Short Story Competition: Eight (and Final) Batch Is Open for Voting!
All right folks, with the eight stories being presented today we arrive at 76 total entries! That is a bunch of them huh?
If you sent one and it never appeared on one of the batches, let me know as soon as possible and I will try to include it on this one.
You have until next Sunday to vote on the current batch (remember that RSS or email subscribers might need to visit the website to be able to vote). Next week we will have the grand final with the 8 batch winners. Stay tuned!
1. Mornings After by Christy Williams
I sit at the kitchen table and watch the rain flood the backyard. I’m wondering how long it will be until the swing set begins to rust when I hear footsteps on the tile floor behind me.
“For God’s sake, Alice.” My husband frowns at the bottle in my hand. “At least use a glass.”
I watch him as he spreads cream cheese on a bagel. The flat line of his mouth, the sweat pants that hang off his hipbones, the bloodshot eyes. He hasn’t been sleeping either. I listen to his breathing at night. The air bubbles out of him on the exhale, the way it does when you don’t want to cry, but can’t help yourself. On these nights, I want to roll over, to wrap my arms around him, to murmur, “I know, I know.” But he’s so far away.
He opens the cupboard, and his hand hesitates over the stack of Mickey Mouse plates before dropping to his side. He turns around, looks at me, shell-shocked. Things come without warning. You turn a pair of pants right-side out and a tiny sock falls into your lap. You pause in front of the diapers at the grocery store. You trip over the glittering red Wizard of Oz shoes on your way out the door. Click your heels three times.
I start to stand, to move towards him. I need to feel his body against mine, need his weight to bring me down, to anchor me to some new kind of normal.
His gaze breaks away from mine. He lifts the bagel from the counter, turns and walks away.
My husband plays Frank Sinatra in the living room. Strangers in the night, strangers falling in love.
I take another drink.
2. The Lost Book by Emily Comer
Books are magic. So my friend Mr. Libros always says. Nobody in our town believed him. They were too sophisticated to believe in magic, and they’d forgotten the wonder of books. But I believed him.
Mr. Libros says books are magic because they keep the author alive, even after his body has died. He says books are magic because they can take you anywhere, anytime, and make you into anything at all. Such powerful magic needs to be kept safe, he says. And so he’s trying to collect all the books in the world. He has already collected thousands of them. All the townspeople called him crazy. They said it was a waste of money and of time, but Mr. Libros didn’t listen. He said even if I were the only other person who read his books, it would still be worth every penny and every minute.
Mr. Libros knows every book in his collection backwards and forwards, and he prizes them all very highly. That’s why he was so distressed when one of them went missing. He looked everywhere for it: in men’s briefcases, in ladies’ purses, even at the dump. I asked him why. “You have so many books; surely losing one can’t mean that much.”
He looked at me funny, and then shook his head. “Every book is unique, including this one,” he said. “I must find it.”
And he did find it. Hiding behind a trash heap, a little beggar was devouring the book, so absorbed in the story he never looked up as we approached. Mr. Libros knelt beside the boy and smiled. “Do you like it?” he asked.
The boy nodded, too shy to speak.
“Would you like to read more books like this?”
The boy jumped to his feet, nodding and grinning, a new light in his eyes. Mr. Libros laughed. “Then come to my house whenever you like, and you can read as much as you wish. Only, next time let me know before you take a book with you.”
Mr. Libros was so happy to have found the lost book – and someone who wanted to read – that he threw a party, and invited the whole town. At the party he read aloud from some of his favorite books. Everyone said it was the best party they had ever attended, and even more people wanted to borrow his wonderful books.
And that was how the library was started. Soon so many people wanted to read Mr. Libros’s wonderful books that he was overwhelmed with trying to find every book for them. So he invented a system of numbers for organizing his books, so that everyone could find for himself whatever book he wanted to read. And Mr. Libros asked me to write down every book someone took home, and who took it, so he would never have to fear losing a book again.
3. Flinty Messages by Ekta Valecha
She delighted in the thought of writing another message for him. She couldn’t remember how long it had been since they had started playing this game. At least a year, she was sure. Spoken words had ceased to exist in their lives.
Every morning when he would wake up, he would write a message on a little piece of paper, saying the coffee was ready or he wanted scrambled eggs for breakfast today. She would, in turn, leave messages for him when she went for work, while he was still in the shower. She would return before him and leave a message for him about the chores.
She would take a shower, and go to her gym. He would come from work, do the chores and leave for his gym. She would come back, make dinner, and leave a message saying ‘dinner is ready’. He would come, have his dinner, watch some television and revert to their bedroom. Life seemed, somehow, simpler without pronunciation.
