Short Story Competition 2: Fifth Round is Open for Voting

By Daniel Scocco

Sorry for the small delay on the fifth round. It was supposed to go live yesterday in the afternoon, but we had a small technical problem.

The competition is going pretty well though. On the fourth round we had close to 500 votes, and the winning story passed to the grand finale with just 13 votes over the second runner up. If you missed it, you can read the stories of the fourth round here (and also the third, second and first rounds).

Remember that the poll for each round remains open until the following Sunday (midnight).

1. Addiction by Soham Saha

Crash! The cup shatters to a million pieces as it hits the ground, slipping from my shivering fingers. I sigh. I knew that I had it coming – it was only a matter of time.

“Whahwazzat? Answer me you freaking son of a …” the manager screams from the next room.

I feel sorry for him. Running this orphan asylum is not an easy job. He rushes into the room as I pick up the broken pieces.

” Another one, that makes two this week you slimy, worthless piece of ..,” he shouts.

That’s not true. The other one was broken by someone else. But I figure it would not be a good idea to remind him that. He limps towards me, brandishing his cane, shouting,

“I’ll straighten you boy. I’ll whip the living daylights outta you, if that’s the last thing I do.” He grabs my hair and throws me at the foot of the dining table.

The other boys at work shiver and move away, still wiping the rest of the cups. I try to stand up. Poor guy, wish there was a way I could help him. My instincts try to take over. But I must restrain myself. I bite my lips to stop me from screaming, as the cane swishes down on my back. My cotton tee shirt was never much good at absorbing shocks. The next one cuts into my flesh. Then another, and another. After about ten whips of the cane he tires out, and returns to his couch, panting. I stagger upon my feet. The addiction tries to take over again. I feel my legs trembling. But I had promised to stop.

I return to my room. My sister’s there, waiting for me. She applies the ointment that she had stolen from the department store she works at.

“I cannot stop it Emma. It’s too much. I’m afraid I’ll break my promise,” I cry out.

She pulls out a pack of cigarettes from her pockets. I light one and breathe the smoke in. It feels soothing. I blow the smoke out the frameless window, the one we often use as our exit, so that the smell doesn’t build up. I don’t want to bother the old man.

“Did you bring the batteries?” I ask her. She nods. I plug the batteries into my small, portable radio. I turn the knob to find my favorite station.

The machine croaks:”Mysterious murder at the old asylum still unresolved after a month…” I turn the knob.”The vertebral column surrounds and protects the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves connecting the brain to the rest of the body. A section through the spinal cord reveals…” Emma turns to another station. “I wanna hear something classical.”

But I am not listening anymore. I close my eyes, and visualize the structure of bones surrounding the soft bundle of nerves… the human lifeline. My muscles tauten as I picture the following night. Suddenly, Emma jerks me off my dreams and stares at me.

“I know that expression. Whatever you’re thinking, stop it. Because of your stupid addiction, we cannot stay in one place for more’n a month. It’s only a matter of time before we’re caught,” she says.

I feel angry. I snatch the box of cigarettes and smoke them one after another. I feel relaxed.

“Give me your needle,” I ask her.

“What for?”

“The gramps tore off my tee shirt.”

As I sew, I listen to the old man cough as he strolls along the corridor. Poor guy.

The next morning I buy a pack of sleeping pills, and an anatomy chart with the money I stole from my sister’s savings. She is surprised when she sees the chart. “You planning to be a doctor?”She asks. I smile at her .That’s one way to put it. The smile worries her further. She asks for her needle, to sew her shirt. I don’t give it back. The shirt’s fine. The neat-freak.

In the afternoon, I get severely beaten up by the manager, as he finds the cigarette pack in our room. He says he’d throw me out the next day. That evening, I catch a fever. My sister is nowhere to be found. Her stuff has disappeared as well. But it doesn’t bother me. I trust her.

I slip two of the sleeping pills in the old man’s evening coffee. Waste naught. The town clock strikes twelve. The headache feels unbearable. I walk down the corridor to the old man’s room, the chart in my hand. The man is sleeping peacefully, smiling. It soothes me to see it. The coffee cup is empty. I turn him slowly to his side. I feel his bones at the back of his neck, and look at the chart. I take the needle and plunge it between two of his vertebra, deep into his spinal cord- once, twice, and thrice. Three drops of blood ooze out, which I wipe off with my finger. I check his pulse. It has stopped. The incisions are invisible. I slide him over his back again. The smile is still etched on his face. Finally, I feel happy for him. I have relieved him of his ailments. Like a doctor.

I go to my room and fall asleep. Next morning, a prick in my back wakes me up. It’s my sister.

“Time for us to disappear. “She whispers. I am not surprised. I trust her. We leave out the window, and disappear amidst the sea of pedestrians.

We walk across a few towns. I turn the radio on. It croaks,”… mysterious death of the manager of the orphan asylum in the town of… no sign on his body… “My sister turns the knob. “I wanna hear classical.” I notice something on her hand. The needle.

“You left this beside the man’s body. “She says.

“Must’ve dropped it. Headache.”I reply.

She sighs. I smile at her. The neat-freak. Holding hands, we walk towards the horizon.

2. I Really Didn’t by Nutwin van Wylick

“I really didn’t do it!’’, Alex screeched, but his
father gripped his wrist like a cobra’s neck. He dragged Alex across
the coarse, grey carpet while Alex struggled to get loose and hook on to
anything he could get a hold of: The foot of the couch, the radiator, the
edge of the doorway. Alex’s face was red, nervous and thumped like a
drum.

