Contest Winners! (And Other Friday Fun)

contest-boxI’ll bet you’re here to find out who won the “First and Last” contest, right? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I wanted to say “thanks” to all who entered, 20 of you, as it turned out, though I received 21 entries because I never said you couldn’t submit more than one and one intrepid writer happily sent two entries with my blessing.

These were lots of fun to read – so fun, in fact, that I’m planning on posting the rest of the entries throughout next week. You’ll enjoy reading them just as I did.

Okay, now, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, prizewinners. Patience, my friends. Remember that I promised I’d write a story based on your suggested “first” and “last” lines? I’ll be doing that soon, but I wanted to tell you what lines I’m using in my story. (By the way, thanks so much for submitting these. I had lots more to choose from than you did. And they were all great.)

My story will start with this line: “The striped cat glared at me.”

It will end with this line: “The rain washed it all away.”

And I have no idea what it will be about. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll try to include a few more lines from this list.

Okey dokey. As you know, choosing a winner is always the hardest thing about hosting a contest. And of course, you’re all really winners, not just for having entered, but for writing such great stories. But apparently I am a masochist, because I can only choose three of you as prizewinners. (It’s in moments like these that I wish I still met weekly with my therapist.) And so, now, the three-who-get-prizes-above-and-beyond-the-satisfaction-of-having-entered.

Third prize (a $15 Amazon gift card) goes to…Nicole Petrino-Salter. Here’s her entry:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Nor did it set. Not for me anyway. The blinds crushed together defying any glimpse of life outside my room with the curtains pressed against them like Spandex. I’d given up my unsteady tromping to the bathroom and brought the decorative plastic-lined wastebasket to my bedside instead. And the box of Kleenex.

I desperately wanted to drink the water in that Dixie Cup on the nightstand, but the sensation of it repeating its journey backward from my stomach kept me from trying. Who in the world was worth this misery?

Certainly not him. I think I told him so, too. I suppose now I’ll never know. Vomiting does seem like a fitting end to it all, now that I think about it. My head still swirls when I lay it back on the pillow—that part is so unfair, although rich with symbolism. I’d really like to remember what I said. Perhaps when the room ceases to move around like a carnival ride.

It’s a good thing I had this four-day weekend planned, but if I remember correctly I wasn’t supposed to be spending it alone. Or puking my guts out. Or wondering if I did anything really humiliating at . . . oohh. Not again.

Mercy. Do I deserve this?

What little memory I could muster in my dizziness captured the vision of competitive shots of Tequila. Then words. Loud ones. Oh. Yes. I see it plainly now. The bottle was empty.

Second prize (a digital audio recorder) goes to…Merrie Destefano, for her entry, which she titled, “001010101111.”

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. That should have been a sign, a warning. It should have set all the alarms ringing inside Sam’s head. But it didn’t.

Because he didn’t wake up.

Nobody did.

The day the Earth stood still—the day everything changed—went completely undetected. It lodged like a rock, right between Wednesday and Friday, dark, cold, silent. No NASA scientist and no Hindu philosopher caught the great hiccup in the universe. Friday came, blinding and bright and charged with energy—a bit too much energy, in fact. Power surged and crackled through cables and wires and shorted out cell phones around the world.

The Internet, on the other hand, ran smoother than ever.

Sam thought he noticed a difference when he sat down, fingers poised over keyboard. Thought he heard a crack, snazzle, pop. Like liquid silver, every connection zapped into place faster than ever before.

He grinned.

New Web sites sparked into prime time, exquisite and compelling and somehow already linked to existing sites. Without realizing it, his computer began to prefer these new, almost alien sites, would route him there over and again, would leave him there for long intervals.

Basking in the light.

Sweet. Flickering. Light.

A soft strobe pulsed just beneath the surface, a message read by brainstem and cerebellum like secret code. A whisper program that ran undetected. A cyber virus that thrummed all day long. Even after his computer turned off.

That night, while computer junkies around the world slept, cozy and safe inside footed pajamas and Ambien cocktails, the program kicked into high gear and the transformation began. So subtle it wouldn’t even be noticed, just like that missing middle-of-the-week day.

The morning came and a few hackers observed that the sky hung a bit darker, cereal crunched a bit quieter, surfaces felt a bit smoother and dialogue—well, dialogue came in a steady stream, more like binary code than conversation.

1101011010001010101

Sam smiled as he sat down on the wrong side of the screen, 001010101111, ready and eager to get to work.

Head tilted, he listened.

00001010101

The sound of birds, singing.

11110101

The clatter of keyboard keys, cyber-universe turned inside out.

001010101111

One word repeating itself over and over, one human staring at him through transparent screen, typing.

001010101111

In some languages the symbols meant:

They’re. Here.

But in most they translated differently.

001010101111

They’re. Monsters.

And first prize (a $50 Amazon gift card and a bunch of plastic animals I collected a few summers ago from the Mold-A-Rama machines in Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo) goes to…Katherine Tomlinson, for her entry, which she titled, “Darkling.”

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday.  The blogosphere, which never sleeps, outpaced the news channels in reporting the situation, but CNN had posted a graphic (Black Thursday!) by 11 a.m.  The parade of pundits began that afternoon, with self-styled experts throwing out phrases like “Little Ice Age” and “global hydrological cycle.”

Dr. Nicholas Solarz, whose theories on nuclear winter had been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, seemed to be everywhere at once, basking in his moment of geek glory. He talked a lot about the surface temperature of the earth being 300 Kelvin and predicted that without sunlight, the temperature would drop by a factor of two in weeks.

