry for the run on sentence. I liked it but I didn’t, but ultimately I did. It’s the only story in this contest that got my boxers all discombobulated. Maybe I need to read it one more time, slowly. Or, maybe I need to wear briefs. I dunno.

    One thing’s for sure, savor each day and thank you for striking a chord deep inside.

  8. Tiffany Monique says:

    Wow. This was so moving. Such an awesome expression of life’s blood and how everywhere and nowhere it is in our culture. I also found this a very powerfully feminine story. Not just because of the blood, but because of the maiden-mother-crone weaved with in, and the dream asking questions… you’ve inspired me. Thank you.

  9. Diane Cresswell says:

    Your story strikes into the heart of us all – death walks in leaving behind a void that cannot be replaced. You tackle this quite eloquently taking us to that place of reality of life and death and the joy that is brought to each of us in the life that impresses us whether it be human or animal.

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