“Noo…please…I didn’t’’, Alex tussled though
his father continued stamping through the living room imperatively.
Alex’s mother followed the situation with her eyes while he was
hauled like a murder found guilty in court. She raised her thin, plucked
eyebrows which Alex translated to “Well, you shouldn’t have
done it, huh?’’

Alex breathed convulsively. It was similar to a tyre being pumped rapidly
but would stop abruptly, at times, so he could swallow. The mere thought
of Alex’s father unlocking the basement door was gruesome. The only
reason his father went down there was to teach Alex and Josef,
Alex’s older brother, strong values.

Josef paraded down the staircase but his lively step slowed down in
response to what was happening. He looked confused but not surprised. He
understood the effect but not the cause. All he saw was Alex’s legs
dragged like a dead body around the corner into the kitchen where the
basement door was.

Alex’s father searched for his keys in his trouser pocket
impatiently. The jingle jangle of coins and several keys frightened Alex.
Would he find it? Would he not? He couldn’t find the key. He
switched hands in gripping Alex’s wrist and then found it in his
back pocket. Alex’s mother walked in.

“Have you got the key?’’

“I’ve got it…set the table!’’

She walked back into the living room but on her way Josef asked her about
Alex and his father.

“Well, Alex needs to learn not to snatch money from your father when
he’s asleep….you know how hard he works! It’s day and night
with you two…unbelievable…go wash your hands before he takes you down
there’’

As she walked on to the living room Josef pretended to walk upstairs but
turned around as soon as she wasn’t to be seen. He tried to make
himself as light as possible and prevent the stairs from creaking.

Meanwhile, downstairs in the dusty basement, Alex’s father grabbed
Alex’s shoulders and pushed him against a wooden pillar in the
middle of the room and tied his hands around it with laces. Alex pleaded
for forgiveness and shouted for his mother.

“MAMAAAAA…….MAMAAAAA’’

His father ignored the screams. He casually walked and whistled towards
the steel sink and turned the rusty tap. He slid his hands back and forth
into the running water to see if it was hot enough. The sink was steaming
like a sauna so he grabbed a large coffee cup and filled it with the
fervid water. He turned around and faced Alex who was tearing, sweating
and breathing like he ran a marathon.

He started dipping his fingers in the cup and flicking it at Alex, who was
grinding his teeth, blinking and attempting to dodge the sprinkles of
water. He circled Alex slowly and stared at him like a zoo animal. Alex
followed him with his eyes as far as he could but once his back was faced
towards him he was defenceless. Once his father had almost strolled the
full circle back to Alex’s face he splashed the cup of water on
Alex’s cheek and neck. The sting of the water had Alex wailing and
pleading for forgiveness.

“AAAAAAAHH…AAAH…I’M SORRY….’’

Josef had approached the basement door as careful as possible and turned
the doorknob like a cap of a shook up fizzy drink. He pressed his hand
against the door while pulling it towards him thinking it would make less
noise. He peaked down the stairs anxiously witnessing the brutality. Here
it came, a fixed hand swung fiercely at the back of Josef’s head.
His mother opened the basement door and lead Josef down there to join his
brother.

“Nooo…I just…I came to tell father that Alex stole my money
too…’’

3. To Save a Soul by Kelli Polsinelli

I believe at some point between conception and being born into this forsaken world, a divine energy if you will, looks down upon us and decides if we’re going to be a hero or a monster. I also believe that during the course of your life, destiny is dangled in front of you, revealing who you will be . It may happen after being humiliated in front of your peers because the offices pretty boy got the promotion you worked years for. Or possibility when your girlfriend or boyfriend (we don’t want to be stereotypical here) tells you that she is screwing someone else, and maybe it just so happens to be that pretty boy from the office. The women you spent all your pay checks on, stands before you smirking, looking so pretentious after trashing your life. Swallowing back your rage you notice a long knife within reach, that’s when your destiny becomes clear. Taking the knife and stabbing some common sense into her seems like a reasonable response to what the little bitch did. Choosing to do it or not has already been decided for you, you‘re path has been set. But, what if we fought our destiny, could we change our path?

Jack is a man who is trapped in between the forces of good and evil. The life he has led is one of sentencing others to a gruesome death. He was born to be a killer, fantasizing about the torture he could inflict on the school bullies long before the hunts began. His first slaying was planned with great ease, and he thrilled in the capture and the kill. His hunger grew quickly for more blood, nights soon became a frenzy of luring young women to their death. He felt in control of his life, he had everything he could want, that is until these voices offering a higher purpose, pretty much put an end to his psychotic games.

Lying on a musty smelling bed in a cheap hotel, Jack starred at the yellowed ceiling. He killed today and the erotic torture of those whores made him hard, but his mind betrayed him. In it where haunting voices, telling him to do things that he could no longer resist. He fought to silence there beleaguering cries, but it was clear, he was to sacrifice his life to save his imminent victims, breaking the sentencing of souls to an evil existence. There is no good in Jack, but let’s hope his path can be changed, the future of man kind depends on it.

Jack took a long satisfying drawl of his smoke, and made his way to the small washroom to take a leak. A glance revealed the long silver blade of his hunting knife positioned on an old chipped and faded wooden dresser.

“My life or theirs?” He mumbled to no one.

Seemingly unaware, he removed the knife off the dresser and returned to the bed, there he sat starring blankly at the razor-sharp blade. How many times had he felt it plunge into his prey, there’s no sorrow for what he had made others suffer.

