Award Category
Logline or Premise
Swing dancing becomes the catalyst for a series of flashbacks that brings Norah Destin into the WWII memories of a female correspondent. As Norah's own life begins to parallel all things vintage, the women's connection puts both their lives in danger, bridging one’s past into the other’s future.
First 10 Pages


Where Norah’s reflection should have been, a different face smiled back, visible only for a moment in the glint of her partner’s aviators. This rouged peroxide bombshell tossed back a head of coiffed curls, forcing words out of Norah’s mouth in a velvety voice, “Didn’t you know, I’ve got three souls, and they all belong on this dancefloor.”

Clasping a hand to her mouth, Norah realized the room had changed too. It was full of ladies like this one, smiling seductively in cherry red lipstick as they rock-stepped in the arms of men in uniform.

She glanced away from the brass buttons on her own partner’s starched olive coat, drawn by the swishing of a hundred rayon skirts. There was a rhythm to all of it, a syncopated rhythm, and it might have felt resplendent if it didn’t feel so wrong.

Unable to find any of her own words, her throat constricting in panic, Norah pulled away from her partner, only to get caught, offbeat, in the swarm of whirling breathlessness, and—


Norah fell to the floor with a thud. Gasps accompanied her contact with the hardwood. She looked up at the blurred faces gathered around her and felt panic surge anew.

“I didn’t think you’d be crazy enough to dance in those heels,” a woman’s voice proclaimed, a beacon of familiarity in this writhing sea of strangers. “I saw you hardly walking in them.”

A hand stretched out of the crowd of onlookers to help Norah to her feet. She had never been more glad to see her coworker Janet, whose casual sneer of a smile was the only thing assuring Norah that she was in a world, a setting, a moment she recognized. “I’m starting to think you’re accident prone.”

“I think I’m just clumsy,” Norah decided. Once she was back upright she still couldn’t find a stable footing. Teetering violently, she glanced down; her world was jaunted strangely only because her left heel had snapped off. She bent down to remove the mangled shoe, then unfastened its unharmed counterpart.

Barefoot and restored to balance, Norah followed Janet to the edge of the dancefloor, unfazed by the worried strangers asking after her wellbeing. She rubbed a sore spot near her hip but was otherwise alright, so overcome with relief that there was no room left to feel embarrassed.

“Something to drink?” Janet asked, helping Norah into one of the unclaimed plastic chairs pushed up against the wall at the edge of the dancefloor.

“The usual,” Norah replied, ignoring Janet’s snort. She couldn’t tell if the room was spinning or if the whirling dancers had created the illusion.

Norah suspected the slight dizziness she felt was yet another consequence of her concussion. Though it had happened months ago, she still experienced occasional bouts of vertigo. Spending an evening spinning repeatedly probably wasn’t the best way to avoid this, but Norah had used frailty as an excuse too many times in declining Janet’s perennial invitation to go out. She was tired of taking it easy, and wished the doctors could make more than the vague promise that things would improve in time. Time was relative, she figured. Dancing too.

Norah had only been vaguely aware of what swing dancing was. Many years ago, from the safety of the chorus line, she’d observed the leads in a high school theatre production of Guys and Dolls rehearse a choreographed swing routine. But there was nothing choreographed on this evening of social dancing. This was a chaos of improvisations, and though each pair on the floor was engaged in their own variations of the dance, there was a harmony to the discord that came from the simple fact that each and every person in that room was governed by the same beat.

Norah hadn’t expected being asked to dance would be so much like walking straight into a wave. She had been stumbling through the basics rather badly with a clammy-handed, sour-breathed stranger. Once the music began, she was knocked off balance immediately, and was never able to regain it while struggling against the tide.

Embarrassed, frustrated, breathless, and slightly anxious at having to flounder for the entire duration of a song called “Sing, Sing, Sing” with no end in sight, Norah had closed her eyes for a moment, just a moment, to avoid making awkward eye contact with her partner. But in that moment, Norah’s surroundings had seemed to shift. It was as though she had fallen into a daze, a daydream, or a dream altogether, one in which she imagined she had gone back in time. Thinking back, the delirium was probably just a combination of the crowded floor and its collective euphoria. So many people here had donned vintage attire that it required no stretch of the imagination to feel as though she had stepped back in time as soon as she stepped onto the floor.

