When I launched the short story competition last week I was expecting to receive some ten, perhaps fifteen entries. The time frame for submission was not that long in fact. Boy I was wrong. We have over 60 participants!
It would be impossible to post all the entries today, especially since the readers are going to vote on them. By the time one gets to the end of the list, he will probably have already forgotten what was at the top….
That is why we are going to have 7 batches, each with 10 short stories. Each batch will be posted on Mondays, and the readers will have until the following Sunday to vote on their favorite story. Notice that RSS and email subscribers will need to visit the website to be able to cast a vote.
After 7 weeks I will post a batch with the 7 winners, and the final voting session will take place. The three winners with the highest number of votes will win the prizes.
Now without further delay, the first 10 stories. Enjoy!
1. Harvest by Matt Hulan
They come from the east, devastating the crops and leaving tiaras and cloak-pins in their wake.
Last time, my brother and I were assigned the cloak-pins. The larger items were divided among the older cousins, and the fine work – the statuary, the gem-encrusted medallions – was left for the adults. They say our smaller fingers are more suited for sorting through the wheat-chaff and separating the pins from the stalks. I think they just don’t trust us not to break something.
We would load up the wagon and off to market the next day. The night was for praising goddess, reciting from The Book, and drinking. Even my brother and I were given a share of watered wine, last time. I suppose once every five years isn’t enough to turn us into lushes, like Fat Wilbur. Next time they come, I’ll be old enough to gather the tiaras. I’ll have unwatered wine, as well, and perhaps Rebeka will dance with me.
I don’t know why they fly in such swarms; and how the insects can be the makers of such jewelry, I can’t imagine. But when the sky roars with the beating of their wings, so that the littles hide under their beds, and even I get nervous, we know the goldsmith locusts are over the fields. In the morning, our crops will be gone, but we will be rich, and that is the way of the world.
Each time they come, we give thanks under the autumn moonlight for our benefactors, and then we sleep it off. For a week, we sell their wares to the wealthy at market and pretend we made the pretty things. Then,
the rest of the year, we live off the hoarded harvest of the last five years, while we replant the fields and go about our lives until they breed again. Until they come out of their desert holes and darken our skies with their wings and fill our ears with the ringing, tinkling din of the Golden Harvest.
2. The Shopping List by Tony Carroll
Mary finished her shopping list and read it out loud:
“Tin of beans, pound of butter, pound of sausages, three pork chops, packet of chocolate biscuits, carton on ice cream.10/10/80.”
She could never get out of the habit of putting the date on all notes and memos. It started at school when she had to hand in her homework and remained with her ever since.
Jimmy, her youngest, was sick and off school. He was lying on the sofa with his hands behind his head watching his favourite programme on television.
“Jimmy do you feel well enough to run down to Mrs. Murphy’s shop and get me a few things for the dinner? Your dad is coming home soon and I want to be here when he comes in.”
Jimmy’s dad Peter worked in the police station, which was just ten minutes walk from the house. But he could never walk to work because of the fear of a terrorist attack. He had to drive but even before he could do that he had to check under the car to make sure there were no booby-trap bombs hidden there. Each morning Mary would wait anxiously for his thumbs up sign before going back into the house. She knew it was stupid to be standing there but she felt that she had to, just in case there was a bomb and at least she would have been there for her husband. This ‘war’ had been going on for years and many of her husband’s friends and colleagues had been killed or injured by these under-car bombs. It just took one minute of forgetfulness and death or injury was not far away.
But for this past couple of months there had been peace. Secret talks had taken place between the government and the belligerents and a treaty had been signed. The guns and the bombs were silent for the first time in years. There were still some anti-treaty men who did not believe in peace but they did not seem to pose a threat.
“Jimmy! Did you hear me?
“OK mum. I’ll go as soon as this programme is over.”
“No Jimmy. I want you to go right now.”
“But mum it’s over in ten minutes,” he pleaded.