“My life or theirs?” The voices repeated ruthlessly, his clenched fists hammered against his head, trying to put an end to his agony.

When Jack’s crimes are discovered, he will be regarded as one of the worst serial killers in the history of mankind. The number of his victims is immeasurable, and once the torturous details of what the young girls endured by his hands is revealed, it will leave their families with a life of never ending nightmares. A sacrifice has to be made to free innocent souls from a life of evil, why not ask this from the one person who cares only of the pleasure received from the blood and screams of his victims.

“My life or theirs?” Jack aimed the knife to his heart.

“You will never change me!” his shouts echoed through the room as he looked to the heavens.

The blade came down hard travelling deep into his chest. He lay backwards on the bed , waiting. There was no feeling of goodness that came upon him, no peaceful forgiveness, only an absence of pain. Jack would be spared what his victims suffered, but that would be all, he deserved no more.

A presence could be felt descending into the room, darkness began its journey engulfing his body as the life began draining from it.

The sky appeared to open through the ceiling above him, showing a radiant light that drifted slowly overtaking the darkness.

“My life or there’s?” he sang coarsely, impatient for his reward.

“What the fuck are you waiting for, I did what you wanted!” Jack held out his arms towards the light, a feeling of agonizing heat caused him to draw them back to his bloodied chest.

A silhouette appeared before him conveying a penetrating evil, pushing the light that was illuminating over him back to which it came.

An excruciating pain took over Jack’s body for the first time since the knife entered his chest. A battle was being wedged for a soul that cared nothing for the two rivals. The room grew hot, his body felt as if it was burning in the fires of hell. A thunderous scream echoed throughout the room and beyond, then all fell silent.

Heaven didn’t take his soul nor did he plummet into the inferno’s of hell. Jack lay on the bed basted in sweat, gasping for air. His once dissected chest showed no sign of the gapping hole that he had inflicted.

The voices no longer tormented him, rather, the room was quiet and Jack welcomed the peaceful presence of nothingness. He rose from the bed as if woken from a long sleep, then departed the motel without a look back. He shook his head trying to recall what it was he was missing, then soon forgot he was trying to remember. With the wind blowing as if it was pushing away some distant worries, Jack welcomed the coolness of the breeze listening to the hushed voices leading his way.

4. Like Clockword by Mike Job

As she subsided gratefully onto the single, wobbly stool, Miss Dugworth appeared, thicker left lens disconcertingly magnifying one pale, colorless eye, moustache bristling above thin, bloodless lips,

“Barbara? Surely you cannot be too exhausted………… many things undone in this department……. the usual film of dust…perhaps you could …….?” And she was gone, faint lavender hanging in her sterile, soundless wake.

Barbara bent to a fallen rag-toy and settled it back on its shelf, gently, as though arranging the comfort of a child. It smirked over her shoulder at nothing in particular.

Her pulse accelerated and one hand went to her hair. He was back. Just standing there, watching her, turning a stuffed rabbit in his hands.

As beautiful as she remembered him, electrifying in that cluttered space.

Flushed, she turned to her cash desk, afraid to glance up at the small mirror for fear of what she would see. Pale skin crimson to the ears, stray wisps of hair doubtless across one cheek.

Since that breathless day last week, she’d wondered if he’d come back. As if on cue, the lunchtime crowd had vanished, and in that place of children’s dreams, he’d appeared silently among the shelves, holding up toys, turning them this way and that.

“ May I help you?” she’d asked, conscious that he was looking at her name badge. His eyes were the green of shattered glass, in a face of such perfection that she could only stare. His quiet voice was husky and touched her spine like a warm hand. As she’d sometimes imagined a warm hand would feel.

“ Just looking. You have a wide range here.”

“Yes. Well… we’ll have more next week.” She nodded solemnly. “Is there something you particularly want?”

“I think I’ve found it. I love toys. There’s something rather sad about some of these, don’t you think? ” His green gaze was strangely anxious and vulnerable.

“Sad? ..well….they give a lot of happiness to children.” He’d moved down the shelves and she’d followed. His straight, fair hair was long, immaculately styled – like his clothes.

He had turned those incredible eyes on her again and smiled. Showing teeth as predictably perfect as the rest of him.

“Do you love toys?” His perfect brows knitted, anxious again.

“ Of course, I adore …. any toy. Else I wouldn’t be working here, would I?” She hoped it didn’t sound dismissive
He looked pleased. “No……. I suppose not.” Then the flaxen head had turned away to another display.

Now, hands clasped and lost in her contemplation of him, she was slow to absorb his question.

“Would you have dinner with me?” He was still at last, green eyes hopeful. Fearful of a refusal. From this plain, mousey girl, whose flush was spreading, fast and hot, as realization dawned.

“Aaah well….I…” she managed in a strange, light voice she hardly recognized.
“That would be very nice…..I mean….you – I don’t … really, I mean…”and there her voice deserted her, along with all reason. Because he smiled again and the corners of his perfect eyes crinkled in pleasure.

“I’m so sorry ! I’m Ken. Good – thank you for accepting. Where …….?”
“Aah well, I ..ah” came out before her address and a wish that it was somewhere more up-market. But his emerald eyes creased again and that low voice whispered a goodbye before he turned silently and left.

When her doorbell rang, she’d been ready for twenty minutes, but paused at the hall- mirror to pat away imaginary stray hair and inspect her makeup.

Standing there, his smile dismissed any doubts, radiating across the flowers he held and flowing down her body like sunlight on naked skin.

