Revenge of the Still More Contest Entries

My poorly-disguised “original content hiatus” is nearly at an end, but not yet. Today, more entries from the “First and Last” contest for you to enjoy. For those of you who haven’t yet read the winning entries, click here.

If you’re new to the noveldoctor site, take a moment to read this old post on 7 Things that Keep Editors in Business. And then read a bunch more. And tell your friends to stop by, too.

Alicia Gregoire-Poirier entered this fantastical story:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. This came as no surprise to the girl; she had been able to control the stars since quickening in her mother’s womb. The Destroyers were rapturous with the knowledge and each wanted the girl’s power for their own.

The girl’s mother, covetous in her own right, arranged fostering by The Destroyers’ mages – The Arcane Ones. Here, the girl learned of the delicate balance among the universe; how if one planet fell, all others were doomed. They imparted this knowledge to frighten her.

It empowered her.

Her powers blossomed under The Arcane Ones’ careful guidance, surpassing expectations of all. The eve she lost her maidenhead, she held the moon in her thrall until she and her lover were spent. The moon sighed in pleasure and disappeared for a fortnight.

Her lover was enamored of her talents and lavished her with baubles that were so prismatic in their beauty; they reminded the girl of the universe. She named them in accordance of her lessons.

Crimson. Saffron. Cerulean.

After their naming, the jewels rose and transformed before the girl and her lover. Each danced amid the elements they called forth with their lovemaking. Colors tattooed their bodies, an indelible mark of their union.

The girl’s infatuation with the boy was not in The Destroyer’s plans, and the boy foresaw his death in their eyes. The girl, clever as she was, did not have The Sight, not like he. For this, he sent his prayers up to The Deity. He asked for strength to carry his plan forward and that the girl would endure.

She was their salvation.

Unaware, the girl slept on and her lover chanted over her magic jewels. He sealed his life force in blue and death to his adversaries in yellow. He saved red for the destruction of all. Then, with his hand over her already ripened womb, he blanketed her with his parting wish.

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday, the day they sacrificed her lover, because it was her will. Darkness remained while her soul warred with half-imagined murmurings.

Murder was at her fingertips.

The babe stirred inside her.

She chose the blue one after all.

Here’s Jon Freestone’s creative entry:

Somewhere between roof and the pavement, Sam remembered where she’d left her wallet. That distraction was just enough to let her fly. Sam loved the H2G2 series but never thought you could really fly by forgetting to hit the ground.

Sam’s favorite dreams were the flying dreams, she even learned how to lucid dream to be able to control her dreams. Sam soared over the neighborhood, this was way better then any of her dreams.

The hardest part was deciding where to go. Fly home, buzz her boy friends house, or go pick up the wallet. While trying to decide Sam saw a red blinking light to her right and blue light strait ahead.

Why go home, I just want to fly, she thought. Sam started flying between the flashing lights. In the end it wasn’t too hard to decide which light to head for, after all her rival school’s colors were red.

So turning to the left, just to see what would happen, She chose the blue one after all.

Adrian Firth titled his creepy entry, “The Day of Screams”:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Dense fog hid the sky, hanging low across rooftops and power lines, smothering houses and decapitating trees. Diffused light brightened the world gradually, like God was turning a dimmer switch. More likely it was the Devil. Oblivious, I eased my Toyota down the driveway in the half-light.

At the letterbox, I leaned out and opened the lid to find nothing but real estate flyers. Cursing the paperboy, I sat trying to get something on the radio, anything at all. The neighbour’s cat chose that moment to stroll into the street.

Pam Jameson’s black moggy often sat in the road, usually early morning and sometimes at dusk, as if it owned the world. As if it were invulnerable. Top of the food chain. We used to think that way too.

A funnel of cloud spiralled from the sky to the white line in the centre of the road. It oscillated like a miniature twister. From the wobbling point, a smoky tendril formed and snaked toward the cat like a ghostly boa constrictor, engulfing the animal.

Cats can scream like nothing on earth. I still had a hand on the radio band selector.

Ahead of me, up in the fog, a massive shape drifted across the sky. Something like a building-sized shark. It seemed to broadcast fear. I sat motionless and cold until it left. Then I put the car in reverse.

I ran from the carport to the house. Inside, I locked the door and went to the television. No picture. No cellphone coverage. No dial tone. You are not connected to the Internet.

