Short Story Competition 2: Seventh Round is Open for Voting

By Daniel Scocco

Welcome to the seventh round of the second Short Story Competition. Apparently we are going to have a total of 12 rounds. Whew, that is three months qualifying stories to the grand finale!

The poll is going to remain open until the midnight of the upcoming Sunday. If you are an RSS or email subscriber, you might need to visit the website (by clicking on the title of this post) to see the poll widget.

Good luck to all the writers!

1. Happily Ever After by Ben Wall

“Jimmy, where are you goin’?”

“I’m goin,’ Darla. I’m leavin’ for Tallahassee.”

“You’re makin’ the run? You can’t do it, Jimmy! You promised me!”

“I gotta do it, Darla. If I don’t, we’ll lose the house. Then we’ll be livin’ in the van, and eventually, we probably won’t even have the van anymore.”

“But what about the law, Jimmy? If you get caught, you’ll go to prison. Didn’t you listen to the judge? He said if he ever catches you truckin’ again, he’ll lock you up for a minimum of two years without any chance…”

“I heard what the goddamn Judge said, Darla! And I don’t care!”

“You don’t care? What about me, Jimmy? I’ll lose you!”

“I’ll be back, Baby. Don’t you worry about that. At least I’ll be able to sleep peacefully knowing that my Baby has a roof over her head and a stove to cook on.”

“Maybe I won’t be here when you get back!”

“You will be.”

With the final word hanging in the dim of the singlewide mobile home on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California, Jimmy slammed the back door and stepped into the desert night to fire up his old Kenworth truck for what might be his final run.

The law knew Jimmy about as well as Jimmy knew trucking. His first license suspension came when he intentionally rear-ended an elderly woman driving a Volkswagon Beetle on the interstate. He contended that she was driving below the legal minimum speed limit and that it was “just a love tap.” Not even a month after he had served his first suspension, Jimmy got arrested for sideswiping a Nevada Highway Patrol officer into the ditch while the officer was trying to pull him over for speeding. Jimmy sweet-talked the judge into believing that he had lost control of his truck while digging around in the glove compartment for his registration, and he only received a three year suspension. Nonetheless, Jimmy was arrested again only two years later. This time, instead of running the officer off the road, he just tried to outrun him.

The chase reached speeds of 90 MPH before Jimmy hit a cow and jack-knifed in a pasture in west Texas. He swore he wouldn’t drive again, but money began getting tight. Darla’s addiction to pain killers prevented her from being able to hold a job, and Jimmy didn’t know how to do anything but drive a truck.

They sold off Jimmy’s Harley, and then Darla’s prized garden gnome collection, but that wasn’t enough. They were three months behind on the mortgage and something had to be done.

———————

“Johnno, Johnno, do you copy? This is Purple Rabbit.”

“This is Johnno, go ‘head Purple Rabbit.”

“I’m eastbound 10 just past New Orleans.”

“Good to hear you’re still on the road and making good time.”

“Sure thing: 27 hours straight, now. Burnin’ rubber and not a bluey in sight.”

“What’s your ETA, Purple Rabbit?”

“10 AM tomorrow.”

“I knew you wouldn’t let me down. I’ll check back later.”

“Righto. Purple Rabbit on the move.”

Jimmy hung up the scanner mic and washed down another speed tablet with a swig of coffee. His eyes were bloodshot with sleeplessness and bulging from chemical intoxication. A rag that he used to mop the sweat off of his brow and palms rested in his lap as he counted down the miles in his head.

——————

“So far, so good. We’re gonna make it, Baby,” Jimmy muttered to himself while fingering the picture of Darla that hung from the dashboard. “Just 100 miles more and we’re home free.”

“Johnno! Johnno! Come in Johnno!”

“I’m here, Purple Rabbit. What’s the matter?”

“I’m comin’ into port, but I got a bluey on my tail; been trailing me for damn near six miles.”

“Calm down Purple Rabbit. He’s probably just hoping you’ll break the speed limit. How close are you?”

“Only two miles out…Oh shit Johnno! He flipped his blue an’ whites on!”