“ Ready, Barbara?” as though it was conceivable that she might not be.

The dinner was good, although she hardly tasted it. The wine made her light and found things for her to say. So this was what it was like, she thought. Sharing food and wine and topics of interest with someone.

How soon it seemed that they were standing outside the little restaurant he’d chosen. He helped her with her coat. She straightened his tie and he caught her hands , drew her to him and kissed her urgently. Arms linked, they walked silently back to her flat, and she knew with surprising calm that he was going to spend the night. This magical evening could end no other way.

It was an unspoken thing – that they would not turn on the lights. Streetlights cast their two shadows, huge across one wall. Detached at first, she watched the silhouettes undressing each other, touching and caressing and kissing. It seemed less intimate than what they were doing. When they sank back and the shadows disappeared, she closed her eyes and gave in to her body.

He was gentle – considerate, and yet against her growing enjoyment, she was aware that he was slowing. He must have tired himself in his efforts to please her. She kissed him and whispered ,
“It’s all right. Rest a while. There’s no need…….” After a moment, he rolled away, clearly exhausted, but hardly breathing. Propped on an elbow, she stroked his hair.

“….why is it so difficult Barbie ?” he murmured wearily “ I wanted it to be good – like …… those people. How do they manage…? There’s a key………it’s” …
Awkwardly, she folded her arms around him, in her inexperience helpless to comfort him – to give him strength. Compared to his maleness at the outset of this, he now seemed so childlike.

Faintly, he murmured, almost asleep in her arms “In…..my jacket……please fetch it….”

“Hush Ken,….it doesn’t matter….we don’t need anything – just us….” She hugged him to her breasts and kneaded at the taut muscles of his back.

So it was that she found the square metal plate between his shoulder blades with its little round opening.

And screamed and screamed and screamed while he lay there motionless, staring at the ceiling with those perfect, green glass eyes.

5. Room for One More by Amanda Charleston

I had always noticed the sky. I noticed the birds. I noticed the people around me. But ever since the day of March 23, I didn’t just notice the sky. I noticed the clouds and the sun and the beautiful colors. I didn’t just the notice the birds. I noticed the bond they shared between each other. The way they worked with each other so well. And I didn’t just notice the people around me. Instead, I noticed what they were holding back. I finally got to discover what life really meant, but by that time, life wasn’t at its peak for me. March 23 was the day I found out I had terminal cancer.

I remember the drive there. I remember the solemn expression on the doctors face as he broke out the news that I had brain cancer, and most of all, I remember my mom’s broken heart. I was only 17, a senior in high school, and in that moment, my whole life flashed before my eyes. I decided not to tell all my friends yet. I wanted to wait until I was ready. After all, I was still shocked.

I was scared, just like everyone else who knew. I had only one question. My mom’s bedroom door was cracked and I saw her light was still on. I went in and looked at her, reading her book. “Is there room for one more?” She looked up at me and smiled, patting the seat next to her. I hopped up onto the bed and laid my head down on her chest. I closed my eyes, listening to the rhythm of her heartbeat. She stroked my hair but kept her eyes on her book. I looked up at her. “Mom?” I said gently. She looked down at me and smiled. “Yeah baby?” I hesitated. “Am I going to die?” I saw her eyes searching for an answer. Then out of nowhere, I saw a flash of anger. “Why would you ask such a question?” Her frown brought upon tears. I lifted my head up and put it on her shoulder. “Mom I need to know, please.” I still spoke softly. I heard her take a deep breath. “Unless there’s some sort of miracle, I…” She stopped for a moment. Then I heard a crack in her voice. “It’s not fair Kaylee,” she said through sobs. “A parent isn’t supposed to bury her child.” I leaned up and hugged her. I held her and closed my eyes, with tears dripping down. “Its ok mom, it’s alright.”

I decided to call up and old best friend. We hadn’t spoken for about 7 months. I didn’t care if she was angry with me or not, I thought she had a right to know. “Hi Kaylee, how are you?” She seemed happy to hear my voice. “I’m good, but um, there’s something I need to tell you.” In one breath I explained everything. Then I heard her whisper. “No.” She didn’t believe me. “It’s impossible, you’re too young! You’re a liar!” I told her that if she wanted to talk, I would be at the park. She hung up on me. I sighed. I went to the park and laid down in the grass and let the wind take away my thoughts. I looked up at the beautiful sky. When did everything get so beautiful? All the sudden, I heard footsteps behind me. I jerked my head back to see who it was. Heather was standing there. I smiled. “There’s room for one more.” I patted the spot next to me. She sat down and looked at me, and for the first time in my life, I saw Heather cry. I just put my arm around her. “It’s ok. It’s going to be alright.”

The next couple of weeks I was forced to stay in the hospital bed that was in my room. One day, a visitor came with flowers. I opened my eyes to see that it was Ryan, an old friend of mine. We had always liked each other throughout high school. “Hi Kaylee.” He spoke in soft words. “Listen, I’m sorry I never asked you out. I was just afraid….I.” I cut him off. “Ryan it’s ok.” I didn’t want apologies. I smiled at him and I saw tears in his eyes. I patted the little area beside me on the bed. “There’s room for one more.” He looked confused, then smiled and climbed up next to me. He held me close and whispered in my ear, “I love you.”