Norah pulled the hem of her dress down, a bit self-conscious wearing something more fitted than flared. From the sidelines, she watched the couples on the dancefloor ebb and flow, fascinated by the spinning skirts blossoming into every imaginable color. This jam-packed assemblage of graceful human trebuchets never resulted in a collision.

There was one couple towards the center of the floor whirling faster than the rest, the woman of the pair hardly distinguishable beyond the blur of her lacy seafoam dress. But Norah focused on her partner, the anchor, a broad chested demigod halfway fastened into a white button-down. The only thing keeping him from bursting out of the fabric was a pair of suspenders bridled over gray slacks. When he wasn’t reeling his partner in and out, he kicked up his heels, overcome with inertia, smiling so wide it creased the corners of his eyes. The dance seemed to possess him. When he dipped his partner, basking in the final notes of the song, she kicked up one sculpted leg in a flourish while he stood above, chest heaving, triumphant as a matador.

Norah found herself as breathless as they were, though she had no exertion to explain why her heart was suddenly hammering in her chest.

“He’s not your type,” Janet mused, striding over to hand off a paper cup filled to the brim with ice water. Norah brought it to her lips so quickly the first sip splashed over the rim and down the front of her dress.

Frowning at her clumsiness, Norah muttered, “I’m not looking to start anything.”

“But oh, how you were looking.” Janet watched Norah try uselessly to dab at the dampness. “Since when do you own anything skintight? I didn’t know you had a dress that didn’t swish.”

“I got this at Primark so that I’d have something to wear clubbing in Bath.”

“Was that where you met Cassanova?” Janet trilled.

Norah bit her lip. Surging and then receding from memory came a flash of dark curls and breathy whispers under strobing lights to the feverish pulse of “September,” though it had been a chilly January. Norah tugged at the hem of her dress again, “I can’t part with this for sentimental reasons.”

“Well fold it up in a treasure chest or something,” Janet declared. “You don’t seem yourself in this contemporary chic.”

“I don’t particularly feel like myself at the moment,” Norah sighed, and found her gaze wandering back towards the floor. The couple she’d admired had split up to seek new partners.

“They’re not together, are they?” she asked, but fell silent mid-laugh when she turned to find Janet had disappeared from her side. There was nowhere to go without getting swallowed up in the rising tide of dancers. Norah thought she could recognize Janet’s messy bun bobbing in the middle of the throng, guided by an ox of a man in a fedora.

Just to look like she was occupied, Norah pulled out the clip that had been loosely holding her hair back, but winced as it got caught in a knot. She was frantically trying to comb through the tangle with her fingers when a deep male voice cut in, “Care to dance?”

“Oh, no thank you,” she said, wresting the clip from her head and a few dark strands with it.

But when the asker wouldn’t leave, she looked up, and found herself face to face with another ironed out, crisply coiffed soldier in uniform. He smiled. “It’d be the travesty of the age to skip out on a dance with Truce Evans before heading overseas.”

“I think you must be mistaken,” Norah fumbled, looking around desperately. But the setting had once again changed. The floor was filled once more with pin-curled girls and boys in olive-drab.

Norah’s attire had changed too. She ran a hand over the linen blouse tucked into an A-line skirt, felt the sweat dampening the fabric at her waistband. Her feet, formerly bare, were neatly ensconced in a pair of low-heeled leather oxfords. Somewhere nearby drifted the faintest trace of gardenias, and she didn’t realize she knew what those smelled like.

She reached a hand up to her hair, which had become stiff with the weight of hair-sprayed curls. It didn’t feel like her hair. It didn’t feel like her body. And it certainly wasn’t of her own volition that she accepted the soldier’s outstretched hand and followed him onto the floor.


“I guess this is what I get having a reputation that precedes me,” Truce muttered, regretting her acceptance of another dance, the footwork aggravating her already aching soles.

Up on the bandstand, the Dempsey Quintet pulsed eight to the bar, breathing life into the melee. Walter Dempsey, center stage, had the crowd crazed for more, singing about rhythm itself so every soul on the floor could be swept up in the metaphor of the moment.