“Damnit, Jimmy. You’ve gotta get me that load.”

“I won’t let you down, Johnno.”

When the highway patrolman signaled for Jimmy to pull over, the only thing he knew to do was to throw the truck into passing gear and stomp on the pedal. 70…75…80…85 MPH.

“Come on Baby, we got this, just another half mile.”

Jimmy focused on the metal warehouse in the distance as if it were right in front of him. Even the loading dock looked like he could reach out and touch it. The whine of the siren pursuing closely behind him was like music in his ears at this point. Eye of the Tiger might as well have been blaring on the radio.

“Yeeeeehaw! We’re gonna do it, Baby! We’re gonna do it!” Jimmy screamed out the window as he jammed on the brakes and skidded into the warehouse loading area.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to unload her yourself! I’m afraid I gotta run!” Jimmy shouted at Johnno as he jumped out of the cab. “Just mail the check to Darla!”

“Darla Baby, I made it; we’re gonna be all right!”

“Oh Jimmy, I love you so much. When are you gettin’ home?”

“Well, I’m not sure, yet. It could be awhile.”

“Huh? How come?”

“Well, the judge says my hearing won’t be for a couple weeks, and I’m afraid I’ll be stuck where I am until then.”

“Damnit Jimmy! Did you get caught again? I told you this would happen!”

“It’s ok, Baby, we’re gonna be ok. The check should be gettin’ there in a few days and you can make the mortgage payment. I saved the house, Baby. We’re gonna live happily ever after.”

2. The Disappearing Martins by Trine Grillo

When Grandma left for Heaven, the martins went with her. At least that’s what everyone said. Sophie was skeptical.

“Is my parakeet in Heaven?”

“Birds don’t go to Heaven like people do,” the priest told her.

Sophie thought hard about this.

“Before you moved here, we had tons of purple martins,” Sophie said to her friend Awinita.

Now the houses were empty. The sweet songs were gone. Sophie thought it was because they missed the way Grandma would sing with them each morning.

Maybe the birds were sad like you were when your grandma died,” Nita said.

Sophie looked down and kicked a rock against the curb.

“I wish I didn’t remember that day.”

Sophie had an idea.

“Old Emmett will know!” she said. The girls ran to visit Grandma’s old friend.

“What do you think happened to the purple martins?” Sophie asked.

“When Grandma left for Heaven, the martins went with her,” he said.

“But, birds don’t go to Heaven,” said Sophie.

Old Emmett puffed his cigar. “If you ask me, the city planted that new elm tree in the wrong spot. Purple martins need swooping space.”

It was a splendid tree, Sophie thought, but Old Emmett was right.

“We have to get rid of that tree,” she decided.

“We can’t just get rid of a tree,” said Nita. “Besides, I don’t think the mayor would let us.”

Sophie had another idea.

“Susan will know!” The girls headed to Susan’s bird supply store.

“What do you think happened to the purple martins?” Sophie asked.

“Well, they say that when Grandma left for Heaven, the martins went with her,” said Susan. “I think it was the weather.”

Sophie’s ears perked up. She was very interested in weather and hoped to become a meteorologist one day.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“There was a cold snap that week. I think the insects died. Live, flying insects are what purple martins eat,” Susan said.

“The poor things were hungry,” said Nita.

“That’s it! They had to leave!” Sophie said. “Do you sell live, flying insects here?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t,” said Susan.

At school, the girls asked Miss Debbins about it.

“You know, of course, that everyone thinks when Grandma left for Heaven, the purple martins went with her,” she said.

“We do know that,” said Sophie. “But what about the swooping space? The cold snap? The dead insects?”

Miss Debbins nodded. “Even with good weather and swooping space, purple martins are very fussy about their homes. When spring arrives, the colony sends out a scout to find a suitable place.”

“What about a gourd?” said Nita.

Sophie cocked her head and frowned.

“Grandfather’s bird houses are gourds,” Nita said.

“Do they work?” asked Sophie.

Grandfather Adahy grew up with his Cherokee tribe in the eastern woods. They did not buy birdhouses from stores.