“Jimmy please go RIGHT NOW”
She did not mean to raise her voice but sometimes Jimmy got on her nerves. After a minute Jimmy, reluctantly, did as he was told.
The door slammed shut and Jimmy was gone. She watched as he thumped down the path, pulled open the garden gate, and banged it shut, turned and headed for Mrs. Murphy’s shop.
“He’ll get over it when he sees ice cream on the list. Anyway it will take him out of the house for a few minutes.”
She glanced at the table- the list was still there.
“Hell! He has forgotten the blinking list!”
She ran to the door shouting his name.
Then she heard the explosion.
3. Try to Find my Past by Trang Nguyen
When people first hear about my family circumstances, they often look at me with different eyes. As if they feel they need to treat me differently, or feel sorry for me, or ask more questions.
My father left for Germany when I was two years old. His first visit back was when I was thirteen. He stayed for a few days and left again for Ho Chi Minh City , where he remarried and built another family. My mother had always struggled to raise me by herself, selling cloth in the market, working for an insurance company, and now finally managing her own stationery business.
What people do not know, is that in fact my family stretches beyond the limit of father, mother and child. I have two wonderful grandparents, whom I have lived with my whole life. I have three aunts, one of whom I also call “mom”. They sheltered me, nurtured me, and taught me life lessons. They did not seek to replace the shadow that my father left behind, but they each became a parent for me.
This year I officially stopped to be an only child as my brother, from my mom’s second marriage, was born. I truly feel lucky and proud about my family, one that always held on together in spite of personal disappointments and social changes.
4. The Path by Susan Dragoo
I squint to blur the “restoration” of the library as I drive past. Floating in memories, I feel the cool, dark interior, a refuge on summer days. I’ll never enter the building again, for to do so would destroy something I treasure. The past is better left alone.
Yet here I am. Bored with the turnpike, I took a notion to follow a back road through my hometown. It is crumbling and I feel the heaviness of its death as I drive. But I keep going.
Wet heat hits me full in the face as I step from the car. It has rained for days and now the sun bears down on the saturated red clay. The lower half of my yellow Land Cruiser is covered with mud, thanks to the viscous glacier that was once a dirt road. The house where my grandfather and seven siblings were raised sits in the river bottom a quarter-mile from the nearest pavement.
The garage still stands at the top of the drive, now painted a putrid lime green. The last coat is flaking away to reveal several shades of yellow, an early coat of white, large patches of gray. Double doors hang askew on rusty hinges. I yank on the padlock holding them shut. It won’t budge so I let go, noticing the rust on my palm. I mustn’t wipe it on my ivory suit, which will have to be cleaned anyway, just to deal with the sweat stains. But rust and red clay . . . they never come out.
I look around for something to wipe my hand on and movement catches my eye. It is a man coming down the path. He calls out to me.
“Can I help you?”
Oh, the path! I hadn’t thought of it in years. I look beyond the man towards Grandpa’s house on the next lot. On that small acreage I ran the path back and forth between houses, safe in the enclave of my extended family.
“This was my family’s home,” I say. “I was passing through and thought I’d pay a visit.”
“Oh, I thought you might be here to look at the place. It’s for rent. I take care of the group home next door and the owners asked me to help watch this place too.”
I step back to the car, forgetting the rust. I sit for a minute, wishing I had the privacy to explore but knowing those days are gone.
I drive towards Grandpa’s house and stop where I can see the porch, where we sat on summer nights. Grandpa would lean back in his chair, talking animatedly about one thing or another. History or literature, “The Diary of Samuel Pepys” perhaps. We’d listen to the insects fry in the bug light and hope they were mosquitoes, cringing when a long sizzle advertised the sad death of a June Bug. Grandpa said they weren’t much of a bother to anyone.
Smiling, I turn on to the pavement.
5. 30 Seconds by Soham Soham
30 seconds. It seemed almost incredulous to Lee that years of his hard work and rigorous training would come down to these few seconds. He stared at Yong, his opponent, sitting some twenty feet away, and decided upon his strategy.” 30 seconds. That would give me just enough time to land a few sharp jabs and swipes. Aggression and evasiveness are the key.” he thought.
