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FIRST PLACE


THE STALKER

By David Charles Shelley-Jones

In the summer months, when it’s still light after dinner, Amanda Stone used the reserve down the road to practice her short game. Golfing on the reserve is strictly forbidden. There’s a big sign at the entrance with golfing placed number 8 on a list of 73 prohibited activities. Nevertheless, Mrs. Stone, Chair of the Parents and Teachers Association of Gumnut Cove Primary School, considered it reasonable to break the law if it helped reduce a 36 handicap.

So, after the children were fed, she’d set off carrying golf balls in a shopping bag. The reserve is one of those pieces of reclaimed estuary common around Sydney with a broad sea wall and then a grassy field tapering away into bushland. She would follow the final narrow of strip of grass as it dog-legged into the encroaching foliage and collect her pitching wedge from under a pile of leaves.

Occasionally, she’d pause to take in her surroundings: the forest canopy, the long shadows, the total silence and feel uneasy. It was undoubtedly psychopath country, a perfect place for police cordons and shallow graves. Then she’d reassure herself that she had never seen anyone suspicious, just the occasional dog-walker venturing beyond the usual beat.

The man appeared at the end of summer, a time of still, heavy air, wet grass and divots. He was middle aged. He wore tattered army fatigues. He began occupying a bench seat not more than 30 meters from where she practiced. There was no dog. No book. He wasn’t orientated in her direction, yet she knew he was watching.  Amanda could feel his eyes boring into her while she struggled with the mysteries of loft and back-spin. And it didn’t help that she was conscious of retaining a great figure despite the ravages of reproduction; some small compensation for not being born with better ball skills.

She decided that he was probably benign although she couldn’t be sure. She couldn’t see his face, but she could make out a powerful frame; and the bulging duffel bag was less than reassuring. What if she were wrong? What if the bag contained rope and duct tape and trenching tools?  After he appeared a fourth time, she had to ask herself this question: Would she risk her life for a more reliable approach shot? The answer was certain: yes – absolutely.

And so, Amanda continued to practice, and the man continued to sit. Then one overcast day at the end of March, she looked up between shots to see the bench empty and the man walking, slowly, purposefully, in her direction. In that instant she knew she had been a fool.  She should have seen it coming. Here she was, all alone, in the dying light, in a bushland corridor. She considered running but the only path of retreat was into dense shrub where she would surely be horribly dispatched. Further, it is better not to run. That is was what they say in Africa. 

Amanda kept her head down and continued practicing while she struggled to muster a game plan amidst swirling thoughts. She thought about her family. How would they manage without her? Critical seconds passed. A flock of birds screeched skywards. And then the words of a martial arts instructor seemed to come from nowhere. Speed and surprise. This was the answer. Amanda gripped her wedge tightly and waited. What a lovely club, she thought, so much more than an instrument of personal torture.

Seconds seemed like hours while she readied herself, checking her stance, her grip, her balance, visualizing the arc she would make.

He entered the periphery of her vision. In just a moment he would be in striking distance. She was not a violent person; but she would do it! She must!

And then, suddenly, he was right in front of her.

She raised her club to strike the lethal blow.

Then lowered it as he politely asked her to forestall his execution.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt. The grip, the stance, the wrists, the backswing! I just can’t watch it anymore....”

Amanda was down to 18 by spring.


***


SECOND PLACE

GIVE THANKS FOR TRADITION

By Andrew Gaddess 

Harry and Jim played golf together every Thanksgiving for 25 years. Same course, same time: West River, 2 o'clock, without fail.

Harry was always the first to arrive. Jim had moved away after high school, got a job and started a life. He flew the family back every year to visit his parents, staying in the same house he grew up in. Jim's mom still made Thanksgiving dinner and it always took him longer to break away for the afternoon round.

Still, in keeping with tradition, Jim always teed off first.

It typically took a few holes for Harry and Jim to return to form, the old friends hooking and duffing a few in relative silence.

Harry's game had gone a bit. He no longer had the distance, his shots now burned close to the ground with a pronounced bend. But he was crafty around the greens and he always hung in with Jim, who, if anything, had gained distance over the years.

They talked.

Generalities in the beginning: "How's the job?" How's California?" By the turn, they found their stride. They reminisced: how mad Harry's dad would get when they played football in the back yard; how they used to golf this course by day and drink on it by night. They talked about family: how Harry had lost his, not to any unspeakable tragedy, but to apathy and neglect. They talked about regret. And they played.

Harry loved coming down the stretch on Thanksgiving. Jim usually had him by a stroke or two, but that was OK. Harry loved the way his breath turned to smoke when he dug out a tough shot. He loved watching the sun dip low behind the bare branches. He loved the long shadow of the flagstick as he and Jim approached the green. But mostly, he loved the tradition.

Jim would always invite Harry back to his parents' house for a beer afterward. It had been years since Harry had seen Jim's folks, or his family, but Harry always declined. The day was just fine as is. No need to get greedy.