She smiled to herself and thought to herself about the times when she had received unexpected messages from him. Like the time he was supposed to be on a business trip to Jaipur, she had come home from work to find a message from him saying “I’m here”. She had been overwhelmed that he had come early, just to surprise her. Then there was that time when she had left messages for him all over the place on her own birthday. By the end of the day, he was so chafed that he had just stopped reading the messages.
She smiled to herself, nostalgia taking over. She gave herself some time to reflect, then shook herself and started writing…
“Now that the divorce is final, I give you 24 hours to vacate my apartment.”
4. Just Like Omin by Lloyd Leiderman
As if hiding her face behind a fresh faced blush, Mother Nature, Omin knew, had come to personally give him a wakeup call. He knew last night that Mother would come to him this way this morning. For hadn’t the evening zephyrs caressed his nut brown cheeks and fluttered through the fleecy folds of his loosely fitting shepherd’s frock as if to search out the day’s fatigue and dispense it skyward? Hadn’t a palpable peace laved his weary limbs as the very last thunder cloud faded into etheric depths? Hadn’t Omin known, after the day fire laid down its might to join him in wonder at a brightening starry spectacle, that Mother’s largess, her abiding care for him, would eventually bring him into consonance with her own growing accord.
Yes, Mother came to Omin, just as he assumed she would. But stark daylight, breaking her spell, revealed a wolf on the ridge. Its bristling yellow eyes, like probing extensions of the rising fiery circle, scanned the herd, searching for something more delectable than the past few days’ slim pickings. Shenasta, Omin’s border collie staff sergeant, artfully ran her circling pattern to round the sheep into a secure huddle—all but one who strayed out of the sheltering mass. The wolf, making one last foray from night’s cover, intent upon a binge, stalked, gave chase, and consummated his easy prey.
Sheltering the ninety and nine, Omin and Shenasta watched the carnage. Though they knew the wolf was but playing its natural part, they, too, must play theirs.
Now it was war; hunger versus protection
Hunger had already won the first battle. Shenasta sacrificially gave chase, knowing full well she was no match for the brute. The wolf paid her little mind. To him she was but a snarling pup. But her persistence earned from her adversary a valiant snapped-neck demise.
Omin, sling in hand and rock in sling, strode into range for the kill. Wholly intent upon his target, Omin’s approach shared scant regard for rough terrain. A ledge hidden beneath the soft undergrowth caught his foot. Falling headlong, his skull caved in upon an agate outcrop. Omin died.
The wolf had his fill, and found his way to a shady nook where he took stock of his newfound fortune. His instinct was to leave and continue as always. But why do that when he now had charge of a whole flock of ready-made meals.
Serendipity, morphing into reason, displaced instinct.
Days wore on. Wolf took on Shenasta’s role, keeping the sheep together and rounding up strays. Just like Omin, he led occasional peregrinous movements on to greener pastures.
He no longer needed to binge. He could count on his next meal. When hunger hit, he simply ate one of his charges, just like Omin.
If an interloper threatened, the force of his presence was usually enough to repel it. Just like Omin.
The sheep knew; Wolf knew. Mother cares for her creatures.
Just like Omin.
5. A Better, Stronger Person by Stephanie Craig
I tried to get Casey to fall asleep, but I failed. Fear and anxiousness were keeping both of us awake. The white, sterile walls brought no comfort as I looked around the room for a clock. It was after midnight.
“Happy Birthday Baby,” I whispered into my son’s ear, knowing nothing about this birthday would be happy. My, now, 2-year-old son grasped me tighter as I, again, tried to rock him to sleep. My tears were getting his hair wet, but I could not stop them from coming. His face was buried in my chest, and I noticed him trembling. He was crying too.
The doctor came back into the room with the blood test results. “Leukemia,” he said. I tried to listen as he did his best to comfort me with statistics and stories of hope. But all my mind would hear is “Cancer.” My 2-year-old boy had cancer.
The doctor was interrupted by nurses coming in to take more blood and do another set of vital signs. I was relieved because I did not want to hear from the doctor anymore that night. But the relief was short lived when I saw the fear in Casey’s eyes. He had already been poked and prodded too many times in the previous 12 hours. Now they wanted more, and he was not ready to give in to them. The nurses had to physically restrain him as they did the blood draw and got his vital signs.
Casey was trying to fight them even more under restraint. His head was thrashing around, and he was screaming. He stopped when he saw me. “Momma,” he called and looked into my eyes. His two-year-old brain could not form the words, but his eyes could communicate them to me. Help me. I’m scared. Why are you letting them do this to me?
