Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
1st Place - 12-14 year olds
piece is untitled; subject is Civil
by Jamie Robinson
| About Jamie Robinson
Jamie Robinson, 15, arrived at San Francisco's Metreon theater
just a bit late for a showing of "Fantasia 2000." She decided
to wait for the next screening, but wasn't sure how to spend
the idle time. Instead of heading for the arcade, Jamie went
to a nearby store and borrowed a pen and some paper.
started writing an untitled short story about a woman held
captive during the Civil War, told in the first person through
letters. The story began as an assignment for her American
History class. The final product, however, has taken first
prize in the teenage category of the Palo Alto Weekly's short
Jamie said an enormous influence for her while growing up
was her grandfather, Warren Martin, who would tell her stories
at a young age and encourage her understanding of the written
"We would read every day," Jamie said.
Another positive influence for Jamie has been traveling.
She spent time recently in Africa visiting her aunt, an experience
that has helped nurture other interests, including caring
for animals. She has also spent time in England, Spain and
Gibraltar. Though Jamie enjoys traveling, she writes for about
an hour each night.
The concept behind her Civil War letters story was to write
from a first-person perspective. Jamie's American history
teacher, Jerry Hearn, had asked his students to write a fiction
"I really got into it more than other assignments," Jamie
said. She finished the story in about a week, and Hearn, responded
with a note: "I am deeply honored you shared this with me.
You are a really great writer."
One of Jamie's friends had read about the Weekly's short-story
contest and urged Jamie to submit her story.
Jamie attends Aurora, a charter high school in Redwood City.
Besides writing, she enjoys music and films. She likes The
Who and The Beatles, and has a deep appreciation for the films
of Alfred Hitchcock: "I love the way he uses lighting," she
She hopes to one day become a naturalist.
April 14, 1863
Dearest little one,
No doubt that if you ever come to read these letters, I should
be long since decomposed to earth. Even now as I cradle you in my
womb death envelops me, leaving behind a stench which marks its
victims. Need you know my name? I think not, for my life is obsolete
in your course of life and the war. Both sides have felt numerous
losses at the hands of foe. It seems ludicrous to me that even though
a deep-seated enmity exists, a small reluctance remains, gnawing
at its host. The Union and Confederacy are more like several brothers
romping in a field, throwing miscellaneous fruit. Their nature is
lively and fun until sibling is hurt, weeping bitterly as he falls.
Half laugh at the pathetic scene. The others follow that action,
but enshroud a horrible guilt inside. I myself feel I have hurled
an apple at a friend, consequences raining down hard enough that
my legs buckle and refuse to straighten. Yes, dear one, participation
has ensued on my part as well. Never wielding a gun of course, nor
caring for the wounded in tents. I've collected information for
my people, infiltrating enemy camps as mistress of their commander.
Spy is a word I care not to use. It contains false pretenses so
often mistaken for the truth. Please never misunderstand my conduct.
I believe the messages passed will aid my country even if I die
before the war is seen through. The cell of my remaining days appears
to have new definitions with this letter. I will continue writing
at a later date. The sun has died over the prairie, leaving it eerie
April 15, 1863
Not one day of imprisonment has passed without a single soldier
spitting into my cell. The foul attitude towards me reaches out
from rebel eyes, all shining with displeasure. I happen to be aware
of the knowledge that my staying of sentence is due only to you,
my dear one.
None of my false interpretations will you inherit, innocence will
prevail until the moment you wish it not so. I however am too proud
to accept liberties from the Confederacy. Paper was refused instantly.
I stated that the wall would do quite nicely. Indeed art is not
a name you put upon it. Carvings are made easily in what I believe
is alabaster of some sort. My one glimpse of the outside world comes
from a solitary window cross-hatched by steel. When the rosy-fingered
Dawn caresses the floor with her iridescent light a smile always
becomes etched on my face. Then it disappears with realization.
My belly bulges with news of your impromptu arrival. I sincerely
have hopes about the war coming to an end. The agony of you living
in the very center would be horrifying.