When these statements were met by puzzled looks from anchor-people who couldn’t do long division without a calculator, he explained that 275 Kelvin is the freezing temperature of water and that in a month; the planet’s surface temperature would be down to 150 Kelvin.  Then he had added, somewhat unhelpfully, “You do the math.”

But to do the math, people needed to know the difference between the Kelvin and the Celsius temperature scales and have a passing grasp of the concept of “absolute zero” and most everyone had enough problems just converting Celsius to Fahrenheit.  Also, a fair number of viewers thought Dr. Solarz was saying “Kevin” and wondered who he was and what he had to do with anything.

Shows that couldn’t book Dr. Solarz counter-programmed with G. Taylor Wells, a contrarian Canadian climatologist whose business cards proclaimed him a “prophet of doom.”  Wells told everyone who would listen that the lack of sunlight would precipitate climate change that was unprecedented in speed and amplitude in all of human history.  No one was quite sure what “amplitude” meant but they were pretty sure it wasn’t anything good.

A TV weatherman in Los Angeles started blogging about the apocalyptic weather caused by the extreme temperature gradients along the coast.  By Saturday night, his site was the hottest URL on the Internet.  Unfortunately, he drowned early Sunday when a freak cyclone slurped him off the Santa Monica pier and dumped him offshore.

The global electric grid, overtaxed by 24/7 demands for light and heat, began to falter, then failed completely by Tuesday.  After that, there was no one to chronicle the deaths that followed or document the change as the living evolved into something better suited for survival.

Monsters.

I never expected the three winners would use the same opening line. This is not because I preferred that line, by the way. My favorite (yes, I had a favorite opening line) was the one about Sam’s wallet. But as you can see, I didn’t let that sway my final choice. I also tried not to let any genre preference get in the way of my decision. I happen to love all kinds of fiction. Mostly I tend to read (and write) angsty stories about love and loss. (Yes, this means I like chick flicks, too. Please don’t tell anyone that my DVD collection includes both Titanic and Serendipity. Okay?) But as you can see, two of the top three here were of the speculative variety.

I think it’s important for me to say again that there were some amazing entries fluttering just below the Chosen Ones and, had the wind been blowing a different direction during my reading, they might have clawed their way into the top three. Seriously, there’s some writerly brilliance bubbling out there in the Interwebs and it has visited my blog.

But ultimately, I chose the stories that captured me ever-so-slightly more than the rest. One, a vivid picture of regret. One, a creepy science fiction story that hits way too close to home as we all look upon our computer screens in this very moment. And finally, a clever and smart apocalyptic story. Katherine’s took top prize because it not only packs a ton of details into 400 words, it does so with the perfect touch of humor that makes the punchline oh so much sweeter in the end.

Congratulations, all. And I really do mean all. Wait until you see Adrian’s story. And both of PJ’s stories. And 15-year-old Holly’s story. And Richard’s. And Erika’s. And Ellen’s. And Andi’s? Um, well, you’re gonna want to keep your eyes peeled for that one. And. And. And. Truly, you all rocked this contest. I wish I had 20 prizes to award.

Have a great weekend.

7 thoughts on “Contest Winners! (And Other Friday Fun)

  1. Wow, I can’t believe the same opening lines. And two of the three ending in Monsters. I knew Merrie’s would end in monsters. She fairly screamed when she saw that opportunity.
    Thanks, Stephen! Way cool.

  2. Congrats, you guys! Three very good stories. The last two kind of give me the creeps, in a good way. It took a while for me to wrap my head around Merrie’s. It reminds me a bit of a particular Dr. Who episode. (the new one)

    I considered using the same first line as well, but Sam’s wallet was too intriguing to pass up. I also really wanted to use the last line, Monsters. But it just didn’t feel right. This was a fun contest. Thanks for the inspiration to write, Stephen.

  3. Lovely, lovely stories.

    Is it just me, or does anyone else think that both Nicole’s and Katherine’s would make a great introductory scene to a book?

    Nicole expertly set up a character that I want to know better and I want to see her triumph over this emotional setback.

    Katherine expertly set up a “what if” scenario that makes me want to read the next page. Monsters? What monsters? Where and how many?

    Love your choices, Steve! You have some cool people who hang out here.

    I really can’t wait to:

    A: Read more stories here this week
    B: Read more stories written by these people
    C: Hang out here, because it’s fun

    Thanks for including me in the mix! I’m honored to be on the same page with such talented writers.

  4. Congratulations to the winners.

    I used the Sam’s Wallet and the She chose the Blue one for opening and closing.

    Hope you didn’t mind Steve, but, since the rules didn’t say anything about it, I changed Sam’s gender from Male to Female.

    This was the 1st time I ever wrote a story for a contest, it was kind of fun. Maybe I will give it a go next month too.

    1. Gender adjustment was perfectly acceptable. (Now there’s a sentence I never expected to write.)

      Glad you had some fun with this. I hope you will join us in the next contest, too. I like to think of them as writing exercises with deadlines and the possibility of temporary fame and minor fortune. But mostly as writing exercises.

      And I’m glad you chose Sam’s wallet. You’ll see next week that there were more than a couple brave souls who did.

  5. It was fun – and the tight word constraint made it a quick bit of fun. Thanks for stumping up with the prizes, Steve. And congratulations to the winners!

  6. Fun! You’ll have to do this again some time. I would have liked to participate, but it took me too long to figure out where Sam’s wallet was.

    No, I’m not telling.

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