“We made our own,” he told them. “There’s one in the shed.”

The next day at school, Sophie could think of nothing but purple martins. In the middle of a daydream, her blue eyes shimmered and began to dance. She got her best idea yet.

“Do you see what I see?” she whispered to Nita. “Look! The old flagpole!”

Beyond the playground, in an empty field, stood the flagpole.

“How will we ever get the gourd to the top of that pole, Nita?”

Sophie slouched to rest her chin in her hands. Nobody knew about her secret fear of heights. Suddenly, both at the same time, the girls turned and faced each other with wide, beaming smiles.

“Lucca!” they blurted out.

Lucca was the best climber in the class. Whenever the tetherball tangled at the top of the pole, everybody called Lucca. After school, they told him their idea.

“Is this going to get me in trouble?” he said.

“No one uses the flagpole since the eighth graders donated the new one,” said Sophie

“OK, but one of you better be the lookout,” he said. Climbing a tall, slippery flagpole with a gourd in your hand was not easy, even for Lucca.

Nita handed the gourd to him. Sophie agreed to be the lookout. Inching toward the top, Lucca slipped and plunged to the ground.

“Youch! My ankle!” he cried. “Sophie, you’ll have to take it!”

Sophie bit her bottom lip and tilted her head back to find the top of the pole. Cradling the gourd against her racing heart, she bravely began to climb. Just then, the janitor was making his rounds.

“What are you kids doing there?”

Sophie dug her feet against the pole and froze. Nita cringed and closed her eyes.

The janitor didn’t look up.

“Um…we’re birdwatching,” said Lucca.

“You know you should be on this side of that fence. Come on back, now,” he said.

Sophie hung on with a sweaty grip silently watching as Nita helped Lucca limp slowly back through the gate towards home. As soon as the janitor went into the building, they hobbled back to the fence. Sophie stretched to reach above her head. She hung the gourd on the flag hook and slid to the ground with a plunk. Leaning back on her elbows, she grinned at the dangling gourd. Her heartbeat was quieter now.

Day after day, Sophie watched and waited. Night after night, she dreamed of purple birds. One morning, her thoughts went drifting out through the classroom windows.

The martins probably think it’s a dumb house, she thought.

“Class, let’s examine this chart on the board,” said the teacher. “What do you see? Sophie? Sophie, did you hear me? What do you see?”

Sophie sprang to her feet, crashing her chair to the floor.

“A purple scout!”

The whole class dashed to the windows.

The grand purple martin rose in a long, graceful glide and settled on top of the flagpole. Goosebumps prickled Sophie’s skin. A dimpled smile spread across her face.

“He likes it,” she whispered.

3. Christine by Niharika Kandala

That night has been etched in my memory forever, after all it was the night which changed my life forever. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I wait outside the ICU unit to catch a glance of my boy. “Will he be ok? What if I don’t get him back? How could I be deaf to his needs?” Sitting on the bench next to Roger all these questions were haunting me. I wish I could turn the clock back on that night to get my Charlie back. My mind went back to the days when I and Roger weaved all our future dreams around the kid who was going to be a part of our life.

“Christine, Don’t worry. Everything will be fine. Am here for…” words of reassurance from Roger were slowly dying out. I was pulled into the labor room. The excruciating pain was forcing me into unconsciousness. But my ears were still alert to listen to the voice of our baby. And Yes! I was on top of the world when I touched Charlie for the first time. It’s that moment all our dreams were in front of our eyes. He aped his dad in everyway. Seeing the pride in Roger’s eyes when people said Charlie resembles Roger made me the happiest mother alive. We promised ourselves that we will give Charlie the very best. In that effort, Roger and I engaged ourselves in so much work that we had little time for Charlie. We were immersed in meetings, calls, conferences etc. Charlie is slowly growing. He is now 12. And he is all what we wanted him to be.

One wrong decision! I still regret going to the conference leaving Charlie alone. He pleaded me to stay with him that day. I was blind not to see how desperately he needed me by his side. It was loneliness which forced him to get into this depression. It came as a shock to both of us that in the way of earning and giving Charlie more than what he wished for we did not give him the most important thing he wanted. Our time and care!

