Short Story Competition: The Grand Final

The time we all have been waiting for has finally arrived. It is the Grand Final of the first Short Story Competition on our blog. We had 8 batches over the past 8 weeks, each with 10 stories competing for an entrance on this final.

As you can imagine the quality of the stories you will find today is pretty high. Make sure to read them and to cast a vote for your favorite! The poll will close next Sunday at midnight.

The three stories with the highest number of votes will win a prize worth $250 each.

The Sponsor

The competition is being sponsored by WhiteSmoke. It will offer 3 full licenses to the executive edition of its writing software (with a value of $250 each).

If you are considering to buy a professional writing software, check out the ones from WhiteSmoke. They have the most advanced spelling, punctuation and grammar checkers on the market, as well as a patented style checker to improve your text.

Now to the stories!

Batch 1 Winner: 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!”

Batch 2 Winner: The Symphony by Tepring E Crocker

I raise my arms and feel silence press into the hall behind me. The concentration on the faces seated before me is palpable, an energy I could touch if I dared move my hand. Eighty breaths are held as one. Time stands still. I flick my baton, bring it down with a sweep of anticipation to tap the wellspring that lies at the bottom of the arc.

Sound flows. I work the air with the baton and the sound swells. It pours off the stage into the audience where it is soaked up by those who are parched with worries, thirsty for comfort. I mold the sound with my arms, my body sways. My toes push my heels off the platform. I weave the sound, stroke it, cajole it. I yank it and jerk it until it ceases to be air vibrating against string and shuddering brass. It is no longer frequency and decibel. It no longer belongs to words like “harmony” and “counterpoint”. Once it passes through my arms, it becomes more than any word can contain.

The sound unfolds differently within each listener. Some become drenched in memory, some swim as peacefully as in the womb. Some struggle and weep. Some find joy in the sound’s creation and peer past the transformation of my weaving onto the stage, hoping for a glimpse of genesis.

And then I begin to tell the stories.

My baton calls to the strings. Tears spring forth and spill off the stage to join the deluge. Mothers cry and Angels weep.

The drums are summoned. War marches through the hall and the cry of battle echoes from balcony to balcony.

The horns answer. A hero rises! Evil is defeated. Love conquers.

Flutes and oboes rejoice. All of nature sings.

My arms tire and the flow ebbs to a trickle. I look to the faces before me, and together we reach into the depths of creation to wring out every last ounce of sound. With a final, excruciating sweep, I bring the baton to rest. It hovers, motionless, before the orchestra. Eighty breaths are held as one. Time stands still.

I drop my arms.

The dry silence lingers for a moment. Then one drop of sound plops onto the stage, splashed from a pair of hands near the front row. Then another. Then a dozen, then thousands of hundreds of raindrops bathe us in applause. The hall rumbles with the thunder of approval. I bow into the gale, then wave the orchestra to its feet. My cheeks are wet. My eyes are damp. I bow again.

“Mom! When’s supper going to be ready?!”

I hastily wipe my eyes as my cozy kitchen reappears around me. The spaghetti is bubbling on the stovetop and steam rises all the way to the vent in a misty column.

“10 minutes. Go wash up!” I yell back. The bread is almost ready and I need to set the table.

Still humming, I turn off the iPod.

Batch 3 Winner: Sunset by Ginger Edwards

The chemotherapy left Dorothy minus her eyebrows and eyelashes, and with fuzz in place of her once long, brown hair. Some days she felt too sick to get out of bed, but did because her son, Jimmy, needed her. He was her strength and her joy.

In spite of the surgery and treatments, the last tests showed new cancer. Her close relatives were gone and her friends were unable to assume the responsibility of raising a child. Who would take care of her seven-year-old son?

Dorothy approached two adoption agencies, but they denied her plea to choose Jimmy’s new parents. In desperation, she sought the help of an attorney. With his assistance, they devised a plan for legal adoption where she could make the decision of who would raise her son. After interviewing several prospects, she chose a loving couple who dearly wanted her boy.

Unsure how to tell her precious son that after losing his father, he was going to lose her as well, Dorothy searched deep within for the strength to do what must be done. Later that afternoon she took Jimmy to the beach. Most of the day visitors were packing up their towels, hats, umbrellas, coolers and suntan lotion to go home with sun-reddened skin and sand chaffing inside their bathing suits.

Barefooted, Dorothy and Jimmy wore jeans with the pant legs rolled up and matching sweat jackets with the hoods pulled down. Jimmy ran ahead, picked up a seashell and held it high as he raced back for Dorothy to admire it. Together they strolled along the water’s edge, digging their toes into the wet sand. They sat on a flat rock watching the waves’ lacy edges embrace the beach.

Dorothy took a deep breath. “Honey, sometimes people go to heaven when they don’t want to leave the people they love.”

The boy nodded. “You mean like Daddy.”

“Yes, like Daddy.” She watched Jimmy play with his seashell as the sun slid lower in the sky, coloring the dancing waves a golden hue.

“I’m going to visit Daddy soon. While I’m away, I found a nice couple who will care for you.”

Jimmy looked out over the ocean and smiled.

Dorothy followed his gaze to see a lone seagull silhouetted against the horizon. A second gull appeared and together they flew toward the glowing sunset. Tears trickled down her cheeks.

Jimmy took her hand. “Don’t cry Mommy. You can hug Daddy for me.”

Batch 4 Winner: Silver Magic by Karen Rancont

“Once upon a time, Lunial, a dragon, suffered under a curse, to live among men as a man. He had been in the guise of a man for so long his heart became like a man’s. He fell in love with the king’s daughter.