That was Thursday. The day of screams. The power is out, and the water doesn’t run now. The fog wraps all sides of the house, all the way to the windows. I keep the curtains drawn. I cower and cry and piss myself when I feel them overhead.

This is how it ends for us. Not nuclear war, economic collapse, or slow drowning in a rising sea. Not plague, asteroid strike, or a broken ecosystem. It finishes the way we have always feared, since the time we huddled around fires in smokey caves.

Monsters.

And while Robyn D. Stone’s story didn’t open with one of the assigned first lines, it’s does end with one:

If only he could see the future. He would know it would work out. Losing his father was surely the hardest thing he had ever been through in his life. Thinking of him now made him happy and sad at the same time. Happy for all the times they had been able to share. Sad for all the times lost.

Looking down at his own son dressed in his Sunday best, his heart was so full of pain. So full of pride. Would his son remember his grandfather? Would he know how much he loved him? How proud he was the day he was born? Steven wondered what words he could use to make sure this six year old little boy knew all the things his grandfather would have wanted him to know.

With his tie slightly askew and hair more than slightly rumpled, he looked so much like Steven had when he was his age. Everyone had been saying the same thing since the accident. Family from faraway places and out of town guests who had not seen Taylor since he was a baby were all amazed at the strong family resemblance. Strong jaw. Dark eyes. Heavy bangs. It was all there. The strong family traits handed down from generation to generation.

Pushing those bangs to the side, Taylor looked up with a sideways glance and gave Steven the signature lopsided smile. What was he thinking? Did any of this make sense to him? Steven had tried explaining it all to him before the services, but how much would a six-year old really grasp. He was having trouble grasping it all himself.

The wind began blowing softly, which sure helped on this hot August afternoon. Southern heat in August was something you could always count on, but his father had been very firm in not wanting a major production for his funeral services. He was specific in saying graveside services only. They had honored his wishes.

As the last trumpet sounded, he gave Taylor a tight hug and watched him walk away and get in the car with Julia, his ex-wife. He reached for his pocket and felt inside, it was still there. But, he knew, the bottle was empty.

Just a couple more short stories to go and you’ll have seen ’em all. Pretty good stuff, don’t you think?

I’m already planning the next contest, and I think you’ll like it. Much less work, but still loads of fun. And, no, I’m not saying anything else about it until September.

Even Yet Still More Contest Entries

Will this madness ever end? Um… yeah, it will. On Friday. But today? More of your creative writing. And for those of you who missed it earlier, here’s yet another re-post from the vast (ie: sometime in the past three months) archives of noveldoctor.com, a handy little guide to What Your Editor Is Thinking.

And now, your stories.

Here’s PJ’s second entry (yes, I told her it was okay to submit two):

Somewhere between roof and the pavement, Sam remembered where he’d left his wallet.  When the elevator reached the bottom, Sam urgently jammed in his security card and pushed the button for the penthouse.  As the elevator went back up, he took a mental inventory.

In the gym bag that he carried was $20,000 in cash.  In his pocket were Cubano cigars – a token of appreciation for The Man; he had a feeling they might meet again.  Sam had done projects like this before and this was a record – three months from start to finish.  The final installment necessary to keep The Man on board was happening today.  Sam was anxious to get this deal finished and enjoy the fruits of his labors.  His lovely Sylvia and a bottle of cognac would be waiting for him this evening.

As the elevator doors opened, Sam walked through the living room, past the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the Hudson River and into the bathroom where he plucked his wallet from the counter.  As he returned to the waiting elevator and pushed the button, Sam slid the wallet into his back pocket. The elevator descended once again.

Forgetting his wallet would have been a deal-breaker.  It held the membership cards for the gym which were, inexplicably, critical incentives for The Man.  They had been the most difficult to arrange because of the potential for an incriminating paper trail.

Sam knew Vincent would be pleased with his work.  Vincent was short on details, but Sam knew two things for sure – his money was green and he was generous with benefits like the keys to his luxurious penthouse.  Sam also knew Vincent had something to do with the developer planning the project in the northwest section of town – 2,000 apartment units with retail space.