The creaking sound made by the door drifted my thoughts to present. The ECG machine beeps are echoing in my ears. They speak to me of what Charlie’s heart wants from me. I can hear him blabbering “Mom don’t leave me please” I made a mistake, a grave mistake. Now when I think of the time I spent away from him I feel so sad. They would have been best spent with Charlie and not away from him. We learnt that it is not material possessions what the next generation needs. Love and care is what they should be given. It that protected feel what makes them equipped to fight the society. I now know what my kid missed. But when I am here regretting and ready to give what he wants, he is amidst all the equipment, lying there helplessly.

4. I’ll Never Forget that Day by Elizabeth R. York

She was what many would call a precocious child, winsome and charming. Her laughing hazel eyes never seemed to lack the sparkle of mischief. But as the little girl listened to the old sailor tell his tale that day, her eyes were somber. Deep and sad. Dark storm clouds had overtaken the bright sun. Kamala listened intensely as he spoke…

“I’ll never forget that morning. The sounds, the smells, the fear that froze me right to the spot where I stood. I had just finished breakfast and was heading over to my duty station when I heard it, a soft buzzing drone, far off in the distance. I didn’t give it much thought at first. My buddy, Joe, and I just kept on walking across the deck of the ship, the Arizona. My brother Don was there too. I was lucky enough to be stationed aboard the same ship as my best friend from way back in grammar school and my big brother, too. To us it was just an ordinary day. We laughed at how hungover we were, we had had quite a night that evening before.”

“God, we were in Hawaii! Pretty exciting for small town kids from Iowa. I had only just arrived a few nights before and last night was my first trip into town. My brother had been here a while longer and he was well acquainted with Hotel Street. They had warned us about how to behave and what to watch out for down there, but hell, we were a couple of young pups on the loose! What a time we had!”

“All that disappeared forever that morning. That far off buzz got louder and louder and finally we both looked up. We couldn’t even tell what it was at first, just a couple of tiny planes. But geez, they were heading straight for the harbor! I don’t think we figured out what was happening till the little planes dove down and swooped across the deck of the ship. That first big blast knocked me on my ass.”

“Then all hell broke loose. It was chaos. People running all over, screaming orders and manning stations. I finally got to my feet but when I looked around my buddy was missing. I couldn’t find him. Bombs were falling and crashing everywhere. I ran around calling for my buddy but with no luck. When one of the bombs hit forward of the ship, between the #1 and #2 turrets, I knew the ship was going to go down. I watched the forward decks start to collapse in on themselves and that’s when I knew I had better run for my life.”

“I made it to the side and just dove over the side. The smoke was so thick I couldn’t even see the water below. When I hit the water, it was nothing like I had imagined the Pacific Ocean sea water would be like. It was thick with oil and fuel and blood and the bodies of sailors, even pieces of bodies. I thought I’d drown when I hit the water. At that moment, I’d have preferred it, I think. But I didn’t drown. I swam. I swam hard and as fast as I could. I mustered all the strength I could find in myself that day and swam for the shore.”

“I swam and I prayed and I dug deep for the courage to keep my arms and legs moving through all that floating death. The bombs kept falling all around me but I just kept swimming till finally I pulled myself up on the shore. When I looked back toward the Harbor, I found myself wishing I had died along with my comrades. I coughed and spat and cried and prayed some more.”

“I never saw either my brother or my buddy again. 2400 people lost their lives in that attack. But not everyone died the day of the bombing. Some lingered, trapped below decks on ships trapped in the Harbor. We did our best to rescue them. We dove down day after day, I was one of the divers who worked to save those trapped on the lower decks of the Arizona. For days I dove down beside the ship, and pounded on the side, hoping to receive a faint pounding in response. Day after day, I pounded. Day after day, they answered. Till finally the pounding faded away, becoming fainter and fainter. Finally one day, there was no response. They had survived over a week. Passing must have been blessed relief.”

“I have never stopped missing my brother and my buddy. I have never stopped blaming myself for being alive when they are not. For a long time I wished it had been me who had not survived, instead of them or at least alongside them. I did finally move on, move away from the pain of losing them. But I’ll never forget that day.”

