Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
1st Place - 12-14 year olds

piece is untitled; subject is Civil War letters

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.

She 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 story contest.

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 word.

"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 story.

"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 said.

She hopes to one day become a naturalist.

--Tyler Hanley

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 I think not, for my life is obsolete in your course of life and the war.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 and alone.

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

Dear one,

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

Dearest Sarah,

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?

Love always,

Shepard


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