I knew what was coming, and I wasn’t afraid anymore. I had talked to everyone I wanted to talk to. I even talked to some enemies of mine, who weren’t enemies anymore. I started to learn to look at life different, with a more positive perspective. I smiled when people cried, I cried when people talked, I talked when people listened, and I listened to all the broken hearts. I knew, if I got the chance to live again, I would have done things different. I woke up one morning to hear many familiar voices around me. I could only make out Ryan, Heather, and my mom’s voice. I heard someone say, “She doesn’t have much longer, say your goodbyes.” I heard people crying, some praying, and others talking to me. I smiled. What were they so sad about? I imagined a garden full of roses, a sky full of pure blue. The voices became more distant. I smiled once more. It was so peaceful. In my heart I knew that there was always room for one more person, and even though life might not be forever, love always exists. I felt warm and I opened my eyes. A beautiful light shone through the sky and onto me. Maybe this was goodbye, but I knew it would open the door for many more hellos. At that moment, I was home.

6. Merry New Month by Urvashi Rustomfram

Annie stepped out into the crisp night air, her hands laden with shopping bags. She hummed under her breath, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light…

“Now this is what I call shopping Nirvana! Sales, sales everywhere and not a minute to lose! Now, all I need is a taxi to take me home.”

“Goddamn it!” Annie muttered to herself as yet another taxi sped by her, almost swiping at her out-stretched arm. She checked her watch for the nth time. It was 9:15 PM now. She had been trying to flag down a taxi for the past 30 minutes. The ones that stopped refused to take her home, most sped past without stopping.

Aninda Rao, a.k.a. Annie, sighed with frustration each time a taxi went past her. She lowered her arm after a while and stood at the side of the road, gazing absently at the traffic moving past her.

It took her a few seconds to realize that a taxi had stopped before her and the driver was asking her where she wanted to go. She gave him the address listlessly. The driver jerked his head to indicate to her to get into the car. She stared at him for a while. He had not shaken his head regretfully and sped off like the others. She hopped in quickly.

Annie burst into tears as soon as she leant back against the seat. She quickly wiped them away, but the tears kept sliding down her cheeks silently. For once, she was thankful about the badly lit roads, because she did not want the driver or passers-by to see her crying.

She smiled sadly at the thought: “Even if someone saw me crying, why would they care?”

Annie looked out the window. “God! I hate this traffic, I hate these taxi guys, I hate these exhaust fumes, I hate my boss, I hate my job, I hate my ex-boyfriend… I HATE my life! How can it be so depressing? How did I turn out to be so pathetic? Life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this!”

What was life supposed to be like, she wondered. She had had a blueprint for the perfect life: by the time she hit her mid-twenties she would have a beautifully decorated apartment, a stimulating job, a steady, loyal, funny boyfriend. Or maybe she would have gotten married by now.

So what had she achieved until now?

“A well paying, if boring, job; a decent enough apartment; good bunch of friends to hang out with… Correction! Friends who hardly ever have enough time to spend with me anymore.

“Yup! It’s a wonderful life, alright!” Annie burst into fresh tears. The taxi driver seemed to gaze into the rear view mirror for a second.

“Get a hold of yourself! You can’t sit in a taxi and bawl like a little baby! You are a 25 year-old woman! You are a 25-year-old career woman, who makes enough to afford a one-room apartment plus additional luxuries.”

Annie smiled to herself, “Yup! Luxuries like clothes and shoes and bags and more shoes! And jewelry! I must buy those earrings that I had seen at Accessorize before someone else gets her greedy paws on them.” She grinned to herself, pleased that she had stopped wailing about her life.

The taxi stopped at a signal and she glanced out of the window and caught sight of the twinkling display windows of a departmental store. The windows bore a frosty appearance, big white snowflakes adorning them, as though it were snowing outside. Annie snorted, “Snowfall in Bombay! Ha!”

She saw the mannequins in the window – a man, woman and two children – placed around a cardboard snowman.

Tears welled up in her eyes again. “What’s the use of buying clothes or jewelry? There’s no one to appreciate them. Twenty-five and still single! Oh my God! Will I ever find the right guy? Will I ever even get married? At the very least, engaged… What difference does it make if I can afford all these things? I’m happy for a while, and then what? Money truly cannot buy happiness…

“Oh my God! Did I just say that? When did I become such a drama queen? I have watched one too many Hindi movies! Money truly cannot buy happiness? I must be losing my marbles! This is sad! Twenty-five and insane!”

Annie started giggling. She tried to suppress her giggles, but the line “Money truly cannot buy happiness” kept flashing in her mind. She let out a high-pitched giggle and the taxi driver turned around sharply to look at her.

“Is something the matter, madam?” He asked.

“No, no, nothing. Please look forward and drive.”

She continued giggling, stuffing the ends of her stole into her mouth to stifle them.

The taxi had now stopped at another signal, close by a beach. She saw a couple of children crossing the road. Two women, perhaps their mothers, were walking behind them.

A lone tear slid down Annie’s cheek. She groaned internally, “Not again! I hate this time of the month! Goddamn PMS!”

7. Orange Bubble Power by Violet Toler

I love to write. I hate housework. However, some mundane chores just won’t wait. One look at the bathroom sink caused me to grab my trusty Orange Bubble Power Wipes dispenser. Too bad those cute little scrubbing bubbles from the commercial aren’t real. I’d love to let them do the job while I compose the next NY Times best seller.

Might as well get it over, I thought, as I hurriedly opened the lid and snatched at the wipe. The tip tore off in my hand. Irritated, I pulled on the stub more forcefully this time. It ripped again. Grabbing the last smidgen that barely peeked through the slit, I yanked hard. Out came the rest of the wipe–unattached from the rest of the roll.