Then the old sailor stopped talking, and looked far off in the distance, lost in a distant memory. Tears welled in his sad ancient eyes. A silent crowd had gathered as he had told his tale. But at that moment, the old sailor and the little girl were alone.

He reached under his chair and brought out a tattered old photo album. He opened it for the little girl to view. There on the page was a faded black and white photograph of three smiling young sailors, their mugs of beer lifted as high as their spirits must have been at the moment. The boys leaned close and hugged each other in the embrace of young men who will be friends forever. Their laughing innocent eyes held no clue of the horror that awaited them in just a few short hours. For now, though, they could laugh and drink and believe in a lifetime of good times.

Kamala’s eyes filled with tears as she viewed the image of the three boys, frozen in time. She lifted her face from the album, reached her small hands up and circled them around the old sailor’s neck. Together they wept, for all the young boys who must face the horrors of war.

5. Cloudhugger by Nuscha Ferber

Waking up in a new place always gives you this small shock of disorientation that dissolves in a warm tingle of titillation when you remember where you are. And that this is yours.

The bed is so large we should need a compass and map to find each other but it seems we managed in the night, lying in a relaxed sprawled heap all across it. You are still sleeping and I roll onto my side, pressing my back into the warm curve of your body, and let my eyes do the wandering all over the ship before I will allow my feet to do the same.

There, in our backs, is the large round window that, above the clouds like this, already pours in a rose-golden sunshine although it is very early yet. The side-windows are still set to ‘privacy’ and the thin sheeting across them from the outside makes the view a little, almost imperceptibly blurry.

The painting on the wall opposite the bed is switched to a morning scene, adding to the warm atmosphere the real sun is painting inside the ship, using the soft wooden tones and Asian hangings as paint. I wonder about the mechanism inside the picture screen. If I take it apart carefully, will I find gears and metal grooves, gripping at one time only the pictures coded in some way to ‘morning’, another time those for ‘night’? And, looking at them, are there also tiny metal markers for ‘depressed and gloomy’ and ‘What I saw and cannot forget’?

I wonder, not for the first time, about the creator of this ship and who called it a home before we bought it. Or found it. The past seems to blur the longer we stay here. Maybe I should ask you to paint a scene of where we have lived to this day and how, so that we may have a reminder even when the real memories should crumble. Maybe there is something else in these pictures, too, a way to conserving more than just the sight?

I slip out from between your arms gently, not to wake you. My feet sink into the carpet. I know nothing about carpets, but its short weave feels made by expert hands. Sturdy yet soft. Made to be trampled about with thick mechanic’s boots for decades and not loose any of the oriental luster. I stand and gaze for a moment, rejoicing at all the little special nooks that entice me – the deck with the pillows around the table, my book still lying on the wide leather couch, the hammock swinging gently with the vibration from the ship’s snoring engine, reflexes from the metal wings outside dancing across the colorful fabric from time to time. I stoke the fire to make some breakfast later but now something else lures me. The hatch opens with a groaning of gears, and I pad down the steep stairs leading to the cockpit.

All is quiet here. This is like a temple for prayer and a bear’s secure den at once. I love it entirely, from curving glass walls to faintly glowing ship lights. I sink onto one of the co-pilot’s chairs, my bottom greeted by the thick leather cushion. I snuggle deeper and stretch my legs out in front of me, crossing them at the ankle. The blue sky is all around me, and below, there is that which always calls me – the murmuring, gushing sea. I hear her call faintly, she knows me snug in the cradle of the sky, secure although I am floating. I open the leather-bound book I brought with me and dip the quill into the ink, balanced on the seat in front of me.

My hand does not stop even though the quill scratches against the paper. I try to capture the dream I had last night. It seems very vivid still, but escaping me even while I try to peg it down for you to see. There was water in glass tubes, bubbling up and sometimes down, there was a world beneath the sea, in peril. And the name. The name like an echo. It turned out to be the name of a ship, but I cannot remember it as much as I try.