When the nurses left, I was able to hold him again. As I cuddled him, I whispered, “I’m sorry Casey-boy. I’d take it away if I could, but I can’t. I’ll be here the whole time, holding you. When it’s done, you will be a better, stronger boy.” The words must have comforted him because he fell into a deep sleep, not even awakened when the nurses came for his vital signs again.
Sleep would not come for me as I wrestled with the emotions and questions I did not know how to ask. I looked to God, but no prayer could form on my lips. It was then that the Lord said to me, “I’m sorry dear child. I’d take it away if I could, but I can’t. I’ll be here the whole time, holding you. When it’s done, you will be a better, stronger person.” I felt his arm around me, and I finally fell asleep.
6. Prey by D. McReynolds
He lay out his prize with solemn reverence, dropping it on the expanse of wax paper before him. He knelt, sharp twigs and discarded pieces of bark embedding into his scabbed knees, but he didn’t notice; his whole attention was on the small, prostrate form. He rubbed a stray hair out of the glassy, dead eyes; he needed to look in its eyes as he operated.
He glanced over his handiwork, smiling. He had stabbed three times, penetrating deeply; it crumpled to the ground before a cry could escape it. He covered the blood well there, then carried his prey in a tarp to this desolate location. Here he pulled out the large, sharp hunting knife that was his father’s; he smiled, thinking of the man.
He took a deep breath, then sunk the knife more gently into the belly than before, sawing with the serrated edge at the top of the blade until the body cavity split wide, pouring hot entrails onto the wax paper. He inhaled deeply, reveling in the singular odor of dead things, then watched the organs dripping odorous fluid onto the paper.
He packed the organs, carved out of the body, into another piece of wax paper; he dressed them as his father always said to dress meat for freezing, laying the neat package aside. He cut the largest muscle masses from his game; each he packaged as carefully and dropped in the pile.
Taking in a deep breath, he leaned back, wiping his perspiring brow with the back of one bloody hand. He laughed, a hollow sound, nudging the limp body. “It’s hard work, Papa says, but it pays off.” Papa loved to hunt; the meal he enjoyed most he slaughtered himself. Papa said he too had something the others didn’t: the taste for blood.
He leaned forward, restraining his thoughts, and began slowly sawing the body to pieces. He bagged the junk tightly in plain butcher paper, a thick twine holding the package secure. These pieces he would bury, to break down over time and return to earth; Papa had always approved of giving back.
He hefted the large canvas bag of limbs and, picking up his spade, began to distribute the pieces over the expansive woodland. He dug deep in the soft ground, enjoying the work for the perfume of overturned earth that filled his nose. Covering the holes with organic refuse obscured them from curious eyes; he was finishing up the last touches on the head when he heard a distant voice.
“Billy, Joey! Dinner!” The edgy voice was distant, but distinctly recognized.
He stood, giving the unmarked grave of his brother’s head another sweep of leaves and dirt with his boot, then collected his supplies. “Billy’s coming,” he said with a smile. “But Joey…” Laughing, he set off for home with an innocent plea on his lips.
7. Artie the Magician by Cassia
Artie the Magician was sitting on his couch, which was in his hotel room, thinking about his day at the Magic Show he performed at. He was worried that he might have added a tad of Black Magic in to his Magic tricks. He took a sip of his vodka mixed with lemonade. It was quite good, just the way he liked it. He propped his legs on the coffee table.
Artie froze. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the side-table-lampshade swing viciously. He slowly got up and stopped the lampshade from swinging.
Then suddenly, the table was knocked so violently, that if Artie hadn’t caught it, then it would surely have fallen over.
Artie looked down and gasped. He grabbed a chair and started whacking at a bump that was protruding from under the bed. Unfortunately, each time he seemed to hit it right on, it would bounce a little to the side.
The bump steadily inched toward Artie until it was right in front of him. His brain simply wouldn’t let him move. That, or rather they just didn’t work.
The bump started to take form of a face. Then a body slowly appeared under the head. Feet also appeared under the body. The body was an ugly grayish color, just a bit harsher than his carpet color.
The face sat still for a second. Then the face twisted into an ugly grimace and started screaming. Artie screamed. The air was thick with screams.
A green snake slithered out of the face’s mouth. It hissed loud over the screaming so that Artie could hear clearly, “You used Black Magic! Look what it’s done to my Master…your turn.” The snake raised it’s head to strike.
Then everything went pitch black.
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