As creators and sponsors of the annual Ann Head Literary Prize for Short Story Fiction, the family of Ann Head is pleased to announce the winner of the fourth annual award is Beaufort High School graduating senior McKenzie “Mickie” Thompson.
Thompson’s prize-winning story, “Wrong Side of Slumber,” is a tale that invokes the mystery of sisterhood. While her younger sister lies deep in a coma, older sister Fallon searches for a way to communicate with her. In Fallon’s dreams, a childhood invention the sisters shared, a floppy eared stuffed rabbit, Mr. Lucky, appears to risk the blandishments and the threats of the death inspired night-hunter, Mother Owl. The competition judges found the imaginative leap—to rally the tropes of childhood stories to illuminate the scariest moments of adulthood—a stunning approach to portray both the enduring bond of sisters and the continuing influence of childhood fantasies as we face the crises of being an adult.
Throughout high school, Thompson has been involved in several clubs and extracurricular activities, including the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, and DAYLO (Diversity Awareness Youth Literacy Organization). She will be attending USC Beaufort with the goal of earning a master’s degree in biology and entering the field of wildlife rehabilitation and conservation. Despite pursuing a career in the sciences, McKenzie also remains passionate about her art and writing, and she fully intends to continue her creative, artistic pursuits as well.
Thompson will receive a cash prize of $500 and her name will be engraved on the Ann Head Literary Prize plaque to be permanently displayed at Beaufort High School. She will also be honored at the Pat Conroy Literary Center where she will be given the opportunity to read from her story.
The finalist for this year’s Ann Head Literary Prize is last year’s prize winner, Christine Conte. Her story, “A Haunted
Housewarming,” assembled many of the familiar clichés of haunted houses that we all know too well, and then lightly, inventively turned them upside down and inside out as a new homeowner discovers that his haunted house is, at the very least, a house without a well-worn welcome mat. Conte’s story offered a clever take on notions of home and the connections that bind us to one another.
Conte is also a graduating senior at Beaufort High School, where she has been active in National Honor Society, Key Club International, and Chess Club, as well as running cross country and track. She will be attending the University of Central Florida in Orlando this fall, majoring in aerospace engineering, and looking forward to a bright future in the space industry.
The Ann Head Literary Prize judges extend heartfelt congratulations to Mickie and Chris for their remarkably well-crafted, creative, and enjoyable short stories!
The winning stories were chosen from short stories written by students at Beaufort High School and submitted for consideration. The high caliber of the stories made the decision of the judges, all family members of Ann Head, extremely difficult, although highly enjoyable. The family is grateful for the enthusiastic support of the Beaufort High School English Department and its chair, Wendy LaCombe, as well as for the support and partnership in this endeavor of Jonathan Haupt, executive director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center.
The family of Ann Head congratulates each of the students who submitted a story for the competition this year. They are writers all, and they have proved that they can each craft an original short story. Keep it up, writers of Beaufort High School! Who knows how many more future Pat Conroys Beaufort High might foster?
About Ann Head: Writer Ann Head, the pen name of Anne Wales Christensen Head Morse (1915–1968), was the granddaughter of Abbie Holmes Christensen, who came to Beaufort during the Civil War to educate the recently freed enslaved populations of the Sea Islands. Moving back and forth between Boston and Beaufort, Ann carried on the family tradition of bucking traditions and creating new literary forms. Ann was Pat Conroy’s first creative writing teacher at Beaufort High School and became Conroy’s mentor, confidante, and friend. She was a central figure in Beaufort’s midcentury literary scene, befriending many of the famous authors who wintered in Beaufort, including Samuel Hopkins Adams (whom she considered her mentor), Somerset Maugham, John Marquand, and Katherine and E. B. White among others.
Ann published over fifty short stories and serials in the major national magazines of her day, with many of her stories set in a small town just like Beaufort. She wrote of divorce, snobbery, affairs both emotional and sexual, prejudice, death, and out-of-wedlock childbirth, championing the non-typical heroines of the magazines that eagerly accepted her work. In addition, she authored four novels which were published internationally, most notably Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones, a compelling story of teen pregnancy which was on school reading lists for 50 years and is credited with helping create the Young Adult novel genre.