6. Movie Magic by John C. Holcomb Jr.

A FATHER (DAN) and teenage SON (JOEY) go to a movie matinee together. While standing in line to purchase their tickets, they discuss Mom and Dad’s recent vacation to Hawaii, which they just returned from the day before. While his father relates that their trip was relaxing, JOEY reassures his father that there were no problems while they were gone but he’s happy to have his parents back so they can drive him to see Suzy, his girlfriend, because he misses her. Joey’s father expresses pride that he and his mother can trust him when they go on vacation and he’ll see what he can do about getting his son a car next year, when he gets his license.

CUT TO: The pair sit in their seats, holding two large cups and they share a large popcorn. They’re cheering the end of an action trailer. They toast their sodas together and agree that they will definitely see that movie.

The next trailer starts with a melodramatic VOICE OVER. “Every family has its secrets….”

ON SCREEN: We see a shadowy teenager sneak the family car out. He drives through eerie drizzle to his girlfriend’s house. Before he rounds the corner, he turns off his headlights and engine and coasts the car to a stop. He stealthily exits the car, opens an umbrella and walks to the back of the house, where a back door opens and a girl emerges from the house in a rain coat. She runs to the umbrella and they pair quietly steal away back into the car. When safe from the rain, they innocently embrace. The girl commends the boy for successfully sneaking the family car out.

“No problem. I tell you, my old man, he’s just clueless…He’ll never find out,” says the teenage boy.

“Are you sure? Doesn’t he check the odometer”.

(confidently) “Sure he does, but I just have my friend Hank down at the service station roll the mileage back for me. I’m too clever for the old bat to ever to catch me…”

With that comment, the camera closes in on the kids face and we are stunned to realize that THE KID IN THE TRAILER IS THE SAME KID (JOEY) SITTING NEXT TO HIS DAD IN THE AUDIENCE.

JUMP CUT to the father and son in the audience. Joey is mortified. His father’s face reddens with anger.

JUMP CUT back to the trailer, which has cut to a shot of the FATHER (or DAN, same as person sitting next to Joey in the audience), who is on a Hawaiian vacation with his wife. They are both sporting leis and tacky Hawaiian shirts as they sit at a table by the ocean. They sip umbrella drinks as they discuss how nice it is to be able to go on vacation and not worry about Joey skipping class, or throwing parties, or using the car. DAN asks his wife (PAULA) “If we get back home and everything is in order, maybe we should buy him a new car….maybe that new Mustang convertible he’s been clamoring for”. PAULA gives DAN A stern look.

“You know we can’t afford any a new car. Maybe if his grades are good, and he gets accepted to a good college, maybe when he graduates we’ll get him a scooter or something for college.”

JUMP CUT to JOEY in audience slipping farther down in his seat, the father just looks ahead, totally stunned.

CUT TO TRAILER / SAME SCENE: PAULA is nodding her head: “Really Dan, a new car, that’s just crazy talk.” Paula excuses herself to the powder room as the camera closes in on the increasingly desperate face of DAN, as we hear the same melodramatic voice over, “But what Paula doesn’t know is that Dan has secrets as well…”

CUT TO DAN at an auto dealership, Dan is shaking the hand of a salesperson as he closes the deal on a beautiful red 2009 mustang convertible. The salesperson is commentating on what a great gift to get a son. If fact, he was thinking about getting the same car but his wife said she’d kill him. To which DAN boasts, “Well that’s the difference between you and me Larry, in my household, I call the shots…I run the show…I’m the big cheese…I make the decisions!”

CUT TO Father and son in the audience. JOEY is looking at his FATHER hopefully and lovingly. DAN is sporting a crooked, nervous smile. The camera focuses on the confused faces as we hear the trailer end with a voice over “So join us July 11th to find out what happens when….Secrets Collide!” We hear the audience clap with approval of the trailer with a few “That looks great” and “A total must see” from the peanut gallery.

The Father looks at his son, “Movies today are a little too intense for me…how about you and I get out of here and grab a burger”.

“Let’s do it.” JOEY agrees.