The second wipe should have fed through the X-shaped cut in the plastic top. It didn’t. Impatiently I jerked the lid off to feed the darn wipe through from the underside. The orange lid was stiff and unyielding.

“I don’t have time for this!” I grumbled. Accentuating my words with action, I vigorously crammed the wipe out the other side. That’s when my troubles began.

One-half inch of my index finger now protruded through the hole with half a wipe. A stream of Orange Bubble Power Wipes drooped between my hand and the open container on the hamper.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get free. I tugged and the blasted lid worked like Chinese handcuffs. The harder I pulled, the tighter it stuck. I twisted and turned, but remained trapped. Every movement sucked my fingertip in tighter still. Within minutes, sharp V-shaped points were digging into my flesh cutting off circulation.

How humiliating. This situation was far beneath my dignity. After all, I was a professional woman. I couldn’t allow anyone to see me like this, especially Stephen, my proper gentleman husband.

I was determined to solve this problem by myself in privacy. God knows I tried. I lathered my finger with soap. I pried. I twisted. I pulled. Nothing helped.

Oh, gosh durn, I thought, this hideous contraption is going to eat me alive! Orange Bubble Power indeed! I wondered if my finger was only an appetizer for this plastic vampire. It appeared voracious. Panicked, I swallowed my pride and called for help.

My urgent tone brought Stephen down the stairs two at a time. He burst through the bathroom door, out of breath. When I saw his concerned expression, I regretted frightening him. However, as he surveyed the situation, worry fell off his face so fast, I swear I heard it hit the floor.

His dignified manner disappeared as his lips twitched, then his whole face rippled as he broke into laughter. This was no mere grin or snicker, but was a total knee-slapping belly laugh. I stood there, annoyed, humiliated, and in pain. He finally regained his composure, held my finger tight, and tried to unscrew the lid, so to speak. His plan went awry. So did my usually mild demeanor as I told him what I thought of his attempt.

He poured half a bottle of liquid soap and some cooking oil over my finger. It added goop to the mess, but didn’t penetrate the orange grip of death. Imagining the worst, it dawned on me that my finger could die without blood. For all I knew, I could be facing amputation!

Panicked, I ran through the house for my sewing shears. Ten feet of Bubble Power Wipes streamed behind like crepe paper from a Main Street parade. The empty container rolled onto the floor with a thump. With my left hand, I grabbed the scissors and tried to cut myself free. No luck. Stephen took over, but my scissors couldn’t grip the slimy lid. We tried again after rinsing, but the rigid material was unrelenting. So was the pain!

Stephen headed for his basement workshop for tin snips leaving me helpless and alone for what seemed an eternity. By this point, I was ready to stoop to just about anything. I seriously considered dialing 911 with my good hand, all the while picturing the Jaws-of-Life rushing to my rescue.

Stephen finally returned. I wailed shamelessly as he snipped at the blasted lid. Jagged points bit deeper with every clip. After several distressing snips, he pried the plastic apart and set me free. My poor finger had four pointed indentations that resembled tooth marks and a bloodlessly white tip. Other than that, I had escaped the Orange demon.

My hero tried to manage a straight face. “What on God’s green earth were you trying to do?”

“Believe me,” I pronounced grimly, “Those Scrubbing Bubbles may look cute on TV, singing their little high-pitched song, but don’t let them fool you. Those sweet grins hide sharp, powerful, orange teeth that are just waiting to attack! Lucky for me, you were here. They would have done their dirty deed, wiped up the mess, and you’d have never known what became of me.”

He left the room muttering something about finding a support group for husbands of imaginative writers. Me? I headed for the computer to write this story one-handed.

8. The Rocker and the Princess by Bob Phillips

Steve Knight cruised down Route 50, the home stretch towards Ocean City. The fall air, the changing leaves, along with the expectation of the ocean and salt air played with Steve’s senses. Hitting the seek and scan buttons on the radio he searched for the tunes to match his spirit.

Steve had been nine months on the road touring with an upstart rock band. They opened for the band Cypress. As the opening act the band did it all, laid cables, set speakers, sound checks and lights. Once their session was over, they played behind the curtain to back up Cypress and send the place rock’n. Sponsored by VR Gaming and its’ hot selling program “VR Rock Star” the tour was a commercial success.

Steve worked hard to make his way in the rock world. Not by hard partying, but by writing and rewriting music and lyrics, learning new instruments, equipment, production techniques and contacting sponsors.

Steve became reflective during his drive realizing he would turn 29 next week. One year till 30. Steve pushed the buttons, seek and scan; rock, country, hip – hop and oldies. Nothing struck a chord. He pushed the CD and Cypress fill the air. Steve envisioned crossing the bay bridge into old town, turning left, motoring up several blocks, there on the right; 5th floor ocean front on the boardwalk, “Hello rest and relaxation.”

The elevator door opens and Steve steps out. In the elevator foyer he meets a spirited five year old full of songs and questions.

“Where’s your room ? My room is that way.”

“What’s your name ? My name is Ella.”

“I’m here for a whole week. How long are you here ?”

“I’m going to pool.” Are you coming ?”

Just as Ella parents round the corner Ella declares, “I’ll push the elevator button !”

Ella’s parents smile and politely apologize for their daughters excitable nature and 101 questions. Steve smiles and responds “She’s adorable, maybe I’ll have one like her someday.”

Bob Phillips PHI1011

Throughout the next several days Steve and Ella have numerous rendezvous. With her curly light brown hair and irresistible smile; she teases him to join her in the children’s activity pool. He joins in. Making a big splash, he jumps in to save her from grip of the treacherous whirlpool. The knight saves the princess.