It was an easy job – partly because of The Man himself and partly because Sam’s competition was so inconsequential:  citizens circulating petitions, sending letters to the editor, talking to the press.  Plus, their issues were trivial – congestion, flooding and overcrowded schools didn’t matter to Sam.

As the elevator doors swept open, Sam strode across the lobby and through the outside door.  There was an elderly woman waiting to come in through the door – her arms full of grocery bags.  Sam glanced at the woman and kept walking, letting the door fall closed as the woman’s face reddened with indignation.  She yelled after him, “You can’t even hold the door open for a lady?  Men like you are monsters!  Monsters!”

Josh Poirier used the same first and last lines and came up with this story:

Somewhere between the roof and the pavement, Sam remembered where he’d left his wallet.  As he tumbled head over heels for what seemed an eternity his mind raced back to the reason he was in this predicament.

The day started like any other, he woke up, showered, shaved, ate a quick breakfast, kissed his wife, hugged his two sons, who giggled mischievously, and hurried off to work, a bit late, which was his normal routine.  It was the commute to work where his troubles began. Speeding down the freeway, he didn’t notice the state trooper until it pulled up behind him and with sirens blaring and lights flashing dizzily, motioned for him to pull over.  He complied with the request and turned the wheel slightly to begin moving to the shoulder, stopping on the overpass.

He opened the glove compartment door and pulled out his registration, ignoring the cold-steel pistol that lay beside it.  Reaching in his pocket he was surprised to not find his wallet sitting comfortably in its normal location.  He began searching frantically through the cabin of the car.  It was nowhere to be found.  He then thought about the two kilos of cocaine hidden in the backseat and realized that without his license the car was probably going to be searched.  He couldn’t afford to go to jail.  So he opened the car door and ran.

He paid no attention to the shouts behind him to stop as he vaulted over the guard rail and landed on the rooftop of one of the buildings situated under the overpass.  He knew that he must have looked guilty now and began jumping from rooftop to rooftop to escape.  He looked back to see if he was being followed and slipped off the edge and fell.

In the brief moments of clarity that is sometimes afforded while hurtling towards waiting, certain death.  Sam thought about where his wallet could be and remembered he had left it on the kitchen table.  A brief flash reminded him that through the window as he left his two sons seemed to be dividing money, probably stolen from his wallet.  His sons were growing up to be just like their old man.

He muttered under his breath, just before his head met his feet, “Those….Little….Monsters….”

Here’s Erika Frank’s story:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. The roar of the thunder and the bright lightning radiated off the cliffs outside. The jagged light washed over the walls of Diana’s bedroom, jarring her out of a deep sleep. She glanced at the dim red glow of her clock, which read 6:02 AM. She would have preferred to have slept in.

She wouldn’t be going into her office today. That was already planned. Not that she had to clear her schedule or anything. She’d been losing a steady stream of clients with each pound she put on. Not many people wanted to work with a chunky nutritionist.

She didn’t want to get out bed just yet, but she needed to use the bathroom. She gently pulled her feet up from the covers, trying not to disturb the pile of Persian kitty at the base of her bed. “Felicity will be just fine. She has at least two weeks worth of food and water in her jumbo sized feeders.”

The floor creaked with each step to the bathroom. A noisy reminder of the coastal dampness rotting anything made of wood. The night-light glowed with blue intensity making her reflection in the mirror even paler than normal. Very ethereal and ghost like. She stopped and stared. She liked her reflection like this. It was even better than being lit by candlelight. No lines showed around her eyes and no gray at her temples. Yes, this was a good picture to hold on to in her mind.

Into the kitchen she shuffled, keeping the lights off. She was enjoying the darkness and all the shadows of her house. She gathered a package of Oreo’s off the counter and the sapphire blue bottle of gin and headed back to her room. As she crawled back into bed she hit the play button on the controls. There is no way of truly knowing how many times she watched Titanic. It has lived in the dvd player since her divorce two years ago. This movie and anything Nabisco have been her companions since that nightmare. She hugged her bag of cookies to her chest and watched. She took an occasional drink from her blue bottle on the bedside table. There was also another bottle. A brown prescription bottle on the bedside table. The bottle was empty.

And the last of today’s entries (which uses all three last lines) is from Ellen Shahan:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. For Holly Graves, it didn’t rise on Friday or Saturday either. It wasn’t till Sunday that the young woman was able to drag her lumbering bones out of bed and part the shades that had so kindly cocooned her in darkness. She was thirsty and the taste in her mouth simply had to be addressed.

