Word Feast is pleased to announce that two stories by Neil Sampson were chosen as the first place winner and the runner-up by this year’s judge, Emily Skov-Nielsen.
NEIL SAMPSON WAS ONCE AGAIN THE DOUBLE CONTEST WINNER FOR HIS STORIES “rOYAL tREATMENT” AND “MELTING.” hE ALSO SWEPT THE PRIZES IN OUR 2020 CONTEST. hERE IS HIS WINNING ENTRY.
Kinnard Gallagher hated the river—this stretch of river, so far from town where different folk lived different lives.
Second generation, fifth child in ten. You’d think fifth in ten would’ve centred him, but there’s no middle child in an even-numbered brood. Four siblings ahead, five behind, Kinnard was left scratching in a play for either side. Too young to be in charge, too old to be babied, and shorter than others his age, his best times were the hours with Reddy and Jack—off with the dogs on dog-day afternoons, on never-ending runs to never-quite-reached destinations.
The dogs taught him tricks, or tried to—poor Kinnard, not a top student. Couldn’t catch a rabbit. Never learned to sit, but could chase himself in circles with the best of them. A study in sandpaper and silk: a small, square man in a big, round world.
But a world he was constrained to see.
The fall of 1860. He was painting the roadside face of the barn when he heard a rolling thunderhead tell him it was time. He shook his mother’s hand. Shouldered his case. Walked the ten miles to town. Took the paddle steamer on to Saint John.
“Where to now? It’ll take most my cash to sail to Boston.” Casting the smell of soil upon the open waters, he emptied his pouch at the wicket.
He was in Beantown a week before the celebrations—the city welcoming the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. Kinnard ploughed through the crowd—had to press royal flesh, and did so … just as the camera flashed. The newspaper spread them all over New England: the Farmer and the Prince—Kinnard turned celebrity, forced to shake half the hands in the city; the other half raising their glasses.
But fame brings her burdens: will choke any man who swallows enough of himself. Had prestige, and the paper’s name, The Flag of our Union, weighted the spin of the wheel; set Kinnard on the road to pay-back; sparked a smoldering obligation to his newly-adopted land?
He quit his job on Long Wharf. Joined the Union army—the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. Who could’ve known the play of fate: this man who shook the hand of England’s highest prince—pictured from Caribou clear to Long Island—now fighting alongside the grandsons of Paul Revere?
Kinnard fought at Ball’s Bluff. Fought at Antietam. Took a shot to the head on the field of Gettysburg. Friendly fire? No-one ever said, but the surgeon left the slug in Kinnard’s skull: blessed him with a medical discharge, and a pension of eight bucks a month.
He hobbled back to the farm in April, ’64. Shouted curses at the river. Shot siblings Three, Four, and Six before Seven could grab the gun.
The judge ordered a scaffold built—not in the jail yard, but out on the street. Scheduled the hanging for Monday, May 23rd.
Said there’d be a huge crowd on Victoria Day.