Wednesday afternoon brought warm sunshine with temperatures in the low 80’s. The previous days were gray with rough surf and rip currents as Tropical Storm Marcella moved north just off the coast. The bright sun called many sun worshipers out onto the beach. Among them both Ella and Steve.

The surf was still plenty rambunctious, waves still higher than usual and rolling in with an up beat rhythm. Ella and her father jumped waves at the ocean’s edge. Ella’s father could feel the current working at his feet and pulling he and Ella several feet out each time. Playfully they moved back towards the shore. Mom cautiously watches. As the play turns routine, she lays back on the blanket to soak up some rays.

Steve gallops out of the crashing waves and onto the beach. Straight to his beach chair he dries off and put on his sunglasses. Looking out over the ocean Steve thinks the surf is strong but invigorating.

Suddenly, a piercing scream cuts above the thundering waves. Steve recognizes it at once, “Ella”. Steve is already up and taken three steps when he comprehends the situation. A rogue wave has crashed onto Ella and her father. Ella’s father was violently thrown headfirst to the bottom and spewed down the beach. Ella is in the throws of the powerful rip current. The channeled current pulled her away from the shore, through the surf zone, and past the line of breaking waves.

Steve caught a glimpse of Ella’s mom racing to the shore as he hits the water. The current immediately catches him and sweeps him out behind her. She tries to scream as the current pulls her under. She tumbles over. Steve swims with the current and reaches the spot were he’d seen her last. Diving under he can see nothing more than rushing water and sand.

Up, gasping for air.

Back down.

Reaching into the whirl of sand and water he grabs hold of a limb, a leg ! Steve holds tight and secures Ella in his arms and tries to surface. Steve
Bob Phillips PHI1011

manages to lift Ella above the water, though he struggles to break the plain for himself. Steve can feel the guidance of a hand, moving them to the side. Breaking free from the pull of the rip current.

The wave runners arrive to find Ella on top of Steve with his arm securely under hers, both floating on their backs. Exhausted each struggle to open their eyes.

“Easy guys, your ok, we’re going to take you back on shore,” explains lifeguard.

Walking out of Bayview Health Center Ella, Steve and her parents are counting their blessings and recounting the events. Ella’s father wearing a neck brace.

Steve notes, “I felt a hand grab my arm and pull us from the current.”

Ella’s mother speaks up, “I was watching the whole time, no one was near you. The lifeguards did not reach you for another couple of minutes after you broke free.”

Without missing a beat Ella began singing “the knight saved the princess from the evil wave, the knight saved the princess from the evil wave.”

The road sign reads Route 50 west, Annapolis, Washington DC. Steve shifts into fifth gear and pushes the seek and scan button on the radio.

(Announcer) Delirious, Deeper…I want to go deeper
But I don’t know how to swim
I want to be meeker
But have you seen this old earth ?
I want to fly higher
But these arms won’t take me there
I want to be, I want to be

Steve’s cruising a new direction.

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25 Responses to “Short Story Competition 2: Fifth Round is Open for Voting”

  • T. Grillo

    Another good round of stories!

    A couple of gruesome tales, and Like Clockwork is quite creepy. My vote goes to the hilarious Orange Bubble Power. (I think we and our partners can all relate!)

  • Kharma

    “Addiction” was great but seemed rushed at the end. I liked “Like Clockwork” but it reminded me of a short film from a reality tv competition. I voted for “Orange Bubble Power”, very well written, very funny and a great topic for a short story!

  • Nancy J. Nottingham

    ~~~ #7 ~~~

    Wow did I ever enjoy #7. I was laughing as I read the descriptions of the orange lid as a plastic vampire and having the grip of death. When I read, “……worry fell off his face so fast, I swear I heard it hit the floor” I was brought back to those fantastic Looney Tunes cartoons of the 40’s that entertained everyone with literal expressions. Thanks for a wonderfully entertaining story with vivid descriptions. It was a real treat! You have my vote!

  • somebody’s daughter

    HAHAHAHAHA

    I almost Pee’d my pants laughing so hard at “Orange Bubble Power”. Can you just picture your mother in that position?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    GOT MY VOTE! Hands down! (No pun intended, well maybe it was)

    HAHAHAHA can’t stop laughing.

  • Mary Ann

    It does appear to be another great round. I haven’t finished reading all of the stories; I’ll make further comments soon.

  • Gurke

    “Orange Bubble Power” is my favorite in this round. Those were fantastic word pictures. I love that you wrote an entire story about a cleaning product. Very funny!

  • Amanda Charleston

    Too bad i was informed of this contest a little on the late side. I wanted to write something a little better, but the Orange Bubble Power was a very funny story and very well written. All the stories are great in fact. This is an exciting competition and i cant wait to see the rest.

  • Teddy-the-Bear

    “Orange Bubble Power” is great, but I voted for “Like Clockwork”. Awesome twist at the end. Is it me, or does anybody else notice that the title is spelled “Like Clockword”?

  • Easton Miller

    Orange Bubble Power suggested this is what “short story writing” is all about. I’m glad to see that is, so far, being reflected in the vote tally.
    I’m also delighted to see the response to a story that isn’t so filled with ugliness. Violet, you renewed my faith in storytelling in the small and the positive. Thank you.