In the uncharitable light of the bathroom, Holly squinted at herself in the mirror — the makeup she hadn’t removed, the hair that might have made a proper nest for swallows. It took effort just to squeeze toothpaste out of the tube. Pressing the toothbrush to her teeth, she caught sight of her red fingernails, so recently done — a fresh affront, incongruous, the color of blood. Yet there was no blood. There was only ash. What came after.

She’d thought she could brave the world for an hour or two, maybe order in a pizza and some lemonade — she was so thirsty — but now she was unsure. Perhaps she’d overshot the mark, given herself more to do than could be managed. Maybe what she really wanted was to sink back into sleep, another long, dreamless sleep that blotted out all thought, all hope, all memory or yearning. A sleep borne of lovely pink pills, as harmless, as gentle, as roses bereft of thorns. She liked them ever so much better than the blue ones a friend had given her. The blue ones were monsters with prickly spines and a devilish afterlife.

Holly poured herself a glass of water.  Only minutes into the day, and already she was done with it. She went to her bedside for more of the balm that would ease her suffering, but the lovely pink darlings had vanished. She’d taken them all. The bottle was empty.

She chose the blue ones after all.

Monsters.

Tomorrow? Yup. A few more. And then the last ones on Friday (including mine, as promised).

Thanks for visiting. (And thanks again to all the folks who took the time to enter the contest.)

Still More Contest Entries

Yes. More of your entries to read and enjoy. And if that’s not enough for you, consider this silly old post on Fiction Trends of the Future! (This re-post is offered in honor of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” movie, which opens Friday and is based on the book, a book so good I was still able to fall in love with it even though when I read it I was in the middle of a terribly deep depression brought on by a relational meltdown of epic proportions. Oh to write a novel half as good as Audrey’s debut.)

The short stories now.

Jennifer Neri titled her entry “Morgue”:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Or on Friday, or on Saturday. On Sunday, the day her body began to stiffen and turn cold, the sun shone. While she lay, dying, the clouds had covered the sky, and lighting had flashed, thunder calling her.

I stared at the body, trying to see the mother I knew. She looked the same, yet in another way, she was no longer the woman who had bore me, her middle son, forty-two years ago.

I heard my father shuffle back into the room, my eldest sister’s voice relentless in his ear. We had been waiting fourteen hours for them to remove the body.

Someone had come with coffee and a box of muffins that my youngest brother had placed on our dead mother’s leg. Eat, he had said. I took the box and moved it to the little table that had held her tray for the past seven weeks she had been in palliative care. I saw him pick up a muffin and bite half of it. My stomach turned, and I swallowed bile. In this way, we waited.

“They are ready,” my sister said. “But, she will not be moved until we are all here.”

The six of us, the children, had scattered when the first bird began to sing. My two sisters had uncoiled themselves from her. One had her hands under our mother’s breast, the other under her thighs.

“What are you doing?” I had asked them.

“She is still warm here,” the elder one had answered.

Suddenly, the room was full, my siblings moving about. Within minutes two attendants arrived, but they were pushed out of the way.

“We will do it,” said my eldest brother, the second born from her.

At the doors marked MORGUE, the eldest, my sister who had her hands nestled under our mother’s breasts, collapsed.

“No,” my father spoke. “She would not want this.”

My sister rose, resumed her spot, and we pushed through the doors. I knew each of us wondered how we could leave her; she had been so scared.

“I will stay,” I said.

The attendants looked at each other, then at all of us, and shrugged.

I was alone, and I reached for the bottle water I had placed on the floor, next to my chair. My lips were dry, and my throat ached. The bottle was empty.

Michelle Evans entered this short story:

‘It was the best of times… no, really, the very best of times. I can’t help but think if only… No but we must look to the future now.’ Louise went to stand up.

‘Oh, Aunt Louise, if you don’t tell me about those times, how will I ever know anything about Mother?’ Sophie, nearing adulthood innocently yearned to know more.

‘The best of times…’ she urged.

‘Yes, when your mother and I were in our early 20’s,’ Louise sighed.

‘What made it the best of times, Aunt Louise?’ Sophie asked.

