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 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.