The princess returned his love. Unfortunately, she was pledged to another. When this prince came to claim her, she ran away with Lunial. They married and lived together in a cave. She kept it as their house while he labored in the fields. Their lives were happy for though they did not have much, they had each other.

The prince was unhappy, and bade his magicians to find out what they could about this man the princess loved above all else. When he learned his rival was a cursed dragon, he decided to become a hero to two kingdoms, and regain the princess.

He hid, waiting for Lunial to return home. The prince struck from behind, driving his lance through him. Lunial struggled against the weapon pinning him while he bled silver. But, the lance was spelled to withstand a dragon’s might.

The prince left to find witnesses for his triumph. When Lunial died, the curse would lift. The prince’s lance transfixing a dragon to the ground would be proof he had slain it, the cowardice of his action concealed by the transformation.

The princess appeared before the prince returned. She couldn’t free the lance. Lunial started to confess his secret. But she said not to worry; she had seen the silver blood. She knew he was a dragon.

She kissed him. In a spray of magic he became a dragon again and wrested the lance from his shoulder.

“You freed me! My curse was to live as a man until a woman loved me knowing my true nature, though I could not speak of it. But, this is no place for a dragon. I will have to leave you…” The dragon moaned for he loved the princess very much.

“No,” the princess said. In the imperious way of princesses, she commanded, “Lean down so I can reach!”

He did. She kissed him again before daubing some of his silver blood on her forehead and over her heart. “Two kisses combine, like to like, heart to heart, mind to mind; I choose my love, he chooses me, together we shall always be!”

“Just then, the prince returned. The princess denounced him for his cowardice. As she finished speaking, the love spell she had cast took effect. She became a dragon herself. The dragons flew off from this very point, and they…”

“…lived happily ever after!” An eternally young man approached, hand in hand with a regal woman.

The storyteller crossed his arms and pouted. “Lunial, you always ruin it!”

Grinning, Lunial exchanged a glance with his wife. They turned into silver dragons and winged across the water.

“Happily ever after,” the storyteller repeated under his breath.

Batch 5 Winner: Lefty’s Disappearance by Andrew Rambo

The name’s Jack. I’m a writer, not necessarily a great one, just one who knows how to put words to paper and blow some essence into them. Sure I get pieced into a few pulp rags here and there, but just enough to keep the lights on. My publicist said I might even swing a book deal soon, but right now that doesn’t matter, not since I’d lost one of my favorite socks. Without those socks I’m as useless as a zebra on a bicycle.

Two days ago I had a pair of thick brown socks that made you feel like you were walking on fuzzy springs. The kind of softness you might get if you turned a puppy inside out and wore it. Yeah, that soft. I loved those socks and always donned them before working on my Dirk Studmann stories. The Ex bought them for me to keep my feet warm when I first started writing. The old apartment was drafty, and she was caring. A lot of things have changed since then, but not the socks. I got published with those socks, and inspiration seemed sewn into the toes. They were the only thing she hadn’t taken when she left. So when it was time to get back to the grind a couple of days ago I knew for a fact that they were finishing up their current stint in the dryer.

Ah, the dryer. Few things in life make a person happier than slipping on warm clothes onto naked skin. Some might say it feels better than sex—and I’d be one to agree with them. But when I went to retrieve them from the dryer I discovered my anticipated ménage à trois was reduced by one. I knew as well as I knew my own name I’d put both of them in there along with some towels, but now one of them wasn’t there.

I’d worn those socks more times than I’d been thrown out of bars, so I knew I was holding the right one. Lefty was missing. Which meant only one thing: the damn dryer must’ve eaten it.

A crowbar, flashlight, and perseverance proved to be futile thirty minutes later: no Lefty. My muse had seemingly vanished into stagnant, basement air—but I know that’s not possible, I don’t buy into the sci-fi angle. He’s gone because she took him. Last night she phoned to say she was coming over for a few more things. Apparently that meant my career. I don’t know how she did it—must’ve snuck in while I showered—but she definitely took Lefty.

So now I wait, here in the basement with the roaches. I called her an hour ago, told her it was about a book deal. The thought of money will make her come running like a dog to a pork chop. Then, one way or another, I’ll get Lefty back. Or she’ll die trying.

Either way, I’ll have something to write about.

Batch 6 Winner: Teens Gone Wild by Benjamin Hall

“Pregnant! When’s it due?” Shauna joyfully shouts the words into the phone, listens, and hangs up. Jumping up and down she turns to me, “Oh my God, Tony, we’re going to have a baby to take care of.”

We dance around in a circle laughing hysterically until her mom screams for us to shut up and settle down. We run outside to the bench under the willow tree.

“I’ll bet it’s going to be a boy,” I say, rocking an imaginary baby.

“Well, I’m hoping it’s a girl, so there,” says Shauna.

She looks into my eyes, “Tony, I love you. We are the cause of a new life entering this world.”

“I love you too—and they say thirteen is too young to know what love is.”

“Yeh, but I’ll be fourteen in ten months.”

“And I’ll be fourteen in seven.”

“Plus, my boobs have already started to show.”

I look at the slight bulges on her thrust out chest.

Shauna’s face turns serious, “We can’t tell anybody about this. Swear it!”

“Okay, my mouth is glued shut.”

She puts her hand on my cheek, looks at me with those doe eyes and whispers “Daddy.”

I do the same to her and say “Mommy”.

We start laughing out of control again and wind up dancing around the trunk of the willow. In a while, we sit back down on the bench, all grins.

“What time do you have to baby-sit,” I ask?