‘Freedom! We were free and easy and loved it. We did what we wanted.’ Louise turned to Sophie and said in a low voice. ‘But maybe being so easy wasn’t the best.’

‘Tell me more, Aunt Louise,’ Sophie curled her knees in to her chest looking small and childlike.

‘Your mum had just finished her degree, we were pumped for a big night. Sophie, you’re nearly 17, I’m going to tell you this so hopefully you will learn not only about your mum, but so you won’t make the same mistakes.

‘But you said it was the best of times,’ Sophie was a little lost.

‘Yes, well I suppose that’s how we used to think. Looking back, all the hangovers, memory loss, men – many men…’

‘Are you saying, that my mother… many men?’ Sophie blushed.

‘I’m afraid so, Soph, that’s why you’ve never met your father. I don’t believe your mum worked out which one it was, so she never told any of them about you,’ Louise paused for a moment, then rushed on. ‘It was just after your second birthday, your mum rang me and said “Louise lets got out like we used to.” She drank a lot before we went out.’

‘Is this the night she died, Aunt Louise?’ Sophie’s wet eyes looked down.

Louise searched for courage, her lip quivered.

‘I went to the bar to get more beers while your mum was on the dance floor. Stories about spiked drinks were all over the papers and it crossed my mind your mum had left her drink at the table while I carried mine to the dance floor. I searched for her on the dance floor but found her just off to the side, lying on the floor. It was too late. I looked to our table. Her drink was spiked. The bottle was empty.’

Holly Tupper, who is 15 years old, entered this clever story. (I think you’ll agree Holly is well on her way to becoming a published writer.)

“The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Everyone was bumping into each other because no one could see anything! That’s what Alex said happened after he ate your cooking, Sash! What is this stuff anyway?” My little brother, Josh, eyed the repulsive yellow lump on his plate.

I shot him a poisonous glare. “It’s macaroni and cheese.” A skeptical frown crossed his face, so I added, “You like macaroni and cheese.”

Josh wrinkled his nose. “Not when it looks like that.”

I glanced at the pathetic pile of watery, half cooked macaroni and clumps of dry cheese sauce and sighed.

“Just eat it.”

I slumped onto a chair next to Josh. So much for my cooking skills. Only my second time babysitting, and not only had I locked myself out of the house while taking out the trash and had had to run over to the neighbor’s to phone Mom to find out where the spare key was, but now I had made a complete mess of dinner.

And it was macaroni and cheese! How hard is it to cook macaroni and cheese?

I brought a forkful of macaroni to my mouth. An unusual odor filled my nose––kind of like the smell you get when you burn oil. I instantly burst into a fit of coughing. I grabbed my cup and gulped down the water, ridding my mouth of the nasty taste.

Josh’s eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open.

“No way am I eating that!”

“Forget it!” With one artful sweep, I dumped the macaroni into the trash can. “We’re ordering pizza!”

Josh flashed me a mischievous grin. “Oh, and Alex said that after he ate your food, his house was stormed by big, scary, green…”

I threw my head into my hands.

“…monsters.”

Remember that I told you to keep your eyes peeled for a story by Andi Newton? Here it is:

Somewhere between roof and the pavement, Sam remembered where he’d left his wallet.

“Ah, crap.” Stepping off the landing, he rode the sliding ladder the rest of the way down, one foot on a rusty rung, the other stepping onto asphalt as soon as the ladder stopped.

“Find it?” Janowski asked.

Sam shook his head. “No, but I know where it is.”

“Yeah? Where?”

“Maddigan’s.”

Janowski’s shoulders sagged. “Any idea where she is?”

Sam switched the blackout monocle from his left eye to his right and scanned the skyline. The silver ring of his exposed eye flicked in mechanical stops from one building to the next.

“There,” he said, pointing at a brick building sporting a neon “Beckman’s Soda” sign.

Janowski sighed and, pulling the gun from his holster, followed Sam down the street.

#

“It’s of no use to you, Maddigan.”

The woman opposite him turned Sam’s wallet in slow circles with nicotine-yellowed fingernails. A corner caught her hair, and it wrapped in brittle layers around the leather.

“Perhaps not,” she admitted, “but it’s of importance to you, and that gives it value.”

“And that value would be?”

“Your eyes.”

“You would blind me, Maddigan?”

