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Fiction Contest - The Runners Up 

Our judge chose two runners-up, and you can read their stories -- and comments from our judge -- her on the Web site.

Shann Ray teaches at Gonzaga University. He has lived on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in southeast Montana, as well as in Alaska, Canada and Germany. His wife Jennifer, he says, wears the garment of praise instead of the spirit of despair. His three daughters, Natalya, Ariana and Isabella shine like the sun. He is currently working on a collection of poems.

In Ray's runner-up story, "The Hounds That Guard the Fiery Gate at the Citadel of Seventh Heaven," a once-suicidal young man goes through a dark night of the soul that involves being chased by Rottweilers -- and ends up learning something about his parents' relationship. Here's an excerpt:

"The rain picks up, thrumming the back of his head and the wind is a loud hush from the north. Suddenly, he doesn't want to run anymore. He considers lying down. Between the big cone-shaped beams of the highway lights there are huge fields of darkness. Dark, he thinks, dark like dark after light has gone, dark like the absence of light. The lights are modern giants compared to the dwarfs that line his small subdivision; they spill bone-white light into the night, ultra-high luminaries erected on thin silver poles, slanted at the tip, reaching up, out over the road, out into the dark. Above them, the sky is so black, looking into it he feels blind. They don't know him, he thinks. Never have. No one has."

Robert Salsbury is a 47-year-old single father of three, with two teen sons still at home with him. He works for the state of Washington as a juvenile parole program administrator. Robert began writing short fiction a little over a year ago as a way to understand why some people end romantic relationships by e-mails and to express mid-life transitional issues, especially relationships. He has a master's degree in clinical psychology (1984) from EWU.

Salsbury's runner-up story, "At the Gates of Happy," conveys the travails of a middle-aged man on the dating scene; the author often pauses to converse with his narrator, who at one point explores the central character's unusual childhood:

"When Roper was 8 years old, he went 10 months without speaking a word. Not one. His parents, both very verbal college professors, were dreadfully concerned and shopped Roper to a variety of specialists -- neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, speech pathologists. Except for one psychiatrist with a unique theory of excessive magnesium levels, all of them agreed he had elective mutism -- a behavioral disorder of voluntary, completely self-controlled shutting up.

Roper: Please don't. Please.

Narrator: It's important. It's background. It's your life, buddy.

"A host of treatments for his elective mutism were attempted, ranging from behavioral incentive programs to prescription stimulants to -- perhaps the oddest one -- a suggestion by a family therapist that Roper's parents dress like circus clowns for an entire weekend and communicate only by honking horns. All failed."

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