He looked into the dark, beady eyes of his aged opponent. Yong stared back at him, his face impassive. “What I wouldn’t give to know what’s in that mind of yours, old man. What are you planning to do now?” he thought.
The fight, to Yong, meant glory, as he was the defending champion of the Samurai Showdown. To Lee, it meant everything he had trained for the past three years.
“Start!” the announcer roared from his panel. The two samurai’s ran towards each other with incredible speed. Lee’s sword was unsheathed, ready to strike. Yong was merely keeping a hand on the hilt, his left hand inside his robes. Over their head, a giant timer was ticking away the precious time allotted for the battle.
29, 28. Just as Lee was about to strike, he saw a flash of silver, and found three shurikens flying at him. He nimbly dodged two and blocked the third with his sword. The next instant, his sword slashed through the air, leaving a deep wound in Yong’s left arm. Yong retaliated with a straight jab, which lee blocked with ease and countered with a vertical strike. Yong parried it and struck Lee with both hands on his sword. It was Lee’s instincts that saved his life, even though the blow left a deep cut on his chest.
22,21. The two warriors ferociously sliced and stabbed at each other. Age and experience was fighting youth and agility. Lee could feel that he was winning. Another shuriken flew carelessly at Lee. Instinctively, he struck it away, realizing at the next instant what a grave mistake he had done. Lee’s defenses agape, Yong leapt at him, as if in slow motion, and Lee watched in awe as Yong twisted in air thrice, each time striking a deadly slash on Lee’s chest.
10,9. With the minuscule amount of energy left, Lee swiped and struck at him furiously, straining his fingers. But Yong parried, as he knew he had done enough damage to win him the match.
Exasperated, Lee shouted out, “Fight back, you coward!” Unbelievably, the fingers of his opponent trembled for a split second. Seizing the opportunity, Lee soared in the air like an eagle, and thrust his sword deep into his opponent’s heart. Yong fell, lifeless, at his feet.
The timer struck zero.
To the roaring applause of the spectators, Lee stood up, greeted Yong, and apologized for the swearing. Standing up from his gaming console, Yong replied with a smile, “You’ve won fair and square, young man. See you in the next tournament.”
6. Molest At The opera by Kuan Guat Choo
“Tok! Chang! Terock…. terock….terock….tok…tok…tok…chang! Tok chang! Tok Chang! Tok tok tok chang!……Tok chang! Tok chang! Tok tok chang…….”
The drums beat. The cymbals crashed. The music started with a crash and then a dragged out beat which became faster and faster and at the same time louder.This was the announcement that the opera was going to begin. The spectators who had been standing nonchalantly here and there converged at the bottom of the stage and jostled each other for a better view. There were seats but these were cordoned off. Not many people could afford to pay for the seats so they just stood around.
The red curtains billowed open. The drums and cymbals went into a frenzied beat then total silence for a few seconds ……..
“Aiee…yah…yah….yah…..” sang the player who strode out boldly in his male role.
“Eeee…..oooor……eeeee…….ooor…….” the Chinese fiddlers accompanied the tenor and the opera was in full swing ……..
Uncle Bulldog’s wife, Ah Sim (the term used to address a paternal younger uncle’s wife) was a hot fan of Chinese opera and she would stand enthralled watching for hours.
Ah Sim would go the New World Park or Great World Park in her teens to stand and watch. Standing room was free and she had a good view of the stage. This total absorption in the opera made her less alert of her surroundings until she felt something hard jabbing in the middle of her sacrum just where the buttocks bifurcated. She knew what it was after discussing about it with her friends.