This Thanksgiving, as always, Harry arrived first. He stretched and cracked a beer. He teed one up for Jim. And he waited. By 3 o'clock, Harry was convinced Jim wasn't coming. Jim was typically late, but never this late. Harry wasn't mad, but he needed to know why. Jim hadn't missed a round in 25 years. So, as uncomfortable as it made him feel, Harry made the short drive to Jim's parents' house, a drive he remembered well from his youth.

He was greeted at the door by Jim's mother, her face only slightly aged by the passing years.

"Mrs. Madsen, I'm not sure if you remember ... It's Harry Cross. I know this is somewhat unusual, but I was wondering if Jim was in."

"Of course, I remember, Harry," said Mrs. Madsen. "Of course. Why don't you step inside? I figured you might be coming by today."

"You did?" Harry remained on the landing.

"Yes, I did, it being Thanksgiving and all. Jim was always scarfing down his turkey, so he could make it to West River." Harry nodded, but said nothing. He had no words, so he nodded and waited. "Harry, Jim passed away a few months ago. He had a heart attack at the office. There was nothing anyone could do."

Harry went on nodding.

"Harry, we'd love for you to come inside. Jim's family is here for the holiday and they'd love to see the man who meant so much to their father."

Harry stood on the steps in silence. The languid hum of conversation and the smell of fresh leftovers drifted from inside.

"Thank you, Mrs. Madsen, but there's somewhere I have to be. I'm sorry for your loss."

Harry got back in his car and drove to the only place he could think of. He drove to West River. He walked to the first tee in the fading light. The sun was just dipping low behind the branches.

Harry teed one up.

"This has always been my favorite time of the day, Jim. We're coming down the stretch.”

Harry blasted one long and straight down the fairway.


***


THIRD PLACE


ELSA'S GAME

By Beverly Butler Faragasso

For the first time in three years, Elsa stands behind the ball, her feet spread apart.  Is this a dream?  If it isn't, could Parkinson's make her lose her balance?  Elsa suddenly feels the solidity of her legs and feet and realizes that they have a memory of moments like this that resonate more authentically than even thought.  Parkinson's cannot - so far - erase that. 

She knows how to address the ball.  Her fingers have automatically wrapped themselves around her club, right hand over left, for they too have instinctive memory.  It is as if their fingerprints are embedded in the grooves of the staff.  This gives Elsa back her confidence, a characteristic so deeply a part of her personality that it has enabled her to endure cancer, pulmonary disease and Parkinson's. 

"You can do this," that renewed confidence tells her, "because you have done this before."  Elsa inhales, her lungs not yet betraying her, and she looks down the line, imagining where she wants the ball to go.  "This is like every illness I have had," she thinks, "You have to stare down the line or else it will blind side you." 

She remembers all the battles she has fought for her health and her career, and, then, without analyzing her next moves, with only faith and experience to guide her, Elsa shifts her shoulders slightly and turns her head.  "It is time," she acknowledges to herself, "to conquer that ball." 

Head down, waist tucked, Elsa bends her knees, her grip tightening on the club.  Stooping like this hurts her lungs, and she takes a few minutes to straighten her back and exhale.  Elsa resumes her stance and brings the club over her right shoulder.  She brings the club down with a quick swing, then swings again.  Her breath is short and her legs ache, but Elsa hits the ball.  This motion feels fragmented to her because she is silently reciting each step right before she does it.  To an observer, however, the execution looks like one fluid, graceful movement where her entire body is working to propel the ball into the air.  Elsa keeps her eyes on its ascent.  "Fly!" she commands, "Do not go into the bushes and do not fall into a bunker."

The ball dances on the air.  It seems to be toying with Elsa, like her illnesses.  Some days she seems to be breathing normally, walking fine, then suddenly, she can't breathe, and she can't walk.  The ball dips and Elsa cannot see where it lands, and she is afraid she will not have the breath nor the energy to walk to find it.  "Feet," Elsa says simply, "do not fail me and lungs stay filled."  She concentrates, stretches her back and slowly walks towards the ball.

It has moved along the fairway and is in a bunker.  Elsa's mind is racing: "What to do? What to do?"  What did she do when she was told she had cancer?  She listened to her body.  What did she do when she was diagnosed with pulmonary disease?  She practiced breathing every day.  And, what did she do when she found out she had Parkinson's?  She saw a neurologist.  "So, what are you going to do now?" she challenges herself.  Elsa has never gotten a ball out of a bunker, but she has seen other golfers do it. 

"What kind of sand is this?" she wonders.  It is soft, not wet.  "How is the ball stuck?"  Like an egg yolk.  Elsa swings the club up and down, up and down, hacking at the sand, which sprays everywhere.  She coughs, still kicking up sand.  She coughs again.  She pauses.  In a few minutes, she resumes her tedious, yet invigorating work. Elsa has not had this much fun in a while and she will not give up until the ball is unearthed from its sandy dome. 


The ball slowly rises.  Elsa follows its movement, and she senses that this is going to be a good day.  A dream?  Perhaps. Still.  Game on!


***


Copyright TeamGolfwell, 2017


GOLFWELL'S SECOND ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL GOLF STORY WRITING COMPETITION​

THE WINNERS​!