“Mrs. Murphy said to be there at six. She warned me again not to sneak you in anymore. God, it’s been months since they came home early and caught us pigging-out on all their goodies.”

“When did you say Mrs. Murphy will give birth? That’s going to stop our pig-outs for a while, since she’ll be home all the time with the new baby.”

“She’s due the first part of June, and won’t need me again ‘til the baby’s about two months old. She’ll probably stay home the last few before it’s born too, so I won’t get to baby-sit for four or five months.”

In April the baby-sitting stops, but we don’t care. We have plans to make about how we’ll raise our baby.

The first part of September my cell rings. . . . “Oink, Oink,” Shauna shouts to me, “Mrs. Murphy just called and wants me there at 8 o’clock. Guess what? She went grocery shopping today. God, we’ll get to raid the goodies big-time tonight.”

“I’m in the back door before the Murphys are even out of the driveway. We run to the baby’s bassinet and look down at our baby, the one we caused to be born when we poked tiny needle holes in the condoms we found while snooping in the bedroom drawers.”

Our baby coos at the attention we’re giving her.

Before we head for the munchies, I look knowingly at Shauna, “Nothing like a planned pregnancy, huh Mommy?”

Batch 7 Winner: One Shot by Alex McElroy

Every night Raymond shot at the same cans—two chicken noodles, three tomatoes, and a cream of mushroom—after dinner in the backyard while his mom washed the dishes and his father read the paper. It was a 22 caliber rifle; the machine his father said Will fill the family’s dinner plates when he became a man.

He’d been shooting at the cans for months, ordered by his father—You need to learn to shoot a stationary target before the real thing—but the novelty was wearing off. What was once a thrill (I wonder how much of it will fly off?!) shifted into an intolerable bearing. He knew how much of the can would disappear when he hit—he could knock the bell’s right off with enough concentration—and could care less about shooting; but every night his father sent him out: rifle over his shoulder, repetition in his eyes.

It was Friday, the cans emaciated (Raymond’s mother would replace them on Saturday, after a week’s worth of dinner), resembling shrunken ocean sponges, and Raymond wanted more than anything to go inside. He lifted the butt of the rifle to his shoulder, aimed at a decimated chicken noodle, and a trigger pull later watched as minuscule sparks floated next to nutrition facts. He took five shots, each one less deliberate than the last—missing the last two, souvenirs into the waves of grass behind the fence—before he decided to close his eyes. The targets never change, why not test myself? he thought, holding the butt at his shoulder, barrel blindly pointed as his finger smothered the trigger. The first shot screamed—a loud crash followed by the ting of metal on metal. Raymond smiled, readjusted himself, and closed his eyes. The second shot kicked the butt into his shoulder, tripped him onto the ground. When he stood up he saw the deer—limping through the field, craning its neck back every other step to lick the red leak at its hind leg.

Raymond picked up the rifle, ran inside. His father looked up from the paper, asked how the recycling was going (He didn’t like the joke, but laughed for his father’s sake). He nodded, put the gun on the table, sprinted upstairs.

Raymond watched from the bathroom window as the doe hobbled through the uncut grass of his backyard. It staggered as others passed—bounding effortlessly while the doe dragged itself. He traced its path with his fingertip along the window until it departed into the woods. Raymond backed up, pressed his palm into the wall above the toilet and cried—cursing the full plates of his family—as his dinner sprang from his stomach.

Batch 8 Winner: 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.

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58 thoughts on “Short Story Competition: The Grand Final”

  1. I really enjoyed most of these stories, but one stands out in cleverness – Teens Gone Wild. I laughed when I read it the first time. I even found myself re-telling it to friends, to get their response. I like a story that is believable, and this one certainly is! Thumbs up for Benjamin Hall.

  2. Wow, I was a little surprised at those who made it to the finals. That is to say when I voted, there were other stories in the lead at the time. However, my choice came down to three of which I previously voted for and from there it wasn’t too difficult a choice. I went with “Lefty’s Disappearance” because I like the detective concept in looking for a sock!

  3. Teens Gone Wild by Benjamin Hall again has my vote! The cleverness of this story combined with the big twist at the end that leaves one’s jaw hanging keeps me coming back! Great job!!! I look forward to more stories from this author!

  4. I once observed the mother of a baby hide behind a couch while her child was in his playpen. When she disappeared, the baby (who had no understanding of object permanence), began to panic– eyes scanning fearfully, breath quickening, tears slipping down his cheeks. Ten seconds later, the mother popped out from behind the couch. “Look, baby! Here I am!” And the baby’s face smoothed into a smile and the rivulets of tears dried. And the mother liked to watch the baby think she had disappeared, enjoyed glimpsing the panic in his eyes and the quivering of his chin. Her favorite part, though, was the jumping out. I LED YOU TO BELIEVE I WAS GONE, BUT I’VE BEEN HERE ALL ALONG. SEE ME CONTROL YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS. LOOK AT ME OBSERVE YOUR REACTION TO MY GAME. LOOK AT ME TRICK YOU.

    When I read “The Intruder” and “Teens Gone Wild,” I can’t help but feel like I am the baby, and the authors are the mothers, tricking us because they can.

    Getting to the end of a story and realizing that there is no point, no redeeming value, nothing that impacted or changed the reader… knowing that the entire plot was only a tool which the writer used to “pull one over on you”… I just don’t know how it’s possible call a story that intentionally misleads the reader ‘good writing’. I find it insulting, infuriating, and, frankly, a cheap trick.

    Maybe I’m wrong; maybe we read stories for the same reason we listen to jokes: to be entertained. Regardless, I’m curious to hear from the people who are voting for “The Intruder” and “Teens Gone Wild.” What about the writing sturck you? What made you vote for them? (Do you know the authors?)