After that when she went to watch the opera she would protect her back by placing both hands behind her. Once she felt something longish and heavy placed in her hands. She snatched both hands away and at the same time turned to look and found a grinning jackass with his dong hanging out of his pants. Being young, her reaction was one of fright and disgust and she left the Park with her companions swiftly. After that incident she went to watch the operas with a long sharp pin in her hair. If this happened again, she was going to give the guy a deep jab right in the offending organ to kill whatever libido the guy had. Of course once prepared, it never happened again.
The Great World Park and New World Park are derelicts now. The days of Merry-go-rounds and carousels have gone. The dodgem cars do not move anymore. The ferris wheel stays still. The stage where the “Pay for a dance” band played is empty and silent. The enclosed hall where the striptease artist performed to pack houses are overgrown with weeds.
Ah Sim can now only watch her operas once a year during the Chinese seventh moon when the operas are put up for the benefit of the hungry ghosts who are let out from hades to roam the earth. I do not think she was ever molested again.
7. The Interview by DJ Jones
Sitting outside the office, Connie cursed herself for arriving too early. She looked too keen. No, she looked as if she wasn’t busy. She licked her lips. There was a water cooler opposite her, but her legs were like jelly. Get the water, she told herself, otherwise you won’t be able to speak.
She ran through it in her mind – why he should let her keep her job, how good she was at it, her maturity and experience. How well she knew the company – after all, she had been here for nearly thirty five years. Never mind that her memory wasn’t good, that she often forgot details, forgot names. Customer names, supplier names. Worse still, colleague’s names. But she had hidden it well – so far no one had noticed. She prayed she could make it through this interview without forgetting his name.
Connie glanced at his secretary, who looked back disdainfully. “Mr Stayrdup will be with you shortly,” she said, glancing at her watch as if to underscore the fact that Connie was too early.
Connie smiled with relief. She had been unsure how to pronounce his name, but knew it was imperative to address your superiors correctly. Mr Stayrdup. Mr Start Up. Start up the car. Connie formed a picture of Mr Stayrdup sitting behind the wheel of her car, a battered Morris Minor. Mr Start Up. Start up, start up. Connie imagined the rasp as the key turned in the ignition, imagined Mr Start Up pumping the accelerator and the smell of petrol as the engine roared into life.
The secretary picked up her phone and motioned to Connie. “Mr Stayrdup will see you now.”
The office was large, the desk expansive, but the man sitting behind it was small and round, with sallow skin and oily hair. He regarded her without smiling. “As you know Connie, I’m at the helm of the new management team. New broom and all that. I need experienced people around me. People who are open to change, who’ll put aside their loyalties to the old guard and move forward with me. Where do you stand on this?”
Feeling sick with dismay, Connie bit back her anger. She took a deep breath, trying to craft her words carefully. After all, she was single, had a mortgage to pay, and couldn’t afford to jeopardise her company pension. She had to work with this pompous man, whose name she could hardly remember. Start up, start up, start up.
Forcing herself to smile at him, she said confidently, “I’m with you, Mr Upstart.”
8. The Intruder by Eunie Guyre
Mary Beth sat huddled against the headboard. She could feel her heart pounding as her eyes fixed on the closed bedroom door.
“Please God, help me”, she prayed silently.
She couldn’t hear the intruder, but she knew he was still somewhere in the apartment.
When she was married and Ben was away on business, Mary Beth sometimes had trouble sleeping in her large 12-room house because she heard creaks and groans late at night and imagined someone coming in from the basement or through the windows.
Since divorcing six months ago, she felt secure in her third floor condo. There was only one way in and out. She had not been afraid because she never anticipated what was happening now.
Tonight she felt almost paralyzed with fear. How had he gotten in? Had he seen her leaving to get the mail and gone inside while she was downstairs? If so, why hadn’t she seen him?
As Mary Beth headed to her bedroom for her reading glasses, she saw his foot and bolted like a deer and locked herself in. Hair on her arms spiked like boar’s bristles and she was too scared to scream.
“Think, think”, she told herself. If she opened the bedroom window and screamed, would anyone hear her? Her only exit was from her bedroom through the kitchen and into the dining room to the hallway.