Truce’s zealous partner was one of a band of soldiers that had crashed the party an hour ago, but the regulars didn’t have the heart to throw them out. And the soldiers knew they didn’t belong, but on the eve of being shipped overseas they didn’t belong anywhere, really. Some of the gals didn’t hesitate to wrap themselves in the arms of a man in uniform, but Truce preferred to keep her distance from posers in pomp and pomade.

She resisted when the soldier pulled her into him a little too tight and a little too close. “Keep that up and I may just be the last girl you ever dance with.”

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled quietly, loosening his hold. “I’m sure you get a melodrama from every man in his monkey clothes asking you to dance.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Truce mumbled.

“Truce?” He smiled sadly, “I’d rather talk about you than me. How'd you get a name like yours?”

“With a name like mine,” she clenched her teeth as politely as possible, “that’s all anyone ever wants to talk about.” Truce had begun to feel queasy the longer this soldier looked at her with such a pair of sorry eyes. But perhaps it was more the stench of faithlessness about him, which he had attempted to hide through the application of far too much aftershave. She found the pungent spiced aroma only slightly more irksome than the prospect of sharing her origin story, once more, in the span of a song.

But the real trouble was that the extent of her story could fit into the span of a song. Chartreuse Evans was told her name came from a mother who was eccentrically French, though Maman had shortened the darned thing to “Truce” because it seemed like a fine thing to come between a man and a woman in a perpetual state of war. But that wasn’t enough to stop the fighting, and then good ol’ Pops went off and died in the real war, somewhere in a French foxhole. As a peacetime peace offering, Truce’s mother handed the girl off to her in-laws and returned to La République. This left Truce to grow up with the gradual realization that life was a series of questions without answers, a state of being that cultivated within her a desperate obsession to uncover something greater. As of yet, she had not uncovered it. But that brought her life up to the present moment, in the arms of another clammy soldier boy, at another Friday night send-off dance in the midst of another war.

“One more?” the soldier asked hopefully when their song came sliding to a halt.

“Isn’t it a little presumptuous to ask for two in a row?”

He sighed in resignation. “Is it?”

She was desperate to get away from this soldier, who kept looking at her with those hollow eyes that had already assumed tunnel vision towards a lightless other side. She searched the crowd for an escape and was saved by the band when The Dempsey Quintet announced they were taking five.

“Chartreuse!” the singer called, and Truce gladly met his gaze across the room. She sloughed off her soldier and marched towards the stairs at the side of the stage.

“Evening, Walter,” she called.

“Fashionably late to say hello.” He sighed theatrically, “I’ll admit I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

“Save your morbid romance,” Truce laughed, “I’m not leaving till tomorrow.”

He grinned. “I ought to write a song about you.”

“You’re getting sentimental.”

“I only love you ‘cause you could never love me back.”

“Only ‘cause I don’t have a heart. If I did, I could do worse than you.”

“That’ll carry me through a whole lotta tomorrows,” Walter beamed. But then he lowered his voice, “Them soldiers giving you any trouble?”

“No more than usual,” Truce muttered.

“They think they’re entitled to five minutes with a pretty girl because they might never see one again. Do you reckon they’re fools or heroes?”

“A bit of both, I should think,” Truce surveyed the murmuring crowd. “Anyone operating with good sense never gets remembered.”

Her eyes stopped scanning when her gaze caught sight of an unfamiliar silhouette. He was tall; even with hunched shoulders he still stuck out above the crowd. He looked uncomfortable and over-dressed in a tatty tweed suit, a wallflower exposed now that the room was still. Truce found her eyes drawn to his hands, which fumbled anxiously with something from his jacket pocket. He looked a bit as though he had stepped out of the previous century only to be scandalized by the present one.

“Who’s the scarecrow?” Truce asked.

“Old Ernie over there?” Walter chided, following her gaze, “that’s Allan’s cousin. Wouldn’t tease that one. He could never keep up with the likes of you.”

“Poor kid’s got a heart condition,” Allan, the drummer, added, stepping closer to their conversation. “Just came into town. He’s staying with me while he sees a doc up at Hopkins.”