April 16, 1863
Even the most deaf among men can hear gunfire. It reaches an extreme
unmeasured in human history. The cries of dying soldiers or those
of the desperately wounded penetrate my ears. As sleep overtakes
the mind those echoes transform, taking shape in the appearance
of their former vessel. Some are Union, speaking of the sorrows
that befell them. Rebel spirits are less courteous, cursing me with
every false breath while brandishing a rusted boot knife. Blood,
their blood, drips from my fingertips. After waking, I encounter
a fear which, whether or not it please me, inevitably has to be
faced. Soon enough my soul will be wandering through chaos, a non-waking
eternity. The valley of death approaches swiftly. The day of reckoning
is drawing near.
April 17, 1863
This morn rose I, expecting to see a grand sphere of fire. Instead
rain scattered itself from the heavens, sweeping away all memories
imprinted within the soil. Love, fear, aggression whitewashed by
the sky. I wish for it to do the same upon my soul, a junk for grief
mixed together with pain. Your arrival is much anticipated, especially
by the commander and his regiment who shine their Spencers in the
barracks. The dormant form that once grew in my womb becomes restless,
eager. For what is simple even to the slow mind, freedom is the
gift every heart craves. My whole body wails in agony. Pain sprouts
from muscles long since buried in my memory. Soon shall you be in
my arms. A simple fight won't enslave us.
April 18, 1863
The moon brought a tiding filled with joy last night, my sweetling,
my baby. It rose with splendor, the awesome shimmering light shone
on your pale pinched face. No midwife was called for or brought
forth. Instead the commander sent his right arm, a man by the title
of Shepard Wilcox, to attend the birthing. Indeed I became mortified
and proud the moment in which he strode into the room, but waves
of nausea force any person to become civil. A conclusion was reached
as to the manner of my 'midwife' while the main process performed
itself. He seemed to have great respect, in place of malice, when
looking in my direction. I held you close for what felt like a second
in the infinity of time. He scooped you up then, for what I'm positive
is my final glimpse of the lost child. The stiff coldness that crept
into your frail body during embrace was not a mirage. Nations far
more advanced and powerful, lose more than I have lost. Solitary
loneliness is my state, bridgeless for ages.
April 19, 1863
Even though your soul wanders aimlessly through Elysium, the cessation
of writing is impossible. This account of mine has become a personal
salvation, not so much letters to one's unborn. My hour of reckoning
approaches, dying with the morrow's first light. Today, a prison
guard granted the formal routine of asking for a last request. I
had but one: a Bible. A tool that when combined with my repentance,
God may purge all sin from this life and be lenient in the next.
I fear only his gloriousness, the composure of our creator. It appears
to hold a greater reality than that of the squad patiently awaiting
a single presence. Shortly their simultaneous fire will commence
a journey, which carries me back to your side and that of my late
husband, your father. I now envision a family, looking down from
a perch, witnesses to the war's end. If only fate will have it.
May 3, 1863
Perhaps an explanation is due for the letters which now lay in
your possession. As you will know from previous conversation, the
Union spy passed from this life with the coming of the dawn a fortnight
ago. I never again hope to witness a braver stand from a human being.
Defiantly she stood as our gunmen set their bearings on her, none
of them quite eager to pull the trigger, men who normally gave themselves
entirely over to their passion of hate for this woman. Her corpse
was laid to rest on a low crest of prairie directly following the
execution. It was a liberty that we could not deny to even a Union
spy. These letters, which you now hold, are addressed by the woman
to the child carried in her womb. Apparently meant for him at a
later date, at a time when a portrait may be illustrated with precision
and detail. Unfortunately, this is not to be. The child's life was
snuffed out, a candle with the wick only moments lit. Despite the
truth being held from her, I'm positive she knew. A gleam in her
eye signifying a great knowledge, a truth our hearts were reluctant
to tell. The sun has ceased to shine its light on us. I feel every
casualty, especially those I take. I swear by God and country when
war's finished, nothing more can I ask but for our hearth lit, and
my darlin' making pies that warm the home with a crisp scent. I
am confused beyond recognition. Do we battle our enemy on hallowed
grourids, or that of our brothers?
From the judges
"(Civil War Letters) is a well-wrought piece of historical fiction
that sustains its tension throughout. It allowed the reader to look
beyond outer appearance. The story revealed a main character with
a nobility of purpose. The writing was moving and had beautiful
imagery. We appreciated the imaginative subject and the author's
ability to maintain a sincere voice. Despite the story's dark nature
and the stark subject, it conveys the possibility of hope."
--Katy Obringer, Caryn Huberman Yacowitz and Cynthia Chin-Lee