Hemingway's Shorts chooses 'most creative' story

10:56 AM, Jun. 14, 2013  |  Comments
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Editor's note: The participants in the third meeting of "Hemingway's Shorts" - the short-story fiction-writing group that meets locally - chose Jan Suzda's story during their June meeting as demonstrating the "most creative" use of the monthly supplied prompt. Suzda's story is presented below for the enjoyment of Daily Tribune readers, and immediately follows the supplied prompt that sparked the story.

The Prompt: As he turned his SUV into the cemetery's entrance, his headlights illuminated the 11-foot cross that had greeted all visitors for over a century. "Forgive me, Father," he thought, as he turned right and proceeded slowly along the rutted lane that led eventually to the last row of headstones at the far end of the graveyard.

He sat for a moment, contemplating the action he was about to take. Then, after pushing a button on the dashboard, he exited the vehicle and retrieved a shovel from the now open rear liftgate. With a determination borne of acceptance, he walked over to one of the smaller tombstones. There, without hesitation, he began to dig.

'Remembering Sigma Kappa'

By Jan Suzda

Heaven help me, why did I ever agree to this? I must have been out of my mind. At the stroke of midnight, I was with my roommates Helen and Ruth in a vast, eerie cemetery. All we had to find our way were our flashlights and the hint of moon light, which cast scary shadows on the whole scene.

If we wanted to be accepted to the Sigma Kappa Sorority, as a part of our initiation, we had to follow explicit directions here at Veteran's Cemetery. We were all freshman at the University of Montana in Missoula.

I wondered if it was worth it to me. I would have to overcome my childhood fears of death. As a youngster, I couldn't bear the fragrance of funeral flowers. It all started at my dear Grandma Van's funeral. The smell of those flowers began to represent death to me. This went on for several years, until I had a dream with my Grandma telling me not to be afraid. My sweet Grandma relieved me of my anxieties; I could now go to funerals without apprehension.

As to cemeteries, they still totally creeped me out, especially in the middle of the night.

Helen, Ruth and I had left our dormitory earlier that evening. We headed out on Campus Drive at 11:40 p.m. We allowed an extra five minutes for the 15-minute drive to be sure to arrive at the cemetery at midnight as instructed. We came up on the Missoula Country Club and knew that we were too far south. We had missed our Tower Street turn. So we back tracked and finally found our way into the cemetery, just meeting our time line. We breathed sighs of relief; thank goodness for that extra five minutes.

Our desire to be approved for Sigma Kappa was paramount. The sorority was founded in 1874 at Colby College in Maine. It was renowned for its many philanthropies. For me, it had special significance, as my mother had earned a graduate degree from Colby.

At the entrance, our flashlights reflected off the cemetery's famed 11-foot cross. This was where we were to start on our directed path. Anything for good old Sigma Kappa. To begin, we were to locate the grave of William Faulkner.

With no order to grave-stone placement, it seemed to take forever. The next grave we were to find was that of Arthur Conan Doyle. All the while, our nerves were on edge, we were getting more hyper by the minute. We all thought we saw shadows at each grave site. We wondered if we were being followed? What was going on?

I was beginning to get the sense that we were not alone, all the time heightening and feeding my old fears. Where was Grandma to help me now?

As we cautiously trudged onto the next grave, we noticed that there seemed to be a theme to these graves, as the next on the list was John Irving's grave. Helen and Ruth agreed that there was definitely a theme here, as we searched for Louisa M. Alcott's grave, with Nathaniel Hawthorne next on the list.

Ruth said, "There's something off here. All these noted authors wouldn't be buried in Montana in a Veteran's Cemetery. This has to be some kind of prank." But we thought, what the heck, let's proceed to the next grave site.

As we approached Harper Lee's grave, we saw what looked like two shadowy figures digging in front of a grave in the last row of headstones at the end of the graveyard. That was exactly where we were slated to end our quest. Had someone else beat us to it?

As we came closer we aimed our flashlights at the pair. To our surprise, we recognized the two diggers. They were a couple of nasty Alpha Gamma Rho frat boys from the university. They were tossing a pair of men's underwear between them that they had dug up from the small mound. They were laughing hilariously.

OK, what's the joke, I asked them. Those jeering frat boys laughed even harder, shining a light on their treasure. One of them said, "Guess what, you Sigma Kappa wannabes, you've been had. Don't faint now, but these are Hemingway's shorts."

This all took place four years ago. Helen, Ruth and I are now seniors and are proud members of the Sigma Kappa Sorority at U of M.

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