Sensing eyes on him even from afar, the boy looked up, revealing a bespectacled and slightly forlorn gaze. He found Truce across the room, but quickly looked away. Truce, however, continued to stare. In that moment of eye contact, she had recognized a certain sort of loneliness, perhaps the worst there was, the kind that came with not belonging, and made a body feel even more alone for being in the middle of a crowd. In spite of her popularity on the dancefloor, Truce knew that feeling well.

“Poor kid,” Walter sighed. “Probably send him into cardiac arrest battin’ your lashes in his general direction.”

Truce grinned, “You saying I could kill a man that easily?”

“Not a man,” Allan clarified. “But a boy...”

“Best not look me in the eyes then fellas.” She left them to stride across the room. The band watched her walk away, shaking their heads.

“If his heart stops,” Allan chuckled, “at least I can tell his mama he died happy.”

Though the boy’s instinct was to look away once he saw Truce heading towards him, her eyes held him in place. From afar they appeared gray and cold, emphasized by thick mascaraed lashes. As she drew near, he could see that her eyes were much warmer, and flickered with a steely fire. She had seemed taller across the room, her posture rigid, her chin held high. But once she stopped in front of him, the boy could see she didn’t stand any higher than his shoulder. To address him, she lifted her eyes instead of lifting her chin, and parted a pair of bowed lips painted a devastating shade of red.

“I couldn’t help noticing you look a little disenchanted this evening,” she murmured, her voice a low, throaty purr.

“Consider me fully re-enchanted,” he murmured back, betraying the honeyed hint of a southern drawl. Her self-assurance was infectious; to have her attention made him suddenly feel giddy and important. He felt like the hero of a film noir picture, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca making eyes at Ingrid Bergman. He grinned a great, goofy Cheshire grin and drawled with a newfound swagger that inspired him to speak abstractly, “I was just starting to fear the sparkle had gone out of the world, but now I see I’ve found it again. My soul might be singing.”

“Sweetums,” Truce crooned, liking him instantly, “I’ve got three souls, and they all belong on the dancefloor.” She took one of his hands in hers to pull him towards the dancers, but he planted his heels. She paused, noticing the panic in his eyes, and offered a rare apology, “I’m sorry, was that too rash?”

“No, not at all!” the boy hurried to say. “It's just, I don’t dance.”

“Don’t? Or can’t?”

“Maybe a bit of both.” His gaze dropped. “I never learned very well how. I couldn’t. Doc says I have a weak heart. Probably ‘cause I give it away too easily.”

Fearing he’d been too bold, the boy kept his gaze lowered. If he looked this lady in the eyes now, he’d turn a shade nearly as red as her rouge. His left hand began to fumble for something in his pocket again, and up close Truce noticed it was a watch chain he’d been fidgeting with earlier. His fingers seemed to find comfort in twisting it. Truce’s grin only broadened at this sudden display of bashfulness. “Ernie, is it?”

He froze. “Ernest.”

"Aren’t you just.” She extended her hand diplomatically, “Chartreuse. But call me Truce like everyone else does. Ironical name in times like these, but no shame in holding on to hope, is there?”


Melissa Hope Sun, 16/07/2023 - 06:46

I love the premise! It reminds me of Last Night in Soho. Since Norah seems to be the main character here, I'd like to spend more time getting to know her before having the first flashback. Also, beware of head hopping. You have chosen to write this in the perspective of the woman, so we should never be able to know what another character feels or thinks; instead we can only make assumptions based on their expressions/dialogue. I'm curious to see where this story goes!

Maya Grimley Fri, 28/07/2023 - 04:24

Not only are Norah and Truce strong main characters, but the other characters are wonderfully detailed. The story you paint is beautifully vivid and intriguing. I was strongly drawn into this story and enjoyed the strong narrative.

Kenny MacKay Sun, 30/07/2023 - 01:37

The main character, Norah, is relatable, and the reader can sympathize with her feelings and experiences. Her internal struggles are well portrayed, adding depth to the story.

Jordan Kantey Sun, 06/08/2023 - 23:07

There is very good scene-setting, characterization and detail here, and good capturing of the look and feel of a swing dance event. It was effective how mystery built about small things such as the name Truce finally being revealed to be Chartreuse. The dialogue was rich with a sense of different minds colliding.