  5. Congrats to all who made it to the final. These are the best of the best. I enjoyed reading them all, some good some not so good, but at least everybody tried. Thanks to one and all and I am looking forward to the next compitition.

  6. *As you can imagine the quality of the stories you will find today is pretty high. *

    Not so much. For example: The author of “Teens Gone Wild” has no idea how to punctuate dialogue. This

    “What time do you have to baby-sit,” I ask?

    is only one example of what I mean. That is not “good writing” by any stretch of the imagination.

    “The Intruder” has a cheap “twist ending” that left me irritated with the story for wasting my time. I found myself wishing there was a genuine intruder who was only using the mouse as a decoy and the melodramatic protagonist would get a knife in the back as she pounded on the neighbor’s door.

    “Sunset” is cheap sentimentality, overblown in a way that even Hallmark wouldn’t publish. The writing is, at best, mediocre.

    The tense confusion in the first paragraph of “One Shot” was enough to make me stop reading. Learn how to use verb tenses, people! Also, this author apparently owns a thesaurus, but not a dictionary. “the cans emaciated”? Inigo Montoya moment! (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

    Rather like the introduction to this final batch, actually… The “quality is pretty high”? As compared to what? I think we have very different definitions of the word “quality” as it applies to writing (and storytelling)!

  7. Scribbles-
    Why does everything have to be formal, sappy or expected? There is a plot to #6. For me it was to expect the unexpected. Or it could have been don’t judge without all of the facts. Do you not read mystery books? They always lead you to believe that you know who the guilty person is and in the end you are surprised because it was not who you thought. I get tired of reading the same old stuff all the time. Let your hair down and enjoy a laugh or a gotcha. Let’s mix it up some and have a little fun!!! Benjamin Hall did this perfectly in his story Teens Gone Wild. HE HAS MY VOTE!!!!

  8. @Irritated, “the quality is pretty high” in comparison to the 8 batches we have had so far.

    But yeah looks like you have a different definition for the word “quality” as most of us, because judging by the comments other people liked the stories.

    Also, looks like we have different expectations as well. I agree with you that some of the stories were not perfect, had a couple of mistakes and so on, but were you expecting otherwise on a small writing competition on a small blog?

    I think you just need to relax a bit 🙂 . Either that or send us your writing pieces so we can get a clue of what quality writing is.

  9. To irritated,

    First off, Where is the tense shift? It’s all past tense with unquoted dialog in there if that’s what youre calling me out on. And as a matter of fact I don’t have a thesaurus, I have a mouse which I can right click and find similar words, which is much easier. Emaciated might not fit in the defintion of how you think a can could be, but it’s shriveled, holey, and shrunken, and fits into the theme of the story, following a boy who ends up wanting to be emaciated himself over what he’s done. aka i’m probably the best writer there ever was and 7%? come on?!

  10. oh and the semicolon was completely unnecessary in my story, so i’m surprised you let something so incredibly grammatically incorrect slip past your magic correction pen. cheers, hugs, kisses, smirks, passive-agressive grins!

  11. IRRITATED (formerly Confused):

    I’d appreciate it if you’d email me. We seem to have similar views regarding what good/bad writing entail, and I’d be curious to know more about you and your writing background and possibly exchange feedback regarding our individual pieces.

    [email protected]

  12. The story of the child orphaned by cancer is too accurate, its reality hits home with families today. Children see and know and understand more than we think and approach the end of life with a simple wisdom.

  13. I found Lefty amusing, but Sunset touches my heart. It deals with a difficult subject without being depressing or dark, and that takes solid writing skills. Being a mother, and having had to deal with cancer myself, this brought back a lot. Luckily I never had to say goodbye to my child and am still here – but this was beautifully handled for the situation and depicted in the written word quite well.

  14. Some of these could use a bit more work, ie: punctuation. I will say congradulations to every writer here. It takes a lot to put yourself out there to be critted. Some people cannot take it, as the writer, and others making the comments are sometimes quite harsh, which makes less writers want to show in such forums, and thats sad.

    For myself, I find it best to say well done too all, and then make my vote. Mine went to Sunset. I have been reading all the batches, all the way through and from the first time I read it, I like it and I still do.

  15. *“the quality is pretty high” in comparison to the 8 batches we have had so far.*

    IMO, the quality is not as high as it could have been because I don’t feel that all the ‘quality’ pieces were voted through to this round, BUT that’s okay because (if memory serves me correctly) we have only ever been asked to vote for our ‘favourite’ not for the highest quality piece. Personally, I think that’s the correct approach for a competition where laypeople are asked to vote for a winner.

    I take my hat off to everyone who has had the guts to allow their stories to be posted online for the all world to see. Good luck to you all! 🙂

  16. @ Skribbles, the way you react to a story makes it seem like you’re off your rocker. Did you miss your psych meds? What kind of screwed up childhood did you have if you think that watching a baby cry is funny or entertaining? BTW, you don’t have to know an author, to know you like their writing.

    @Irritated, it’s not about punctuation, it’s about your favorite story.

  17. This has been a fun competition. I will miss reading these stories every week. Thank you to everyone who entered.

    Congrats to all who are still in the competition. May we all look back on this competition in a year and be better writers at that time.

  18. @Dereth
    Hm. So is this a popularity contest or a writing competition? Yes, writing derives its value by what those who read it think of it, but at the same time, published writing and writing in contests OUGHT to be expected to meet a certain quality standard. Some of these stories simply did not meet that standard. If a writer cannot be bothered to do simple proofing and copy-editing, he/she has no business in a competition, period. It is a shame that so many writers who did not show the contest or their readers enough respect to proof read made it into the finals.