Maddigan shrugged. “They say children have their parents’ eyes, and parents swear by their children’s. I have no children, but if I had your eyes I’d have something to swear on.”

Sam watched Maddigan’s hair wrap around the wallet. He could let her keep it, find some other way…

“I’ll let you take one.”

Maddigan curled her hand around the wallet. “Which one?”

Slipping the blackout monocle off, Sam leaned forward. “Your choice.”

Women always told Sam that his right eye was a nice shade of blue when it wasn’t bloodshot, but the valuable one, of course, the useful one was the left. Titanium in iron, fitted with the latest tech. Maddigan didn’t even have to replace one of her own with it. That just made it portable. Finding a new one wouldn’t be easy, but the wallet was worth it.

Sam jerked backward as Maddigan lunged forward and dug fingernails into his eye socket. Grinning, she held her hand open, palm up, for him to see, but Sam didn’t need to look to know what she’d done. He knew already, in the blood that smeared his cheek and the gray that edged his vision.

She chose the blue one after all.

And there you have it. Four more clever entries in the “First and Last” contest. See why it’s so hard to choose a winner?

A few more tomorrow, too. Yup. There are more.

More Contest Entries

As promised, below are a few of the entries I received in the “First and Last” contest. If you haven’t yet read the winning entries, click here.

Also, this might be a good time to read one of my older, educational posts. Like this one on subjectivity, perhaps. Okay, you caught me. I’m trying to distract you from the fact that I’m not writing original posts this week. Guilty as charged. Except… the paragraph you’re reading now is All New Material. Plus, you haven’t seen the short stories anywhere else. So I think I’m off the hook. And anyway, I have to write a short story because I promised I would. (Maybe I’ll post that on Friday. Maybe.)

Righty, right then. On to the first batch of contest entries.

Here’s a contest entry from Andrea Crain:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Why? Well, Kyla is a very beautiful girl, and therefore Kris was always trying to impress her. I was eavesdropping Wednesday night. “I’ll bring you the moon and stars and forge them into a necklace for your beautiful throat! I’ll pull the sun from the sky and bottle the sunshine so you’ll never endure a gloomy day again!”

Big words. Of course, Kyla scoffed. But Kris had a few tricks up his sleeve. He pulled out a golden bottle and a silver hammer, and as Kyla watched with a little smirk on her face, he reached up and tapped down the moon with the hammer and started smithing. He set in a few stars as diamonds. It was a sight!

The necklace was gorgeous. But it was so dense that nothing could escape its gravity, not even the sunlight, not even Kyla. So the sun didn’t rise on Thursday. Kris sat on a distant planet, crying, the bottle at his feet. The bottle was empty.

Jana Nash entered this story:

Somewhere between roof and the pavement, Sam remembered where he’d left his wallet. He stopped and peered down the darkened alley, listening carefully. Then he turned, clambering back up the stairs, cringing at the metallic resonance of his steps.

Upon reaching the roof, he knelt down, breathlessly searching through the dark. There it was, perched precariously near the ledge. He grabbed it and ran back to the stairs, hastily shoving the wallet into the back pocket of his faded blue jeans.

Sam recklessly descended the steps, three at a time, but when his feet hit the ground, he didn’t run. Instead, he crept along the brick wall to the edge of the building. Hiding in the shadows, he peered around the corner, afraid that his pounding heart might give him away.

The street was deserted except for a small crowd forming about twenty feet away. He spotted something on the sidewalk between the crowd and himself. Making certain that nobody was looking, he darted out to get it and returned to the shadows before anyone could notice.

The sound of sirens blasted in the distance. He bolted through the alley, past the fire escape, pausing at the end to check for witnesses. He saw only a few people who seemed to be doing some late night window shopping. He nonchalantly stepped into the light, walking the short distance to his tan sedan. He breathed a sigh of relief after closing the door and starting the engine, thus blocking out the growing wail of the sirens.

Pulling out of the parking space, Sam wondered which way to go. He waited at a red light, watching as two police cars sped by with their blue lights flashing. He stole a glance at the broken camera in the passenger seat. He may not have gotten what he’d come for, but at least he’d escaped with his life. Now, if only he could get out of town.

The light turned green and Sam decided to go straight, heading toward the interstate. After pulling safely into the fast lane, he set the cruise control. Except for a few truckers and night owls, the road was his. Searching for comfort, he reached into the glove compartment and groaned. The bottle was empty.

