The Finalists – Part One

Before I explain how this works, let me say one more time how impressed I was by the quality of the submissions to the writing contest. They ranged from “needs work, but not a bad start” to “that’s amazing.” Even if you didn’t make the top 10, you can rest assured your entry wasn’t horrible. If that’s not reassuring enough for you, consider this: judging writing is a subjective thing. What I love may be very different from what another editor (or agent, or publisher) loves. Please don’t throw rocks at me if you disagree with my selections.

Here’s how I chose. First, I read each entry once through without grading them at all. Then I went through a second time and assigned each a rank from 1 to 5 (five meaning excellent and one meaning…well, it doesn’t matter what one means since no one received a one, thank goodness). I went through a third time to re-evaluate the rankings. During this pass, four of the entries were bumped down a half point or so, and one was bumped up. I made the arbitrary decision to present only the top 10 on the blog, and to get to that number, I had to make one more pass through the entries. It wasn’t until this final pass that I took into consideration whether or not you exceeded the word count (a number of you did and now must attend summer school to retake the math class you failed last semester). Still, if you were only off by just a few words, I let it slide. I’m generous that way.

So here are five of the top 10 entries, in random order, for you to enjoy. Five more will be posted tomorrow. On Wednesday I’ll let you know which of the top 10 is my choice for winner (at which point you can all congratulate the winner or gently explain to me how much more evil I am than Simon Cowell).

On Thursday, I’ll post some excerpts and entries that didn’t make the top 10, but deserve your attention for other reasons. Good reasons. I promise I won’t dissect your hard work in front of God’n’everyone. That said, I do want to mention that none of these entries is perfect. Even among the top 10 there are some things that make me want to reach for the red pen. If the writers of these will grant me permission, I’ll gladly show you what I mean in a future post.

(The following entries may have been formatted to fit your screen, but I did not change any of the wording or spelling. All typos you see are original. A typo, while regrettable, is not the ‘kiss of death’ for a writer. Great writing or notable promise can buy you a few typos. Still, this is one of my pet peeves so let this exercise be a lesson to you – write brilliant stories, then go back to make sure you aren’t leaving any blatant errors on the page. Okay? Thanks.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“They attack on a schedule? What the hell are these things!”

Three days ago the dead crawled out of their crypts, tombs, and plain pine boxes to wreak their revenge upon the living. Media said something about Twinkie preservatives, deep frying, and an little known arcane ritual performed by some drunk Scotsmen during the Highland Games. Either way, Mike rarely believed anything CNN said nowadays.

John slumped against the low wall edging the Walmart’s roof. His zombie plan worked and they’d been able to hold the store, but these things….

Over the edge, Mike saw the lines of undead swaying at attention. They didn’t make a sound or move far from where they stood. They just waited like soldiers for inspection.

He looked at the cheap Casio watch, ten seconds before the mill’s whistle blew.

“Ready for the next one?” asked John.

“Yeah, but with the ammo we’ve got left….”

The watch struck 10:00 and the deep throated trill of the whistle came. Time to work. The corpses were already in a blind run at the building.

Mike targeted one in his scope and fired a shot. It dropped but another ten took its place.

“We’re so screwed.”

[R. Alexander]

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Gimme it.”


He tried to wipe the sweat from his forehead with his cutoff t-shirt, but there was not enough fabric left to do the job.

“Never understood why people cut off t-shirts. That’s the important part,” she mused, standing in the mud next to her man and the broken ATV.

“Just gimme your goddamn watch so I can rig this throttle and get us home!”

“No, Mama gave me this.”

“Your mama’s dead. Hand over your buttwipin’ watch!”

She looked at him. He had become foreign to her, like a word viewed so many times it’s strangely unfamiliar or looks misspelled.

He looked at her. That weird gleam in her eye behind the lanky bangs and the frosted eyeshadow implied something in her that he’d never seen before from his mama, or Loreen, whose bed he’d left this morning, or any other female.

So he grabbed her arm and unhooked the wristwatch as she squawked and struggled. He turned to the ATV and jerry-rigged the loose throttle, stretching the cheap leather to its limit.

She wondered how far she could get a knife through his gut before it stopped. She wondered how much a bus ticket to Atlanta costs.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you never thought you’d end up in Konakwa County, much less “The last Irish pub in Konakwa County”…well, there’s a lot you never thought would happen. I’m sure the Irish, whoever they were, never believed their green three-blister road sign would outlast them. And I betcha never thought you’d live to see the end of days, or the day we stopped counting ‘em, neither. But a few red skies after that (I’ll wager a hundred), if you had been in Konakwa, you’d’ve witnessed the fanciest occurrence since the big flash.

Of all the strange blisters that’ve grown on walking things since, none compare to the scratches and bites plaguing the glass-faced man sporting the spotty-grey rubber suit.

–I don’t know where you wandered in from, stranger, but I ain’t seen your kind before.

–I don’t mean no trouble, bartender. Just here to add some grease to my dial.

–You keep shifting your expression. Can’t tell if you’re smirking at me.

–Ain’t no smirking ‘less you’re smug. Now hand me that moonshine ‘fore I regale you with my sorrowful self…

Imagine that—plenty witnesses; a walking, talking, daykeeping man; and no one to tell you what time it was.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Shriveled in his chair like a grape destined for mediocre wine, he looked at his wrist for the 12th time; three minutes later than last time. The watch, a Timex, was a Father’s Day gift purchased with love and pride and six months of baby-sitting money. Black numbers on white face, the date feature required an additional month. Before cell phones were routinely attached to belts, ears and a teenager’s busy fingers, wristwatches weren’t so much fashion accessory, they were necessary for telling time.

I wasn’t sure if he was anxious or eager for his appointment, and it was then he noticed me and smiled.  He told me I was the prettiest girl in the room and I looked like his daughter. He extended his arm to show off the prized possession and explained how she had given it to him with “money she earned herself.” His previously vacant expression illuminated with pride.

I turned away to hide the tears now filling my eyes. He would be going nowhere today, though his broken mind told him otherwise.

For the 13th time he checked the watch I had given him decades ago; it was so well-worn, it now oddly resembled a hospital bracelet.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Pink left Little Belle Plantation after it burned in 1935. He didn’t know nothin’ else, he’d told Mr. Perry. But Perry was kind and believed that a capable plantation hand could make do at just about anything, so he’d arranged a job for Pink at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Monroe. Perry had owed at least this to Pink. The man had all-but raised Perry’s son, teaching him to hunt and trap on Black Bayou.

Mouk remembered Pink’s big, brown knuckles, blackened by industrial grease. In them he passed a twine-tied grease rag to Mouk—wrapping for a parting gift. He’d bartered it off one of the syrup men on the line, he said. Pink smiled, showing his namesake gums as Mouk removed the contents.

Nazi’s and beavers both need trappin’, Pink said.

Mouk now repeated these words as he swayed left to right. There aren’t too many places for light to penetrate a forty-and-eight boxcar. Only one silver thread pierced a hole above Mouk’s left shoulder. He had been playing a rather childish game, keeping that light-thread from touching that trench watch Pink had managed.

It was the spring of 1945. They would be to Paris in an hour.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

More tomorrow…

6 thoughts on “The Finalists – Part One

  1. Yeah, the word count limit was tough. My first draft was over 900 words because I was thinking 200 words is a little short of a page. But that’s only true if it’s 12 point double spaced. Oops!

Comments are closed.