  19. My vote goes to Sunset. The writer has grasped the emotions that a single parent faced with the onset of a terminal illness for which there is as yet no known cure. The feelings of responsibility toward a child left behind that you are no longer able to care for and protect. Some may call it syrupy because it deals with emotions they have never experienced, but any who have lost a family member or close friend to cancer know it is all too true. The feeling of inner peace when an acceptable solution is found and gained the child’s understanding is a relief from the feelings of failure that have added to the parent’s pain.
    It is also very well written grammatically.

  20. I am not a writer in this contest, nor do I know the blog-owner or sponsor. I am a just a grandma who loves to read and write. I came to this site simply to vote .

    It seems to me this contest has been well-planned by the blog owner and prize contributor. Everyone wins!

    1. New writers get a chance to be published and read. So there are mistakes? No big deal. That’s a valuable lesson learned before submitting to a traditional publisher. Even if he/she doesn’t earn a prize, the new author gains valuable experience. In view of that, the author wins!

    2. Any contest has rules. These rules say that the winner is the one with the most votes – not who is judged worthy by experts. Writers are expected to ask friends and family to vote for them. The readers get lots of stories to read and enjoy. The reader wins!

    3. All those people coming onto the site to read and vote bring more hits to the site. The blog-owner wins!

    4. The same voters, when entering the site, see the sponsor advertisement. Probably some will purchase the writing software. The sponsor wins!

    I’m impressed with this site. It has wonderful writing tips! I plan to be a regular visitor here and plan to try my hand in the next competition. I might not submit a perfectly written story, but I do have good stories to tell. 🙂

  21. @Dereth: Did you not read my post? The whole point was that the mother (like, the two authors I mentioned) got off on tricking other people, on making them think one thing and then jumping out and saying JUST KIDDING, and I think that’s cheap and pathetic.

    Also, I only asked if people knew the authors of those stories, because the only way I can imagine someone would vote for either of them would be if they were a friend of one of the writers and felt obligated.

    And yes. I did take my psych meds today. Thanks.

  22. @ Ellie

    I agree that there should be strong grammar, punctuation, etc.; however, this is a short story competition for blooming writers and people are voting for what they like best. I have seen many stories with perfect grammar etc. that lacked a decent story line. Having both is great but I vote for the one with the better story line. I’m sure there are others that vote for other reasons. That is the glory of voting 🙂 Majority wins and every voice is heard but as a friend told me recently – everyone is a winner that is making an effort as these writers have! They put their heart on the line. Sadly they end up having to deal with people that are looking for an excuse to slam someone. I’m not referring to you. I’m not talking about honest critiques. I’m talking about the crazy ones that show up with off the wall comments and use a public forum as a sounding board for their unhappiness. That is a lot to deal with when all these writers are trying to do is share a story they worked hard on. I agree with the person that posted something about how much courage it takes to put your story out there. Behind each story is a person and they matter. I’m anxious to see how the votes end up!

  23. I am an artist. I create art on my computer. I write poetry and songs. I sing. I play electric bass guitar. My heart soars when another professional or critic gives me kudos. But kudos do NOT pay my bills. Ordinary people who like my creations and music pay my bills. If people do NOT come to my “show” I do NOT get hired again. To say that only professionals should be judging this contest is like saying because my work or performance get kudos from another professional or critic that I should get paid. Get REAL. Anything we create is being “judged” by laypeople. And the truth of the matter is, that is ALL that really matters. YES ~ it is a popularity contest!!!! All of you probably have a favorite author and when a new book is released by that artist you buy it. Why? Not because the “reviews” are good, but because you like the author. It is hard for a new artist in any field to be recognized. Everyone here has done a GREAT job. I hope all of you are developing “thick skin” because if you pursue a career as a writer you will need it. There will always be critics to tear your work apart. Hopefully there will also be “laypersons” waiting for your next publication.

    With that said my favorite is Sunset. Seven years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer. Just before going into surgery I was told by one of the doctors he did not expect me to survive the advanced cancer. I decided then and there I would try every available treatment and not give up. But I also made my peace and accepted that I might truly die. I spent special time with family, loved ones and friends. None of us said goodbye, but we knew too well that it might be. Having faced that, Sunset really tugs at my heart strings. I am glad I don’t have to watch my seagulls flying off into the sunset yet.

  24. I don’t believe anyone ever said only “professionals” should judge the contest. What was said was that the entries SHOULD have been required to meet basic professional standards of grammar and punctuation, which all good writers should follow.

    I have no idea how visual art works – if there are rules and such, but in writing there ARE. These rules – mechanics – are generally enforced by “buffers” between the artist and the public. Agents, editors, publisher – they all make sure that things are properly edited before the public ever sess them. But one sure way to get your story rejected by an agent or publisher is not to proof it before you send it to him/her.

    The expectation that people write MECHANICALLY well is NOT at all unreasonable – and it’s often as simple as using your word processor’s built-in proofing tools. The fact that many entrants could not be bothered to proof the entries before submission shows a lack of professionalism and respect for their audience that is frankly disappointing.

    But the blame is not all on the artists either. It is a great disappointment to me that the “host” of the contest did not reject those entries that were not proofed and edited. It further REALLY disappoints me that so many readers of this site – a site dedicated to GOOD writing habits – make excuses for these writers who showed their audience, the contest, and the craft itself so little respect. There is NO excuse for some of the blatant errors present in these stories. None. Zero.