Richard Fuller titled his entry, “Box”:

The sun didn’t rise on Thursday.  Not because there wasn’t a sun.  It just seemed to be stuck.  Undoubtedly, it shone brightly somewhere.  After all, Dora’s night was someone else’s day.  Her stuck Thursday was someone else’s stuck Friday.

She was pretty sure it was her fault.

It began with that weird chemistry set she found at the Fantasy Convention.  Dora hadn’t planned to go.  She thought fantasy fans were stupid, but cute Josh was one and he’d talked her into going.  Soon bored, she’d left him happily browsing among the comic books.  Then she noticed a booth in a dark corner with a sign that read, “Demon Science.”  She didn’t believe in demons but she liked science, so she went over for a closer look.

Among the usual cheesy amulets and spell books was a black metal box with red lettering that said, “ChemMystery: When Stink Bombs Aren’t Enough.”  Because chemistry was Dora’s favorite subject, and because she agreed that stink bombs often weren’t enough, she asked the robed and hooded character behind the counter if she could look inside the box.  In a rasping voice, he/she replied, “You don’t look inside it.  It looks inside you to see if you are the One.”

Screw this fantasy nerd bullshit.  “You expect me to buy it without seeing what’s inside?

“If you are the One, you won’t need to buy it.  The box is yours.”

“Okay, Elf Wizard or whatever the hell you’re supposed to be, can I at least take a closer look at it?”

He/she handed Dora the box.  It vibrated in her hands and grew very hot.  The world blurred and then disappeared.  She dreamed of another life, another box.

She awoke in her room.  Outside, nothing moved, not the birds frozen in mid-flight, not the traffic on the street.  Next to her was the box.  She must have opened it, because a seething, red-tinged cloud of blackness was pouring out, howling through her window and into the still night.

When it was gone, Dora looked in her box and saw a clear container, a stopper, and a singed piece of parchment.  She examined each in turn.  The stopper smelled of sulfur and death.  The parchment bore sanguine script that read, “Thanks.  Good to see you again.”

The bottle was empty.

PJ entered two stories. Here’s the first:

It was the best of times… no, really, the very best of times.  But that was last week.  Now, as Samantha looked in the full-length mirror, holding the navy blue shirt-waist dress against her slim body, all she could see were the gray shadows under her eyes and her sagging shoulders.  Her chestnut hair was slicked back into a neat bun but several unruly locks poked out around her ears.  The gray sweat suit she wore was rumpled – she wasn’t sure how many days she had worn it.

“This navy blue one is too somber – I look like I’m going to a funeral,” she thought.  She closed her eyes and breathed deeply.  She felt like she was preparing for a funeral, actually – the funeral for her old, carefree life.  Opening her eyes, she put the navy blue dress down on the bed and shuffled to the closet.  She emerged with a sexy ruby-red dress – the one she had worn to her husband’s inauguration last month.  Everybody had said they looked like John and Jacquelyn Kennedy.

Now, holding the red dress up against her, she felt the full weight of what had happened and her knees started to buckle.  She sat on the floor and struggled to hold back the sobs.  Remembering how happy they were that day made her depression – it had set in since her husband’s arrest one week ago – that much deeper.  Harold, his lawyer, had of course taken care of arranging bail, but those few hours after she found out about the arrest were like a horror film on continuous play in her mind.  The tight knot in her stomach was beginning to convince her that she would never feel normal again.

Of course he had denied everything.  He came home from the courthouse and launched into explanations about how the FBI had made a mistake – he had been framed.  She wanted to believe him but wasn’t sure whether she could.  Spending the week barricaded in her house with protesters outside around the clock was not making his story any more believable.

So today’s press conference announcing his resignation would mark the official end of their charmed lives.  After today, all attention would be on the trial.  She just wasn’t sure she would have the strength for any of it.

“Samantha!  We need to leave in twenty minutes!” he shouted to her from downstairs.

“OK – I’ll be down soon,” she replied as she got up from the floor.  Samantha smoothed on her makeup, slipped into the dress, stepped into her pumps and made her way carefully down the stairs.  She chose the blue one after all.

See what I mean? Good stuff. More great writing tomorrow.

Until then…

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.