Still hugging her knees and barely breathing, Mary Beth’s eyes darted around the room. What could she grab to scare away the invader? She decided to arm herself with the metal chain belt she kept in her chest of drawers.
Summoning up her courage, Mary stepped down from her bed and tip toed to her dresser and gingerly opened her top drawer. Slowly lifting the gold chain belt from its box and wrapping the end of it around her right hand, she took a deep breath. She turned the doorknob, yanked the door open, and swinging the belt wildly from side to side, she ran yelling, “Get out, get out, get out” until she safely reached the hallway and her neighbor’s door.
Frantically pounding on the door across from her own, she shouted, “Open the door, Katy. There’s a mouse in my house!”
9. Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Renee Newman
“I strongly encourage you to quit drinking, it is affecting your mental health,” says my psychiatrist. WHAT? Does he realize that I am Irish? I was born to drink. Without drinking, I have no personality. He knows that I have social anxiety disorder. Without the drink, I can hardly even talk to people, let alone, be charming. How could my mental health be any worse? I am not trying to win a mental health contest, I just want to be able to make people laugh and have the outward appearance of a jovial person.
As I slump out of my $180 session, I run the convo through my head. The thought of alcoholism had crossed my mind before. However, I wasn’t ready to quit. But I guess I had no choice, so I quit.
Now, Friday nights typically consist of housework and pizza. This used to be enjoyable because I would top off a bottle of wine…and even housework is fine with wine. But these days, Friday nights are just not the same. I have been sober for 123 days and it is still a daily struggle. I have found a good substitute however – non-alcoholic beer, and it is not bad. It gives me the same sense of relaxation because I LOVE the taste of beer.
These days, I dread going to the party shop by my house, because they know me. The first sign that you have a drinking problem – the liquor store owner calls you by name. And drinking non-alcoholic beer is not glamorous. People tend to think something is wrong with you. And of course, there is nothing wrong with ME!!
So I go to a new liquor store. However, the downfall of going somewhere new is that you don’t know where anything is located. I search the beer selection several times. I can’t find it. I don’t want to ask. I hate asking.
Yay! I spot it! But it is on the top shelf behind the “real” beer. Seriously? I hike up one leg and take a step onto the bottom shelf. I almost send a twelve packs rollin’, but I don’t care. I must get beer! I have to take out a six-pack of domestic to get to my beer. This is un-believe-able!! I am balancing the sixer on my leg, while pulling mine from the fridge. I must look ridiculous.
I somehow finally manage to wrestle the beer from the fridge and get it to the counter. By this time, I am red in the face and am panting from the manual labor. It is then that I realize the owner was watching me. He chuckles under his breath while examining the box. “You know this is non-alcoholic beer, right?”
As I leave the store with a sense of defeat, I vow to never go there again. I will stick to the place where everyone knows my name.
10. Yesterday by Mohammad Iqbal
Yesterday morning I walked to the bank to deal with some routine business. On the way, I found myself in monotonous hullabaloo of the traffic engulfing me. A cold shiiver swept into my body in spite of warm weather.
There were faces, flat expressionless, empty eyes, without emotions, or if there were any, they were “mean”. Just moving, moving very fast, avoding the looks of each other. In the bank, when I reached, the attending officer asked me to sit and wait. The mechanism of the atmosphere frightened me, all the work was going on mechanically, for some moments I felt myself pervaded by machines.The magic was broken at the voice of the officer who was calling my name. It made me feel stress, so I came back. I was not feeling relaxed.
I thought I would have been released at this morning. In the afternoon, I spent all the time reading or try to read. Something was missing. I found one book which had the grip to keep the reader stuck with it. I don’t know when I put the book away, and drowned in deep ponder or may be in slumber. In this silent reverie, a face evolved slightly in my eyes. A sweet smiling face, full of love and tenderness, seeping some memories from my veins, let me feel very happy, I swept into my bed and closed my eyes contented.