Short Story Competition: The Grand Final

By Daniel Scocco

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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59 Responses to “Short Story Competition: The Grand Final”

  • Geraldo Porto

    Dear,

    What is the possibility to get an authorization to translate to Portuguese and publish some of these stories in my blog or, at least, the “Sunset” one?

    Would you approve?

    Let me know. Thanks.

    Geraldo
    My blog is at http://www.aguasdojacui.com

  • J.A.

    O.K. Ellie, You don’t really fit the snarling profile. I take it back.

  • Ellie Eisenford

    @J.A.
    I don’t recall ever singling anyone out and saying their story was terrible. I honestly don’t see where I “ground anyone into the dirt,” either. Please refresh my memory and show me where I did those things.

    I would also appreciate you showing me where I was not “civil.”

    I think there is a basic disconnect between what people think critiquing is and what it really should be. “Helpful and constructive” does not mean always saying “Wow, that was great.” People THINK it is, but it is not. It is and should be okay to say “you really ought to have done X.” In this case, people really ought to have proofread their work before submitting. My opinion, and I happen to think it’s the truth as well.

    And I did not pick any one story apart because my opinion on individual stories (beyond voting for the one I liked best) was not requested here. If someone WANTS a critique of his/her story, please feel free to post and I will be happy to do so. I assure you I am “civil,” and even constructive – though I won’t promise to gush over your piece and tell you not to change a single word.

    To all of you who seem to be under the impression that saying that there are things that can be improved about the contest is somehow disloyal, disrespectful, rude, uncivil or mean:
    You Are Wrong.

    People NEED to recommend changes and improvements. Without that impetus for change we’d all be gnawing raw meat from the bone while some poor sap named Grug points at a burning tree after a storm and says “yeah, but the bison might be tasty a little crispy around the edges, just saying…” Then we’d be eating raw Grug the next night, naturally, what with him having had to be thinned from the herd for being a raving loon.

    -E

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Joyce, are you aware that different places in the world have different times?

  • J. A.

    ellie – kitt – scribbles – irritated – ally gorey – keith

    You can sit unseeing on your hi-horse and swear you are actually helping writers by grinding them into the dirt. This contest is to vote for whom you like. There are no voting buttons to vote for whom you don’t like. Don’t you get that? If you want to critique, you should go join a critique group and learn how to be civil. Critiquing is supposed to be helpful constructive criticism. Even beginning writers know that. That you come in snarling shows me that Benjamin Hall is right you are nothing but bullies and probably wouldn’t make a pimple on a real writers hind-end. This was a fine contest until you six showed up.

    At least scribbles admitted to being on psych meds, which gives her sort of has an excuse for snarling at the writers.

  • keith

    Edgar, are you serious? Ever hear of a short-short? There are whole collections of stories less than 250 words, where every word has to count, not be misspelled and redundant. Check ’em out.

  • Ellie Eisenford

    For those of you who suggest I am trying to re-write the rules of the contest, I am not. The rules are what they are. My criteria for juging the entrants in order to cast my vote are what they are. My opinions are what they are. I was under the impression I could share my opinions here…. Or is that privelege only reserved for those who want to jump up and down and squeal about how wonderful wonderful wonderful it all is? That last comment was not directed at the site’s host – but at other posters who have felt compelled to deride me and my thoughts (and yes, I meant to use the word “deride.”)

    And Tanya – I am not disappointed and disheartened at life. Only with some aspects of this contest. I think some people use commenting on message boards and blogs as a way to fill some void in their lives by psychoanalyzing others based on those others’ blog posts. I don’t have to love the entrants or even the contest itself to be glad that the contest exists. If everyone just applauded and said “well done, chap!” about everything, nothing would ever change or improve.

    And as far as the potential for a great story to be told in just a few words – YES. Absolutely possible. Some did it here, some did not.

    With regard to twist/surprise endings – Google “flash fiction” and read about what the basic elements of it are, and I think you will find that most sites that try to define it include the twist ending as being sort of a standard device. It’s just part of what flash fiction is, which is what most of these pieces are. You don’t have to like it, you just have to understand that it’s a part of the genre.

    -E

  • Joyce

    The competition rules said the voting ends at midnight on Sunday.
    Today is Monday 2 AM and the poles are still open. Why?

    The top three are:
    #3 is 32%
    #5 is 20%
    #6 is 17%

  • Jeff R.

    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.

  • Kitt

    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.

  • Edgar

    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.

  • Keith

    @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!

  • Tanya

    My last comment to Keith should have been
    @Keith
    AND
    Ally Gorie

  • Kitt

    (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.)

  • Tanya

    @ 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.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @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.

  • Debby

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

  • Benjamin Hall

    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.

  • Tanya

    @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.

  • Ellie Eisenford

    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.

    -E

  • Daniel Scocco

    @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.

  • Charlie

    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.

    ×_×

  • Ally Gorey

    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…:/

  • Bridgette W.

    My previous posting comment is connected to : Teens Gone Wild by Benjamin Hall

  • Bridgette W.

    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.

  • keith

    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.

  • Christy Williams

    *shone, not shines

  • Christy Williams

    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.

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