    What these overly forgiving opinions demonstrate is that parents and teachers have apparently not done their jobs, and that a culture that believes that “everyone’s a winner” is eroding our writing, our basic communication. As a writer and a teacher, I find this truly disheartening.


  25. From this ‘comments’ section:

    “Sunset touches my heart… Being a mother, and having had to deal with cancer myself, this brought back a lot.”

    “My vote goes to Sunset….any who have lost a family member or close friend to cancer…”

    “With that said my favorite is Sunset. Seven years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer.”

    My story is the last one (both in position and place), and I wonder if the voting would be any different if, at the beginning of the opening paragraph, I wrote: Like a jewel thief, cancer broke into our lives and took from us that which shines the brightest: our little Emily Rose.

  26. well what do you know, a writing contest blog turns into an argument over whether or not cancer is too corny and sappy to be written about in a short story. and to be honest, it’s not, WHEN DONE CORRECTLY. everyone on this site who’s taling up, “Sunset” likes to share their personal spb stories about cancer as if they’re the first person in history to have it or know someone who did. “What, you mean you had CANCER?!?!?!? Youy brave soul, i hear that’s like Diptheria, but has a tendency to grow on you (duh-dum-cha).” I’m not speaking from a cold heart. Very close loves ones of mine have died from cancer, but I when I read something that makes it sound so cliche it makes me sick. “Oh, it’s tough, but with enough love in our hearts, we, and our children, will understand.” My hamster died when I was twelve, and i’m sure I could tug with enough effort at everyone’s heart strings to force a tear out of some eyes; but what’s the point? Look at Lorrie Moore’s “People Like that are the Only People Here”, a story about a baby–that’s right, BABY!!!–with cancer that ends up very funny and sad all at the same time, becuase that’s what ;ife is, a complex push and pull of sadness and laughter intertwined, forcing all of us to try and decide where we are, and unfortunately, a story that only makes you want to feel sad doesn’t do much for me. My grandmother called me different names as she died from lung cancer, the same as she did when normal, even vowing: “Nicholas, me and you are going to go school to school and tell these kids what smoking can do.” I laughed, and so did she, becuase I wasnt Nicholas, and she knew it wasn’t possible. Those are what you remember when someone dies, not how sad you were and what the seagulls looked like.

  27. I truly enjoyed this story! I was captivated in suspense from beginning all the way to the end. Detailed self expressed words used to describe characters and setting. It was easy for me to create a vision of story plot while reading! Very nicely written.

  28. The sun left Jolly Rancher minus her shimmer and shape, and with a sweater of ants in place of her once thin, plastic wrapper. Some days she felt too sticky to move, but tried because her owner, Jimmy, needed her. He was her strength and her joy.

    In spite of the cool breeze and determination, the last self-inspection showed more staleness. Her fellow Jolly Ranchers were gone and her friends—Twizzlers and Lemonheads—were not available in Watermelon. Who would take care of her seven-year-old owner’s watermelon craving?

    Jolly approached two store-brand watermelon candies, but they failed to measure up to her standards for flavor. In desperation, she sought the help of a candy connoisseur. With his assistance, they discovered a plethora of fancy candies. After interviewing several prospects, she chose a sweet watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher lollipop who dearly wanted to be in her boy’s mouth.

    Unsure how to tell her precious owner that, after losing his Laffy Taffy last week, he was going to lose her as well, Jolly searched deep within for the strength to do what must be done. Later that afternoon Jimmy stood next to her on the beach. Most of the day visitors were packing up their towels, hats, umbrellas, coolers and suntan lotion to go home with sun-reddened skin and sand chaffing inside their bathing suits.

    As the elements assaulted their bodies, Jimmy wore jeans with the pant legs rolled up and matching speckles of sugar ants dotted both their bodies. Jimmy ran ahead, picked up a seashell and held it high as he raced back for Jolly to admire it. Jolly longed to stroll along the water’s edge, Jimmy digging their toes into the wet sand. Instead, they sat on the flat rock she was stuck to watching the waves’ lacy edges embrace the beach.

    Jolly took a deep breath. “Honey, sometimes Jolly Ranchers go to heaven when they don’t want to leave the people they love.”

    The boy nodded. “You mean like Laffy.”

    “Yes, like Laffy.” She watched Jimmy play with his seashell as the sun slid lower in the sky, coloring the dancing waves a golden hue.

    “I’m going to visit Laffy soon. While I’m away, I found a nice watermelon lolli who will be here for you.”

    Jimmy looked out over the ocean and smiled.

    Jolly followed his gaze to see a lone seagull silhouetted against the horizon. A second gull appeared and together they flew toward the glowing sunset. Tears trickled down her west-facing side.

    Jimmy took her hand. “Don’t cry Jolly. You can hug Laffy for me.”

    I sure do miss my Jolly Rancher…:/

  29. In Defence of Peek-A-Boo:
    Isn’t the whole point of hiding from a baby and then coming back to teach it object permanence? Ease up on the classics, yo : )

    Now that that’s out of the way – I’m throwing myself behind 8. 7 would’ve been it – the view taken, the plot and the turn of phrase (in most cases – I’m against emaciated too) are great, and for subject matter I prefer it simply because it’s something I hadn’t heard or thought before. Unfortunately, I found it a bit thin up top – on my first attempt I only got through the first two paragraphs before wandering off. Anything so off-putting that I won’t read it through (and I’ve read some dreadful novels on principle) needs fixing.