Ann died suddenly in 1968, at the age of 52, cutting short a vibrant life and promising literary career. The Life of Ann Head was chronicled by her daughter, Nancy Thode, in a lecture originally presented at the Beaufort County Library and now available on YouTube at https://tinyurl.com/annheadpresentation. To learn more about Ann Head, please visit her entry on Wikipedia. Her stories and books are available locally at the main branch of the Beaufort County Library.
Excerpt from “Wrong Side of Slumber” by McKenzie Thompson (winner)
She needed a new pair of shoes, she thought. The sneakers she wore were old and pinched her toes. The laces were frayed, and the soles were coming loose. However, the main reason she needed new shoes was because red was no longer her favorite color. In fact, she hated it.
It’s funny. Out of everything that happened, she remembers that thought the clearest. She could recall the moment perfectly as if she were seeing it projected on a movie screen in front of her.
Two months, eight days, sixteen hours, forty-five minutes and 26, 27, 28 seconds ago she was sitting in a hospital waiting room. It was the height of summer and the miserable temperature pervaded into the dark of night. The heat made her sweaty skin stick to her chair. She remembered staring down and barely recognizing her own hands clasped in her lap. She focused instead on her red—too red, blood red—sneakers. She needed new shoes.
She couldn’t remember when her parents had joined her at the hospital, but she did remember her mom hugging her so tightly that her arms felt more like pythons than appendages.
She couldn’t remember how long they had been sitting in that brightly lit limbo, but she could remember how stifling and hot the air was as she forced herself to breathe in and out, and in and out, and in and out.
She couldn’t remember if she had ever felt more lifeless and emptier than she did in that moment, and yet no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t forget the sound of her sister’s body as it collided with the bumper of that stupid, stupid truck.
It’s funny what details the brain latches onto. . . .
Excerpt from “A Haunted Housewarming” by Christine Conte (finalist)
I sat on the couch in front of the television, only partially listening to whatever was happening on screen, as they discussed something about a series of murders happening right here in Manchester. Despite the ungodly hour, I was awake and working. I was on the hunt for a new house. People say that lawyers are the devil, but I disagree; I think he’s a realtor. They sold me the house as a “steal,” a “hidden gem” ready for the taking. It was a two-story with a basement, three bathrooms, three bedrooms, a great kitchen, and a ton of living space for only £100,000. However, he neglected to inform me of the ghosts that live here.
At first it was just a bit odd: a door left open here, a flickering light there, sometimes it was a bit too cold, but it quickly began to escalate. Within a month, doors slammed shut behind me or opened with loud creaks. I would see undead figures in the corner of flickering rooms, and it would get so cold I could see my breath. As I laid in bed at night, I would hear footsteps in the hallway, dragging something heavy behind them. A ghostly version of me with pitch black eyes and red tears streaming down his face appeared in mirrors, always lurking.
The worst thing about the house is that it’s not even dangerous, it’s just really annoying. I had to buy child locks for my cabinets and bookshelves to keep the ghosts from throwing things—and now I can’t open them. The children’s laughter I hear in the hallways just creeps me out. None of these ghosts do anything worthwhile. They don’t even pay rent, they just stand there menacingly. I’m sick of it! I’ve been looking at houses for two weeks now and at this point I’ll take just about anything.
I’m trying to read about a house in Oxford, but the power keeps coming in and out. Unbelievable. A loud banging starts at the front door, shaking the house. . . .
It’s been nearly ten minutes and I’ve had enough. I get up and march towards the door when the window shatters, spraying glass all around the room. A large hand reaches in towards the handle and unlocks the door. It slowly opens with a creak, the moonlight illuminating a massive shadow like silhouette in the door frame. The figure takes a step forward and reveals the face of a man. He ducks through the door, giving a sly grin. As I’m standing there petrified, he closes the door slowly and steadily raises his hand. He reveals a glittering ax with red splatters on it. It was him. The murderer from the news. . . .