  • Kelli

    Life is unfortunately full of ugliness. These stories must be written as well. How else do we come to terms with such a violent world. Personally my story is based on a event that tore my apart body, mind and soul. We write what we feel.
    To be a good writer we must appreciate and respect someone’s willingness to put themselves out there to be judged.

  • Mary Ann

    Yepper… the good, the bad and the ugly stories must be told. I appreciate everybody who shared a story; however, I enjoyed “addiction” the best. Good luck to all of you.

  • gurke

    Kelli – I agree that we live in a dark and violent world… it pains my heart that you would have to go through something that would produce the story you’ve written. And I agree that it is a big risk to put yourself out there to be judged… to pour your heart out on paper for the critical eye of others… thank you for trusting us with your story.

    I want to piggy-back on your opinion of a good writer… I also think a good writer is one who can spin a story from something typically mundane. That is why I enjoyed “Orange Bubble Power” so much. Toler made a household cleanser come alive with the written word and I could not stop laughing. I will never look at my basket of household cleansers the same.

  • Easton Miller

    Kelli,
    You are absolutely correct. Violence and ugliness are better addressed when they see the light of day. You are very brave to take your talent and share an experience in such a creative way. Certainly Flannery O’Conner’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is considered one of the better short stories written in this century and it is far from pretty. What I should have said is, I am sad so many of the stories in this contest so far, fall on the side of darkness. The preponderance of such may only reflect our troubled times and nothing more.

  • Jeanette Cheezum

    We apprecaite all the hard work each person put into their stories.
    good luck to everyone. 🙂

  • T. Grillo

    I am thrilled to be a part of this group of writers and readers who are responding to the stories. I appreciate all of the feedback and encouragement.
    Thank you to everyone and especially to Maeve and Daniel for giving us the opportunity to share our writing.
    Write on, everybody!

  • Nutwin

    What’s wrong with story number 2? Any feedback would help.

  • Anna Ellliott

    Nutwin, Your story accurately describes many families, where the anger of one person controls the entire household. You did a good job of showing father’s anger, mother’s denial and children’s fear. Self-preservation clearly motivates the mother and sons. Instead of telling, “The husband was angry and the wife and children were afraid,” you described their emotions through the actions and words of your characters. This is an excellent story-telling technique – showing emotion, rather than telling about it.

    Minor punctuation and grammar errors are all I can find wrong. Keep writing. You will do fine.

  • what’s wrong

    What is wrong with story number 2? It is child abuse and the people should be in prison. If I had their address I would turn then in to Children and Family Services. The story made me believe that people think this is ok. IT IS NOT!!!! It is not just about how well written the story is, it is the story too. I was feeling rage toward the parents at the end. There should have been the police coming down the stairs to save the child in the end.

  • Jeanette Cheezum

    Nutwin, I found your story very interesting.

  • Kelli

    Nutwin, if I may critique your story with just my own thoughts.

    I thought your description of Alex being brought downstairs for his punishment was very real.
    After Alex was tide to the wooden pillar, and the story ended with Joseph coming down, I wanted the story to continue to find out what happened.

    I really think there are less people who enjoy reading stories that question humanity. I wouldn’t let the votes here question you’re story writing abilities.

  • Violet

    I have enjoyed being a part of this contest and appreciate all the encouragement. It means a lot ot me. I was nervous about entering.

    The variety and different viewpoints make this a much more interesting contest than if we all had to write in the same genre. I like to see the world through different character’s eyes. I’ve loved reading everyone’s work and look forward to the next batches.

    Thanks for offering this contest, Daniel.

  • Nutwin

    Thank you Keli, I appreciate your critique. So I should have continued the story then because you felt it was unfinished or because I left the ending open?

  • Allen Smithy

    A writing contest. One thousand words. It’s on a website. I guess that still counts. I’m sure I’ve got something around here less than a thousand words.

    Pink Anvil Weakness. Written two years ago as an exercise. Yes. That seems like it might do. Probably some of my best work. I’m certainly capable of tip tapping out my best work at any moment. Let’s submit it. Who cares what happens?

    The stories have been going up for weeks. People are angry, in the comments, about marketing for votes. I see what they’re doing wrong….

    My story! Round five! Finally! I’ve been checking every week. Now that I’ve read it, though, it isn’t very good. The others aren’t very good at all, but it seems a shame to waste my story. I don’t think any of the others really deserve to win. They snoop around here though. Try to ferret out if you’ve petitioned votes. I’ll have to be quiet about this. Perhaps just a small e-mail to the Union County Writers Group. Just to let them know I’m in a competition, story number seven, called ‘Pink Anvil Weakness’, voting enabled at the bottom of the page. Please read them all, but remember to vote for me.

    My goodness! Look at my story go! Ten times as many votes as any of the others. The comments praise the hilarity. It’s obvious. I’m the best writer here. And I’ll tell all my friends to look at how well I’ve done. Everyone will be quite impressed — a little jealous perhaps — but they have to admit my stories win.

    I’m not looking back now. I can’t bear to.

  • Kelli

    Hi Nutwin

    I like the way you wrote the story and wouldn’t change anything. It has been left open to continue if you so chose. Stories that leave you hanging are great stories because they leave you wanting to know more.
    I wish I could be better at explaining what I mean. The best I can describe it is, in stories that have a child being the victim, you want the abuser to get worse in return. It’s not about the story lacking anything it’s more that it creates questions such as “how could a mother consent to her child being abused?” You have left what his fate was up to our imaginations, there’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Linda

    loved the Orange power story- the word pics are wonderful!
    I could identify- I have caught my finger in those lids but always got them out.

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