As they walk down the aisle, father throws his arm over Joey’s shoulder, “Its ok, I used to sneak out my father’s car as well”.

As they walk toward the exit, we hear the VOICE OVER, “Even a beauty needs a little cosmetic surgery after 40…”. When the father and son pass by the last row, our last shot is of an animated BEAST (from Beauty and the Beast) looking at BEAUTY, who is sheepishly slinking down in her seat.

7. The Outlaw by Kerry Allan Peterson

I sit on the edge of my bed. My muscles feel lifeless except those located in my hands. My left hand holds a photograph of my brother and I dressed as cowboy desperados. My right hand becomes familiar with a handgun.

In the photograph, my brother and I stand side-by-side in a makeshift saloon; our Colt 45 pistols jokingly aim toward the camera. I wear a full-length brown duster; draped across my brother’s chest is a fully loaded leather bandoleer. Black cowboy hats and bandanas tied around our necks complete our facade. The moneybag displayed on the table before us symbolizes our reward for stealing a stagecoach lockbox. Posing for the photograph offered us an opportunity to live out our childhood dream: becoming famous outlaws of the west.

As children, we borrowed chalk from the neighbor and outlined buildings on paved streets. The bank, general store and livery stable all had a place in our make-believe western town. We constructed bank vaults from cardboard boxes and blew the doors open with firecrackers. We ambushed a stagecoach disguised as a red-flyer wagon and fled on our bicycles with monopoly money and jewelry once hidden in a box of Crackerjacks.

Unlike the photograph, the gun I hold is real, and I plan to introduce it to my right temple. My life did not turn out as an outlaw of the west. Instead, I rode off into a sunset of much darker proportions; the dismal trail of addiction. Even as I look at the photograph, I see one form of my addiction proudly displayed in the bottles on the shelves behind me.

The grip of the gun and the palm of my hand begin to feel comfortable. I look into the eyes of my photographed brother and tell him I cannot live this life any longer, it must end. Please forgive me. I look away from the photograph and lift the gun to my head. Before my finger can pull the trigger, I hear my brother’s voice. I turn my head toward the photograph and I see his smiling face. Confused, I ask, “What did you say?” I hear his voice again, I reply, “Yes, I too want more photographs of us.” I blackout, and I am discovered later that day embracing the photograph with both hands.

Years ago, my brother dragged me to safety when a neighborhood kid wearing a five-star badge shot me with his cap gun, and he rescued me when I needed him the most. We have since posed for many photographs since my near fatal shootout. In case you are curious, my brother’s name is Joe.

8. In the Mood: A Christmas Tale by Thera Puppy

I’ll have a blue Christmas, Caribbean blue if you please. Hot Hot HOT. No store Santas. No chill No snow. No old movies (apologies to Miracle on 54th street). No singing the same old old songs. No sugar plums dancing on my head, in my head or around my bed. NO NO NO reindeer landing , playing or doing the hully gully on the roof.

Dreams are made of wishes like these. Dreams of escape from forced cheer and patriotic spending to boost the economy.

Reality bites. The truth is I am as corn ball as Iowa maize, but with a twist of key lime. Call me Mrs. Claus, Call me Christmas tree ornament making Martha Stewart. Call me when I recover from the holidaze.

It is not so much the holiday I shy from but the crowded malls and the competition for parking and the HO HO HO hoards of forced cheer.. Thanksgiving behind us and New Years ahead, Christmas should be the sweet filling in between but ends up being made of artificial sweetner now a days. If Christmas past was a home made cookie made by Grandma in the family kitchen,todays Christmas is an over priced massed produced ‘sugar free’ ‘fat free’ “Cookie Grande” with artificial color, aritificial flavor and bought with a credit card. I need Christmas shopping in December like Paris Hilton needs a self esteem boost.

While I freeze here in my car waiting for the Black Friday sales to start, signaled by the opening of the mall doors, I am tired and over extended in many ways.

She wanted the tickle me Elmo. How do you explain to a child that she has bought into a capitalist consumer trap? She barely grasps the basics of subtraction, unless you are subtracting a cookie from her hand. How do I keep my ‘good christian’ standing and not indoctrinate her into a life of sublimation through spending?