    8 is frustrating in different ways. It may be odd for me to say so, but I found the subject matter bland, the treatment a bit predictable in parts. Other times it shone, with great, solid vignettes highlighting only the emotionally salient detail. It’s good, lean writing which illuminates and evokes pathos without drowning the reader in syrup. The tone is perfect – it’s in synch with the scene and the narrator’s character and state of mind.

    What stands out most about these two stories is that there’s art in every word – at least, perhaps, in every other word. (Yes, to a certain extent right-click thesauri are a creative tool, and their products art. Really.) They are enjoyable to read in the same way that a good story, or even a good joke, is worth listening to – consistently, from beginning to end. A story cannot be built around a twist, some final cleverness or confection, be it moral or superficial. The language has to be engaging. Your mother was right – it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it. Want proof? Try retelling a Billy Connolly joke : )

    Ok, enough ranting – I’ve never written anything much, so it’s not my place to judge. Y’all have fun.


  30. @Ellie Eisenford, quoting your comment: “What was said was that the entries SHOULD have been required to meet basic professional standards of grammar and punctuation, which all good writers should follow.”

    Who said that and where?

    The only requirements were that the stories should be original, and below 500 words. Period.

    The goal of the competition was solely to provide an opportunity for aspiring writers to share their pieces, and for our readers to read some different stories that would be coming from a wide range of backgrounds.

    That goal was completely met. Many of the authors thanked us for the opportunity to share their stories, and most readers liked the event as well (traffic was up by 30% during the competition days).

    If some of the stories contained grammatical errors or not it is another matter.

    Do I wish people would have taken the time to proofread twice? Yes.

    Do I think that is the end of the world and the English language as we know it? No.

    There are typos on the New York Time and on The Economist. Sometimes even grammatical mistakes.

    You were expecting that a small writing competition on a small writing blog would be free of those? And you think that is disheartening?

    Come on.

  31. Daniel,
    You asked who said that basic levels of proofing should be observed. I did. I said it – in response to another poster. And I believe it. I believe I am entitled to my opinion.

    And I think that the contest was a fabulous idea. You say that you wanted writers to share their writing, presumably to get some experience. Part of that experience SHOULD have been, in my opinion, finding out that you MUST proof your work before you send it out. Grammar and proofing are not “another matter,” they are inherent to the writing process.

    What is more, to say that your rules did not include the express statement that pieces must be proofed is silly. Many agent, publisher and periodical guidelines do not say “proof your manuscript for errors before you submit or they will be rejected,” but it IS an unspoken guideline. Most contests expect that as well, from my experience.

    And to suggest that the fact that large magazines and newspapers that turn out hundeds, if not thousands, of articles a day miss a few typos makes it “okay” or even “understandible” for a person turning in ONE piece to ONE contest to ignore the need to proof is ridiculous.

    I don’t think these deficiencies are the end of the English language. I never said that (so long as we’re worried about who said what when).

    And was I expecting all entries in a small writing competition to be completely free of errors? No. Did I hope people showed you, your site, the contest, writing and their readers enough respect to make a better effort? YES. Did I expect you, the host of the contest, to cull the more “unfinished” entries? Yes. Did I expect the readers / voters to be a bit more discerning? Yes.

    Many of the pieces were good – I voted for one of those. But many could have used significantly more work.

    Is it “disheartening” that the above did not happen? Yes. But what I frankly find most disheartening is that you, the host of the contest, showed so much derision for me, a reader, and for my opinions, when I simply expressed that I felt many contest entrants owed YOU, YOUR CONTEST, and YOUR READERS more respect.


  32. @E
    I think people that are disheartened and disappointed in life often use comment sections to soundboard their own unhappiness. Always something to blame for there negative feelings. There is always a classy way to express yourself or critique. It didn’t sound like Daniel had any derision toward you. You are the one that sounds like you have derision toward others. For the record I do not feel “disrespected” by any of the writers errors. I do feel disrespected by those who take something meant to be wonderful and turn it into an arena for their own negativity. I think some of the comments have been by people that are optimistically impaired. The errors writers make are not an assault directed at some poor victim reader which is how some of these comments/slams are coming across.

  33. To the ones who are trying to circumvent the web-master and set their own rules for this contest:

    When you see a contest that says vote, why on earth would you start critiquing the entrants? The contest did not ask for your critiques. If you don’t like a story, then don’t vote for it.

    Besides, a professional writer knows how to critique in a positive way. This fact alone hints to me that unprincipled wannabe’s are trying to be a big fish in a little pond. Why are you hanging out in such a small pond as this? Afraid you might get eat in the big pond where the real writers live?

    Out of the seventy-six entries, I doubt that more than one or two has ever been published, we are just trying to have a little fun and test our skills or lack of skills. This may shock you, but bullying a bunch of non-professionals makes you look the fool, not them. You are similar to a high school senior walking into an elementary school and ridiculing the children for not knowing algebra and telling them they should not be allowed to continue school because they are so dumb. I see this as being a bully, you apparently see it as being righteous. We don’t need you setting the rules of who can enter, or who is worthy to enter our contest. Go start your own Blog, our web-master has this one covered

    Remember, some people are assuming that you really are experts in the writing game, however, I have not seen your work, so I think maybe they could be wrong, could be wrong, could be wrong, . . .

    Surprisingly (to you), many people enjoyed this competition and the stories. Had I not voted for my own story I would have voted for “the Intruder”. My whole family laughed and enjoyed that one. To us, it was masterfully done. This reaction, being so different from your own, leads me to think maybe you should go find another pond to puke in, and let us have our fun.

    You belly-ached (you each know who you are) and critiqued our little pond harshly, but I will be nice and critique you politely:
    Nothing personal, but I believe if all of you are as low in stature as you are in principals, you can stand flat-footed and kiss a hummingbird’s rectum—without bending your knees.

    P.S. Don’t forget to punctuate this E-mail for all of us, We’re all hanging on your every caustic word.

  34. I liked the Symphony the first time and it gets my vote this round. Very good writing AND a surprise ending – something for everybody.

  35. @Ellie Enseinford,

    I think you are using a bit of rhetoric here:

    “And to suggest that the fact that large magazines and newspapers that turn out hundeds, if not thousands, of articles a day miss a few typos makes it “okay” or even “understandible” for a person turning in ONE piece to ONE contest to ignore the need to proof is ridiculous.”

    Those magazines and newspapers have hundreds of writers writing the hundreds of articles for them. There are writers on the New York Times and on The Economist that just write ONE article per week.

    On top of that, they get many editors controlling everything before it goes to impression, and both the writers AND the editors are getting paid a lot to do that error free.

    Still you are able to find typos and grammatical mistakes.

    Again I am not saying you are completely wrong. Some of your points are valid and I appreciate you taking the time to express them on our blog.

    I just think your judgment of the writers who submitted their stories with one or two errors was a bit harsh, and not 100% necessary.

  36. @ Christy Williams – I’m assuming you lost a child. Correct me if I’m wrong but if you did my heart goes out to you. Your story captured grief and the reality of what happens to a family after a tragedy.

    @Keith – It is a shame to share this beautiful planet with something like you. You are abhorent and I won’t waste another second of my life reading anything of yours. Hopefully if you ever have cancer your doctor’s won’t be a mirror image of you.

  37. (Everything stated below is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary. ^_^)

    It is disheartening to me to see how many people prefer the extended jokes, “gotcha!” stories, and banal real-world entries best of all. It’s also sad that writing technique has been held in such low regard so as to not have been given much weight in the judging process, as well.

    ‘Teens Gone Wild’ has some writing errors to go along with the truly appalling premise. The idea that one couple’s reproductive choice is co-opted by the actions of an immature babysitter and her hooligan boyfriend — especially that this is seen as a humorous plot worthy of several positive mentions in the comments here — horrifies me.

    I understand that ‘Sunset’ is touching a lot of people, but, having lost my own mother to cancer, I thought it trivialized the agony of knowing you are going to lose a parent, and not being able to do anything about it. I know that I will never be ‘okay’ with the fact that my mother is gone — and the idea that someone could be made content with this tearing loss by a single beach-side conversation didn’t work for me at all. I realize we bring our own baggage along when we read stories, but I found the story overly sentimental and ultimately, hollow.

    ‘Lefty’s Disappearance’ is fun, but a bit frightening at the same time. It’s not until the end, when Jack reveals that he’s willing to kill his ex-wife — over a sock — that I realized the point-of-view character is unhinged. It’s a subtle “gotcha” I can appreciate.

    ‘Symphony’ is brilliant. I admire how skillful the imagery to evoke ‘sound’ in my mind as I read the story. It takes top-notch writing to use one sense to bring forth another. The gentle twist at the end amuses me, too.

    I think it’s a crying shame that ‘Harvest’ from the first batch didn’t make it to this final round, as not only does it have a unique and refreshing premise, but is skillfully written, too. Before it is asked, no, I didn’t write it. I wish I could claim that I had.

    I understand we are all amateurs in writing, and that this is a contest for amateurs. I respectfully suggest that anyone who seeks to further his or her writing skills develop a thick skin when it comes to criticism. Receiving a manuscript back from an editor covered in red marks and revision notes is not an insult — it’s a challenge to improve.

    What might be an interesting exercise would be to run each of the submissions through the WhiteSmoke writing software and see what the product of the prize of this contest shows us about each entry. (I humbly admit that my submission could use improvement.)

  38. @Tanya

    I know a person who was hit by a bus. Public transportation is the saddest form of movement He ever done gone created. People die, painfully, Every Day! To trivialize it and make it cliche makes our lives just like everyone else, which is exactly what a story shouldn’t be. When you tell someone about your day, do you tell them about how how your coffee tasted the same as it did yesterday or how the ride to work took exactly the same amount of time as it always does? No, you tell them it tasted poor (or great) or there was traffic (or you saw roadkill), becuase that’s the point of a STORY. To tell people about something they couldnt have experienced on their own without the help of the writer. Everyone knows cancer is bad. Who cares? Until the character in the story goes through something that makes her different from everyone else, so that her story MUST be told while having bit and pieces of all of us to let random readers cling, what’s the point of reading.

    If you want to the same story over and over again in slightly different contexts, I hear they makes these things called sitcoms; check ’em out. Cheers!

  39. I am curious. There are many comments on here that disparage these five hundred word essays as cliche, cheap tricks, etc. But how many epics have been written in five hundred words? I would ask that anyone who makes these types of comments show us, by link to another author’s work or by personal example, a truly well written, five hundred word essay.

  40. An epic, by definition, is an extended narrative poem that celebrates heroic feats, or a dramatic composition resembling an extended narrative poem. I think it is unlikely that anyone will be able to find a five hundred word epic. Also, this was a short story contest, not an essay contest. There is a difference between the two.

    Stories of five hundred words or less that I found exceptional in this contest were ‘Harvest’, ‘The Symphony’, ‘Heart’, and ‘Under a Killing Moon’. Several others were very good, but these were the stand out ones for me.

  41. I can only imagine how your spouse feels being married to you Kitt! HAHAHAHA! I agree with Edgar. Demonstrate your perfection since you have such a fine grasp on what everyone ELSE should be doing.

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