I get out of the car and join the line waiting outside the doors. I don’t really walk I stomp. My stomping has aroused the suspicions of the Christmas Queen. A cheery shopper, she eyes me between her twinkling blue sights. I stop stomping and look back at her in that dazed way. We are Enemies I want to scream . I want to explain the international human rights and environmental implications of buying toys from China. I want to say so much about this sanitized, commercialized American Experess generated buying frenzy. I want to ask what happened to the Christ in Xmas. I stomp away……Jingle all the way.

UGH……… I find my space in line. “hear those sleigh bells ring a ling ching ching ching a ling….” arggggg Who brought the music? Now I am still stomping my feet but this time to stay warm. I start to stomp to the music’s beat, but then catch myself.

I resume my wait. The crowd perks up! Ah! the manager and staff are at the doors. On your mark, get ready……..

With a dignified half trot, run, skip jump I reach the Tickle Me Elmo. I hold the dear little doll , perhaps a bit too tight. The competition is fierce and I almost want to give the doll to someone, just to break the spell of the self centered greed fest. But I have that little Angel card in my pocket and it pricks my hip and my grumpy sagging spirits.

The card reads ‘ girl 5 years old loves Tickle me Elmo’. I almost reach the door when I look down at my naked Elmo doll. No wrapping paper no ribbon no nuttin.

I jingle jangle my way around the crowd of shoppers wrestling in the ailes. I wish that was just a euphamism, they really are getting pushy. This is not just a charity mission this is a Green Berret special ops mission. ” your goal is simple” “Get the doll and Get out” ‘ May God be with you”.

I find my self in the parking lot with my halo showing slighty under my ski cap as I wrap my Elmo doll. I make every crease line up. I order the ribbon into elaborate designs and command a rebellious roll of tape into submission. Perfection. I take my Angel card from my pocket and slip it under the pressed ribbon.

I don’t know what the future will be like for this little girl. I do know that this Christmas I will make ‘ girl 5 years old loves Tickle me Elmo’ a little happy maybe she will feel a little loved. I notice my toe tapping to the music..arg…….

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16 Responses to “Short Story Competition 2: Seventh Round is Open for Voting”

  • Ninja-Al

    Haha I saw last round there was a tie. That’s so awesome. Does that mean both stories make it on to the finals??

  • Jujubear

    So… 96 stories total? Wow! Good turnout.

  • T. Grillo

    There seems to be a problem with the web page as I am looking at it. The last story seems to be ‘cut off’, and the box to click for voting is not there either. Is anyone else having this problem or is my computer??

  • Jeanette Cheezum

    Where is the voters box?

  • Daniel Scocco

    You guys not seeing the poll?

  • T. Grillo

    I see it now ~ Thanks.

  • ninja-al

    Another good round guys!

  • ninja

    Nice round.

  • Luciana (LU-chon-AH:) Langdon

    I loved Cloud Hugger! I thought it was very well written and original. So voting for that one.

  • T. Grillo

    I am honored that my story was actually voted as the favorite all week. Thanks to all who voted and for giving me the incredible encouragement. I welcome any feedback regarding my story.

    I am saddened that the round did not end within the time frame that it was supposed to and now my story is out of the running.

  • Mary Ann

    Is this round still open? Where is the the next round? My computer might not be updating or something! I’ll check back in a day or so.

  • Mary Ann

    Ben Wall,

    I know a truck driver very similar to the one you wrote about. LOL He was in the same predicament and did the same thing. I loved your story and I voted for it. Good job describing the truck driver’s desperation.

  • mary nardini

    I enjoyed reading all the stories and voting but I was sorry the polls didn’t close on time.
    It would have been nice to see who the real winner was going to be.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @T. Grillo, your story won. On Monday morning I checked the poll and you were the winner.

    We had a technical glitch with the poll so it remained open, but that will not affect the result.

  • T. Grillo

    Thank you, Daniel. I appreciate you looking into it and letting me know.

  • Lynn

    So glad the Purple Martin story won….. awesome story!

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